Tuesday, October 2, 2007


In “Our ability to deal with the traffic could pave the way for future success” (Seattle Times guest column 8/31/07 by Sims and Gregoire points out that the predicted nightmare of traffic gridlock during I-5 construction did not happen. (For twelve days or so, they closed down three of the five lanes on Interstate 5 leading into Seattle for replacement of huge expansion joints.)

Gridlock was not avoided by people taking transit. It was avoided because people commuted smarter.

The Sounder trains may have seen an increase in riders, but even packed, they moved only 2,000 people. The problem is, I-5 has 130,000 cars and trucks a day.

Buses didn’t move many more than the trains and the extra buses became part of the traffic that remained.

Don’t bother mentioning water taxi. They do not carry even 500 people all day long and are nothing more than a boondoogle of the worst sort.

What really happened when they closed down three of five lanes of northbound freeway was that thousands—tens of thousands of drivers—either went at other-than-peak rush hour times or used one of the other ten to fifteen lanes of traffic that lead into downtown Seattle.

Let us count the lanes:

--East Marginal Way (and even West Marginal Way to Spokane Street) has two and even three lanes that are almost never full.

--First Avenue South and Fourth Avernue South both are major, four lane arterials with hardly a light or traffic.

--Airport Way South (a personal favorite of mine) is a road that you can assume there is almost never another car on it.

When I was learning to be a cab driver in Seattle (back in the days when they actually trained cab drivers to get somewhere fast and the shortest way possible) they told us not to use the freeways. They are nearly always full, may trap you in a major jam and are almost never the best way to get anywhere.

Better, a lot of commuters simply put off driving into work between 7:00 and 9:00. Some hardy souls actually came in earlier.

But this November, the voters are being asked to tax themselves to build more roads, bigger transit, extra buses, light rail to the Husky Stadium and more roads. Most of the $17 billion is for transit that will carry almost no one.

What we need to do is take care of what we have. We don’t need to build new roads; we need to repair what we have. We need to realize that we have paved 25% of the city and within all of that concrete we have more than enough for our cars, trucks and vehicles.

We cannot spend every dime we have and ever will have on trying to build our way out of congestion. We can commute smarter, drive smarter and even haul freight smarter. New York, Chicago and LA have tried to build their way out of congestion and failed. Let’s try something different. Let’s try something smarter.

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