My EffU cohort Carl already noted Bill Virgin’s crazy column on transportation in the PI on Monday, but I have to pull out the most incredibly ridiculous part and share it over here. This is one of his suggestions for how to fix the transportation mess in this city:
Encourage businesses to move out of Seattle and closer to their employees. Actually, the city is doing a fine job of this already, what with tax and land-use policies. Many of those businesses’ employees are in the ‘burbs already, either because of housing prices or schools. As has been pointed out before, congestion is not just a matter of how many cars are on the road but how long they’re on the road and what direction they’re going. Moving places of employment closer to where the employees live would cut the congestion created by putting so many vehicles on a few corridors heading to the same destination at the same time.
The office I work at is located near downtown Seattle. We have less than 100 employees here, but they live in various places like Renton, Snohomish, Vashon Island, Silverdale, and Shoreline. A good amount of them also live within the city of Seattle too. Exactly where should our company move to in order to be “closer to their employees?”
Many businesses are already located in the suburbs. As I’ve gone job hunting in the past, I tend to find that about 75% of the positions I run across are located on the Eastside. This is already well-reflected in the traffic around here (on 520, the reverse commute from Seattle to the Eastside tends to be much worse than the Eastside to Seattle commute). In fact, as a Seattle resident, I’ve been reluctant to take a job on the Eastside because of the difficulty in commuting across the bridge. If anything, there’s a better argument to be made for having businesses located on the Eastside relocating west of the lake. But it’s still a terrible argument for fixing our transportation woes.
The answer, as it has been since I moved to this city 10 years ago, is to invest in rail transit that connects the main corporate/industrial centers across the greater Seattle region (Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue, Redmond). The idea that we can fix our transportation mess by simply having companies relocate closer to their employees is completely absurd, especially in a time and place where people change jobs as often as they do. The infrastructure we have now already limits where anyone in this region can work, unless they don’t mind sitting in a car for 3-4 hours a day. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I’ve run out of patience with the clowns who think that there’s a solution that doesn’t involve some form of rail.
That said, I do sympathize with Virgin’s final suggestion:
Ban from regional transportation planning anyone who has uttered, or even thought, the phrase, “We’ve got to get people out of their cars.”
Here is a truth that, as blasphemous as it may sound within the corridors of officialdom in Seattle, needs to be understood: Many people like having a car.
They like driving, or at least find the convenience and flexibility to be worth the cost and occasional frustrations. So long as transportation planners consider those who favor the automobile as the enemy, to be herded, punished and reviled, the public will return the favor — and will likely shred Son of Prop. 1, the Return of Prop. 1, Prop. 1 Strikes Again, Prop. 1: Next Generation, Prop. 1: The Final Reckoning and all the other ballot-box sequels headed their way.
While I find little in common with the kinds of people who cling to their cars (my wife and I share a single car, but I hardly ever use it), the idea that we can get motorists to give up that lifestyle simply by trying to deny them the roads they want is just as crazy as the notion that we can relieve congestion in this city without rail. I can’t even begin to understand what the hell the Sierra Club was thinking when they actually convinced themselves that siding with Kemper Freeman to kill this plan would somehow lead to less roads (and therefore less global warming, as their “logic” went). The problem is that the roads are going to be built no matter what, because without rail and with suburban-based companies like Microsoft continuing to bring in more and more workers from out-of-state who increasingly have no other choice but to live in the suburbs, the demand for more roads will continue to increase. Granted, the demand for rail will likely continue too, and hopefully we’ll be able to expand on what we’ve already started, but this idea that we can shut down all road construction in this region out of concern for the environment has no basis in reality.
What scares me the most about how the Sierra Club, and certain other anti-roads folks, approached this issue is that it was eerily reminiscent of the neocon mindset. The neocons essentially took their fear of Islamic radicalism and internally rationalized that their fear of this problem allowed for them to react to it with any level of extremism and it was justified. The realities of human behavior, logic, common sense, etc…all of that flew out the window. What mattered was that there was a crisis and anyone who wasn’t part of the solution was part of the problem. Much like the neocons, the anti-roads contingency felt that they could establish their own notion of reality, one where an individual who relies on roads is somehow complicit in destroying the planet, and that people would in turn be completely compelled to alter their way of life. They felt that they could transfer their paranoia to the masses and that they’d have support simply by sheer power of will.
Global warming is a very real problem (as is Islamic radicalism, to continue the parallel), but the fight to stop it does not hinge upon whether or not we widen I-405. The calculus involved here was always way more complicated than that. We need to focus on alternative energy sources and favoring automobile technologies that pollute less. A lot of very cool new technologies exist that represent a path away from the status quo. If the Sierra Club wants to support a gas tax that pushes people towards more fuel efficient cars, I’m there. If the Sierra Club wants to support an initiative to put alternate-energy refueling stations along major highways, I’m there. But if the Sierra Club thinks that someone who lives in Auburn and commutes to Sammamish is going to sell the SUV and buy a bicycle because of global warming, they don’t deserve to be taken seriously.