News Jan 28, 2015 at 4:00 am

A Brief History of Why Transportation Here Sucks

Kelly O


This is nonsense.

Here's the short version tied to inconvenient truths:

1. For decades we built a city and a region, intentionally, at very low densities absolutely tuned to the appeal of private auto mobility -- and people bought and came to depend on a lot of cars.

2. So then a lot of big freeways were designed some of them were built, and then we cancelled the rest! Like a lot of American Cities. Because those freeways would have unacceptably destroyed neighborhoods. That was a fundamentally necessary constraint; canceling those neighborhood-busting freeways was the right thing to do! But it left us with a problem!

3.Luckily, we had at that time and thereafter probably the bed bus system -- max transit -- of any comparable city in America. We could have invested, built out and modernized that bus system into a supremely effective mass transit system to serve the demographic geography we had brought upon ourselves.

4. But no. Instead it seemed like a good idea to put all our eggs in a rail technology that by the time it started to be built, was obviously poorly suited to meeting transportation needs for more than just a tiny fraction of the places where people needed to come and go --and which would coutner-productively reinforce sprawl into auto-dependent suburbs. And cost colossal sums of money raised with regressive sales taxes. And take decades to deliver even on what minimal promised solutions it could honestly offer.

5. The potentials of a better bus system were ignored -- squished wold be putting it more accurately -- and the system only survives today -- never mind prospering to meet its potential -- staggering from crisis to crisi in the Perils of Pauline. That's why you are standing on the bus if you are in the bus-riding cohort that are overwhelmingly today and ever will be the suffering customers/captives of "mass transit."

6. We could do better than this but not on fantasy foundations as to either the past or the future.
Would love to move back, but after 12 years and no monorail, light rail, subway, trolly, bike mecca. Fat chance.
Whoops. Sorry. In my comment "BFD bus system" should be "best bus system." Of course "BFD bus system" might be short-hand for an even more colorful way of underscoring that ours was, still today can in some ways claim to be, and certainly in future could be -- the core of what would be the "world class" transit system for a "world class" city in the class of cities that were like Seattle and its region. BRD . . let's think. How could we fashion this for The Stranger.
Plus, Seattle voters blew their chance at fed money voting down public transportation improvements (something like BART in the Bay Area) back in 1962 during the World's Fair.
Add to that all the additional people over the last 53 years who have moved here, especially over the last two decades, and that our north-south I-5 and I-405 corridors are consequentially gridlocked in more ways than one.

I wish I had a solution to this mess; I'm Seattle born, and haven't lived in King County since 1997.
Well, at least I'm up to "nascent." That's better than what the Stranger USUALLY calls me.

This is correct.

We all know it, and it's going to get a LOT worse.

A smart Governor would cancel Bertha.
Pay no heed to the transportation planning prescriptions of former Wsdot director Doug MacDonald. This man personally conducted the rigging of Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement studies, before, during and after the 2007 voter referendum. The powers-that-be own him and a host of other agency players and used their subservience to undermine transit system potential in Seattle. Automobile-related business interests - finance, insurance, fuel, parking, advertizing, suburban sprawl speculation, etc - derive income from car-dependency. Bertha is a manmade catastrophe akin to the levies failing to protect New Orleans from hurricane Katrina. In the first major Earthquake, Bertha will amplify destructive forces. Wsdot conservatives don't give a shit about about Seattle.
If it's possible for your work or commute, bicycling is one of the best ways to get around. With fenders and some rain-shedding clothes, it's possible to ride pretty much year-round here. (Although I draw the line at ice, which doesn't mix well with hilly terrain.) cars and transit have their places, but it's possible to beat the traffic and enjoy yourself while doing it.
Oh please. While light rail would be nice, to think it could replace roads in the greater seattle area is just silly. Only a small percentage of people live in a suburb and commute into downtown. This is not New York. A vast majority of people could never get by with any amount of public transport, even if it was better than it really could be. If we had a lot more density over the years, and everyone worked downtown, sure. but that is not Seattle.
@1 -- what on earth are you talking about? When did we put all our money into rail technology? What rail technology is this? Also WHO is "ignoring" the potential of a better bus system? We're always trying to improve the bus system. It's just that east siders and suburbanites and Tim Eyman-style tax revoltists are always stepping in to ensure we don't have the money.

@9 -- Nobody is planning to tear up roads and replace them with light rail. That would indeed be silly.

And what city do you live in, anyway? We're not even talking about people living in a "suburb" and commuting into downtown. It's about people living -- for instance -- in Northgate, and one half of the couple works downtown but the other half works in West Seattle. The Northgate partner can take one bus to downtown which is fairly zippy, but rail would be zippier. The West Seattle half has a 90 minute bus commute because the transfers downtown are so awkward. And then if he drives because that's such a nightmare, his drive time varies wildly, from half an hour to almost as long as it takes to get there by bus.

What I don't understand is why it is taking so long just to expand one light rail corridor. The stop at Northgate is supposed to open in 2021, and they've already been at it for several years. 2021. ONE corridor. It makes no sense to me at all.
traffic is bad because you bitches don't know how to step on the gas when the light goes green.

stop texting and drive.
By and large this post is shallow and poorly-done, goof gor a high-schooler. I would have thought it was written by Ansel.

But @10 raises a good question: why is Sound Transit taking so long to finish the line to Northgate?
By and large this post is shallow and poorly-done, good for a high-schooler. I would have thought it was written by Ansel.

But @10 raises a good question: why is Sound Transit taking so long to finish the line to Northgate?
You don't even mention the design of the freeways. Exits on the left and right, lanes disappear on I-5 through downtown Seattle turning it into a total bottleneck, and no room for expansion of lanes, etc. These things are a big reason traffic sucks, not just lack of public transpo.
Is that really Doug McDonald?

If so: you own a big chunk of the idiotic, car-centric disaster that is the doomed deep-bore tunnel. Yes, the politicians own a greater share, but you enabled and abetted their folly. In a sane world, you'd be ashamed to comment on our region's transit problems. Link isn't a fix-all, we do need a better-designed bus network with more right-of-way. But Link will make things better for regional mobility on some key corridors. Your legacy will always and forever be making regional mobility worse. We're better off without you.
@11 - The custom of cars sitting at green lights is a courtesy intended to give the bicycles a head start getting through the intersection. Most civilized.

(As a cyclist I help out by keeping still and not making motions that would alert anybody to the light being about to turn green.)
Electric bikes! my husband and I have been commuting on them for over a year now and it has been GREAT. I can go from Beacon Hill to Ballard without worrying about time spent or sweaty clothes. He goes from Beacon Hill to Northgate in not much more time than if he were to drive I-5 and it is so much more rewarding! You still get a work-out (they are not scooters, and mine has no throttle) but you get a little help up our many gnarly hills.
@1- STFU. You've done quite enough damage already, thank you very much. Also, if you want people to read more than a sentence or two of your unmitigated bullshit, proofread and fix your typos.
The one thing we can determine from your post is that you put as much thought into your transportation planning as you do into your communication, and that's why we're fucked.
There's something to be said for perception as well. There are more than a few people who abhor riding the bus but will absolutely ride a rail. I believe someone at this very paper wrote something to that effect once.
We have one piece of transit that works in this town: light rail. But it gets held up every day in the transit tunnel because the fucking buses get caught in traffic, can't keep a schedule, show up en masse, and take way too long to load.

Let's get the buses out of the transit tunnel! I propose closing additional streets topside to cars so that they buses can have more dedicated thoroughfares through downtown.
Although the concept of isthmus is useful to discuss traffic, Seattle traffic patterns are conditioned by Pleistocene glaciers. The grain of glacial topography (North-South hills and troughs or lakes) determines people and goods' movement in Puget Sound. Hills and lakes make East-West traffic more difficult whereas North South thoroughfares are often laterally confined.
I'm so happy that, at a time when Bertha's official twitter feed of record is so whitewashed, we have BerthaDeBlues to give us the real scoop on what a $400 million tunnel machine thinks.
I, for one, can't wait to spend millions building out a trolly system so I can feel nostalgic while I'm sitting in the same traffic I'd be sitting in if I were in a bus or a car because our political class likes to throw money at foofy pet projects instead of actually useful grade-separated transit.
@23, Exactly. That's why we need a system of Gondolas that start at my front door and end at the places I work and play. I guess I'd settle for a system of separated bike lanes where no cars are allowed to cross or park near the lanes... as long as I don't have to pay any special bike fees to enable that. Or wear a helmet, which I'm sure causes more injuries than they prevent.
@23 spot on. It's possible trolleys could be an improvement worth the cost, but not they way we're doing it. That money would have been better spent on bus improvements, including and especially more bus lanes, greater frequency, and TSP, OR on building more grade-separated light rail. The trolley investment is a poor one, and we should either take speed more seriously or just not bother.
Westchester to Staten Island is about the same distance as Tacoma to Everett, but I bet it takes longer in NY.
More buses would make a difference. I use ST's 405 routes to get to work, and buses are standing-room full at most peak hours - when some routes still run non-articulated buses for some arrivals when there's a line of 40 people waiting.
Why is it that construction sites seem to have authority to take over sidewalks, bike and traffic lanes, with no coordination or time limit? Traffic would move much better through the city these days if we had effect oversight of construction projects. The first time I followed deter signs in a perfect circle back to where I started was amusing, but now the matching sets of "sidewalk closed" signs pointing at each other is just roll-your-eyes normal.
@23 and @25: You realize that the idea is to build trolleys so people will ride them instead of personal autos, relieving congestion, right? We're not just hoping that empty trolleys will run up and down the street. Mass transit = fewer cars = less traffic. Relevant illustration.
Hmm, no money spent on alternative transportation, I wonder why oh why traffic is so bad. Where is our high-speed rail? Where is the affordable bus routes? Nope. Buses are being cut drastically. This region is going downhill fast, and a faulty transportation system is a big part of that.

But, by all means, don't mention an income tax; that's blasphemy! Better to charge poor people a large part of their income to fund the whole sorry mess, including that tunnel. Tolls for bicycles -- are you freaking KIDDING ME?! You don't get more short-sighted than that.
Parking sucks too.

...and that means more cars on the road circling around trying to find a spot.
Know what's funny:

After 25 years in Seattle, we'd like to move back to the Bay Area for family reasons - but the traffic is too crazy!!

(plus housing is double the price, but that would undermine my original point...)
@30 - I'm as pro-transit as it comes. I own a car but only use it on the weekends, and bus/bike/walk everywhere else. I wanted a version of Prop 1 to vote for that was twice as large and would have given us twice as many buses. I've been known to get drunk and argue that cars should be banned.

But I'm smart enough to realize that our pot of mass transit money isn't unlimited and thus should be used for things that actually improve our mobility, not wheel-less buses that offer less flexibility than our current fleet of buses. I've yet to hear a convincing argument for our investment in street cars other than "they're new and quaint, so middle-class white people who think buses are too icky will ride them." The bang for your buck compared to Bus Rapid Transit (real BRT with added ROW access, not the half-assed version we have now) is negligible.
I just love Seattle
@30, I'm perfectly aware that that's the idea; however, the unfortunate early 21st century urbanist fad of short distance, no grade-separation slower-than-buses steetcars have turned out to be an extremely poor way of achieving that goal. The SLUT is a fine example of that failure; outside of peak its ridership figures and subsidy per rider figures are quite poor.
You have obviously never driven in NYC. They get put on the same list next to or above Seattle for worst traffic all the time. SEA has an extensive Light-rail plan that has been continuously funded at every opportunity and is pretty much on the original timeline. If you want to complain that it is too late that just seams counterproductive to me. I'd also like to add a few things to the list. the fact that pedestrians and drivers alike think pedestrians have the right of way before they even step into a crosswalk causes jams all over the city all the time. Also, there are zero good ways, public transit or otherwise to get from Lake Washington to the Salish Sea (east and west). I know topography has something to do with it, but just imagine getting of I-5 at 45th St and trying to get to Ballard. There is not transit plan to make that better in the works.
Trolleys combine the worst of all transit features: the tracks are expensive to lay, the trolleys get stuck in the same traffic as cars, and they cannot be rerouted like buses. Add in the fact that the tracks are a safety hazard to cyclists and you end up with an expensive/slow/inflexible/dangerous option.
And the complaining about traffic is the worst.

Please wait...

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