As people move to the Puget Sound region, less people die, and more are born we are going to have more people here. The best way to handle that challenge—more people in the same size space—is to embrace it, welcoming more people living closer together in our cities. Bruce Ramsey’s recent article in the Times bashes Sound Transit rail service from Seattle to Everett for being inefficient and expensive, but ends up making argument in support of density: more people in the same place means more efficient transit.
The punch line to Ramsey’s rather one-sided article slamming Sound Transit commuter rail to Everett is “buses, vans and other rubber-tired vehicles are better than trains.” Ramsey makes that point by repeating a local engineer’s analysis finding that the service from Seattle to Everett is more expensive than buses. But the sweetest spot in the article, the one I’ll quote over and over again is right before the punch line:
Railroads, says engineer MacIsaac, are good at moving thousands of people from point A to point B — if that is what thousands of people want to do, all at once. But in our low-rise urban area here, he says, the real task is moving people “from thousands of points A to thousands of points B” when they decide to be moved.
Thank you Bruce Ramsey and Mr. MacIsaac. That’s exactly why we can’t allow people to sprawl. MacIsaac is correct; when you have low-density development you get less efficient transit. It’s not like it was my idea to make that point first, but a while ago I made a similar argument in a post about how lack of density—thousands of people going from thousands of points A to thousands of points B—makes for very expensive transit. This way of doing transit means two thirds of its cost has to be funded with tax payer dollars.
As people look for housing in our region they run up against limited supply in the places we most want people to live, the city. If it’s easier to build new single-family housing or sell that housing out in the ‘burbs, the supply out there will be greater. Seattle’s hesitant attitude toward up zones to create Transit Oriented Development not only keeps housing prices high, but also means that costs for maintaining transit service to far-flung reaches of King County will go up too.
Geoff Patrick, Sound Transit Spokesman, has it exactly right, rail is an investment (maybe even a hopeful one)in a future when politicians start getting land use right. When they do, we’ll have a rail system in place to take those thousands of people in one place, point A, at the same time to one point B. When we do that, transit will be efficient and affordable.