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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Re: Elevated Blogging

posted by on October 15 at 10:15 AM

Left Coast writes in the comments

[Anyone] who knows Chicago will tell you that the traffic there is as bad anywhere. Dan is whining about Seattle being worse than Chicago, but he’d be hysterics if he had to deal with Chicago traffic on a daily basis. That’s not to say that Chicago doesn’t have perks—Wrigley is awesome, and the architecture is very interesting—just to say that Dan is a passive-agressive whiner.

I may be a passive-aggressive whiner, Left Coast, but I grew up in Chicago and I’m familiar with the traffic in my hometown. And I don’t think I’ve ever written that the traffic in Seattle is any worse than the traffic in Chicago. (Chicago, however, isn’t on the US Department of Transportation’s list of the nine US cities with the worst traffic jams—and Seattle is.) What I’ve hammered away at for years now is that we lack of options in Seattle. In Chicago, if you don’t want to sit in traffic, you take the train. If you don’t want to take the train, you can sit in traffic. It’s your choice. But you can’t bitch about your ass being stuck in traffic if you decide to drive since you chose get your ass stuck traffic in the first place.

Well, you can bitch about it. It’s just that no one will take you seriously.

Again, I grew up in Chicago—but I never had to “deal with Chicago traffic on a daily basis” because I took the El wherever I needed to go. Still do. Flew in to town yesterday, took an Orange Line train from Midway Airport to the Loop, had dinner with my brother, caught a commuter rail train out to my stepfather’s house. And it’s true: the traffic in Chicago was terrible—or it looked that way, at least, from the windows of the trains I took yesterday, trains that allowed me to avoid Chicago’s hysteria-inducing traffic.

Building light rail in Seattle won’t solve our traffic woes but it will give us options—including the option of moving closer to light-rail stations if we so choose, and avoiding, when possible, Seattle’s own brand of hysteria-inducing traffic.

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This is what I keep needling Tim Eyman about, whenever he sticks his smarmy nose into this Slog to post one of his canned press releases. It can't be emphasized enough that even the most sophisticated, efficient traffic system will just fill up with cars.

Read Tom Vanderbilt's chapter on L.A. in Traffic to see what I mean. It's mind boggling how well they've timed the lights there, but you wouldn't know it. Why? Because all that awesome throughput capacity (computer optimized, centrally manipulated in real time!) in L.A. is full. Increase capacity, and even more cars will appear. You can't win.

It's called induced demand, and it's why we need trains. Preferably elevated ones. Fast, elevated trains, with wi-fi. And maybe a drink cart. Why not?

Posted by elenchos | October 15, 2008 10:30 AM


Posted by drunkel | October 15, 2008 10:37 AM

Don't you just love it when people attack you on something without knowing the facts? And you wrote a much better response (as per usual) than both the commenter and my non-posted "He grew up in Chicago, you stupid sonofabitch" utterance.

Posted by Joy Baker | October 15, 2008 10:46 AM

I generally agree with Dan on this one... with one exception, and that is that sometimes, particularly when trying to get out of the city, public transit is just not an option. The Metra suburban trains are great, but they don’t always take you within walking/biking distance of where you need to go. In which case, you must suffer through terrible traffic.

My biggest complaint about Chicago is that it tends to be like a black hole – it takes forever to actually get out of the city. You guys can be hiking or skiing in an hour or so. An hour of driving in Chicago gets me pretty much nowhere, unless it’s the middle of the night and no one else is on the road.

Posted by Julie in Chicago | October 15, 2008 10:52 AM

i agree with dan whole heartedly. if seattle had any sort of respectable public transit the city would be greatly improved. it's one of the reasons i moved away.

Posted by douglas | October 15, 2008 10:59 AM

True, Julie. Sometimes you have to drive—but it's those times that make you remember all over again why you're glad you live and work in a city where you have the option of taking the train most of the places you need to go most of the time, right?

Posted by Dan Savage | October 15, 2008 11:00 AM

I lived in Seattle for 4 years until moving to Chicago 4 months ago. After living here a month, I sold my car and now take the train pretty much everywhere. Sure, Chicago has some pretty bad traffic from what I saw in my month of driving, but it's also much more populous. Nearly 3 million in the city, nearly 10 million in the metro area. If Chicago didn't have the decent transit options it does, the roads would be impassable. If Seattle had decent transit options, traffic would be reduced greatly.

Posted by cmaceachen | October 15, 2008 11:02 AM

Not to diminish your point, but that link you gave isn't the nine cities with the worst traffic; it's the nine finalists for a DOT grant. The criteria for their selection was presumably based on the quality of the proposals that each city submitted.

Posted by Propaniac | October 15, 2008 11:17 AM

Dan, I see your point, for sure, and I’m glad that we have transit options here (I happen to live in Boystown, where you can very easily get pretty much anywhere in the city on public transportation).

But, I’m definitely laughing at the picture of someone sitting in random Sunday morning traffic on the Eisenhower, saying “Gee, aren’t we lucky we have good public transit” instead of something like “Goddamnit! Where the hell are all these people going”.

Posted by Julie in Chicago | October 15, 2008 11:27 AM

For most of us, unfortunately, the choice in Seattle is going to place we want by car or bus, or going to a place we don't want by rail.

Posted by joykiller | October 15, 2008 1:19 PM

@10, where the hell do you want to go? Laurelhurst?

Posted by jrrrl | October 15, 2008 1:30 PM

@11, more like "anywhere west of I-5," which will receive exactly diddly even if the next vote passes.

Posted by joykiller | October 15, 2008 2:29 PM

I really miss that ass kicking pizza. But oh, that smog...cough cough.

Posted by Vince | October 15, 2008 4:19 PM

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