Traffic is so bad in Seattle. Sometimes, when you’re sitting in your car, or on the bus, and you’re not moving, you wonder, is anyone, anyone with power, paying attention?
Dave Price was driving to a job down in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood, when he hit traffic. He stages events for work, so he has to drive big pieces of furniture around. He’s used to traffic, but on one particular day, it was so bad, he pulled over and called us from the side of the road, to ask us: "Who's responsible for this mess?"
A couple days later, I met him under the Spokane Street Viaduct. You can hear the band Spirit Award practicing in a warehouse nearby. The memory of that traffic is seared into his brain.
Price: “I’m still frustrated. You can hear it in my voice. I was trapped in this labyrinth of concrete.”
Everywhere he turned, the path was blocked.
Price: “Trucks all over the place positioning themselves to get into the port.”
Campers on the sidewalk. Garbage everywhere. And a massive train coming through.
Price: “And it’s just gonna come through until it’s done.”
Price: “There was really nowhere to go. So I was breaking all kinds of laws just to get to somewhere that had a little daylight.”
Price: “It’s literally like a rat going through a maze and trying to find that piece of cheese.”
Price wondered if anyones at the city cares what he was going through.
Price: “Nobody’s taking responsibility. I’d like to know who is supposed to take responsibility.”
Mark Bandy is the closest thing Seattle has to a Congestion Czar.
Bandy: “If you want to call me the Congestion Czar, you can call me that. But I would not title myself that way.”
Officially, he’s the director of the Transportation Operations Division at Seattle’s transportation department. That means he and his staff are...
Bandy: “Looking at ways to basically make life easier to travel around in the city.”
For example, in SODO. The port needs to move stuff in and out of the area quickly.
Bandy: “And it’s kind of an inherent conflict, the train and the truck movements with those that are maybe trying to drive through it.”
So Bandy’s office talks to the port regularly.
Bandy: “If they’re seeing or expecting larger amounts of cargo activity to happen, then we’re working towards trying to be better able to plan for that.”
Bandy cross-references this with other sources of information. A list of concert and sports events in the area. Real time information about what’s happening on the ground.
Bandy: “We’re adding more cameras that allow us to see the streets.”
On the day and hour when Dave Price was stuck in traffic, Bandy says there was nothing big on his radar.
Humans can’t possibly track everything that’s happening. But more and more, the city is trying to make the data coming into the system digital, so that computers can respond to traffic problems. And a human doesn’t need to notice it in order to change traffic signal timing across the neighborhood. They rolled out that system downtown last year.
Bandy: “We saw reduced travel time on several routes. They were on the order of 20 seconds or a minute. But in a very dense urban grid, that’s meaningful.”
The city hopes to roll that technology into SODO, too, eventually.
But Dave Price is tired of waiting. Right now, his kids are the only thing keeping him in Seattle.
Price: “And as soon as they’re done with high school, I’m taking myself out of here.”
Here’s hoping he won’t have traffic where he’s going.