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Kiersten Grove photographed in studio on September 20, 2016.

On November 8, Seattle will vote on a $54 billion regional Sound Transit package that would add two new light rail lines within the city—connecting Ballard and West Seattle to downtown—and build others to Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, and even Issaquah. Over the next 25 years, those 116 miles of rapid transit would transform our transportation system. But it may represent more of a physical transformation for the city than a transition from one mode of transit to another. That’s according to Kiersten Grove, who was such an all-star senior planner for the Seattle Department of Transportation that mayor Ed Murray poached her to make her his built environment operations manager. Which is a long way of saying she’s thinking big about the future.


How important is light rail to Seattle’s transportation future? 

Light rail, our bus system, any type of mass transit is going to help people reach destinations quicker and more affordably. We’ve seen great ridership in the expansion of the light rail system already.

Are single-occupancy vehicles still going to be the main way people get around in the future, though?

With more and more people moving into our city, we have limited capacity on our roads. The goal is to make the way you get around as easy as possible, and there are a number of things that are going to make that feasible: affordability, speed, and convenience. So things like transit, carpooling, and shared use are very viable options for the future. 

I didn’t hear you say anything about single-occupancy cars.

When you say car, it could be a car that is personally owned or a car that is shared. People might actually buy into a service that will help them get where they need to be. And it may be a service that includes transit, car share, or vehicle access. Think about transportation as something that you might choose from a menu. The way we think about transportation has to be multimodal.

How is this multimodal system so different than today? 

The way we’re designing and utilizing public space will be a big question. How we’re able to use technology—how vehicles and buses will talk to each other, to traffic signals—will change our road efficiency. And driverless cars beg the question about how much roadway we need. With driverless cars, the need to have parking space changes.

So our transportation future isn’t only about new modes, it’s about a new built environment? 

Yes. We have a real opportunity to ensure that living and working near convenient transportation options is possible. Like many east coast cities experienced during the last century, the manner in which we plan for rail service will fundamentally change the form of the city.

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