Dodger Stadium Traffic (Manny/Flickr via Streetsblog)

I can certainly sympathize with people who don’t particularly care for basketball or hockey and don’t see why these diversions should receive special tax treatment. But I wish Seattle public figures would stop making deeply anti-urban arguments against the arena. Today’s nominee is Peter Steinbruck at Monday’s PubliCola arena forum:

Former city council member Peter Steinbrueck, who has been retained as a consultant by the (anti-arena) Port of Seattle but was speaking on his own behalf, had an interesting suggestion for arena proponents: Given that the city has committed itself to carbon neutrality, why not do a carbon analysis of the arena proposal?

Current estimates are that 65 percent of arena attendees will come from outside Seattle, and that fewer than 20 percent of all arena users will get there by transit. So what is the carbon impact of all those cars driving in from the suburbs? So far, the city has only committed to do an analysis of traffic impacts on the area around the arena as part of its environmental review.

On the surface Mr. Steinbruck is just asking for a study, but we all know how this goes: some people will drive to the arena, generating more emissions than they would if they stayed at home. Then arena opponents get to cluck at arena backers’ reckless disregard for the environment. Rhetorical points are scored.

The end logic of his position is inescapable. The carbon impact of patrons at Benaroya Hall and Seattle Center is not good; the cruise ships and those precious jobs at the Port also generate emissions. Shut all these down, and one eliminates the things that make Seattle a city. It would also sacrifice the economic and environmental benefits of urban living. More after the jump.

Taken to its extreme end, we find the easiest strategy for reducing humanity’s carbon impact: global economic collapse. Reduce us all to the living standards of 12th-century peasants, and emissions plunge. But that’s a cure worse than the disease. Presumably, Mr. Steinbruck hasn’t developed his line of reasoning to that point.

More seriously, what makes sustainability an interesting problem is that we want to preserve the most important things about our standard of living while reducing their impact. Setting aside outright climate denialists, the politically difficulty is that different people have different values about what’s “most important.” For those whose quality of life is centered around the flexibility of the auto, the promise of electric cars figures prominently. Here at STB, we believe that many more people would use transit and live densely if the transit was higher quality and the density were more widely legal, with positive economic impacts and little or no loss of utility. Inevitably, real progress will require a little of each. In either case, giving people fewer reasons to leave their homes is not the answer.

68 Replies to “More Spurious Anti-Arena Arguments”

  1. Excellent points here, Martin. To me, urbanism is about making the city the home of most of our social, economic and cultural activities. What better place for an arena than in a city center just a few blocks from the intersection of two light rail lines? Where else in the state in the next 20 years will two light rail lines even intersect?

    Many people already walk, bike, and ride to CenturyLink and Safeco – I know I do. Especially once East and North Link are open, I would expect a substantial number of arena visitors to come via transit. And that’s a good thing. Rather than a suburban location, major facilities like an arena ought to be located in centrally located places. That’s a good way to slash the carbon impact of those facilities and concentrate activities and visits in dense places where the carbon impact can again be reduced.

    1. The proposed arena site is a looooong walk from IDS, and not that convenient to other stations either. Now, if the proposal was to put it just east of CL Field, your point would be spot on.

      1. Where is it relative to the SODO/Stadium stations? I would be happier if the site was next to Link…

      2. Daniel, the site they are talking about is near to two Link stations: Sodo and Stadium

      3. The site in question is an 11-minute walk from Stadium station or a 16-minute walk from SoDo station, with a maze of rail overpasses and highway-access ramps to navigate to the former and vast swaths of industrial nothingness on the way to the latter.

        Basketball and hockey seasons both occur in the winter.

        This does not constitute a pleasant or acceptable choice for the vast majority of attendees.

      4. … with a maze of rail overpasses and highway-access ramps to navigate to the former and vast swaths of industrial nothingness on the way to the latter.

        Yes, that is the perfect description.

      5. [d.p.] Surely Hansen’s traffic mitigation effort will be express buses to/from Stadium Station/IDS that will get stuck on 1st Ave/4 Ave traffic hell. Problem solved. We can all go home…

      6. This is getting ridiculous. I’m pretty tired of the attitude that industrial zoned land is not important economically and the description of it as “nothingness” is pretty telling of that attitude.

        Industrial zones are where the dirty, loud, smelly, toxic and dangerous stuff that shouldn’t be done next to your house or apartment gets done. Industrial zones are where we’ve established an optimal economic environment for warehousing, trans-shipment, packaging, assembly and other activities that require space, low cost rental or land use. Like it or not, these are essential activities to our regional economy. They are part of the value chain for the foods and goods we consume or trade. They provide many living wage jobs. when you allow external economic forces into the mix, the viability of your industrial zone diminishes.

        While market principles can be applied in a number of cases I do not believe they should be universally applicable. I never met a market that cared whether humans lived or died and if simply allowed to operate unfettered, would consume the “seed corn.” Industrial zones are the cities’ seed corn. It needs to be protected, preserved and nurtured because it is what sustains a community from generation to generation.

      7. The fact that with the infrastructure today, the walk to the arena site from Stadium Station is no ideal is a solvable problem which can be dealt with for far less than the $500 million price tag of the arena itself.

        Under the assumption that if the arena is built, pedestrian improvements will be built as well, I’m not inclined to use the pedestrian environment today as an argument against building the arena. Also, just the fact that large numbers of people are doing the same walk as you, in and of itself, makes the walk safer and more pleasant.

      8. Industrial land is important. However, it’s not very walkable for the same reason that office parks and single-family neighborhoods are not very walkable: they’re big and there’s a lot of space between each building. SODO is actually pretty good as far as industrial areas go, because it’s mostly a grid and transit runs right down the middle of it. But pedestrians would rather not walk through such areas unless they’re going to an industrial business. On the other hand, for each sport attendee it’s only once a month or a few times a year. It’s more pleasant than taking an hourly bus to Bothell and walking through suburban nothingness to something totally out of the way.

      9. asdf, The ramp maze that defines the walk to Stadium station is practically brand new, and the lack of a north-south pedestrian crossing or an easy way down to the east side of 4th Ave south is intentional. (Wouldn’t want to interrupt the flow of vehicles onto the interstate!)

        You’d be a fool to expect any of this to improve for pedestrians, when the vast majority of attendees will be coming and going by car.

        Charles, I had no intention of passing a moral judgment on the industrial stretches of SoDo. I value their economic input, and in fact I quite like wandering around there (in good weather, when my intent is not to quickly reach any particular destination).

        The fact remains, however, that stretches of low-use industrial land provide fewer landmarks-per-block, making the time-conscious pedestrian perceive distances as further. 16 minutes up and down Broadway may fly by, but 16 minutes down Occidental and across Lander <b.will feel like an eternity. This is well-documented, but if you don’t believe me, please go count the number of pedestrians you see there today.

      10. I looked at the maps, and the proposed stadium seems to split the difference between Stadium Station and SODO. I would much rather it were a bit further east, and closer to one or the other.

      11. @d.p. I walk that after M’s games (because the spiral ramp at Royal Brougham is ridiculous) in April and September when it is cold, dark, and raining, and it sucks but its the lesser evil.

      12. I’m a “fair-weather Sounders fan” (in the sense that I only see games in person when the weather is clement), and I hate that spiral ramp even more.

        What were they thinking?

      13. They were thinking “how do we get cars from 30 feet in the air down to the ground in a 200×200 foot box?” Pedestrians were an afterthought.

        I tried the spiral ramp right when it opened, and haven’t been on it since.

      14. The problem is that stadiums are more than a block wide and the best potential sites in SODO that fit in the grid are those taken up by the current stadiums. And being next to SODO link wouldn’t be nearly as good — the stadiums aren’t just near Link, they are near all the downtown bus transit and a reasonable walk from lots of jobs. There’s one other SODO site that would be similarly good — the plot between 6th, Airport, Royal Brougham and Massachusetts — currently a Metro bus lot. I wonder if the developers would consider this plot if it were an option? Very little to demolish, which may make up for the cost of building a multi-story bus facility on part of the lot, but then the county would need to be part of the deal too.

  2. Are you making the spurious claim that requesting environmental studies for an unbuilt project is the same as advocating shutting down existing venues (already accounted for in carbon neutrality goals) and then pushing total economic collapse? And that opponents oppose the arena because they don’t like basketball or hockey all that much?

    1. Well, it is an argument that could be used against all upzones and all new construction. A better counter is what would the carbon footprint be to build the facility somewhere else, and would that footprint be larger?

      In this case, it isn’t clear what the carbon footprint *differential* would be without calculating the traffic impact and comparing it to building the arena at other locations. That could include, I suppose, if the arena were built in Oklahoma City.

      Traffic would be impacted, and could affect Port operations, but it certainly wouldn’t be because of competing with the Mariners. Will arena proponents please tell the M’s to shut up with their daffy arguments?

      1. While I’m ambivalent as to whether this arena gets built anywhere, I think it is a very valid suggestion to do such an analysis. Further, what’s the difference to urbanization if such a facility were located near downtown Bellevue versus SODO? Bellevue/Redmond is one of our major job centers, one of the larger residential centers and would supply a large percentage of customers to an NBA or NHL team. Indeed, I think it would have a very positive impact on EastLink usage and spur further density on the Eastside thus possibly reducing carbon footprint of everyday life on that side of the lake.

        My big beef is utilizing the public credit to provide substantial tax benefits to investors who absolutely do not need them. Investors whose combined net worth dwarfs the tax base of the county and city in question. Those investors should put their own money at risk. The public will do what it should to provide public infrastructure e.g. roads, utilities, transportation etc.

      2. Tagging on to what Charles has stated and calling out Martin for conflating sports as = to Benaroya Hall as entertainment is intentionally misrepresentation. The difference comes down to these facilities’ purpose: public entertainment as non-profit cultural venues vs. for-profit public entertainment venues. It’s an important distinction. A) is a public asset that would not be possible without public $$$, B) is possible absent of public $$$. If we’re going to blow $$$ on B, it better be placed in the best possible location and not at the expense of all other B-type venues. This proposal is an egregious abomination with significantly negative planning implications that people on this blog consistently ignore and yet cherry pick for any small rationale to support their blind position for this facility.

  3. Is the position of the Port that Seattle doesn’t need an NBA and/or NHL arena (a point with which I would wholeheartedly agree), or that the arena could be built with less of an impact somewhere else?

    Hiring a consultant to fight a dead parrot? It’s no wonder people see the Port as big money wasters.

  4. Is Steinbruck honestly suggesting that building the stadium in the suburbs will result in people driving less than a stadium downtown?

    It’s obvious that building a stadium will result in more carbon emissions than not building a stadium, but building a stadium downtown will result in the lower passenger-miles than almost any other location.

    1. Then put it in Uptown if our goal is transit mobility and aversion to carbon impacts. That is clearly the superior option, but let’s keep pretending SoDo is the only option. The Mayor needs to play ball.

    2. While I’m not saying this is the better choice, but it could be said that putting a stadium near downtown Bellevue would cause people to drive less to attend events. It’s worth taking a look at.

      1. As long as it is to be located on properly zoned and planned land, then yes, by all means, go Bellevue. I don’t think it has to be located in Seattle. But it CAN’T be located south of Safeco. Full stop.

  5. Ok, Martin. From Peter or anybody else, carbon argument as quoted isn’t the strongest. But given the particular focus of this blog, is it fair to ask proponents to do their fair share to assure that users will ride transit, rather than putting automobiles in the way of it?

    I’ll accept the argument that the basketball arena won’t be completely to blame for an already unacceptable traffic situation, soon to be worsened by traffic resulting from the removal of the Viaduct. And for the State’s refusal to help develop enough transit to compensate. But making a bad situation just a little worse isn’t much of a recommendation.

    I personally don’t see anything anti-urban about an aversion, as a citizen of Seattle, to seeing my city go into a partnership with a businessman in the hedge fund industry in a profit-oriented venture in the entertainment industry. But to keep On Topic- let’s hear about transit implications here.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The biggest factor determining driving will be parking. No spots for cars, no cars.

      1. There will be plenty of parking built, and it will be built on the west side of the BNSF line, because drivers will have no interest in dealing with the labyrinthine ramps and overpasses (as transit users are expected to).

      2. When the game is over, waiting in the long line of cars to exit whatever garage they build is likely to take quite a bit longer than walking to Link and waiting for the train.

      3. …And yet every one of those drivers will insist on parking on the west side of the BNSF track, and traffic cops will hold pedestrian traffic and vehicle cross-traffic while they funnel cars from the garages on their way to I-90.

        Why is the terrible pedestrian environment along the 11-minute walk “good enough” for transit patrons, when everybody understands that it would be anathema to drive-and-parkers?

  6. This to me is the only argument that matters and the best argument as well:

    “To me, urbanism is about making the city the home of most of our social, economic and cultural activities. What better place for an arena than in a city center just a few blocks from the intersection of two light rail lines? Where else in the state in the next 20 years will two light rail lines even intersect?

    A circle can only have one center. In our region, Seattle is the center of that circle and there will be bad outcomes if it doesn’t remain that way. My experiences living in the Cleveland and Detroit areas underscore this.

    There are valid reasons why people might want to live in the suburbs. But if they want cultural amenities, they should need to travel into the city for those. Otherwise, they will never come to the city at all, which is bad on many levels.

    Long term, who knows what the fate of the Port will be. The fate of Seattle’s cultural primacy in the region is something we can control if we make it a priority. The value of this primacy should not be underestimated.

    Moving forward, it may be one of the most valuable assets we have.

    1. Or, according to every economic analysis ever done on the subject, it could will completely lack value wherever it is built.

      1. I wonder how much of that is because of the lack of attention paid to urbanistic principles in the building of past stadiums – namely, the building of massive parking garages and lots.

      2. It’s because the amount of discretionary entertainment dollars that will be spent in a given region is fundamentally fixed, and any new entertainment venue will simply divert dollars from other discretionary entertainments.

        Sports franchise owners understand this, so they seek taxpayer help in parlaying themselves an unfair advantage (seen here in the form of tax abatements, etc). This is the only way that the numbers will pencil out for them to ingest an outsized slice of a fixed pie.

    2. You clearly don’t understand the Polycentric Urban Region model. Your premise is completely false. Otherwise, the Randstad is well screwed.

    3. I posit that our region has multiple “circles” of economic and cultural activity. We should plan accordingly.

  7. A better understanding is the whole urban planning discussion that also includes environmental impacts. It’s only one reason out of a whole cumulative series of reasons why this should not be permitted (contravention of proper and sustainable planning, existing underutilised facility in Uptown, not net economic generator, and drain on public resources. All reasons Thr have nothing to do with wonkish political interests of pandering or the merits of NHL/NBA.)

    1. And what transit amenities are in Uptown? (Better known as Queen Ann Hill to us long time natives.) A fifty year old monorail held together by bailing wire and duct tape.

      1. Uptown is Lower Queen Anne actually. Buses come every 3-5 minutes (Sundays included at the day-time 5-minute headway). Surely you must have noticed that level of service, right? My reference is really replacement of the Key Arena.

    1. Seriously though, it’s like 1200 feet as the crow flies from the south end of SODO station to the east side of the Arena property. Only run it on event nights and make it free to ride…

  8. There is no Urban Imperative that I am aware of…the arguments of density and ecology are unproven, vaguely made and unquantified.

    So all these house of cards arguments fall apart when the Tacoma Dome is put into the mix.

    Not only is it ideally situated for access from all parts of the state using rail, bus and car, but its already built…and new concrete is one of the largest CO2 sources.

    Tacoma Dome is an ideal answer…and best of all it puts all the cards in the hands of the citizens, not a few hustlers.

    1. There is no Urban Imperative that I am aware of…the arguments of density and ecology are unproven, vaguely made and unquantified.

      Cheers! [PDF] In terms of energy use and carbon emissions, dense urban areas are quantifiably and objectively superior to suburbs, exurbs and rural areas. Whether urbanists have done a good job making that argument is an open question.

      I’ve never been to the Tacoma Dome. Is it nice?

      1. The interior wooden beams are actually quite attractive when seen up close:

        The building itself, however, has no internal structure and no permanent concourses. It’s just a concrete cylinder with a bunch of stackable bleachers in it. To retrofit it with the amenities that modern sports franchises claim they “need” to be “competitive” would cost more than building a building from scratch. (Not that we should pay one cent to do either.)

      2. @dp

        Got numbers? Sounds like the anti Kingdome argument that somehow replacing a few roof tiles was “so expensive” they had to demolish the best structure in Seattle.

      3. @daniel

        I’ll suppose I have to read this now, but eyeballing the cast of characters in the frontispiece I imagine it will be the same litany. Look obviously if I put everyone into a 6 x 8 jail cell and forced them to eat gruel at a cafeteria it would be “efficient”.

        What these studies often fail to acknowledge is the suburbs warehouse retail model of goods distribution which is highly efficient.

        And with hydrogen cars coming online this decade, the air pollution arguments fall by the wayside.

        The car of tomorrow is a transit device, clean, and guided by Google for optimal transportation of products and people.

      4. Bailo. Dude. There’s nothing inside the Tacoma Dome. Literally nothing!

        The roof’s lovely, but the “building” is nothing more than some concrete poured in a circle. There’s nothing to repurpose, no costs to save on pre-existing structures or amenities, because there’s nothing in there!

      5. Hydrogen cars this decade, huh? Doesn’t necessarily address the pollution question in any case, and certainly not the traffic congestion issues that are sure to come from putting it where fewer people live and fewer buses go.

    2. So move to Silicon Valley, you’ll love it there. There’s a new stadium being built in Santa Clara, with wide boulevards on three sides, a creekside bicycle trail within walking distance, and a stop for the Amtrak Capitol Corridor and Altamont Commuter Express. And suburban light rail to San Jose and Mountain View. (Its ridership at rush hour is like Link on a slow evening, a site to behold.)

      1. Undensity, decentralization. Silicon Valley has it in spades. They’re realizing your dream. Or do you not think so?

        The Santa Clara stadium and its transit was an afterthought. I actually didn’t realize how much transit it had until I finished the message. So I don’t like the fact that the stadium is in the middle of nowhere in automobile-land. But given that, the fact that many forms of regional transit already stop there is a good thing, and should be remembered if Pugetopolis puts another stadium in an out-of-the-way location.

      2. Tacoma is the 3rd largest city in Washington and only 30 miles from downtown Seattle! It’s hardly an “out of the way place”.

        After 2 decades of tens of billions spent on transit, it’s horrifying that what you say is true: there is no fast, consistent, regular way to get from downtown Seattle to a central transit station like Tacoma Dome!

  9. I am not sure what the demos are on this site but for those of us who own property owners we are becoming increasingly sensitive to higher and higher property tax bills. There are so many levies getting bounced around……school,libraries and the two that were on the 7 August ballot AND the increases in water rates that get passed by the Council almost on an annual bssis. Frankly, I am suffering from ticket shock. And renters when your landlord raises your rent, its easy to think greedy landlord but s/he is paying higher property taxes as well.

    And this has nothing to do with liking sports…..I love them all. It has to do with watching sport team owners and athletes get mega rich while we foot the bill for their stadiums. Honestly? It sucks big time.

    And I agree with Charles……..why are we so fast to forfeit our industrial land for sports arenas. SODO has tons of small businesses that provide jobs to middle class and lower middle class Seattlites. We need those jobs and we need the port.

    Build the arena in Bellevue!

    1. Moving from the city to the suburbs last October, I’ve gotten a much better appreciation for the relative costs of living in the two places.

  10. I love sbasketball but don’t want to see the industrial hub of Seattle become unusable for the Port and related industry. The argumment over what land uses are appropriate becomes tougher with each incursion into the industrial area with other urban uses. Traffic congestion, not just from stadia, and the fact that we have transit there, and the complaint from industrial users that the rent is too high, feed the argument that we should just give up and let it all go to what the market wants, which in this case would be cheap land for offices. Events feed the conversion by adding lots of non-industrial users as potential customers driving or walking down the street.

    There is one thing that might help get more event attendees to use another travel mode or park at or near downtown, and that would be parking meters that are only on during events, and that charge something like the rate for on-street parking in downtown. Use those funds to finance some of the needed infrasturture problems like grade separation at the railroad crossings, and maybe the arena and the Port could co-exist.

  11. Public transportation (METRO) normally serves my neighborhood fine to Benaroya Hall or Seattle Center or to transfer points for all other parts of the region – unless there is stadium traffic. Then my bus languishes in a sea of vehicles and my 8 mile trip takes an hour or more. Another event site in SODO will not do public transportation in Seattle any favors. Even if transit to and from that site is made better, we will still have a mess unless transit through that site to the real center of the city is improved (e.g. dedicated bus lanes on 4th Avenue through SODO). The use of public funds to support building such a site, if justified at all, must be contingent on making a way for public transportation to get through the area without long traffic delays. Ditto freight mobility through the area. The arguments of this article are not germaine to the scope of this blog. The proponents of building an arena on this site are turning a blind eye to or at best minimizing its impact on on transportation routes through Seattle which are already pitiful during major sporting events thanks to fans who won’t give up their private rides.

    1. There are (almost) “dedicated bus lanes on 4th Avenue through SODO”. It’s just that they’re on FIFTH Avenue South (the busway).

      I really can’t see why more than one local service bus route runs on Fourth Avenue north of Lander Street; the busway is one block to the east, has no traffic conflicts, and has rubber tired vehicle stops at each of the major cross streets.

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