Seattle Transit Funding Shouldn’t Be Used To Cut Service

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Metro Cuts
Routes slated to be axed, photo courtesy of Metro.

This fall Seattle voters could approve new taxes to pay for bus service — and still lose their bus route. It sounds crazy, but if some activists get their way, Seattle bus riders will still see a shrinking system no matter how much money they pour into the system.

As Seattle debates which revenue source is the most progressive, a parallel debate is unfolding that pits progressive solutions against regressive cuts. Those cuts, justified by the ideology of austerity and sold in the language of efficiency, would scale back bus service even further, leaving only a privileged few with the chance to leave their car at home and ride an affordable, sustainable bus to work or to school.

At the press conference announcing the proposed head tax and commercial parking tax, Nick Licata hinted at this debate–and suggested it be deferrred until after the revenues were approved:

In many cases, the routes on Metro’s cut list have the lowest ridership–but may be the only transit at a particular time or to a particular neighborhood. If Seattle approves more tax, council members may buy service for routes where buses overflow, or stave off Metro’s cuts to less-used routes, or a mix.

Licata said route choices should be debated later, after the city approves money to protect bus riders.

This is the wrong approach. Now is the time to make sure that whatever revenue plan is adopted ensures that its spending is progressive, not just its revenues. Otherwise voters may reject the proposed funding sources if they lack confidence that the revenues will be used to save their bus.

Sustainability Isn’t Always Efficient

Who would argue that there’s such a thing as good cuts to transit service? One such argument came from, of all places, Sightline Institute. Jennifer Langston wrote soon after Prop 1’s failure that there could be such things as good bus cuts:

Some proposed cuts may increase Metro’s operating efficiency by targeting poorly performing routes—the ones with high operating costs or low ridership or that duplicate nearby transit service. Some will be painful and leave people stranded. Some might do both at the same time.

So far, Metro and its supporters haven’t done a great job of distinguishing—at least in the public debate—between cuts to low-performing routes that arguably ought to be sacrificed or restructured for the greater good and cuts to well-functioning routes with high ridership that will be gutted or cut back solely for lack of money.

This is a very regressive line of thinking, rooted in right-wing frames that emphasize “efficiency” over universality. Langston, writing for a sustainability think tank, is embracing concepts that exist to undermine sustainability itself.

If we are going to build a carbon zero city, we need to reduce the single biggest source of CO₂ emissions in Seattle: from transportation. That means we need to get as many people as possible to ride transit.

To do that, there have be routes operating for people to hop on board. Some of those routes will be packed. Some won’t be. But we must have a system with the capacity and coverage to pick up as many people as possible when high gas prices, traffic, or guilt about burning up our planet cause even more people to ride.

The concept of “efficiency” — that the only bus routes worth funding are those with the highest ridership levels — means that transit service can never expand to meet potential or growing demand. It means the suburbs will never get better service, since there won’t be bus service available to generate the levels of ridership that those calling for “efficiency” insist on seeing before supporting such service.

This approach is especially damaging when considering the huge cuts to Metro service that will happen without new funding. Metro has estimated these cuts would leave 10 million riders a year stranded. That’s almost a 10% reduction in ridership — even with a series of restructures designed to mitigate the impact of the cuts in the name of efficiency.

Many of the routes Metro identifies as “low performing” are not actually low performing. It’s an accounting trick designed to determine which parts of the system lose limbs and which merely lose fingers. One of the routes deemed “low performing,” the 28, is a workhorse that routinely carries full buses from Crown Hill through central Fremont, and down the growing Dexter corridor to SLU and Downtown. But because some other routes have even higher ridership, the 28 was seen as expendable. That doesn’t mean it’s an inherently bad route. It just means the proposed cuts will significantly undermine our transit system at a time when we need it to grow.

But there’s a bigger point here. Sustainability advocates must utterly reject the idea that our bus system should be focused on efficiency. It’s a metric imposed on us by right-wingers who dislike transit and don’t want to pay for it. Conservatives seek “efficiency” in transit because they hope that it will lead to an elimination of public funding for transit. Conservative voters won’t ever support transit taxes because they believe it’s an inherently wasteful use of money that doesn’t benefit them. If transit systems operate with less costs, that savings doesn’t get plowed back into transit — it gets used by conservatives to justify cutting transit budgets or cutting taxes.

Sustainability advocates have to reject the “efficiency” game because it is played with dice that are loaded against us. We must instead emphasize a robust bus and rail network that gives everyone a chance to get out of their cars and save the planet by riding a bus. Losing bus routes and thus losing riders is a huge step backward not only for transit in Seattle, but for any hope that we can lead the way to a carbon zero region.

Rejecting False Choices In Maintaining a Bus Network

There’s a similar argument at work from some transit advocates who argue, following Jarrett Walker, that we have to sacrifice broad geographic coverage in order to improve the frequency of a few popular routes.

This robbing of Peter to give more service to Paul doesn’t make sense from the perspective of getting as many people as possible to ride the buses. Usually those who lose bus service are of lower income and live in neighborhoods without many other travel options. Those who gain bus service tend to be higher income and live in dense neighborhoods that do have other options.

Those who advocate for this strategy usually justify it by citing smaller operating budgets that force hard choices. The way out of that, of course, is to expand the available funding for transit. That’s the entire point behind Seattle going it alone to approve new funds for Metro buses, ensuring that the “frequency versus coverage” argument is a false choice. Seattle can and should have both, especially if the goal is to build a sustainable city by getting as many people as possible to ride transit.

Why Shrink the Voter Base?

Not only is maintaining a broad network the right thing to do from an environmental, social justice, and transit perspective — it’s also a political necessity. Prop 1 failed in those parts of King County that didn’t have good bus service. Even within Seattle, voters were less likely to vote yes on Prop 1 if their neighborhood had no or infrequent bus service. It doesn’t make sense to shrink the number of pro-transit voters by shrinking transit service. It’s hard to imagine Seattle voters supporting funding for a few high frequency bus routes that serve a few dense corridors.

We can look to Pierce County for an example of what happens when huge swaths of voters are cut off from bus service. Voters there had rejected a countywide funding plan to maintain the existing system. Pierce Transit then made huge cuts, emphasizing service in a few core urban routes. Yet voters within Tacoma still rejected a proposal to fund a smaller network. There is just no political support for the kind of restructures that some transit advocates like.

This is part of a broader problem of political economy. Whether it’s cuts to Social Security benefits, transit, or other public programs, you can usually find some technocrat who believes voters will be happy to give up services or benefits in order to make things more “efficient.” Yet Social Security cuts remain hugely unpopular with voters. And as we’ve seen, so do transit cuts.

Voters don’t support austerity-based restructures. There’s no evidence to suggest they care about “efficiency.” Voters routinely have shown they prefer progressive solutions that expand public services, rather than regressive service cuts that privilege some at the expense of others. If Seattle and Metro followed this path, public support for transit would erode. It’s not a pretty future.

So what does a solution to this look like?

Initiative 118, developed by Friends of Transit, offered a sensible solution to this issue with the following language. First, it defined what “Metro Service Cuts” were:

“Metro Service Cuts” refers to proposed reductions in service announced by Metro in November 2013 and April 2014, and any subsequent service reductions proposed to address Metro’s current projected funding shortfall;

And then it mandated that the funds were to be used to reverse those cuts:

100 percent to purchase service for Seattle Routes until Seattle Metro Service Cuts are restored

Initiative 118 also created a Public Oversight Committee to oversee the spending of these revenues. The initiative did not prevent Metro from finding sensible ways to improve bus service. But it was deliberately crafted to provide assurance to voters that their money would be use to save their bus routes.

We haven’t yet seen the language for Mayor Murray’s proposal, nor for the plan announced by Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant. But both ought to incorporate similarly strong language ensuring that Seattle’s existing bus routes will be restored. Seattle voters deserve to know that their money will be used to stop these cuts.

Those routes don’t have to last forever. Initiative 118 lasted only six years, a deliberate choice. 2021 is when North Link light rail opens to Northgate. That rail service will allow Metro to make big and positive changes to the bus route map in north Seattle. It’s also hoped that a lasting regional transit funding plan will be approved by that time.

Until then, it doesn’t make sense to slash any existing bus routes. With rising gas prices and rising sea levels, Seattle needs to make sure as many people as possible, no matter where in the city they live, have access to good transit. Doing so is essential to building a sustainable city.

The job of transit advocates is to work to expand the transit system and to aggressively seek the funding to pay for it. It’s time to abandon the flirtation with cuts and instead work to bring Seattle the robust and expansive transit system it deserves.

Westlake Cycle Track Open House

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westlake

On Wednesday, May 5th, there was another open house event for the Westlake Ave cycle track. This was the latest in a series of events for getting public input on the proposed dedicated cycle lanes to link the Fremont Bridge to SLU and Downtown.

Last night’s event was the first one open to the public since mayor Murray created a panel of stakeholders (including business owners opposed to the cycle track) to inform the design process. This time the event was held at Fremont Studios, just off the Burke Gillman trail in Fremont. The large space was needed to accommodate the large crowd of attendees, coming both from the bicycle community as well as residents and businesses along Westlake Ave.

bikeparking

At the entrance to the event, cycle advocates were handing out green stickers to note support of the cycle track. To the left of the entrance, “Westlake Stakeholders” (a group who has formed in opposition to the cycle track) were selling blue T-shirts to attendees to mark support for the local businesses.

IMG_20140521_182026

The crowd inside was quite large and seemed divided evenly between bicyclists and folks wearing those blue shirts being sold at the entrance. Several display boards were present, showing relevant information to the cycle track and staff were present to answer questions related to the display boards. There were also several tables with detailed segments of the Westlake ave parking corridor with paper provided for comment for each segment.

In the speech held around 6.15pm, an overview of the need for the project and some background on the previous studies was given. During the speech both the safety concerns and a desire towork with local businesses to minimize impact were strongly emphasized.

For the Q&A period, a majority of the questions appeared to come from the opposition, which generally consisted of:

  1. Why can’t this cycle track be on Dexter instead?
  2. Is the city aware how much this will hurt local businesses?
  3. How much parking are we going to lose?

The Dexter question was mostly addressed by noting that Dexter is a steep hill and that the existing structures are not adequate for many users. The other two questions were mainly addressed by asking the folks present at the meeting to provide ideas to help the designers work around the problems the people who live and work along Westlake are facing.

A number of the questions were asked again and again in a different form, especially the Dexter and impact on businesses questions.

The questions from supporters mostly dealt with the use of the parking lot by people not in the area, the suggestion of charging “market rates” for parking and referencing the speed limit of the cycle track. The first two questions were addressed as “interesting questions that could be looked into”. It was made pretty clear though that the design speed was going to be 10 mph and would likely not be reconsidered.

After the Q&A there was additional time allowed for folks to ask direct questions to staff members individually, but most of the crowd cleared the building and headed home.

It appears that there is still quite a lot of support and opposition for this cycle track, but there may be some room for compromises to try and appease both sides. Many of the stakeholders group oppose the loss of any parking at all, but perhaps if some new management schemes of the existing lot are brought up it could address some of the space issues in the existing parking supply. It was also suggested that the sidewalks that were widened previously to allow for bikes and pedestrians to share some room be narrowed, and that space be used toward the cycle track. This concept was new to the panel members and may be looked into in the future.

Braid

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Picture 14

I think her name was Katherine, on her way to a haircut. She was up front, just boarded, watching bright-eyed as I greeted the masses on the 10. We were talking about positive energy. I was telling her what I often say, about how when you put a lot of yourself out there, you get a lot back (this is one of my reasons for picking the routes I do; why is the heavy work so much more conducive?).

“Yeah,” she said, listening. “It gets magnified by the universe and then it comes back to you.”
“Yeah, and– wow,” I said abruptly, more carefully registering her thought. “That’s a great way of putting it, magnified by the universe. I’d never thought of it in those words.”

I repeated it, to make sure I’d gotten it right. The notion that the energy we put out there didn’t just simply come back, but that it underwent a process by simple virtue of existing in our world. Of course, I thought. Our efforts and perception return to us colored and seasoned by the pulsing universe, coming back around as something fresh, de novo, unexpected… and yet also, yes, vaguely familiar, that distant echo of ourselves we’d feel lost without. We are the world we see.

She shrugged a natural smile, youthful and easy, tossing her braid back like it wasn’t any big thing.

Baugruppen: To Form a More Affordable Urbanism

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Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of a series on Baugruppen, private owners collaboratively building affordable multifamily projects. Read Part 1 or check out the series.

The collective economic might of baugruppen offers owner-builders an opportunity for significant savings over traditional developer-driven models, as well as single family houses. As mentioned in part 2 of this series, Tuebingen BGs have resulted in ~15% savings, Berlin BGs roughly 15-25%, with similar savings for Vauban and Hamburg BGs. As a comparison, average cost/sf price in Seattle is roughly $340/sf. Savings of 15% on an 800 sf unit would reduce the cost to ownership by $40k. These savings could allow for the working or creative classes to afford homeownership in urban centers, instead of being driven out by rising costs. For less cost than typical development, owners get a higher-quality product designed to meet their needs; and in Germany, this product is usually more energy efficient, thus ensuring operational cost savings as well. Winning!

There are a couple of ways a BG reduces costs over traditional models. First and foremost, bypassing a developer pulls out the profit they would take on a project, which is not insubstantial. Second, there is little to no marketing of the project – which means no staging/pursuit. Realtors are also generally not in the equation. In Germany, land transfer taxes are also assessed lower than through traditional developments. As previously posted, there are many sources that advertise existing BGs looking for owners, but a lot of groups form amongst existing networks. There are a few Berliner baugruppen in planning, run by the same project management firm, that utilize a web template, mostly just to get the relevant info out there in case they are seeking additional members.

Financing BGs in Germany is, of course, considerably easier. These types of projects have been on the map for nearly two decades now, and there are banks willing to finance them. Cities also assist with legal/financial aspects, and there are additional perks such as eligibility for affordable, city-owned lots. BG owners also have access to low-interest energy efficiency loans and mortgage rates commercial developers don’t.

However, baugruppen are not generally an upper class phenomenon. Homeownership rates in Germany are a third lower than the US, and BGs are seen more as a way for the middle class to afford a residence in the city. The cost to ownership in Germany has generally been much harder than here in the US, requiring down payments of 20% or more. The down payment for a BG can be in the realm of 30%, so upfront costs are higher. In the long run, the total costs are lower, and the monthly payment ends up being pretty affordable as well. The savings rates in Germany, France and Switzerland are roughly triple what they are in the US, so this also changes the equation.

For me, the big point on cost-effectiveness is that, generally, a member gets a unit tailored to their specific needs as well as desired communal spaces if space and budget allows. Developers don’t normally fine-tune projects like this, as it would add cost and time. Additionally, development projects tend to be directed towards the least common denominator user. There are, however, some notable exceptions to this, especially here in Seattle.

Before a BG even brings on an architect (assuming there isn’t one already in the group), they’ll have discussed the type of lifestyle they would like to live, the type of building they would like to dwell in, the type of community they want to be a part of. A bunch of musically-oriented families founding a BG? They might plan a rehearsal space as part of the common area. Older couples might want a co-owned guest unit they could let their friends or children stay in, thus keeping their unit smaller and more affordable. Want a say in what color your facade is? How about typical finishes in common areas? BGs can offer that level of communal authorship.

This affordability does come at a cost: time. It can take several years to form a group, make decisions, find land and then finalize construction. Though developer-driven models can be delayed, that process has little effect on future tenants/owners. This also means there is substantially more personal risk in a BG, as the owners are responsible for delays, cost overruns that they wouldn’t have to deal with in more traditional models. Additionally, if an owner leaves the group or dies mid-construction, the group would have to take up the balance, or as normally happens, find a new member. There have been some failures in the BG community (no system is perfect/risk-free) but with solid project management and a budget-conscience design, this is very rare.

Photo: Andea Kroth

Considering spatial quality, finishes and shared accoutrement, one of the most cost-effective projects I’m aware of is roedig.schop architekten’s 10-unit beauty dubbed A52, initiated in 2003. The project was built for around $200/sf, and here’s the kicker: this pricepoint isn’t for low-end finishes or fixtures. Along with a communal garden, the project incorporates a communal roof terrace, with a small guest apartment shared by all residents, rotated in weekly installments. In order to get buy-in from their other neighbors, the architects offered to accept the last unit (which ended up being the ground floor). This stunning building was featured in the New York Times back in 2011, and features some great quotes from the owners. The 2008:9 konzept: gemeinsam wohnen issue of detail also has a good deal of background, and drawings worth checking out. I’ll be highlighting a few more of their really incredible, urban constructs soon.

Another budget-friendly project that really enthralled me was baugruppe baufreunde in Koeln by office03 // waldmann & jungblut. The project features two ‘bars’ set at either end of a through lot. Between these bars is a common green space. Each of the 18 units has access to ample garden space (ground floor maisonettes) or semi-private roof terrace (upper units). Project costs came in around $155/sf (EUR 4M/3200m2). The site is near shops and cafes, and has access to a multitude of transit options. Check out plans/renderings/model, and fotos.

I could definitely see either of these models working in a place like Seattle, where land or existing units aren’t exactly affordable–and where traditional developer models leave a lot to be desired in terms of cost and how they work with the way one might desire to live. Or at least, how my family would like to live, and at a price point we could afford. Pretty… Pretty… Pretty… Awesome.

 

Mike Eliason is a certified passivhaus designer, energy geek, and design nerd with an almost fetishistic interest in prefab wood buildings, low-energy architecture, social housing, and all things German. He has lived in Fremont for nearly a decade, and wants Seattle to become a greater version of Freiburg so his wife doesn’t force him to return to live in Vauban. He’s also begun the process of forming a baugruppe.

More Evidence To Build More Housing

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If you are concerned about housing costs, you should know that building a lot more housing will be critical to control or reduce costs. We previously discussed a graphic that showed how the cost of homes seemed to correlate with the number of permits for new housing. You can see the article here and the graph here:

TruliaPriceMonitor_Scatterplot_Jan20141
Compliments of Trulia

This graph is by no means unassailable proof that housing costs are causally related to the number of permits issued. To really prove a causal relationship, we need a lot more research. We are lucky because Trulia recently produced another, even better graph, regarding housing costs. Specifically, the research shows that cities with a lot of growth and very little new housing have higher housing costs. On the flip side, cities with a lot of growth that build more housing have lower costs.

Trulia_MiddleClassReport_Scatterplot2
Trulia discusses middle class access to homeownership.

Cities that are closer to the top of the graph are more expensive while those on the bottom are less expensive. Cities on the right built a lot more housing relative to their size, while those on the left built a lot less. There are three immediate observations to note from this group:

  • All the cities that built the most housing have the lowest cost of housing.
  • All the cities with the highest cost built very little housing over the 13-year period.
  • There are no cities that built a lot of housing and have high costs.

What the graph does best

The scatter plot is really remarkable for its empty space. While it is common to get push back that building more housing doesn’t reduce housing costs, people often imply or state explicitly that more housing actually drives up costs. The Trulia graph shows in stark constrast that there aren’t any places that build a lot of housing and have high cost. There is a giant white space above $150 per square feet and to the right of 20 units built annually.

What’s lacking

This graph isn’t proof that building more housing is a cure-all for housing costs. There are a lot of intricacies to note, including:

  • Only the cost of homes for sale are shown, not rental prices.
  • No single graph can prove causality. For example, the areas that built a lot more housing (Raleigh and Las Vegas) have other commonalities that may be the underlying cause of their low housing costs (i.e. they are sprawling cities).
  • There are a lot of cities on the graph that built more housing than other cities but have higher costs. This is because the graph doesn’t illustrate the connection between population growth and housing cost.

I’ll do my best to address the latter two points.

Proving causality

How could someone prove that building more housing helps reduce costs?

First, it makes sense to see if this assertion fits a general understanding of how prices are set. In this case, we would point towards Econ 101, showing that prices are connected to supply and demand. When there is more demand than supply, prices go up. As an example, the most recent lime shortage. The price of limes increased tremendously because there weren’t enough for all our margaritas and now we are stuck with lousy lemons.

A general understanding of Econ 101 isn’t good enough though. There are many quirks in economics that are easily missed if we ideologically adhere to the most elementary talking points. Proof requires evidence. That’s why the two graphs above are so important. Both graphs indicate that building more housing is correlated with lower costs. When a correlation is found over and over again, it is very likely a causal relationship. Especially if there is no evidence indicating there isn’t a correlation (and good luck finding evidence that refutes this argument).

The evidence presented here isn’t comprehensive (and isn’t meant to be). We only mean to show two graphs that illustrate the correlation between the amount of housing and the cost of housing. If you are sincerely interested but skeptical of this argument, there is a lot more research out there for you to read*.

Population growth and the dots on the bottom left

The graph clearly doesn’t show a singular and direct connection between building housing and increased costs. In fact, the graph shows San Francisco at the very top and Detroit at the very bottom, even though it appears that San Francisco built more housing than Detroit. This would suggest there is another factor and that factor is almost definitely population growth.

To better understand the last point, I want to show how different areas have grown. I was able to find the population in 1990 and 2012** for most of the incorporated areas of the cities with labeled points*** (Honolulu is different****). I then took my best guess at the number of new units per 1,000 and square foot costs that the points on the graph represent. Here’s a view of what I found:

Trulia Data with Population Growth   Google Sheets

Looking at this data it seems pretty clear that cities can avoid higher prices even when growing rapidly by adding a lot more housing. The two cities with the most growth also added the most housing and kept their home prices low. This also helps explain why housing is so much more expensive in San Francisco than Detroit. While San Francisco grew, Detroit saw an incredible decline in population.

Looking at this closer also provides a less obvious but important insight. The growth of a city and the amount of housing the city adds doesn’t appear to entirely explain the costs of housing. These factors clearly account for a lot of the explanation, but it seems there are other factors at work as well. To demonstrate this point:

  • Orange County and San Jose had very similar rates of growth and added nearly the same amount of housing. In fact, Orange County grew 3% more than San Jose. Even those factors are so similar, housing prices are 20% lower per square foot in Orange County.
  • New York and San Francisco grew the same percent and added nearly the same amount of housing, but New York’s housing prices are significantly lower.

The most obvious objections to these last points is that my numbers are estimates. It would be necessary to get the precise area that Trulia is measuring to know the precise population changes. Still, this information can lead us to ask an important question, what other factors might affect the cost of housing.

Admitting we don’t have enough housing

Even if we admit supply and demand might not explain costs entirely, it is still clear that we must build more housing. The correlation between the amount of housing built and the cost is extremely strong. If housing prices increase we’ll cause a great deal of pain and suffering. Not enough housing increases everyone’s costs, causes massive displacement, creates sprawl, furthers environmental degradation, and increases segregation.

From the understanding that we will need a lot more housing, we can begin discussing the more complicated question of how to  build that housing. It is typical for conversations to conflate these two points. Many people (including myself sometimes) confuse the question of whether or not to build more with how to build more. Some common arguments used to fight more housing include; complaints about design, vigorous pointing to vacant lots as proof there isn’t demand for housing, exclamations about the immense ‘capacity’ of our current zoning, examples of gentrification ruining our city, and stories about displacement. None of these arguments suggest we shouldn’t build more housing. Instead they are complaints about how we build more housing. Once we explicitly acknowledge we need development, we can begin figuring how to build enough.

*I don’t want to imply I’ve read all these research papers. I just know they are out there and would enjoy feedback from someone that has had the time to look at them closely.

**2012 was chosen because that’s the most recent updated data provided by the Census Bureau. This doesn’t match the time frame perfectly for the Trulia data, but it matches pretty closely.

***Census data is for incorporated areas only (Orange County being the only exception). Data is for the city of New York City exclusively rather than the entire New York metropolitan area, although the graph is likely representing more than just the incorporated city. To give the best data, it would be important to know the area Trulia is measuring and match that to population growth; unfortunately, that’s not possible.

****Honolulu doesn’t have updated 2012 statistics from the Census Bureau’s website.

Sunday Video: Google’s Self-Driving Car

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Google has put out a fascinating video of its self-driving car. It’s amazing how well behaved the vehicle is around pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles. If we can perfect self-driving cars, like we have trains, there’s no reason we couldn’t do buses, too!

What We’re Reading: Make It So

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Hipsta Bike

 

Now calling at Union Station: It looks like Denver has a Union Station, too, and it’s pretty darn cool. The new multi-modal facility marries the old station with new platforms, concourse, and local bus service. Sounds like something we could use…

Breaking ground: 23rd and Union will finally get the ball rolling with new digs on the way, while a few others are still working on land use permission. Of course, other parts of Capitol Hill are already experiencing a lot of development, and in response, the City Council is considering how to preserve some old building facades. Meanwhile, it would take 100,000 new units to stop or reduce rising prices in San Francisco, this is why restricting housing is a big problem.

Ride the bikes: Washington, D.C. made a trial run of zebra bollards along Pennsylvania Avenue to discourage U-turns into the center-running cycletrack, and it appears to have worked. Now the District’s Department of Transportation is looking at how to improve the pilot project effort. New work on the Burke-Gilman Trail is about to begin with detours in place. Meanwhile, the University of Washington has submitted their TIGER grant application to the Feds for funding the trail’s improvements. You can help support the application online! And, walking and biking took a big jump year-over-year in Seattle (2011-2012), 18% just for walking! Transit usage is up 40% since 2004. No surprise here since we’re still breaking records!

Two proposals from Mayor Murray: It was a busy week in the Office of the Mayor with Ed putting out his plan to save Metro service in the city and make pre-kindergarten education universal.

Going Euro and buses for nothing: If double-decker buses and bike share wasn’t enough for you, Seattle is now due to get some of those swanky red bus lanes that you see all over Europe. SDOT will be making a trial run soon by painting key bus lanes in the city. Meanwhile, our friends down in Houston have linked up with Jarrett Walker of Human Transit to devise a better bus system for the city. The reimagined network will more than double the city’s all-day bus network while costing absolutely nothing more.

Cool architecture this week: We’re not necessarily fans of skybridges, but this Berlin project kinda rocks. NYC is soon to open its thoughtful 9/11 museum. And then there’s this weird ship-like tower in Hong Kong.

Transit and housing costs: The Atlantic Cities asks the question “does transit inflate housing costs?” It seems like it probably does, but it’s far more nuanced than that, and it may not be all bad. And, the good news is, transit makes us happier. It probably comes as little surprise, but social interaction improves the overall well-being of people, and transit is just one way that gets us engaged and happier about our day. Over in Arlington, the long awaited Columbia Pike streetcar will be a huge success, more than doubling ridership in the same corridor and boasting more ridership than many other services in DC, Virginia, and Maryland. This is why fixed rail matters.

Reopening and expanding: The Seattle International Film Festival is slated to reopen the Egyptian Theatre toward the fall! Meanwhile, the Capitol Hill business improvement district may soon be expanding to incorporate a few more blocks.

Expediting it: The President said this week that he would speed up transportation investment, but Streetsblog had a harsh take on it. And on a related note, ST has released some of their corridor studies for High Capacity Transit, the Seattle Transit Blog has covered 3 of them so far: Eastside, North, and South.

Infographic: Google brags about their Google Maps by showing off the expansion of their transit mapping technologies.

When Thinking Globally and Acting Locally Is No Longer Optional: Why Seattle Needs Buses

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Seattle1

The scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change is now irrefutable.* Climate change is not some far off disaster that can be passed on to our descendants in the distant future, scientists are not conspiring against drivers or the oil companies, and environmentalists are not making it all up to bring about government tyranny. Climate change is a real threat at our door, and its effects can already be felt here and everywhere else.

In March, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report outlining the most dire consequences of climate change, including the acidification of the oceans by carbon dioxide (CO2), mass migrations of people as coastline disappears and water dries up, violent conflict over dwindling resources, and the possible collapse of the world’s food supply. The effects are already being felt in the United States, where a minute change in temperature (less than two degrees so far) has led to longer, hotter summers, and has contributed to droughts, floods, severe storms and the collapse of migratory systems. In our own backyard, pine forests are dying because longer summers have led to a rapid increase in mountain pine beetle populations.

Currently there are no viable miracles of science or geoengineering that can reverse the warming of the planet without creating new, potentially graver risks. The only responsible course of action we can take is to sharply reduce the amount of CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere. And this means weaning ourselves off fossil fuel.

One relatively easy way of starting this process is reducing the number of gasoline-burning cars on our roads, and the best way to do this is to make public transit and alternative forms of transportation a priority. Encouraging walkability and bicycle commuting are part of this, but it’s impractical to ask Seattleites to hoof or pedal it to work every morning in the rain. Only a robust transit system–buses, light rail and trolleys–can move the volume of people necessary for keeping our regional economic engine, Seattle, moving. Transit is not only good for our overall quality of life (who wants to spend two hours a day stuck in traffic and the resulting cloud of smog?), it helps reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

When it comes to forward-thinking policies and legislation, Seattle and Washington State have led the country. We were one of the only two states, along with Colorado, to throw out moribund drug laws and legalize marijuana. We have consistently supported LGBTQ rights, finally approving gay marriage in 2012. Seattle is now in the process of instituting the nation’s highest minimum wage, making it one of the most labor-friendly cities in the world. We have been on the right side of many issues, and there is no issue more serious or pressing than climate change.

Recently, King County voters rejected Proposition 1. This would have provided funding to Metro to maintain its current bus routes, a level of service that should actually be increasing to meet the ever-growing number of riders but instead now faces severe cuts. Even though it was packaged with a series of driver-friendly road improvements, many shortsighted county voters saw it as a regressive tax subsidizing Seattle bus riders at their expense and voted No, even while Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved it. When it comes to transit, King County does not have our back.

This setback should not be a cause of despair, but a wakeup call. If we want to get serious about addressing climate change and live up to our much-touted green image, if we want to be a leader on this issue, we have to go it alone for now. Until recently, Initiative 118 offered us the only path. It would have  increased the city’s property tax and raised $155 million in total revenue over a six-year period to purchase Metro service. However, Mayor Ed Murray has recently announced his own plan, one that would draw on a $60 car tab fee and a .1% sales tax increase to raise $45 million a year, essentially resurrecting Proposition 1 for a Seattle-only vote in November.

Like all political solutions, the new proposal is not perfect. It doesn’t address the immediate cuts in service, and it still depends on the county to carry out its end of the deal. But Keep Seattle Moving is already working to ensure that the needs of our community are addressed in the final proposal before it goes out to voters. Whatever plan we end up with, it will be a first step towards Seattle having more control over its own transit system.

This is not about patting ourselves on the back–it’s about the survival of our city, of our region, of global civilization. Certainly our current economic vitality and quality of life are not going to survive if the burning of fossil fuels is allowed to go unchecked. Seattle talks a lot about social justice, and this is a perhaps the most important social justice issue there is. Poor, working people are the most adversely affected by transit cuts, and they will be the most vulnerable to the disruptions, conflicts and displacements if the darkest predictions of climate scientists come to pass.

Seattle must lead on this issue by creating a viable transit system, one that efficiently moves people while reducing the city’s carbon impact. Not for bragging rights, but so that others can follow our example and do their part in taking on the greatest environmental challenge of our age. Help us do this by continuing the fight to increase transit options in Seattle, and voting to restore bus service in November.

*The mechanism of anthropogenic climate change is simple and well understood. When the sun’s energy hits the surface of the Earth as visible light it is reflected back into space as heat-producing infrared radiation. When we burn fossil fuels they release CO2 into our atmosphere. As it turns out, CO2 is very good at absorbing infrared radiation, and prevents it from escaping back into space. That surplus of solar radiation is trapped on Earth and gradually begins to warm the atmosphere and oceans. This is not theory; it is lab-tested scientific fact with a large body of evidence.