Bike on LINK – Photo by Atomic Taco

One of the first steps into mature thinking about transportation is to remove undue necessity from transportation technologies – to talk not about what they are but what they do.  To fetishize a tool, rather than the utility the tool provides, is to make a fundamental category error.  Both autophiles and railfans make this error constantly.  What we need is not cars nor even transit per se, but mobility, whatever form that may take.

I have nothing against cars as tools (I find them necessary and useful about once a week).   What I have a problem with is the social costs imposed by the ubiquitous and even obligatory use of one tool for all tasks.  As transit advocates we get accused of making arguments about kind, as though the tool (Cars vs. Bikes!, Buses vs. Trains!) were the most important consideration.  The proper discussion is all about degree, the scale of transport required for our daily lives.

Car dependence doubly reinforces this error.  As ownership represents sunk costs – lowering the marginal cost of each individual trip – the incentives to drive soon overwhelm all other considerations.  As a result, one begins to see a car not as a tool well-suited for a particular task, but as transportation itself, appropriate (by definition!) to any trip.  To borrow an analogy from golf, car dependence puts you in the absurd position of driving, pitching, and putting with just one club (and your largest one at that)!

Though I concur with all the standard urbanist arguments, increasingly I find conservative arguments against car dependence the most compelling.  Specifically, my aim these days is to maintain a diversified portfolio of transportation choices instantly and freely available, and to use the least-intensive technology possible for each trip.  By contrast, car dependence poorly manages risk, leaves you badly overcapitalized and acutely vulnerable to price shocks, and forces you into an obligatory all-you-can-drive insurance model that is completely insensitive to usage patterns.  Such dependence actively prohibits you from scaling your life up and down as necessary, and as such it represents a considerable loss of freedom.

The familiar result is waste, as suddenly society must provide a parking space and a lane of road whether the task is as simple as a loaf of bread or as complex as hauling furniture.  We would scoff at someone who buys a $4.75 ORCA PugetPass when his/her daily commute costs $2.50, but we tend not to scoff at the pickup owner who hauls loads a handful of times a year, even though the principle is the same.

If at any given moment you can choose to walk, bike, take transit, taxi, or drive, you can properly match the tool with the task.  I would argue that this provides a liberating flexibility of movement, and a freedom of spontaneous adaptation, that car ownership actively stifles.

42 Replies to “The Right Tool for the Job”

  1. This is a good write up and I have to agree. It isn’t about making the hard stance one way or another as much as having the tools to be flexible when needed for what makes sense. I keep myself stocked with one good bicycle, car, loaded ORCA card and good set of walking shoes. I do admit I am a fair weather rider/walker when using transit most of the time. But over the course of the year, my daily commute is mixed with the seasons. Am I hard core transit? No, but I’m also not a hard core automobile user. My point is I try and I wish more people that could do something similar to what I do, would.

    1. Making it possible to *walk* safely should be the first priority, as everyone ends up walking some of the time and walking infrastructure certainly takes up the least real estate.

      Yet this hasn’t been done in many places. The car reigns supreme to the point where in many places people drive across the street, it being too unsafe to walk.

      Transportation options — indeed, are needed. Suitable options.

  2. On the general topic of the right tool for the right job: I just found a debate on the gondla blog from a year ago about Central Link and whether the job could have been done as well and far, far cheaper using gondolas (using Squaw Valley’s Funitel as the measure). My answer to that is no, but more importantly it’s not really worth considering in the first place. Gondolas are a bad idea for long distances, and a bad idea for the core of a transit system. Their specialty is reasonably short trips with few stations. Whether it’s cheaper or not and has the same capacity is beside the point – it’s the wrong tool.

  3. Spot on Zack…”Both autophiles and railfans make this error constantly. What we need is not cars nor even transit per se, but mobility, whatever form that may take.”
    For many of us, taking transit is 3 or 4 times longer than taking a car. Our time is worth something and make the choice based on personal needs.
    Taking a bike to work or on errands is healthy, eco-friendly, and in most cases impractical due to our age, topography, or distance. Again, a personal choice.
    I cringe when someone argues to the death over their favorite mode choice using anecdotal evidence or from being on the moral high ground looking down their snoots at the rest of us. And arguing with them just invites more babble.
    Let the mode fit the circumstance, using best technology and practices to fill the need. And let reason plan our future, not the chants from party headquarters.
    I’m tempted to launch into my shopping list of pet peeves about transportation spending in the Puget Sound, but will restrain myself.

    1. But I LIKE arguing to death over my favorite mode choice. (Just kidding…my life is pretty mixed-mode.)

      The problem is that mode choice really isn’t *just* a personal choice. We are influenced by a bajillion factors outside ourselves and in turn we influence a bajillion things outside of ourselves. We’ve built our infrastructure in particular ways that make our personal marginal cost of driving a lot lower than the social cost of everyone driving. In the short term we’re causing congestion, and in the long term, we’re, in various ways, destroying the planet in we leave our children.

      So collectively we really do need to reinvest in making using cleaner modes more practical. I understand that biking isn’t for everyone, but many people who could be biking are not. And I understand that transit is sometimes slow, but (1) I think people often perceive it as slower than it is (for example, the time I used to spend cruising for parking nearly undid any time savings I got from driving as opposed to busing). And (2) I would make the argument that the fact that transit is so slow is actually a sign that we ought to invest in faster transit and the kinds of streets and neighborhoods that facilitate transit use.

      I agree that sometimes using a car is the best or only way to go. But people are still SOVing way more than we need to, and way more than is good for mobility and for the planet. And rather than throwing up our hands and saying “let’s just drive,” we should actually make it easier and better to use other modes, too.

  4. In addition to seeing transportation modes as tools to be used depending on the situation, one can look at transportation in its basest form in terms of accessibility; as access to goods and services. Understanding the problem is key to seeing the solution(s) clearly.

  5. Great points. One line that struck me was:

    “As ownership represents sunk costs – lowering the marginal cost of each individual trip – the incentives to drive soon overwhelm all other considerations.”

    I think I understand what you’re trying to say, but I’m not sure most people have an internal economics argument with themselves about sunk costs, etc. when trying to decide on mode. I think the biggest economic factor in mode choice (for those who can afford a range of choices) is peoples’ perceived value of their time and the relative convenience of picking one mode over another.

    Also, in (hopefully) on-topic vein given the choice of photo, has anyone noticed that the Link signage for the bike storage areas now indicates the space can be used for either bikes or luggage on a first come, first served basis? I first saw that signage last week and thought it was new(ish), but I’m not sure how long it’s been like that.

    1. That’s been the biggest thing when talking to friends about transit. They simply view it as a huge time waster. And unfortunately, they may have a point. Some friends described the alternative to their 45 minute car commute as a 2+ hour transit commute just to go from Lake City to Boeing Field area.

      Our transportation systems often fail to recognize or value the commute/travel patterns of a large percentage of people who work and live outside of the downtown Seattle core. Simple things like east/west routings. I cannot get from my neighborhood to West Seattle without first going downtown. Getting to the light rail for many people in the Rainier Valley short of walking greater than 1 mile over steep hills is next to impossible because of so few east/west connections. I’ve seen some people’s responses to this as “well, get in shape”. The consequence is people are choosing other means to get where they need to and that costs our society in many ways that have been described before.

    2. Re the bike/baggage area on Link, that’s been the policy for quite some time (if not from the get-go), but that signage is new. In this flickr photo from 2008, for example, the sign simply shows a bicycle, but the caption reads “Also a luggage storage area”. In August ’10, apparently in response to too many people using the ADA area for luggage storage, ST started announcing more publicly that the area was meant for both bikes and luggage, something which came as a surprise to some cyclists. Nonetheless the bike-only stickers were still there in late October. I suppose it’s good that they finally clarified the signage, if only because it emphasizes what a completely idiotic policy it is.

    3. The thing is, there are a whole ton of people whose commutes are perfectly served by existing transit, but they choose not to ride because it isn’t financially worthwhile.

      There are people who drive from Capitol Hill to Microsoft during the AM peak, and then drive back during the PM peak. Their trip would probably be faster (because of HOV lanes) if they took the bus. But they’ve got a car, and using it is free (except for gas, but never mind that), so why not drive?

      Once the 520 tolls come online, you’ll start to see that situation change. And if there were variable-cost insurance, and better car-sharing programs, and other options that brought fixed costs down and variable costs up, you’d undoubtedly see many more people choosing to mix modes.

  6. I think there’s a danger in trying to be too value-neutral. The circumstances of travel affect our rational mode choices. Our mode choices also affect circumstances. A huge amount of development in the US has been built around the auto, in ways that make access by other modes inconvenient or even dangerous. Sometimes impossible.

    You can try to be “value-neutral” and say that we have to keep supporting auto transportation in order to help people reach this sort of development, because it exists today. Or you can recognize that carbon emissions aren’t value-neutral, dependence on limited resources isn’t value-neutral, sprawl isn’t value-neutral. They’re things we have to take a position on.

    To these questions we have obvious answers. Pollution is obviously bad. Dependence on limited resources is obviously foolish and short-sighted. Sprawl can be a controversial thing to discuss, because people are attached to the benefits it brings, but there are clear negative effects: habitat destruction, acceleration of water runoff, and when sprawling an urban area, almost always increased demand for long-distance transportation. Any way that we address these issues, issues that we have very good reasons to care about, is going to affect our mode choices and future course of development.

    1. Al, I agree, and I’m not really being value neutral. My argument is more that car dependence is generally the symptom, while the disease is incentives (land use, insurance models, etc etc..). Cars are fine, and if everyone drove very sparingly we wouldn’t need surface parking lots, use-separated zoning, or even interstate expressways. For occasional medium to long trips off the beaten path, cars are sometimes the most efficient choice. But as advocates we can’t crow against cars while leaving land use as it is, because then we’re trying to force people out of cars while leaving them stuck in an environment built only for cars. Better to densify, increase possibilities for multi-modality, fix incentives, and let car use decline organically with land use changes. We’re already seeing this (slowly) in Seattle proper, as per capita VMT declines.

      1. The Big Thing in terms of incentives is a real gas tax — one that comes somewhere close to accounting for the costs of fossil fuel use.

  7. Counterpoint: density. It’s the one tool that can fit almost any job, because the best transit is none at all. But density takes time and doesn’t get you milk from the store (except in the sense that you can move to an apartment in a dense area where you can walk to the store).

    1. Except because of density and the value pressure it places on land, certain jobs will not be located close to dense populations. Our airplane assembly plants that employ about 100,000 people in this state are one example. Warehousing and distribution in the Kent valley that also employ a similar number of people moved from places like SODO also because of these pressures. If you recognize that these jobs and industries are important to our economy, then we cannot dismiss the reality that these activities require mobility. We can do a lot by encouraging densification of suburban communities such as Federal Way, Tukwila and Kent and improving the transportation infrastructure to those places. We can also do a lot by recognizing that downtown Seattle is not the singular point of where we as a region should invest our transportation infrastructure funds.

      For my friends commute challenge to Boeing Field, perhaps the most direct way is to create incentives for large employers to utilize commuter connecter services and for the county to charge a SOV trip reduction fee. But we are unfortunately in a situation where said large employer is unwilling to expend any resources that they can externalized. Their recent responses to this area is to threaten to pull up stakes and move their operations to a locale that accommodates their world view. Thus, nothing innovative happens and we remain car dependent and we build expensive things like the Deep Bore Tunnel.

      1. A small handful of locations with a total of 100k jobs? Sounds like density to me! But sadly there’s sprawl all around them. The answer is to build densely near the plant, or provide high capacity transit from the plant to a high density residential area elsewhere. Make it easy to get to work from one location, and people will live there.

        Anyway, there are a handful of examples where density doesn’t work – such as farming. That’s why I said it was a tool that could fit “almost” any job. But showing the few counter-examples doesn’t harm the basic point: most of the driving done in our region is because of sprawl, and giving people buses from the suburbs to travel to the suburbs is far far far less efficient (time-wise, resource-wise, quality-of-life-wise, or cost-wise) than building residential and business density.

      2. Matt, you build a Disney-World-sized building in the middle of nowhere because the land is cheap. If you start building densely all around the building, all of a sudden the land value skyrockets, as does your property tax bill.

      3. Yes, changing tax law to counter economic reality is a clear-cut and worthwhile process. /s

      4. One of the primary drivers of sprawl is tax law. It’s not easy thing to change, but few important battles are easy.

        You’ve just stated that the economic driver for Boeing being out in the middle of nowhere is tax law itself.

      5. No, the economic driver is the value of the land. Greenfield land is cheap. If you’re going to build a warehouse or a gigantic assembly building, you’re going to do it out in the middle of nowhere, because the land is just too damned expensive close to where the people are. The landowners in SoDo can parcel the same amount of land up into pieces and sell or lease it to multiple smaller buyers, lowering their total risk by spreading it across multiple buyers. They can also charge higher prices because Boeing is sensitive to square footage, but these buyers are sensitive to location.

        It just doesn’t make economic sense for a _lot_ of industrial uses to be located in cities. If you try to bring the city to them, and apply any reasonable tax policy to the land, you will pressure land-area-sensitive businesses to flee.

      6. Nah. Zone a large area for industrial, and an area right next to it as mixed retail/residential. Create good zoning regulations for the residential area to build up density. Don’t allow housing, retail, or commercial in the industrial area if you want to help build industry and keep price competition only between industries.

        Anyway, you’re still arguing that it’s tough to build density, not that it’s the wrong thing to do. I agree it can be tough.

      7. Boeing plant 1 was in Seattle until they got the city to redraw the boundary around it so that it wouldn’t have to pay city taxes.

        All Boeing needs to do is run shuttles to Link stations and transit centers, the way Silicon Valley businesses and office buildings do to Caltrain. That would cost Boeing little and allow transit to compete better against free parking. (Boeing could also stop moving people willy-nilly between King and Snohomish County offices, so that people could choose a house near work and not suddenly have to drive 30 miles a year later.)

      8. A little bit of a stretch:

        Aerospace has long been a key industry in the Seattle area, thanks to the Boeing Company. Aerospace employs 82,000 people (including 7,000 engineers) statewide, produces annual revenue of $32 billion, and includes a cluster of 650 companies.

        A lot of those aerospace jobs are in Seattle and Renton. Paine Field is perhaps the largest concentration of production workers (There are about 30,000 people working at the Everett facility) but jobs are spread all over the State in places like Fredericton.

      9. So, uh, stop funding the local government through ad valorem property taxes.

        Assess a charge for road, fire, and police service related to how much of a pain it is to provide road, fire, and police service. Pay for the rest through, say, a progressive income tax.

        Of course the first thing to stop funding through property tax is schools — that makes NO sense whatsoever.

        Ad valorem property taxes are an old scheme which was invented (a) before income tax and (b) when rich people invested most of their money in land. It was a rudimentary attempt at progressive taxation. It doesn’t work well for that purpose any more, and should be replaced.

      10. I don’t see what’s so bad about property tax. It funds local roads so that I can get to my property, have decent fire and aid and police service at my residence. Schools add more to a neighborhood than just classrooms for kids. Our neighborhood association meets at a local grade school. I’ve used sports facilities at the local schools. I’ve attended concerts and other events at Sammamish High School theater and Northshore Performing arts center as well as high school sporting events. But most of all I’m depending on a well educated generation coming along to support my retirement since all payments to Social Security are dependent on current wage earners funding. One great thing about property tax is you can’t avoid it by shopping out of State or lying about your income. And if you don’t pay it the State gets the money by putting a lien against the property.

      11. Bernie,

        You’ve given a lot of reasons why the services paid for *by* the property tax are useful — and no one will disagree with you there — but the question at hand is whether the property tax is the best way to fund them.

        Here are a number of reasons why ad valorem property tax is a bad way to fund local government:

        – Property ownership is poorly correlated with ability to pay. People who have owned real estate for generations, and bought it when it was cheap, can suddenly find themselves required to sell because they can’t afford taxes. Conversely, high-earning renters (such as myself) are exempt. Also, as Nathanael pointed out, high earners are likely to own much less real estate as a percentage of their income/wealth than the middle class.

        – Property value is poorly correlated with the cost of services provided. A house in the woods is probably worth a lot less than a condo in the city, but the former incurs a much higher burden on the government’s budget with respect to emergency services, public works/transportation infrastructure, and waste collection, among others. And, if we assume that people voluntarily choose the type of community in which they want to live (which is true to a first approximation), then it’s reasonable to charge people more for choosing to live a lifestyle which requires higher per-capita government spending. Property tax does the exact opposite.

        – Property tax is *not* harder to evade. There are thousands of local jurisdictions across the US, each with their own tax rate. These days, it would be odd if a large corporation *didn’t* try to win tax concessions from different municipalities when deciding where to locate a new office. Yes, you’re guaranteed to get the money you need from somewhere, but there’s no guarantee it’s from the “right” people.

        The best way to fund services associated with choice of residence — like emergency services, waste collection, school buses, sidewalks, local residential streets, playgrounds, etc. — is with a cost-based fee. If you choose to live 50 miles from the nearest police or fire station or ER, then you’ll pay a higher fee to make up the higher cost of driving to your house.

        The best way to fund services associated with people — like education — is with an income tax. Municipalities should be able to specify a “local tax rate”, such that a certain additional percentage of your income goes to your home city/county, rather than the state. (Yes, you can avoid this by moving, but even though New Hampshire exists, a lot of people choose to live in Massachusetts because of the quality of the infrastructure. It’s no coincidence that New Hampshire doesn’t have cities.)

        Again, I’m in total agreement that the services which are currently funded by property tax are important. But that doesn’t mean that the current funding system is ideal (or even close).

      12. People who have owned real estate for generations, and bought it when it was cheap, can suddenly find themselves required to sell because they can’t afford taxes.

        Rare, people that have owned property long enough to have it paid off are likely doing quite well. Seniors are the most affluent demographic. There are all kinds of ways to pull equity out of property. Lease it, rent a room, sell development rights, home equity loan, reverse mortgage…

        high earners are likely to own much less real estate as a percentage of their income/wealth than the middle class.

        Perhaps for the super rich but percentage of income going to home mortgages has been rising for all but a small demographic. Which of course was part of the real estate bubble. As for renters not paying property tax; you just don’t get the tax deduction since you don’t pay it directly.

        A house in the woods is probably worth a lot less than a condo in the city, but the former incurs a much higher burden on the government’s budget

        The tax rate for unincorporated King County is much higher than most incorporated areas. That’s why areas vote to annex themselves or form their own city. Seattle may be an exception since it’s density incurs costs for things like tunnels, HCT, etc. Rural residents not only pay a higher rate but receive far less service. Snoqualmie Pass for one still relies on a volunteer fire department. King County Sheriff has two choices, either raise property taxes or reduce service. Rural residents don’t get a free ride for these things on the back of the urbanites.

        Property tax is *not* harder to evade.

        I’m not talking about legal loopholes (which the income tax code is riddled with) or sweetheart deals in which Companies like Boeing are able to dodge the B&O tax. I’m talking about fraud. It’s easy to not declare a cash payment. You can’t really deny that you’re name is on the deed recorded by the County.

        There’s merit and problems with all taxing schemes and user fees.

      13. Rare, people that have owned property long enough to have it paid off are likely doing quite well. Seniors are the most affluent demographic. There are all kinds of ways to pull equity out of property. Lease it, rent a room, sell development rights, home equity loan, reverse mortgage…

        Why should we force people to liquidate their assets to pay taxes, when we have a much easier (and fairer) system in the form of income tax?

        Even the way we pose the question suggests that property tax isn’t the answer. When you say “seniors are the most affluent demographic”, I’m willing to bet that you mean “seniors have the highest average income of any age bracket”. In other words, we’re judging affluence by income. If we tax property, we’re doing it because it’s a proxy for income. Let’s just skip the middleman.

        Perhaps for the super rich but percentage of income going to home mortgages has been rising for all but a small demographic. Which of course was part of the real estate bubble.

        Again, by using property ownership as a proxy for income, you’re implicitly assuming that people with higher incomes should pay more tax. Why not just tax the income directly?

        Also, if the “super-rich” are the top 1% of income earners, then the “super-rich” pay well over 1% in income tax. So by taxing their property instead of their income, you’re missing out on a *lot* of potential revenue.

        As for renters not paying property tax; you just don’t get the tax deduction since you don’t pay it directly.

        That’s actually not entirely true. If rental demand were completely inelastic (i.e. completely insensitive to price), then you would be right. But instead, as prices go up, fewer people will choose to rent. Thus, effectively, only a portion of property tax is passed on from landlords to tenants — and in a particularly weak market (for landlords), that can be a very small portion indeed.

        Either way, indirect taxes are never good public policy. If you tax landlords and expect them to pass the costs onto renters, you’re essentially letting landlord set tax policy, and they probably won’t do a very good job.

        The tax rate for unincorporated King County is much higher than most incorporated areas.

        Property tax rates are generally set on a per-municipality basis, even though density can vary wildly.

        Anyway, my claim isn’t that anyone’s getting a free ride now. It’s that the cost of providing emergency services (etc.) has nothing to do with property *value*, and everything to do with property *location*, and so it makes much more sense to fund those services with a tax based on the latter rather than the former.

        It’s easy to not declare a cash payment. You can’t really deny that your name is on the deed recorded by the County.

        That’s true, but incidental. If a company (or rich individual, or estate) doesn’t want to pay tax, they’ll find out a way. Yes, the black market exists, but I don’t think it’s a compelling argument against the income tax.

        There’s merit and problems with all taxing schemes and user fees.

        No argument there. But it’s fallacious to say that, because all systems have good and bad parts, that no system is better than any other. I’ve given a number of reasons for why ad valorem property tax is a terrible way to fund anything, and I’ve given two alternatives which would provide a much better way to fund all of the services that currently rely on property tax. Those alternatives have problems, but they’re much better than what we have now, and that’s what counts.

        As Oscar Wilde once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for everything else we’ve tried.”

  8. Discussion here reminds me of the old saying: “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

    1. Well said, how many times have many of us read about plans to provide transportation/transit services to urban areas only to have developers forgo the urban project and plop in a few hundred houses 30 miles outside of town because “it’s cheaper” for the developer and there is a quicker buck to be turned.

  9. The reason it takes four times as long to get most places riding transit as driving cars is that for almost a century, we’ve spent enormous resources developing a way of life for which a private car is the only possible tool.

    Hey, Discovery Institute, perfect example of something that’s certainly neither God’s Creation (Somebody Else’s maybe) nor Intelligent Design! Every piece of shopping-mall sheetrock, every pebble of freeway aggregate, was put in place by people, and can be replaced by their descendants.

    Good perspective: two books. Horatio’s Drive by Dayton Duncan, also Ken Burns documentary, and American Road by Pete Davies. Look them up online. Then look out the window of the Route 566 or the 511, and imagine the cars and strip-malls are cows and mud. Transit is exactly where car travel was in 1903. Transit policy is same level as the Army’s chain drive trucks in 1919.

    Now nature and the laws of physics are starting to drop our highways into rivers, tools and all. And as usual, young people are deciding that their parents’ ways are Last Year’s Life. Good thing that like crows and some other species, we not only have tool use in our DNA, but tool-making.

    Mark Dublin

  10. “To fetishize a tool, rather than the utility the tool provides, is to make a fundamental category error.”

    I agree. Let’s stop fetishising trains.

  11. I love transit, believe me…my international trips revolve around cities with amazing transit. Seattle is a great city to live in because we have groups such as this who have a valid interest in pushing transportation ideas and making sure they are implemented even in Seattle’s slow-motion political world. There’s a bright transportation future here in this city and even if all of us won’t see a complete build out of all the systems, our children and their children will most likely benefit.

    For now, I use public transportation as much as I feel I can. I live close to both the Mount Baker and Columbia City light rail stations. So at night and on weekends, I only use transit (either light rail, or buses 7, 14 or 39). For me it’s cheaper than parking downtown and the time is equal to driving and finding parking.

    However I work in Fife, just north of Tacoma. I can take 3 buses or 2 buses and Sounder and get to work just fine each day. However the 3 bus scenario averages 75 minutes and the bus/train scenario 90 minutes. Not really bad considering the metro subway commutes from my friends in London, Beijing and Tokyo (some taking 2 hours each way). However my drive is just 45 minutes. I value my free time and I don’t want to waste it going to and from work. However when I am on my free time, transit IS a part of my fun so I don’t mind using it as a means to get somewhere no matter how long it takes.

    For instance, I needed to get to a friend’s house in Eastlake area for July 4th celebrations. I live 3/4 mile from the light rail stations and he lives 3/4 mile from the SLU Streetcar terminus. So I walked 12 minutes to the light rail station, took LINK to Westlake in (16 minutes), rode the SLU Streetcar to the end (10 minutes) and then walked to his house in 12 minutes. So my 50 minute adventure could have been done only in possibly 20 driving but then it didn’t include the hassle of finding parking that night and the traffic and drunks on the road later on. Everything needs to be weighed not just the time of a trip.

    Right now I am excited for the First Hill Streetcar. I go to Capitol Hill a lot and I hate driving there. Sometimes parking takes me longer than the drive. So I am mapping out the future…walk to the station, taking LINK to the ID, hoping aboard the FH Streetcar to Cap Hill. The time spent on transit will be more than double the drive, but as I said, I won’t have to find parking. :-)

  12. Just to use an anecdote to say “hear, hear”:

    I may be prone to extolling my environmental/social superiority because we’re car-free, but the reality is my wife and I gave up owning a car precisely because of the conservative financial analysis Zach has presented. Living and working in a desk urban environment meant that using Zipcar would cost less than parking and insuring our own vehicle. (Even better, it turns out we use Zipcar only 1/4th as often as that analysis presumed.)

    (And to Matt’s point, we both rely on the best transit: walk to work. Good exercise, mostly relaxing. Though the sidewalks over I-5 valley and on downtown’s Pine retail strip can get a bit jammed at rush hour.)

    1. Oh, no! Sidewalk traffic jams! Pedestrian gridlock!! Time to call out the transportation engineers to begin planning for the grand fix.

      Rule No. 1 = we cannot tolerate Gridlock!

      1. I have indeed experienced that and Chicago has much wider sidewalks than Seattle. Yet “The Magnificent Mile” can get crazy busy.

  13. Its about choices. We do have a choice — some of us choose to live in Suburbia in a McMansion reachable only by a 23 minute drive in our humoungous gas hog. But that’s a choice. Given reasonable transit alternatives (choice of mode, choice of reliability, and choice of cost) people will take what they are most comfortable with.
    I choose to work (part time) and live so that I can get up in the morning and make a choice as to how to make the trip — drive if I have a lot of errands to do like grocery shopping at my preferred store of choice, ride a bike if the weather doesn’t suck and I think I can make it back up the hill at the end of the day, or take the bus (and if that hill gets too steep I can always put the bike on the bus). But I choose to live here and work there. So does everyone (not in the military or prison) choose where they live and work — our job as transit planners and geeks is to provide that choice. There are places where fixed guideway (steel wheel on the steel rail) make perfect sense, others where a quiet path through the trees makes more sense. I agree with the comments about not getting hung up on mode as much as pushing the idea of choice.

  14. Zach – completely agree with your points. Spot on!

    Some of the things I miss without a car:

    1) Storage: being able to leave your coat/bag/whatever else in the car instead of taking everything with you. Also, being able to have “stuff” in your car – I don’t carry a first aid kit or a flashlight, but my car would.

    2) Privacy: sometimes you don’t want to be recognized, which is much more difficult to accomplish on transit.

    3) Costco: there’s basically no point.

    4) Getting robbed: you walk a lot more without a car, and muggings (like last night in Belltown) are much more common than carjackings.

  15. Good piece, and nice to see it here: Find the best transit technology for a given application, and then build it. As an advocate for Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) as well as other forms of public transit that make sense for a given application, I’ve been saying so for years. Personal Rapid Transit belongs in the toolchest of solutions available to urban planners. Sometimes it’ll be the right choice, and other times not. And the Seattle Transit Blog has been deleting any comments I’ve made to that effect as “off topic” for years. We’ll see if they walk the talk this time.

Comments are closed.