I love Seattle. The mountains, the water and the quirky neighborhoods that make this one of the most beautiful and fun places on Earth.
But it’s getting to the point where you can’t really move around this city. Three times this week I’ve taken to the roads in my 1992 Honda Accord only to be rebuffed or sent in another direction.
The first incident occurred on Tuesday morning when I hoped to check out the opening keynote addresses at the Tableau Conference, a 5,500-person event taking place at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. I hopped in my car and buzzed down State Route 99 only to encounter a standstill traffic mess on the Aurora Bridge, with an electronic message noting an accident had closed one of the lanes ahead.
From my vantage point, it didn’t look like things would be clearing anytime soon, so I cut through Fremont (equally jammed) and headed to the Ballard Bridge where things were clear. However, my luck changed just south of the Interbay golf course where cars on 15th Avenue were pulling U-turns rather than face the dread of what lay ahead.
I contemplated my situation. Tableau CEO Christian Chabot was to take the stage in a few minutes, and there I was stuck in traffic miles away. Given that my car was not moving, I whipped out my iPhone and frantically started searching for a livestream for the conference. I located the link via a Tweet, got the conference streaming on my phone and sat in traffic for a couple more minutes before making my decision. I pulled a U-turn myself, and headed back to my office in Fremont where I watched the keynote address on my laptop.
The irony was not lost on me that watching a keynote address in my city was easier to do from a laptop screen, than it was in person.
Seattle traffic defeated me that day.
The second incident occurred on Thursday at about 6:45 p.m. as I headed to Bellevue for another tech event. I thought the chaos of afternoon traffic would have subsided by then, but I was wrong.
Given my frugality (OK, most would just say I’m cheap), I decided in my pre-trip planning to head over I-90 rather than pay the extra toll that comes along with a voyage over the 520 floating bridge. However, my plans abruptly changed while heading on I-5 south and encountering a massive backup just south of the University of Washington. Luckily, the backup extended just north of the 520 exit, so I put my cheapness aside for a moment, weighed the cost of spending what looked like the next 20 minutes in a back-up to get to I-90 and made a quick decision: Better to pay the toll and head over 520.
It was smooth sailing getting across the bridge, but I had to pay for it.
The final battle with Seattle traffic occurred late Friday afternoon. All week I had fretted about how I’d maneuver through the city streets to attend the Seattle Sounders match, kicking off at 7:30 p.m.
Bus. Uber. Walk. Risk it, and drive myself. Many minutes of brainpower wasted on how to navigate our city streets.
You see, it wasn’t just the Sounders playing that day. In one of those quirks in the Seattle sports schedule, the Seattle Mariners also were hosting at Safeco Fielf that night, with first pitch at 7:10 p.m.
In other words, more than 50,000 folks trying to get to the Stadium District at about the same time. Around these parts, that’s known as a Seattle cluster.
I decided to take my chances and drive, thinking I’d have a better chance of escaping Pioneer Square after the match concluded.
Unfortunately, I was positioned in one of the worst places in the city — just east of Amazon.com’s sprawling headquarters in South Lake Union at the KIRO radio studios (where we were recording our GeekWire show).
I promised a friend I’d pick him up before the game, which meant I had to navigate the “Mercer Mess” — attempting to move westbound past the Museum of History and Industry.
Navigating “Amazonia” in Seattle is about as difficult these days as bushwhacking jungle in Brazil. Nearly all arterial streets are clogged, and by 5 p.m. (when I was leaving) traffic barely moves. I sat at multiple lights, watching them turn from green to yellow to red.
A few text messages to my friend indicated that things would be slow going — though I joked we’d still likely make the 7:30 kickoff.
Eventually, after about 20 minutes, I made it through the Mercer Mess, taking a quick short cut to Dexter Avenue that my friend (who works in the area) advised. Next challenge, getting through downtown — a proposition that would also prove tricky, given that nearly every southbound street was packed to the gills. The traffic reporter on the radio noted that the commute from Everett to Seattle on I-5 was clocking in that Friday at 1 hour and 23 minutes.
Yes, nearly 90 minutes, or about the entire length of a soccer match, to travel about 30 miles.
It doesn’t appear as if this area is going to get any better, with Amazon hiring thousands of employees each year. Just this week, the company issued plans for two more buildings in Seattle’s Denny Triangle area, just north of the downtown core. Those structures wouldbring another 778,000 square feet of space to the area, adding to the 3.3 million square foot campus currently under construction.
In other words, if it feels packed in this area now, just wait a few years. Amazon’s amazing appetite for office space is starting to grate on Seattleites, even those who are part of the technology industry.
A venture capitalist I met with a few weeks ago who had spent some time in London over the past year told me he couldn’t believe the amount of traffic around Seattle. And based on Denny Westneat’s column in The Seattle Times this weekend, it doesn’t sound like taking the bus is any better, comparing it to trips he’d taken in rural Thailand and noting that buses are so packed in the areas around Amazon that no new passengers can get on board.
“Traffic has become intolerable over the past year in the Mercer corridor and lower Queen Anne,” wrote GeekWire reader Scott Moore in response to the news of more Amazon.com buildings. “While the Mercer construction is partly to blame, it seems likely Amazon’s continued expansion will out-strip any benefits that improvement will provide. It’s all well and good to see development and new jobs coming to Seattle, but without a comprehensive approach to transportation we’re going to be looking at more gridlock.”
Well said, Scott.
What’s Seattle going to do?
Seattle skyline photo via Shutterstock.