I can’t drive 405

Road Trip #1

I-405, THE EASTSIDE highway from nowhere to nowhere (OK, Tukwila to Bothell), is what’s known, to us transit wonks, as a Big-Ass Road. Ten lanes in each direction at its most capacious, I-405 is the kind of road you don’t see much outside the boonies. It’s not a road for a pleasant Sunday drive. It’s a road with a purpose: Get me (and my Expedition/Land Rover/Humvee) from here to there.

This is my assignment: to join the ranks of the single-occupant-vehicle- driving schlubs driving to their spacious homes in Bellevue and Kirkland (although I’ll be going back to my shoe box in Ballard once this is all over, thank you very much) and see how the other half drives. You know, experience the hell that these poor commuters are faced with every day. Learn to sympathize with car commuters, which I am not. All that stuff. But judging from traffic heading north on I-405 at 5:15 in the afternoon, I’m thinking these people are all a bunch of whiners. I don’t think we’ve slowed below 50 miles an hour once. What do you people want— personal helicopters?

Tukwila to Bothell. Who wants to go from Tukwila to Bothell, anyway? Well, once upon a time, the transportation oracles of the ’60s believed truckers and regional traffic would, because 405 was once little more than a bypass in the boonies, a way for folks who didn’t need direct access to any of the region’s cities to quickly travel around the area. Times change, and now the little, semirural corridor has blossomed (or exploded, depending on your perspective) into a booming string of suburban cities with more than 300,000 inhabitants.

The express lane (which I glance at—gingerly—while hurtling down the road at 60 miles an hour) is a vast, empty expanse of gray. Looking around, I count one . . . 10 . . . 45 SUVs. Then I stop. Little women in big trucks block my view of the road ahead, but that’s OK, because there’s nothing to see but the butt end of hundreds of speeding cars. “I’m only driving this way to piss you off.” “Power of Pride.” “My child is an honor student at Ballard High School.” Yawn.

Heading back from the north side of Bellevue toward Renton, I do run into a few bumps. Traffic on the on-ramp is stop-and-go, and I do slow down below 10 miles an hour once or twice. Is this what people are complaining about when they whine about 405’s “nightmare congestion”? Go to L.A., people. Better yet, find a better solution—move, ride the bus, take yoga, look into anger management.

OK, I’m sure I-405 can sometimes be hellish. And yes, it sucks to be stuck in traffic. But you know what? Ultimately, as far as I’m concerned, these car commuters chose to be here. They chose to live far from where they worked; they chose not to ride in groups or (horrors!) take the bus; and they chose to support car culture by buying big, polluting SUVs, which they’re now using to choke each other. These folks are sitting in traffic for a reason, and it’s not malicious fate, unfair restrictions on progress, or evil bureaucrats who want to take away their freedom. They’re sitting in traffic because, somewhere along the way, they made a bad decision. So to them, I say: Enjoy the ride. I’m going back to Ballard.

Erica C. Barnett