If you think Seattle has some of the worst traffic in the nation, you’re right. A new traffic study by the American Highway Users Alliance shows that the spot where Interstate 5 passes through downtown is the 17th-worst traffic bottleneck in the country.
Most people here remember a time they were stuck on I-5 in traffic. Eliza Hinkes doesn’t own a car, but she and her fiancé borrowed one to adopt a cat from a pet shelter. On the way back to Capitol Hill, they got stuck in traffic.
Hinkes: “My fiancé was driving and I was sitting there trying to navigate and I’m like ‘take this exit, take this exit,’ and he’s like ‘I can’t get in the other lane!’ and the cat’s just back there, like ‘MEOW!’ Just so sad! And we’re like, ‘I’m so sorry, we’ll feed you when we get home.’ And we were just like, ‘Oh God, he’s gonna hate us!’”
The traffic study blames Interstate 5’s many curves and access ramps for causing backups from Madison Street to the Eastlake neighborhood. The corridor hasn’t been expanded in years. That’s because there’s no room.
Mark Hallenbeck directs the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. He says I-5 is constrained by building foundations to either side, layers and layers of tunnels below, surface streets and a convention center above.
To make more room, we’d have to do things like knock down a 30-story office building. Hallenbeck says technology in cars could help, but we really need to make it more convenient for people to take mass transit.
Meanwhile, Eliza Hinkes says her cat has forgiven her.
“We’ve never tried to drive him anywhere again,” she said.
In the end, it might be small decisions like that that drive the biggest change.