It’s the big news down south in Seattle: Chaos Avoided! Gridlock mysteriously doesn’t happen! How can this be!?
They’re doing some major roadwork on I-5, the freeway that runs through the heart of the city, and only a few lanes are open where traffic is normally congested during the daily commute. Naturally, a major foul-up was predicted on the first day after the closures.
Didn’t happen. Hasn’t happened.
So how come? There’s a column in the Seattle Times by Danny Westneat today that helps explain it all:
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The short answer is that this is always what happens….
In 1998, British researchers studied what happened to traffic in more than 100 highway and bridge shutdowns in Europe and the U.S. They found that on average 25 percent of all car trips simply evaporated.
People still went to work. Some commuters drove, some found another way in. Some other trips were just not made.
“Drivers are not stupid,” (Oliver) Downs says. “They change schedules. They don’t take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic.”
There’s that word again. Is it me, or does “little” keep rearing up when the subject is our big problem, transportation?
Seattle’s primary transit corridor, the downtown bus tunnel, is closed. Gridlock was predicted. We dodged that by doing a “thousand little things,” such as moving bus stops and banning cars from Third Avenue.
Now we have closed part of our largest freeway. Still no gridlock. You drivers made sure of that. You did “fifty thousand little things.”
Yet all the plans for what to do next are big. Build big rail lines. Bigger roads. Paid for by the biggest tax increase.
Maybe some answers to our traffic mess are little ….