Seattle is the best city in America to drive in … according to Germans.
A global list ranking the best cities to drive in 2017 garnered some attention via a Seattle reddit post. It lists the Emerald City as the best American city to drive in this year, and places it 16th in the world.
Düsseldorf, Germany is the world’s greatest city to drive in, according to the viral list. The rankings come from German auto supply website Kfztiele24. It considers a lot of data, and in classic German style, it engineers a ranking system with some serious math: Score = 1+9 (X1-Xmin / Xmax – Xmin).
I went to public school, otherwise, I would explain that math to you. Basically, the auto website weighed congestion, public transportation, parking costs, road rage, average speed between Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport, air pollution, gas prices, traffic injuries and other data.
But don’t pat yourself on the back too fast, Seattle. The list makes for a great online promotion; companies often use such posts to go viral and promote their brand. This list, however, doesn’t make for an accurate picture of Seattle traffic. There are a few significant details it leaves out.
Construction: Tucked in the middle of the rankings is this point: “Any traffic delays or congestion caused by temporary construction work was not taken into account for this study.”
That’s actually quite an important piece of information when it comes to Seattle traffic. The city is in the midst of updating a lot of its infrastructure. Take bike lanes, for example. Seattle is slated for the construction of multiple new bike lanes to connect a path through downtown. This comes after years of streetcar construction. More streetcar work is expected to connect separate lines as well.
Not to mention Seattle’s unique circumstances — chronic potholes. The department of transportation had to fix more than 9,000 pot holes in two weeks after last winter. This is because the region is a bit more prone to the road damage than other areas.
And that’s just road construction. Seattle is racing to accommodate its swelling tech industry and the river of new residents flooding into town. The city currently leads the nation in the number of construction cranes in the air. That work, too, hampers traffic around the construction zones.
Downtown Seattle set a new record for construction projects this year. Around 74 projects are underway in downtown, with 150 more in the works. Two thirds of that construction is residential. This all comes after $4.4 billion in construction activity in 2016.
Seattle pastime: No, not baseball games. Not even Seahawks games — each which can snarl traffic. Rather, what Seattleites regularly show up for are protests. In 2014, the Seattle Police Department reported that it counted more than 300 protests and demonstrations in one year.
It doesn’t matter the cause. Over the past year, Seattle has seen protests of Fremont’s Lenin statue, multiple Black Lives Matter demonstrations, alt-right marches, and even a march for science — just to name a few. Not to mention the annual antics on May 1.
Geography: Seattle is a natural bottleneck formed by Puget Sound on one side, and Lake Washington on the other. With I-90, I-5, Highway 99 and other major routes feeding into Seattle’s limited space, there isn’t much room for traffic to go. There’s also no more room to build more roads, wider roads, or really any road-based traffic solutions.
All these factors are at play as Seattle continually adds record numbers of new residents. More and more cars come in, and the Seattle traffic clogs up fast.
Kirkland’s Inrix might have a better picture of how traffic flows around Seattle. KING 5 recently reported that Seattle ranks as the 11th worst city for traffic “hot spots,” according to Inrix data. That means we have a lot of chokepoints on our roadways, causing significant delays. Inrix says that northbound I-5 from Pike Street to 128th Street in Snohomish County is the 20th worst stretch of traffic in the nation.
This means an average 25 minute trip to travel just 4 miles (Fremont to Pioneer Square) during rush hour. A car took 49 minutes to make that trip in a recent race.
Add it all up and what do you get? A five-block commute that takes 30 minutes. Drivers spending an average of 58 hours each year just looking for parking. People opting to kayak to work, even commute via airplane. Anything to avoid the roads woven into Seattle’s bottleneck.