This we know: The increasingly congested Seattle area needs commuter rail, more tri-county Sounder runs, water taxis, foot ferries, buses, and vanpools. It needs less people to drive



The common sense traffic solution that no one talks about.

This we know: The increasingly congested Seattle area needs commuter rail, more tri-county Sounder runs, water taxis, foot ferries, buses, and vanpools. It needs less people to drive to work, and more people to telecommute, ride the bus, walk, bike, skatebord, roller blade or ride small farm animals to work. And if you absolutely must drive, then please, carpool.

All these things have been vociferously pounded into our brains by manifold public agencies and transportation advocates for at least a decade, as the great American freedom of driving a single-occupancy vehicle becomes more a gridlocked prison than a top-down, wind-through-the-hair liberty. Yet the impending three-week-long closure of two to three lanes of mile-long stretch of northbound I-5 betweeen the West Seattle Bridge and the I-90 interchange is about to show us how futile all these efforts combined can be.

As SDOT spokesman Greg Hirakawa only half-jokingly puts it, the closure, which will last from Aug. 10-29, will mark "the end of Western civilization as we know it." Even if people do as they're told and leave their cars at home or take alternate routes, intense congestion is expected to rule the road from Seattle to Tacoma during all waking hours. Our favorite suggestion, per WDSOT's website, is "taking a vacation between Aug. 10 through 29."

If only we lived in Milan, this would already be de rigueur. But we don't: We live in a go-go, capitalist, hyper-wired, new economy metropolis that reduces such beachfront prospects to mere pipe dreams. Which brings us to another suggestion on the WSDOT list: "Adjusting work schedules to come in later than normal."

Aha! Forget about the three-week crumbling of Western civilization, this seems like a perfectly logical long-term solution to our region's traffic doldrums. And by long-term we mean the wholesale dissolution of the 9-5 workday, and in turn, rush hour. Our proposal is simple: Let's say you run a business with 33 employees. Why not have 11 of those employees come in a 7 a.m., the next 11 come in at 9, and the last 11 come in at 11.

Grocery stores have been doing this sort of thing for years, wo why can't downtown businesses and public agencies (or any entity with employees for that matter)? Well, for one, the notion of leaving one's work at the office would essentially disappear, especially for management personnel whose employees will be conducting company business for at least 12 hours per day. But in the age of hand-held wireless devices, aren't we already there?

Then you've got the question of incentive. Some government agencies -- WSDOT among them -- currently give employees free bus passes or actually pay them $1.50 per trip if they walk, bike or use some other form of free, non-motorized transportation to get to work, per WSDOT spokesperson Jamie Holter. While Holter says her agency has kicked around some ideas for incentivizing businesses to have workers come in on a tiered shift schedule, she concedes that "the state, as a taxpayer agency, we can't really go there." She adds, "The biggest incentive of all is the obvious: you don't sit in traffic, you don't burn gas, and your car doesn't overheat."

SDOT's Hirakawa strikes a similar note: "We're a bunch of road engineers who design surfaces for people to drive on. Managing people's private schedules is not our department." Hirakawa points to WSDOT's traffic flow map as one way in which public transporation agencies are already helping people who already have flexibility in terms of what kind of hours they can work.

That's all good and well. But it seems to me that those who do consider it their mission to spur innovative alternatives to traffic congestion should jump on what we'll call "the swing shift option" -- and quick.

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