MacDonald in his asphalt-pouring days (WSDOT)
MacDonald in his asphalt-pouring days (WSDOT)

Doug MacDonald’s most recent piece in Crosscut really just confuses me.  It’s in human nature to find arguments that support our existing biases, but does he really see how little sense his argument makes?

The numbers speak and they must be listened to. Once again they raise big doubts about whether Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2040 strategic plan for plotting regional growth in King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap counties is uncoupled from what’s actually happening in the real world.

OK, Mr. MacDonald, I’ll take your word for it that we’re falling short on density, since you didn’t bother to link to the report.  He writes several hundred words about numbers that hint at the problem, rather than the numbers that would show there is a problem.  Rather than citing individual cities, why not just say “here’s how much the urban centers are supposed to take, and here’s how many they’ve taken?”   But let’s take it as a given that we’re not doing well.

So, our bus- and highway-centric transportation system has failed to produce the density we need.  So what’s the solution?  Perhaps a new transportation mode?  This is Crosscut: of course not!

So far all we know about the full expanse of the Sound Transit plans is that their (unfunded) cost would be on the order of $25 billion, before taking account of cost growth from inflation. If they were all carried out, their contribution to benefit by 2040 would be about 60,000 new boardings a day on rail transit systems on top of the 150,000 the rail systems would then carry in any case. In the picture of all transit that’s rail carrying about 20 percent out of almost 1 million daily transit boardings predicted for 2040 — including riders on new buses that we also don’t know how to pay for. That 1 million on transit compares to an expected total of about 19 million trips people would take every day on transportation facilities of all kinds, including streets and highways, that we also don’t have many good, or at least popular, ideas about how to pay for. That will be up from about 14 million daily trips now, according to PSRC.

So we have three basic transportation modes here to solve the puzzle of limiting sprawl.  Buses are cheap (in capital costs), but apparently are limited in encouraging compact living.  Trains are expensive, but have a great track record in doing the same.  Highways are also enormously expensive, and encourage sprawl.  So which is the problem here?  In former State Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald’s world, it’s obviously the trains.

70 Replies to “Not Enough Density”

  1. Wait just a minute. In 2030, ST2 causes about 150,000 more boardings on rail transit than the no-build scenario. What is he talking about?

    And, of course, he doesn’t list the density numbers because Seattle and Bellevue are both far ahead of their PSRC projections.

  2. Oh, and another thing. In 2030, rail will carry more than half of all transit passenger miles in the region.

    1. It’s carrying more half the passenger miles because it’s moving people long distances. So is that supporting local trip making or replacing freeways?

      1. You have a flawed premise there. Some trips are longer, some are shorter. It supports both.

      2. Once Link gets to an ideal build-out, short local trips, along with feeder trips, will be covered by buses, while Link will help accommodate commuters take longer trips while mobilizing short trip modes, like bus and streetcar.

  3. He raises a few good points, but fails to address the reasons why population growth has failed to be contained in the urban centers. As long as our land-use policies and zoning encourage suburban style developments and discourage the creation of affordable, attractive housing in the urban center, we will always fail to contain sprawl. I know a lot of people my age, myself included, who would like to live closer to the city, but cannot find housing there that is affordable and attractive. As long as housing in the burbs is cheap, and the commuting penalty is not too steep, a lot of people will continue to choose that life, even if they would prefer a more urban lifestyle.

    The only way I see out of this mess is by linking our urban centers with high-capacity transit that is fed by efficient bus networks, and then encouraging the development of compact, walkable neighborhoods near those centers with housing that is attractive to the average citizen. This same pattern of development is being successfully implemented all over the world, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, just find the best wheel and copy it.

    1. But that’s been our approach so far, and I think it leads to more sprawl. My solution? Build our cities very tall. Want cheap housing close to work? If we had enough of it, prices would go down.

      I’d also argue that housing is already affordable in Seattle if you work downtown compared to driving in. I even ran the numbers once for an exurban commuter lifestyle. You can spend an extra $500k on a house in the city with less than a 30 year payback, and save 24% of your non-working waking life from commuting. Savings from nearby suburbs are less dramatic, but still worth the move.

      1. Tall cities is a good plan, though I think it would take at least a generation for prices to even out. I wish we’d done it over the last 30 years.

      2. Tall cities require elevators, which use electricity. Also more likely to need air conditioning and artificial lighting. The large cities I admire have few tall buildings.

      3. The reduced surface area per square foot of office space in a large tower FAR more than makes up for the electrical costs. Good lighting and heat management (buying high efficiency hardware, using fluorescent and LED lights, etc) dramatically reduces costs as well. Skyscrapers are hugely more efficient than houses.

      4. Show me a high rise condo that’s more affordable than a house in Georgetown. Bellevue’s built a lot of tall buildings with residential units. Affordable? If you want to live near the city center it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. It costs more to build dense high rises and that’s why they only make sense where you can charge a premium for them. You’re not going to “even out” prices.

        If you’re committed to living in the city you’ll settle for a smaller, older dwelling with less amenities than you’d have living farther out. Wannabe urbanites can’t have it both ways.

      5. Prices in Georgetown are clustered in the $250-300K range (12 houses). There’s 13 listings under $250k and only four over $500k. There’s not a single Belltown condo for under $500k. Pay attention to what? Georgetown is in city housing. There’s lots of other affordable housing in the city but not in high rise condos.

      6. Heh. Oops – I thought you were talking about Georgetown the exurb. I suppose I’m the one that should pay more attention.

        “If you’re committed to living in the city you’ll settle for a smaller, older dwelling with less amenities than you’d have living farther out.” This is currently not true, as shown in your own link. My calculation shows a $500k difference in affordable housing prices in, say, Seattle Georgetown vs. the other Georgetown. This means you can buy any of those small older homes you linked to, bulldoze it, and build a mini-mansion for the money you’d save by not commuting.

        Can everyone do this? Certainly not, and that’s where building up comes in (which is still affordable compared to exurban living). But currently housing in Seattle is a steal compared to the money exurbanite commuters pay for their cheap house, when hidden costs are factored in.

        Oh, and Windermere lists 43 condos with 2 or more bedrooms in Belltown for under $500k.

      7. For the same money ($250-300k) in Bothell you’re getting a split level two car garage on a nicely landscaped lot with Northshore schools. You don’t have the car savings or the borrowing power in order to bulldoze and rebuild so that’s not really an option. As you wrote in you piece it’s not really apples to apples because you’re assuming giving up a car in your city example which greatly limits mobility. Although some people might find it well worth it to not have the hassle of looking after one. It’s pretty easy to commute from Bothell to downtown by transit. 100 miles is a pretty extreme commute. That would be something like Cle Elum. Persumably you’re going that for some other reason that cheap housing (like snowmobiling from your back door in winter).

        Anyway, my point was that the folks that say they would live in the city if they could afford it are wanna-be urbanites because if they really did want to they would. What they’re comparing is how they want to live in the city (nice house on Capitol Hill or downtown condo) to what they can afford in city. It’s like the sign for Woodinville, “City Living Country Style”.

  4. Does anyone know what caused the light rail train to break down on the elevated track between Rainier Beach and Tukwila this afternoon around 4:45? I heard that a train that reached the Rainier station at around 4:50 forced all passengers to get off at Rainier Beach station because there was a broken down train blocking the tracks between Rainier Beach and Tukwila. Those passengers were given the choice of taking a train back to downtown Seattle, or just fending for themselves.

    Any details on this? How long was that track blocked? Did they bring another train up alongside the broken down train and have passengers switch trains? Or just have those passengers on the broken down train stay on it and tow that train to one station or another?

    I can’t find out anything about this incident anywhere. I expect someone on this site knows more about it, or can find out more about it.


    1. Brian told me there was a stuck/malfunctioning switch down the line, and no, the riders didn’t just have to fend for themselves, they got on the next train!

      1. In fact, the riders on the next train were all forced to get off at Rainier Beach station, also. How many trains unloaded all passengers at Rainier Beach before the problem was fixed?

  5. There wasn’t any actual news in the piece, just regular state OFM reporting numbers from April 2009. The numbers are in fact depressing. King County is so-so, but Pierce and Snohomish (and the rest of the state!) are sprawling.

    I agree that I couldn’t really follow it. He did have one good idea: redevelop strip malls.

  6. The actual data quoted in the article doesn’t support the article’s tone:

    “It has not been a near miss. It’s a dramatic shortfall. As an entire group, including Redmond and Renton, these 18 cities together should be on track to gain 53 percent of new population in the region, according to Vision 2040. Instead, to date since 2000, they together have absorbed just 40 percent of the new regional population.”

    The 18 cities accounted for 40% instead of the projected 53% of total growth. In these sorts of projections (where the projectors have no actual power over where people live) being 25% off is not a major failure. Its not a dramatic shortfall. The tone of the article would make you think the cities only accounted for 5% or 10% of the total growth.

    Remember, rankings of percentage growth rates always favor smaller towns: Fife growing by 60% means 2,800 new people; Seattle growing at “only” 7% means 38,000 new people.

  7. I don’t understand the confusion, Martin…

    Despite how successful parts of Seattle and Redmond have been at reaching their density goals, the fact is that the urban centers as whole are not on target so far, and sprawl has increased.

    And MacDonald makes clear in his opening paragraphs that despite residences being spread out, most jobs continue to be in Seattle; and that this requires a transportation system that meets those commuter patterns.

    He calls attention to the budget crisis at the bus agencies and says those need to be a part of the current election discussion. And he seems to support density and efficient transportation systems — which must inevitably lead to not just more buses, but expansion of light rail:

    The more compactly we shape our human communities at the regional scale, the more efficiently will existing and new infrastructure connect our citizens. That applies to water and sewer systems and to expensive and energy-devouring transportation systems.

    If people skim that, and don’t bother clicking through, that would seem to sway them towards our issues, wouldn’t it?

    1. There’s no confusion on our part. The confusion is on MacDonald’s part that he thinks something OTHER than rail will help.

  8. Buses are cheap (in capital costs), but apparently are limited in encouraging compact living. Trains are expensive, but have a great track record in doing the same. Highways are also enormously expensive, and encourage sprawl.

    A bus based transportation system isn’t cheap. Buses require highways. That part of the cost is always overlooked because by and large it’s paid for by people who don’t use the buses. Trains have a great track record of encouraging compact living when they only serve a compact area. Sounder has driven development in Auburn, Sumner and Puyallup. If you only built 13 miles of highway every ten years it wouldn’t drive sprawl and it wouldn’t be expensive. Transportation follows development. It can shape or reshape the face of that development but it will never be an effective tool to limit growth or drive density. The only way to do that is through zoning. Then you build the transportation system that makes the most sense to fit the needs of that development.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate your mentioning that buses are more expensive than rail in the long run.

      Granted, history demonstrates pretty conclusively that transportation is followed by development. If you can’t get there, you can’t build there.

      1. Not if you ran rail everywhere that we have roads. Rail has a fundamental advantage when there is high demand over a defined corridor. Being wed to one technology is the trap the monorail advocates fell victim to.

      2. Rail has a fundamental advantage of moving humans with feet instead of cars with wheels. There’s a huge impact on the last-mile travel.

    2. Transportation can either follow or lead development, though the latter often results in sprawl. Examples aboud: frontage roads along highways, new roads in virgin lands, bridges accessing islands…

      1. Capacity increases follow development, but establishment of corridors is almost always transportation first.

      2. All of those examples are because the demand was there to reach those places. That’s why I said it can shape development but it doesn’t create the demand. There are great roads all around Flint Michigan but the town is shrinking. If we’d never built a bridge to Mercer Island it wouldn’t be developed like it is today but the population of the greater Seattle metro area would have absorbed the demand in other places.

        It’s like a balloon. You can squeeze or poke it one place and it bulges out somewhere else.

      3. Building highways the way we do creates oversupply. Sometimes there’s the demand for a rail line, that’s all a market would bear, but we build a highway instead. This isn’t free market economics.

    3. Bernie,

      You’re of course right, but in our current situation we have more than enough highway infrastructure to support the bus system of your wildest dreams. The problem is all the private vehicles that are also on it. :-)

      1. Those “problem” vehicles are what paid for the infrastructure and fund it’s maintenance. If we have the “wildest dreams” bus system some posters here long for, say reverse the status quo and it’s 90% transit and 10% cars, what’s going to happen to fares? Right now 90% of the people subsidize transit to the tune of about 80%. If everyone switches to transit it will have to become a pay as you go proposition. Right out of the blocks fares will quadruple. $20 a day to ride the bus to work (forget about a monthly pass). Then add in the cost of maintaining the roads. Buses to the trail head or the ski slope; not likely. The dream starts to become a nightmare pretty fast.

      2. Not necessarily. First of all, the costs spread out more evenly as more people use the service. More importantly, however, if 90% of people were using it would be supported as a public good, not as a subsidized social service as it is now. People will vote for stable funding for something that “everyone” uses.

      3. In other words, we currently cover highway and local road costs with a wide variety of sources: taxes (gas, sales, property, parking, and employee tax for Bridging the Gap), user fees, special levies, etc. Why would transportation system meant to server 90% of the population be any different?

        Besides that, for cars our costs are very spread out (DoL, MVET, insurance, etc) and I could imagine some of these being covered on a monthly or yearly basis (think BBC fees) instead of per-ride.

      4. Bernie,

        I think a world where 90% of the population is taking transit is one where the transit funding universe is radically different than a mere 1.8% sales tax plus a small MVET.

        For starters, all that money being spent for fuel (and hence being spent on roads), is probably being spent on something that actually goes into real sales tax.

        Moreover, a system with that level of transit utilization had better be running rail down the high-capacity corridors, something MacDonald seems not to understand.

      5. Plus the average driver only spends around $325 per year on the gas tax, it wouldn’t be very hard to make up that amount of money through other taxes or increased transit fares.

        There are countries, like Switzerland, that have a very low tax burden, a comprehensive transportation system, and a very high standard of living. Why can’t we?

      6. It would be radically different, that’s for sure. I think what you’d see is a class system develop on transit. Gas tax isn’t that big. Fuel costs are. The folks switching are going to want to see something for their money. It’s not going to cut it any more that “funding transit gets people off the road so I can drive. Property tax does fund roads. The ‘burbs’ are going to want premium transit for their property tax. I guess it’s not too different than countries that have railways and a greater use of transit. But it will diffidently be way more expensive to take cross county trips which includes the trail heat and ski area ideal.

      7. “only spends around $325 per year on gas tax”! That doesn’t even cover the costs of highways and local roads, but it’s a lot more than transit gets.

  9. Any future projections like McDonald’s seem to me to assume some sort of consistency within a certain margin of the status quo. That is, it seems to me that certain things about the way we get around are inevitably going to change fundamentally in the next 50 or so years (and I realize 2040 is only 31 years away); I find myself wondering just how conceivable it is that driving a single-occupant vehicle will remain within an order of magnitude as cheap as it is now and has been for quite some time. So whether we invest in them or not we’ll have all these roads, and it seems likely to me that a lot of our roads will, due simply to the price of oil, support some other thing. Can alternative fuels and electric possibly replace the kind of driving we do now? I keep hoping that sometime in my life economic pressures will make it so I don’t need a car – I’ll be able to not only visit my friends on Redmond on Link, I’ll also be abe to take a train to a ski area, a bus to a trailhead, etc. Maybe?

  10. Lot of wishful thinking on this thread. I read MacDonald’s article and cannot say he did not present numbers or did so with clever sleight-of-hand. What he did do was to then jump to some conclusions, first and foremost being that the development during the late real estate balloon can serve as a guide to future growth.

    He then engaged in some dipsy-doodles around the perennial dream of “linear suburbs” and an economy so widely dispersed as to render public transit impractical. Even in the glory days of cheap oil these daydreams did not cancel out planar geography and topology. There are reasons cities have centers and property prices are really high in the centers.

    That the reasons for cities remain valid is well illustrated by the growth of Seattle while Tacoma and Everett languish. Seattle is a real city and Tacoma and Everett are large suburbs.

    The real ‘tell’ in the article came when he predicted that in the year 2040 only 5% of transportation would be transit. This is just laughably bonkers.

    It’s important to read and understand what MacDonald is saying, because he’s an echo of what our “leaders” will be thinking and saying- unless we tell them otherwise. To do that effectively, you have to understand what MacDonald’s right about, and how he draws the wrong conclusions.

    1. The 5% transit market share in 2040 is actually from PSRC models. Which leads to the bigger question, do the models have valid assumptions and do they account for the key influencing factors? Models can be tweaked to yield a certain outcome (like in End Gridlock Now) and we know that most travel demand models are good at predicting automobile travel but are very poor at modeling transit/walk/bike.

      1. The PSRC models, even in the E scenario, have a huge amount of roadway construction. If we could stop that, we’d do better.

      2. I think the models are very poor at predicting how an entire generation that’s yet to be born will behave. Decisions and investments that we make today will have a huge influence on the life choices that people in their 20’s and 30’s will be making in 2040.

      3. Does Destination 2030 even pass the giggle test?

        By the year 2030, biking and walking could account for as much as 20 percent of all trips in the region.

        Yeah, it could but it won’t. Bike/Ped now is such a small fraction it rounds to zero. Realistically we’d be doing well to push the number to 2%. When I’m riding home along the 520 trail and passing cars backed up all the way from 148th to the bridge deck I have to believe no amount of congestion or high gas prices are going to get people to bike or walk.

        Average Daily Vehicle Delay (Minutes of Delay per house hold)
        2030 Trend / Destination 2030
        Pierce County 97.2 / 8.1

        Everywhere else the trend vs Destination 2030 results in a ~5-10 minute improvement. Nobody is going to continue with the current “Trend” if it means an additional hour and a half stuck in traffic. Obviously there is nothing in the model that accounts for a change in the trend if we don’t implement this grand plan. I can only assume that the rest of the numbers are based on trying to continue the current “trends”; which is a pretty bonehead way to plan for the future.

      4. “Yeah, it could but it won’t. Bike/Ped now is such a small fraction it rounds to zero.”

        As of 2006 it bike/walk is around 10% of all trips and 6% of work trips.

      5. The PSRC claims walking and bicycling accounted for 10% of all trips made in the region. But they go on to say “Of that percentage, 9% were walk trips and 1% bicycle trips. This is a 37% increase from 1999. There was an increase in the absolute number of bicycling trips, although as a percentage of all trips, bicycling trips remained relatively flat.” The whole concept of “trips” is pretty irrelevant. If you drive to and from work and then go for a walk in the evening 1/3 of your trips are walking. The UW does very well on bicycle commuting (5-10%) but there’s 70,000 vehicles every day on the Montlake Bridge, there’s sure not 7,000 bicycles. It would be like STP every day if bicycles actually a significant amount of the mode share.

        PSRC’s target in their Vision 2020 was for 1% bike and 5% walking for downtown. That’s doable in a dense urban area. But as you move away from dense pockets of use
        like downtown and UW the numbers drop off dramatically. The PSRC numbers are looking at the entire region.

        Yes, if you live in a dense urban environment walking may constitute a primary mode of transportation. But most of the residents in Seattle don’t fit that definition. 115,000 vehicle trips per day across the lake on 520. Figure what, 80,000 SOV? I’d bet the number of people that live in dense neighborhoods in Seattle is pretty close.

      6. The concept of a “trip” is strictly defined in these studies and the surveys that support them. A walk around the block doesn’t count as a trip.

      7. PSRC numbers really don’t pass the giggle test:

        Puget Sound Trends No.T17, July 2009
        “More than 4% of Seattle residents commute by bicycle.”

        4% of a half million people would be 20,000 bicycle commuters. Cascade claimed 19,000 county wide on bike to work day. The numbers for bicycle commuters downtown are way off too. 1% would be 2,500 bikes. City of Seattle does a bike count. There most recent numbers are from 2007 and came up with 2,273. It’s not a big stretch to call that 1%. But, they take the count in September. What do you think the number is in February?

        Do the people on the council actually read this stuff? Worse yet would be if they do and they believe it!

      8. “Trip generation” was invented by the asphalt lobby and has always favored the asphalt lobby.

        As a pedestrian, bicyclist or transit user I am heavily incentivized to reduce my trip count by behavioral efficiencies because if I don’t, I’ve got to walk further, wait to cross a street, climb a hill, bike further, sweat more, need another shower, wait for a connecting bus, pay another fare*, etc.

        The auto-mobile by its nature and accoutrements lessens severely these resistances. If my dry cleaners is in Belltown, my favorite foodstore in Fremont, my yoga session on Mercer Island and my home in West Seattle…so what? If no traffic, we are really only talking about a few minutes. If traffic, well, I’ll enjoy my audio-book and check-in with my office in air-conditioned comfort. All I need to do is push gently on one of two pedals.

        And the way we tax and insure automobiles, makes them more All-you-can-eat buffet and less Dim-Sum.

      9. I forgot:

        The asterisk on “fare” above is to point out that the Cascadia Corridor cities generally have the most generous transfer policies in North America. Sould you like to see some stupid draconian transfer policies, may I suggest a trip to Southern California with its County and municipal operators having little if any coordinated fare policies, except for some monthly pass users.

      10. Bernie, a trip doesn’t necessarily occur during commute time. The majority of trips I make around the city are on foot. I cannot remember the last time I used anything other than my feet to get groceries or lunch at work. That is simply urban living. I’m guessing more people live in dense neighborhoods in Seattle than drive SOVs on 520.

    2. Second to land issues is schools. Over 60% of the kids born in Seattle do not attend the Seattle public schools. As a parent I’d move too.

      Transit in general encourages sprawl as long as we continue to provide park and rides at edge stations. It’s time to get to work and cost to get there that makes the decision. Want to curb sprawl, raise the gas tax to $10 gal. I bet everyone will want to chose to live closer to their work/schools/food centers.

      1. Park n rides don’t encourage sprawl; they mitigate it. P&Rs are a temporary expediency until adequate transit can be extended to suburban arterials and people abandon their far-from-aterial houses. Almost all users are suburbanites who would otherwise be driving all the way. Not urbanites who chose a suburban address because it’s near a P&R. And not suburbanites who would live in the city if there weren’t a P&R near their house.

        P&Rs are like an ambassador for transit. Suburbanites love their P&Rs: their main complaint is that they’re full. P&Rs are centrally-located spaces that can be converted to train stations/transit centers/TOD in the future.

        Raising the gas tax to $10/gallon is no more likely than banning cars in the suburbs. But the price may reach $10 anyway in ten years. (Christopher Steiner predicts $6 by 2014 in “$20 per Gallon”.)

        As such, P&Rs are remarkably effective. They’re cheap to build and maintain, and swallow up the car-miles that are easy to get.

      2. how will “adequate transit” every reash the suburbs? Why would we spend ton’s of money on low density areas? We can’t even get to dense areas of seattle very well

        parks and rides help make sprawl work…

      3. What would you define as a low density area? All of south King County? All of the eastside? The reason people don’t ride transit is they have to walk a mile to the bus stop, wait an hour for it, and then take an hour to get to their destination. It is certainly possible to increase transit and density on the main arterials, even if you can’t bring a bus to every single house.

        Question: how many roads in south King County have a 24-hour bus with 1/2 hour headways (not counting the wee hours of 2-6 am). Answer: one, Pacific Highway. That doesn’t come anywhere close to Burien, Kent, Renton, or Auburn, four cities which are densifying their cores. Say you’re in Burien and want to watch a show in Kent, or you’re in Kent and want to visit somebody or go shopping in Renton. You’ll have to get on a slow bus and wait 30-60 minutes to transfer to another slow bus. Sometimes you’d have to go to downtown Seattle and back. No wonder people drive. It’s possible to connect the cores of these areas, even without going to every low-density house.

      4. “The reason people don’t ride transit is they have to walk a mile to the bus stop, wait an hour for it, and then take an hour to get to their destination.”

        So you’re saying the reason people don’t use transit is because they’re lazy and don’t know how to read a schedule.

      5. No, I would say in many cases, it’s that they value their time. Which is a reasonable decision. I know from sad experience that even if you know the schedule, you can still end up waiting an unreasonable amount of time for a bus. Even buses that theoretically run every 15 minutes. So you get a situation where a suburbanite is late for work or a job interview because of bus issues, and pretty soon that results in a suburbanite who will drive a car no matter what.

        Having to spend an hour or two to go only a few miles is not really acceptable for anyone, really. People do have lives and families.

        I don’t know the best solution, though. As an urban resident without kids, I live in the city to avoid these issues, but I can also understand — though I don’t fully agree with — people who feel they have to have their families in a different environment. They sure pay the price for it, though.

      6. I’m a suburbanite and I make transit work for me as often as I can. I also lived in Seattle proper for a decade. Where I grew up in Michigan there was no transit service, so I see any transit service as a real treat. I think the main problem with transit service in the suburbs is that people have a poor perception of it. They assume that the waits will be too long, or the trip will be too long or that they’ll get stranded somewhere, so they don’t even bother to give it a chance, because it’s too easy just to jump in the car. It’s not until there’s some mitigating factor, like high gas prices, that they’ll take the time to give transit a try and find out that it’s not really that bad. The suburban service in King County is some of the best I’ve seen anywhere, it just takes a little planning and structure in your life to be able to use it. Granted, there are some farther-flung suburbs like Snoqualmie Ridge, or the Issaquah Plateau that don’t have off-peak bus service, but I don’t think people move there expecting to find great transit service.

        Yes, I’ve had the experience several times where a missed connection caused me to be an hour late, but the same thing happens when you drive on congested freeways.

        In the end it really just comes down to culture and personal choice. No amount of bus service in the suburbs is going to cause the widespread cultural change that is needed to give up the car culture that everyone has grown up with. Choosing to use transit instead of the car takes effort, and most people won’t make that effort without some sort of incentive or penalty. In the city there are plenty of incentives to use transit, but those same incentives don’t exist in the suburbs, so maybe we need penalties instead.

      7. Zed: “No amount of bus service in the suburbs is going to cause the widespread cultural change that is needed to give up the car culture”

        Zed: “So you’re saying the reason people don’t use transit is because they’re lazy and don’t know how to read a schedule.”

        It’s a long-term problem. My support for Park n Rides is that they’re a temporary solution that’s cheap and effective. You can’t run frequent buses to every corner of the suburbs, but you can to a few central locations. I then suggested expanding suburban bus lines, not now but when we have the money.

        At some point, suburbanites will not be able to afford to drive except for their highest-priority trips. Then they will be much more interested in transit and TOD. The goal hopefully is to build an infrastructure that halfway prepares for this. Even assuming they could all afford to move to transit-friendly dwellings, the city of Seattle could not fit a million additional residents. So they will have to live in suburban centers. These centers will need Seattle-level transit linking them.

        The reason transit is so successful in NYC/London/DC — the reason the majority of residents don’t drive everyday — is that transit runs every five minutes, or every twenty minutes during night owl. You can get anywhere in the city or suburbs on transit at all hours. This is desirable now, and it will be necessary when gas is $10/gallon.

        Walking a mile to a bus stop and waiting an hour if you miss it is just not realistic. Nor is going to downtown Seattle and back to travel between adjacent burbs. Then there’s the issue of jobs located far from transit.

  11. MacDonald is of course from the old school which had the mantra of “MUST MOVE MORE CARS”. And he seemingly fails to see how permanent transportation services (which is rail, not foot ferries-see below, not buses, RAIL)

    Tacoma only gained 700 people in one year??? Without the rail infrastructure put in place over the past decade, Tacoma might have LOST 7,000 people!

    Bummertown, which now will never have the 30-minute, high-speed passenger ferry service into downtown Seattle, which it did for a brief period in the late 1990’s, lost population? Gee what a surprise. Would you want to live in a place that now requires a 60 minute ferry ride, and still does not offer carrot cake??

    But Doug MacDonald would like uss to spend money in “cost-effective ways”.

    Which is good.


    And sometimes it is not so good:

  12. I saw Doug MacDonald jaywalking across third ave downtown the other morning. It was in a cross walk, but he was totally going against the red hand.

    1. MacDonald’s jaywalking could have been a result of his sight disability. He also might have been in a rush to get to the Discovery Instapoop.

  13. “It’s in human nature to find arguments that support our existing biases, but does he really see how little sense his argument makes?”

    In one word: “no.”

    MacDonald is part of that elite Discovery Institute group (mantra: we act a lot smarter than we really are) where theory rules, and reality is what the echo chamber wants it to be.

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