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I dont know where this question might belong in stackexchange, so i put it in history. Why are major streets in urban regions not build tunnel like? Not underground but with accustic barriers, and attached to those, a roof. Wouldnt that reduce smog (Outlet at a suitable location) and noise enormously and so create more liveable space in cities?
You have a vastly different definition of "liveable" than the rest of the planet. You have also not thought through the implications of your… I suppose "proposal" is as good a word as any.
Building tunnels to constrain exhaust fumes would not reducesmog. You propose:
Outlet at a suitable location.
Arguably, you might relocate the smog - when it is "outlet at a suitable location", it will interact with the sunlight to produce smog. That said, 1. Outlet at a suitable location is a political impossibility - I would pay to see you propose to the suburban or rural communities that they should accept urban smog. Your "solution" will ensure that both urban and rural locations are uninhabitable. Of course you might argue that the tunnels won't be airtight, so you're merely reducing the urban smog and increasing rural smog? Smog redistribution?
1, If you are diverting the pollution elsewhere, that means your new tunnel roadways are airtight. Which means that anyone driving in those tunnels is going to asphyxiate. Unless you're going to retrofit all cars with oxygen tanks and something to stop people from dying from the built up toxic wastes in your tunnels.
Heat death. Driving through airtight tunnels will trap heat within the tunnels; remember that cars propel themselves forward by generating a series of explosions. That heat has to go somewhere. Not worth my time to do the math, but I suspect that normal traffic would raise the temperature in these airtight tunnels to a level that would be fatal. I would not be surprised if the temperature rose high enough to generate a risk of fire in or near the acoustic baffles.
How will the cars drive? How do you get oxygen into these tunnels? Without oxygen, cars will not go - those explosions rely on oxygen.
Fortunately nobody will drive on these tunnel roads - not only would they die from the experience, but when they got to their destination, they'd discover that there was no way to get out of the tunnel to get to where they want to go. Unless you're building in a mind boggling number of airlocks?
Nobody wants to drive in a tunnel all the time. The claustrophobia of driving in a car with windows that look out on the smog filled tunnel would probably cause people to avoid cities entirely. Of course their rural farmland is now covered with smog, so perhaps your plan is to end all driving and return us to a pre-industrial age?
the incredible surge in accident rates caused because people cannot avoid debris, or cannot swerve to avoid other cars without hitting the side of the tunnels. As a separate exercise, consider the difficulty of investigating accidents inside your hermetically sealed tunnels, and how the accident debris will be cleared. Let's leave aside the interesting question of how you clean the thousands of miles of hermetically sealed acoustic baffles.
When the car stops in the city, what happens? is the parking garage inside the airlock or outside?
Your acoustic baffles might reduce the noise pollution in your city (empty of people because nobody can ship food in - but the noise will be contained in your new rat warren roadways. Noise is a form of energy - it doesn't get destroyed, just diverted. The roadways will be filled with a toxic level of noise as well.
You suggest this for "major streets" - implying that minor streets would be isolated by some kind of airlock. My mind boggles at the traffic jam involved in a car pulling off a major street for a minor street. And the amount of expensive urban space required for the airlocks - a parking space in an urban environment can cost as much as a suburban house.
Environmental cost - Let's ignore the environmental impact of trapping heat inside cities, and the resulting rise in air conditioning costs for the few, miserable starving city dwellers who must walk out to the edge of the city to get food because trucks can't bring produce in anymore. Let's just look at the additional energy costs involved in managing all the problems above. You've just traded some definition of "livability" for an increase in global warming that is probably larger than the total progress made by the USA in the last 20 years.
Please, before you post a question on any This Site, read the help center. H:SE specifically places out of scope speculation on alternative histories, and we've never needed to explicitly mention that alternative future urban ecologies are out of scope; we've relied on common sense.
Cost, cost and cost. Just to put an example: Madrid (Spain) made a tunnelization of the M-30, a radial road that initially surrounded the city, but as the city expanded it became a street inside it. It took 3 years of massive works and 7 billion euros (about 8,5 billion dollars) to build the tunnels.
While the works have proven definitely useful, reducing traffic jams, contamination, and regaining surface for other uses (a big long park has been built on top) the people of Madrid is going to repay the costs for the next 50 years…
Timeline: How Bunker Hill transformed Los Angeles and Grand Avenue
Grand Avenue is home to a cluster of architectural and artistic achievements (museums, concert venues, theaters) that attract millions of people a year, locals and tourists whose energy carries the promise of a vibrant urban center on Bunker Hill.
But much of what we have come to associate with Grand Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood is relatively recent history. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion opened in 1964 MOCA was founded in 1979 the Walt Disney Concert Hall opened its doors in 2003, followed 12 years later by the Broad.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the area was sparsely populated. Starting in the mid-19th century, Bunker Hill started to attract the attention of developers who worked to transform it into a fashionable neighborhood. Later, it transformed again — into a vibrant area that was home for thousands of working-class Angelenos in need of moderate or low-income housing.
In the middle of the 20th century, government officials declared the neighborhood a slum — which led to razing, scraping and, ultimately, the wave of redevelopment and development that brought us the string of office buildings and arts institutions that now line the avenue.
Much was lost — and gained — in those intervening years. Tunnels opened to new areas of the city. Angels Flight transported us. Mansions were constructed and then torn down or moved. Palaces of art emerged on the leveled earth. Let our timeline of Bunker Hill and Grand Avenue remind — or inform — you of some of the details of this transformation.
1850: California becomes the 31st state in the U.S. Los Angeles is incorporated into a municipality.
1870s: A French Canadian immigrant named Prudent Beaudry buys 20 acres in what is now downtown Los Angeles, hoping to turn the land into a successful real estate development. In the next few years it becomes a fashionable residential neighborhood with mansions and luxury hotels. As part of the development process, he builds systems to deliver water and a series of streets, one of which is named Bunker Hill Avenue in honor of the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Eventually it becomes the name of the neighborhood.
1882: Los Angeles Normal School, created to train teachers, opens on a site that is now the home of L.A. Central Library. It is demolished in 1924.
1880-90s: More mansions and hotels are constructed, including the Melrose, at 138 S. Grand, first built as a private residence and later converted to a hotel.
1887: Grand Avenue is officially launched when the City Council renames Charity Street.
Late 1880s: The Castle, a 20-room mansion with a “magnificent stained-glass front door,” is built at 325 S. Bunker Hill Ave. Eventually, it becomes a boarding house. Nearby, a house called the Salt Box is constructed at 339 S. Bunker Hill Ave. Decades later, they are famously photographed — in front of the towering Union Bank Building — after most of the neighborhood has been torn down or bulldozed. The images of these Victorian-era structures become a memorable entry in the history of Bunker Hill.
1898: The city of Los Angeles gets its first symphony orchestra.
1900: The heyday of Bunker Hill as a fashionable enclave is over, as wealthy Angelenos leave for more prestigious neighborhoods. Residents in search of low-income housing move into some of the old Victorian mansions that have been converted into boarding houses.
1901: Angels Flight, a funicular, opens, moving passengers between the business district and Bunker Hill.
1901: The 3rd Street tunnel opens.
1902: The elegant Fremont Hotel, named after politician/explorer/soldier John C. Fremont, opens on the corner of Olive and 4th streets with about 100 rooms. It is torn down in 1955.
1924: The 2nd Street tunnel opens.
1926: The Central Library is constructed.
1928: Los Angeles City Hall opens.
1931: A group of “realty experts” submits to the city a plan to raze Bunker Hill properties and re-grade the hill at a cost of $24 million, using public funds and leasing portions of the land to private developers.
1940s: More Bunker Hill mansions are converted to rooming houses.
1942: In “The High Window,” Raymond Chandler assesses the neighborhood: “Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town. Once, very long ago, it was the choice residential district of the city, and there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions. They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt.”
1945: California’s Community Redevelopment Law enables cities to use eminent domain to condemn and tear down dilapidated districts and encourage new development.
1948: The city of Los Angeles establishes its own Community Redevelopment Agency.
1949: President Harry S. Truman signs the Federal Housing Act. The legislation, Truman says, “opens up the prospect of decent homes in wholesome surroundings for low-income families now living in the squalor of the slums.” In truth, the act helps agencies acquire “blighted” areas of Bunker Hill, land that is cleared and redeveloped. Critics point out that it ruins established residential neighborhoods.
1956: The CRA presents a tentative plan (including “luxurious apartment-hotels . along with smaller apartments for middle-income families and 13-story apartment buildings for single office workers”) to redevelop 135 acres of the Bunker Hill area “classified by local and federal authorities as a slum and substandard housing area,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
1959: The city of Los Angeles adopts the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project. According to Curbed Los Angeles, “The redevelopment project adopted by the city on March 31, 1959, grew out of an urban revival movement sweeping the nation and kick-started by federal housing acts that offered aid for the clearing of ‘urban blight.’” Opponents slowed it down but couldn’t stop it. “Six-thousand residents, mostly poor people and senior citizens eligible for public housing, were relocated outside of the area the promised replacement affordable housing never materialized.”
1963: A “razing program” underway for 2 ½ years makes Bunker Hill a patchwork of vacant lots and gaping parcels.
1964: Memorial Pavilion, the first building of the Music Center, opens in December (it will eventually be re-christened as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion). First-week performances include the Count Basie Orchestra, Van Cliburn and Frank Sinatra.
1965: L.A. County Board of Supervisors names the Music Center buildings — the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre.
1966: First phase of the Los Angeles Civic Center Mall is dedicated — a $6.9-million segment between Grand Avenue and Hill Street between the courthouse and the Hall of Administration. A central feature is the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, which is retained in the redesign years later of Grand Park.
1967: The Mark Taper Forum opens on April 9, with the controversial presentation of John Whiting’s “The Devils,” dramatized from Aldous Huxley’s famous factual study, “The Devils of Loudun,” and staged by Gordon Davidson.
1967: Inaugural performances of “Man of La Mancha” open the Ahmanson Theatre in April.
1967: The newly formed Los Angeles Music Center Opera Assn. commits to bringing the principal New York City Opera company, not the traveling company, for a month-long engagement to perform at the Music Center. That arrangement continues for 16 years.
1969: The CRA dismantles Angels Flight and puts it in storage, in preparation for the development of the California Plaza office complex on Grand Avenue.
1969: The Academy Awards are held for first time — and broadcast worldwide for the first time — at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The best picture is “Oliver!”
1969: “Erector set” parking lot opens with 1,062 spaces at the corner of 1st and Olive streets, backing onto the length of Grand Avenue. It was often cited as one of Los Angeles’ most reviled structures, but at the time, the designer, engineer Charles Bentley, was marketing what he called a “revolutionary concept”: a low-cost portable parking structure that could be erected in a matter of weeks over an existing lot and taken down and moved as land uses changed. It will be torn down in 2018 as plans proceed for a $1-billion Frank Gehry-designed mixed-use development, scheduled for completion in 2021.
1969: The last two Victorian houses on Bunker Hill (the Castle and the Salt Box) are moved. They are to be the first structures in a new Heritage Square in Montecito Heights. On Oct. 9, both structures are destroyed in an arson fire.
1979: The Museum of Contemporary Art is officially founded. The CRA makes building a “Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art” a condition of the huge Bunker Hill Project (later known as California Plaza), requiring that 1.5% of the total cost must go into the museum building.
1980: MOCA continues the process of assembling an international board of trustees, including Dominique de Menil, who goes on to create the Menil Collection in Houston Peter Ludwig from Germany Italian lawyer Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo Seiji Tsutsumi from Japan and L.A. artists Robert Irwin and Sam Francis.
1981: Japanese architect Arata Isozaki is selected to design the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue.
1983: Public opening of MOCA’s Temporary Contemporary is celebrated in Little Tokyo. The inaugural show is “The First Show: Painting and Sculpture From Eight Collections 1940-1980.”
1984: With a budget of just $6.4 million, Peter Hemmings becomes the first executive general director of Music Center Opera (later renamed Los Angeles Opera), mounting five productions at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a first season (launched two years later) that immediately makes the operatic world take notice.
1985: Tower 1 of California Plaza, a 1-million-square-foot, 42-story, $200-million building at 300 S. Grand Ave., is completed.
1986: An arson fire guts the Central Library, destroying 400,000 books and damaging another 700,000. Damages are estimated at $22 million, more than $50 million in today’s dollars.
1986: Music Center Opera (later L.A. Opera) opens its inaugural season in October with Verdi’s “Otello,” starring Placido Domingo.
1986: Arata Isozaki’s $23-million MOCA opens on Grand Avenue in December, with “Individuals,” an ambitious survey of contemporary art, from Abstract to Neo-Expressionism in 400 works by 77 artists. (Isozaki is awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2019.)
1987: Lillian Disney, widow of Walt Disney, offers initial $50 million to create what will become Walt Disney Concert Hall.
1988: Frank Gehry is selected to build Walt Disney Concert Hall. (In 1989, Gehry is awarded the Pritzker Prize.)
1990: U.S. Bank Tower opens, at the time the tallest (73 stories) building on the West Coast. Originally called Library Tower, it is part of a city-approved project to allow a developer to build two skyscrapers in exchange for a guarantee to fund the renovation and expansion of the Central Library, which was gutted by fire in 1986.
1991: Frank Gehry unveils the final shape of his Disney Hall design. The estimated price tag is $110 million, but the final cost is more than double the estimate.
1992: Esa-Pekka Salonen becomes music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
1992: Tower 2 of California Plaza, a $326-million, 52-story skyscraper, is completed.
1994: Construction on Walt Disney Concert Hall is stopped by officials so they can study ways to manage spiraling costs.
1996: Eli Broad and Mayor Richard Riordan step in to launch a new fundraising effort for Disney Concert Hall. The final cost is estimated at $255 million.
1996: Angels Flight is reopened, close to its original location, by a nonprofit group after being closed for 27 years.
1996: Cardinal Roger M. Mahony announces he wants to construct a Roman Catholic cathedral on a large county-owned plot of land in downtown Los Angeles between the county’s Hall of Administration on Temple Street and the Hollywood Freeway. Jose Rafael Moneo of Madrid, a Pritzker laureate, is named the architect.
1997: Frank Gehry threatens to quit the Walt Disney Concert Hall project after Eli Broad and Mayor Richard Riordan support a plan that will take the job of completing the working drawings for Disney Hall out of the hands of the architect’s firm. After an intervention by Diane Disney Miller, Gehry agrees to stay on.
1998: The Colburn School of performing arts is dedicated at its new home in a $28-million building alongside MOCA.
1999: Construction on Walt Disney Concert Hall begins. Final cost of building estimated at $274 million.
2001: Los Angeles Unified School District hires the architecture firm A.C. Martin and Partners to prepare a preliminary design for a traditional high school on the site of the district’s old headquarters on Grand Avenue. Later in the year, philanthropist Eli Broad proposes a switch to an arts academy.
2001: An accident on Angels Flight kills an 83-year-old tourist. It is opened and closed several times — and reopened again in 2017.
2002: After Eli Broad helps to arrange a design competition for the proposed LAUSD arts academy at 450 N. Grand Ave., the jury makes its selection in September, announcing Coop Himmelblau as architects for the new high school.
2002: The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is dedicated on Sept. 2. It is the first major American cathedral to be built in three decades.
2003: Giese Residence, a bedraggled wooden Queen Anne-style cottage built in 1887, located along West Cesar Chavez Avenue and known as “the last house in Bunker Hill,” is leveled illegally by a developer whose upscale apartment projects won praise for advancing downtown’s residential revival. In 2004, the developer and city agree to a settlement that includes — among other terms — a penalty to pay the city $200,000, which will be used to create a fund for low- and moderate-income families living in historic houses.
2003: Placido Domingo becomes general director of Los Angeles Opera.
2003: Disney Hall, Frank Gehry’s $274-million, 2,265-seat hall, opens in October, drawing ecstatic reviews from architecture and music critics across the country. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the hall’s first concert in front of an audience of politicians, Hollywood players, captains of industry and cultural savants.
2006: As costs escalate, the Los Angeles Unified School District board approves a nearly $172-million construction bid for the new visual arts school on Grand Avenue.
2007: L.A. County Board of Supervisors and the L.A. City Council give final approval to a $2.05-billion Grand Avenue project, a “sprawling mini-city atop Bunker Hill,” despite criticism about tax breaks and land giveaways. The first phase will be residential towers designed by Frank Gehry.
2007: The Colburn School expands with a $120-million, 12-story structure adjacent to its Grand Avenue headquarters. The expansion more than doubles the school’s size and marks a major step forward in its hopes of becoming the Juilliard of the West.
2008: MOCA acknowledges a financial crisis. Museum director Jeremy Strick says the museum is seeking large cash infusions from donors and does not rule out the possibility of merging with another institution or sharing its collection of almost 6,000 artworks.
2009: The California attorney general’s office determines that MOCA skirted state law for years, contributing to a financial meltdown in late 2008, and orders the museum to hire a consultant to help improve financial management. Overspending and investment losses drained MOCA’s investment portfolio from a peak of $38.2 million in mid-2000 to $5 million in December 2008. By March 2010, it rebounds to $14.2 million, fueled largely by fresh donations.
2009: Gustavo Dudamel starts his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to great critical acclaim. His presence leads to long ticket lines and the rapid growth of “Dudamania” among fans.
2009: The steel-clad $232-million Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts opens in September at 450 N. Grand Ave. Costs soared for the campus, rising ultimately past $230 million, compared with a 2001 $87-million estimate for the A.C. Martin version.
2010: Adding another contemporary art museum to Grand Avenue, Eli Broad announces that he will house his art collection in a downtown museum and eventually chooses a blue-chip New York architecture firm to design it — Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The announcement surprises some observers who believed Broad would donate his extensive collection to LACMA.
2012: The Music Center opens the long-awaited $56-million Grand Park in partnership with L.A. County. The 12-acre park stretches from Grand Avenue to City Hall.
2013: More than 25,000 people attend Grand Park’s New Year’s Eve celebration.
2014: The Music Center celebrates its 50th anniversary.
2015: The Broad museum opens in September with 50,000 square feet of galleries.
2018: Frank Gehry is selected to design a campus extension for the Colburn School, including a 1,100-seat concert hall.
2018: The Los Angeles Philharmonic kicks off its centennial season in the fall.
2018: In June, developers propose plans for a mixed-use, 80-story skyscraper by Handel Architects — Angels Landing — on a site at 4th and Hill Streets, originally expected to hold the third office tower in California Plaza.
2019: In February, Frank Gehry, government officials and representatives of Related Cos. attend a ground-breaking ceremony for the Grand, the Gehry-designed mixed-use development across Grand Avenue from the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams
Le Corbusier’s plan may not have had such power if he hadn’t put it on paper. The French modernist architect wanted to reform the polluted industrial city by building “towers in a park” where workers might live high above the streets, surrounded by green space and far from their factories. His idea was radical for the 1930s, and it was his diagrams of it that really captured the imagination.
"It swept everyone along," says Benjamin Grant, the public realm and urban design program manager for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. "They were such compelling drawings of such a compelling idea."
Le Corbusier’s iconic plan for his "Ville Radieuse" was an obvious choice when Grant and SPUR began to curate a new exhibition, "Grand Reductions: Ten diagrams that changed urban planning." Le Corbusier&aposs tidy scheme for "towers in a park," drawn as if on a blank slate, would influence planners for decades to come. Some of the other diagrams in this survey are a bit more surprising.
The exhibition’s title – Grand Reductions – suggests the simple illustration’s power to encapsulate complex ideas. And for that reason the medium has always been suited to the city, an intricate organism that has been re-imagined (with satellite towns! in rural grids! in megaregions!) by generations of architects, planners and idealists. In the urban context, diagrams can be powerful precisely because they make weighty questions of land use and design digestible in a single sweep of the eye. But as Le Corbusier’s plan illustrates, they can also seductively oversimplify the problems of cities. These 10 diagrams have been tremendously influential – not always for the good.
"The diagram can cut both ways: It can either be a distillation in the best sense of really taking a very complex set of issues and providing us with a very elegant communication of the solution," Grant says. "Or it can artificially simplify something that actually needs to be complex."
Over the years, some of these drawings have perhaps been taken too literally, while others likely lie behind some of your favorite spots in your city. "Even if you don’t know the diagram," Grant says, "you might know the places that the diagram inspired." SPUR shared these images from the exhibition, which opened this week. If you happen to live in San Francisco, you can also visit the show in person at the SPUR Urban Center Gallery (654 Mission Street) through February (oh, and it’s free!).
1. Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City
This diagram was published in Howard’s 1903 treatise “Garden Cities of To-Morrow.” Howard wanted to design an alternative to the overcrowded and polluted industrial cities of the turn of the century, and his solution centered on creating smaller “garden cities” (with 32,000 people each) in the country linked by canals and transit and set in a permanent greenbelt. His scheme included vast open space, with the aim of giving urban slum-dwellers the best of both city and country living. He captioned the above diagram 𠇊 Group of smokeless, Slumless Cities.”
But for New York, which is one of the most walkable cities in the United States, that does not seem far-fetched. Many of the nation’s other large cities aren’t exactly known to embrace pedestrian infrastructure over appealing to the car. The idea that residents of America’s most sprawling metropolises would give up their cars has been seen as a pipe dream by urbanists from coast to coast. It seems otherwise absurd to think that most residents of notoriously sprawling Houston, for example, would opt for a bus pass rather than those car keys.
It’s no surprise that for decades the car has been a symbol of personal, unencumbered freedom.
That has since changed. Teens are driving less and, in some cases, opting not to get their driver’s license at all. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2019 only about 25% of teens obtained their driver’s license at age 16. That’s down from about 50% in 1983.
The COVID-19 pandemic has expanded the desire to move past reliance on cars for mobility far beyond those who would have otherwise been new drivers. In part, these developments have helped the concept of a 15-Minute City to pick up steam.
The pandemic has essentially given cities an opportunity to try out elements of this concept that make sense in their unique contexts.
“Cities have had to respond to the pandemic very quickly, and they have a set of tools that allow people to go outside and make better use of outdoor space,” says Rob Steuteville, senior communication adviser for The Congress For New Urbanism (CNU), a group advocating for sustainable and walkable cities. Steuteville is also the founder and executive director for the advocacy group Better Cities and Towns, a nonprofit organization that educates people about how to make cities more sustainable and livable.
Known for its almost nonexistent zoning, Houston is a city where the idea of a 15-Minute City is more of an uphill battle, but it’s far from off the table. The layout of Houston is actually fairly conducive to this. While the city is sprawling, it has multiple urban centers, unlike most other cities. Downtown Houston, the Texas Medical Center, Uptown Houston, Greenway Plaza, and Westchase all act as concentrated urban cores with sprawling neighborhoods intertwined between them.
It’s kind of like the U.S.’s northeast corridor, with major walkable hubs like New York and Philadelphia separated by densely populated, but not exactly walkable suburbs. Except that in Houston, this phenomenon is all within the city limits.Illustration by Malte Mueller/Getty Images.
Houston does have a history of urban planning successes, but they didn’t come easily. Urban rail, for example, has been on and off the table for decades in Houston. In 2004, the city introduced the Metrorail, which at its inception connected two large dense urban cores, the Texas Medical Center and Downtown Houston. The red line quickly became the single most highly used light rail line in the United States. The system has since grown with an expansion of the red line, as well as two newer lines that connect with it.
Then when the pandemic set in, Houston, like many other cities, embraced the open streets concept, at least for a short period of time. Even in the hot and humid summers the Gulf Coast is infamous for, people were out walking and biking, transporting themselves without a car.
While the city did not renew this pilot program, the result has had a lasting effect. More Houstonians are now embracing life without a car. According to Bloomberg News, biking has taken off in the Bayou City, as well as in other cities known for sprawl, like Los Angeles, and in the Texas cities of Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas.
“Visually you can tell that there are more people walking and biking than ever,” says Adam Greenfield, a grassroots organizer in Austin. “You go to any bike shop, and they don’t have bikes for you and they won’t have any for a while. They are low on parts, and you are going to have to wait. That’s a pretty big sign,” Greenfield says.
Throughout the pandemic, he has been deeply involved in “actual urbanism” efforts—that’s when a city’s residents embrace urbanism practices at a grassroots level, often without government help or approval.
Greenfield and other residents in Austin’s East Cesar Chavez neighborhood found old 51-gallon juice barrels and made them into makeshift bollards in the street. They painted the road to make curb extensions and even added some benches to the space. While the city quickly asked them to remove the installation, the move invoked interest in the community to prioritize pedestrians over cars.
The city came in and removed those installations after a day, however, so the focus has shifted to having the city create a program to allow activists to create these kind of projects, Greenfield said.
There are many factors that contribute to urban sprawl. As indicated by the statistics cited above, population increases alone do not account for increases in a metropolitan area’s urban extent. In many cases, urban sprawl has occurred in areas experiencing population declines, and some areas with rising populations experience little urban sprawl, especially in developing countries. Economic growth and globalization are often cited as the principal macroeconomic drivers of urban sprawl however, increased affluence, attractive land and housing prices, and the desire for larger homes with more amenities (such as yards, household appliances, storage space, and privacy) play significant roles at the level of the individual. Many experts also believe that weak planning laws and single-use zoning also contribute to urban sprawl.
The construction of houses, utilities, and roads in the suburbs, along with the delivery of resources to suburban residents and workers, are integral components of the gross national product of developed countries. Because much of the growth in a metropolitan area occurs at the fringes, large amounts of resources and services are directed there. Construction at the “urban fringe” is increasingly characterized by a standardization of design. Many suburban housing tracts contain similar or identical models that sit on parcels with identical or nearly identical specifications. Standardization reduces costs, since materials (which often come from sources overseas) can be ordered in bulk, and quickens the pace of construction. Some urban planners and social scientists have linked this trend toward design standardization to the rising influence of globalization.
Today, some 55% of the world’s population – 4.2 billion inhabitants – live in cities. This trend is expected to continue. By 2050, with the urban population more than doubling its current size, nearly 7 of 10 people in the world will live in cities.
With more than 80% of global GDP generated in cities, urbanization can contribute to sustainable growth if managed well by increasing productivity, allowing innovation and new ideas to emerge.
However, the speed and scale of urbanization brings challenges, including meeting accelerated demand for affordable housing, well-connected transport systems, and other infrastructure, basic services, as well as jobs, particularly for the nearly 1 billion urban poor who live in informal settlements to be near opportunities. Conflicts are on the rise, resulting in 60% of forcibly displaced people living in urban areas.
Once a city is built, its physical form and land use patterns can be locked in for generations, leading to unsustainable sprawl. The expansion of urban land consumption outpaces population growth by as much as 50%, which is expected to add 1.2 million km² of new urban built up area to the world in the three decades. Such sprawl puts pressure on land and natural resources, resulting in undesirable outcomes cities consume two thirds of global energy consumption and account for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions
Cities play an increasingly important role in tackling climate change, because their exposure to climate and disaster risk increases as they grow. Almost half a billion urban residents live in coastal areas, increasing their vulnerability to storm surges and sea level rise. In the 136 biggest coastal cities, there are 100 million people – or 20% of their population – and $4.7 trillion in assets exposed to coastal floods. Around 90% of urban expansion in developing countries is near hazard-prone areas and built through informal and unplanned settlements.
Cities are also in the frontline of combating epidemics. Cities across the globe are currently being tested to the extreme with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is impacting not only public health but also the economy and social fabric. Simultaneously a health crisis, social crisis, and economic crisis, COVID-19 is laying bare how well cities are planned and managed and the impact this is having on the extent to which each city is able to function – or not – especially during times of crisis.
COVID-19 is a massive challenge for cities on the frontline, rich and poor alike. The measures taken to control the spread of the virus are having massive implications on cities due to their economic structure, their preparedness for such a crisis – especially the state of their public health and service delivery systems – and the extent to which their population’s health and livelihoods are vulnerable, all of which are a function of the effectiveness of their urban governance systems.
In normal times, there might be many attributes that cities strive to compete on and excel at the global level, including livability, competitiveness, and sustainability, but in any given day and especially in a time of crisis, a city must function well for its citizens.
Building cities that “work” – inclusive, healthy, resilient, and sustainable – requires intensive policy coordination and investment choices. National and local governments have an important role to play to take action now, to shape the future of their development, to create opportunities for all.
The World Bank’s work in urban development aims to build sustainable cities and communities through an urbanization process that is green, inclusive, competitive, and resilient, contributing to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No.11, implementation of the New Urban Agenda, as well as the World Bank’s goals to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity.
The World Bank invests an average of $5 billion in planning and implementing lending projects on sustainable cities and communities every year to help cities meet the critical demands of urbanization. The active portfolio stands at 225 projects amounting to $29.74 billion, through a combination of instruments, including investment project financing, policy development loans, and Program-for-Results funding.
Specifically, the Bank adopt integrated approaches to transform the fundamental systems of cities, focusing on four priorities as follows:
1. Enhance Planning System and Local Capacity
The first key strategy is to help cities strengthen their planning systems and local capacities to better design, plan, and manage city assets and urban environments. Many cities lack adequate planning and technical capacities to manage challenges associated with rapid urbanization, such as drastically increasing global waste, inefficient commuting, lower access to job opportunities, and air pollution.
In this context, the Bank provide cities with various diagnostic tools that would enable informed planning decisions, as well as investments in urban infrastructure and service delivery. This will also include public health social awareness programs, labor-intensive public work programs and slum upgrading as early recovery measures to COVID-19, as well as leveraging technology for effective health emergency response and recovery in cities.
2. Strengthen Fiscal and Financing Systems
The second strategy aims to maximize multiple financial resources for cities through enhancing fiscal and financial systems. The global investment needed for urban infrastructure is $4.5-5.4 trillion per year, including a 9-27% premium to make this infrastructure low-emission and climate-resilient. While most of this need lies in the developing world, only a small fraction of this urban infrastructure can be supplied by aid and many cities face critical financial constraints to address their own infrastructure challenges.
The Bank is well-positioned not only to help cities expand access to finance from multiple sources, including private finance, but also to strengthen their fiscal capacities and systems that can be sustained in the long run. To combat epidemics effectively, the Bank will also ensure cities’ fiscal and financial sustainability during a health crisis.
3. Promote Territorial and Spatial Development
The third key element is to promote territorial development in developing countries and cities. Economic activities are concentrated in only a few places – only 1.5% of the world’s land is home to half of its production. This concentration is inevitable, and it is also desirable. The evidence suggests that prosperous and peaceful countries have been successful by bringing people and businesses closer to each other in cities, harnessing agglomeration economies to boost productivity, job creation, and economic growth.
The Bank’s work on territorial development looks at cities not only as individual entities, but also at the coordination between them at different scales: identifying priorities of lagging regions connecting urban and rural spaces, and addressing spatial inequalities within cities, aiming to allow faster economic growth and links people to better jobs.
4. Build Climate Smart and Urban resilience
The last key strategy is to build resilience to disasters and climate change. With increasingly concentrated people and assets in cities, a complex range of growing shocks and stress imposes tremendous costs on the globe. Global average annual losses from weather-related and other disasters in cities were estimated at about US$314 billion in 2015 and are expected to increase to US$415 billion by 2030, which significantly drain public investment especially in poorer countries.
Poorer segments of the population are particularly vulnerable, since they tend to live in more hazardous settlements and lack the necessary safety nets to recover from economic or environmental shocks. Without inclusive and climate-informed urban development, climate change can push an additional 100 million urban residents fall back into poverty by 2030.
The Bank focuses on improving cities’ capacity to adapt to a greater variety of changing conditions and to mitigate the impact of climate change through building infrastructure resilience, mobilizing capital, and financing at upstream climate strategy and analysis.
The four priorities are translated into six business lines:
- Cities and economic growth
- Urban poverty and inclusion
- Municipal infrastructure and services
- Affordable housing and land
- Urban management, finance, and governance
- Cities and urban environment
Research and analytical services
Understanding urbanization at different scales: The World Bank is conducting a rich set of research on sustainable urban development. At the regional and country scales, the Urbanization Reviews offer a framework for city leaders to identify policy distortions and analyze investment priorities. A series of prototypes have been piloted to build a body of knowledge on urbanization challenges and public policy implications in a variety of country settings, including Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. At the city level, City Diagnostics is an informative tool to pursue a shared vision of the city. This includes Transforming Karachi into a Livable and Competitive Megacity, which informed US$876 million of the cross-sectoral investment projects in Karachi.
Other recent analytical work and tools to help cities manage urbanization and support sustainable, inclusive growth include:
- Disasters triggered by natural hazards can strike at a moment’s notice, with devastating consequences on people, infrastructure, assets, and entire economies. And the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) fits into this category.
- Beyond its huge health impacts, there are significant economic losses to households, firms, and governments as well as large-scale disruptions to lives and livelihoods as a result of lockdowns, disruption of supply chains, and a steep drop-off in commercial activity as a result of COVID-19.
- For decades, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) have been helping national and local governments to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of naturally occurring events – floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, and more – investing $5 billion in disaster risk management and urban resilience projects, on average, every year.
- This is because prevention and preparedness make economic sense, from strengthening infrastructure and other risk reduction efforts to developing policies and programs that help safeguard the poorest and most vulnerable against disaster impacts.
- Innovative instruments such as our Development Policy Financing with Catastrophic Draw Down Option (Cat DDO) where, if a disaster due to a pandemic or extreme weather event strikes, countries that had previously prepared and approved a Cat-DDO would have quick access – less than 48 hours – to financing for emergency response.
- The CAT-DDO is a financing instrument that acts a little like a parametric catastrophe bond, in that they provide a source of capital contingent on a disaster being declared in the beneficiary country.
- They are similar to an insurance or reinsurance policy, or a catastrophe bond, except that once triggered the contingent financing facility opens up a loan, or line of credit, to the World Bank.
- Currently17 countries have the Cat DDO optionwith a combined value of $2.4 billion (8 Cat DDOs have to date disbursed $1.2 billion and the rest are on the way) 13 more countries are preparing Cat-DDOs.
Financing the New Urban Agenda
The World Bank helps cities and national governments put in place the financial framework to attract investment and grow in a sustainable manner. The Bank is helping countries establish and strengthen urban institutions to deliver improved infrastructure and services, for example:
- In Sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank has an operational portfolio of almost $1.1 billion in urban projects focusing on improving financial and institutional performance and strengthening decentralization in Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.
- In Morocco, a $200 million World Bank loan aims to improve the city of Casablanca’s investment capacity by improving its revenue management systems and attracting private investment to municipal infrastructure and services through public-private partnerships.
Innovative ways of leveraging investment are also needed, including from private and non-traditional sources, such as land value capture, sometimes in combination with multilateral development banks (MDBs) and other agencies by reforming intergovernmental fiscal transfers and strengthening municipal finances.
- Through the capital raising strategy of its City Resilience Program(CRP), the World Bank is pushing the boundaries in this area with its Capital Mobilization Strategy, which works with city leaders to consider the Bank a catalyst to development financial solutions beyond World Bank loans. To do so, the program connects cities to co-financing by donors and other international financial institutions (IFIs). The program also supports cities in combining public investment with private opportunities through private sector engagement, where feasible.
- The Resilient City Development Program (RECIDE), a partnership of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the World Bank, is empowering cities in Sub-Saharan Africa to strengthen resilience, and to access a broader range of financing options. RECIDE has been granted approval to access resources from the EU External Investment Plan of up to EUR 100 million in guarantees and EUR 14 million in technical assistance to source, originate, and execute transactions.
- The City Creditworthiness Initiative(CCI) aims to strengthen the financial performance of local governments and prepare them to tap domestic / regional capital markets without a sovereign guarantee. The initiative has trained over 630 municipal officials from 250 cities in 26 countries.
Promoting territorial development
- The World Bank’s report, East Asia and Pacific Cities: Expanding Opportunities for the Urban Poor, encourages cities in the region to ensure inclusive, equitable urban growth through a multi-dimensional approach to planning, incorporating aspects of economic, spatial, and social inclusion to foster economic growth and reduce poverty.
- Another report, Raising the Bar for Productive Cities in Latin America and the Caribbean, provides a rigorous analysis of the key factors constraining the productivity performance of cities in the region and provides evidence to show how planning, investments and policy reforms to promote a more connected, and, therefore, integrated, urban system can foster economic growth and inclusion.
- A new report, Which Way to Livable and Productive Cities? A Road Map for Sub-Saharan Africa, brings together a large body of analytic work to show that urban livability and prosperity cannot be pursued effectively without distinguishing priorities for larger cities from smaller towns. Lack of institutional capacity in the smaller towns across Africa may require a slower transition of responsibilities for planning and investment management, as well as enhanced technical assistance so that institutions can perform their tasks.
- In Kenya, northern areas of the country have mostly been excluded from the benefits of rising living standards. The World Bank is launching the North & Northeastern Development Initiative (NEDI), a multi-sectoral program with projects in transport, water, energy, agriculture, livelihoods, and social protection to help connect the region to national and global markets.
Enhancing urban resilience to climate change and disaster risks
In recent years, the World Bank has worked in cities and towns across over 140 countries, investing $4.5 billion during FY19 in disaster risk management.
- In Mozambique, the Mozambique Cities and Climate Change Project, funded by $120 million IDA credit, includes a stormwater drainage system whose 11 kilometers of canals and flood control systems to prevent the city from flooding, strengthening the city’s resilience to weather-related hazards. Soon after the Idai and Kenneth cyclones hit that affected millions of people, the port of Beira was back in operation and the city cleaned up, partly thanks to this project. The project also includes solar-powered street lighting, which at one point was the only source of light in the city. To help the cyclone recovery, the World Bank announced nearly $700 million in support for Mozambique, along with Malawi and Zimbabwe. Mozambique received a commitment of $350 million from the IDA Crisis Response Window to re-establish the water supply and rebuild damaged public infrastructure and crops. The financing supports disease prevention, food security, social protection, and early-warning systems in the impacted communities.
The World Bank has also facilitated global partnerships, including with the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to support countries in their urban resilience work.
- Through the CRP, supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the Swiss Economic Secretariat, and other partners, the World Bank is helping cities around the world raise the finance they need to build resilience to climate change and disaster risks, connect investors with bankable projects, and keep millions of people safer and stronger. The objective of the CRP is to support cities in embedding resilience into investment projects and mobilizing capital beyond World Bank loans. To do so, the program offers support in the planning process and capital mobilization. To support planning, the program engages with the tech community delivering digital tech solutions to better understand the built and natural environment. To support finance, the program engages with an ecosystem of donors, IFIs, and financial advisors to crowd in the necessary market to deliver finance to cities.
- Urban resilience goes hand-in-hand with environmental sustainability. The World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities(GPSC) is a partnership and knowledge platform that includes 28 cities across 11 countries that have received $151 million from the Global Environment Facility.
o This support has leveraged $2.4 billion in project co-financing. The platform promotes integrated solutions and cutting-edge knowledge for cities seeking to improve their resilience and overall urban sustainability in the areas of indicators and tools, integrated urban planning and management, and municipal finance.
o One example of GPSC providing solutions and knowledge to cities is the Urban Sustainability Framework. This guidance document developed by GPSC includes the Measuring Frame work that incorporates 177 indicators into a clearly laid out process for cities to track their urban sustainability. The most important 14 “core” indicators are associated with SDG 11.
o By using these core indicators, GPSC helps establish comprehensive multicity data sets tied to each indicator and this in turn helps: track international progress toward SDG 11, allows cities to compare their performance with their peers, and overall enhances knowledge sharing between cities. GPSC is currently utilizing the SDG 11 core indicators to roll-out a benchmarking assessment for more than 30 cities worldwide.
More project results
In Belize, the Bank supported the national government in developing and implementing the National Climate Resilient Investment Plan (NCRIP) through the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project, which helped position the country to leverage additional climate financing from international financing institutions. In the Eastern Caribbean countries, the Bank has mobilized over $200 million for enhancing climate resilience and strategically reducing their vulnerability to climate change and disasters caused by natural hazards, including $83 million from the Strategic Climate Fund, and immediately following disasters (e.g., Saint Lucia Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project).
In Colombia, the national government has put forward a series of institutional and policy changes to promote the peace building process. With the support of the World Bank, these efforts focus on strengthening institutions for land management and territorial planning, as well as improving subnational financial management and investment prioritization.
In Georgia, the Regional Development Project assists the country’s regions in improving their infrastructure in order to capitalize on a growing tourism market thus assisting in improving their local competitiveness and economic development. In Azerbaijan, World Bank loans supported the rehabilitation of the main landfill site and establishment of a state-owned waste management company, increasing the population served by the formal solid waste management to 74% in 2012. Support also led to further sustainable waste management practices, helping achieve a 25% recycling and reuse rate.
In Indonesia, the Indonesia National Slum Upgrading Program, which includes substantial additional finance through co-financing from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), is improving access to urban infrastructure and services in targeted slums. In Argentina, the Metropolitan Buenos Aires Urban Transformation Project is supporting the improvement of living conditions for around 48,000 residents in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area.
In Jordan and Lebanon, two related projects are supporting local authorities and communities hosting Syrian refugees, and include strong consultation and feedback mechanisms. The Jordan project to address the urgently needed rehabilitation of municipal infrastructure has benefitted about two million people, including 250,000 Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, interventions to release tensions reached 250,000 people within a year – three times the initial target – particularly those in the host communities close to refugee camps, and also improved service delivery to more than one million Lebanese people.
In Pakistan, the World Bank is helping the five largest cities in the province of Punjab improve their systems for planning, resource management, and accountability through a $150 million results-based financing. The city governments are developing and implementing medium-term, integrated development and asset management plans with evidence-based prioritization for municipal infrastructure and services, resulting in increased revenue collection and reduced expenditures, providing financial headroom. Automated systems for public access to information and grievance redressal, as well as updated websites with information on budgets and procurements, are ensuring greater accountability.
In rapidly urbanizing Vietnam, the Vietnam Urban Upgrading Project – with $382 million financing from the World Bank – improved the lives of 7.5 million urban poor with better water and sewage connections, as well as improved roads, sewers, lakes, canals, and bridges.
BRT Is Not Cheaper Than Light Rail
A common criticism of the upcoming ST3 ballot measure is that light rail is too expensive and we’d be better off with bus rapid transit (BRT), especially in the suburbs. This article looks at the economics behind such statements to see if ST3 is worth it or not.
Just an average morning on the regional highways. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
First, we start with the rush-hour congestion map on the left (from October 4th at 8am). We can see that congested stretches of I-5 exist all the way from Everett to Tacoma and the same is true for local Seattle roads from Ballard and West Seattle. What this means is that more people are trying to travel on the freeway than its available capacity.
So how do we accommodate the extra people?
Why not widen freeways?
Before we do so it’s important to understand the concept of induced demand. This is really latent demand that only materializes once extra freeway capacity comes online. When congestion improves, people who were previously dissuaded from making certain trips now start making them. Moreover, as commutes shorten, new real estate development in areas previously deemed too far becomes possible, which in turn also creates new demand. So the new “empty” road space is quickly filled and consumed with traffic.
Now to be as fair as possible, travel demand is not infinite and it is possible to satisfy it with more lanes. The metric we are looking for is lane-miles per capita. Based on this, Kansas City, MO is #1 in the United States with 1.241 lane-miles per 1,000 people (1999 data) and experiences some of the lowest traffic delays for a major metropolitan area. Peak-time trips experience about a 20% increase in travel time (e.g., a 30-minute trip taking 36 minutes).
Seattle, however, only has half the number of lane-miles per capita at 0.652 per 1,000 people. If we want to have only a 20% delay in peak-hour trips we’d have to literally double all of our freeways and major arterials. Can you imagine a 22-lane I-405, a 20-lane I-5, and a 16-lane I-90 bridge? Even if you didn’t care about the impact on surrounding neighborhoods, building this across the region would cost hundreds of billions just for property acquisition. The cost would be at least one order of magnitude higher than what Sound Transit is proposing.
Katy Freeway in Houston, TX: widest in the world with 22 lanes. Imagine this between Capitol Hill and Downtown. (reddit)
Why not buses?
Buses allow us to move more people in a stretch of road than a car. A 60-foot bus packed with 120 people at rush hour takes up nine times less road space per person to carry than an 18-foot car packed with four people (and average car occupancy in our region is actually 1.6 people per car).
But if the bus can get stuck in traffic, the only incentive a person has to switch from their car to the bus is cost. And for most, that is not a strong enough incentive. To increase the percentage of people taking transit, it needs to offer something that auto travel does not–the reliability of not getting stuck in traffic. In other words, it needs dedicated right-of-way.
Now, we do have a network of HOV lanes, but it is not consistent and not managed to avoid congestion completely. So even with the HOV network buses still get stuck in traffic between HOV lanes and often in the HOV lanes too.
What we need is a network of lanes that are always free-flowing regardless of:
- Day-to-day fluctuations of commuting demand
- Event-driven demand (e.g., sports games, concerts, and fairs)
- Traffic crashes and
- Future demand due to new real estate development.
This is hard. Events and crashes often make congestion expand to take a larger portion of the freeway than usual commute traffic. Additionally, new real estate development brings more people to our region and the area of regular commute congestion slowly expands as well.
So to avoid congestion in any of the scenarios above we really want dedicated HOV right-of-way that:
- Stretches the entire length of a trip. On freeways this means the entire length of the freeway with dedicated access ramps.
- Is either HOV 3+, fully transit-only, or dynamically managed which is needed in our region to ensure they always flow freely regardless of demand fluctuations.
How do we get this? We can’t simply reallocate a general purpose lane for this. This is a political non-starter. While it is relatively cheap to implement, no car commuter wants to lengthen their commute so that “somebody else” can have a better transit or carpool trip. People have never supported this en masse.
The only option we have is to build the new right-of-way—either widen the freeway or build the lanes in a separate structure using viaducts and tunnels as appropriate.
So given all this, isn’t it a misguided waste of money for Sound Transit to spend so much money on light rail then? Well, shocker: they are not actually spending most of the money on light rail!
Take a look at the money they spent on two recently completed projects to understand where the money went:
- Construction of new right-of-way
- Land: $126m
- Professional Services: $295m
- Guideway and Track Elements*: $455m
- Support facilities for Yards and Shops: $23m
- Site Work and Special Conditions: $55m
- Two Stations: $342m
- Total: $1,296m
- Systems: $96m
- Vehicles: $99m
- Total: $195m
Breakdown: 87% spent on new right-of-way plus 13% spent on light rail.
* Actual trackwork is specifically part of the U830 contract which is under Systems, not under “Guideway and Track Elements”. So light rail components are not counted erroneously.
- Construction of new right-of-way
- Land: $38m
- Professional Services: $66m
- Guideway and Track Elements: $97m
- Support facilities for Yards and Shops: m
- Site Work and Special Conditions: $45m
- One Station: $38m
- Total: $284m
- Systems: $19m
- Vehicles: m spent as vehicles were prepurchased but given length relative to University Link, the cost should have been $52m
- Total: $71m
Breakdown: 80% spent on new right-of-way plus 20% spent on light rail.
Note: Financing cost not included in breakdowns above as it is proportionally distributed for all spending categories.
So it turns out, most of the money is not spent on light rail, but on building the right-of-way which would be needed regardless of the type of vehicle used! You could even say that Sound Transit’s main job is not to build light rail, but to build right-of-way.
Also, bus rapid transit would cost at least 80% as much as light rail!
Without the cost of dedicated right-of-way it would not be bus rapid transit and it would not attract new ridership. And if you want to use electric trolleybuses instead of diesel buses, even that 20% savings over light rail starts to erode because the electrical systems are the most expensive part. Rail itself is actually so cheap as to be negligible in cost if installed while the guideway is being built.
Now if the cost is the same, you may wonder, why choose light rail over buses? Because it truly maximizes the benefit you get out of your new right-of-way—the theoretical maximum for our light rail system is 32,000 people per hour per direction (today, it’s 16,000 on the existing line before ventilation and emergency escape upgrades are made) while with buses we can only move 6,000 to 9,000 people per hour without bus bunching. And if this math changes in the future, nothing prevents us from repurposing the right-of-way—if it can carry 400,000 lbs trains (four cars), it can certainly carry buses (40,000 lbs per bus) as well.
When opponents of ST3 say that bus rapid transit is cheaper than light rail, they are not speaking of true BRT, but simply of more buses. If we want to provide a service that is actually better in the most important way—the ability to avoid congestion travel delays, we need to let Sound Transit do their main job—build new right-of-way—and there are no shortcuts to be taken there.
Update 10/12/16: Now using latest incurred cost from Sound Transit’s 2016 Q2 Progress Report. This strengthens the point of the article.
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Anton has been living in the Pacific Northwest since 2005 and in Seattle since 2011. While building technology products during the day, his passion for urban planning and transportation is no less and stems from a childhood of growing up in the urban core of a small European city.
I support light rail – where the density and the demand warrants it. However, the Paine Field loop in (mostly) the city of Everett lacks the density and the demand. In 2003, all in-county bus service from south Snohomish County was axed. It has never been restored. In 2010, in-county service from north and east Snohomish County was scaled back to a skeleton level of service. Most of that hasn’t been restored. Reason: a lack of demand. In 2003, this limited stop express service cost a mere $1.00, subsidized further by their employer, but the fact is, most preferred to drive.
Bus Rapid Transit will start service in the southern half of the loop in about 2.5 years’ at a cost under $70 million, most of that cost attributable to the segment 128th/I-5 east and south to Canyon Park, which ST-3’s light rail won’t cover. In other words, the duplicated segment from 128th & I-5 to Boeing-Everett will cost substantially less than that, for HOV lanes already exist there! To finish the loop, ST planners suggested extending the BRT line from Boeing-Everett to downtown Everett, which could be accomplished amazingly inexpensively and quickly. Buses going north would start at Seaway Transit Center (open in 2 years, just across the street from Boeing), hop onto the Boeing Freeway eastbound, wouldn’t even have to merge, for they’d be in an “exit only” lane so as to take the first exit at Evergreen Way, which the rightmost lane of the onramp takes them to. Turn left/north, and follow the existing BRT line, using the same stations, to Everett. Cost: I’ve been told about 4 buses, and I’ll round up to $1 million each, plus the cost for the drivers, and this could easily be accomplished for less than $5 million and operational by the time the buses come online, about 18-24 months. In other words, well before Northgate Link opens, and at least 15-18 years before light rail ever starts running (which could be open 5-7 years sooner by going directly to Everett). Further, BRT has a stop at Paine Field Airport, which is to begin commercial operations next year. ST-3 does not have a station there, apparently the primary objective importing workers to and from Boeing.
In summary, I refute the blanket statement that BRT isn’t cheaper than light rail. It can be constructed faster and if the political will was imposed – vs. throwing up one’s hands and repeating that true BRT is impossible (while out of the other side of their mouth, making sure light rail isn’t), it’s appropriate for less-dense areas until and if they become dense, until and if the demand warrants it, and it’s less expensive in those less-dense areas. In the dense areas, such as between Ballard and the University district, light rail should have warranted more than a planning study, for this segment has been worthy of light rail for decades – and such a line would offer better north-south connectivity to/from jobs in burgeoning Ballard as well as for Ballardites who work in the north end!
You have a point that Paine Field in Everett is waaaaay outside the area where density and demand call for rail. Rail is a *high capacity* solution, speeding hundreds of people at a time past congested roads. If you simply don’t have the volume to congest the roads, rail is pointless.
BRT is irrelevant in such a low-capacity situation. (BRT is irrelevant everywhere.)
In a low-capacity situation like this, you just want decent buses, and because volume is so low, *there’s no congestion* so the buses will run on time.
“Without the cost of dedicated right-of-way it would not be bus rapid transit and it would not attract new ridership.”
Where did this come from? It is patently untrue. But SWIFT and RapidRide bus services in our area have little dedicated right-of-way, but both attracted about as much “new ridership” as Link light rail did. So, your comment is just nonsense.
RapidRide currently has ridership close to Link light rail, but RapidRide cost only about $220 million for all the routes combined, compared to about $4.5 BILLION for the current Link light rail system.
So, Link light rail cost about 20 times as much for about the same ridership as RapidRide bus routes.
That’s a misleading comparison, SWIFT and RapidRide serve much larger areas, hence higher ridership. That quote is comparing different modes for a given route.
If SWIFT or RapidRide gained fully dedicated right-of-way, ridership would certainly increase on those routes.
I’m skeptical of the cost figures. “Guideway and Track Elements” are considered cost of the right of way, but is that true? I mean, with a bus system, there’s no overhead cabling, no tracks to lay down, etc. When we say that light rail to UW cost $455 million in guideway and track, are we saying that it would have cost $455 million in roadway were we to have built it for buses instead of for trains? I kind of doubt it.
I have already addressed this in another comment:
“Actual track work is part of Systems if you dig into the details of the actual construction contracts. Specifically contract U830 includes Track, Signal, Communications, Traction Power. And that is in the correct category.
Separately, one of the most expensive components of Systems is Traction Power. And we would need that for trolleybuses too.
So if anything the above proportion is very conservative and the actual should be closer to 10% light rail + 90% right of way.”
So “Guideway and Track Elements” as a major category does not include the actual trackwork for U Link. It probably includes preparing the guideway for track installation, which is likely minor work and may exist in different form for buses too.
It’s kind of a silly debate. If you want to build a new bridge to West Seattle, or a new bridge from the UW to Kirkland, then it really doesn’t make any difference. Yes, absolutely right Anton — a busway is just about as expensive as a railway.
But guess what? There already is a bridge to both these places! Imagine that. So, now that we are living in the real world, with real roads and railways, how about we figure out the most cost effective way to leverage them. In this neck of the woods (where railways are rare and expensive) that means busways. It only makes sense to build very expensive railways, or very expensive busways, when they are worth it.
If you doubt me, explain to me how much it would cost to build a busway from Ash Way to South Everett Park and Ride versus a railway. Oh, but before you answer, tell me which one would be more useful. Hint: A bus would be able to leverage the enormous set of roads nearby, while a train would be stand alone.
rossb, it’s in the article:
“We can’t simply reallocate a general purpose lane for this. This is a political non-starter. While it is relatively cheap to implement, no car commuter wants to lengthen their commute so that “somebody else” can have a better transit or carpool trip. People have never supported this en masse.”
In the real world, there is no existing transit way (for buses or rail). We’ve had congestion and buses since the 60s, when we decided not to build rail. The fact that we haven’t dedicated road space to buses since then tells you that it will practically never happen. The political cost of taking a lane away is much higher than the political cost of approving a new tax to build new right of way. That’s what BRT supporters try to ignore.
That is a called a straw man argument, sir. Well played. Not once did I suggest that we convert a general purpose lane (is that your plan for the railway as well? If so, why is that politically easier?).
You completely missed the point. I’ll answer the question for you — a brand new busway would be relatively cheap and likely much cheaper. Just look at it: Here is Ash Way: https://goo.gl/maps/RFAtmPwtkVp. Notice the ramps that go from the south and connect up to it. These are bus lanes (not HOV lanes) that use the median. You will notice that it would be fairly cheap to extend this roadway north. You simply continue to use the median until it gets too narrow or you encounter a bridge. Doing so is extremely cheap. As it turns out, there aren’t any major barriers between the two stations. The only bridges are on 128th and 112th. It looks to me like neither is a barrier. But even if they are, you just end right before 128th. You’ve built a busway (again 100% buses — no cars allowed) for 90% of that stretch.
Now assume that was all that you built. Just a busway from Ash Way to 128th. This is likely way cheaper than a railway, but that isn’t the main point. The main point is that it is way more useful. A railway has to connect to a bigger railway to make sense. Same with a busway. But around here, you can build cheap additional busways that connect into the roadway far more often. Imagine you are riding a bus from Lynnwood to South Everett. The initial part of your drive is slow (about 30 MPH — oh the horror) because the HOV lane is full of two person carpools. Now you reach Ash Way and the driver changes lanes into the busway. You go to full speed all the way to South Everett. It didn’t cost much at all, but you got 90% of the benefit.
This is much better bang for the buck, and you didn’t have to convince a single carpool driver to get another passenger.
If you’re suggesting running “BRT” in our existing HOV and general-purpose freeway lanes, as it sounds like you are, that’s not a solution. Those lanes do not keep today’s buses moving reliably, and the changes required to make them reliable are not politically possible. Even if we remove every weave.
No. No. No. Read it again. I don’t even use the word BRT.
I am suggesting BUILDING a new BUSWAY. Several new miles of 100% bus only lanes. These are cheap because they would be built where it is cheap to build them.
During part of the trip, the bus would run in HOV lanes, but during most of the trip, it would run in bus only lanes. Is that “BRT”? Who cares? Just about every rider who takes that trip won’t have a door to door “BRT” experience anyway. They have to get to the station, and only a handful of people can walk to it. Almost everyone has to take a bus.
Consider the alternative. A multi-billion dollar busway or railway that goes from Lynnwood to South Everett. Of course this would be better, but the cost is huge for what you get. You save every rider a couple minutes (at best). The door to door experience is still not “BRT” (or light rail) for the vast majority of riders, and the slowest part of their trip (getting to the station) remains unimproved. For the cost of that one little section you can fund a huge amount of extra bus service that would make a much bigger difference in the door to door travel times for most of the riders.
This is just an example, but it can be found all over the place. Busway improvements can be made piecemeal, whereas railway improvements can not (in this area). That is the biggest difference between the two.
Building a new busway is uniformly a terrible idea. If you can build a busway, you can build a railway, and it’ll be better and cheaper to build and cheaper to operate. Period. Yeah, you can put rail on the route you suggested, too. Go ahead.
In Cincinnati, Metro X commuters routes are allowed to drive in highway shoulder during traffic jams.
ST and WSDOT are rolling out shoulder running I believe it already exists in some areas, and ST3 will fund capital expenditures to allow for additional shoulder running.
The only problem with the article is that Seattle’s LRT is in reality a light-metro that uses light rail vehicles. With well over 80% of the route on viaduct or in a subway tunnel, in no way can Seattle’s can be an example of LRT, in fact Seattle’s “rail” system has more in common with Vancouver’s light metro system than Portland’s LRT.
The good news is real LRT is far cheaper than light-metro and looks even a better bargain than BRT (Build Rail Transit?)
The following schematic from 1986 shows that buses need at least three times the road-space to move the same amount of people as light rail.
Right – the additional expense is to create grade separated ROW. Your schematic isn’t grade separated. Links has that in segments, such as along Rainier Valley and parts of East Link.
For much of ST2 & ST3, the decision has been made to build grade separated LRT to ensure greater speed & reliability.
Because LRT is not grade separated, light-metro is. There is no such thing as grade separated LRT it is indeed light metro. You have been fooled.
OK cool, so it sounds like light metro is an effective shorthand for “grade separated light rail.” I think my actual arguments are unchanged?
Actually at-grade LRT made grade separated light metro obsolete and what is happening in Seattle is throw-back planning based on 1950’s transit planning. ICTS/ALRT/ART and VAL could not compete against at-grade LRT.
The only reason Seattle is building with stealth LRT is because of the previous monorail debates, where slick willy salesmanship sold everyone a packet of lies.
In the real world, your transit plans are 3 to 4 times more than they should be and your hybrid light metro system will be not very effective, in other-words a bad investment.
Great article. Thank for breaking down the portion “right of way” and light rail components. I feel your argument is pretty strong.
I assume BRT also need on / off ramp, which light rail doesn’t. I suppose lightrail station would cost quite a lot more than stops of BRT. (I could be wrong, as there tend to be more stops than station). Overall, my pure speculation is that they cancel out.
However, how “Guideway and Track Elements” being part of “right of way”? If those where not needed by comparable BRT, then it will change the math to about 60% / 40%, instead of 87% / 13%.
Actual track work is part of Systems if you dig into the details of the actual construction contracts. Specifically contract U830 includes Track, Signal, Communications, Traction Power. And that is in the correct category.
Separately, one of the most expensive components of Systems is Traction Power. And we would need that for trolleybuses too.
So if anything the above proportion is very conservative and the actual should be closer to 10% light rail + 90% right of way.
I think BRT does not always run with Traction Power though. I think C-Line doesn’t.
Current RapidRide lines use diesel buses. Yes, they are hybrid, but while that improves their fuel efficiency it doesn’t change the fact they are producing CO2 emissions. If we want to get away from this we’d need to use trolleybuses which have a lot of support from the community (they are also extremely quiet).
There is an interesting blog post by Jarrett Walker about streetcars: http://humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html. It it, he mentions the two main advantages of streetcars — existing rail right of way and capacity. The same can be said for rail in general.
In terms of capacity, it really isn’t an issue with any of the new lines. None of the regions that will be served (even Ballard) have the density to create capacity problems. Buses given the sort of right of way you suggest (the type we are willing to give the trains) can handle the problem quite easily. With off board payment and level boarding, you have dwell times of less than 20 seconds. Buses can arrive and wait thirty seconds at a stop, and consistently serve every stop. This means that buses could handle about 14,000 an hour without the need for passing lanes. Of course, you could add passing lanes (something that the old bus tunnel had). At worse you do get bus bunching. This would mean travel time along a shared corridor (e. g. a bus tunnel) would be a bit slower than you expected. The buses would (of course) disperse as they left that area and spread outward. Compared to requiring a transfer, this is a very minor problem.
In terms of leveraging the existing right of way, the advantage goes to the bus — by a wide margin. The best example is Ballard to West Seattle. West Seattle would need a new ramp to the SoDo busway, along with signal priority. The freeway already has bus-only lanes, and the weave (a congestion problem) could be eliminated by extending the ramp. The end result is exactly the same right of way (from West Seattle to downtown) at a much cheaper price.
The WSTT (http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/WSTT-Initial-Service-Pattern.jpg) also contains another example of leveraging existing infrastructure. It serves the Aurora corridor, which has buses that have about half the ridership of Link. While it wouldn’t provide the 100% grade separation you imply is essential, it would eliminate the greatest bottleneck. Light rail, of course, is not slated for the Aurora corridor, because it too expensive! You can’t add all that and fit the budget. But building the WSTT (and the ramps to West Seattle) would surely fit into the budget and probably be quite a bit cheaper (building brand new bridges is expensive).
Cheaper alternatives can also be found in the suburbs. Consider the bus-only ramps that serve Ash Way (https://goo.gl/maps/L4ry5cTomWz). They start about a half mile south of there. It wouldn’t be too expensive to extend those all the way to I-405 to the south, and all the way to the South Everett station to the north, using only the median. This means the right of way is already owned! Buses could use this inner busway not only to connect to the other stations, but to avoid traffic. In general this isn’t a major issue (most of the HOV traffic is found south of there) but having that option would largely eliminate congestion for the buses.
It is true that busways are often just as expensive as railways. If you start from scratch and head out into the flatlands, they certainly are. But busways can leverage existing freeways, thus providing a substantial savings. In the case of Lynnwood/South Everett (my last example) you wouldn’t get 100% grade separation. But for a corridor like that, it doesn’t matter. It would still be substantially faster than driving (if there is congestion) and an express (that skipped all those stops) would be faster than the rail that is proposed. More to the point, there are likely other projects (within those very areas) worth spending the money on.
Which gets me back to the WSTT. The model would be similar to Brisbane. The advantages, described really well in the “Update” section of this blog — http://humantransit.org/2009/11/brisbane-bus-rapid-transit-soars.html, make sense. Riders would get a direct ride from all over West Seattle, Ballard and the Aurora corridor to downtown and the places along the way.
But assume for a second, that we need the capacity, and that building service for only that once corridor (West Seattle Junction to 15th and Market) is superior. It is really worth the money? Wouldn’t you want to spend some of it improving the Aurora corridor? What about other projects, like the Ballard to UW subway, or the Metro 8 subway (which you said is a better value — https://www.theurbanist.org/2016/01/11/ballard-spur-and-metro-8-subway-serve-seattle-better-than-interbay-light-rail/)?
In other words, assume you build the WSTT, but build it so that it can be converted to rail in the future (as was the other bus tunnel). Would anyone really say that the next project would be to convert it to rail? Converting that line (if it existed) would be very low priority. It makes sense to build the most cost effective set of projects first, which means to either build busways that can leverage existing busways (e. g. the WSTT) or subways that don’t have that option (e. g. Ballard to UW, Metro 8).
20 Important Characteristics of Urban Community | Sociology
A sociological analysis of urban community contains several salient features. They are as follows:
As a rule, in the same country and at the same period, the size of an urban community is much larger than that of a rural community. In other words, urbanity and size of a community are positively correlated.
Image Courtesy : upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/Ginza_area_at_Tower.jpg
2. Density of population:
Density of population in urban areas is greater than in rural communities. Urbanity and density are positively correlated.
So far as urban community is concerned, greater importance is attached to the individual than to the family. Nuclear families are more popular in urban areas.
In case of urban community there is a preponderance of love marriages and inter-caste marriages. One also comes across a greater number of divorces. Sons and daughters enjoy considerable freedom in choosing their life partners.
In the urban areas, the major occupations are industrial, administrative and professional in nature. Divisions of labour and occupational specialization are very much common in towns/cities/metropolises.
In the words of Bogardus, “Class extremes characterize the city.” A town and a city house the richest as well as the poorest of people. In a city, the slums of the poor exist alongside the palatial bungalows of the rich, amidst the apartments of the middle class members. The most civilized modes of behaviour as well as the worst racketeering are found in the cities.
7. Social heterogeneity:
If villages are the symbol of cultural homogeneity, the cities symbolize cultural heterogeneity. The cities are characterized by diverse peoples, races and cultures. There is great variety in regard to the food habits, dress habits, living conditions, religious beliefs, cultural outlook, customs and traditions of the urbanites.
Social distance is the result of anonymity and heterogeneity. Most of one’s routine social contacts in a town or city are impersonal and segmentary in character. In the urban community social responses are incomplete and halfhearted. There is utter lack of personal involvement in the affairs of others.
9. System of interaction:
Georg Simmel held that the social structure of urban communities is based on interest groups. The circles of social contact are wider in the city than in the country. There is a wider area of interaction system per man and per aggregate. This makes city life more complex and varied. The city life is characterized by the predominance of secondary contacts, impersonal, casual and short-lived relations. Man, at any rate, the man in the street, virtually loses his identity being treated as a “number” having a certain “address”.
The most important feature of urban community is its social mobility. In urban areas the social status of an individual is determined not by heredity or birth but by his merit, intelligence and perseverance. Urbanity and mobility are positively correlated.
In the urban community the social existence of man revolves round wealth and material possessions. The worth of an urbanite today is being judged not by what he is but by what he has. Status symbols in the form of financial assets, salaries, costly home appliances count a lot for the urbanites.
The urbanites attach supreme importance to their own welfare and happiness. They hesitate to think or act for the good of others.
In urban community there is emphasis on rationality. People are inclined to reason and argue. Their relationship with others is governed, for the most part, by the consideration of gain or loss. Relationship takes place on a contractual basis. Once the contract is over, human relationship automatically comes to a close.
As Bogardus observes, the “Urban groups have a reputation for namelessness.” By virtue of its size and population, the urban community cannot be a primary group. Here nobody knows anybody and nobody cares for anybody. The urbanites do not care for their neighbours and have nothing to do with their miseries or pleasures.
15. Norm and social role conflict:
The urban community is characterized by norm and social role conflict. Factors such as the size, density and heterogeneity of the population, extreme occupational specialisation and the class structure prevalent in the urban context lead to such a state of affairs.
In the absence of uniform and fixed social norms, individuals or groups often seek divergent ends. This has a considerable share in causing social disorganization.
16. Rapid social and cultural change:
Rapid social and cultural change characterize urban life. The importance attached to traditional or sacred elements has been relegated to the background. The benefits of urban life have effected changes in respect of norms, ideologies and behaviour patterns.
17. Voluntary associations:
The urban community is characterized by impersonal, mechanical and formal social contacts occurring among the people. Naturally they have a strong desire for developing genuine social relationships to satisfy their hunger for emotional warmth and sense of security. They form associations, clubs, societies and other secondary groups.
18. Formal social control:
Social control in urban community is essentially formal in nature. Individual’s behaviour is regulated by such agencies as police, jails, law courts etc.
19. Secularization of outlook:
In cities ritual and kinship obligations are diluted. Caste and community considerations yield to economic logic. This results in secularization of outlook.
20. Urban areas provide impulses for modernization in society as a whole.
This story is part of a group of stories called
Deep dives on cities, architecture, design, real estate, and urban planning.
What the marchers had gathered to protest was the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a 10-lane superhighway connecting Long Island to New Jersey. In renderings, LOMEX (as the highway is often known) looks like something out of a dystopian vision of New York’s future, its elevated superstructure slicing through swaths of Little Italy and Soho—neighborhoods that would no longer exist as we know them if it had been built.
The highway was to be a crowning achievement in the career of Robert Moses, the so-called "Master Builder" of New York. At the peak of his career, Moses held 12 diverse city and state government jobs simultaneously. It was Moses’s devotion to the automobile that drove nearly all of his thinking. As he once remarked, "cities are created by and for traffic. A city without traffic is a ghost town." LOMEX was to be the fulfillment of Moses’s vision for a modern, efficient, car-centric New York.
When the marchers reached the block of Broome between Mott and Mulberry, they paused for speeches from local residents, assorted politicians, and the woman behind this effective publicity stunt: Jane Jacobs. The celebrated author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities had already tangled with Moses over Washington Square and the slum designation of her own West Village neighborhood. Armed with grassroots connections and an anti-development playbook, Jacobs was able to shut the expressway down.
But at what cost? In many ways, Soho today doesn’t resemble the neighborhood that Jane Jacobs fought so hard to save.
The idea for a highway in Lower Manhattan dates back to the opening of the Holland Tunnel in 1927 its first year, 8.5 million vehicles used the tunnel, clogging up the narrow streets of Soho (then still a light manufacturing district), Little Italy, and Chinatown.
Two years later, when the Regional Plan Association released its Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, it called for major improvements to traffic, though it focused more energy on container shipping, trunk-line railroads, and suburban rapid transit than on solving the issues of Manhattan gridlock. For Lower Manhattan, the plan simply suggested an artery extending from the Holland Tunnel "for vehicular traffic. connecting on the east with the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn." This was exactly the sort of plan Robert Moses could embrace.
Paul Rudolph/ Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Moses had literally grown up with the car. When he was five years old, the Duryea brothers had road-tested the first American-made auto by the time Moses started his five-decade career in New York public service in 1919, there were nearly five million cars and trucks registered in the United States. By the time the Regional Plan Association issued its call for more roads in 1929, Moses, who never learned to drive and would come to employ "a staff of chauffeurs on 24-hour call," saw the automobile as the defining characteristic of modern life.
A Little History
The story of Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour begins in 1954. It really is the story of how Pioneer Square was saved, because the Underground Tour was the unanticipated product of this effort. By that year, Pioneer Square had fallen into such a state of disrepair few recognized it as the city’s birthplace. It occurred to Bill Speidel’s wife, Shirley, that Bill, a publicist, could do some pro bono work for an idea that had come to interest them both. “Why don’t you get Pioneer Square restored?” she asked him.
“I can do anything Shirley makes up her mind I can do,” Bill Speidel later recalled. He set about learning all he could about Pioneer Square, and plotted to reverse decades of deterioration and neglect.
Seattleites knew so little hometown history that the existence of “passageways beneath the city” was a local rumor sensible people didn’t repeat.
“I poked around and said things to the newspapers like, ‘Behold!’ and ‘we must do something.’ They printed this stuff,” Speidel said, prompting a letter to The Seattle Times newspaper inquiring about rumors that the ruins of early Seattle lay underneath its modern-day streets in Pioneer Square. Were there tours of the passageways?
In one of its popular columns, the newspaper referred the inquiry to Speidel. “We got 300 letters and a flock of telephone calls in the next two days,” from people who had read the column and wanted to take a tour, Speidel said.
“Well, there I was with 300 people dying to take an underground tour and no underground tours to offer,” he said. “And they weren’t just 300 people who dashed off a letter and forgot about it. They were 300 people who tried to call me every day.” So overwhelming was the response, he said, “it was easier to find out whether there was a buried city—which I sincerely doubted—than to stay in the office and take all that abuse.”
At about the same time, Speidel was struck by a little controversy that had cropped up at City Hall. “The Seattle City Council had voted ‘tops’ for topless go-go dancers because 25 protest letters were sent in. “I thought, what if I could get 300 letters sent in to the City Council demanding an ordinance designating Pioneer Square an historical site? Visitors on the tour could sign petitions. That would stop the ball-and-chain guys from knocking down more landmarks like the great old Seattle Hotel,” at First Avenue and Yesler Way, replaced now by what is known around the neighborhood as, “The Sinking Ship Garage.”
Speidel ultimately did find the remains of the city consumed in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, a town founded on mostly soggy tideflats whose streets would, whenever the rains came, bloat deep enough with mud to consume dogs and small children.
After the fire, which destroyed some 25 square blocks of mostly wooden buildings in the heart of Seattle, it was unanimously decided that all new construction must be of stone or brick masonry. The city also decided to rise up from the muck in which its original streets lay.
It was this decision that created the Underground: The city built retaining walls, eight feet or higher, on either side of the old streets, filled in the space between the walls, and paved over the fill to effectively raise the streets, making them one story higher than the old sidewalks that still ran alongside them.
Building owners, eager to capitalize on an 1890s economic boom, quickly rebuilt on the old, low, muddy ground where they had been before, unmindful of the fact that their first floor display windows and lobbies soon would become basements. Eventually, sidewalks bridged the gap between the new streets and the second story of buildings, leaving hollow tunnels (as high as 35 feet in some places) between the old and new sidewalks, and creating the passageways of today’s Underground.
Eight years after the fire, in 1897, the Yukon Gold Rush brought 100,000 adventurers through Seattle en route to Alaska. The resultant financial boom brought to Pioneer Square all manner of entrepreneurs, including barmen and gamblers, con men and madams. When the rush was over 10 years later, these slippery people stayed on and gave the area a bad name. Reputable businesses moved uptown, and Pioneer Square was quickly forgotten.
The city’s birthplace lay virtually undisturbed, like the ruins of Pompeii, for nearly two-thirds of a century, before it occurred to anyone that it might be a good idea to preserve it.
“I guess about 600 people in all helped us establish the fact of the buried city,” Speidel recalled. Meanwhile, Speidel fed each discovery to the newspapers.
Architectural flourish found in the Underground
“Well, the news media kept whooping it up and it got so letters were coming in from as far away as Cairo—Egypt, not Illinois. Even the City Council was impressed and took a tour of inspection. Not out of vulgar curiosity, mind you, but in the civic interest.
“I frankly told them they were the hunk of meat hanging in the tree that I was jumping for, and if 25 letters could kill off topless dancers, 300 could get the neighborhood designated an historic district. “They laughed and nodded and said pleasant things in unison.” But they didn’t exactly a-go-go.
“Then in May, 1965, when the Junior Chamber of Commerce held its ‘Know Your Seattle Day,’ they persuaded us to conduct tours for one day at a buck a head.”
When Bill and Shirley arrived to give the first public tour, Pioneer Place Park, “was packed with people holding dollar bills. We took 500 people on tours that day.”
The Speidels soon scheduled public tours: The Underground Tour finally was opened to the public. Soon after, the mayor was presented with 100,000 names on a petition, and in May, 1970, the Seattle City Council adopted an ordinance naming 20 square blocks in Pioneer Square an Historic District. Later, Pioneer Square became the city’s first neighborhood to be so listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Speidel always was sure who should get the credit: “A lot of other people worked making it possible, but all I can say is, thank God for the go-go girls!”
America in the 1950s was a land of contradictions, torn between the values that won World War II and futuristic visions of an ideal world. The downtown cores of many cities were in decay. Families moved to the suburbs in pastel-painted station wagons, and commuted to work and school in all sorts of futuristic Detroit dream machines with big fins. The automobile reigned supreme. Freeways were needed. And parking lots. Raze the old, start anew!
It was government sanctioned devastation, but the idea that you could bulldoze blight, start ever-so-fresh, and live happily, sanitarily ever after, had the same sort of post-war appeal that led to Formica dinette sets and polyester underwear.
At the same time, ironically, Congress enacted the National Historic Preservation Act, the very tool to reverse this trend. The Preservation Act and related ordinances at the state and local levels, were designed to preserve historic character and ensure sensitive restoration in old neighborhoods. At the time, building owners in Seattle’s old Pioneer Square district were loathe to put a dime into their holdings because the buildings adjacent theirs might never see improvement, or could be torn down without warning and turned into monstrous concrete parking garages by the Seattle Central Association, a sworn enemy of any and all historic preservation, and whose members’ vision, Speidel pointed out routinely, “extended not quite to the tips of their noses.”
A public relations campaign wasn’t about to change these guys’ views.
Designation of Pioneer Square as an Historic District, however, gave preservation the credibility it needed to capture the interest of bankers. Now, recalcitrant building owners began to listen.
The city kicked in funds for upgrading public right-of-ways and public spaces. The Feds came up with a nice little tax-credit program for historic buildings, and—along with adventuresome tenants such as artists, architects, gallery owners, nightclubs and the Underground Tour—the preservation of Pioneer Square was underway.
Today, Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market, a few blocks north, are Seattle’s famous old downtown neighborhoods. It’s difficult now to imagine how underappreciated they once were, or how close we came to losing each of them.
Big trees everywhere. Plenty of underbrush. Cliffs and streams. And a whole lot of mud. That’s where the city of Seattle sat.
When the region’s early settlers looked around them, Puget Sound was the only horizontal surface they saw for miles, except for the tideflats, which you could smell long before you got close enough to see them, according to hop farmer Ezra Meeker, the area’s leading promoter at the time.
Even so, Arthur Denny, pioneer and the first Seattle developer, so to speak, was hooked on the deepwater harbor of Elliott Bay, which he’d been measuring for weeks with a horseshoe and bits of string. In the 1850s, a town needed a deep harbor to be on the freeway of maritime commerce.
Denny’s nemesis was one Dr. David Swinson Maynard. Where Denny was uptight and frugal, Maynard was free-wheeling and generous. Doc Maynard had a sense of humor, Denny didn’t.
These differences fueled a long-standing tension between the two. Yet, when the teetotalling Denny contracted malaria, it was Maynard who saved his life. But here’s how: with laudnaum—a concoction of opium dissolved in alcohol. Furthermore, as Denny sunk under the auspicies of the medicine, Maynard opened one-on-one negotiations for property owned by Denny’s brother-in-law, which really wasn’t for sale. Well, Denny lived. And the real estate Maynard acquired, because he thought it would make a perfect downtown core, comprises a portion of today’s historic Pioneer Square.
One thing both men shared was the absolute determination to get a city going here. Twenty-five years after Doc got here, of the 208 businesses in Seattle’s first business directory, 196 of them were in Maynardtown, which in time became known as Pioneer Square.
A lot of what Arthur Denny did well was to get rich: History remembered him. Doc Maynard was forgotten. Until 1978, when Bill Speidel wrote, “Doc Maynard: The Man Who Invented Seattle.”
Where the land was not soggy from Puget Sound seepage, it was saturated by rainfall. After trees were cut and wagons passed through, it was one muddy mess. That’s when the filling began.
Early fill came from Henry Yesler’s steam-powered sawmill, which repaired potholes with what they had the most of: sawdust. Typically, Henry had discovered a method of looking like he promoted the good of the city while conveniently dumping his mill’s waste into nearby streets. Later we made him mayor.
Early entrepreneurs such as Yesler did lucrative business with folks in places such as San Francisco, who were willing to pay big for the trees we were trying to clear off our land. Ships coming to load timber had to carry weight, ballast, on the way up, usually in the form of rocks or land fill. Vessels were charged for dumping ballast off at the foot of Washington Street. So it was that the city got a little something on the side while helping early realtors make their own land from scratch. (And that, too, is how a good portion of Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, ended up in Puget Sound.)
The town’s proximity to sea level caused a new problem, literally, to rise up. In 1851, the same year the Denny party arrived, a fancy new device was introduced at the White House. It was called a “water closet,” and, boy, did these things take off in popularity. Even in the tiny frontier town of Seattle, indoor toilets became the rage.
By 1882, the city health commissioner, in his annual report, highlighted the fact that our sewers were operating at full blast, but it wasn’t a one-way river. Twice a day when the tides came in, the sewers flowed with it—backwards. Toilets became fountains!
With sawdust in the streets, buildings on stilts and toilets turning into geysers on a daily basis, Seattle was badly in need of remodeling.
The perfect chance came on June 6, 1889, when Jon Back, a young Swedish carpenter’s apprentice in a shop at Front and Madison streets, let his glue boil over onto wood chips. The fire he started tore through downtown, devouring wood-planked streets and ticky-tacky wood buildings.
Old photograph of the Great Seattle Fire
Firefighters were thwarted when the private water system—owned by three of the city’s leading citizens—proved to have not enough pressure to make the hoses effective. Desperate for another source of water, firefighters scrambled to the nearby shores of Puget Sound— and found the tide was out. The tide had them coming and going in those days.
By the time the fire was through, some 25 blocks of the central business district was gone.
Nevertheless, we think our fire was great. That’s why we call it The Great Seattle Fire.
“It was the biggest fire any city in the Pacific Northwest ever had,” Speidel would enthuse, “and the timing was right. “In a fire, timing is everything. If Tacoma (Seattle’s neighbor city just down the road) had had a fire, they’d probably have goofed up the timing. As it was, ours was just right. It was big news all over the world. It brought in about $120,000 in relief money and glory, because we were a brave little frontier town that had been wiped out and was manfully trying to rebuild itself.”
Along with financial relief, Seattle gained 17,000 new residents in her race with Tacoma for dominance of the region. In one fell swoop, the city rid itself of 30 years of ramshackle construction and poor planning—urban renewal before its time.