In his 2013 book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, political economist Philip Mirowski presents one of the most productive schemes for explaining, and even predicting, the manner in which our market-dominated society resists responding to problems whose real solutions demand deep and therefore market-related structural changes. Broadly, and with my own modifications on the original scheme, this is what happens: First there is denial, then delay, then there is a bunch of dreaming.
Mirowski applies these steps to the global warming crisis (denial about it happening at all, then delay by sensible-sounding calls more research and more evidence and more voting, and then then dreaming of science-fictional fixes like mirrors in space). But we can also apply this scheme to the way Seattle is responding to the obvious fact that, despite all the road improvements and fancy traffic engineering, its car-related congestion is getting worse.
Though Seattle's denial stage has many forms, it is best captured by the sorry state of Bertha, a machine that is, at great expense, slowly drilling under the city a massive and ultimately useless tunnel for cars. We must not waste the powers of our imagination when it comes to this boondoggle. We must picture in our minds Bertha as the head of an ostrich whose body is our traffic woes.
An excellent example of delay can be found in the Seattle Times's recent call to pause ST3 (the aggressive expansion of light rail service) so that the public can put more thought into the plan. And more thought requires exactly what the pressing issue of congestion no longer has: more time. In all of this, we see that Seattle Times's editorial board is employing what Mirowski calls "agnotology" —deliberately casting doubt about a problem and the effectiveness of an obvious solution—in much the same way an octopus ejects a black cloud of confusion when threatened.
Lastly, there is this business of dreaming, which in Seattle's case (and in the rest of the country, for that matter) takes the form of the growing talk of self-driving cars. If humans stop driving and just let computers do the damn thing, so the dreaming goes, the traffic problem will be solved once and for all. So, instead of doing the rational thing (investing in a technology—rails and trains—that is available and has a cost history), do the irrational one (invest in a technology whose usefulness and true costs are completely in the mists of the future). And why should we go through all of this trouble and great social expense to develop this unknown? Because when autonomous vehicles arrive (and this is not a certainty), they will maintain the current order of things. Cars will continue to be sold by private makers and dealers, and even more roads will be built by the state/public. This model of socialism has powered American capitalism for over 50 decades.