What We’re Reading: 1990 Levels, Linear City, and Covid Crisis

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1990 levels: A report claims that carbon emissions have plummeted below 1990 levels due to the pandemic. Still, people driving are the top polluters.

Highway removal money: Congress could wind up considering $10 billion for highway removal projects.

Beg buttons: San Francisco advocates are urging the removal of “beg buttons” for pedestrians at intersections.

Delayed no more: A judge has cleared the way for new bus lanes in Flushing, Queens.

Expensive habit: Average car prices have increased to $40,000 for the first time.

The Champs: Bloomberg CityLab covers the Champs-Élysées transformation in more detail.

Expanding immigration: President-elect Joe Biden plans to put forward a bill offering a path to citizenship and permanent residence to 11 million undocumented people ($) living in America.

Guaranteed income: Compton is planning to offer a two-year pilot program of a guaranteed income.

Yang’s NYC tour: Despite his four-borough transit tour, New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang made some odd comments about pedestrians.

Farmer Gates: Bill Gates apparently has the largest private farmland holdings in America across 18 states.

Linear city: Saudi Arabia looks to a 105-mile linear city concept.

WFH West boom: With so many people working from home, there seems to be a shift going on in the American West.

River plan update: Los Angeles is master planning revitalization of the Los Angeles River.

Police reform uncharted: Police reform is taking shape in the state capitol, but what will come of it?

Apartment ban: Fort Worth is looking at a temporary apartment ban ($).

Environmental terrorist: In a parting shot, Trump is opening up more than three million acres of land in the Pacific Northwest to timber harvesting ($) that could threaten the spotted owl.

Hidden cost: Lack of safety leads to nearly $15 billion in impacts from car crashes per year in Washington.

Affordable housing investment: Investors are pledging $100 million to fund affordable housing near Atlanta’s subway stations.

Covid crisis: A new variant of the Covid virus could result in large case spikes and by extension deaths ($). Meanwhile, vaccination hopes ($) have been dashed in Washington as the federal government revealed there are no reserves to ramp up speed ($). Fortunately, President-elect Joe Biden has comprehensive plan for Covid vaccination production, distribution, and administration.

Electoral reform: Sightline argues that Americans should focus on electoral reforms to guard democracy and what Congress and Biden should do with Democratic power in this regard.

Thomas Street Overpass: The approach to the pedestrian and bike Thomas Street Overpass in Uptown is poised to be improved.

New national park: Tucked into the latest Covid bill was the creation of a new national park in West Virginia.

No new roads: Fifth Ward residents in Houston have come out against more highway expansion downtown.

Car-free PDX: Portland’s transportation head wants more car-free streets in the city center.

Must plan for housing: Pasadena has lost its fight to block more housing required by the regional housing needs assessment and state law.

Safer roads: How much would it cost Washington to make roads safe for everyone, including people walking, biking, and rolling?

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

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Daniel Thompson

First, thanks for these summaries of what you are reading. These are interesting articles i would never see otherwise.

Second, I think the article on working from home in Durango needs to be taken in context.

Durango is a small town (around 18,000) in a fairly rural area with a ski resort. The other town mentioned in the article, Jackson Hole, has always been a very expensive resort town, and a favorite of those who can work from home. $3 million homes are quite common in Jackson Hole.

In the Durango situation, the Florida based company closed the building and moved to a working from home model. It was not a decision by the employees. Most people like the society of a work place, just not the commute, and maybe not five days/week.

Second these were not working from home workers migrating from larger cities to more rural areas as some see working from home as. These were Durango residents who were going to stay in Durango.

The number one reason most families choose a city or neighborhood is schools. The second is work. The third is whether the area is attractive for recreation and other factors.

I don’t see employees fleeing from the Puget Sound region, for the same reasons they moved or stayed here. Schools, recreation, jobs, weather, roots. Few who can work entirely from home are going to want to go whole hog and move to Durango, where they would likely stick out and know no one.

Right now from what I see, employers are looking at a modified work from home schedule (like Microsoft has proposed post-pandemic) in which staff rotate days in the office, and employers are moving to subsidized parking as opposed to a subsidized transit model (ironically under the 2017 tax reform paid parking can be deducted but not employee transit passes, although up to a certain amount a transit pass is not counted as income for the employee). This could change as employees become more willing to ride packed transit and peak hour traffic congestion returns, and parking becomes scarce again.

This is what we are doing and so far it is working well. Staff can coordinate schedules with one another if they want certain time off, we like to have some staff in the office at least part of the time even if rotating in and out, paid parking seems to be welcomed and not that much more expensive than transit passes if staff rotate, and productivity is good.

I don’t know of any of our staff, or friends who have moved to a complete work from home, who are talking about pulling up stakes and heading off to the great rural west to fish and hunt. In fact, many work from home employees are going a little stir crazy, especially with indoor bars and dining shut down, in the middle of winter. I think some will be chomping at the bit to get back to the office 2 or 3 days/week, except maybe moms with small children (although they are chomping at the bit for the kids to get back to in person learning). What we are seeing on the eastside is a quick escalation of already very high single family home prices as people move to a nest mentality, especially in areas farther out with better prices for larger homes and lots, and the impossibility of hiring a qualified contractor to do any kind of home remodel since they are all booked out for months or years.

At the same time recent population gains for Seattle and King Co. suggest the huge population gains predicted in many “Visions” like the PSRC 2050 Vision Statement or Cascadia Vision are unlikely. Instead what we will likely see is intra-regional migration by companies and employees based on the attractions of the city or neighborhood, and housing costs (mostly single family homes) since commuting to work will be discretionary to some or all degree, and so where you are commuting to and its post work attractions will affect how much you want to commute to work. So look for Tacoma, Kitsap Co., and Snohomish, which the PSRC 2050 Vision Statement already predicts.

I think this will be very apparent for transit, at least on the eastside that relies on park and rides. For example, the S. Bellevue Park and Ride will have 1500 parking stalls and a direct no-transfer train ride into downtown Seattle, and is next to all the shopping and dining in downtown Bellevue. Even before East Link parking at the S. Bellevue park and ride was popular for Bellevue workers who could either walk or take the bus to downtown Bellevue, and enjoy Bellevue’s shopping and dining after work, with free parking. Same for the parka and ride in Redmond, but probably not for Mercer Island because the shopping and dining are much less.

Look for park and rides serving feeder buses to fair poorly, even if near shops and dining, because I think eastside commuters who now enjoy a one seat commute on an express bus to Seattle will object to a two seat transfer from bus — to train station — to Seattle (after the drive to the park and ride). If Metro is having issues funding frequent feeder bus service to the new Northgate Link, it will never be able to afford frequent feeder bus service on the eastside due to the enormous area and lack of density.