After reading the wise words of Kemper Freemanbenevolent dictator of Bellevue / savant of urban design—I decided it was high time for me to experience his auto-utopia first hand. Free parking! Ample wide streets! A pair of massive malls! Bellevue, per Kemper and reputation both, is everything Seattle is not.

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My expectation, before the visit:

I arrived into Bellevue by way of highway 520 followed by interstate 405. (There is, to my knowledge, no way to enter Bellevue from outside aside from freeway. There are perhaps highway-like arterials by which one might accomplish this task; these violate the spirit of the place.) The 520 bridge and 405 were blissfully free of tolls—or any sort of use-tax. Just like god intended. I began to fear the taxocrats plan to change this. Traffic was stop and go from approximately the on ramp to well beyond the off ramp—with predictably obnoxious lane-usage and merging behaviors from drivers.

Eastsiders distinguish themselves by driving with less skill and courtesy than even Seattleites, embodying the principles of the modern conservative fully in their driving: I am the most important person here. Your needs are a waste, particularly when they conflict with mine. I will step on your neck (and the neck of any other thing living or dead) to get my needs met.

To enter Bellevue, I chose the 8th Street NE exit. This entire interchange is brand-spanking new—lavishly reconstructed with Federal and State tax dollars to a massive breadth of alabaster lanes in all direction. Three lanes exit to the West. With all this capacity for cars—name one three-lane exit in Seattle—you'd figure there would be no waiting. Nope. The lanes were packed with cars slowly creeping along, with a continual spatter of foolish and incompetently-executed lane changes, while waiting to be disgorged onto 8th St NE.

And then, we're off. Slowly. Creeping. Down 8th St, I notice the vestigial sidewalk—clear of pedestrians. Walking in Bellevue—I imagine as I wasn't bold enough to try—strikes me as a life-threatening activity. 8th St NE is six lanes of traffic, filled with drivers attending to most anything but driving. (One gentleman was enjoying his iPad while guiding his Audi down the street.) The curbs are high and defensive, scuffed with much tire residue. Coming off I-405, the buildings here don't seem to have entrances, just gaping maws for underground parking structures—maws already filled with car emesis squeezing in and out of the street.

The closer one approaches the the pairing of Lincoln Square and Bellevue Square, the more city-like Bellevue appears. There are now recognizable storefronts—almost exclusively chains, but still distinguishable businesses. Left turn lanes (a seventh lane to the road) extend the length of these long blocks. I join the line waiting for the one onto Bellevue Way NE. Almost immediately, one is shuffled into the left lane (another left turn) to enter the Lincoln Square garage.

The garage is huge, with snaking lines of cars waiting to enter and exit. The overall experience of underground garage parking is a bit like being entombed. One drives in nauseating circles while breathing a miasma of carbon oxides, heavy metals and assorted exhaust products that are suspected of (or demonstrated to be) carcinogens. The lighting is cheap-office fluorescent. And, of course, one waits with your many fellow drivers all clamoring for the free parking. After parking in the depths, you wait for an elevator.

My overall impression of the Bellevue free parking experience: Parking (and driving) is free only if your time and (mental and physical) health are of no value. Traffic is bad in Seattle; traffic is Biblically bad on the Eastside. We could pay to make 405 a 24 lane triple-decker freeway and traffic on the Eastside would still be horrendous. It's just too damn inefficient to move around this number of people by way of single occupancy cars. It's horrible as an experience. And the pay-off is questionable. The shops at Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square are indistinguishable from any other similar mall—a parade of chains.

Yes, parking in Seattle costs money. And yes, the streets are narrow, the highway exits generally single lanes. If your number one goal, your major criteria for planning your day, is the cost of parking, the Eastside is for you. Whether parking is $2.50 an hour or $4.00 an hour, if this is your way of thinking, you aren't destined for downtown Seattle in the first place.

What Seattle offers—as compensation for being a place where the needs of drivers are balanced with other considerations—are stores and restaurants that are quite a bit more interesting. You can have your Maggianos; I'll stick with Machiavelli. If you don't enjoy driving, can't drive due to disability or just plain old recognize that you aren't very good at driving, in Seattle one can always opt to bus, bike or walk instead. Bellevue is built for one plan—sitting in a car, in traffic, sucking on exhaust and becoming gradually more and more frustrated. I'll pass.

Upon returning to Capitol Hill, I (nearly) kissed the ground of my neighborhood—where I can walk to a bank, grocery store, interesting non-chain bars and restaurants, movie theaters, live theater and a library. Downtown and the waterfront are a 15 minute bike ride away, with relatively safe routes back and forth. Kemper can have his vision if he lets me have mine.