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This is an open thread.

47 Replies to “News Roundup: Changes Afoot”

  1. Re: the exurban piece, sigh. Once again, using growth rates alone doesn’t let us do a good comparative analysis. Saying “the exurban population grew by 60%, compared to 10% for America as a whole” is a pretty alarmist frame. Using exurban growth as a percentage of overall growth makes much more sense to me. As the article states, exurbanites grew from 16m to 26m and the U.S. went from 281m to 309m. The more helpful way to frame this is to say that exurbs accounted for 36% of total growth, or 10m out of 28m. Still a problem, but not as dire.

    1. 100% population growth in Skykomish is less than 200 people.

      Conversely, the current trend of greater population growth happening in center cities rather than the suburbs is based on similar statistics – percent of growth ignoring actual growth. Might be a remarkable trend, but not a game-changing situation yet.

    2. Free choice is a problem?

      This is why we need to purge all the ideologues from government planning.

      You people are a sick as a bunch of crazed mad scientists.

      How many times do people have to vote with their feet before you admit that they don’t want to live in vertically dense 1 bedroom condos?

      1. If a choice made freely requires lots of extra long-term public investment it can be a problem. If a choice made freely has negative externalities on other people it can be a problem. If a choice made freely has negative externalities on the environment it can be a problem. Often the sum result of a large group of people making choices in their own interest has results that are not in the interests of anyone.

        There is a public interest in efficient urban form.

      2. From Seattle Times economist Jon Talton, emphasis added:

        I’m from Phoenix, which wouldn’t even exist without the federal government: U.S. Cavalry to force peace with the Apaches; land-grant railroads; lots of federal money for the reclamation water-and-power projects; infrastructure to subsidize sprawl, etc. I went to good public schools. I lived in neighborhoods where fire, police, trash, water, streets, etc. were provided by government. I learned to love books at the public library. I was able to eat safe food thanks to federal law and inspections, and didn’t go through Depression-like bank failures because of government regulation. The tourism economy in Arizona is heavily dependent on the public lands conserved for all of us by the government.

      3. People are voting with their feet to live in vertically dense condos. They’re ridiculously expensive because demand exceeds supply. How many times do we have to point that out to you?

        No, not everyone wants to live there. But many people do. And they’ve driven up prices, which would be lower if people who think like you wouldn’t throw regulatory barriers in front of every dense project developers want to build.

      4. Glad you agree that the government shouldn’t mandate parking minimums or keep uses separate.

      5. “How many times do people have to vote with their feet before you admit that they don’t want to live in vertically dense 1 bedroom condos?” Once again, you ignore the fact that the people making these choices don’t have 100% agency; there are many external factors (often hidden) working to skew their choices. See: home loans, federal highways, zoning, parking minima, free parking, paying for roads with general funds in addition to user fees, media bias, cultural stigmas… If people were given a level playing field with an equal set of options, I think many people would be smart enough to choose Stockholm (or its equivalent) over, say, Federal Way.

      6. Hell, immigration laws are the ultimate “social engineering”, literally prohibiting people from moving to where they want to live.

        You can tell which places people want to live by which ones have an “illegal immigration problem”.

        The US has had less and less illegal immigration recently. This is a VERY BAD SIGN for the US.

        Europe, despite its problems, still has very healthy, high rates of illegal immigration….

    3. It’s about 2000 to 2010. In addition to the fact that trends have changed dramatically since then (temporarily or otherwise), this is about what was, not what “is.”

    4. That was an appalling bad article for them to run with. I was surprised the crap poured into it when I read it. The Altantic Cities is better than that.

  2. I don’t really understand the mentality of those who would trash Zipcars. Over the last 6 years I’ve been exceedingly careful and clean with each rental, and I’ve been really pissed on the rare occasions when other users haven’t extended the same courtesy. The out-of-pocket deductible for damages to Zipcars ($500) is pretty steep unless you purchase their supplemental waiver (which at $8/month you have no excuse not to), so there’s a strong incentive to take care of the cars.

    Plus, the main perk of Zipcar is to have a brand new, usually fully fueled, spotlessly clean car, whenever and wherever you want it. That kind of fantastic amenity is worth investing some pride in. I think marketing ploys to create “communities” are overwrought, and “Zipster” is a self-defeating term with their target demographic, but I don’t see “self-interest” in the economic sense as synonymous with self-interest-as-destroy-the-commons, and this article blurs the line between the two ideas.

    1. Spot on Zach. Seems like that author was stretching a bit for the sake of a “gotchya” moment.

      While it’s fair to say no member I’ve known is interested in participating in some larger nebulous community beyond the simple act of sharing the vehicle, I also think the complete lack of conscience exhibited by some in the article misrepresents the typical user.

      At the very least, I think most members share the enlightened self-interest that tells them abusing vehicles is likely to drive up zipcar’s cost of business and drive down membership. If you appreciate the service and want it to prosper, you don’t seek out potholes and trash the interior. And of course people that find a car clean are more likely to leave a clean car.

    2. “out-of-pocket deductible for damages to Zipcars ($500)”

      Actually, it’s $750, and I found this out the hard way. And no, I had no excuse not to buy the waiver, and once you’ve had a claim, you can’t buy the waiver for two years. Get it!

      ZipCar’s marketing is inane and tiresome, but then so is the marketing for my apartment building; nevertheless, the product in both cases is excellent. Out of many trips I’ve had only one bad experience where the previous user had trashed the car (it had obviously been a camping trip).

  3. I hope that the article on the expansion of “exburbs” shows the detractors here at the extent why people are still going after SFH, and still commuting into downtown Seattle and other major cities.

    The reason is simple, MFH isn’t for everyone, and more importantly it takes some ability to want to get along if one lives in a MFH environment. I’m not saying don’t have MFH, just trying to point out there is a need for SFH still.

    1. Of course there is a need for SFH. The trouble is that right now, regionally, the supply of SFH is OK and the supply of MFH is too low. One look at apartment rent and condo prices will confirm that. That is why people are advocating more MFH.

  4. Also regarding discussion advocating privatizing the services, I just want to say that I could not disagree with you more. I will not write a treatise here today. The public process may in some way frustrate you, but it is far superior than the behind closed doors for the profit of a few process would be.

    1. Privatizing rarely, if ever, improves things.

      Perhaps in situations where the government has become totally corrupt and is effectively a private operation already. (I occasionally suspect this of having happened at the federal level, where the majority vote doesn’t seem to make a whit of difference.)

  5. From the article on charging for Park & Ride parking: “I think there’s been poor planning for the number of parking spots”. Um, no… Actually, the problem is that they cost $20,000 – $45,000 each so you can only build so many in places that are efficiently served by transit.

    1. “Sound Transit believes it still can afford a $41 million, 400-space garage in Sumner and a $57 million, 600-space garage in Puyallup.”

      According to the back of my envelope, that’s $102,500 per space in Sumner and $95,000 in Puyallup.

      1. There are a lot of numbers in Mike’s article that I’ve never seen before. I’ve looked at the numbers for several garages around the region and so far the highest I’ve seen is Mercer Island P&R which was very difficult to build. IIRC the cost was > $40K per stall.

        I’d love to see the numbers behind Mike’s article but I only have so much time to rant about the cost of parking. If ST is indeed gold plating their newest garages even more than Mercer Island, that is a worrying trend. Money spent on parking is money not spent on buses, track, trains, or potentially far more cost effective bike parking.

    1. Why?

      Because its a small band of centrists pushing density when 99% of people want a nice SFH with a backyard, two cars and jobs and shopping with ample free parking.

      Purge!!!

      1. No, it’s because we can’t accommodate growth in built-up areas because the existing residents don’t like it. What housing we build in dense areas is extremely popular, but we’re able to build much, much more in the exurbs. Housing in the exurbs is cheap, while the small amount of new housing in the city is very expensive due to lack of supply, so people buy what they can afford.

        This will continue as long as an exurban house is $200,000 while a 2-bedroom city condo is $500,000. We need to allow more condos to be built to reduce that disparity.

      2. DURP.

        Make that 2 bedrooms.

        But still…130,000? And Beacon Hill…how much more affordable can you get?

        Geeze, maybe I’ll move there myself unless there’s alligators in the crick nearby!

      3. $330/month in HOA dues?!? I don’t look at condo pricing, but is that normal? It certainly isn’t cheap.

  6. I’m curious if anyone has seen any recent reports on 520 usage since the tolling? I know usage was down significantly right after the tolling began, but my anecdotal experiences tell me that it has increased quite a bit since maybe the first few months. It seems that congestion (at least on the evening peak toward Seattle) is almost back to where it once was. I’m sure all the construction going on is at least contributing to the congestion instead of just a result of more vehicles on the road.

    1. Check here for a recent update. Looking at slide 14 of the pack, it seems that the westbound peak is approaching pre-tolling levels…. although the duration of the peak is way, way shorter than it was, and overall travel times are much better.

  7. Anyone else surprised by how fast and (seemingly) easy a process it has been installing streetcar tracks on Broadway? The costs seem extraordinarily high for something that appears to be somewhat simple. It seems like you could extend to Aloha for relative pennies.

    1. It is a shame really when you think how much time and delay tunneling has cost LINK when in fact we could have just run streetcars up and down the hilly parts.

      1. Your idea would have turned the downtown->U-district section of Link into nothing but a glorified #49, taking 30-45 minutes to get downtown, rather than the 6-8 minutes Link is scheduled to take. It may cost more up front, but in the long run, the quality of service is much better.

        And so far, the tunneling is actually going ahead of schedule.

      2. [ah] Link (subway style) will be able to take you from the UW to downtown in 6 minutes regardless of weather, time of day, traffic…. The streetcar is great, but is no way a suitable substitute for subway(ed) rail.

    2. I, too, have wondered about the costs for streetcar track installation. I think it has something to do with lack of volume. Road paving is extremely expensive too, but the sheer number of roads being paved leads to something of a “volume discount”.

  8. Hydrogenia: The hydrogen powered rickshaw

    The Hydrogenia, as it is called, is being operated on the streets of Freiburg and Dresden. Engineers believe that hydrogen fuel cells would be an adequate replacement to the widely used batteries that power electronic bikes and other such vehicles. Fuel cells would enable these bikes and, in this case, rickshaws to travel further without the need for frequent recharging.

    http://www.hydrogenfuelnews.com/hydrogenia-the-hydrogen-powered-rickshaw/854924/

    1. Too bad that won’t work very well on the massive freeways necessary to get to the sprawling exurban SFH subdivisions that everyone in the entire world, including Freiburg and Dresden, obviously wants to live in.

  9. Anyone watching the Olympics bike races? That is some nice density I could like. Does London have height restrictions? To me that city looks “just right”.

    1. London shows how you can fit a lot of people in a medium-density area, if you make everything pedestrian-sized, and don’t devote acres to parking and highways, and have a full-sized subway system so that people don’t have to drive to work and errands. 3-10 stories over several square miles can pack a lot of people, even with some 2-story row houses here and there. When I first went to London, I was surprised that there weren’t any steel-and-glass skyscrapers in the center: doesn’t every city have that? But the skyscrapers are off to the side, in Canary Wharf.

      I don’t know how much of it is height limits vs historic preservation and borough autonomy. London has a lot of history to preserve.

      1. Back in the Victorian period, London underwent massive demolitions in favor of huge numbers of 3-10 story Victorian buildings, almost all of which have no space between them (rowhouse-style). And they didn’t widen the roads very much when they did this, either.

        Those turn out to provide a great deal of density. And of course they’re all historic now.

        The case of Victorian London shows that eliminating setbacks would actually do more for density than raising height limits. Of course, one side effect was a shortage of garden and park space (and the English do love their gardens, far more than Americans). The preservation of the King’s hunting grounds as gigantic parks helped a lot with the park issue, though — and back gardens are very common.

      2. I will say that it’s not height restrictions in London preventing “build-up”.

        It’s partly that there are large districts where practically every building is historic.

        And it’s partly that England has a system known as “planning permission”. There is very little “building as of right”. Every single project ends up with an individual consideration by the government.

        The result is that developers asking for more height aren’t asking for a “zoning variance”. With each project assessed individually, the pressure to “fit in” with whatever is around your building is quite large. The pressure to waste space with “setbacks” and “height limits” is minimal, because doing that *doesn’t get you exempted from the public hearings and planning board reviews*. There is no “technical compliance, ignore the spirit of the law” option for developers (though the “bribe the planning board” option is always there).

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