The Republicans have their echo chamber which allows them to influence the media, so it is my turn to help the other side.


Government Pork

I was lead to this article about pork. It stated very well some of my thoughts. I would like a small government that runs without a budget deficit. Current Republicans have nothing in common with the predecessors that share their name. With the neo-cons in power, we have a huge budget, a huge deficit, and an ineffective government. The Democrats don't inspire much faith. If the Democrats were in power, I think the only difference would be a balanced budget. The government would be no smaller, but I don't think it would be bigger either. We need some major reform before our nation goes bankrupt. Let's vote some Libertarians into congress to shake things up and put a hold on bipartisan bickering. With more parties in power, bills wouldn't get stuck between the two party lines. We need another viewpoint, beyond the standard spend-and-tax party and spend-and-tax-cut party.


No Highway

It seems Seattle is determined to move ahead with its plan to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. This is a bad idea. Burying a large freeway tunnel underneath Seattle is not a good plan for the future, and I will list a few reasons why.

  • Peak oil is approaching. I've talked about this before, but it appears peak oil will occur within the decade. With gas prices hitting record highs early in the year, I wonder how long people will put up with this before changing their habits. The tunnel will take at least seven years to build, at which point we will most definitely have hit peak oil. Gas prices will only go up in the coming years, and eventually people will start to change. When this happens, we won't need the 120,000 car/day capacity of the current viaduct. Update: I wrote that paragraph back in April. In five months, the price of gas went up 70 cents/gallon. The price has settled again, but that doesn't mean it won't go up more later.

  • The tunnel would only benefit cars. Pedestrians and bicyclists won't have any access to the tunnel, yet they still have to pay for it. Nearby businesses on street level would live with construction for years, but afterwards would not see a large increase in patrons. If the tunnel was abandoned in favor road improvements, everyone would benefit from the enhancements and it wouldn't take as long, reducing the time that local businesses are disturbed.

  • Tunnels are very expensive. I feel this would quickly become a boondoggle and have major budget over runs like Boston's big dig. The economy has not yet regained full strength, so it would be unwise to spend such a large amount - mortgaging the future of our city, county, and state - for something of dubious value in the long run.

  • The traffic figures don't take into account people changing their habits. If routes become too congested, people will adapt. Some people will carpool, others will telecommute some days, and more might be willing to try mass transit. I believe I read that people, on average, change jobs or homes every three years. Many people would likely move or switch jobs (for example, workers in a chain could switch from one store to another).

  • Some agency has an irrational fear of losing road capacity. What makes cars the canon mode of transportation? San Francisco shut down a large freeway and they didn't have gridlock. And no matter what LA does, they can't get away from their traffic mess. If this tunnel were utilized to full capacity, it would drop tons of traffic into the city.

  • Greg Nickels wants to make Seattle more pedestrian and green. Building a large highway that promotes car use would be diametric to both of these goals.

  • I've talked to people who work for the city and they say there is a want to increase mass transit ridership. The mass transit system would benefit from not building the tunnel. If the perpetual gridlock some predict actually comes to fruition, ridership in mass transit would soar.

  • It isn't a complete tunnel. I watched a video showing a drive through and was aghast to discover that it still has a small overhead section between the waterfront tunnel and Belltown tunnel that exists now.

The reasons against the tunnel are staggering, and I'd like to link people to a more level headed solution than the tunnel. If we can have four votes on a monorail, I think we should have one vote for the tunnel. Unfortunately, it gets lumped with the gas tax and other measures, so if you support the gas tax, but not the tunnel, you are in a pickle. We need an à la carte vote on the tunnel.


A New New Orleans

I want to start out by saying that you shouldn't think I'm insensitive. This is a terrible event that has a occurred and I'm sad to lose so much of such an interesting city. I never had the chance to go to New Orleans, but I would have loved to visit.

Hurricane Katrina will have an interesting effect on the economy. Experts are already predicting a large decrease in future economic growth. The price of oil is hovering around $70 per barrel. I'm surprised it hasn't gone higher. Gas prices, however, have skyrocketed. There was a big jump in Seattle today. It wasn't as bad as some areas, though. Fortunately, I have a nice amount of biodiesel pre-ordered at $3/gallon. Who would have thought that diesel prices would so quickly catch up with biodiesel? Now biodiesel is actually cheaper. It will probably remain cheaper in the near future, since winter usually brings higher diesel prices (it is similar to home heating oil, so if they make more home heating oil, they make less diesel). I might have to order a few hundred more gallons, since there is no limit to how much you can pre-order. My mom is actually considering not selling El Pres (our 1985 Mercedes) and instead running it on biodiesel (a plan that gets my approval). Anyway, the gas price conundrum will be interesting. Historically, Americans' gas usage has not been stalled by higher prices. How long will it take before people start to change their habits. Perhaps we'll start seeing more car pools in the near future.

Back to New Orleans. The current location of the city is very unsustainable. The storms are only likely to get more powerful and more frequent in the future. We can't keep water out of a city below sea level, surrounded by lots of sources of water. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime event, as many people are calling it, this will happen again if we rebuild in the current location. The French Quarter can stay because of all the history, and there could be a tourist industry around that, but the rest of the city should be located farther inland. Here's the thing, the rest of the country doesn't want to bail out areas that are continuously being destroyed. Parts of Florida are hit by hurricanes quite often. When we know these events come again and again to the same areas, we shouldn't let people use tax payer money to rebuild in those areas. I don't mind money being spent on helping people get back on their feet, as long as they don't build in the same place. It was a freak accident like a tornado, then that would be different. However, hurricanes wipe out large areas, and in the case of New Orleans, create lots of secondary damages. In the wake of this disaster, we are presented with a great opportunity. We can rebuild New Orleans on higher ground, and build it better. We can build a New New Orleans. A New2 Orleans, if you prefer. There will, of course, be opposition. Governor Blanco was offended when Dennis Hastert suggested it would be unwise to rebuild the city below sea level. JH Crawford, who is familiar with New Orleans and authored the Carfree Cities book, has a wonderful suggestion. We are basically rebuilding a city of over a million people from scratch. This would be an excellent time to practice New Urbanism and the ideas from Carfree Cities. Rebuilding the city with fewer roads and higher density would substantially reduce infrastructure costs. Sprawl takes a lot of infrastructure, and it would just be too expensive when starting from scratch. LIving in a dense environment would save money for citizens in the long run as well. Many people lost their livelihood, so the more money they save on utilities (high density living substantially reduces heating/cooling expenses, and less infrastructure means lower cost) and transportation, the better. Finally, having a large car free urban area in the United States would be an enormous tourist attraction. People would travel from all around to spend a week there relaxing and walking the streets, free from the danger, noise, and pollution of cars. Mardi Gras/Carnival would be amazing in a car free city. A booming tourist industry would instantly help their economy and would allow people to return to their normal lives quicker. New Orleans, I imagine, had lots of tourism before the flooding. A rail line could be built from Old New Orleans to New New Orleans to easily allow tourists and residents to travel between areas like the French Quarter and the new car free districts.

While it is true that Katrina brought a huge disaster on one of America's most unique cities, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. For the sake of our economy and future lives and livelihoods, we must not rebuild in the same area. For over 60 years America has been building autocentric cities. These areas are failing us and will become less desirable as energy prices continue to rise. It is time we realize our mistakes, repent our sins, and try something new. But in fact, it is not new; cities were built in this style for hundreds of years. Out of tragedy, New Orleans is presented with an amazing opportunity, as long as it can break the social norm. The city has an opportunity to become not just unique in America, but in the whole world, by becoming the world's first modern car free city. It can be done. It should be done. But will it be done? That is the important question of the day.