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Monday, April 17, 2006

Introducing Seattle Traffic

I would like to take an opportunity to introduce my newest blog, Seattle Traffic. I have "quietly" added a link on the sidebar under "Sibling Sites", but I thought it would be worth mentioning in a post all its own. Seattle Traffic is an idea that I had been tossing around for a few months now, and I finally made the time to get it off the ground last weekend. The format is pretty much the same as this blog, but I'll be focusing on a different important local topic—traffic, parking, transit, and other related things.

Since I'm now running two blogs whose purposes are to highlight two big problems in Seattle, some may get the impression that I am not fond of this area. Nothing could be further from the truth. My purpose in running both Seattle Bubble and Seattle Traffic is to bring people together to work toward solutions to two of Seattle's biggest problems. I'm even already mulling the idea of making a Seattle blog trinity by adding a third blog dedicated to all the Awesome things about Seattle...

We'll wait and see how well I can handle just two blogs first, though.


Eleua said...

This is just a generic statement for Seattle Traffic.

I am always against road improvements, because I believe they INCREASE congestion. I'm all for fixing dangerous intersections, potholes, and structural repairs, but I am always against increasing capacity.


If you build it, they will come.

No matter what, there is a "market" value to sitting in traffic. If there is too much traffic, people will not build new developments. If you reduce their commute hassle, they will build until the hassle returns.

Put another can sit in 2 lanes of traffic now, or 5 lanes of traffic in 5 years. I'll take the 2 lanes, thankyou very much.

I grew up in Kitsap County, and my grandparents lived in Tacoma. In the early '80s (prior to the 6th ave bypass), when you crossed the Tacoma Narrows, you had to exit at 6th Ave. and make your way to Hwy 16. It took 5 minutes on a bad day, and if you hit every light.

We couldn't have that, so we got the 6th Ave bypass.

Now, the same commute takes 60-90 minutes, and Western Pierce County (Gig Harbor) is a yuppie slum. Less congestion = more homes = more cars = more traffic = more congestion = more taxes. Lather, rinse, repeat...

Undeterred by history, we now have a second bridge going in. Now, you can drive from Port Orchard to Tacoma (so they think). Once South Kitsap becomes a poor man's Gig Harbor, you will have an epic traffic jam. Tacoma still has to accept all the cars (don't ask me how).

If you had a floating bridge from Seattle to Bainbridge, Bainbridge would look like Mercer Island. Put an 8 lane highway all the way from Seattle to Sequim, and you will have a mess that looks like the SF East Bay.

No, voting down traffic improvements is actually the best way to keep traffic sane.

It's counter-intuitive.

biliruben said...

I don't agree with you much (though I still like what you write) Eleua, but I agree with you here.

I'm more than happy to pay for mass-transit and safety improvements, but all those billions for widening 405 or I-5 is just a waste of money and encourages sprawl.

So you get to the bottle-neck faster. Swell.

I heard that they would have to expand I-5 to 21 lanes to appreciably improve congestion during rush hour. And that's right now. If you actually did expand it, it would just make more people think it's reasonable to commute from Marysville, and you would need 41 lanes ten years from now.

NYC figured this out a long time ago, and anyone with half a brain who studied past transportation debacles could make the obvious connection.

The problem is that politicians know that traffic pisses people off, and in order to get re-elected they have to at least look like they are "getting something done."

The things that would actually be useful (mass-transit, bike lanes, water taxis and more foot-ferries) are politically untenable without bribing the suburbanites and east-siders with wasteful, worse-than-useless highway projects to "balance things out."

Maybe when gas-prices hit $100/barrel people will start to realize that long-single occupancy commutes are untenable, long-term.

Knowing our politicians, however, I assume they'll just increase the subsidy.

Eleua said...

I am so glad we agree on something. I'll have to look over my posts to see where we disagree.

The other way to limit sprawl is to make existing housing cheaper than new construction. If builders can't build for a profit, they won't.

10% interest rates should do it.

13% would be better.

Rob Dawg said...

More roads reduces congestion. People don't want to believe it but it isn't a matter of debate in professional transportation circles. Congestion is caused by poor urban planning, nothing else. We know how to control traffic but urban planners refuse to accomodate autos for reasons of would be social engineering hubris.

Eleua said...

Congestion is caused by too many people. Roads enable people to reduce their costs to develop a new area.

Urban planners blame traffic planners; traffic planners blame urban planners.

Bottom line: build it and they will come.

I've got $100 that says the Tacoma Narrows will be worse in 10 years than it is today. If the new bridge was left unfinished, for some reason, growth on the Key Peninsula/S. Kitsap area would be almost nil.

The other question is: Do we want to look like NY and SF? I know many of the new residents are from there, but if they moved away from the urban chaos, why build it here?

Rob Dawg said...

Congestion is not caused by too many people. Any number of people can be accomodated by a primarilly roads based transportation system.

It is urban planners alone responsible for any failures.

Build it and they will come is uban planner talk for the discredited theory of induced demand.

Transit causes congestion, transit is the brainchild of urban planners.

SourMash said...

Oh, what the heck, I'll bite: how does transit cause congestion?

cars for all! said...


Aren't you the brave one!

R. Cote has written all over the blogs that suburbia is good and urban life/mass transit wastes energy, etc.

He has never been able to explain, however how this is possible.

I guess if Manhattan ever loses it's great mass/rapid transit system and all those subway riders are forced to buy cars to get around the island, we'll find out if his assertions are true.

Rob Dawg said...

Transit causes congestion because it is so expensive it draws transportation money away from congestion solutions.

In the US transit is subsidized some 75% and achieves some 2.5% market share. Roads based private transport is taxed at approximately 100% of enumerable costs. Despite this transit use continues to decline. Europe has something like 50% subsidies for transit and 200% taxes on private transportation and transit use continues to decline. The problem is simple, transit is expensive. No need to look further for hidden issues. It is wholly anti-sustainable to promote transit. Wealth consumes resources and transit subsidies consume wealth. It really is that simple.

SourMash said...

Transit causes congestion because it is so expensive it draws transportation money away from congestion solutions.

Heh. That's cute.

I presume you also believe organ transplants cause diabetes?

Jay said...

What do young professionals in Seattle feel about all the vendors hawking Real Change on every other corner? I sometimes am one of the vendors, and am curious of people's thoughts. I am at the public library and cannot bookmark this; any comments I'd appreciate you also email to me:
Jay Maass

biliruben said...

"I'll have to look over my posts to see where we disagree." - eleua

Well, as far as housing goes, I don't agree with the severity of the downturn you predict. Nobody who can possibly avoid it is going to sell for 20 cents on the dollar. Those who would be forced to sell would just walk away and take the credit hit because of how far upside-down they are, and the bank wouldn't sell for 20 cents on the dollar after taking possession. I could maybe imagine 50%, but I'm guessing 30% is the most houses will decline.

That sort of catastrophic downturn would throw the entire world into a sustained depression.

Jay - I respect the real change hawkers and though I don't know how much actual good it does, it's a small step in the right direction.

Rob Dawg said...

Rather than cutesie and deliberately condescending off topic non sequiturs anyone interested in the actual data and results is welcome to provide an example where there is transit and no congestion. A single example would be enough.

Another good data point is anyplace in the US where transit users pay anywhere close to the costs of the services they consume.

Eleua said...

If people are stretched to meet today's mortgage, with historic, government manipulated, low interest rates, and no money down, how are they going to afford the house when interest rates are much higher, and lending standards have washed out half of the buyers?

The only way to do that is with much lower prices.

People who bought the NAZ at 5100 were certainly not going to sell below 1000, but they did (or someone in the chain did).

The NAZ didn't have criminal lending standards and 125% margin.

Housing does.


Eleua said...

Yes, 20 cents on the dollar would put us in a severe depression.

That is my point.

Eleua said...

I will give Cote' a thumbs up on how mass transit sucks, and adds to the problem.

Mass transit brings the 'burbs closer to the city (which entices people to move out even more, and take advantage of the transit system. Without the ferry, Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo would be nothing but Rednecks, meth labs, and chicken coops (think Belfair). The ferry and Agate Pass bridge allow people to live in the NK/BI area and work in Seattle. Without it, urban workers would have to live in Bellevue or MI.

Mass transit also has another effect: it brings the city to us. In the San Francisco area, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) connects Oakland, & SF to Contra Costa. While it is nice to get dropped off at the Walnut Creek kiss-n-ride so you can work in the Embarcadero, it also allows the urban crime corps to peddle their wares in the 'burbs.

betamax said...

Transit causes congestion because it is so expensive it draws transportation money away from congestion solutions.

Assumes that viable solutions exist.

Anonymous said...

Logical fallacy: Begging the Question.

BOB: Transit does not work.
ED: How do you know?
BOB: Because there is congestion in cities with transit.
ED: But how do you know that improving their transit systems won't reduce congestion?
BOB: Because transit does not work.

See also: Fallacy of False Dilemma, Fallacy of Questionable Cause.

Rob Dawg said...

I claim transit does not work in the US because every attempt to revive it from its 90 year slide in transportation share has failed. That's not some wild eyed "transit is bad" kind of claim. It is well doucumented and a tacit recognition that transit is slow and expensive. It has always been slow and expensive. Transit has held still while other modes have made tremendous advances. Not just autos but pipelines, cargo rail, ports, everything except passenger transit.

This is about the time we start hearing about the NCL conspiracy and such. I'm all for anything anyone wants to try. Let's just keep it on the facts and not on these personal attacks. I've asked several what should be easy questions. Why can no one answer? Oh, and I've also processed and cross indexed near every transit agency in the nation. If anyone is interested I can provide them with the true costs of their transit useage so that they can move to the high moral ground by paying the true costs of their trips.

biliruben said...

Robert -

I'll start paying the true costs of Transit when autos start paying their true costs, including roads, oil, environmental degradation, and medical costs.

You seem to be confusing correlation with causation, but just for giggles I'll respond to your absurd question. Buffalo has no congestion and it has a subway.

Because the costs are large, be it roads, ferries or trains, we as a society choose to pitch-in and build them; otherwise they wouldn't get built.

I work with numbers, so let me give you a bit of advice. Numbers can be used badly. They need to be mixed with clear interpretation and a dose of common sense.

Rob Dawg said...

I'll start paying the true costs of Transit when autos start paying their true costs, including roads, oil, environmental degradation, and medical costs.

Autos already pay their way. It is just a matter of unsupportable faith among transit supporter that they don't. You are thinking about the Sierra Club "True Cost of Gasoline" claims that are roundly dismissed as biased buy transportation professionals.

Fact is transit users are so selfish they refuse to pay even the operating costs of their addiction/hobby.

Notice not a single attempt to answer any questions and yet another attempt to turn the discussion away from the actual failings of transit to the imagined but unreferenced failings of autos. Next up, the false claims of safety differentials. And still no answers to the eay questions and still no civilty in addressing the isssues and not the person.

Rob Dawg said...

just for giggles I'll respond to your absurd question. Buffalo has no congestion and it has a subway.

Excellent example. Buffalo has just over 1 million people and 4000 miles of roads. 4 miles per thousand people as these things are measured. Los Angeles? Land of roads? Glad you asked: 2.1 miles per thousand. And Los Angeles? Spends 80% of its transportation budget subsidizing transit. Oh, and Buffalo is 40% as dense as it was in 1950. Los Angeles is 50% denser than in 1950. Are these trends beginning to form a pattern? THese are important trends for Seattle to be aware of.

Anonymous said...

Can we please stop feeding the troll?

If we ignore him, he'll move on....

Rob Dawg said...

Trolls don't provide numbers from the FHWA HM series. Trolls say things like "roads don't pay for themselves." Who is the troll you were thinking of and why?

biliruben said...

If people are stretched to meet today's mortgage, with historic, government manipulated, low interest rates, and no money down, how are they going to afford the house when interest rates are much higher, and lending standards have washed out half of the buyers? -eleua

There are certainly some people in this position, and we will certainly see some bankruptcies down the line. If a majority were in this position, we might see some declines of the magnitude you suggest. But I think you are over-estimating how many people were stupid enough to put themselves in this position. Sure there are some, but there are also plenty of people with income enough to weather any housing storm, as well as people with assets enough to buy after a correction.

Houses aren't like They will always have intrisic value. They won't go to zero, or even 20 cents.

Eleua said...

How many California mortgages were originated as I-O or even I-O-N-A last year? How many had income documentation along the lines of "don't ask, don't tell?"

It doesn't take much to crash a market. Why buy the 50% at "market" value, when you can buy in the 50% that is distressed?

I still hold to my 20 cents on the dollar by 2010 prediction. Or the more humorous version, where I take a swipe at RE professionals.

Leverage gets you into a house. It also gets you out of a house.

biliruben said...

How many California mortgages were originated as I-O or even I-O-N-A last year?

A bunch.

Let me give you an anectdote of a friend of mine who pretty much did everything wrong.

He bought with close to zero down using I/O, and a piggy-back. He rolled his CC debt into the house, and refinanced a few months ago, rolled more CC debt, and bought a truck and a plasma TV with the cash out. His wife is pregnant and they are soon going to be living on one income for a while. Disaster, right?

What ever is he going to do if the housing market tanks, and his house is worth only 50% of what he paid!

I'll tell what. Exactly what he's doing now. Pay his mortgage on time and live there for the next 30 years.

Even though he made a lot of mistakes, what he didn't do was take on a mortgage he couldn't afford. He might have to tighten the belt a bit when his wife isn't working, but he'll get by. You can still refinance into a 30-year fixed for under 7%, and that's what he did. That's what a lot of folks will do and have done.

You don't panic-sell your home when you see it falling in value like you do

You may whack your forehead and berate yourself a bit, but when push comes to shove, you still have a roof over your head and you still continue to pay your mortgage.

I think that's the situation that the vast majority of even the "Houses only go up" crowd are in, and so we won't see 20 cents on the dollar. 30% declines maybe. 50% is an outside possibility. Not 80%.

I read your site a while back, btw, Eluea and look forward to more humorous installments.

Eleua said...

I enjoy your responses.

Your friend may not sell, and continue to make his payment, however, he will not be able to sell and take his equity with him. Many will be in that boat. I think a 15-20% reduction in home prices will just about wipe out any meaningful equity in the housing market. Sometimes, I think a 10% reduction will do it.

Many people will be forced to sell as their loans adjust. They (or their lenders) will not sell at 20 cents, as the market will not have tanked far enough.


They will be selling an asset that is declining in price. Two or three owners later, it will have reduced to that amount. If the job market suffers, while inflation rages on, and interest rates skyrocket, people will only be able to afford 20-25% of what it was at the top.

Put another way, most of the housing appreciation in the past two decades is a result of falling interest rates and shodding lending standards. If these trends reverse, expect housing prices to retreat accordingly.

Put another way, if respectable lending standards come back into practice, how many people can afford to put 20% down, if they can't transport equity from another property?

It's not zero, but it's close.

Even in my smug little 'burb, I am wondering how many have even $40K (sans equity from California) to put down on a $200K house? Some do, but not enough to float the entire island, much less the entire PNW. 59% of new homeowners on BI come from out of state (re: California). Take away the 59%, and $75K incomes will not support $700K prices.

Highland Village, Texas (substantially wealthier, all built-out, easier commute, better schools, lower crime, higher education attainment) barely supports $225K homes (much nicer homes than most of BI) on $105K incomes.

Keep your comments coming. You can go to my blog if you don't want to clog up Tim's blog.