My Easy, Icy Viaduct Solution


As you'll read here, our Aimee Curl is all over the latest Clusterduct developments. But as we continue to fret and committee to death the two remaining (or more?!?) viaduct replacement scenarios, and worry how we'll accommodate the 110,000 daily vehicles the creaky structure now carries, I've noticed an interesting phenomenon.

Seattle always overreacts to snow and cold weather warnings. Both dailies are breathlessly reporting on the current "cold wave," with sub-freezing temperatures that, in other parts of the country, barely merit wearing a ski hat. Oh, it's in the 20s? Big freakin' deal! Chicago and New York would laugh at our weather timidity. (Last night a KIRO TV truck was parked at the base of Queen Anne hill, to interview Uptown weather wimps about their fear of the cold. It was like a tiger escaped from the zoo: weather--it'll jump out and kill you!)

But I have noticed an interesting correlation between the current weather scare and the long-range planning for a surface-level replacement alternative to the viaduct...

Maybe it's the holidays, but I think cold temperatures are the cause of greatly reduced downtown traffic this week. I-5 has been great. Parking abounds. There are hardly any cars on the street. It's quite nice, especially down on the waterfront.

And why? Because of our hysterical weather forecasts: Stay indoors! Don't drive! Protect your children and pets! Ice could form at any moment on bare pavement! It's a weather armageddon! Thank you, Rebecca Stevenson, for your KIRO traffic storm warnings.

I think this speaks to a kind of smart-mob, Malcolm Gladwell type of cumulative impact from thousands of small decisions. We get up in the morning, listen to the radio or watch the TV news, and decide we don't want to risk denting our car by driving on snowy roads. So we instead walk to the bus stop (where every Metro coach has been equipped with chains, even to run on dry pavement). Or telecommute from home. Or walk, if lucky enough to live near work. Or possibly bike or ride the SLUT. Or, crucially, put off unnecessary car errands for another day. In other words: make the elective decision not to drive during rush hour. Not everyone has that choice, but a surprisingly large number of Seattleites do.

It's like when I-5 has summer lane closures for repaving: We're all warned of massive, massive traffic jams, but none result. Because we all modify our behavior, thousands of us, in minor ways. So regardless of the decision made between the two (currently) preferred alternatives, however the governor, mayor, state legislature, and Frank Chopp may add to or block those schemes, the power of lessening demand, voluntarily, is greater than surface-routing or re-viaducting. (Other cities, of course, achieve the same effect through congestion pricing...and that day will inevitably come to Seattle.)

My solution, before the viaduct closes due to an earthquake (or sooner), is to rig the weather forecast every day and all year long to be a winter storm warning. Lie to the public, in other words. Tell folks it's always freezing and about to snow, even in July, and they won't drive. Because when it comes to weather fear-mongering, people apparently still believe the media.

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