We in the Seattle area are still digging and thawing out of the 14 plus inches of snow that we received over the past two weeks. The highways and most main arterial have been cleared, but most of the side-streets and parking lots have not. The warmer than freezing weather is helping with the clearing in downtown Seattle, but because of the convergence zone in the area, some places are not thawing out as fast. Those places happen to also be places where lower-income people currently live.
Less than ten years ago, the cost of living close to downtown Seattle started to rapidly increase. Wages could not keep up with the cost of living, so the people who worked downtown and rented had to move further and further away. Within that time, the cost of buying a house also increased, so many who wanted to buy a home closer to work were denied that opportunity. King County tried to implement and higher minimum wage in hopes that it would increase everyone’s wages, but that only helped a little.
Now, I’m not trying to say that the Seattle area is unique in that people who are lower-wage workers can’t afford to live close to work. That happens in a lot of cities. It also happens in a lot of cities that transportation options also don’t keep up with growth, which also happened to the Seattle area. In fact, Seattle is currently is number 6 of 60 urban areas with the worse traffic. If I had to put two and two together, I am going to guess that most of that traffic are the lower-income workers trying to commute into downtown Seattle.
I’m fortunate enough to have a job and a boss that allows me to work from home. I can’t do it all of the time, but I do have the ability. This came in very handy in the past two weeks, as the area that I live in is one of the convergence zones that got a lot of snow and is still barely getting temperatures above freezing. Like most people in my area, my form of transport is either my car or bus. But, my car was trapped by snow and ice and buses were being consistently cancelled. So, the only way I would be able to get to work is walk the 1.5 miles to the bus station and hope that a bus would show up to take me to downtown Seattle. Which, is what I ended up doing yesterday, but that was mostly voluntary. For others, it is a necessity.
The point of this post is not to complain, I do have some solutions.
First, businesses need to be more willing to allow people who don’t have to physically be at work, be able to work from home. This is a trend that I have seen fluctuate in the past decade. The technology is there, so it comes down to if a company and bosses are willing.
Second, businesses that need workers to physically be there need to also consider where employees are coming from and not open. This is very difficult to do, because it does mean loss of revenue. Yet, at the same time, you should not ask employees to put themselves in harm’s way to come into work.
Third, we need more affordable housing close to downtown Seattle. I’m not the first to say this and will not be the last. There are different ideas and projects in the works to make it happen. Hopefully, it will happen sooner than later.
Third, we need to continue to build out light-rail and other forms of transportation. Roads are useless when they are covered in snow and ice. Or, if they are blocked by accidents. Light rail may not be the ultimate solution, but it does help a lot.
While it may be a long time before we see another snow storm like we just had, we shouldn’t wait until another disaster happens to react.