A humorous take on the car-oriented urban growth of Dubai contrasted with its old town and neighbor city.

61 Replies to “Holiday Weekend open thread: Dubai’s urbanization”

  1. Question, Oran. If you’ve been to Dubai in person, maybe you can give me a answer to this one: What’s the likely order of thanks that Dubai’s authorities will convey to anybody requesting that the problem be fixed?

    Mark Dublin

  2. Le Corbusier said it would be utopia.

    I bet he didn’t foresee palm-tree shaped islands. I wonder if anybody lives on those islands, or they just have an empty condo they park their money in.

    1. I’m amazed that the video doesn’t adequately discuss two major things:

      – The Climate. Dubai’s average high temperature is over 100 degrees four months a year and over 95 for six months a year. That kind of heat affects street life and is why self-contained buildings and covered parking garages are popular.

      – The sand.Dubai has an abundance of sand by which to build lots of things including buildings and roads. Oil is used in asphalt. In contrast, forests are scarce — making wood expensive.

      I agree with the video that Dubai is a mess today — but there are many comments in the video that implies that it fails because it simply isn’t quaint like Boston or Philadelphia or an old European city. It’s kind of a elitist view of ideal cities that seems deaf to the weather and the surrounding resources.

      1. The author did mention that the people in charge would have inevitably struggled to create an attractive city in so little time. It is tough to add character so quickly (South Lake Union doesn’t look like Pioneer Square).

        That being said, there were significant failures, most of which are auto based. There is a huge freeway that connects all the skyscrapers. It looks to be one of the widest in the world. At some point, as growth looked inevitable, they could have built a mass transit system running through town, while shrinking, or even ending the freeway for new areas. There is (or at least was) no place more likely to have TOD. The train probably could run on the surface as well, with shaded stops.

        The other was failing to create a grid for the residential neighborhoods. For that matter, it isn’t clear if these are real neighborhoods (with shops available nearby) or if people living in town are supposed to drive a couple miles to get something to eat.

        In contrast, the old city is a real city. It has covered walkways (to keep out the heat) with shops and housing mixed together (as they are in most parts of the world).

        More than anything, it just looks like an ode to the automobile — like a General Motors version of the future from 1960. Cars everywhere, massive freeways and a messed up street grid. It has neither the old-city style (like Cairo) where the streets evolved over centuries, long before the car, nor does it have the sensible, Cartesian street layout, that goes as far back as Babylon. Instead, it adopted one of the worst forms imaginable. The streets seem to be adapting to an imaginary natural feature, as if carved on the side of a hill, but without any of the character. It makes getting around by any mode difficult. You add extra distance (which is especially bad on foot) and extra congestion (for those on bikes or cars). It is as if they took the worst experiments in Western design from the last 50 years and said “Hey, let’s do that”.

        I suppose it isn’t too surprising. The whole point is to appeal to extremely wealthy westerners, especially those that are doing business. It is like Vegas, without the gambling, sex and alcohol (it is an Islamic country after all). Arrive at the airport, get picked up in a nice car, go to the casino skyscraper, and do your business. With your time off you can relax by the pool. No sense interacting with any of the locals, other than the businessmen and service workers. At most your experience of local culture consists of buying trinkets at the lower level gift shop (some turquoise jewelry in Las Vegas, a gold necklace in Dubai). Again, not that surprising for a petrostate.

        By no means is it the worst thing in the U. A. R. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_the_United_Arab_Emirates). But it doesn’t bode well for the future. Assume for a second that things get better, and increased overall wealth leads to liberalization (like what happened to Turkey when it became a republic). Also assume that they transition from being oil dependent, and create a more diverse economy. Now you have a fairly comfortable nation, with a lot of diversity, and yet it is boring as all get out. It lacks Arabic culture, and really, any culture at all. There is a huge South Asian population there (outnumbering native populations by a huge margin) which means it would be quite reasonable to have an interesting “little-India” part of town, with the cross-cultural mixing that you would expect in a port city on one of the oldest trade routes in the world. Better yet, you would have a variety of different restaurants in each neighborhood. But even if it has that (and I’m not sure it does) it is so unpleasant to experience, it isn’t worth bothering. At best you create that “tourist” part of town (old town, if you will) which then becomes extremely crowded, more expensive, and more likely to lose its interesting cultural base. At best it becomes somewhat attractive for visiting, but not the kind of place you want to live.

      2. It’s senseless to build such a large city with skyscrapers in the desert in the first place. In the US this happened when sensible Carter gave way to flashy Hollywood Reagan, and then conspicuous consumption was “in”. That’s Trump’s native element, so he either had a highrise in Dubai with his name on it, or would have. That’s what a lot of those skyscrapers is about, and the palm-tree shaped islands. It’s showing that Dubai is wealthy and successful and can build big things, and wouldn’t you like an address in such a world-class city?

        Re the car-dependent, superblock landscape, Le Corbusier envisioned it, and Las Vegas is an example of it. I’ve heard Saudi Arabia is also like that, and has no public transit to speak of. So Dubai is probably following the Middle East petrostate trend.

        Another commonality is Santa Clara. When I went to a conference at the convention center there, I asked at the hotel where the nearest supermarket was, and they said this neighborhood was all “corporate” and didn’t have that. I looked to see what corporate meant, and it seems to mean car-dependent superblocks. The nearest non-hotel breakfast was an IHOP three blocks away, but the blocks are a half mile wide, so it took 30 minutes to walk to it. There was a light rail station, so I took the train to find a supermarket somewhere, and I had to go all the way to downtown San Jose to find one. (That’s 34 minutes, so comparable to Westlake-SeaTac.) The second year I was in a hotel further south, and it was a 20-minute walk over a hill to a Safeway plaza or anything comparable. The north-south buses were 30 minutes weekdays/Saturday and 60 minutes Sunday. There is a Guadalupe River Trail, which was probably the best thing about the area. That all is what this Dubai layout reminds me of.

        if Dubai were simply building a city for the ordinary needs of its citizens, the city would have been smaller and different.

        The South Asians that make up the majority of the population may not be there forever. They have to return to their native country if their job ends, and their jobs ultimately depend on oil profits. The price of oil is low with the recession. US shale has changed the economic equation. The price of solar/wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels in some situations. The world might get serious about curbing carbon emissions someday. Saudi Arabia is realizing the time has come to prepare for a post oil-profits future. It’s possible that that South Asian population in Dubai will evaporate within ten years, and the prestige bubble of having a tycoon address in an Islamic desert will pop, and then there will be a lot of abandoned buildings.

      3. At some point, aren’t you just replacing “quaint European town” elitism with “luxury vehicle oriented billionaire tower-in-the-park” elitism? Make no mistake—those towers are built for the elite! As a other poster said, it’s like Las Vegas without all the casinos and (non elite) entertainment options.

      4. “It’s senseless to build such a large city with skyscrapers in the desert in the first place. ” I actually like desert cities, like Phoenix and Vegas, because they don’t displace valuable agricultural land. Dubai is a logical place for a global city, given it’s location along sea and air travel lanes. Not sure if skyscrapers are better or worse for desert storms.

      5. It would be Western elitism except — every other culture has the same. Traditional Arab cities are walkable, as are Chinese, Japanese, and African cities. Tower-in-the-park skyscrapers were a specific Western form. Modernism became fashionable in the 20th century, and those steel-and-glass towers are seen by some as the ultimate status symbol — again because they’re modern and came out of a go-go American success culture. (The concepts originated in France [Le Corbusier] and Germany [Bauhaus], but the US is where they first flourished on a large scale.) The US didn’t want “old world” things, then the totalitarian bloc didn’t want them either, and now the prosperous Arab countries are following the same pattern. Except in Eastern Bloc countries, you can at least walk from the tower-in-the-park to the metro station and market even if it’s not a very pleasant landscape; the superblocks aren’t sliced off by impassable highways.

      6. This reminds me of a conversation I’ve had multiple times with multiple different people:

        Other person: Once every car is autonomous, traffic jams will be a thing of the past because the cars can drive bumper to bumper and you won’t have those pesky humans doing dumb things that cause accidents.

        Me: That only works on the highway. As soon as you reach a city street, there’s only so many cars per minute that can fit through an intersection, so if there’s too many cars, there will still be bottlenecks. Even on the highway, if there’s too many cars trying to exit into downtown at the same time, there will still be a long backup on the ramp.

        Other person: But, have you seen those demos for automated intersections on YouTube? Once all the cars are autonomized, you can get rid of traffic lights and just let the computers coordinate who goes when. You can fit far more cars per minute that way than with conventional intersections.

        Me: You can theoretically do that in some highway interchange where the only vehicles are cars. But, in the middle of the city, you’ve got bikes and pedestrians. How are they supposed to cross?

        Other person: Just build Bellevue-Square-style overpasses and nobody needs to cross the street anymore.

        Me: At several million dollars per pedestrian overpass, that doesn’t scale. Just downtown, alone, you’d be looking at over a billion dollars in overpass construction. How do you propose for people to be able to cross the street at all those other intersections where the money to build the overpass isn’t available?

        Other person: Can’t they just get in a car?

        Me: So, you’re proposing that outside of a handful of intersections, everyone is required to hail an Uber to cross the street? Think about what that will do to traffic. Not to mention that people without money become simply trapped – they can never leave their block without begging somebody to pay for them.

        Other person: But, the vehicles are autonomous so they’re won’t be traffic. And the city can pay for the rides for people that can’t afford it.

        Etc., etc. Dubai looks designed by the people like “other person” who believe walking is obsolete and wonder why, no how much road space the build, traffic is always as bad as ever.

      7. Those simulations are really artificial. Actual autonomous vehicle stuff I’ve read says they can do at best 1/2 second following distance. At highway speeds that’s a bit more than 40 feet, which is far more distance than most drivers leave now (because human drivers don’t care about safe following distance).

        Then there’s leaving space for cars to merge in and out of lanes and the whole thing really starts to break down in terms of actually providing more highway capacity.

      8. A friend of mine spent many years in Dubai working on designing and building the local municipal sewer system. Until just a few years ago, Dubai didn’t even have a municipal sewer system that connected to the skyscrapers. The waste water from the buildings was collected in reservoirs within the buildings and then pumped into trucks to be carried away to a processing plant. Today, there is a new and functioning sewage system for the city, but other infrastructure needs had to get in line behind the sewage system.

      9. With the evolution of air conditioning, desert cities have become considered habitable enough to become populous. There’s a reason that Dubai hugs the shore. Cities historically have to run on food and water on a daily basis, relying on surrounding agriculture. It becomes possible to have large cities only when trade allows and when the residents can be outdoors. Heck, Miami, Las Vegas and Phoenix are pretty recent cities which have had growth coinciding with huge air conditioning systems.

        Also, I’d note that multi-use tall buildings in Dubai are essential to reducing driving there. In places like Phoenix, a resident usually has to drive to get almost anything because of its low metro density. Certainly, the carbon footprint of someone in Dubai is going to be smaller than someone in Phoenix. After all, commuting to and from work has historically only been about 20-25 percent of all trips a household makes.

        It ultimately comes down to seeing Dubai as “half-empty” or “half full”. It could be better, but given the natural circumstances it is still showing a more responsible dense mixed-use development pattern than we have with most of Phoenix.

      10. That’s true if you’re talking about trips that can be accomplished within the same building. But it sounds like the poor pedestrian infrastructure, combined with excessive heat (exacerbated by all that concrete and lack of trees) encourages driving even for very short trips that, in Seattle, could be easily accomplished by walking.

        Once you’re already in a car, driving distorts distances so that two stores, one 1/2 mile away, one 3 miles away very often take the same amount of time to get to. Only for the closer store, the driving tends to be predominantly slow crawls down residential streets and parking lots, while the store further away involves faster moving roads, maybe even hopping on the freeway for one exit. Psychologically, the further store feels like a less frustrating drive, so you prefer that one, all things equal, even if the person shopping on foot would prefer the closer store.

      11. It depends on how “self-contained” these buildings really are. Do they have a full variety of shopping, necessities, recreation, etc? Or is it like a hotel with one luxury restaurant that many people wouldn’t go to, and a convenience store that sells overpriced cigarettes, candy bars, and not much else?

      12. If you look at per-capita carbon emissions, Dubai/UAE ranks as one of the top emitters of carbon per capita. I see them ranked #5 on one list and #7 on another list. Almost 100% of the UAE’s electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, mostly natural gas.

      13. I’m not surprised. I also recall that, being in a desert, they rely on desalination for drinking water, which uses even more electricity.

        One thing about gas though – once they’re already drilling for oil, the gas is nearly free, since it comes up out of the same well as a byproduct. The marginal climate impact of burning it in power plant vs. burning it at the well is zero, and is actually less climate impact than venting unburned gas at the well (because methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide).

        So the real climate benefits of getting off gas don’t kick in until we also manage to get off oil.

      14. Dubai has a two-line metro that has been in operation for 10 years and is being gradually expanded

        Fair enough. So, from what I can tell, they built the skyscrapers first, followed by the major, expansive freeway, then eventually they got around to building a Metro, and finally, the sewer system. Its backwards of course, and entirely too focused on the wonders of the automobile (who needs a sewer system when you have trucks?). Remember, we aren’t talking about a developing country, full of cinder block houses. These are enormous skyscrapers and a nation with enormous wealth. You would think after the first half dozen skyscrapers someone would suggest building a sewage system, and stop expanding the freeway.

        Imagine Manhattan with a 14-lane freeway (not counting the overpass) running through the center of it and you get the idea. It is as if the entire city was designed by monarchs from a petrostate in very short order. Oh, right, it was.

      15. Dubai surely doesn’t have a shortage of sunshine for solar-powered desalination. If I were the emir I’d build them because they require nothing but maintenance and cleaning, whereas oil requires continuously mining fuel supplies. And the sun’s energy will just go into the earth and be radiated out if we don’t use it. I doubt the sand needs all that energy. Solar panels take up a lot of space, but that’s not a problem in an empty deserty.

        I think the Dubai skyline started being built twenty years ago. So if the two metro lines opened ten years ago, most of the highrises weren’t built yet. I don’t know how much of the superblocks the metro covers, but I assume it was designed for the densest part of the old city and neighboring areas, so that’s something.

        American light rails sometimes go only between downtown and a university and a few stops in between, covering only a small fraction of the neighborhoods, but it’s still something, and it’s in the densest areas where it can get the most ridership relative to the city. I’ve heard Phoenix’s is like that. So maybe Dubai’s is too.

        Manhattan almost had freeways across the middle.

      16. @Ross: “ Its backwards of course, and entirely too focused on the wonders of the automobile…”

        Dubai Metro is reported to carry over 350K trips each day, or about 60 percent of Chicago Els and almost twice of MARTA’s rail system.

        If this is insignificant, pretty much all US urban rail transit outside of NYC would suffer from the same criticism.

  3. The Covid Grinch stole the Santa Train this Christmas. The only one left, assuming it can ride the pandemic out the rails is NW Railway Museum. Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad’s Santa Express is out of operation because of the Pandemic. Lake Whatcom Railway seems to have ended it’s Santa Train a few years ago. Not sure about the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad Polar Express? The Point Defiance Camp 6 Logging Museum ceased all operation of it’s locomotive years ago. I don’t know what the status is of the Lewis and Clark Railway?

    1. Thanks for the up-beat public notice, Bernie. History’s and Nature’s cure for getting beaten up? On things like transit, if it’s there at all is proof that you’re to blame.

      And you’ve still got to get back to your desk to help get those Siemens cars back onto the rails. I know you can do it.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Sad to hear that about Lake Whatcom Railway. That’s the one my parents would take me on every year. I have some fond memories of that.

  4. A couple of scenic railroads have had to shut down for lack of ridership. Thankfully, I don’t seem to be finding anything that would make this late fall’s shutdowns permanent. A single landslide or rockfall would’ve done a lot more damage.

    The closer to the mountains, the better we seem to be suppIied with simple really tough rolling stock. Which really could give us some hands-on experience with machinery that’s got to be driven, not just suggested into motion by our own hands’ pressure on the controls.

    Which to me is an important reason to have humans at the controls at all: To keep on reminding us of the basic unspoken realities of the machines we’re both driving and riding. So that the next one we ourselves can personally come off he line able to take advantage of our own latest experience.

    Perfect example, Andrew Hallidie’s San Francisco cable cars. Story was he was furious watching good draft horses getting torn to pieces in gravity-powered descents. Somebody into flying:

    Is it true that our best airline pilots are the ones who get their earliest training on gliders? I’m pretty sure that when Captain Sullenberger set his jet down in the Potomac, he had a fair amount of sailplaning behind him.

    It’s also the reason I think that every single transit driver, mode-irrelevant, should spend their first several shake-ups at the wheel of a trolleybus. Natural forces like momentum and gravity are nice to have under your own second-to-second participation.

    Easier on passengers’ frames than your buses’ equipment too. Heads Up on the Arts Project. Nearby to a really tricky piece of “Overhead”, would be nice to have a statue of Instructor Roland MacVay.

    Mark Dublin

  5. “Le Corbusier remains a controversial figure. Some of his urban planning ideas have been criticized for their indifference to pre-existing cultural sites, societal expression and equity, and his ties with fascism, antisemitism and the dictator Benito Mussolini have resulted in some continuing contention.”

    Oran, look the architect up, and you’ll see how much of an understatement the above paragraph is. Along with the architect known as “Le Corbusier”, it’d take more planes than the Axis fighter-bomber command could get airborne to match the destruction these rich intolerant authoritarians leveled on our own country’s greatest city.

    Jane Jacobs is long overdue for “The Congressional” for at least putting up a fight against everything urban that he demanded New York City do. Could be The Lord’s own reason why artists are often left poor throughout their working lives.

    Look what unchallenged wealth and power render them capable of.

    Mark Dublin

  6. Thanks for the correction everybody. Not sure it’s a good idea to even drive anyplace. Lord knows where I’m going to come back to.

    Mark Dublin

  7. Throwing this out to the horde, if McGinn beat Murray for mayor, what would ST3 have looked like in terms of routes in N. Seattle, mode (streetcar uber alles), etc.?

    Sort of like a bizzaro “It’s a Wonderful Life” — how would Seattle transit look like without the Murray/Kuby duo?

    1. McGinn was the one who championed Ballard-downtown Link and gave ST money to accelerate the study of it. The other subareas said, “Hey, we want our lines sooner too”, and that’s how ST3 was advanced from the vague 2020s to 2016.

      McGinn was also a streetcar champion, and commissioned the Seattle Transit Master Plan in 2012, which highlighted several priority transit corridors including three streetcars: Westlake, Eastlake, and the CCC on 1st Avenue to Seattle Center. The money McGinn gave ST included studying a streetcar on Westlake to Ballard alongside the Link to Ballard studies.

      That’s all in the past, so McGinn did do those. I don’t remember whether it was Murray or McGinn who later reverted the Westlake and Eastlake streetcar plans to RapidRide. I think it was soon after Murray took office in 2013. In January 2016, ST proposed a 15-year ST3 plan with West Seattle Link and a Ballard streetcar. Transit activists blew up and said anything less than Link to Ballard was unacceptable (and Link to West Seattle was overkill), and Snohomish said Link to Everett and Paine Field was essential, and East King said the Issaquah line was important, so ST3 was expanded to a 25-year plan including Ballard Link. In any case, the Westlake streetcar never panned out.

      Murray and Kubly promoted Move Seatte with its several RapidRide lines and the CCC. They followed McGinn’s Transit Master Plan, so no significant changes there. If McGinn were still in office, the timeline and phases and tax plan might have been different, but it still would have been the same corridors. Maybe McGinn would have continued supporting the Westlake and Eastlake streetcars and that would have crowded out funding for other corridors. (There was also a Jackson-Rainier streetcar for the north part of the 7, although it may not have been pursued seriously.) If somebody other than Kubly had been SDOT director, I don’t know who it would be, but hopefully the plans would have been more efficiently executed and the budget more realistic.

      1. Yeah, that’s more or less my take as well. Thing would probably be worse for transit, but better for bike infrastructure. Really hard to tell though — there are a lot of variables. One nice thing that McGinn wanted was a new 3rd Avenue NW bridge. This would turn the Fremont bridge into transit/bike only. This would be more expensive than any of the other projects, but result in a nice, long lasting benefit. Still probably not worth it (first thing we should do is run the buses more often, then paint as many streets as can red, go with off-board payment more …) but still a better value than the streetcar.

      2. Well, streetcars are not my favorite kind of transit. But even with McGinn long gone, we still haven’t abandoned that dead-end.

        Link to Ballard is good. Link to West Seattle is not quite so good. It could be good, if West Seattle was heavily rezoned, but I don’t see that happening, as sufficient rezoning hasn’t even happened in Capitol Hill (yet! maybe someday). Link to Paine Field and Issaquah will be quite low-ridership.

        None of these seem to be driven by any mayor, or any particular person at all. I must conclude that the process is so diffuse, that it takes far more than one elected official to change our mediocre transit consensus.

      3. When Seattle first had an open house about streetcars in the early 2000s, it asked whether the future transit network should focus on investing in light rail, streetcars, or buses. I said light rail or buses but not streetcars. Grade-separated light rail is faster than buses so you’re getting something for your money and it’s more competitive with cars. Exclusive-lane light rail has at least some of the benefits of grade-separated rail. Buses are inexpensive so the same amount of money can cover more routes. Streetcars are the worst of both worlds: more expensive than buses but no faster. And as we’ve seen with the First Hill and especially SLU streetcars, somehow they manage to be slower than buses on the same street. (In SLU’s case, because they hit a traffic light every single block between Westlake and Denny, in addition to stations every two blocks. Buses on the same street don’t hit as many traffic lights.

        Link on MLK would be considered a streetcar in some countries, but the Seattle/Portland definition of light rail is something that’s predominantly exclusive-lane or grade-separated, while streetcars can share lanes with SOVs. That’s enough reason to oppose streetcars right there. If it’s not faster than a bus, why are we spending more money than a bus on it?

      4. “None of these seem to be driven by any mayor…” Issaquah Link is pretty much the work Fred Butler, the late mayor of Issaquah. The Paine Field alignment had (nearly?) unanimous support from Snohomish; if I had to pick one person it would be Paul Roberts because he seems to play an active role on the Board, but it had the support of the full Snohomish coalition – county exec & council, Everett mayor & council. The choice to go to Ballard via the Ship Canal and not via UW was driven by ST Staff, who consistently opposed the UW spur on technical ground. The ST3 representative alignment for Ballard to ID came out of SDOT, in particular the two SLU stations, so I suppose you could point that to Kubly but I have no idea who within SDOT championed that decision. The West Seattle spur was clearly driven by Dow, IMO.

        “If it’s not faster than a bus, why are we spending more money than a bus on it?” I think the only defense of mixed traffic rail operations (i.e. a streetcar) is when there is negligible ridership *beyond* the mixed rail segment. So grade separation in the CCC is critical, while the fact that the SLUT is mixed traffic north of Mercer isn’t really an issue for me. That the First Hill street car is mixed traffic on Jackson, rather than the slow going on Broadway, will be why the completed Seattle streetcar network (SLU+CCC+FH) is going to struggle to be successful; running left-side door buses than can share the streetcar platforms on Jackson and converting the center lanes to bus-only would be a powerful improvement.

        Applied to Link, there are alignments where a tram-train approach makes sense. For example, at grade running in RV is a bummer for SKC/Peirce (but not so bad to merit a bypass), but at-grade in Bel-Red is fine because the impact on Redmond through-riders is small. I’d support at-grade running in Everett and in Kirkland/Issaquah proper (i.e. outside of the Bellevue segments), but not in Tacoma Dome because Pierce is clear about an extension to western Pierce. What LA is doing with the Blue line (investing in grade separation in downtown LA but keeping at-grade operations in Long Beach) is another good example of this approach.

    2. The conceptual alignments for rail reaching Ballard date from this 2014 study: https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/About/DocumentLibrary/Reports/B2D_FinalReport%2005-16-14.pdf

      Probably the biggest departure is that only one of the final five alignments went along Westlake in South Lake Union and that option went to Fremont first. Kubly was apparently part of the group that configured the current ST3 alignment. Of course, prior studies — even for the ST2 vote in 2008 — had to assume a feeder bus network to generate ridership numbers for each option . I do think that the hybrid alignment for ST3 measure (using Westlake and 15th with an East-west connection in Lower Queen Anne was probably the right call.

      As for Metro, North Seattle restructures would not be dictated by the mayor. From what I’ve seen, the County Metro’s staff drives the service plans more than Seattle’s staff does.. Service planning is tricky.

      If FHSC is any indication, we probably are better off not having McGinn reelected. The Broadway cycle track with the streetcar mixed with traffic — championed by McGinn — has been a painfully slow transit product. I’d hate to see it replicated.

  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latifa_bint_Mohammed_Al_Maktoum_(II)

    mdnative, what do you think would’ve happened to you, or Oran, or anybody else who would’ve put this posting online while you were still in Dubai? Especially if you’d been a woman?

    So, asking for a replacement for the waterfront streetcar line that was my friend Seattle City Councilman George Benson’s gift to Seattle makes me a Nazi, does it? Well Sieg Friggin’ Heil back atcha.

    What’s inevitably going bring the “Connector” to life? The fact that it’ll re-connect two existing car-lines, and thereby also connect several important and prosperous business-areas of Seattle. South Lake Union, First Avenue, Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Broadway.

    With numerous Link portals all along its route, when the day’s sightseeing is done. Public officials the likes of James R. Ellis and Tom Gibbs don’t come along every day. From whatever the addresses of their present offices, I’m confident they’ll see to it that their work was not for naught.

    Mark Dublin

  9. https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/transit-program/center-city-connector

    Just rummaging around, and look what I found. Most salient point? It looks as though there’s “overhead” room for streetcar pantograph, and also standard dual wire for trolleybuses.

    I seen to remember that in San Francisco, streetcars and trolleybuses share positive wire in one place or another. Good thing how big a deal this is not going to be for us.

    I know there’s going to be a very old street under this project’s wheels, steel and rubber-tired alike. But can anybody give me a link or a reference to the problems this project is facing on, and in, the ground before it can get moving? Many thanks,

    Mark Dublin

  10. Oran, I’ve respected you since first we met, and the same for everybody else connected with Seattle Transit Blog. And the creator of this posting doubtless put a lot of resources and effort into it.

    Land-use-wise, his every point is “spot on.” But what’s put my own river-map in the dumpster is the sheer horror of my country’s situation in the world. And worsening by the day if not the minute.

    For at least a century, every industry requiring petroleum has placed an existential enemy of The United States of America ever more firmly in a position to control us completely, individually and collectively.

    The only weapons we should be giving to the country whose passport 9-11’s hijackers all held should be under the trigger-finger of a US pilot “winging over” above Riyadh to get even for the Twin Towers.

    The exact opposite of the blank-checkbook full of hell-fire we can’t ship them fast enough, no accountability demanded and no questions asked.

    You want to know the REAL price of gasoline?


    Read it and go throw up.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark, the U.S. is the largest producer of oil and natural gas, and I believe the largest refiner of gasoline.



      Here is an interesting list of the top 10 countries that dominate fossil fuel production. For the most part the middle east countries are not in the top 10, although Germany is for coal, and Canada, Norway and Australia are in the top 10 for producers of fossil fuels..


      Increases in worldwide production of fossil fuels has significantly diminished the power of middle east producers and OPEC, (as has renewable energy production), which probably reached its zenith during the 1970’s oil embargo. I agree with your concern about the degree of U.S. military resources used to keep open shipping lanes for middle east countries and their repressive governments, although this oil mainly benefits countries other than the U.S. (although much of our refining was set up for this low Sulphur oil) but keeps worldwide oil prices low or at least stable, which is important for poor non-oil producing countries.

      Some countries with declining oil revenues become destitute, like Venezuela, and before global warming oil reserves were seen as a way of bringing some prosperity to the poorest citizens in the world, although their governments from Latin America to Russia to Africa have not always been ideal. The benefit is oil is traded in dollars which brings in hard foreign currency to once poor nations; the bad news is most foreign aid and loans are denominated in dollars, and so when the oil revenues decline the foreign loans cannot be paid back since the local currency tanks and there are no dollars in reserve.

      Coal is critical to Australia although harmful to the planet. Jobs in renewable energy might replace the jobs lost for fossil fuels, but probably in different countries (and countries that are already relatively rich).

      I know several individuals who have worked and negotiated in the Middle East for decades, and Arabs are not stupid people. They know one day the oil will run out or will no longer will be needed, which means a long slow price reduction like we are seeing now, and that the West finds their way of life and even them distasteful and has since the Crusades, and when the sands begin to reclaim their shiny new cities everyone will have left — including all the shiny ships in the Straight Of Hormuz — this Arab dynasty will come to an end, just like Suleiman’s did. Their cultures are thousands of years old, and they don’t have the illusion younger countries in the West have that their current countries or cultures will last forever. It is a never ending cycle. So their philosophy is enjoy it while you can, and build whatever shiny cities you want, because they won’t last forever. Not even close.

      1. Daniel, thank you for a conclusion of some real really fierce old transit-bearing wisdom. All over the world and down the ages, what you say is exactly what’s got to keep happening on doing ’til two parts finally equal one.

        Of all classic arts imaginable, like anyone’s prize machine, the ones combining designing speed and should speed and brains should really to rev ups to fight flaws and fill the bins east of Kirkland as their tools begin to blaze.

        As befits a Grade One big sister… Big Bertha should be able to “turn out” the opportunity lately going to start filling airliners plain old Boeing Max. And law-and-order wise, I really can see Greta Thunberg heading up the program early on.

        Mark Dublin

    2. I just read “The Accidental Superpower” which addresses several of these. I won’t go into all of it, but he says the US is now the biggest oil producer, can meet all its needs on its own, and can rebuild its manufacturing for what it needs in the future. The US secured worldwide shipping and promoted multilateral trade as a way to bribe allies to join us to defend against the Soviets, and now that the Soviets are gone and many Amercans are wondering why we should pay for worldwide shipping security and military bases everywhere and foreign aid, it’s only a matter of time before we withdraw from these. Then overseas shipping will become unsafe again, empires will return, small countries without mountain/sea borders and sufficient local rivers and agriculture will disappear, etc. The oil problem is mostly a problem for other countries that don’t have oil, can’t guard their own ships, and have potentially hostile or pirateous neighbors between them and their oil supplies. So mideast oil is no longer king, but people’s perceptions lag for longer. Like those who think Rainier Valley is as gang-filled as it was in the 90s.

      1. The Soviets may be gone, but Vladimir Putin is not, and he resents the day the Soviet Union was dissolved. And in any case, China is a far more powerful contender than the Soviet Union ever was, all the ICBM’s notwithstanding.

        We may have solved the problem of energy dependance, but without access to light metals and rate earths the Green Revolution can not proceed. If China ties up the supply, we are in the same dependency that we were to the Middle East for oil, but with an adversary which is a peer in strength and already a superior in many military technologies.

        We cannot shrink from the world and maintain anything like our current prosperity, with or without its current flaws of unequal distribution.

        Emperor Xi I has shown himself to be implacable. We need friends to counter-balance China’s enormous industrial dominance. Perhaps we with a solid alliance can convince the Chinese that we really don’t want to run their lives,, but we will resist any attempts by tham to run ours.

        In a war with them today, we would play the part of Germany in WWII and they that of the United States. We all know how that turned out, and it wouldn’t take four years….

      2. @Tom — I agree with all of your points except the last one. First off, an all out conventional war between the superpowers will never happen — that is the nature of mutually assured destruction. An all out war could accidentally evolve into a nuclear war, but it would be over pretty quick, and most of the world would be dead. So instead there are proxy wars, cold wars and the like.

        These proxy wars would be won easily by the U. S. if not for the fact that they usually involve guerrilla warfare and the U. S. (or our allies) have no interest in putting many troops on the ground (e. g. Libya) or getting to close to one of the superpowers (e. g. Ukraine, Tibet). Its one thing to destroy or cripple an aggressor (Serbia) it is another to put together a new country in an area with many factions and a great disparity of resources (Syria, Congo, Yemen Libya, and pretty much every war being fought these days (as well most fought since Korea)).

      3. Ross, I agree with you, too. However, I doubt that we can win those proxy wars with our decadent politics.

        Technology may have made durable rule by a Secretariat possible. It was not in the past because the Emperor’s information channels were dependent on loyal retainers. Now AI can monitor the retainers.

        In any case, China — or perhaps more properly “The Party” and the Emperor — seems determined to press the experiment much farther than it has ever been taken.

  11. “Tom T.” here’s what guarantees the existence of The United States of America. However rare the earth beneath our train-wheels, any time we start running short, we can always just start using something else.

    Mark Dublin

    1. No, actually, we can’t “just start using something else”. There are about 85 elements which have at least one stable isotope abundant enough to appear in nature in usable quantities, and every one of them has unique chemical and physical properties. A few of them are essential for specific advanced technologies.

      If China gets a chokehold on a couple of them — which it clearly is attempting to do — the transition to a non-Carbon energy system becomes much less likely and much more expensive. I was replying to Mike’s celebration of US energy independence. It’s only true for fossil fuels, only if their price remains high and only if we continue to have access to the necessary metals.

      1. Tom, I’m sure our lingerie providers were in a similar state of panic before somebody proved how well that new-fangled nylon could take the load off cotton for less than free.

        But if you want me to think you’re serious about the need to get our country into a needless war for anything producible, do me this favor:

        Send STB an image of yourself in combat uniform. ‘Cause you know what? War being war, there’s every likelihood in the world that the first bullet of the war you’re advocating will kill the young scientist who just invented cost-free mag-lev.

        Mark Dublin

      1. First they have to pump out the world’s largest swimming pool [by many orders of magnitude].

        I hope that they are successful. However, given the highly automated nature of modern open-pit mining and smelting, I doubt that the “cost factor” is significant.

        Not to mention that $12.7 million isn’t going to create much of a “magnetics supply chain”. This is America where the Trump kids will have to have 25% of the vigorish.

  12. Zeihan thinks both China and Russa are barely holding together and will likely split apart. Russia because of its rapidly-declining population that won’t be able to defend the huge land mass, especially the far east from the Chinese and Japanese, and restive minorities in southern Russia. China doesn’t really have shared interests between the North (Beijing), Middle (Shanghai), South (Hong Kong, Guangzhou), and West (Tibet, Uighars); unity is imposed by the North, both the current regime and previous ones.

    The Green Revolution is about agriculture with petroleum-based fertilizer, genetic enhancements, monoculture, etc, so I don’t see how rare-earth metals play a significant role. Rare-earth metals are used in electronics, batteries, and industries. I’m assuming the amount of rare earths used is much smaller than the amount of oil, and any supply problems will be more like acute pinpricks than a general loss of blood (oil), and it will be easier to address any specific problems with fewer resources than securing the world’s oil supply.

    Also, Zeihan notes that China doesn’t have any friends because it bullies everyone, so all the nations east and south of it would side with the US, and thus block China’s supplies of oil and other imports. And China’s financial system is like ours was before the 2008 crash only ten times bigger and permeating all sectors rather than just real estate, and China’s residents have most of their savings in them.

    I won’t speculate on a hot war between the US and China and/or Russia because there are too many variables.

    I’m writing about Zeihan because I’m interested in ideas that try to integrate disparate phenomena and trends and show how they influence each other. That’s how I approach transit policy and land use issues and economics too. And of course, these trends would affect American transportation.

    One thing Zeihan doesn’t address much is what we can do about these. It’s one thing to say the US will be self-sufficient and uninterested in the world, that China and Russia will split up, that empires will return and swallow up small countries, but regardless of whether all that happens, we can influence it to make it better or worse for us and the world. For instance, if the US bucks the trends and strengthens at least some of our alliances with our European and Asian allies, returns to the Paris Climate Accords and makes strides in carbon reduction, non-car mobility and walkability, and maintains some kind of reduced trading system with Europe, Asia, and Latin America, and safeguarded our own democracy, it would be better for us and the world than if we didn’t.

    1. and any supply problems [of rare earth metals] will be more like acute pinpricks than a general loss of blood (oil)

      Ooooo, nicely done Mike. If you came up with that analogy, then Bravo! If you didn’t, then thanks for sharing.

      Zeihan notes that China doesn’t have any friends because it bullies everyone

      It has few neighboring friends, but is trying very hard to build new friendships in Africa. It is an interesting dynamic, as many of the world’s superpowers are focused on the stuff (gold, diamonds, oil, etc.), trying to make peace, or fight those proxy wars. Meanwhile, China is just busy building stuff. That’s a very good long term strategy, and the Chinese are all about the long term.

      I think the best strategy for America is to level with the Chinese. I would meet with Xi and at some point, ask him “What do you see for China in 1,000 years?”. Then I would go on to suggest some ideas. China liberalizes, as all great long term powers have. China is known not for its power, per se, but for its accomplishments — not unlike the United States, the first (and only) country to land a man on the moon. Then I would pause and gaze at the moon, and perhaps ask (rhetorically) what Galileo would have thought of the people — the country — that sent a man up there (and brought them all back). Then I go on to mention how silly it is to worry about the trivial affairs of today. What’s important is the role that China plays in building greatness for tomorrow. Not by might — empires are forgotten. But by their achievements for mankind.

      Russia is a little harder to deal with. I’m afraid we lost our chance with them. We should have had a Marshall Plan for Russia, as the Soviet Empire crumbed. Trump has it backwards. We should be cozying up with China, helping them to liberalize, and playing them off the Russians. China has a lot to lose if we get angry and walk away from the table (and by “we” I mean all the consumers of all their stuff — the West, Japan, South Korea (all the money countries)). Russia, on the other hand, doesn’t really care. They, like Trump’s minions, can survive on anger, and blame the rest of the world for their loss of wealth. China is in a different boat, and has just enough awareness of the situation to realize that riots over a sudden loss of income are a lot worse than riots in Hong Kong over civil rights. Oh, and the rich folks in China will lose quite a bit if the world cuts them off, whereas the rich folks in Russia just find a different way to squeeze more money from the populous (like any good mobster).

      Anyway, that’s the strategy I would use, but I also think kicking the can down the road isn’t bad either. Russia is shrinking, and China will soon as well. This is a good thing. It is common in the West, but we make up for it with immigration (again, a good thing). There are more Americans of Irish descent than there are people in Ireland. If that happens to China (and Russia), but on more of a global scale, the world will be better off. People move to countries that have their shit together — it is something to aspire to. Who knows, if things go well, maybe in a hundred years China will have lots and lots of Africans running things.

      1. This is a beautiful essay, and certainly plots a hopeful future for mankind. But it ignores Confucious who convinced Han people that they are better than any and all others two Millenia ago. That belief has survived the humiliations of the 19th Century and the catastrophes of the 20th intact and if anything strengthened.

        Chinese — by which I mean Han people — recognize the technological advances of the Eurosphere, but they are convinced that they can build on them better.

        Remember what Premier Zhou said when asked his opinion of the French Revolution: “It’s too early to tell.”

        China will not be satisfied until every other nation sends tribute to the Emperor.

    2. OK, Mike, I misused “Green Revolution”. What I meant was “decarbonization” and “population reduction”. Those are generally termed “Green”. There’s even a party which advocates those things and whose platform says little about fertilizers and high yielding cereal grain varieties.

      Decarbonization and population reduction are usually termrf “radical” here in the US, so it would indeed be a “revolution” were they to become national policies.

    3. “It has few neighboring friends, but is trying very hard to build new friendships in Africa.”

      Any goods from Africa or Latin America would have to travel through unsafe waters and past potentially China-hostile East Asian countries.

      “We should have had a Marshall Plan for Russia,”

      That would have been a good idea. Zeihan also mentions the Marshall Plan, saying it wasn’t mainly to help Germany and Japan, but for American security. Part of what undergirds support for Putin is a belief that the West gloated over the fall of the Soviet Union and pushed Russia around to convert it to the Western system. (By which I don’t mean just capitalism, which was inevitable and happened indiginously, but dominance by Western companies and the EU.) There was a window under Yeltsin when the Russian leadership was just merely corrupt, rather than petrostate-FSB-Putin corrupt.

  13. Founditfounditfounditfounditfoundit!

    The whole thing in a nutshell, written by somebody who really did know war inside out! In every single sense, a true war story, and a damned good one!


    Also attested to by Robert Heinlein’s years in the Armed Forces themselves. What you’re demanding, Tom, is going to need a war to deliver your full set of credentials. Write to us from the front.

    Mark Dublin

    1. What does your ranting even mean? I am not advocating an attack on China, but I am saying that the competition between their form of modern technologically-abetted Emperor worship and Western market Democracy will last longer than the US has existed. I don’t believe we are up to the task. Selfishness has become the secular religion; the center cannot hold.

  14. Didn’t the holiday weekend end days ago? Is STB going to provide any content between now and 2021?

  15. The way I’d phrase it, A Joy, is like this: “Is there anything the rest of us can do to help?”

    Mark Dublin

  16. My own best move to re-emerge as the World’s leader in doing something industrial? Incorporate our community colleges into designing and building the world’s least destructible electric bus.

    Anybody who thinks we can’t, the floor’s open to you this evening. At the very worst, it’d definitely have the edge over this posting’s litany calling attention to what-all-else somebody has at least tried. Before then deciding that it sucks.

    Putting the perpetrators at risk of being confronted by their grand-daughters. “Oh, grandma, you made the whole desert look SOOOOOOOO Inslee Phase III! Bet someplace you’ve got his plain old non-laser autograph creator hidden out someplace.”

    So more or less to prove that 2+2 = 4, can’t somebody just build us our “Madisonian” and leave it at the curb with its poles raised, classic Ohio Brass or Sweden’s “Semi-” style pantographs?

    It’s a trolley bus. That long horizontal thing is a wire. Old photographs showed trolleybuses with hard rubber tires, point not being that we’ll need them, but fact that these wheel-covers were there pre-balloon.

    Please do it, somebody, please just do it.

    Mark Dublin

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