Seattle’s “Viadoom 2016” — Another Carmageddon That Wasn’t

Source: Seattle Bike Blog
Bike trips on Seattle’s Spokane Street Bridge spiked the first Monday when the Alaskan Way Viaduct was out of commission. Meanwhile, car commutes haven’t gotten much worse during the highway closure. Graph: Seattle Bike Blog

Heard this one before?

The temporary closure of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct to accommodate construction — code name: “Viadoom” — was going to paralyze the city. The elevated highway carries about 110,000 vehicles a day. Without it, travel times would soar 50 percent, predicted the traffic analytics firm Inrix.

The highway was closed from April 29 to May 8, and we now have a solid read on the effect. Wouldn’t you know it — Viadoom, like so many Carmageddons before it, didn’t live up to the hype.

“Commute times have not dramatically increased and several of the major routes into the city have been only moderately affected,” the company’s Lytang Kelley told Crosscut. Commuters on these routes only spent a few more minutes in traffic, Crosscut reports.

The fact that Viadoom turned out to be much milder than expected carries special significance because right now Seattle is spending $4.2 billion (expected cost overruns notwithstanding) to replace the viaduct with an underground highway.

Five years ago, highway opponents argued that a surface street with better transit could handle the travel demand just as effectively as the $4.2 billion megatunnel. But they were marginalized by highway boosters in city and state government who backed the project and said the underground highway was absolutely essential to keeping the city running.

As of late last year, the project was 27 months behind schedule and the state was suing the contractor for cost overruns incurred while “Bertha,” the world’s largest tunnel boring machine, was broken and immobile deep underground for more than a year.

What could have been. Photo: People's Waterfront Coalition
What could have been. Photo: People’s Waterfront Coalition via Grist

But as the recent “Viadud” demonstrates, Seattle can function without this road. Some drivers shifted trip times to avoid peak rush hour, Inrix told Crosscut. And more people biked or took the bus, even though few extra resources were devoted to those modes.

Washington DOT ran more bus service to compensate for the closure. But the 22 additional buses it pressed into service each day were not enough, said Cary Moon, a leader of the movement to replace the viaduct with a surface street instead of another highway.

More commuters turned to biking, reported Seattle Bike Blog. The first Monday the Viaduct was closed, bike trips increased 80 percent on the Spokane Street Bridge.

  • Vooch

    hmm the BQE in NYC carries just about the same number of vehicles …the BQE occupies 1,500 acres of prime NYC real estate

    what would 1,500 NYC acres be worth if sold ?

  • reasonableexplanation

    Apples to oranges with your Alaskan Way Viaduct and BQE comparison:

    Seattle has a parallel highway (I-5) 7 blocks away (0.4 miles). The BQE has… local streets I guess? Take a look at the map of both.

  • Vooch

    The empirical data always shows that Caramgendon never happens when a superhighway is closed. This is simply another data point supporting removal of the blight of urban superhighways.

    One could argue that Brooklyn-Queens has far more street capacity along the BQE route versus the Seattle Viaduct . But Street capacity is not at issue here because building neighborhoods on the land of the BQE would reduce VMT by orders of magnitude.

    Instead of driving along a congested BQE, people would already be home.

    Build a 4 lane commercial only tunnel to speed the paltry 20,000 trucks that use the BQE,
    sell the 1,500 acres to developers raising $100 billion,
    subtract $10 billion to pay for the tunnel,
    and use the extra $90 billion for a host of desperately needed mobility projects.

    $90 billion sure buys a lot of mobility projects in NYC

  • reasonableexplanation

    You’re confusing a whole bunch of things, let me try to go point by point.

    “Caramgendon never happens when a superhighway is closed.”
    Depends on the highway; 3 good examples of very different projects: The Embarcadero, the Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara, and the BQE.

    The Embarcadero: A highway stub (not a thru road) that carried 70,000 vehicles daily. It was removed at a ‘great’ time; when SF’s population was actually shrinking.

    The Robert Moses Parkway (up for removal): Another highway stub that carries less than 5000 vehicles daily, in a city where the population is less than half of what it was when the highway was built.

    The BQE: A thru route (not a stub), as well as the only off-street truck route through several boros of NYC, that carries 140,000 vehicles daily. NYC has 1 millon more people now than when this highway was built.

    As for your suggestion to sell the land, that’s fanciful thinking. What happens when a high capacity highway is removed is that it gets replaced by a surface boulevard. The West side highway in NYC is such a road. It’s volumes now are about the same as when it was an elevated highway, just now it pedestrians get to mix with the cars too. Yay, I guess?

  • Vooch

    The BQE would get replaced with the Pre-Existing street grid. no need for a Surface highway. the grid worked perfectly fine until Robert Moses destroyed it with the blight of the BQE

    Commercial Trucks, Cabs, and Deliveries are Supported by a 4 Lane Tunnel.

    1,500 acres at the current density of Brooklyn Is 370,000 people. That’s $18 BILLION of annual economic activity for the city.

    Plus There Is the $100 BILLION raised from the Land sales.

    Increasing VMT Willy Nilly ( Which Is what the BQE does ) does Nothing to increase Prosperity and plenty to reduce property values.

  • reasonableexplanation

    You make a lot of assertions here that you’re basically pulling off the top of your head.

    I gave you 3 examples of roads, and I’d like you to at least look into them. As for alternative roads to the BQE, the section in question (the double cantilever), goes through the heart of downtown Brooklyn, which is already packed with local traffic at peak times. Adding thru traffic to that mix won’t be good for anybody.

    In addition, though the West Side Highway has several parallel avenues right next to it, again ,the volumes on it are comparable to when it was a separated highway. I still don’t know why you continue to insist it won’t be the same with the BQE.

    Also, chill with the CAPS LOCK. There’s no need to demagogue your way through these comments. Treat your ideological opponents with respect, address their points, don’t yell.

  • Vooch

    removing the entire BQE

    the Core assumption Is the 120,000 private cars that use the (lavishly subsidized) BQE can not possibly otherwise travel.

    We already know that 30% of car VMT Is induced demand ( see subsidies ). That makes the private car Challenge about 85,000.

    Surprise, Surprise the 370,000 New Inhabitants of the ex-BQE neighborhoods work Out to be about 230,000 Households, significantly more than the 85,000 BQE trips that need to be Managed.

    These 230,000 Households are simply not going to need to Drive from Carnasie to Bushwick, because they’ll already be living in Bushwick.

    Replace the BQE with neighborhoods and Eliminate Billions of annual VMT.

    Sell the BQE Land to Pay for

    1) A Four Lane commercial only tunnel for Brooklyn-Queens
    2) 3 Brand new Subway Lines in Brooklyn-Queens
    3) Complete Streets on Every Brooklyn-Queens Aterial
    4) Hudson Rail Tunnels
    5) East River Rail Tunnels

  • reasonableexplanation

    Back up a bit you’re putting the cart before the horse.

    “We already know that 30% of car VMT Is induced demand ”
    We in this case means you. Ignoring the number you pulled from…where? Induced demand is a great concept when applied corretly, but is overused on these boards. As an analogy I give you housing in NYC; about 20,000 new housing units are built every year. Supply goes up, so rent prices must be going down, right? Well, as you know, not so much, since there’s a shortage.

    Similar with highways. at this point, using the BQE during peak times is about the same time-wise as driving local streets, and drivers know it. With the BQE those drivers will gladly take the local roads. which will suck not just for them, but for everybody along the routes (I hope you like honking!).

    But let me ask you a very simple question: why does the west side highway have similar traffic to itself before it was at grade, as well as to the parallel and grade separated FDR Drive to its East? If it was all induced demand, you would expect traffic to avoid the west side of Manhattan, no?

  • Vooch

    think outside that Robert Moses box, honest.

    Moses believed in the false god of VMT to generate economic activity.

    removing the BQE and restoring the pre-existing neighborhoods & street grid enables 370,000 people to live & work in close proximity reducing VMT but increasing connectivity.

    connectivity, as we now know, is the driver of economic activity.

    It’s that simple.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I’m glad we’re getting to the core of this.
    I get it, you don’t want highways or cars anywhere. That’s your right. I think you’re misguided, but I respect your opinion.

    However, don’t try to dress that up with other things, whether that’s induced demand or other things.

    I’m very open about what I want; better/faster/cheaper car infrastructure, better/more separated bike infrastructure, better, more connected transit. I don’t try to hide my opinions, because I want to honestly debate with others about these topics. I want you to be too.

    So, you want highways gone, that’s fine; just don’t try to justify that with things that aren’t exactly true.

    In that case, let’s put the case study of the west side highway away for now, and focus on the following:

    On a realistic note; we know the BQE isn’t going anywhere, and no tunnel will be built. We also know no new highways will be built around NYC either. So let’s work with what we got.

    There’s moveNY (which i support). There’s highway geometry improvements that will be happening in support of the Kosciusko bridge project. What are some other (realistic things) you would do to alleviate the BQE issues?

  • Vooch

    Superhighways are Amazing tools, but really Have no place in a City.

    alleviate the BQE congestion ?

    tear Out the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridge on-off Ramps, sell the Land to build 50-80 story Mixed use buildings. Generate $10-20 Billion for City, plus reduce VMT.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I disagree, they absolutely have a place in a city, especially when it’s big. If NYC was about the size of say, Helsinki, you can get away with highways simply bypassing it. In effect that’s what the BQE is: a bypass for brooklyn and queens.

    If you were building a big city like NYC from scratch, you’d put all highways and subways in tunnels. (An elevated highway is less disruptive than an elevated train line, in terms of noise and quality of life). However, we deal with what we have. Just like we’re unlikely to bury the F-train, so we are unlikely to bury the BQE anytime soon.

    If you think anybody would agree to tear down the Brooklyn/Manhattan bridge ramps, you’ll be disappointed; it’s not a realistic proposal.

    NYC is an interesting city, it’s both small and big at the same time. Big in the sense of well, you know, but small in the sense of as soon as you go 15 miles out…

    Going to LI, NJ, CT, PA, and beyond is like a different world, and for better or worse you can’t explore that world without a car. Having spent most of my life in NYC (and not driving), I was always dependent on what can be gotten to by transit. E.g. want to go hiking? Your only choice is breakneck ridge, since there’s a train stop there. But with a car that whole area has endless different trails worth exploring, not to mention all the other places an hour or so out of the city.

  • Vooch

    Superhighways are appropriate for areas with densities under approx. 5,000/mile. Otherwise they are destructive and cause blight.

    Driving to the countryside Is great, but there Is no need to destroy the City just to save 20 minutes driving to Putnam on the Weekend.

    our weekend place is accessible by train and cab from the station. we ditched the car after doing the math. it was way cheaper to train and cab than keep the car.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Destroy the City? Come on.

    So, to get to your weekend place, I guess you take a train from either Penn or GCT, which means you likely near near one of them, and that’s great! From many parts of NYC it’s another 45mins to get to them, so it’s not a great option. Not to mention the cost. A family of 3 would pay ~$60 for the train tickets, ~$16.50 for subway fare, and ~$30 for the cab roundtrip.

    A car rental would set you back about $60+gas. If you already have a car for other reasons the additional cost for the trip would be even less. Not to mention the massive time savings. A 3 hour trip door to door gives you the following:
    20min cab (waiting+riding), 45min getting to GCT/Penn, 10min buffer so you don’t miss your train. That leaves you 105min of train travel time, which gets you about 70miles, or just shy of New Haven CT (if you left from Grand Central).

    That’s nice, but 3 hours of driving (at a conservative 45mph, assuming moderate traffic the entire way) gets you 135 miles away, or as far as Springfield, CT.

  • Vooch

    LIRR is Likely simplest Option traveling East for Those in Brooklyn/Queens

    I don’t Expect to be able to cross the entire City just to get away for the weekend, so my escapes are to the nearest ‘border’ . Eastern LI Is Out for me.

    If I lived in Lower Manhattan or North Brooklyn ; I’d Likely escape via ferry to Those Beach Places in N. Jersey.

    There are zillions of options One just needs to be realistic and recognize it’s a discresionary luxury

  • reasonableexplanation

    “LIRR is Likely simplest Option traveling East for Those in Brooklyn/Queens”
    Depends: from southern Brooklyn, the only option is Atlantic, which is about 30min via subway. Not to mention, the Atlantic Ave trains often have a 20min connection in Jamaica outside of peak times.
    Additionally, if you’re on the Flushing LIRR line in Queens, you don’t even get access to any of the other lines unless you go back to Penn. (I hope you like Port Washington!)

    “so my escapes are to the nearest ‘border’ . Eastern LI Is Out for me.”
    Here you run into the ‘NYC is big’ problem. Much of Nassau county isn’t too different from Queens. You’re not going to get more than just enclaves of nature until you make it much further East. Plus… you still need a car once you get there to get around, unless you want to keep paying for cabs.

    “If I lived in Lower Manhattan or North Brooklyn ; I’d Likely escape via ferry to Those Beach Places in N. Jersey.”
    That’s nice if all you wanted to do was the Jersey Shore, but there’s a lot more to the garden state than just that!

    “There are zillions of options”
    There are a handful of options, which, honestly, you run out of once you’ve lived here a bit.

    “One just needs to be realistic and recognize it’s a discresionary luxury”
    It’s only that way if you exclude cars from the equation. With access to a car so much more is reasonably open to you without it being a burden, that’s the beauty of it! It’s important not to lose sight of this. America is big, beautiful, and worth exploring! Without a car you’re either stuck in the city or stuck wherever you take transit out of the city; it’s just not the same kind of trip.

    Now, plenty of people have no interest in leaving NYC much, except maybe once every few years on a vacation to another large city. (I’ve traveled quite a bit and this sentiment is common in large cities). But that’s not me. And I’d like to try to convince you that that’s not the best way to live either. There’s a lot to be learned from seeing lots of different new people and places for yourself.

  • AndreL

    It’s methodologically wrong to compare short-term effects of widely announced road closures to long-term effects (direct and indirect) capacity reduction. Many people can plan around a workzone or transportation infrastructure closure for a handful of days, previously announced and widely known in the community (so that, for instances, employers are more lenient on scheduling those specific days). It is an entire different animal to evaluate long-term effects.

    Almost no one will change long-term travel patterns because their commutes were disrupted for a handful of days, during which many of their employers actively adjusted and gave flexibility (to miss work or work from home) they would normally fire people for.

    It is like airport blizzards: just because people ultimately get around the worst winter blizzards when airports completely close for more than one day, doesn’t follow that airports are unnecessary.

    This applies even to transit: temporary closure of a transit line can be dealt with, people adjust. If you remove or significantly degrade a transit line, however, then you see whole travel patterns changing long-term, and informing housing and employment location decisions etc.

  • Joe R.

    Call me a jaded big city person, but honestly I’m at a complete loss on why everyone has to be Magellan nowadays. That even includes the city people who mostly travel to other big cities for vacations where they often do pretty much the same things they can do in their home city, like shop. Truthfully, few people lack the depth of character or education to really, really benefit much from travel. And vacation schedules mean you can’t really stay at a place long enough to enjoy the nuances of that. If I ever traveled, I would be at a place literally months, not go there for a lousy week or few days. Those types of trips are what I call ego trips. They’re so you can say you’ve been somewhere to your friends. “Hey, I went to NYC. I saw Times Square, rode the subway, and bought a model of the Empire State Building!”

    When you look at the long term necessity of reducing our carbon footprint, reducing the damage we do to nature, I think it’s imperative that we humans get in sync with the concept of traveling a heck of a lot less. Our ancestors often never traveled more than 50 miles from where they were born. I can’t say they were any worse for it.

    I’m a little dumbfounded when you talk about seeing enclaves of nature. Your desire to visit these places is responsible for destroying them bit by bit. Roads and cars and tourists trampling through, leaving garbage and foreign bacteria are all destroying what you profess to love. Best thing would be to make a lot of these areas natural reserves which are 100% off limits to humans. Maybe you can fly very quiet drones over once in a while to monitor them, but otherwise they should remain untouched. There’s sadly one consistency with mankind. Thus far, we’ve consistently destroyed everything wonderful or beautiful or unique about this planet. I don’t have to see nature to appreciate it, not when seeing it means inadvertently destroying it.

    Learning is all within yourself. Some of the best and brightest and most well-rounded people hardly travel at all. Travel is a want, not a basic human need. There may a benefit to a small segment of the population exploring completely new places, like when we explore space. Perhaps that’s in our nature. I just not seeing much point to such a large segment of the population needing to get away regularly. That’s especially true of so-called weekend getaways. I’ve typically been exhausted at the end of work week or school week. The weekend is too short to really do anything worthwhile. If I did, it would mean I start the next week still exhausted, instead of maybe recharging my batteries a bit. Either all these people going for weekend trips have really easy jobs that they’re not exhausted by Friday, or they have ridiculously high energy levels.

  • reasonableexplanation

    With all due respect Joe, you’re not a jaded big city person, you’re someone with no experience in the matter. You’ve mentioned in the past that you don’t really travel, and your lack of understanding of why other people travel is akin to somebody talking about how disgusting sushi is because eeew raw fish without trying it first.

    All your points about ‘ego trips’ and such might be problems you would have with travel, but many many people (probably most) get quite a lot of perspective out of it. I urge you to change your position and start traveling. You’ll like it.

    You’re taking a whole lot of things that might be true to you, and expanding it to others, from destroying nature, to being too tired for a weekend getaway.

    As for your carbon footprint while traveling; don’t worry; planes are efficient, with a per passenger mpg of 105; roughly equivalent to carpooling in a prius.

  • Joe R.

    As I’ve mentioned already I refuse to fly and I never really had any extra money to travel. You might say travel is wonderful, but be aware that for many people something like a trip to Europe or Asia is a once in a lifetime deal because they just can’t afford to do it more than once. To travel the extent you might think would broaden someone’s perspective, you need to have a ton of money and a ton of free time. I literally haven’t had a week where I didn’t have to do something for either work or home in years. Now I’m taking care of my elderly mother who really can’t be left alone more than a few hours. There is nobody else who can do it, at least not for the length of time I might be away traveling. I was gone 3 days on a business trip in 2014 and there were problems. My mother is 77. Given our family longevity and her present health (other than the joint and back issues) she could easily live 20 more years, maybe even more than 25. That’ll put me in my 70s before I could even potentially travel. I doubt I’ll be in any great shape to travel extensively by then. Truth is just that aforementioned 3-day business trip exhausted me for the next few weeks.

    I don’t know your situation but if I had to guess I’d say you’re someone in pretty decent health, relatively young, few responsibilities. Maybe you have a job which lets gives you tons of vacation. Maybe you’re independently wealthy and don’t need to work at all. Or maybe you’re a retired person who managed to save enough to travel.

    I used to have teachers who went on to the class about traveling. I used to hate when they asked everyone where they went over the summer. Some of the kids who had fairly well to do parents traveled a bit, but many just went on short day trips, if that. There’s a huge divide between the working class and the wealthy. The wealthy travel all the time because they have the means and the time. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone who works for a living to do much traveling, at least before they retire. I recall when I was in Princeton how some of the students would go on about where they went for spring break or winter recess. My answer was all power to you but I don’t have rich parents to bankroll my vacations.

    Just worth a mention also is thanks to a recent consulting gig where I’ve been pulling down around $100K annually I might actually be able to retire someday. It’s still not a done deal, but had I not gotten this gig I really had little choice but to work until I drop dead. My brother and sister are both in that situation. My sister’s house will be paid off when she’s 80, assuming she doesn’t need to borrow from it. My brother is barely getting by. I’m not seeing that he can realistically retire either.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I understand that you have a specific situation that may not allow for this, but at least I want to you understand why others might then.

    Here’s an article that came out today about seeing Europe by car, take a read, it captures a lot of what I’m trying to say, from the perspective of a new yorker that doesn’t drive at all:

    http://adequateman.deadspin.com/you-should-see-europe-by-car-1777137788

  • Charlie

    Induced demand works both ways. When you add more road capacity, more people drive. When you take it away, fewer people drive. The fact that traffic engineers continue to predict driver behavior as if it has no relation to the amount of roadway capacity available is irresponsible. The question should not be “how do we accommodate all these cars?”, it should be “how many cars do we want to accommodate?”

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