There is a real estate bubble growing in China and massive cities of mostly empty buildings are going up.

This is an open thread.

33 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Ghost Cities in China”

  1. With the pride parade, the closure of Montlake Freeway station really hurts, since any trip between Kirkland and any part of Seattle now requires fighting downtown traffic – even if the ultimate destination is nowhere near downtown. And, with ripple effects causing the bus to run behind schedule all the way out to Brickyard, the transfer option to the 542 is a joke, with a forced 28 minute wait between two buses running every 30 minutes.

    I’m going to attempt to try a 3rd option later today- taking the 234/235 to Points Drive, then walk one mile to Yarrow Point Station for the 542. The schedule says I have 12 minutes to cover the mile, and it’s uphill, but there’s no stoplights, so if I hustle, I should be able to make it. And the weekend 235 seems to run pretty consistently on time, and doesn’t make all the passenger stops the 255 does, since it’s not going to Seattle. Wish me luck. If it doesn’t work, at least there’s Uber to fall back on.

    1. Plan was a success, although I had to hustle to make it work. According to OneBusAway, had I been on the 255 leaving Kirkland Transit Center within a couple minutes vod the 235 I took, I wouldn’t have made it.

    2. Total missed opportunity to create a freeway station at 108th Ave that 542, 545 could have served when SR520 got rebuilt

      1. Yeah, that’s basically what the little jog from Bellevue Way to Yarrow Point seeks to do – force a connection at Bellevue Way between east/west freeway express buses and north/south local buses, when none exist. It is disappointing that with all that money they spend rebuilding the interchanges, they chose to put the big fancy stop at Yarrow Point, just because it happened to have a freeway station before, without thinking about where a bus stop would actually make the most sense in the broader transit network.

  2. It’s been quite bad weeknights. 255 truncation needs to back on table. And frequency between 545 and 541/542 needs to swapped.

    1. The 545 carries full loads where people want to go. The 542 runs empty much of the time. There are more events that screw up traffic on the Montlake bridge and around the UW stadium than downtown. And more complete closures that would completely screw over service. The more important question is why WSDOT was even allowed to remove the freeway station from a road they are widening and promoting as a transit friendly project. Can’t inconvenience SOVs but we can close a well used flexible transit facility

      1. Actually, the weekend 542 has been slowly becoming more popular, as more people learn about it. And, with the Link connection, it gets people to the middle of downtown in about the same time as the 545 today, quicker time during bad traffic.

        Yes, there are Husky games which screw up traffic, but there are only 6 of them per year. Downtown is full of events that screw up traffic – not only parades, but also every time the Mariners or Seahawks play, downtown traffic is screwed up.

        During Husky events, it is possible to reroute the 542 around the traffic. I would argue that during the reroute, it doesn’t really matter which Link station it goes to, as long as it goes to some Link station. Maybe during Husky games, the bus can just behave like the 545, except turn around at Westlake Station, rather than try to traverse every inch of downtown.

        The freeway station needed to be removed to make room for the construction of the Montlake lid. In theory, maybe they could have kept it, in exchange for reducing the Montlake exit ramp to one lane. But, there are a lot of transit buses that take that exit ramp, even ignoring cars, it’s not clear that such a move would have even been a net win for transit.

        That said, as I rode by the freeway station today, one week after it closed, there was zero work done in the area, other than blocking off the freeway station with traffic cones. At a minimum, they should have kept the freeway station open until they were actually ready to start real work.

      2. Work is being done. There is a lot of prep layout that can’t occur until traffic is blocked off that has to happen before they just start ripping things up.

      3. The more you leave stations or lanes open, the longer construction takes because they have to work around them. Working around them requires a lot of redundancy and missed opportunities. If we closed 520 completely for a few months or on weekends, it would all be done a lot faster, but the powers that be aren’t ready to consider that.

  3. Thanks for the terrific post about China, and for the two comments about Seattle.

    Difference I’m curious about is which system will better enable and motivate the average person to get active in its solutions. And anything else we can learn about actions and results in the rest of the world.

    Can you tell us, Oran, between us and the Chinese, which country, and system, better encourages the average person to get involved in its planning and building? Because this weekend’s news also leaves me with some curiosity about Korea. Both of them.

    Plain old age talking here, but have heard all I care to about the two individual people featuring so prominently in regard to North Korea this weekend. Since it’s time to get coffee up near our state capitol, will stop by the Korean War monument I really love- three GI’s huddled into their winter coats cradling their coffee cups in weather much too cold for Olympia.

    And get their opinions as to what kind of leader they’d tolerate our own Chief of State so enthusiastically claiming for a personal friend.

    Mark Dublin

    1. China is an interesting place. See nail houses for example:

      They’re basically a 21st century version of Seattle’s regrade spite mounds. China passed its first modern private property law in 2007, which prohibits government taking of land except when it is in the public interest. Given the examples of nail houses it appears to be even stronger than our imminent domain laws.

      I don’t know much about North Korea but private property presumably does not exist. This does not preclude the existence of personal property but I believe everyone is given a home based on where they work and can be evicted at any time at the whim of the government. I don’t know how common that is though.

  4. I want to continue a conversation we’ve had lately about the WSDOT Secretary being on the Sound Transit Board. I’m against this, it’s a waste of precious taxdollars – some of which Eyman is about to take away again barring a miracle or two – to have a high salaried person supposedly with transportation expertise sit there and say almost nothing. A professional parliamentarian can be contracted in to run the Sound Transit Board hiring Board Chair & Vice Chairs every year for a lot less.

    It’s our money and if I were on the Sound Transit Board as the statewide rep, I’d make sure to remind the Board & Staff of this. Every minute wasted tolerating off-agenda racist ranting or dollars on fancy stuff for moneyed West Seattle elites is one less dollar for working persons’ transit. I would also remind the Board & Staff of the suburbanization of poverty and the need to address it before being so concerned about tunnelling to low density areas.

    Either removing the WSDOT Secretary or a statewide rep for transit works for me. As long as we work together towards that end.

  5. What struck me was the amount of personal wealth in a supposedly communist country that has created this speculative bubble. From what they said even the farmers are getting rich building housing just for the sake of generating a higher price for the land when they get torn down. What seems missing is the middle class needed to buy these homes to live in. Has China created more income disparity than what there is in the US?

    1. China moved away from the communist model a while ago. They are basically fascist (with their own twist, just as they had their own twist on communism).

      1. China follows a beefed up version of state capitalism but I wouldn’t call it fascism. In a fascist government, industry and corporations control the state. In China’s case, the CCP controls industry; if a business does something the government doesn’t like the CEO will be deposed. China doesn’t follow a 5-year plan like the USSR did, they have 20, 30, even 50 year plans.

      2. What does communism even mean any more? “State capitalism” is a good enough name for China and Russia, where central planning has been mostly replaced with corrupt quasi-private companies, and free enterprise and private property is allowed around that. Cuba and North Korea are more centrally planned.

        For fascism, I prefer the definitions of Madeleine Albright (“Fascism: a Warning”) and Timothy Snyder (“The Road to Unfreedom”). Albright defines fascism as an intense nationalism that continuously scapegoats an arbitrary “other” (either part of its society or outside its society or both), an authoritarian state, and propaganda that intertwines true news with conspiracy theories to make people think the real truth is unknowable so they become passive. She says the only true fascist country now is North Korea, while Russia and Hungary are in a pre-fascist state, and Poland less so. China is harder to categorize because it focuses not so much on permanent enemies as on dominating its self-defined territory (China as it defines it) and area of influence (the South China Sea), which is more traditional imperialism. Snyder has a similar take and focuses more on the propaganda tactic. He focuses particularly on how Putin changed in 2012 and revived Soviet propaganda tactics to remain in power, and to make the West more like Russia (i.e., skeptical of objective truth and weaker).

      3. No offense but there are far better authorities on the dangerous of creeping fascism than Madeline “we are the indispensable nation” Albright. I’ll give you Putin being fascistic though, no doubt about that.

  6. China has always had a greater wealth disparity than the USA. Many rural villages look like something out of an East African famine documentary. A vastly greater percentage of Chinese citizens live in or below poverty. This is how the Chinese tech boom took off. Their employees are literally expendable to China. They can bus in hundreds of rural farmers willing to be worked to the bone to feed their family.

    1. I’m not an expert in real estate nor economic matters, but I am very much aware there is a housing crisis here in the Seattle area that is growing at an alarming rate. Rents are skyrocketing, as are listing prices. The same house that rented for $1500/mo less than a year ago now rents for $2100+. Houses that listed for $199K are now $300K+. Unfortunately, the cost of goods and services have also climbed whereas salaries haven’t budged. This is causing rampant homelessness, tent cities, increased crime, and a sense of desperation among those of us who are not yet homeless but know we soon won’t be able to afford to live in the cities we’ve called home for most of our lives. I don’t know about China, but it’s a helluva scary time here in the good ol’ USA.

      1. I’m not so sure I agree. Having friends, and/or family living on the streets of Seattle since the mid 1990s, I don’t think much has changed at all. Homelessness, high housing prices, and gentrification pressures are nothing new. The only reason the scale has increased is due to over 25 years of ignoring the problem.

        That fear that creates this scary time? Decades overdue. Money went into hiding the problem from you. It was still there though.

    2. China’s median income is $12K while the US’s is is $54K. That’s similar to developing countries. The average income is close to it, meaning income inequality is not that significant. Housing prices in China range between $800-$1600 (annually) in most provinces but $5000 in Beijing and Shanghai (five times higher). So median housing costs are 7%-14% in most provinces but 42% in Beijing and Shanghai. The US standard for housing affordability is 33%. But remember that Chinese save up to 90% of their income for their future medical/welfare needs and their parents’ (because public services are so minimal like in other developing countries), so that’s another essential cost. China has a significant number of millionaires and billionaires but that’s across a 1.4 billion population so it’s very diluted. And half the population makes less than the median income. So I’d say that given that some Chinese can live like Americans while the vast majority can’t, that amounts to greater wealth inequality, even if the percent of rich people is so small it doesn’t move the average much.

  7. I rode Link both yesterday and today between Columbia City and Downtown, on trains that were crowded with lots of standing riders. Even though it’s a big weekend for pride events, no sporting events were staged during the times I rode.

    With the fourth car, I’m not convinced that the trains will be able to carry loads like this once Federal Way Link opens. Northgate and East Link will attract more riders on this part of the line too. The Tacoma Fome Link opening in 2030 will add still more, and the impact of adding riders from the West Seattle Link stub in 2030 seems to make it become unfathomly overcrowded.

    How can we get ST to take upcoming crowding challenges seriously and report the overcrowding situation regularly? It seems to never be mentioned st any feel-good Board or ST3 expansion meetings.

    1. I think an editorial is in order. ST must explain the discrepency between Link’s capacity and the load needs we see evolving with our own eyes. ST staff have internally raised the issue of a potential north Seattle bottleneck (Westlake-Capitol Hill most acutely) but we’ve heard nothing about it for years. In south Seattle the existing 3-car trains are almost full, so how will the dozens of busloads in Federal Way and Tacoma fit into a 4th car when the middle will continue to grow? Even if it barely works with the projected ridership, that leaves little room for a 25% variation or spikes.

      The logical response to overcrowding is to continue some express buses, focusing on origins further from Link (e.g., Puyallup and Auburn). That would divert riders who have a 2-seat ride anyway without putting direct competition at the suburban Link stations. The north end is narrower so there are fewer options to avoid competing with Link, so I’d choose existing P&Rs (e.g., Lynnwood TC, Shoreline).

      1. I’ll be very interested to see in practice how many more people will “fit” into a Siemens car as opposed to the Kinkisharyos. They both have a published capacity number but the Kinkisharyos are so narrow in the middle that most people will not enter that area to stand even when there is “room;” they certainly won’t enter it to the extent the car’s “capacity” is likely based on. The Siemens have a wider area between facing seats in that section and I’d imagine more people will enter that area. They both, of course, have the problem of raised seating at each end, and even on buses many people won’t go up the stairs and stand. All of these things are likely psychological barriers where people do not want to stand somewhere that they feel they can’t leave in time to exit at their station. The obvious capacity solution would have been low-floor, open gangway cars but ST didn’t choose to go in that direction.

        The other issue that nearly all other cities worldwide have addressed is to not allow non-folding bicycles during peak hours. A bicycle hanging in the appropriate location takes up the space of at least two people; on the Kinkisharyos at least they also contribute to the feeling of a barrier between the center section and the doors (it will be interesting to see if that’s no longer the case on the Siemens cars). Of course, someone standing with a bike will of necessity do so immediately in front of the doors and will take up the same room as 3+ standees. Again, with an open gangway layout at least the “barrier” aspect would have been removed, although not the space issue.

      2. There way that people position themselves and their additional items does matter.

        At one point, I had to negotiate around a huge guy sitting in an extra-wide motorized wheelchair with items sticking out in all directions and a big dog lying on the floor next to him — in the entire doorway.

        The bicyclists were at least thoughtful enough to hang their bicycles, although both bicyclists I saw waited until everyone got off and others started getting on before removing their bikes.

        The upper part of the cars were completely empty. The lower parts were packed.

        An elderly man with a cane and barely able to walk was struggling until I got up from my upper level seat for him. Everyone on the lower level was too preoccupied to notice that he needed a seat — or even step out of the entrance to let him board easily.

        Some riders in large groups sat down in the train floor and didn’t want to get up so I could get off at my stop.

        The partial solid walls next to the door on the Kinkisharo cars encourages loitering by the doors. The Siemens glass wall won’t be such a visual demarcation.

        Humans are often clueless —especially in groups — so they must be told what to do. Some operators made train announcements to move into the cars — but oddly no announcements were made on the most crowded trains. Frankly, infrequent riders often have terrible riding manners because they haven’t had years of training.

        It would really help to educate how to ride at a SeaTac Airport Station before riders board. Tourists or infrequent local riders with luggage seem like a big problem. I sometimes think that a short video humiliating the rider “hogs” should appear on screens in every station about every 10 minutes.

      3. Hopefully the new seat support system will help with the luggage issue – all the cute hedgehogs in the world won’t get your bag under the seat, even international carry-on size, which is all I travel with – when there’s a support strut in the way. Apparently that’s been greatly improved with the new cars.

        That said, you are going to have luggage on your trains when you directly serve an airport (and a train station for that matter), and it’s another reason more open space should have been provided in the car configurations. Having luggage on a train that literally goes to the airport can’t be considered a “problem” – because what else should ST have expected? As in all cities I’ve visited with rail service to the airport there are always people traveling to/from the airport on the train, and most will have luggage. The alternative is to provide airport buses or to just make everybody use cabs/rideshare/SOVs as it used to be. That’s self-defeating.

        I’ve almost always found cyclists to be polite and understanding about getting on/off the trains, but the point remains that no matter how well you “store” your bike or where you stand with it, you’re taking the space of 2-3 people. That’s great when the trains aren’t full, but there’s a reason that even cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Paris, London (for all intents and purposes), Seoul, Singapore, Santiago, etc. all do not allow non-folding bicycles on trains during peak hours. Our crummy car designs just exacerbate the problem. I’m very hopeful that our new cars will have better places to put things in general, but they could’ve been so much better.

  8. I took the waterfront shuttle a few days ago. It was so overcrowded the drivers were not letting people on at the intermediate stops, and the traffic so bad on Alaskan that it took over half an hour to travel from Pier 66 to Pioneer Square. At that point I gave up and walked to King Street station from there.

    The waterfront streetcar with its dedicated right of way along Alaskan would have been really nice to have.

  9. It took 18 minutes for our 150 after Pride to get from Fifth and Union to 2nd and Union.

    There were hundreds of cops doing very little during the Parade; is there some reason they can’t have directed traffic after the Parade to get transit through, stop blocking the box, etc.?

    1. Yes. The reason was Proud Boys. The police presence was increased at all Pride weekend events due to credible threats of violence. Pride weekend events draw tens of thousands each day now. Event security is having to change to keep up with the times.

      1. Are the Proud Boys still around? If they had any self awareness they’d have joined the parade. It’s a bunch of lonely frat guys who regulate each other’s masturbation and stick plugs up their anuses, to “own the libs” I presume. I’m not even joking.

      2. Yes they are, and they’re getting braver and more violent. There’s been someone going around the pride events here (both main and Trans Pride) taking pictures of everyone she could. Activists have linked her to local neonazis, III%ers, and Proud Boys. They’re trying to get info on people they don’t like to doxx and threaten us. They’ve been behind regular attacks in Portland (that the police are doing precisely nothing about).

  10. The Northgate Link restructure is on.. At this point Metro is only asking for general comments on current service and needs, identifying stakeholders, and recruiting members for a “Mobility Board”. The first network proposal is expected this fall.

    “Areas: North Seattle, U-District, Shoreline, Bothell, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, and Woodinville”

    “Potentially affected routes: 26, 31, 32, 41, 45, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 71, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 301, 303, 304, 308, 309, 312, 316, 330, 345, 346, 347, 348, 355, 372, 373”

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