Housing prices map with transport costs included

Alex sez, "At Worldchanging, we just did a post on how high a percentage of their monthly budgets many families are now paying for their cars, and why many "expensive" close-in neighborhoods are actually affordable when you factor in the gas pump. The centerpiece is a great new mapping ap from the center for neighborhood technologies that shows the interplay between the two in great clarity."
One factor that often doesn’t get considered in discussions of Seattle’s rising prices is transportation costs. It makes sense that if you have to “drive until you qualify,” as one common justification of living in the suburbs puts it, the cost of that driving ought to be considered as part of the cost of living far outside the city. Generally, though, it isn’t–allowing pro-suburban, anti-regulation, anti-density pundits and politicians to claim that Seattle’s housing prices are “out of control” and that the suburbs are the only “affordable” alternative.

According to CNT’s analysis of the Seattle region, the most affordable parts of our region are actually inside city limits–once transportation costs are factored in.

Link, Link to mapping app (Thanks, Alex!


  1. this is exactly what i’ve been telling people who ask me “wow, isnt it expensive to live in san francisco?” for the past 3 years. ride a bike, or use public transit, and it’s actually cheaper than living in the middle of fucking nowhere.

  2. This is *exactly* how we came to the decision to live right in the middle of Cologne. Public transport is generally excellent in German cities anyway, so you can get to and from the ‘burbs with public transit, but we didn’t want to spend our time commuting anyway. We can shop, work, eat and play all on foot without ever having to get out the car. *THIS IS QUALITY OF LIFE!* The higher rent and property prices in the city center are more than made up for by the amount of time and money we *DON’T* spend commuting!

    From our place:
    – Walk to central railway station: 14 minutes
    – Walk to commuter railway station: 2 minutes
    – Walk to choice of subway stations: 2-7 minutes
    – Take kids to school (out of zone to special magnet school, across town): 17 minute subway trip.
    – Commute to work: 5 minute subway ride.
    – Walk to movie theater with original (i.e. English) versions of current movies: 5 minutes.
    – Walk or ride bikes with kids to choice of playgrounds, parks, riverbank, downtown, ice cream place, pizza place, etc.: 5-20 minutes.

    Special Bonus: We can both drink when we go out to dinner!

    And when we need to get the heck out of Dodge with the car, we can get to the two main north- and the east-bound highway junctions in less than 5 minutes, too!
    The south- and west-bound junctions can take 10-15 minutes to get to in a pinch, though …

    I think I’ll walk to the gym now!


    – HornCologne

  3. This presumes that a degree of physical separation from your neighbors isn’t also something of value.
    If you like being around crowds, cities are a clear win. If you don’t, then you have to balance the economic value of a city with the quiet of more remote areas.

  4. I totally agree with the premise. I desperately want to live somewhere I don’t have to hop in the car for everything. But landlords and lenders don’t take transportation costs into account when deciding whether or not they are willing to rent/sell to you. They just take into account how much you make vs. how much the rent or mortgage payment will be.

    Maybe you end up spending a combined 60% of your income on mortgage + transportation in the ‘burbs, but if you’d have to spend 45% of your income on a mortgage downtown, you won’t be approved — and you’ll have to move out to the ‘burbs and pay more in the end.

    My point is that externalities like this really need to be taken into account more explicitly.

  5. This is, of course, assuming that everyone works in the city. There’s plenty of suburban households where that is not the case.

  6. Why don’t the author factor in the cost of sending your kids to a private school in Seattle versus sending them to a public school in Bellevue?

  7. @5 — MOST people in the suburbs works someplace other than downtown. Downtown’s workforce as a fraction of the total regional workforce, in Seattle and elsewhere, is rapidly shrinking.

    Note that in Seattle, people living in the central city frequently need cars to commute to their jobs in the suburbs, as evidenced by the fact that the reverse commute on the 520 bridge is MUCH worse than the old-fashioned regular one. And even more common than that is people who live in one edge city commuting to and from another.

    And most people change jobs every couple of years, usually to someplace many, many miles from the old one. You could move next door, but in five years you could be commuting 50 miles.

    It never as simple as they make it out to be.

  8. I poked around the Seattle area and one thing I’ve noticed is that the map seems to be highlighting neighborhoods with lower property values.
    These property values are lower for a reason.
    To be really meaningful they’d have to cross reference the housing and transportation data with some crime stats, school quality, and access to services.

  9. Interesting tradeoffs, and I wish the map showed greater sensitivity than a 45% of income benchmark. Someone here mentioned the valuing of open spaces and relative quiet – that can be an opportunity cost, but isn’t necessarily the case. Additionally, it may be worth factoring in the relative inaccessibility of equity-earning tools which a surburban subdivision was designed for.

    Still, someone with more options than a car has more ways to deal with fuel priceshocks.

  10. I live downtown just for this reason. Yeah, I could pay a little less for my place per month, and the groceries are a tad bit more expensive, but I don’t spend $200/mo+ on gas.

    And as for crime, there’s probably more violent crime, but far far less petty crime like kids egging houses and breaking into cars to steal radios, because there’s cops every 4 blocks and a lot of watching eyes crammed into a smaller space than in the suburbs.

  11. @5 — actually it doesn’t assume that everyone works in the city at all. you can read the model summary to see how it calculates the transportation costs.

    education is another important factor that should be considered, but transportation is generally the second biggest household expense, outside of housing, so this is a step in the right direction.

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