Life On Growing Up in a Driver’s World
posted by June 8 at 10:59 AMon
My mother still makes fun of the fact that, when I was a kid and we’d go out for drives, I’d crane and turn my head to watch every car that we passed go by, one by one by one. Given my pedantic nature today, there must have always been some OCD in me.
I loved highways and traffic systems, road maps and street grids. One of the biggest thrills in my young life was actually going for a ride and getting to ride on the freeway in Las Vegas. Of course, this was back in the 80’s, when Vegas still only had 150,000 people, Interstate 15 had three lanes each way, the 95 Expressway ended Downtown, and you could drive in either direction nonstop no matter what time of day.
I grew up and times changed. Sure, once I got my first car, a hand me down ‘88 Dodge Aries, I went for drives when I could, and when I skipped class my senior year in high school, I drove all around the city, sometimes out of town, because of Vegas’ surprisingly militant truancy laws, and the fact that anyone I knew would advise my parents if I saw them (and my parents, lax as they could be, were absolute hellraisers with me about things like ditching school).
But see, you think King County is a hot market for newcomers. Las Vegas, even to this day, receives 5000-6000 new residents each month. Each month. The city, over time, sprawled out of control, out of sight. The freeways became a crowded mess during the day, even as they expanded I-15 to ten lanes, expanded the existing Expressway to 10 lanes, stretched it all the way out to Boulder City, built the I-215 beltway all around the edges of town. Driving during rush hour became a nightmare on the freeways. I call home and my mother tells me that, since I left, some of the more functional surface arterials have becoming a gridlocked nightmare as well.
I had heard of this strange thing called urban density, but never knew was it really was until I visited Chicago with my best friend Turner back in 2000. It was a badly planned trip that left us up the creek without transport, so he was understandably scared off his ass most of the time, but I really liked what I saw despite it all. I liked being able to walk and take buses and public trains wherever I needed to go, instead of having to rely on an expensive car or take a crappy bus that you had to wait 20-30 minutes for per stop.
Vegas has a bus system, but it’s nothing like Metro. Citizens Area Transit, aka the CAT bus, ramped up service in the early 90’s, running a grid system where each route is concentrated along a major arterial in Vegas’ well meshed grid, and over time has improved its existing lines, but you still need to wait 15-20 minutes for a bus (in the Vegas heat, no less) even on the best routes, and probably need to catch at least 2 if you’re not just heading a couple miles down the street, meaning another 15-20 minute wait. And if you’re on the outskirts, like Green Valley, where the service is new and still infrequent, the wait is more like an hour. And Summerlin… hahahaha.
So when I moved here, I was in complete awe at Metro and SoundTransit. Buses that run everywhere! On time! Buses that show up within 15 minutes! Areas with half a dozen routes! Actually being able to get anywhere by bus! Sure, you’re still up the creek if you live way the hell out in, say, Auburn, Redmond or Everett, but who wanted to live way the hell out there anyway? I didn’t have a car and I didn’t need one! I didn’t have to pay for parking, gas, insurance, maintenance, tabs… just a bus pass.
That hasn’t changed, even as the honeymoon has ended and I’ve seen the warts that the citizens have infected Seattle with. By this point, my childhood love for highways is more like the love you have for a really awesome boy/girlfriend that you broke up with after some sort of drama, and you and her moved on and got new mates and whatever else. Sure, there is still a soft spot in my heart for getting on the freeway and seeing the open road.
But that’s the thing with Seattle: there IS no open road! Anyone who commutes knows how terrible the traffic is here. The traffic is similarly bad in Vegas, but usually during the day, during the rush hours. You see for yourself what good spending ALL your DOT money on expanding highways does: not a whole lot when you’re constantly getting new residents to reclog those new lanes up. And the city’s designers clear smoked their crack before laying out the street grid for this city. The grid in places resembles an MC Escher painting, with surprise dead ends and turns everywhere. I’ve seen dungeons in 3D shooter games with a better layout than our neighborhood streets.
So the point of all that long-winded spiel was… no, despite any background with highways and roads, no, I don’t love highways, and at this point in life, I wholeheartedly support the wise integration of street improvements with transit. As much as I liked the road growing up, I like life without it a whole hell of a lot better. I could never see myself living with a car again.