Third and Pine (Oran, Flickr)

We like to style ourselves a pro-transit blog but I think it’s more accurate to say that we’re actually pro-density. Among density’s chief benefits is the ability to capture efficiencies from people living close together. Yet under COVID-19 guidelines, we’re being taught to live the opposite: socially distance, keep six feet apart from one another, and do our best to stay home and away from enclosed indoor spaces.

Some are using the crisis to make the argument that contagion is a major downside to dense urban living – they point to New York City and chalk up the high rates of infection to its population density. Yet while major metropolises have been the ones headlining daily news coverage on the virus, its spread has been anything but localized. There are now COVID-19 cases in the majority of counties in the US.

I’m not arguing that density should be tossed out as a key epidemiological factor in the coronavirus’s spread – I think it’s clear that being in crowded quarters almost certainly increases the susceptibility of infection. But there are serious fallacies in interpreting “social distancing” as “we shouldn’t live in cities,” as I outline below.

Firstly, the crowdedness of a public space isn’t something that scales linearly with population density. For example, Manhattan may be nearly 20 times denser than Houston but that does not mean that Chelsea Market is 20 times more crowded than The Galleria in Houston. Crowd density reaches its own equilibrium, as long as it’s facilitated by good planning and a market-driven economy. This isn’t to say that public venues in Sun Belt cities are as crowded as those in New York, but that the likelihood of infectious spread in the latter is not somehow an order of magnitude greater.

Secondly, it’s important to understand that both urban and rural communities are merely agglomerates of smaller microcosms: community centers, retirement homes, malls, houses of worship, libraries, etc. None of these places are inherently urban – in fact, suburban and rural places rely on many of them as the only means of public community. Sadly, outbreaks have ravaged these very venues in cities small and large. Does that mean we should now consider abolishing nursing homes and synagogues? I think the answer is a resounding “no.”

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out the danger in oversimplifying density as a monolith. Indeed, many high-density communities abroad have successfully mitigated the virus’s onslaught. Daegu, Korea – the home of the second major outbreak – managed to flatten its curve rather quickly with widespread testing. Other places, like Taiwan, were projected to see a devastating toll yet have managed to suppress its infection rate. These success stories prove that with good planning (unified public health responses included!), dense communities can be resilient in the face of pandemics.

66 Replies to “What does COVID-19 mean for density?”

    1. Looks pretty flat to me. For the entire country, it peaked at 9 deaths a day, on March 24. In April, it has hovered between 3 and 6 deaths a day. Like many of the Asian countries, they got a “second wave” due to the poor handling of the crisis in the rest of the world (and travelers then visiting) but that is a curve that is about as flat as you can get.

      For comparison, Michigan had 110 deaths yesterday, and the numbers keep going up (

      1. Total deaths shows no signs of flattening. Active cases shows slight signs of flattening, at a level that would likely instantly disappear the moment coronavirus restrictions were removed. Only active cases shows any signs of actual improvement. Until total deaths shows any signs of flattening, saying South Korea has actually flattened its curve is incredibly premature.

        Sadly worldometers has a limited breakdown by US state.

      2. South Korea and the United States discovered their first cases of Covid-19 at approximately the same time. However, the national governments of South Korea and the USA took radically different approaches to containing the infection. History will tell which approach will be more successful.

      3. I don’t think it is fair to compare US responses to coronavirus as a whole. California and Washington have done quite a bit better at controlling this pandemic than most other states. Florida refusing to cancel Spring Break hastened the spread all over the eastern seaboard and if the telecommunications data is to be believed, states as far west as Michigan. With strategies and impacts varying so wildly, a state by state analysis seems more accurate and relevant.

      4. Total deaths shows no signs of flattening.

        Do you even know what it means to “flatten the curve”? Here is a brief summary: Look at the graph. The Y axis is clearly marked “Daily number of deaths”. Now go back to the same web page you referenced. Scroll down to “Daily New Deaths in South Korea”. It has a similar graph. You can tell that it is, at this point, pretty darn flat. I even told you — in text form — how flat it is. The high point was reached on March 24, with 9 deaths. On March 27th and 29th there were 8 deaths. They haven’t had 8 deaths since then. There is clearly a downward trend, which means we’ve seen the far end of the bell curve for South Korea. The curve peaked at 9, which is pretty darn flat.

        I honestly don’t know why you are so confused. It is a pretty simple concept. I think you are simply looking at the wrong thing. A graph looking at *total* deaths will never be a bell curve. How could it be?!! Think about it. How could the *total* number of deaths go down? That makes no sense.

        I don’t think it is fair to compare US responses to coronavirus as a whole. With strategies and impacts varying so wildly, a state by state analysis seems more accurate and relevant.

        In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. That doesn’t mean having one eye is ideal.

        Overall, the response in the United States has been poor. That includes this state. Look at the numbers: Look at the graph for “New reported deaths by day in Washington”. The overall trend — unlike that for South Korea — is still upward. We reached our high point yesterday, it was much higher than any previous day, yet the five days prior were higher than any five day period. Of course there is variation place to place (in South Korea and the United States). Various communities in South Korea barely got touched. But the national response in South Korea was good, while the national response in the U. S. has been terrible.

        This is because South Korea tested thoroughly, then traced. We skipped that step, and went into mitigation. This is better than nothing. It certainly has saved lives. It explains the difference between New York (which screwed the pooch on mitigation) and Washington State (which didn’t). But it doesn’t explain why, for example, Washington State — a model for the rest of the country — had 45 people die of the disease yesterday. 45! The peak for the entire country of South Korea — a country of 45 million, or 8 times the size of Washington State — peaked out at 9. Put it another way: 390 people have died from the disease in Washington State. That number is growing faster than ever. Yet it is quite likely South Korea will never come close to reaching that level .

        Washington State is the one eyed man. South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong all have very good vision. Japan and Australia could use some glasses but are OK, while New York (and much of the country) is legally blind.

        Our inability — as a nation — to look outside our borders is a major fault. Such provincialism is rooted in arrogance, and results in poor outcomes, whether it is handling a pandemic, or building a transit system.

      5. The definition you provide is bizarre for and comes from a pop science site. All infectious diseases reach a point where the daily number of cases reaches a manageable level for medical providers. An actual epidemiological flattening of a curve would involve multiple other requirements. That curve must be shorter than baseline, (something I’ll give S. Korea) and be maintainable even when pandemic restrictions are lifted (as pandemic response is finite). I also question the use of active number of cases as the benchmark. I’d mark overall number of deaths as much more important. Active cases can recover. The dead can’t.

        The rate at which people are dying needs to come down. Of course the absolute can’t.

        Your “expert” who wrote this, btw? No scientist. A former writer for Reader’s Digest. Actually look at your source next time. A massage therapist is better trained than this guy.

        Washington’s death trend, btw? On the downswing, not the upswing. Note the dashed line is at 35 percent, not 50.

      6. It is a pop science website because it is trying to explain a fairly simple idea in ways that the lay person can understand. Yet you still don’t get it. I really think you should reach out to someone who understands these things. They will explain it in terms you may understand. There are three basic concepts:

        1) The number of cases (or deaths) of an epidemic follows a bell curve.

        2) The curve can be steep or shallow.

        3) Behavior influences the curve. Thus making the curve more shallow — more flat, if you will — is known as “flattening the curve”.

        Perhaps an animated example would be more useful. Here is one, from Wikipedia: Do you really not understand, or are you trolling?

        I’d mark overall number of deaths as much more important.

        Yes, I agree, 100%. But again. Look at South Korea. Look!!! Look at the Daily New Deaths in South Korea on this website. Don’t look at anything else (it will only confuse you). This is the curve that people want to flatten. The numbers are obviously going down! There is a curve, and it is remarkably, shockingly flat! It peaked at 9 two weeks ago. Nine! For the entire country. Two weeks ago.

        Now look at Washington State. It peaked at over 30 deaths two days ago. Six out of the seven highest reported deaths have occurred in the last week. Do you honestly not understand the difference between the two charts?

      7. I come from a multi-generational medical family. We discuss these things over dinner. I reach out to them while passing them food.

    2. That looks a lot flatter than many of the other countries on there. He also did specify Daegu, not the entirety of South Korea, though I’m not sure if that’s relevant here.

      1. My guess is A Joy was looking at the wrong chart. The number of total cases will never follow a bell curve, flat or otherwise. You want to look at the number of new cases, or number of new deaths. Both of these are on this page, but can’t be referenced directly (so far as I can tell). If you look at “Daily New Cases in South Korea”, the numbers are going down (it has past the peak). If you look at “Daily New Deaths in South Korea”, the numbers are going down as well, but not as quickly. This may be do to undetected cases, or simply the lag period between a case being reported and death. South Korea is not out of the woods yet, and like many countries, should probably ramp up their testing, to avoid a bad “second wave”.

      2. All three are relevant. All three need to show flattening. That is not the case here.

      3. OK A Joy, please tell me how the number of total deaths is supposed to go down. Do you think ghosts are supposed to rise from the dead?

  1. “For example, Manhattan may be nearly 20 times denser than Houston but that does not mean that Chelsea Market is 20 times more crowded than The Galleria in Houston. ”

    Fair point, density doesn’t scale in that fashion, and major attractions are likely to be crowded if people can get there. However, I’ll argue that there’s another angle. Many more spaces in NYC are crowded compared to Houston. Elevators, sidewalks, subways, stores, restaurants, etc.

    Houstonians can escape many crowds by driving. A simple grocery trip in NYC could bring you within 6 feet of many hundreds of people between the sidewalks, transit system, and the store itself. In Houston, the only people to encounter would be in the store, which is likely less crowded than its NYC counterpart.

    1. I’m not arguing that you’re not more likely to get sick in a Times Square crowd than a Houston sidewalk. In fact, I think that assertion is objectively true. What I’m saying is that the slippery slope quickly goes from “socially distance” => “not possible in cities” => “cities are dirty crowded slums.” Prosperous (and equitable) density – the kind we want – affords people the opportunity to socially isolate in a once-in-a-lifetime season like this while still enjoying the benefits of density in normalcy.

    2. As a former resident of New York, I would say that the vast majority of people there without a car live within walking distance of a supermarket. It’s not at all necessary to take a train or bus to get groceries. And outside of a few places, mostly in Manhattan, the sidewalks are not particularly crowded.

      1. Traffic signals can make sidewalks artificially crowded anywhere by forcing people to congregate while waiting for a red light. Look at the cover photo of this post for example. How many people per light cycle do you think could get through if everybody follows social distancing. Maybe 2-3, at best.

        Fortunately, during the pandemic, traffic is often light enough that you can often just cross the street away from a crosswalk and/or run the red light, rather than expose yourself to the virus by waiting for the light at the crosswalk.

    3. Compare Delridge, 34th Ave SW, and 16th Ave SW in West Seattle. Or 24th Ave S between 116th and and 154th, or 192nd in north Kent, Timberlane where the 168 runs, West Lake Sammamish Parkway or Phantom Lake, Somerset Hill, etc. And those are just the ones that drew my attention over the years.

  2. What’s happening in NYC is awful, but there are many other factors to blame other than housing density and mass transit. Our national government’s blind eye to science is the paramount reason that NYC is suffering such devastating tragedy. Our national health care system is staffed with amazing people, but there was a total failure of national coordination until it was way too late to prevent mass infection.

    I also wonder if there may be a link between global warming and the emergence of coronaviruses. SARS, MERS and now Covid-19 have all become threats as the planet warms. Science may not have the answer to that question yet, but global warming has already been shown to be detrimental to public health in so many other ways that it would be foolish to abandon density for a life-style that creates more global warming. There are better ways to stop the spread of viruses other than blaming urban density.

    1. What’s happening in NYC is awful, but there are many other factors to blame other than housing density and mass transit.

      Yep. There is the incompetence at the federal, state and local level. New York City had all of that, in huge amounts. In contrast, San Fransisco and California responded much more aggressively (although obviously not as well as in South Korea).

      1. In 2009 during the N1H1 Swine flu outbreak, the CDC was shipping test kits worldwide within 2 weeks of the first reported cases in the US. Compare that with the federal response to Covid-19. Trump repeatedly lambasts the Obama administration for a bad response to the Swine flu, but Obama’s response was exemplary when compared to Trump’s.

        The reality is that many local and state officials weren’t basing their reactions to Covid-19 on science. De Blasio and Cuomo definitely made mistakes, but they were essentially making blind guesses without the benefit of any scientific information.

      2. I agree. It is like suddenly asking the janitor to apply a tourniquet. People like de Blasio and Cuomo should never have been put in that position.

        That being said, if I was the janitor, I wouldn’t ignore the bleeding, and tell the patient to just tough it out, the way they did.

  3. Once you get inside a large grocery store, the crowding levels are all the same, pretty anywhere – be it Capitol Hill, Lynnwood, North Bend, or Enumclaw. The reason is not surprising – a grocery store needs a certain number of customers per hour in order to stay in business. A less dense city does tend to mean more driving to get to the store, but it doesn’t make the human density any less, once actually inside.

    Anecdotally, I’ve heard stories about excessively long lines in grocery stores in other (less dense) cities, but haven’t observed anything like that here.

  4. The important thing will be what conclusions people draw from the pandemic. And the infection maps are not your friend if you are an urbanist.

    Ross says that Augusta, Georgia has the highest infection rate per million residents, so it would be a menacing deep crimson on the infection maps.

    But because its county is relatively sparsely populated overall, the size of the circle is tiny.

    Meanwhile New York City has nearly 15% of all cases having been infected widely in the early days of the pandemic by large numbers of asymptomatic travelers from Europe before distancing became widespread. It’s circles are HUGE.

    And now as the virus spreads widely it will run up against not only less dense places, but a population whose interactions have plummeted. In short we’re changing the nature of the comparison in favor of less dense places, which is necessary for the public safety, but is going to leave New York, Detroit and New Orleans with big black eyes in the popular memory.

    And even though Detroit is a hollowed-out shell of its former self, people remember it as a “Big City!” Similarly, though New Orleans has only a few hundred thousand residents, the pictures of the parties at Mardi Gras give a popular memory of huge crowds of people living there. They don’t. The virus hit right at Mardi Gras.

    So, the barrative from the autoistas is going to be “Mive to the suburbs for the sake of your families!” and a lot if people will buy it and demand to work remotely.

    Bank on it.

    1. Yeah, for sure. Those who oppose density won’t let facts or logic stand in the way of their arguments.

    2. Wasn’t it Albany, GA rather than Augusta? Maybe I’m mistaken about that. They are vastly different cities. I think the latter is something like a couple hundred thousand residents while the former is less than half of that. (I had to go there for a site audit years ago over in the industrial area where the chemical plants are. Not pleasant.)

  5. Given the headline, I expected a discussion of the effects on the real estate market. After all, much has been written about how local government regulation suppressed density — mainly through single-family zoning. As long as government enables wide marketplace choices on density, that’s what will govern the density that results.

    I expect the biggest remaining ridership effects of this pandemic to be an increasing acceptance for work-at-home and school-at-home. That will dampen transit use no matter what the density is.

    1. I think the worries about the long term effects on transit are overblown. Without a doubt, this will blow a hole in transit funding. That hole could be fixed by the government, or ignored. There will be those who use this as an excuse to push their anti-transit, anti-urban agenda (as Tom pointed out above). All of that will happen.

      But I doubt that office space in downtown Seattle will continue to be empty after the virus hits. Some will continue to work from home, while others will work at the office, and plenty will do a little bit of both. It is not like there has been a sudden, new invention that spurred this change. Those who could work from home (and wanted to) always had that option.

      Parents will be thrilled when their kids go back to school. Keeping them at home has been a huge burden for parents, including ones that work from home. One group that has been hit hard are those in college that have kids in school. Many have dropped out — and deferred their dreams — as a result. There have been a large group of parents that have been forced to into home schooling their kids — I doubt that many will suddenly embrace it.

      It is worth pointing out that 9-5 commuting is a very small subset of transit use (in every city). It tends to dominate the discussion because it is what the leaders do. Even with high ridership, peak service tends to be a very bad value ( A small reduction in 9-5 demand could actually lead to a more cost efficient system.

      One issue is whether businesses will continue to buy unlimited transit passes if someone works from home. Maybe, maybe not. It is quite possible they will buy them anyway, even if the users only commute into work a few days each month.

      Thus it is quite possible that once this thing is over, transit will be just fine. There might not be quite as many express buses headed downtown (or to the nearest Link station) but that may actually result in a better system.

      1. “Maybe, maybe not. It is quite possible they will buy them anyway, even if the users only commute into work a few days each month.”

        The company I work for operates like this today (pre-Covid-19 I mean) and I imagine it and many other companies will continue to offer subsidized transit passes to employees once we are past this public health crisis.

      2. Will the off-peak ridership come back either, though? My hope is that we’ve been able to cut down on new parking to that point that people will be cost-motivated to return to transit, but there’s still enough parking in the city that a lot of people can continue to make discretionary trips by car.

    2. To be clear, school-at-home I’m referencing includes very significant college and post-college adult education. In contrast, very few elementary school students use public transit in most places.

      1. Ah, OK, yeah, that makes way more sense. I forgot we were concentrating on transit (I was thinking you were slipping into a general discussion, as I often do). Sorry about that.

        Anyway, I still don’t buy it. Online learning (like working from home) has been available for a long time. But there are only so many people interested in it, and it only works for certain fields of study. In nursing, for example (likely to be in even bigger demand following this crisis) you just can’t do it. I know that professors are struggling for how to test their students, meaning that either graduation is delayed for lots of nursing students, or we are about to graduate a fair number of underqualified nurses (into an epidemic).

  6. As I wrote in that Richard Florida piece, there really isn’t a strong correlation between density and morbidity. New York has the most cases because it has the most people. To be clear, New York City completely mishandled the crisis, but as you can see on the chart (, it hasn’t been hit the hardest (on a per capita basis). There are several factors going on, and one might be that big cities are bound to get the virus first. Big cities have the most travelers per capita.

    You don’t want to be first, especially when the national response has been so poor. There is little time to prepare, and officials aren’t quite sure how bad it will get. Washington State got its first confirmed case a day after Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Italy was still ten days away from their first case. China was still covering up the severity of the epidemic. It is understandable that Inslee was slow to respond, given the incompetence at the federal level.

    In contrast, the first case to be reported in Ohio was on March 9th, and the governor declared a state of emergency the same day. By then it was obviously a huge national (and international) problem.

    Worth mentioning is that New York City got its first reported case on March 1st. By then it had spread through Italy and was obviously an international problem. The mayor, in a tweet, encouraged people the next day to “get out on the town”. The governor didn’t declare a state of emergency until March 7th. This is incompetence that rivals the president’s.

    The chart I referenced above is interesting in that New York City and Seattle are the only cities with even a moderate amount of density. Detroit is a hollowed out shell of its former self. In the greater Detroit region, there are roughly as many people as there was forty years. They are simply more spread out ( New Orleans is the same way. It lost density after Katrina ( It is especially sad to think that New Orleans has been hit twice by government incompetence in a generation. First the U. S. government failed to prepare the levies for a a hurricane and later they failed to prepare the country for a pandemic. In both cases, the problem was well known, and published in The Atlantic (as well as other publications I’m sure) years before the problems occurred.

    Anyway, density is a small factor. Singapore, Hong Kong and the cities of South Korea are some of the most densely populated areas on earth. Italy is nowhere near as densely populated (surprisingly enough). Neither is the United States. We have about the same ratio of density as Australia — a country that has far fewer deaths.

    The biggest factor is how the area responded. The Asian democracies handled this about as well as possible (South Korea is routinely considered a model for their response). It involved lots of testing, tracking and isolation. When things got out of control (like in South Korea) they followed it up with lots of social distancing. The U. S. (like much of Europe) has failed to do that first part. We’ve failed to test adequately, and have been one step behind, trying desperately to apply social distancing a bit too late (although it is better late than never).

    Even that has varied place to place. The biggest reason that NYC is so much worse than most of the country is because de Blasio is an idiot, and Cuomo isn’t that smart either. Both downplayed the crisis until it was too late.

    References: This is the best source I know of, for the most meaningful density data is here: It lists the number of people living in each density category. This is far more meaningful than averages (that can be very misleading). I wish I could find a chart listing every city and country though (it would make comments like this easier). Instead you have to hover over a city (or country) to see the data. The mishandling of the crisis in New York (by both the mayor and governor) is well documented (just do a search). Worth mentioning is that both of them have mishandled transit in a similar way, except in that case most of the blame goes to the governor.

    1. Detroit is a hollowed out shell of its former self.

      Yay! Something we agree on wholeheartedly, even down to using exactly the same words!

      That density map is great; thank you.

      Just to be clear, I hope you are right about a return to “Normalcy” but I would not invest based on it, at least not without clear signals for a few months after restrictions are lifted.

    2. “The biggest reason that NYC is so much worse than most of the country is because de Blasio is an idiot, and Cuomo isn’t that smart either.”

      I can’t speak about Mayor de Blasio since I don’t know that much about the guy but your remark about Cuomo’s intelligence is unwarranted. Yes, both men made mistakes early on by downplaying the public health threat. Both were slow to take needed steps to prepare for the coming onslaught and to slow the inevitable spread of the virus in the city and across the state. But Andrew Cuomo is no dummy. I met him a few times when I was working in the NY State Legislature after law school. His dad was our governor at the time and Andrew worked on his father’s campaign and served as an early policy advisor. He always struck me as a bright guy and hence why I take exception to your characterization of the man’s intellect.

  7. In the same “oversimplifying density” vein, we should note that there’s a big public health difference between (say) five people living in four separate apartments, versus five people living in a big old four-bedroom Victorian house. People or couples in individual apartments can self-isolate much better than people in a multi-roommate situation. This militates in favor of building more apartments in expensive places where people might otherwise only be able to afford to live with roommates.

    1. Perhaps a more salient question is “what is enough individual space for home confinement?” If people are confined at home more, more will probably desire more square footage in general and something outdoors and work-at-home space to be more specific. Micro-apartments will almost certainly be less popular. In contrast, accessory dwellings to single-family houses will almost certainly become more popular.

    2. Jane Jacobs wrote that overcrowding is not the number of people per square mile but the number of people per room. Dense apartments are fine as long as the number of people in each unit doesn’t exceed the number of rooms. Not just bedrooms but living rooms and dens (but not the kitchen or bathroom). That way everybody can be in a different room when they want to be, so they can balance their social time and solitary time. When people are forced to be in the same room all the time because there’s no other room to go to, it leads to chronic stress, which in turn can lead to violence and other health problems. So a studio apartment should generally have no more than one person, a one-bedroom apartment two people, and a two-bedroom apartment three people.

    3. “…there’s a big public health difference between (say) five people living in four separate apartments, versus five people living in a big old four-bedroom Victorian house.”

      I’m glad you brought up this very valid point as it’s often overlooked in the discussions on social distancing. We know, obviously, that the protocol is an effective means to control the community spread of viruses. Stay-at-home/shelter-in-place directives increase the efficacy of the protocol, but living situations vary greatly, as you’ve alluded to in your example.

      Speaking of which, as a kid who grew up in NY in just such an old Victorian home (later converted to a duplex) with nine other siblings and both parents on the first floor and a three-generational family with nine members as tenants on the upper flat, social distancing within our 20+ person “SFH” household would’ve been quite challenging to put it mildly. One sick kid, whether it be a bad cold or something more serious like chicken pox or the flu, usually meant other sick kids soon to follow. So your point is well taken with this reader.

      This sort of family clustering under one roof was a complicating factor in the wave of infections that hit Italian families early on in this global health crisis, as explained in the following WSJ piece. Your point is an important one and it shouldn’t be one that is just discussed among epidemiologists after this current pandemic runs its course.

    4. The percentage of people sharing large Victorian houses is decreasing over time because nobody is building more of them, and the more depcrepit ones are being replaced by apartments or townhouses or left empty until somebody buys them or gets financing to build something.

      1. Boy, talk about missing Bruce’s larger point about family clustering and the challenge that represents to social distancing.

        Victorian house conversions have been happening for at least the last 50-60 years. Hell, even the house I grew up in had already been converted into a duplex. When I was in college and then law school in NY some 40 plus years ago, plenty of students were living in old Victorians that had already been converted into 1-BR units. From a housing supply perspective, these changes were a good thing as the same square footage and house footprint was being used more efficiently (although I hated to see some of the destructive ways these conversions were done when it involved beautifully intact original features). Such properties will continue to evolve over time, barring a historical preservation decree of course; that’s inevitable. Yes, Victorian homes are no longer built, and, yes, many have been and will be torn down and replaced by other housing, sometimes that being apartments and sometimes that being new large SFH’s. In some cases like the latter, the density on the property may actually decline with the redevelopment. In other cases, such as the decrepit structure, as you put it, that is torn down and replaced with townhomes, overall parcel density will increase.

        This is all pretty straightforward stuff but, again, it misses the larger point of Bruce’s comment above. Folks in the US today just don’t habitate in the same extended family clusters like in other parts of the world. That could change in the future of course as a result of our housing affordability problem and impending wave of baby boomers suffering from cognitive functioning ailments. The bottom line is that ALL of our housing arrangements need to be taken into consideration when employing social distancing protocols during a public health crisis.

      2. Maybe we’re talking about different things. I was thinking of a house where each renter has a room and they all share the living room, kitchen, and bathroom. I haven’t seen Victorians converted to multiplexes; I assume the units are separated enough that they can count as isolated. I do know somebody in San Francisco who converted his basement to an ADU and rents it out.

  8. covid 19 is new. we hope humans develop universal testing, immunity, or resistance. in the meantime, we distance.
    note Oran picture with post. it is before fall 2012, as Route 14 is about to turn left to southbound 3rd Avenue and a Breda electric trolley bus, probably on Route 43, is in the right westbound lane. Route 14 was split in fall 2012; Route 43 was almost killed off in spring 2016.

    1. It is quite likely that after this is over, various agencies (from around the world) will write a report about what went right and what went wrong in terms of the response. Whether the U. S. government will ignore the report (as they did prior to this virus) or whether they pay attention to it depends in part on who is in office.

      I would like to give countries like South Korea credit, but a large part of that is because they dealt with SARS. My guess is most countries will have finally learned their lesson after this one.

    2. eddiew, recall George Bernard Shaw’s observation that obituaries are often considerably overstated. ‘Til the DSTT (do we still call it that?) gets used to Eastlink, might be good to keep that Bus Bridge called the Route 43 in our pocket. Or a quick-draw holster.

      And if I lived along that wire from Montlake to 23rd and Thomas, my King County Councilmember would never forget how bad I hate having all my Capitol Hill Group Health visits meaning a two-seat ride with a nowhere transfer point. Though I know I don’t have to fear the key switch will be taken down.

      The wire and special work the Downtown Seattle Transit Project left hanging in the in the air between First and Columbia and James and Third to connect Colman Dock with the 2-wired world- still there after 37 years. No sign of a work order to remove.

      Abstractions like “Density” always sort of risky. The British High Command in Rudyard Kipling’s INNdjah! could’ve justified the Black Hole of Calcutta as an anti-Sprawl measure that got out of hand. But wonderful picture, Oran.

      Perfect optics for the D-word as Seattle Transit Blog understands it. Good posting too, Sherwin.

      Mark Dublin

  9. Taiwan has only 350 cases yet has extremely dense cities.

    Having a competent and fast response makes a huge difference.

  10. Density is just one factor. Building designs may be better or worse in equally dense areas. New York’s plight was shaped to some extent by the actions of the mayor, governor, and president. I think the mayor wanted a stay-at-home order earlier but the state wouldn’t allow it. And the president is allocating resources based on the states’ political profile, swing-state status, and willingness to brown-nose him. New York is a blue state and not particularly cooperative, so it gets fewer resouces or regulatory relief. You can probably trace the lack of resources to some of the number of infections and deaths.

    So turning around and saying, “Dense cities are unsafe and should be abolished”, misses the point and is misleading.

    Long-term we may have to make structural changes to our society, population distribution, and economy to be more resilient. But these need to be thoughtful reforms that consider all the factors, not knee-jerk ideological responses. Planting smaller satellite cities can be a good choice, as long as they’re not designed in a car-dependent, high-energy-dependent way. The US’s problem is not that we have a lot of suburbs and small cities, it’s that they’re designed in a non-resilient way, like a child’s fantasy of utopia. They should be more walkable and mixed-use, designed around a hierarchy of transit, with more local agriculture (including victory gardens and rooftop gardens) and renewable energy (including rooftop solar panels), and passivhaus design (making the building so it stays cool in summer and warm in winter without artificial heat/cooling), and no using municipal boundaries to starve resources from high-minority central cities.

    Germany and the Netherlands have no large cities; they chose a distribution of medium-sized cities instead, Yet those cities are designed much better than similarly-sized American cities. The center of town is the main train station, and it goes to everywhere in the country, both large and small cities and towns. Local transit is comprehensive, or at least mostly comprehensive and they’re working on it, and you can often walk to the store or to a park or plaza. This makes them more resilient, both to pandemics and to oil-price shocks and political disturbances around them. They may not have fewer cases, but a lockdown is less disruptive.

  11. The one thing I know for sure is that public transit is in big trouble. It was already in decline in most cities prior to COVID. Now it is hit with the triple whammy of reduced budgets, avoidance of crowded spaces, and an increase in remote work.

    As for positives–people are realizing how stupid it is to spend 2+ hours per day commuting to work. So if people are going to move to the suburbs, they are not going to do so with the expectation that they will be commuting to the city every day.

    So maybe people will want to live closer to work. Maybe they will want to continue going on nice afternoon walks and be repulsed when heavy car traffic returns. Or maybe everyone will just try to return to normal.

    1. It was declining not because people didn’t want to take transit but because transit wasn’t there to take. Cities have been reducing service, not expanding it to match population growth, building new neighborhoods and suburbs without transit, leaving buses stuck in traffic (giving one car the same priority as one bus). and neglecting maintenance so long that subway trains are breaking down or catching fire. There’s a direct correllation between the quality of the transit network and ridership. A nominal network of half-hourly routes from 6am to 7pm weekdays is not useful if you travel in between runs, need to go several places in a day, or work evenings or weekends. When frequency is reduced, more people drive. When a suburb is built without transit (suburban counties in Dayton, Ohio, have no transit; Monroe, Snoqualmie Ridge, and Redmond Ridge barely have any; Sammamish has slightly more), people who might want to take transit drive out of necessity. Other countries like Canada do have transit in similar communities, and have ridership accordingly.

      The average commute is 25 minutes. 30 minutes is the threshold where people start thinking it’s long and look for alternatives. 2-hour one-way car commutes are common only in the largest metropolitan areas like the Bay Area or Los Angeles. 2-hour transit commutes, well, you’d have to be doing something like Bonney Lake to UW or Ballard. Only a small percent of the population commute from Pierce or Snohomish County to downtown Seattle. It just looks large because it’s the largest single concentation, but it’s still a small minority of workers. Downtown Seattle has 10% of the region’s jobs, not 50%. Most people have a commute of 30 minutes or less.

      If current downtown workers switch to shorter commutes to suburban jobs, it will be part of a long-term trend and a small change, because the motivation to do it has been the same for years, and most people who want to do it already have.

      Meanwhile the office buildings downtown exist, and even if companies leave, other companies will eventually take their place as the population increases or urbanism has another wave of popularity.

      1. “The average commute is 25 minutes…..”

        The average is a bit higher here in our region per a PSRC report from a couple of years ago. (I would assume it’s even higher than this report states as the data is from 2017.)

        Your commentary above also reminded me of another PSRC report that was released last year that looked at the cross-county work/reside patterns here in our region. The data is a bit outdated (2015) so it would be great if the PSRC could update this information for us. Regardless, I thought you might enjoy giving the report some of your time.

        Of course, in all of this discussion one cannot ignore the role of housing affordability, or lack thereof specifically, in our region’s commute patterns.

      2. Yes, there is a positive feedback between quality of transit and ridership.

        So now we’re likely going to have budget cuts reducing transit–which means a positive feedback in the opposite direction.

        Even something like remote work can trigger this. If less people are riding the bus you can’t run buses as frequently, which reduces the quality of service for everyone.

      3. I thought it was still 25 minutes even in King County. Nevertheless, the report says 29.9 minutes. So right at the threshold. Not high enough for the mass of people to take major steps to reduce it.


      Sadly, Joe, trouble increases with the waist-size. Including for transit. But one company this guy founded created the Electroliner, that ’til it went down fighting in 1963, at least showed public transportation how to die in style. Look it up.

      Whose influence left my lifetime career plans from kindergarten to college as rusty and weedgrown as all the remaining Interurban- street running in town, 90mph cross-country-track in America. Luckily, decade or so after college, I turned 40 at the wheel of regional electric rail temporarily run with buses. Huge improvement over sharpie lines with flip-charts for roadbed.

      Like the whole world of Misery, troubled transit loves company. Would help if our current Chief of State would stop whining for everybody to leave the US Federal Government out-of-this because the States can handle it. Like they’re doing with COVID-19.

      Good that on 12/7/1942, his predecessor “called” the War for the Feds. But Normality’s also got a shaky history.

      “They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” Good thing poor Socrates never had a Garfield High classroom full of cross-legged kids with their belt-lines just above their knees except with kilts instead of jeans.

      For us, though, good chance that path to transit recovery may indeed be paved with red. Back in Chicago where the Clark Street streetcar line ran right past miles of giant stockyards and slaughterhouses, not funny about what cost-conscious Mayor Daley might very well have used for their signature dark red livery.

      What’ll turn the trick for Transit this time will be motorists’ realization that their only chance to avoid standing still will be aboard something on rails or red tires.

      “Driverless?” Same conditions as Vancouver Sky Train: human passenger-assistants on board who can enforce fares, maintain order, and give information. In addition to grabbing controls when robotics fail. On right of way reserved like a high-speed elevator shaft.

      Though most likely main private car usage? Vans with beds for seats, sinks and showers for “freshening up”, all-wall video screens, and birth-control dispensers. Like it says on the semi’s: “If the cab be a-rockin’ better not come a-knockin’!”

      Density-wise, I won’t fight it.

      Mark Dublin

    1. Whooooo-weeeee, Sam! This one gets you a pass for a month that’ll be All-System Proof of Payment no matter how you screw up the “Taps”. Including the one on the bugle! gives the lyrics. Shakespeare, U.S. History, generations of Timeless Entertainment…Combined Masters’ Thesis in fifteen minutes. Also proof that for his whole career, Bob Dylan faked that whole lifelong bit about singing like a hill-billy.

      Mwanza, Tanganyika, our third-floor apartment over a golf-course that’s now a farming village. My dad had contract work as an adviser in cooperatives. Gloomy November afternoon, November 22, 1963. Our Israeli downstairs neighbor came running up the stairs. “Turn on the radio! They’re saying Kennedy’s been shot!”

      Sequel is already in the works. Next twenty chapters will be about the Viet Nam War, from the speech where Lyndon Johnson lied us into it ’til the curtain came down on our bidding the place goodbye with its nationals, who’d helped us, clinging to the runners of our aircraft. Is the Turner Joy still tied up at Bremerton? Our radio man thought wave-action was Communist weaponry.

      Wonder what Shakespeare’s theater said for “To Be Continued.” On my “Essential” – Jay Inslee says so!- walk around the Capitol Grounds yesterday, went by the Korean War memorial across the footbridge over the Boulevard. Three life-sized GI’s, blankets useless for that blizzard at Chosin Reservoir. One figure reaching down to set something real small on fire with a pocket lighter. Plaque? “The Forgotten War.” Not quite accurate.

      From Viet Nam ’till whatever follows Now, the “F-word” is crap. Or more like “We Never “F”riggin’ Learn!” Wish “Density” would go back to matter of mode choice for transit. For foreign policy, it’s 57 years and counting of Murder Most Foul. Serious thanks.

      Mark Dublin

      1. ” … where Lyndon Johnson lied us …” Thank you for reminding us. Lying in politics spans both parties, and spans generations.

      2. Johnson and Bush lied us into wars but kept the country and democracy mostly intact and felt a responsibility to all Americans in times of crisis. The current crop of Republican bigwigs are actively suppressing votes, dismantling well-established social programs,and supporting an wannabe mob boss who gives political favors to his friends and punishes his enemies out of spite. You have to go back to the 1800s to find anything comparable.

  12. Thanks for admitting that “it’s clear that being in crowded quarters almost certainly increases the susceptibility of infection.” I’m retired from a local transit agency, and I certainly value that lifetime retiree ORCA card in my back pocket — but I haven’t used it since this COVID-19 disaster struck. For obvious reasons — it’s too hard to accomplish adequate social distancing on a bus or rail car. I am thankful I have a private car for my necessary travel during this crisis.

  13. RD, same for my car. But one, what if I didn’t own one. And two, what if my wife and kids, if I had either, needed my income to avoid either starving to death, or all of us being evicted?

    And Sam, I did take a lesson in US politics that’s only gotten stronger as the decades pass. The only thing that’s more dangerous than the authoritarian, racist, wealth-toadying, war-loving, ignorance-loving branch of either our political parties…..

    Is the branch of either one that’s afraid of it.

    Mark Dublin

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