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October QuickThrottle Column

The year is winding down quickly, and as I write my November (yeah November!!!!) column, it's time to post the October one here. Anyone who has driven in Seattle lately will immediately understand and likely appreciate the sentiment of this column.

News Flash! Stop the Presses! Washington, particularly Seattle, is one of the worst places to drive in the country. Seattle comes in at 86 out of the top 95 cities. Our roads come in even worse, at 94 out of the top 95 cities. Only 14 other major cities have driving conditions worse than Seattle, and only one other city, New York, has roads in worse condition than here. All this according to a report by Wallet-Hub which ranked the top 95 cities using metrics such as average gas prices, traffic delays, car theft, accidents, and road conditions.  Portland doesn’t fare much better, coming in at 77th out of 95.

And to make matters worse, Allstate Insurance just came out with their rankings for the cities with the best drivers. Seattle comes in at 184, and Portland comes in at 183 out of 200. Nothing like being at the bottom of the list! The cities that rank worse are the ones you’d expect – New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and the like. So to summarize then, up here in the great Northwest, we have about the worst roads in the country, and some of the worst drivers. As anyone who lives or drives around here would say – “You need a survey to tell us this?”

It begs the question “why?” and I don’t know the answer to that. I’m sure it’s a combination of a number of factors, mainly growth. But my sad prediction is that it’s going to get worse not better. A lot worse. One reason I’m sure of is that our elected officials here have chosen to deliberately prioritize other things rather than making the roads and traffic better. I don’t know if it’s blind ignorance or stupidity or willful malfeasance, or pipe-dream social engineering, but it’s clear that driving conditions and traffic congestion relief are not a priority for them. Seattle and Portland are both growing at a rapid pace, and roads really can’t keep up with the growth regardless. But we it’s even harder and we can’t keep up when we are starting from behind the curve due to years of neglect and other priorities.

Now our transportation folks will tell you that traffic congestion is a problem they are concerned with, but the actions they take are the opposite and don’t do anything to improve it and actually tend to make the problems worse. How else do you explain the phenomena in Seattle known as the “Road Diet”? This is where the city decides to take a four lane arterial street and reduce it to a two lane arterial street with a left turn lane, parking, and bike lanes on the side. Seattle is currently on a binge of “road diets” that would make Weight Watchers proud. And we already know that the city prioritizes the 3% of bicycle riders over the 97% of vehicle drivers, building “feel good “projects that have little impact on the vast majority of drivers.

Bad traffic?  Lets put more busses on the street and put the bus stop out in the road so that people can’t pass the bus while it loads people up. Lets narrow the traffic lanes so that bike riders have a place to go. Lets lower the speed limit so people don’t crash into each other as fast and pedestrians are protected. Lets reduce major roads from two lanes to one, or three to two, and lets put up all kinds of speed trap cameras.

Not once do we hear “repave the roads”, or “time the stop lights”, or “widen the road” or like they did in Portland and Vancouver BC, “move the bike lanes to parallel residential streets where there is less traffic.”

I’m positive that the bad roads are a major contributor to the accident rate here and why Allstate puts us at the bottom of the pile. Bad roads equate to bad driving which equates to a higher accident rate.  Add to that what I call the “anger” factor – hitting chuckholes and avoiding bad pavement, frustration at stop and go traffic, and narrowed streets handling less cars and it causes people to stop thinking clearly and to take chances they wouldn’t otherwise and that causes accidents.

So yes, I don’t see it getting any better anytime soon. But hey, we aren’t at the bottom of those two lists yet. But just you wait. We’ll get there, sooner rather than later.
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On another note, following up on last month’s column. The new I-405 express toll lanes in Washington should have opened up by the time you read this. And as I mentioned before, you’ll need a Good To Go pass to ride in them and not be charged a toll. Washington DOT just announced though that while you will still need a pass, you won’t need to have to open an account to get a pass. All you need to do is install a motorcycle pass on your headlight and you’ll be ready to ride. That being said, you will still need to pay a toll on the SR-520 bridge and the SR-16 bridge, so it might make sense to get a pass and set up an account to save yourself a few bucks. But if you don’t want to do that, and you do ride the I-405 express lanes, you can get a Good To Go Pass and not set up an account. You can still get a free sticker too by going to the DOT web page. But if you don’t get a sticker, get ready to get a bill in the mail for every time you ride the I-405 express lanes.


Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

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