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April 2021

News In Brief

April 7, 2021

  • Longview and the Anacortes-Mount Vernon area are two of 144 cities that the federal government is proposing to downgrade from the metropolitan statistical area designation, and it could be more than just a matter of semantics. Officials in some of the affected cities worry that the change could have adverse implications for federal funding and economic development. Under the new proposal, a metro area would have to have at least 100,000 people in its core city to count as an MSA, double the 50,000-person threshold that has been in place for the past 70 years. Cities formerly designated as metros with core populations between 50,000 and 100,000 people, like Longview and Mount Vernon, would be changed to "micropolitan" statistical areas instead. Wenatchee and Walla Walla are the two other cities in Washington that could be sent to the same fate. A committee of representatives from federal statistical agencies recently made the recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget, saying it's purely for statistical purposes and not to be used for funding formulas. As a practical matter, however, that is how it's often used. Several housing, transportation and Medicare reimbursement programs are tied to communities being metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, so the designation change concerns some city officials. If the proposal is approved, it could be the first step toward federal programs adjusting their population thresholds when it comes to distributing money to communities, leading to funding losses for the former metro areas. In a separate proposal, the U.S. Census Bureau is considering a change to the definition of an urban area. The proposal made public last month would use housing instead of people for distinguishing urban from rural. An area will be considered urban if it has 385 housing units per square mile, roughly the equivalent of 1,000 people per square mile, under the new proposal. The current standard is 500 people per square mile. The Census Bureau says the changes are needed to comply with new privacy requirements that aim to prevent people from being identified through publicly released data and it offers a more direct measure of density. Some demographers aren't sold on the idea of changing the definition of a metro area.

  • The Seattle Department of Transportation has completed work to lower speed limits to 25 mph on most major city streets. Nearly 2,500 new speed limit signs have been installed throughout the city, covering 415 miles of arterial streets. The safety improvements are one of several efforts proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan to achieve the city's Vision Zero Initiative to prevent crashes and save lives. Case studies have shown a 20% to 40% decrease in crashes on streets where Seattle lowered speed limits. The department is also looking at traffic signal safety for pedestrians. SDOT is working with the state Department of Transportation to lower speed limits on state-managed highways as well.

  • For the second year in a row, Washington has been ranked as the best state in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. "Washington's low-carbon energy system and robust secondary education system continue to rank among the nation's best, as does the state's economy, the fastest growing in the nation," the web-based news magazine reports. It's the first time since the rankings began that the same state has been named No. 1 for two consecutive years. As in previous years, U.S. News ranked all 50 states based on data within 71 metrics across eight categories, such as education, health care and opportunity. But the Evergreen State also has its shortcomings, according to U.S. News. These include high living and labor costs that stifle opportunity for the state's residents. Unemployment also remains high, due to the effects of the pandemic on the economy. Minnesota was ranked as the second-best state, followed by Utah at No. 3, New Hampshire at No. 4 and Idaho at No. 5. The five lowest-ranked states were Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, West Virginia and Alabama.

  • One of the many changes society has undergone in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic is the number of workers who are now avoiding their daily commutes by working from home. Now one site has gone through and calculated just how much time those workers might have saved by swapping their drive downtown with a walk to their downstairs office. In Seattle, it worked out to just under 10 days! MakeALivingWriting.com used Census data to find an average Seattleite's round-trip commute time -- turns out it's just a fraction under an hour (59.2 minutes). They also found workers average about 242.8 days in the office a year accounting for weekends, holidays, average vacations and sick time use. Taking away that hour a day stuck in their cars adds up to 9.98 days over the course of a year! That's more than the average national saving of 8.6 days.