Today, the Seattle Times reported that the number of personal vehicles in the city reached a new high in 2016—nearly 444,000—and that 265,000 Seattle households have at least one car, also a record-setting number for the area.
This is not surprising. If you spend any time on Slog, you'll find we exhaustively cover our city's ongoing problems with transit, parking, traffic, and infrastructure. Washington state has more than 136,000 miles of roadways, but the bulk were built more than five decades ago. And last week, City Council passed new legislation to limit parking requirements for developers and maximize the city’s current supply of parking spots, because there are too many drivers and not enough available spaces to put them in. If you read Mudede's posts about parking last year—one that discussed the fact that Seattle drivers spend 58 hours per year looking for parking, and another along the same lines titled, A Quarter of Seattle Drivers Are Searching for Parking—then you know this is a very good thing. Maybe it makes you wonder how many people at The Stranger actually have cars.
I confess, I do. Even worse, and a statement that is sure to draw some backlash: I like my car.
In Tampa Bay, the place I used to call home, you couldn't get anywhere you really wanted to go if you didn't have wheels. It's a city of vast urban sprawl. You have to cross a body of water to get to part of it (including St. Petersburg, where I actually lived, and Clearwater), and the only public transit offered, the bus system, is terrible.
When I moved to Seattle, I still had a year-and-a-half left on my auto lease agreement, and it would have cost me a whole lot of money to break it early (basically, all the payments that remained with added penalties). So I decided to see the lease through to its end. Which was kind of a bitch, because I had to pony up an extra $130 a month to park it, my insurance rates rose, and I only ended up driving it a few times a week because I used city transit—bus, link, streetcar—whenever I was able.
In those first few months I spent here, I thought alot about what I'd do without a car, because in many ways, it was a luxury that I didn't need. But I am an impatient person, and refused to wait for the T-link/bus/streetcar with my four bags of groceries, then sit on the link/bus/streetcar with my four bags of groceries, then haul my four bags of groceries home from the bus stop/link station/streetcar stop. And I sure as hell wasn't interested in renting a car whenever I wanted to leave town, which was at least a few times a month. And then, I got pregnant—who wants to take a bus or an Uber to the hospital when you're in labor?—and had a child, and all thoughts of living in the city without a car went out the window. Doctor's appointments, errands that were suddenly much harder with a baby in tow (and this with a car), taking the baby to or from childcare, running out to get an emergency bottle of formula or pack of diapers because no one was paying attention to the fact that we were running out.... Sure, I could figure it all out without a car—my nanny buses everywhere and she lives in Shoreline—but I wouldn't like it.
My lease was up this past March, and I spent weeks fretting about what I was going to do without a car, how much I liked having it even if I used it infrequently (more now that I have a child), how much I liked the freedom of the road, of just leaving town and not having to worry about anything but how much gas was in the tank. I like driving, especially in a car that doesn't need anything other than routine maintenance (knocks on wood). I like blasting my stereo when there's good music on (Seattle has the best radio stations), and car dancing, and getting where I want to go (generally) when I want to get there. Also, did I mention I was impatient? So, I signed a new (three-year) lease and drove out of the dealership with a fresh new ride.
I'm not trying to defend my decision. Okay, I am, because I feel relentlessly guilty about it, and none of my arguments sound excusable against the greater good of carbon footprints, traffic nightmares, parking headaches, and everything else associated with having a vehicle here. And ultimately, any argument I make can be countered with better arguments about why having a car is bad for me, my neighbor, and society as a whole. At least I do my part as much as I can by walking, taking public transit, or calling a car whenever I am able. But sometimes, goddamn it, I am going to drive. I'll just continue to try to do it when there aren't as many people around, because I fucking hate sitting in traffic.