Data Dive – Environmental Health

Data. In today’s highly opinionated world, data can be appreciated for simply being. People may read things into data, but data are simply measurements, analyses, numbers that inform us and let us tell stories. Catch your breath if you’re going to say this next title out loud. The University of Washington School of Public Health Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (whew) produced an impressive data set for Washington State. UW DEOHS did good. Here are a few topics they highlighted around the state, but naturally with a Whidbey Island focus for this blog. Dive in, if you dare.

Unaffordable Housing

screenshot 2019-01-16 at 15.40.33That’s a topic that’s been discussed here, before. For UW DEOHS, the definition is when housing costs more than thirty percent of income. As unaffordable as Whidbey Island seems to be, the data shows there’s a lot of variation. Some of the variation is probably due to calculating the local version of income. A zip code full of programmers will be different from a zip code full of military personnel and different from a zip code of retirees. And, people frequently generate income in a different place than their home address. Regardless, the method is the same, so all areas get equal treatment.

Surprisingly, Langley, Coupeville, and Oak Harbor all are similarly (un)affordable. There may be more mansions on the south end of the island, but most folks don’t live in those. (It’s also possible to argue that many of the mansions aren’t lived in, either.) The most unaffordable neighborhoods are in Oak Harbor, near the Navy base, perhaps a consequence of military pay scales. Some of the most affordable spaces are nearest the ferry and the bridge to the mainland cities along I-5. Perhaps that reflects bedroom communities and the off-island incomes then bring in. Solidly in the middle is the middle.

Transportation Expense

screenshot 2019-01-16 at 16.01.41Ferry commuters won’t be surprised to hear that commuting costs are relatively high. They’re even higher for the middle and the outskirts. Being in the middle is evidently equally inconvenient to both ends. Not a surprise that Oak Harbor’s density makes it cheaper and easier to get around: more bus routes, shorter trips, maybe even lower fuel prices (but there’s always a cheaper pump somewhere else right after you fill your tank.) For those who are comfortable with public transit and have flexible schedules, their map might look different if they use Island Transit and its free (for now) bus service. Of course, such a map won’t capture the hyper-local choices made by people who purposely live within walking or bicycling distance of shops, and for those who are retired or work from home.

Heavy Traffic

One thing the entire island shares is a lack of heavy traffic. Sure, we complain about too many cars on the road; but it is barely noticeable compared to life on the mainland. Except for a few places like Oak Harbor and near the Clinton Ferry terminal, four lane roads are uncommon. It’s a two-lane existence. Technically, there are only two highways on the island: State Route 525 and US Route 20; and both of them are mostly two lane. There are so few highways on the island that islanders frequently mis-use the word ‘highway’ just to describe a main arterial that would never be mentioned in a traffic report if it was on the mainland.

It’s easy to think of the island as being the same every where. Read most travel stories and it is easy to think that Deception Pass Park reaches to Clinton, that the only place to moor a boat is Oak Harbor, and that Coupeville or Langley define life in Freeland and Greenbank. By dive in, or drive around, and see that there’s a lot to see. Seeing one piece of it misses most of it, whether as a visitor or an islander.

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