A Portland economist predicts that buyers soon will choose where to live based on what they would spend for gasoline.
That, eventually, will devalue suburban housing while strengthening in-city home prices, says Joe Cortright, whose Portland consulting firm, Impresa, recently released a report saying as much to U.S. mayors.
“The new calculus of higher gas prices may have permanently reshaped urban housing markets,” said Cortright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., think tank. “What this really means is that as people move, they’re going to look for places that enable them to drive shorter distances and avoid places where they have to drive a lot.
I know conventional wisdom still suggests that now is the wrong time for Sound Transit to come back with a ballot measure, just one year after the defeat of Prop 1, but the conventional wise men are missing the point: 2008 isn’t 2007. The era of cheap gas is over, and Americans—even Seattle-Americans (and yes, I know, Seattle is different from every other city in the world)—are beginning to change their behavior in response. Voters get that, even if our politicians and editorialists don’t.
Traffic congestion has far from disappeared as a volatile political issue, but public demand for affordable transportation alternatives is rising at least as fast as the price of gas. And the thing is, whether it’s cheaper and more efficient or not, when current drivers envision their future mass transit commute, they much prefer to envision themselves riding on a train, than on a bus. People like trains; that’s a fact. And if I were an elected official, I’d probably want to focus on delivering the services that the people want.
And need. And without a doubt, we need to extend light rail north, at least to Northgate, and east to Bellevue and eventually Redmond, providing reliable, comfortable and affordable transit both within and between our densest population and work centers. Congestion pricing and increased bus service alone may ease the region’s traffic problems, but it sure as hell won’t make people happy.
So put a light rail measure on the ballot and give us people the opportunity to vote yea or nay. And if it fails, come back again in 2009, when gas is pushing $6 gallon or higher. Eventually, the market will change our behavior… even at the polls.