First, on Seattle Transit Blog, Roger Valdez---who recently wrote an entire blog (no, not a blog post---a blog) about Seattle's land use code---makes the point that basic economic principles dictate that upzones in cities, rather than suburban sprawl, make sound fiscal sense. Limiting supply in cities, where demand is highest, increases costs, which drives people to the suburbs, which disaggregates demand for transit, which makes transit more expensive... and so on.
As people look for housing in our region they run up against limited supply in the places we most want people to live, the city. If it’s easier to build new single-family housing or sell that housing out in the ‘burbs, the supply out there will be greater. Seattle’s hesitant attitude toward up zones to create Transit Oriented Development not only keeps housing prices high, but also means that costs for maintaining transit service to far flung reaches of King County will go up too. [...]
The more that Seattle resists density, the more expensive it is going to be to operate transit. We talk a good talk about sustainability but our land use policy is in direct conflict with it. So when Seattle constrains housing supply, it’s actively pushing up the operating costs for Metro and stretching subsidies to the breaking point.
Meanwhile, over on Crosscut, Mark Hinshaw makes a similar argument, noting that sprawling developments in far-flung parts of (to use his example) Snohomish County are suffering far higher rates of foreclosures and short sales than dense urban areas in places like Seattle. Builders, Hinshaw writes,
managed to persuade Snohomish County to adopt laws that allowed wholesale removal of trees, clearing of land, and rapid approvals. Standard development practices that had been used to good effect in other Western Washington cities for years were rebuffed. Since then, county standards have been beefed up, but too late to head off the most recent wave of havoc on the landscape.
The result: In some areas of Snohomish County, the combined foreclosure-short sale rate is as high as 42 percent. In King County, by contrast, that rate is 27 percent, with that number diminishing in proportion to density and the availability of transit.
At ThinkProgress, Matt Yglesias lays out the (obvious, but necessary) explanation that such "affordable" sprawling exurbs exist: Massive subsidies for cars, and, in particular, for highways, over the past century.
After all, if you think about it there’s a huge chicken and egg problem with cars. If cars don’t exist, then cities won’t be built to accommodate them which makes investment in an expensive car look questionable. And if relatively few people own cars, then there’s relatively little constituency for creating grade-separated roadways that exclude pedestrians and cyclists. And absent grade-separated highways, there’s relatively little supporting infrastructure for the creation of auto-focused suburbs. Lather, rinse, and repeat. But the US government made a “big push” to build highways, promulgate auto-focused zoning codes, subsidize the purchase of suburban homes, etc. and push us onto a car-centric paradigm that many on the right mistake for a free market outcome.
He concludes, "no car-focused industrial policy is going to be as green as backing away from having the most energy intensive possible built environment of roads, homes, and offices. Yet sprawl-promotion is integral to the interests of the auto industry."
Finally, at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein argues that transportation investments should be made not on the basis of which states spend the most on gas taxes (a paradigm that encourages people to drive as much as possible), but on where they can actually produce the most benefit:
Right now, the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas contain about 65 percent of the population, produce 75 percent of the nation’s GDP, and account for 78 percent of interstate miles traveled, 93 percent of rail passengers and 92 percent of air and transit miles. If, as Obama said this morning, we want “to make sure that we’re getting better results for the money that we spend,” it might make more sense to focus more closely on these metro areas.