A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed on by CR Douglas for his regular segment on politics on Fox Q13. Douglas delved into the recently released Puget Sound Sage report on the impact of light rail on the Rainier Valley. Here is the whole segment which runs about 4 minutes.

My take on the report is a bit more critical than some. I think it is important to remember that communities in the Rainier Valley wanted light rail for many of the same reasons the report now points to as bad things, including increased property values, more people visiting and moving into the Valley, and an overall boost to economic activity. In a very real sense light rail is working just the way everyone hoped it would.

Whatever you think of the report, it has raised some issues that consistently get raised when expansion of light rail is considered like increases in housing costs. But too often what gets missed is the decreased costs in everything else created by the many benefits created by light rail, including decreased dependance on owning a car. There have been efforts to capture these savings that I have written about before, the residual income approach to defining affordability and the Center for Neighborhood Technologies metric of affordability which includes transportation costs.

50 Replies to “Another View of “Healthy, Green and Just””

  1. Nice comments Roger.

    I question CR Douglas’ logic that an influx of more affluent residents is (could?) decrease Link ridership due to higher rates of car ownership. This logic only works if the flux of residents is zero, IOW, every resident leaving is replaced by exactly one resident moving in. I would certainly hope that there are more residents moving in than moving out (i.e., density is increasing). If this is not the case, then clearly there is demand for more housing in that area and that is the problem that should be fixed, presumably by changing the zoning.

    1. Right. Link is showing double-digit annual ridership increases since opening. Where’s the data, CR?

    2. Demand for more housing is driving up prices, IMO. I recently tried to buy a run-down foreclosed house in the area (because that is now more affordable than renting an apartment in this city). There were dozens of offers and we were outbid for far, far above list price – and it wasn’t by developers either, the house was structurally sound and maxed out the zoning for its lot.

      We did increase density in the Rainier Valley, but we only did it in tiny little bubbles around every station, and it didn’t increase supply nearly enough to offset the new demand. DPD’s “Station area overlay districts” are well designed, tapering nicely from 65′ down to LR2, but IMO are simply too small.

      Take a look at the Othello St. SAOD (a couple blocks of it extend into the next map over if you care). With as little as a 1/4 mile walk from the station, you can get completely out of the SAOD, and back to the underlying SF5000 zoning.

      Luckily, this area is full of designated Urban Villages, some of which overlap in part with the SAODs. The one near Othello is still mostly SF5000, but if you walk in just the right direction, you can head down the middle of a narrow strip of LR inside the Urban Village, and can go a full mile before you hit SF5000 again. That takes you completely out of the station’s walkshed and into the 36’s. The urban village that overlaps Columbia City SOAD is better, but there’s still much to be desired.

      The demand hasn’t been only for housing within a quarter mile, or even a half mile of the stations. The area is very well served by transit even if you’re not right next to a Link stop. The SAODs have been woefully undersized to support this demand for housing, and the Urban Villages not upzoned aggressively enough.

      Remember, we can assume everything outside an Urban Village or a SAOD is going to remain single family forever. So we seriously need to pursue upzoning within these designated spaces if we want any growth of housing stock at all.

      1. It’s not because of Link that housing prices are going up in RV. They have been going up since the 1990s. The reason housing prices are going up is that more people want to live closer to the city. While this is generally a good thing, it doesn’t mean that all of them are transit fans. Most of Rainier Valley drives and that has been true ever since the streetcars were ripped up, so most of the people moving into Rainier Valley expect to drive too. That doesn’t preclude transit fans from choosing housing in station areas at the same time, and thus making the station areas more transit-majority.

        I have seen some modest rail-targeted “price inflation” in units adjacent to the stations, but nothing astronomical and nothing across the whole valley. If transit fans really were the majority of RV newcomers, The Station at Othello Park would be already full.

      2. I agree Mike. I’ll admit that I just skimmed the report, but I saw very little in there that makes a connection between Link and gentrification. My guess is that Link has very little to do with it. Gentrification has occurred throughout historically red lined areas for the last forty years. It has basically moved through the most inherently desirable areas (close to the city) towards areas a bit further away, but still close. If you think about, it makes sense. A young, well to do person comes to the city, looks at housing prices in Wallingford and then asks the realtor if there is anything more affordable. She mentions the Central Area. The couple takes a look, realizes that it is nothing like the slums in most cities this size, and buys a house. This goes on for years and years, and the next thing you know houses on top of Capital Hill, and then close to Garfield, and now close to Franklin are priced similar to the houses in the historically white areas of town. With or without Link this will continue, through Rainier Valley (at least).

      3. Why is “upzoning” needed?

        I like the idea of corridor density (if density means 3 to 5 stories and no more).

        It is not like there is a shortage of land in the state of Washington. In fact, most of it is quite open.

        Extending the habitable (for the middle class) range into South King and Seattle takes a lot of pressure off the current constrained market…but why stop there? As light rail pushes southward, Federal Way could become the new Ballard…and so on.

        LINK can act as kind of “revenue sharing” system if it allows people on the lowest rungs to get access to the better paying jobs. So it’s not just about turning everything into a Park Avenue penthouse. How about just putting a little more money into people’s hands so they don’t have turn to illicit activities or drugs to survive.

        Then they can start fixing up their homes.

  2. Roger is spot-on in pointing out how wierd a goal it is to cement the proportional ethnic demographics of a neighborhood. Someone pushed the Duwamish out of this neighborhood… or perhaps there are more Duwamish living in the area than there were two centuries ago, but they are just overwhelmed by others.

    The claim that white people moving into the neighborhood mostly own cars is interesting. It may be true. The question arises, I suppose, is whether most other people moving into the neighborhood own cars. If that is also true, then what do we do about all the Somalians, Japanese, Phillipinos, Vietnamese, etc, moving into the neighborhood. Welcome them, I hope.

    1. The issues in Rainier Valley are the intersection of ethnicity and income, not ethnicity alone. What makes RV unique is it’s a true melting pot: 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 Asian. It has been called the most integrated area in the country. This goes back a long way, in that RV has always been more accepting of new ethnicities and mixed marriages than north Seattle.

      We shouldn’t officialize quotas, but generally preserving the melting-pot character would be a good thing.

      Leinberger says 33% of Americans want to live in a walkable/transit neighborhood, and 33% more can go either way (walkable vs car-dependent). But our built environment is 80% car dependent, which means that a lot of people who want a less car-dependent lifestyle can’t find it or can’t afford it. Therefore, if you build more TOD, the carless will preferentially choose it and the carful won’t. (E.g., Bailo won’t be quick to move to the future Kent Station apartments, but other people in Kent will be.)

      1. And Leinberger said, “I think the days of 15 million in car sales per year are long gone,” We’re on pace this year for 14.4 million while still mired in the worst economy in decades. Remember not to take as fact the opinion of someone who’s agenda is to make a living selling the idea of new urbanizem. Yes the suburbs are over built; so is the urban condo market!

      2. The car sales can’t go down until more neighborhoods are made walkable. Of course, they’ll probably go down anyway somewhat due to other factors (gas prices, increasing poverty), but not dramatically down because people still need to drive to get to work.

        The “urban condo market” is not the totality of people who would like to live in walkable neighborhoods. The urban condo market is only open to a few people who can afford them.

        The reason car sales haven’t gone down is we’ve barely started a transformation to urbanism. Seattle is not easily confused with Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Duessldorf.

      3. FRANKFURT—German auto makers Volkswagen AG and BMW AG set fresh sales records in the first quarter as booming demand for luxury cars at home and in the U.S.

        Dutch car sales up significantly

        has very expensive cars, due to high registration fees and taxes. However, sales are brisk in this affluent nation.

        The supposed ground swell of sentiment to ditch cars and live in walkable urban environments just doesn’t exist. Even in healthy cities like Seattle the suburban growth rate exceeds that of the City. Many large cities are in decline. Even Pittsburg, which has a lot going for it shrank -8.6% in the last census while Pennsylvania grew by 3.4%. Why is it that cities like Houston (+7.5%), Cupertino (+15.3%) and Charlotte (+35.2%) are kicking their butt?

      4. Yes, but when you look at car sales being up in a down economy that speaks volumes. Couple that with things like the failure in Pierce County to pass a modest tax increase to maintain transit and I thing you get the picture. On whole people still love their cars. Good news for transit though because what other demographic can be tapped to increase transit funding; smokers, Big Gulp consumers, liquor tax?

      5. A great point about diversity, Mike. Seattle is pretty unique in the way we integrate our diversity. Back east in places like NYC, they claim to have a lot of diversity, but when you look at census maps, you see voluntary segregation, not integration. That, to me, is not diversity.

        Look at this: http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer

  3. I see that this has already been touched on in the comments, but I love the concept of more residents=less ridership. Also, people who don’t own a car are not the only ones who find transit to be the only option. I don’t own one, but if I did I still couldn’t afford to park it downtown everyday.

  4. The news reporters inability to speak coherently on-air about the issues amazes me.

    Nice comments, Robert. Thanks for posting.

  5. Two things. It amused me that everyone involved in KCPQ’s piece on Link gentrification appeared to be white.

    And I would love to see someone go down to the rainier valley and do a man on the street interview, asking people to list all the “decreased costs … created by the many benefits created by light rail.”

    1. That’s something I do personally – I’ll just ask people how Link has affected them when I’m near stations. Almost always, the answer is “It’s great, I don’t ever have to drive downtown anymore, it saves me a lot of money.”

    1. It’s classic liberal guilt. Build the line there for “social justice” reasons, complain about the consequences for “social justice” reasons.

      1. Huh? Remember that the public in the RV area was sold on having a light-rail setup with a TUNNEL, and not having the problems associated with street level running. Even though the tunnel was not a full-fledged option(just a sales pitch).

        The RV area isn’t that much better, if at all. And to be fair to ST (which frankly I don’t like), they aren’t to blame for all the crap down there. They just have their social problems like any other neighborhood.

      2. “Remember that the public in the RV area was sold on having a light-rail setup with a TUNNEL, and not having the problems associated with street level running.”

        No they weren’t. A tunnel was only looked at in the very early days of the RTA, when the cost of plan was in the $20-$30 billion dollar range and before it went to a public vote. Street-running light rail in the valley was part of the plan since 1994, two years before Sound Move finally passed in 1996. Neighborhood groups initially favored surface light rail, it wasn’t until the “Save our Valley” folks started making noise around 1998 that the tunnel issue came up.

      3. At least we’re better of than Detroit

        “The elephant in the room is this is a very racially divided state,” Hutchings says. “A white Republican governor taking a firm hand to a black Democratic city is not likely going to lose support among white voters in Michigan. It’s not a loser for him, it’s a winner.”

      4. The original route was to be cheap and fast along SR99 serving the Boeing Factories. Martha Cho put a stop to that nonsense.

  6. But getting back to the subject of transit, Roger, you’re right about benefits of transit in general and light rail in particular.

    The general sense of unfairness behind some of the complaints is certainly justified. Intended or accidental, this country’s upward redistribution of income over the last few decades is a menace to the Republic.

    If LINK isn’t part of the remedy, which I think it is, it’s certainly within range of being made so.

    But historically, our freeway system has inflicted far more social injustice than any conceivable light rail program. Documents from the 1950’s bragged about the number of low-income neighborhoods the roads would obliterate. A promise richly fulfilled.

    The allegation that light rail will attract wealthy people who won’t ride it because they own cars probably gave its author the brain equivalent of a double hernia. Why wouldn’t rich people who don’t like transit move someplace where they’re not being taxed to build any?

    I’ve personally had people tell me the very reason they moved close to LINK was LINK. Since they were on LINK at the time and not in their cars, at least they’re trying to overcome their liability.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I recently moved near LINK (well future LINK) with the hope of riding LINK. I own a car, but perfer not to comute with it.

    2. That’s a point. Car fans, there are lots of nice houses in Maple Valley and Bonney Lake.

  7. The incentive to reduce transportation cost by eliminating the need for a car only works if you have acar to get rid of. Many of the traditional residents never had cars to begin with. On top of this many seniors whom have lived there for generations have paid off mortgages. However the dramatic increase of their property values has created difficulty in paying property taxes. Simultaneously, there long used service is threatened (the 39 is a great example) to force them to light rail.

    1. Have you found anyone who actually says their property tax bill is causing them financial issues due to a sudden appraised increase (which there hasn’t been), or are you just what we call “concern trolling”?

      1. Are you serious? Lots of people have sold their houses because they can’t afford to pay the new taxes. It began when house prices started escalating in the late 80s.

      2. Guess what, your appraised value has almost no relation to what you pay in property taxes. Our assessment is “reset” back to 2007 levels but our property tax bill is the highest it’s ever been; 20% higher than in 2009 when the assessed value was 11% higher. Most of the line items on your bill are revenue driven. That is, the county has a set amount it knows that it needs, usually to pay off debt for money they’ve already spent, and then your portion is derived from the assessment. All the assessment does is determine how much you pay in relation to your neighbor. If anyone is driven out of their home because of the property tax it’s because of government spending, not an increase in their net worth.

    2. Complete bullshit, Kat! Senior citizens do not have to pay property taxes in many cases, 100% of them get a huge discount on their taxes (50% off) and their assessed values are “frozen” the year they retire.

      If you feel compelled to lie, at least tell lies that can’t be easily disproven.

    3. the dramatic increase of their property values has created difficulty in paying property taxes.

      That does not happen. There are safeguards written into our tax law that prevent this. Tax bill increases are aggressively capped.

    4. The 39’s tail is not being cut off. They’ll just have to transfer. The 30 will be more frequent than the 39 is, and we’re pushing to make that segment (Genesee and Othello) more frequent still. Eliminating duplicative one-seat rides to downtown is one step in that. If you want to talk about people getting cut off from transit, look at the 14S’s tail and the (cancelled) truncation of the 37.

  8. I like the forward by Ron Sims, the driving force behind detouring through the RV on the way to the airport:

    Under Presidents Clinton and Obama, the federal government has insured that investments in transit systems take place where poor people and people of color live. But without specific and direct action by Seattle, the poor will not be the beneficiaries of TOD. Specific investments directed to keep Seattle’s neighborhoods integrated by race and classes are required.

    Sound Transit began construction of the Central Link light rail in 2002. It opened in 2009. Who was president during that time? Class warfare politics alive and… well?

  9. “We want to keep Rainier Valley a majority minority neighborhood.”

    “We want to keep Madison Park a majority white neighborhood.”

    Modern liberalism seems to have reached a point where the viewpoints mirror reactionaries- only the nouns are changed. This kind of social engineering is distasteful no matter which side it comes from.

    I’m glad Roger Valdez seems to be an actual thinking person who doesn’t blindly adhere to ideological dogma.

    1. The second sentence is faulty. Madison Park residents may want to keep it majority white, but they don’t speak for liberals. The minority percentage has been increasing in all Seattle better-off neighborhoods, and I haven’t seen Madison Park object to it.

      1. His point is moderation which I agree with, but he made a false and oft-repeated attack on liberalism. I don’t know whether he intended that or it was just unfortunate wording, but it’s a false fact that needs to be exposed. Some liberals may be racist hyporcrates but that doesn’t mean all of them or most of them are.

  10. Demographic data reveal a clear trend of gentrification in southeast Seattle over the last ten years.
    * In King County the number of people of color grew by 47%, while the white population shrank 2%.
    * In Rainier Valley however, people of color only grew 5%, while the white population grew 17%.

    Putting aside for a moment why ethnic diversity in the RV would be considered a bad thing, the number of white persons in King County increased from 2000 to 2010 by .9%. The non-white population increased 43.2%. For Seattle the white population increased 7.1% and the non-white population increased by 10.2%. The fact is King County grew at a faster rate than Seattle and the more diverse racial profile has a lot to do with hiring by companies like Microsoft who are hiring from countries that beat the pants of the US in STEM education.

    Seattle 2000

    1. I agree, Bernie. The big unexpected change over the last twenty years is not that historically black (red lined) areas became more white, or that Ballard lost most of its cultural (Scandinavian) identity but that the suburbs are way more diverse than ever before. The first trend was obvious if you lived here in the 1970s. Once the laws changed and the economy grew, you knew that white people would move to the much more affordable CD (our “slums” were never that slummy, and you can thank lots of civic leaders for that). I’m not sure why the second trend happened, but my guess is that people just moved around a lot more and assimilated. The third trend is the shocker — and you got it right. The high tech companies decided to locate in the suburbs, and they tend to hire a lot more racial minorities, especially first generation Americans.

      I quibble with your last point, though. I think our education system is a good as any in the world (especially secondary education). But the Microsofts of the world can hire the best in the world, so they do. It is like the NBA, which now features lots of players from overseas. The ratio of American born players to foreign born players has gone way down, but mostly because the foreign born players want to play here (because we pay better).

      1. Ballard lost most of its cultural (Scandinavian) identity

        Ya sure, ya betcha :=

        I think our education system is a good as any in the world (especially secondary education).

        For sure our colleges and universities are world class and bring in people from all over the globe. Our primary education system just doesn’t stack up. Bellevue and many of the districts surrounding Seattle are first rate. Seattle is mediocre and Washington State, who’s constitution enshrines the role of public education is way behind on the world stage. Lots of reasons; teachers unions putting kids last, spendthrift budgets during the boom years that have left a debt hangover, and perhaps #1 the idea that everyone has to be “equal” when other countries systems ruthlessly select winners and losers. To it’s credit, few systems do as much to foster creativity. But that creates a lot of Chiefs and few Indians.

  11. I can’t believe you still take anything off the TV as ‘news’ or even good information.
    If it’s from corporate media, it’s there to promote an agenda, even if it is only the old divide and conquer.
    Watch the fires and car wrecks if you must, the weather reports are o.k., the rest is simply American Pravda.

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