Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Great Bits in Mediocre Movies ... | On Children: Note Two »

Monday, August 13, 2007

Calm Down, Everybody: Massive Clusterfuck Fails to Materialize

posted by on August 13 at 14:39 PM

Despite predictions of “nightmare” traffic, “survival tips” for dealing with the commute, an entire Seattle Times blog dedicated to “the Closure,” and even late happy-hour specials aimed at “waylaid drivers” (because what better way to calm those frazzled nerves than drinking rum for five hours before getting behind the wheel?), Traffic Jam 2007 didn’t happen. Not only that, but many commuters described the drive as smoother than ever.


Collective panic alone can’t explain the startling number that was reported by newspapers this morning: Of 120,000 cars that normally use northbound I-5 daily, about half simply disappeared. That is, their drivers took alternate routes, rode transit, worked from home, or didn’t take unnecessary trips. Which is, by the way, exactly what happened in San Francisco—and exactly what we’ve been saying will happen here if the viaduct closes down. You can’t argue that closing the viaduct would lead to disaster and then ignore the fact that eliminating half the lanes on a major freeway through Seattle actually made traffic better. And that’s without any additional transit service from Metro, the main transit provider in the region. Imagine how much smoother the commute on I-5 could have been with expanded transit to take another 20,000 or 30,000 cars off the road.

RSS icon Comments



Posted by boxofbirds | August 13, 2007 2:40 PM

I'll bet that 100,000+ people will decide to drive tomorrow morning.

Posted by demolator | August 13, 2007 2:45 PM

With some folks in the Seattle media today going all Nelson Muntz "ha ha" on the gloomers, I'll make a toast that everyone who did ride the train, stood on the buses, called in late, gave public transportation a-look-see, etc, will keep it up for the next 16 days... barring a rain delay, of course.

Posted by Phenics | August 13, 2007 2:48 PM

All well-and-good so far as it goes, but the real test will be to see whether those volumes sustain or creep back up during the next week or so.

It's just as likely many people will view a couple of days worth of light volume on I-5 as a signal to go back to their old commuting habits, and the predicted gridlock will begin to evince itself by the end of the week.

Posted by COMTE | August 13, 2007 2:48 PM

What's going to happen when all the people who took the bus and worked from home see that traffic was smooth sailing today and get back in their SUV's tomorrow? I am all for rapid transit and tearing down the viaduct, but clusterfuck 2007 has life left in it still.

Posted by jewritto | August 13, 2007 2:49 PM

WOW!! Screw the Bus! I am DRIVING to work now!!!! YIPEEEE!!!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | August 13, 2007 2:49 PM

Seriously though, they should look at air quality in about a week and compare it with a week ago. That should be really interesting to look at...

Posted by Cato the YY | August 13, 2007 2:50 PM

We still need better ways to get out of West Seattle.

Posted by wsp | August 13, 2007 2:53 PM

I'm betting that 100,000 people took a sick day.

Posted by Fnarf | August 13, 2007 2:55 PM

Whether drivers return with their cars or not, the point has been made today. Yippee!

Posted by tomasyalba | August 13, 2007 2:56 PM

I was surprised that they predicted so much trouble. I-5 goes down to 2 lanes anyway, right at the end of the construction. I don't see the lane closings as a big headache. Closing the exits, especially the I-90 exit, will make some people's trips more difficult, but that really doesn't do anything to worsen northbound traffic.

Posted by L-Train8 | August 13, 2007 3:07 PM

It's too bad though, this is the reason we needed the damn monorail... the alternatives out of West Seattle aren't quite as good.

Posted by john | August 13, 2007 3:08 PM

thank you for attending the latest round of small-sample-size theater with your bandleader erica barnett.

next week, erica will prove that just because she didn't need anesthesia for her deductive reasoning lobotomy, all surgical patients should go without.

Posted by jason | August 13, 2007 3:09 PM

I think this post is premature. Let's get past the next 19 days (and shortly after that!) and then open the champagne.

I figured this would be a Y2K-type issue.

Posted by um | August 13, 2007 3:12 PM

They said "premature" when we pointed out that the predicted disaster did not materialize in SF after a crucial freeway overpass was destroyed in a fire. "Just wait! Too soon! Disaster is coming!" said the usual suspects. So we waited. Disaster never came.

We can get by without the damn viaduct. People adjust.

Posted by Dan Savage | August 13, 2007 3:22 PM

Don't freakin jinx it! While we are far from the culture of laziness that is France, it is still August--God bless vacationers!

Posted by Westside forever | August 13, 2007 3:23 PM

Usual load of narrow-sighted see-what-I-wanna-see crap. Yes, the scare publicity worked! Everybody piled onto I-405 (already a bumper-to-bumper nightmare most of the time) or SR 509. How about a quantitative report from Metro as to the surge in ridership? And @11 above makes an excellent point, in that the 2-lane narrowing just moved a bit more south.

Posted by crappy stats | August 13, 2007 3:24 PM

In 16 days, surface/transit advocates will get to say the sweetest words in the English language: cellar door. No, wait, I mean, "I told you so."

Posted by Gitai | August 13, 2007 3:28 PM
We still need better ways to get out of West Seattle.

Sure: how about Tacoma? Wouldn't that be a better way to get out of West Seattle, if you just started working in Tacoma? 'Cause, you know, the rest of us are getting sick of hearing about it.

Posted by Judah | August 13, 2007 3:34 PM

Dan, I know. I think we should take the Viaduct now, even if today's traffic was a nightmare disaster.

It's just that I'm with #16.

Posted by um | August 13, 2007 3:40 PM

What's premature Dan is tearing shit out before infrastructure is in place to replace it or take its place. We're not there yet and won't be for 20-30 years IF transit moves forward.

It's August, a lot of people are on vacation and like many of the comments above state we'll have to wait and see what happens over the next 19 days. A lot of people are willing to make significant adjustments for a week or two. A decade or two are a different matter.

As for the ECB/Moon/Savage Parkway along our working waterfront, I'm still opposed unless it connects into the Battery Street Tunnel. People do adjust to conditions but I don't see the logic in making people absolutely miserable for decades because you, Erica and others want a park along a working waterfront.

Posted by Dave Coffman | August 13, 2007 3:45 PM

and people are taking public transportation. imagine if we could expand capacity and develop new routes without feeling like we also had to build tons more roads:

it's not that hard!!

Posted by wf | August 13, 2007 3:45 PM

I'm with Dan and Erica here.

So what if people "come back" tomorrow? Then it will suck, and people won't come back on Wednesday again.

Now, if there's a major event in Seattle like a sports game happening, that will be the last true test left. Otherwise, I'll really proud of greater Seattle right now. :)

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | August 13, 2007 3:47 PM

@23: We're going to the Mariners game tonight from W Seattle. We'll see how it goes.

Posted by Dave Coffman | August 13, 2007 3:51 PM

This wasn't a closed highway, Erica. They simply took away a few lanes in one direction. This isn't exactly removing the viaduct.

Also, it's been less than one workday. People switched over to Marginal Way and Airport Way, clogged those avenues up, and given the relative calm on I-5 is now becoming common knowledge, let's see if drivers migrate back onto the narrowed highway, and if that will affect matters.

Also, there is a Mariners game at 7 pm tonight, and tomorrow and through the rest of the week, and that traffic hasn't come in yet.

So let's not call it a roaring success just yet.

Posted by Gomez | August 13, 2007 3:54 PM

Yes, Gomez. But "removing" the viaduct isn't going to "close" that route either -- cars will still move along the waterfront. Just on a surface-level street, not stupid, loud, ugly, view-killing, street-life killing double decker freeway that no one would suggest building today.

Posted by Dan Savage | August 13, 2007 4:00 PM

People are more flexible than they think.

Posted by cascadia report | August 13, 2007 4:05 PM

Haha, Dan. That statement assumes those cars on Alaskan and 1st will actually be "moving", rather than crawling in bumper-to-bumper gridlock, but okay.

Posted by Gomez | August 13, 2007 4:07 PM

Yes, but how would I get to the Sounder train, @19? Still need to get out of West Seattle to do that.

Sorry if I like to talk about the lack of transportation infrastructure for Seattle's largest neighborhood. Especially when contractors are allowed to build 4 townhomes in backyards now.

To insist on better public transport in one neighborhood should implicitly imply public transport is improved in all neighborhoods.

But hey, I'll keep my dollars in the Westside or down south. I've got no problem with that.

Posted by wsp | August 13, 2007 4:10 PM

Heh. Yeah, because people who took a vacation to avoid the 19-day closure will just take one forever if we remove the Viaduct. And I think a lot of people *did* decide to take vacations, because my bus this morning wasn't any more crowded than usual.

Besides, this shows why we *need* the Viaduct, or some other redundant north/south link. How are the buses getting into Seattle without I-5? The Viaduct! What happens if we have to close I-5 and the Viaduct isn't there?

Posted by Orv | August 13, 2007 4:27 PM

Earth to Erica:

People stayed home. EOD. They can't stay home forever.

Earth to Judah:

If you're tired of hearing about West Seattle, *you* move to Tacoma.

Posted by ivan | August 13, 2007 4:36 PM

Yeah, boy, Ivan, you sure got me on that one. Quite the zinger! Hah, wow, is my face ever red.

Posted by Judah | August 13, 2007 4:39 PM

Grovel before your overlord, and lick dirt.

Posted by ivan | August 13, 2007 6:21 PM

See, now if we had a monorail, traffic would be even better and pollution would be even less.

And it would have cost less than 1/10th what we're going to waste on the Viaduct rebuild.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 13, 2007 6:48 PM

Since we have proven that we don't need I-5 why don't we close it instead of the Viaduct. As pointed out above we are using the Viaduct so we haven't proven that the Viaduct is not necessary. In fact, when the Viaduct was closed after the earthquake there was horrible congestion. The proof is in: the Viaduct is more important than I-5.

BTW Dan, are you opposed to the new viaduct over the ship canal that is part of the 10 lane 520?

Posted by whatever | August 13, 2007 8:00 PM

There is only one reliable way out of West Seattle: stay in school!

Posted by elenchos | August 13, 2007 9:06 PM

I bet lots of people took a 3 day weekend. I'll be surprised if traffic isn't signifigantly heavier tommorra.

Posted by K X One | August 13, 2007 11:21 PM

Where did all the traffic go? It must be a miracle!

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | August 14, 2007 1:50 AM

This conversation reminds me of conservatives talking about the Laffer curve. There's some truth to the idea that very high tax rates can cause people to work less, so there would be situations where lowering the tax rate could raise more tax revenue. However at some point that stops working; otherwise a 0% tax rate would raise infinite money. Similarly, there's some truth to the idea that you can remove some roads and people will adjust around that. However, if we got rid of every single road, people would move a lot slower.

These ideas work until they stop working; the problem is that we have no idea where we are on the curve. Maybe the viaduct is pointless, maybe it's crucial, but we'd have no way of knowing before we removed it. The responses to temporary closures sure have not been promising though.

Posted by zzyzx | August 14, 2007 6:29 AM
There is only one reliable way out of West Seattle: stay in school!


zzxy: Denser areas with fewer roads and more rapid transit can and do have populations where more than half the people don't own cars. Right now the average rate of car ownership in the city of Seattle runs to something like 16%. We've got plenty of curve left to cover.

Posted by Judah | August 14, 2007 6:49 AM

Car NON-ownership that is.

Posted by Judah | August 14, 2007 6:49 AM


The top 10 include the metropolitan areas included New York City (with 42 percent of residents with no car), Jersey City (30 percent), Waterbury, Conn. (16 percent), New Orleans(14 percent), Philadelphia (13 percent), Newark (12 percent), San Francisco (12 percent), Chicago (11 percent) and Los Angeles (11 percent).

Posted by whatever | August 14, 2007 8:23 AM
Posted by whatever | August 14, 2007 8:33 AM

@39: The Laffer Curve is a curve, not a downward-sloping line. It's shaped like a bell curve. It doesn't "stop working" at a 0% income tax rate; it recognizes that a tax rate of zero produces no revenues.

Posted by joykiller | August 14, 2007 9:30 AM

cdex agcjmehf argj iquw pqwleurv rwlunh dnfhboe

Posted by wtnsg kmqz | August 15, 2007 11:05 PM

xylcjwtp cxvnrj jmzbvsx gxiq mqhypio oftiu yxljd

Posted by uxfnedyk pfnkz | August 15, 2007 11:06 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).