Sound Transit: Vaccine Too Expensive; We’ll Take the Disease

Alignment (and Philosophical) Battle at Sound Transit Board Meeting (Publicola)

Futurewise​ and Mike O’Brien​ (Seattle’s best City Council member) are right. Sound Transit​ is poised to make yet another penny-wise, pound-foolish decision. If we want to create walkable communities where lots of people can live without cars (reducing their housing costs), we need TOD. If we want to run trains that are used heavily all day–not just at rush hour–we need TOD. If we want to conserve land and minimize air and water pollution, we need TOD. If we want transit to be cost-effective, so it needs smaller subsidies, lower taxes and fares, and/or expands the system more rapidly; we need TOD. If we get this wrong now, just to pander to suburban politicians and save $300 million (the 2008 Mass Transit Now package is $18 billion), it will be nearly impossible to fix for generations, and our capital AND operating investments will be mostly wasted. Just look at DC’s Orange Line in Fairfax County, Virginia (it runs in the median of I-66), among myriad other places that have made the same error.

Will we do what’s easy, or what’s right? I’m not holding my breath.

Like Futurewise, Seattle City Council and Sound Transit Board member Mike O’Brien looks at the issue in the long term. “We want to think holistically here. It would be shame to save a few dollars today at the cost of huge benefits decades from now,” said O’Brien. “What I see from public comment and places like community-based organizations and the Highline Community College is that they would all like to see it on SR-99. So there’s a disconnect between what I’m hearing from the constituents in the community and what I’m hearing from the elected officials who represent those constituents,” O’Brien added.

I Was Right! Again! Mexico’s Sugar Tax Works

Admittedly, I didn’t know Mexico had already enacted a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and junk food (Washington State tried this in 2010, but a misleading $22 million campaign from groceries and junk food companies promptly reversed it by initiative). Mexico’s tax took effect in January 2014, and preliminary results seem to show pretty clearly that people are consuming less of this toxic “food” as a result. This is a critical tool we need to use if we’re serious about fighting–and preventing–diabetes and obesity. I hate diabetes, and we need to be doing everything we can to keep more people from getting it.

But according to the researchers, who analyzed data on household consumption in 53 Mexican cities, purchases of sugary beverages dropped 6 percent on average in 2014 compared with pretax trends. And by December 2014, they’d gone down by 12 percent, compared with previous years. The study adjusted for other factors, like the overall downward trend in soda consumption, wages and unemployment.

Mexico’s Sugary Drink Tax Makes a Dent in Consumption, Study Claims (NPR)

Mayor Tory: Tear Down This Waterfront Highway!

Why Toronto Should Tear Down Its Urban Expressway (Citylab)

Tearing down the Gardiner Highway in Toronto is even more of a slam dunk decision than tearing down the Viaduct in Seattle. They don’t have a major port like we do, they have one citywide grid instead of two competing ones, their downtown isn’t tightly hemmed in by another highway on its exterior like I-5 did to us, and they only have water on one side instead of two so they lack our very constricted geographic “waist”. But in 1995 the Conservative Ontario government forced Toronto and its suburbs to “amalgamate” into one huge municipality, so city decisions are now dominated by what are really suburbs. Thus we lost this vote 24-21. Suburbs don’t make good urban policy. We see this with Sound Transit as well (good transit decisions require transit users to be making them. The silver lining is that these merged cities tend to get more urban and progressive over time. See Indianapolis, which has been building great bike infrastructure and whose Republican mayor spoke out recently for marriage equality.

In 1971, then-Mayor Richard Lugar (R) spearheaded Unigov, which merged the old City of Indianapolis with Marion County and most other municipalities in the county. For 30 years, it always had GOP mayors and council majorities, but now it’s more competitive and has had both a Democratic mayor, Bart Peterson, and Democratic majorities on the City-County Council on and off. Similarly, my other hometown of Columbus, Ohio has shifted from red to blue (at all levels, really), though both very sadly continue to be among the nation’s biggest metro areas (by 2020, Franklin County will be Ohio’s biggest–surpassing Cleveland and Cincinnati) without heavy rail, light rail, bus rapid transit (BRT), or even streetcars. Both redeveloped their old Union Station sites with no transit and in ways that make it very hard to return them to rail uses. Even worse for the environment, both rely heavily on coal for their electricity. (Former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland, now running for US Senate, always promoted coal; he represented the Appalachian coal region of Ohio in his 12 years as a congressman) Ironically, both cities grew up largely as major rail hubs. Statewide, Ohio ranks 7th in population but 4th in miles of railroad. Columbus, and probably Indy too, have a lot of unused or underused rail right of way that could pretty easily and cheaply be modernized for use as 21st century urban transit. Some mid-sized Midwest cities like St. Louis and Minneapolis-St. Paul have built decent light rail networks (even Detroit is finally building its first line, while Kansas City tries a dubious streetcar), but the political will just still doesn’t seem to exist in Indy or Cbus. It makes me sad. There are a few reasons why I couldn’t live in my hometown(s) anymore, but the first is that you really can’t do so without a car, and I refuse to own one.

Hiring Processes Biased Toward the Rich

National Journal article

Rivera: I understand where that thinking comes from. There’s lots of different types of schools out there and prestige is one metric especially with national rankings now that is easily quantifiable. You have a list of top 10 schools, you can say “Okay someone else told me these are the best, I can justify not looking anywhere else.”

But what’s wrong with it is that I don’t think people understand the extent to which elite university admissions are biased against individuals from lower-income backgrounds. We have this narrative that they really are the most rigorous admissions processes that cherry pick the best and the brightest irrespective of social background—and that’s actually pretty false. Some of the things that matter most in getting into an elite college—whether it’s your SAT score, your extracurricular participation, the actual high school you attended—are so strongly influenced by social class that you’re not necessarily getting the best and the brightest. You’re getting good and bright people who come from the most privileged backgrounds.

Not Discussing Suicide = Biggest Barrier to Preventing It

This drives me nuts. I’ve lost so many relationships with family, friends, and professional contacts because they can’t even stand to hear about suicide. Including the head of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, while she constantly posts from their Facebook page about the importance of mental health and its confluence with homelessness. The hypocrisy is astounding.

NPR/WBUR article

“When my brother died, people had the nerve to come to say to me what a coward he was,” Barnes recalls. “My brother was a firefighter. My brother went to Afghanistan. My brother fought for his country. He goes into burning buildings to save people’s lives, and he’s a coward? My brother had a weak moment with a lifetime of depression.”

…“The biggest barrier or the biggest cultural barrier we have to preventing suicide is not being able to talk about it,” says Jack Jordan, a clinical psychologist in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, who’s widely recognized for his expertise in counseling suicide survivors — those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide.

We Need a Sugar Tax. And a Documentary on Groceries.

Fun fact I learned from a food documentary: grocery stores now make less money from selling food than from fees food companies pay them to put their products in high-visibility parts of the store (e.g. the ends of aisles). I’m telling you, as many food documentaries as there have been in recent years, there’s a gold mine of secrets, and maybe profit, in a good documentary on our grocery infrastructure. Having worked in one 2007-08, I really think people would be shocked by what they don’t know.

Also, as I peruse different groceries thinking about our obesity and diabetes epidemics; my own diabetes and extra weight; what foods are cheap, easy to get, promoted most, healthy and not, and our federal laws around them; it seems totally obvious that we need a significant tax on sugar. Subsidize produce instead of sugar and carbs/commodity crops, but we need a sugar tax to incentivize healthier eating habits and make sugar-laden foods more expensive and less accessible. We’ve taxed cigarettes for decades, we clearly need a carbon tax, why not a sugar tax? The revenue could be put toward health care, nutrition education, organic farms, community gardens, or any number of good things linked to food, nutrition, and health.