City Traffic Worse, Times Whines
posted by January 29 at 13:04 PMon
Driving alone at rush hour on Puget Sound-area freeways now takes longer than ever, the Seattle Times reported Friday—56 minutes from Bellevue to Federal Way, 49 minutes from Federal Way to Seattle, 53 minutes from Everett to Seattle. The state DOT attributed the increase, which ranged from 4 to 14 minutes in various corridors, to job growth, more cars, and the lack of new roads or mass transit. The Times also notes that a 10-year-old report predicted speeds in the 405 corridor would slow to 26 mph in 20 years. Currently, they’re at 23 mph.
What surprised me most about the report (as a non-driver who’s constantly being tsk-tsked by drivers about how I should “try driving to the Eastside at rush hour”) was how little time it takes to get from Seattle to the Eastside, and vice versa: 24 minutes from Seattle to Issaquah, 33 minutes from Seattle to Redmond, 25 minutes from Seattle to Bellevue. (Remember, these are rush-hour averages; daily averages are presumably much lower.) Look, I know it makes people mad to be stuck in their cars. But come on: Whining about a 20-minute commute is like bitching when Starbucks takes five minutes to make your latte instead of three. Yes, it’s time wasted, but not that much—especially when compared to the nightmare commutes faced by drivers in places like Houston, where roads are plentiful and mass transit scarce.
What the study really illustrates, I think, is that we can’t build our way out of congestion (see, again, Houston); and yet things aren’t bad enough yet to force us to change our car-loving ways. As long as it’s easier to drive alone than carpool or take mass transit, people will drive alone—and mass transit won’t get built. This is the paradox Seattle finds itself in: traffic bad enough to make people bitch and moan, but not bad enough to convince us to invest in real mass transit that will get people out of their cars.