Seattle Sets Ride-Service Companies Free

The city council's about-face is a win for Lyft, uberX, consumers.
This post is 12 in the series: Crimp Your Ride

Nearly a year ago, I conducted a simple commuting test. Who could get me to work faster: a plain old cab or Lyft? At the time, the pink mustachioed Jeep that I conjured with my iPhone was a relatively new thing. But it got me where I needed to go 34 minutes faster than a taxi, plus no one yelled at or hung up on me.

Since then, drivers for Lyft and uberX and Sidecar—who offer people rides-for-hire in their personal cars and have essentially been driving illegal taxis—have multiplied, and the smartphone-based dispatch companies have won a loyal following of customers by making it much more convenient, pleasant, and efficient to get around the city without a car.

On Monday, that popularity paid off, as the Seattle City Council did an about-face and agreed to let those new Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) continue to grow legally without the arbitrary constraints that the city has imposed on taxis for decades. The Council on Monday essentially passed a compromise brokered by Mayor Ed Murray and supported by formerly splintered factions of the ride-for-hire industry. The results don’t exactly add up to a well-constructed and holistic transportation policy. They’re more like a kitchen sink of changes that gave everyone enough of something to stand behind the agreement. Read more »


Want to see a post-Citizens United America? Look North

Canadian politicians do not dial for dollars.
This post is 4 in the series: What Democracy Looks Like

Research by Jane Harvey

To understand how money corrupts democracy in the United States, especially in the Northwest states, look north to Canada. What you’ll see is that campaign fundraising is radically different on the two sides of the 49th parallel. It hasn’t always been, but it is now. The differences, and how they developed, reveal just how profound the impacts of US Supreme Court rulings have been on the systemic corruption of politics.

On the south side, elected officials spend their lives dialing for dollars. Citizens United and related Supreme Court cases reign: corporations are persons; money is speech; and the only kind of corruption that’s illegal is the kind that actually involves buying votes with money. Candidates spend without limits, as do “independent expenditure” (IE) campaigns such as those orchestrated by super-PACs. Individual contributions to campaigns are putatively restricted, but any fundraising chair worth her salt can find a way to launder funds through back channels. Individual and corporate contributions to IEs are utterly unrestricted, can sometimes be done anonymously, and IEs are not really independent anyway. Almost every political dollar comes from private donors, often from lobbyists; public funding is isolated in a few outposts of good-government zeal such as Connecticut and Maine. Finally, campaigns can and do run for months on end, laying siege to swing voters and blitzing them with television ads.

On the north side, politicians spend their lives talking with voters and governing. They almost never dial for dollars, er, loonies. A recent legislative leader of one of BC’s political parties reports that he focused time and energy on fundraising about twice a week when he was leader. He didn’t dial for dollars. Compare that to spending half of each day on it, as many American politicians do. Fundraising used to be even less time-consuming. A former premier of British Columbia who spent 24 years in elective office reports spending almost no time raising money; his party raised some but he wasn’t much involved. A former member of the Canadian parliament tells much the same story: a group of volunteers raised some money for his campaign, but he personally spent his campaign time, well, campaigning. One former city councilor in Vancouver remembers raising just $10,000 total (a rounding error in an American campaign) for each of his races. He says he never raised a single dollar, not one, outside of campaign season. Read more »


Weekend Reading 7/11/14

Photos: Lying in a week's worth of your trash, cupcake collapse, and more.
This post is 162 in the series: Weekend Reading


The hashtag #GazaUnderAttack has been put to use thousands of times this week for distributing photos of the quickly escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine. Meanwhile, from their cushy London seats, editors at The Economist are taking a broader, historical look at the root cause of conflicts in the Arab world, journeying back a thousand years to when Arabia culturally and economically outpaced Europe. Pondering the expansive question of what has gone wrong in the Middle East, the editors bring back their focus on deciding who is best placed to put things right. The answer is the Arabs themselves.

Staying with news from the United Kingdom, The Guardian bites into the pressing matter of a potential collapse of all things cupcake in the U.S. Perhaps the cupcake economy explosion was always inevitable. American eating habits are fickle, and when vendors are selling tasty treats that cost upwards of $4.00, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the sugar addicts move onto the next big thing. But the future has arrived in the form of the Cronut—a “food” that is half croissant, half donut—and incredibly patrons in New York City are waiting up to three hours to buy one. Surely, the novelty of such a concoction will never end, right?

Raise your hand if you can recall when a shy, gangly teenage Chelsea Clinton was mocked by Rush Limbaugh and Saturday Night Live…mainly because she was a shy, gangly teenager? Putting such derision in the past, Chelsea is doing very well for herself. At present, she is expecting her first child and over the years she has accumulated impressive degrees from Stanford, Columbia, and Oxford University. Now she is joining the Clinton family business. Politics, naturally. Not quite. Although unfortunately not using the apt-name of Clinton Inc., the family is spinning gold from straw in the speechmaking business. Over the past 10 years, Bill and Hillary Clinton have earned approximately $100 million for their speaking engagements across the globe. In the last year alone, former President Clinton earned the incredible sum of $17 million. Although terrific for the family coffers, one must stand to wonder if the earning of such staggering sums is helpful for future Clinton political endeavors. Outside of ex-Mayor Bloomberg, the recent political record of the ultra-wealthy has been nothing but dismal.


It seems lots of people are quite willing to pay a few bucks for nothing more than a little joyfulness on the Internet. Behold the whacked out power of social media. Last Thursday, a young man launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise ten dollars to make an unspecified amount of potato salad (enough for his lunch?). So far, he has received nearly seventy grand. Read more »

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The Dirt on Tesoro

A new report shows Tesoro is a bad neighbor to Northwest communities.
This post is 40 in the series: The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails

We’re releasing a new report profiling oil company Tesoro’s track record of flouting safety rules, injuring workers, obstructing safety investigations, toxic air pollution, and meddling in politics.

As the Texas company angles to build a massive oil shipping facility along the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, local residents are increasingly anxious about Tesoro’s plans to handle up to 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day, transferring petroleum from 4 to 5 mile-long oil trains. The trains pose a range of risks to neighboring homes and businesses: traffic delays, oil spills, and even fiery derailments like that oil train that exploded a year ago in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec killing 47 people.

In The Dirt on Tesoro, Sightline examines Tesoro’s record and concludes that locals are right to worry. In recent years, Tesoro has been guilty of:

  • “Willful” violations in Anacortes refinery fire: After a deadly 2010 refinery fire in Anacortes killed seven workers, state and federal investigators blasted Tesoro, calling the company “complacent” about safety and issuing 39 citations of “willful” indifference to hazards at the site.
  • One facility, 4,000 clean air violations: The EPA says that Tesoro violated the Clean Air Act no fewer than 4,000 times at a single refinery in North Dakota and hundreds more times at other refinery locations. The company is among the top 100 toxic polluters nationally.
  • Oil spills and secrecy: When a Tesoro pipeline burst in 2013, the company did not bother to inform the affected landowner, who only discovered the spill after he noticed crude oil bubbling six inches high around the tires of his combine.
  • Hostility to safety investigators: Tesoro barred the gates to federal safety inspectors after a burst pipe at a California refinery sprayed two workers in the face with sulfuric acid. Though the workers were helicoptered to a hospital and treated for burns, Tesoro called its employees’ injuries “minor.”
  • Fights with unions over worker safety: Tesoro opposed union-supported efforts to have shareholders pressure the company into disclosing more information about its safety practices and risks.
  • Meddling in politics: Tesoro already meddles in Washington politics, bankrolling political candidates and Tim Eyman-sponsored ballot initiatives with hundreds of thousands of dollars. In California, Tesoro spent $1.5 million on a measure that would have gutted environmental laws.

Read the full report at

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A Climate Mainstream that Crosses Party Lines?

Study finds far right of GOP out of sync with American mainstream climate views.
Photo Credit: wietse? via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: wietse? via Compfight cc

Consistent with prior surveys, a new Yale Project on Climate Communication survey finds that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be convinced that pollution from coal and oil is causing climate change and to think that action is needed. But beneath the surface, they also found a stark difference between moderate Republicans and conservative Republications when it comes to climate views.

In other words, Republicans are not a “monolithic block of global warming policy opponents” or science deniers or clean energy naysayers.

It turns out that liberal/moderate Republicans are quite similar in their understandings and beliefs to moderate/conservative Democrats. As the Yale researchers put it, this potentially forms a “moderate, middle ground public” that could tackle important national questions of climate pollution, clean energy, and energy efficiency.

The researchers identify liberal/moderate Republicans—about a third of the Republican party—as part of the mainstream of American public opinion on climate change while the most conservative Republicans are distinct outliers.

The bad news is that even Democrats are persistently lukewarm on many climate questions (for example, while over 80 percent say they’re worried about global warming, it’s only 27 percent “very” and 54 percent “somewhat” worried—and the numbers are about the same for the most liberal Dems.) The good news is that the far right only represents a fairly thin slice of the electorate, leaving room to imagine progress among America’s mainstream.

And perhaps most promising of all: Americans of all political stripes—except those hardcore conservatives—are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports strong action to curb climate change and oppose ones who don’t.

Read more »


Bad News for Ridley Terminal

For Canadian coal export terminal, a series of unfortunate events.

Not so long ago, the Ridley coal terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, was riding high. The facility, which mostly exports coal from mines in BC and Alberta to customers in Asia, was seeing steady growth in shipping volumes. With international demand looking strong, coal companies had started to clamor for more port space—and the Canadian government, Ridley’s sole owner, announced plans both to expand the terminal and to sell it to a private owner, no doubt hoping for a hefty profit.

Now, just a few years later, Ridley’s fortunes have turned upside down. International coal prices have gone into freefall, customers have dried up, the terminal’s long-term finances have suffered from a string of shocks, and the proposed sale of Ridley has gone nowhere. Just how bad are things for Ridley? According to the latest statistics, just released today, June 2014 coal shipments at Ridley fell by 55% compared with last June. For the year to date, total coal shipments have fallen by nearly a third, compared with the first six months of 2013.

If anything, Ridley’s woes are just beginning. Here’s just a sampling of the recent news suggesting that Ridley’s facing serious long-term troubles:

Read more »


Say Anything

Medical providers' role in constructing clear options for young women.
This post is 4 in the series: Teen Pregnancy: Going... Going...

A young woman sits in an examining room, waiting for her medical provider.

The provider arrives and picks up the chart. “I see you’re here to talk about family planning,” she observes. “What did you have in mind?” The young woman scans her memory: “What does my sister use? What about my friends? What have I seen on TV?”As we know from the work of psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, the preference she expresses is likely to be shaped by familiarity—whatever jumps to the front of her mind.

Now consider an alternative scenario: A young woman sits in an examining room, waiting for her medical provider. The provider arrives and picks up the chart. “I see that you’re here to talk about family planning,” he observes. “When do you think you might like to have your first baby?” As the conversation opens up, he follows with other questions: “What would you like to do before then? How big a deal would it be if you experienced an unexpected pregnancy? Ideally, how often would you like to get your period?”

In this scenario, the young woman finds herself having a very different conversation because rather than focusing on the surface question, a choice among contraceptive technologies, the provider has asked about what lies underneath: What is the young woman really after? What are her dreams and plans? How does this seemingly small, concrete decision about birth control relate to the life she wants to live? Read more »

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Are You Planning to Have Kids? (Part 1)

Why downtown Vancouver BC has nearly 5 times more kids than Seattle, and 9 times more than Portland.
This post is 4 in the series: Family-Friendly Cities

When a developer builds a family apartment in Vancouver BC’s downtown peninsula, the dining room comes with easy-to-clean floors that can handle spilled yogurt or spaghetti. Condo and rowhouse projects must have accessible stroller storage and outdoor play spaces, ideally where parents can look out a kitchen window and keep an eye on their kids.

As of Canada’s 2011 Census, downtown Vancouver’s urban neighborhoods were home to nearly five times more kids than Seattle’s and nearly 9 times more than Portland’s.

That’s in part because more than 20 years ago, Vancouver’s planners and politicians made a conscious choice: Not to relinquish the city’s urban core to empty nesters, low-income singles, and the childless.

As formerly industrial neighborhoods were converted to glass towers, Vancouver required at least 25 percent of that new housing to be suitable for families. That means at least two bedrooms, with attention to hundreds of details that make high-density housing function more like single-family homes. Where those zoning changes created enormous wealth, the city required private landowners developing the sites to incorporate parks, open space, daycares, libraries, community centers, elementary school sites, and other public amenities that families need.

Read more »


Seattle’s $28 Million Hole

4th Ave and Cherry construction crater nears 10-year milestone.

What are two things that Greg Nickels, Mike McGinn, and Ed Murray all have in common? If you said, “Roman Catholicism,” your knowledge of Seattle mayors is exceptional! Another thing they have in common is that, from their City Hall vantage point, each man had (has) the pleasure of viewing from their office the expansive, desolate site at the lower right of the picture below:

3rd/Cherry and 4th/Cherry

Aerial view of 3rd Ave and Cherry, and 4th Ave and Cherry St. Image by Steve Bowles (used with permission).

The view is very similar to what Seattleites could have seen at 4th Avenue and Cherry Street way back in February 1911: Read more »


What Have We Learned Since Lac-Mégantic?

An industry in denial, a region at risk.
This post is 39 in the series: The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails

A year ago today, in the small hours of the morning, a parked oil train slipped its brakes, rolled downhill, and derailed in a small town in Quebec. When the tank cars breached, they caught fire and erupted into a towering fireball that leveled several blocks of town and incinerated 47 people almost instantly.

That horrific disaster ushered in a new era of fear about crude oil-by-rail shipments.

Two weeks earlier Sightline had published the first regional inventory anywhere of oil-by-rail projects. We pointed out that Oregon and Washington are home to nearly a dozen active or proposed oil train depots that in aggregate would move about as much crude as the Keystone XL Pipeline—and far more than the region’s oil refining capacity. We released the report widely, and the response we got back sounded a lot like crickets chirping.

But after the explosion in Quebec, our phones started ringing off the hook.

As a result of growing interest in the subject, we devoted ourselves to researching and explaining the issue. Here are some of the most important things we’ve learned about oil-by-rail since Lac-Mégantic: Read more »