Seattle May Be Aiming for Clean and Green Transit, But It's Not Convenient (and Hurts My Undercarriage)

Duff McKagan is the former bassist for Guns N' Roses and the leader of Seattle band Loaded. His column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
It is really hard for me to ever really say anything adverse about my dear old hometown of Seattle. I mean, what is there not to love about this place? Great coffee. Great music scene. People are generally less dick-ish. Culture and literature are highly held attributes. Mountains and water and rivers and sports and, oh yeah . . . traffic.

Being a guy who has bounced back and forth to Los Angeles since the '80s, I never thought I'd see the day when traffic in the Northwest EVER got to a place where it would compete for worst on the West Coast. Los Angeles is congested with single-driver automobiles, and traffic lights down there are so badly timed that you start to think that it is all some sort of plot to keep the general populace in a state of edge. As they kept building more and more further-out suburbs, this just added to the morning and evening traffic gridlock.

Seattle, as we all know, was built surrounded by water. You can't get anywhere in this town without going over a bridge. Whether it is the West Seattle bridge or the Aurora, I-90, Fremont, or Montlake, you are at the behest of a waterway overpass (I am only naming but a few bridges here . . . ).

The Interstate 5 and I-99 that run through Seattle both seem to narrow right at the heart of the city, and city planners back in the day, until this day, seem like maybe they were just a few degrees off plumb. No one seemed to be looking to the future and designing the roads so that they would keep up with the population. Too late now.

We all have voted one way or another on the Light Rail, and now this new tunnel. The Light Rail system here, I just don't get. I am one to always try and look at the glass as half-full, but this train thingy we got ourselves just doesn't seem like it will ever be a mass-transit system that will alleviate traffic in this city. Do YOU take it anywhere?

The Light Rail system is currently building a station right at Husky Stadium. I suppose this is meant to be a tactic to lessen the traffic gridlock that now hinders that area around the Montlake Bridge and 520 interchange. OK, but let's just say that I'd take it to work downtown in the morning instead of drive; I'd still have to GET to that station, right? Where would I park?

New York and London have great mass-transit systems because they have made these trains and subways totally convenient, affordable, and easy to use. I think up here in the Northwest, a lot of lip service has been paid to the fact that the Light Rail is a "greener" and cleaner way to get us all around. Great. But is it convenient? And if it ultimately isn't easy to use, will we suffer for the greater cause of "green"? Maybe once or twice . . . but then we will get back into our cars, and tint our windows so that our neighbors won't be able to see us as we carve out a big ol' size-13 carbon footprint.

But back to the matter of just too much traffic. This Alaskan Way Tunnel (or whatever they are calling it) is gonna be a massive mess. I get the fact that the tunnel will be safer in case of an earthquake, and that our waterfront will be more accessible and real estate will increase and all--but from what I understand, it's not going to ease congestion at all. Oh yes, the plague of our Seattle city planners again. And can you imagine how bad north-south traffic through town is going to be for those years that it takes to build? Oh, dear God.

Atlanta, Miami, and San Francisco all have horrible traffic issues like us in Seattle, so don't feel alone here. Maybe it is really time to look into and perfect jet-pack technology . . .

And have you tried to drive east-west or west-east within our city? The traffic lights are just abysmally timed. Try this route, if you like torture. Drive east from say, the Ballard Locks, and take a right on Leary Way and follow like you are headed to the University Village (this would be the less trafficky short-cut). Take Leary up through Fremont to Pacific, and ultimately turn left on Montlake Blvd. The lights are so bad here, that last week, as my wife and I traveled this on my motorcycle at 10 at night (when there was NO traffic), it took us 35 minutes to travel about 2½ miles. That CAN'T do anything to help traffic during rush hour, can it?!

Right, and to my last point of contention--and probably my first move I'd make if I were Mayor of Seattle. To all you sailboaters: Sorry. The bridges should no longer go up and down for you at your behest. Nope. High-masted boats should only be able to go through, say, before 6 a.m. and after 7:30 p.m. Summer traffic in Seattle is gnarled double because of our lower drawbridges constantly going up and down for the leisure boater. Dumb.

I could go on and on. The Stewart street exit in the morning, anyone? Getting on the 520 during rush hour around Montlake, anyone? 85th Street in and out of Ballard, anyone? West I-90 trying to get to southbound I-5 at rush hour, anyone? One lane, REALLY?!!

Ah, but I do love our fair city, and our views are some of the best city vistas in the world. I have studied the outline of the Cascade and Olympic mountains whilst sitting gridlocked in traffic. I have counted boats on Lake Union as I have sat motionless behind the wheel. I have checked the frequency of the Bainbridge ferry as I have power-walked my motorcycle along the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Carpools are not really working. Mass transit seems to be so far, a bust. Bicycles just hurt my undercarriage after too much riding, and it's too wet to ride a motorcycle all year round. People need to get to work. People need to drive their cars. Parents need to get their kids to school. Trucks need to carry their loads. What now? It has gotten real. It has gotten bad.

For those of you reading from outside our area, surely you will not recognize these areas of which I complain. But I am sure that you most probably have some of the same-such ires in your city, town, or burg.

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