Saturday, March 26, 2011

The 50 Foot Rule

                Jan Gelh writes in his book “Life Between buildings” about how the limitations of the human senses effect the kind of places people enjoy being in and which encourage social activity. Based on his work I’ve constructed the following table:

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

San Francisco 1905: film of a complete street (set to music)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seattle Transportation Costs and Policy Options

(this is an updated version of a policy brief written for my Economics and Planning class in the autumn of 2010)

Seattle is a growing city that like many cities is running up against the environmental, economic, and social consequences of both automobile travel. There are numerous policy levers available for automobile travel but Seattle has only utilized a few of these so far. I will show how in the existing policy environment people are incentivized to drive automobiles rather than take mass transit, even before issues such as travel time, convenience, etc. are factored in.
In 2009 fuel costs amounted to $.0821 per mile to drive a small sedan. Tire replacement and maintenance cost an additional .0487 cents per mile. [i]  However, the consumer rarely pays for tires and maintenance at the time of consumption and most people don’t factor these into their monthly budgets the way they do gas costs. At $.0821 per mile a Seattle commuter with a compact car can drive 43 miles a day before their monthly marginal cost meets that of a $108 3 zone transit pass.[ii] If we assume our consumer is rational and factors in maintenance and tire costs then they can travel 27 miles a day before the monthly marginal cost of driving equals that of a transit pass. For someone who already owns a car in Seattle, it makes economic sense to drive it.
In the below chart I have used actual data from the Seattle area concerning the cost of a car and the cost of various transit passes. Note the 1 zone pass is only useful for short distances.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Most Regressive Option

The Deep Bore Tunnel is a failure of our progressive values.
By Alex Broner

Every now and then a city needs to ask itself the questions: “who are we?” and “who do we want to be?” In Seattle we like to think of ourselves as pretty progressive.  Unfortunately our current city council is giving cause to rethink this assessment.

Imagine for a moment that the Seattle city council passed a new “head tax” that required every adult to pay $6000 a year regardless of their level of income. Or perhaps imagine that the city instituted a draft of all able bodied adults to work as involuntary chauffeurs, demanding that everyone put in time behind the wheel in the name of civic spirit. Or imagine that the city council instituted a curfew whereby senior citizens, the young, the elderly, and the disabled were not allowed away from their homes at certain hours. All of these scenarios should sound familiar to you because this is the status quo of transportation policy in Seattle. It’s unfair, it’s inefficient, it’s regressive, and it’s about to get worse.

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The political risk of freeway removal

One aspect of the embarcadero removal in San Francisco that we should take into account is that the Mayor Art Agnos lost re-election because the China-town merchants  who had supported him disagreed with him and defected. That said, in Seattle Mike McGinn was elected due to his anti-tunnel stance. He did do a bit of hedging on this position in the in the latter days of the campaign but I do not read much into this since he won with nearly the same number of votes as Councilmember Mike O'Brien who made no such hedges on his anti-tunnel stance.

An Option We All Can Agree Upon

Downtown Seattle needs a congestion management strategy, regardless of what we do about the Viaduct.
By Alex Broner
(Originally published at
London. New York City. Stockholm. Singapore.
What do all of these cities have in common? They’re all great cities and they’ve all approved congestion pricing for their downtown areas. As Seattle comes to terms with replacing the Viaduct we should make sure our downtown is not overwhelmed by traffic and remains a vibrant place for people and for local businesses.

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Hello World

Welcome to my blog! This space will be where I'll post my thoughts on a variety of issues related to cities and urban planning. Thanks for reading!

-Alex Broner