About That Map


TL,DR: Suburbs are bad, because you know, they are bad and stuff. And here's some maps with messed up scales. They prove some point, or something. Also Chicago has a neighborhood named Rogers Park. Oh, and lets annex the rich cities of Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland, because that will help Seattle transit and stop gentrification somehow. The end.
I think a real TL;DR would be:

The Seattle Metro needs region transit because Seattle is physically small.

San Francisco is physically even smaller, but getting out of SF South or East (And North kind of) is pretty easy without a car. We have regional transit. So being displaced to Oakland is less crippling than the same move outside of Seattle.
You can actually leave SF on public transit and make it to Fairfield (about 50 miles Northeast) in about an hour and a half. Which is actually not the worst commute in the Bay Area.
Dan is making sense.
@1 Chicago and L.A. are considered "messed up" because they're different sizes, now? Harsh.
The new rail lines in LA are great if you're on them, but Dan doesn't get how huge la is, and how much is served solely by bus transit. For an awfully large number of people, it's still two to three times slower to use transit.
Economic segregation today, economic segregation forever!!! Right Dan?
Five years ago, I would have agreed with Dan full stop, but today self driving vehicles (including collective ones) are right around the corner, and they are going to be complete game changers.

As awesome as I think rail transit is, it is crazy expensive to build, and it's going to be largely obsolete in a few years.
Is Dan Savage really unaware of the fact that the present borders of Seattle are already the result of as many annexations as local politics will allow?

I've met people who migrated to the city much later than Savage who know that West Seattle and Columbia City (among others) were once an independent municipalities. With their own public transportation systems, even.
Nine comments. NINE.
@9 Dan at least appears unaware that Seattle is currently pursuing annexation of White Center, which is, like all communities surrounding Seattle, currently served by county-level transit.

However, Dan's point is that gentrification is apparently o.k., provided that you can stay within city limits. Can't afford Capitol Hill rents anymore? No problem, move to Rainier Valley and it's all the same, because you are still in Seattle! Don't move too far south, however, or you will leave Seattle, and end up in Renton, which is bad. See the difference? In both cases you've been displaced, but in the first example, you can still say you live in Seattle! I still don't understand what he is trying to say about transit, unfortunately.
@11: No, he's saying that being displaced to anywhere where you become unconnected to the city -- whether or not you technically stay in city limits -- is bad. Being displaced to somewhere that is interconnected with the city (by rapid transit) is not nearly as bad. He is actually de-emphasizing city boundaries, which is the opposite of what you're interpreting his point as. (Or pretending to interpret his point as, if you're simply trolling.)
@8: cars still don't scale. It's theoretically possible to increase freeway capacity incrementally by using smart apps to increase carpool commuting with self-driving cars, but no more so than adding one more highway would. In both cases induced demand would nearly immediately bring us right back to current congestion levels. Self-driving cars may be a part of the future, but they aren't *the* future in the way that trains are.
I think you are missing a few things though. Seattle is definitely smaller (in land mass) than Chicago or L. A. But it is also a lot less populated. We are less densely populated than the bigger (by land mass) Chicago, and roughly the same as the much bigger (by land mass) L. A. If you included the suburbs of Seattle (or just looked at the core of those other cities) the difference would be striking.

You can see this with a census map that shows population density. Here is one centered on Seattle. The darker regions have more people per square mile. There is nothing between the city limits of Seattle and Snohomish County as densely populated as, say, Loyal Heights. But even the more densely populated areas in Seattle really ain't shit compared to those other, bigger cites. There is only one census block in the entire state that has over 100,000 people per square mile (in Belltown). There aren't even that many places with over 25,000 per square mile. Almost all of those are within a mile or two of downtown or the UW. In contrast, look at Chicago or sprawling L. A.. That kind of density is everywhere.

The point being that Seattle is not dense at all. We are largely suburban, even within our tiny borders. Houses on big lots with only one family in them dominate the landscape. Then the city basically says "you can only increase density here" and wonders why the fuck we have gentrification. There simply aren't enough places to live, nor enough places where you can build. If they raise the rent on my apartment in Central Area, I can just move to an apartment in west Magnolia. It is less than five miles away from downtown -- it isn't a bad bike ride. Except there aren't any apartments! There are huge swaths of the city where they can't build new apartments, and the results are as predictable as a wheat shortage. Prices are going to go up.

The obvious answer is simply change the zoning. Mess with our precious single family zoned neighborhoods. Allow more backyard cottages, more basement apartments, more houses converted to apartments. Allow people to build smaller houses on smaller lots; sometimes stand alone houses, sometimes townhouses or row houses. We can't continue this nonsense of simply picking small parts of the city and building all the apartments there. We need to add more people to the single family neighborhoods. That doesn't mean that we need to build any higher, nor does it mean that we should abandon the preservation of older, interesting houses. But we should be trying to add more people to those neighborhoods in a way that makes living in this city affordable.
The second point I will make is that you missed the difference between most mass transit systems and what Seattle is building. Chicago is a great contrast. The Chicago 'L" has 8 lines and a little over 100 miles of track. It covers most of the city, with intersecting lines that not only allow you to easily get downtown, but between city neighborhoods. Distant suburbs are not part of the subway system, but connect to it via commuter rail or express bus service.

In contrast, Seattle is building a sprawling subway that primarily connects distant suburbs. This would be obvious if you actually put the two maps on top of each other (something that I'm too lazy to do). From the farthest, most distant part of the 'L' to the center of the system (downtown Chicago) it is about 15 miles. From Tacoma or Everett to downtown Seattle is about 30.

The combination is the worst of both worlds. Someone in the suburb of Naperville can take a train into Chicago in a half hour, then transfer to just about anywhere in the city easily and quickly. But someone in Federal Way -- which is actually closer -- will never have that opportunity. It is 45 minutes just to get downtown, and then they will struggle with buses that slog along the surface streets. We built the subway in the wrong place (the suburbs, not the city).

Since we aren't building what needs to be built anytime soon, we will have to rely on buses. Even after ST3 is complete, and we have almost as many miles of subway rail as Chicago, we won't have an urban network that allows easy travel within the city. A trip from Lynnwood to Fremont will involve taking a bus. Getting from Lynnwood to Ballard will, too. Yes, you could transfer downtown and take the train back north again, but even today -- with a very slow 44 -- it wouldn't be worth it.

Which is why you are absolutely right about improving the bus system. For the suburbs, the most important thing is to change the HOV 2 lanes to HOV 3. That alone would make commuting from the suburbs a hell of a lot faster (faster than Link will ever be).

For the city, it is tougher. We have both political challenges and fiscal ones. Madison BRT will be a big improvement, but Roosevelt BRT was watered down because of lack of money. We simply couldn't afford to build both an essential bike path and bus lanes. Other corridors will struggle for similar reasons. But spending money on those things is a hell of lot cheaper than spending money on distant rail that will save far less time for far fewer people. We just need to budget more than the "Move Seattle" levy did.
@13 @8 -- Exactly -- cars don't scale. Self driving cars remove the biggest cost of cabs, but they still use up too much street space. That is why cities have limited the number of cabs for years (they don't want them clogging up the streets). Smarter systems (that allow you to pick up people on the way) make the system more efficient, but eventually they become more like fixed route bus service. Either you provide a premium service to a handful of people willing to pay extra, or you have something that looks and operates exactly like a good bus system.

Speaking of which, the most expensive aspect of operating a bus system is the cost of drivers as well. One of the toughest trade-offs is frequency. Increase frequency and you have a much better system (no waiting for the bus) but you also increase cost. However, if you take away the cost of operating the vehicle -- i. e. self driving buses -- then the cost goes way down. The future is not millions of cabs operating all day, but lots of buses (of all sizes), operating frequently on fixed routes all day long.
Ross, your very valid point about the difference @15 makes me very sad.

Although we do obviously also need regional rail transit.
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