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Curley: Why ban cars on Bell Street when you can give drivers $124 tickets?

Cars are allowed only very limited access to a certain area of Bell Street, but KIRO Radio's John Curley says he now sees why they're not banned entirely. (City of Seattle photo)

The people shouting about a war on cars in Seattle will be up in arms again following a recent report about a ticket trap punishing apparently unwitting drivers in Belltown.

The Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat recently went to observe the goings on at a five block portion of Bell Street that was converted into a more park-like boulevard. Cars are allowed onto the street but signs at each intersection are meant to divert drivers off the road at the first opportunity.

“The city installed signs at each intersection with an arrow pointing left or right along with the word “only” (meaning that you’re no longer allowed to go straight on Bell to the next block),” Westneat writes.

But drivers apparently aren’t getting the message. Westneat says in a 15-minute period he observed 28 out of 36 drivers proceeding straight through the intersections without making the required turns off, and he says police were on hand to write a $124 ticket to about half of those drivers.

KIRO Radio’s Tom & Curley agree that if that many drivers are getting it wrong, it’s likely not the drivers’ fault.

“If 75 percent of the people are in error, they’re not all scofflaws. They’re not all trying to break the law. They just don’t understand what is going on,” says Tom. “Supposedly there’s a battle between people on bikes and people on cars even the bicyclists are saying that’s so unfair to the poor drivers.”

Westneat called it a “ticket trap” and Tom agrees: “I think Danny Westneat has properly pointed out that is a ticket trap if ever there was one.”

Tom understands they want to turn the area into a slower-paced park-like setting, but says if they’re going to offer drivers such limited access anyway, why not just restrict it altogether. “They could just make it simpler and ban cars.”

But co-host John Curley points out the city would be out a lot in ticket revenues. “Why bother banning when you can charge them $124 for getting on it?”

The whole Bell Street plan and how they’re dealing with the cars makes Curley wonder what place cars hold in urban planning.

“I wonder if urban planners, if every time they see a car on the road they think, ‘God, we’ve just got to fix that problem. Do they see the car as the problem?” says Curley. “I think they do. I think they see the car as the default bad choice.”

Tom, a man who does not have a driver’s license, says he understands people wanting fewer cars on the roads, but he doesn’t think it’s fair to punish drivers in this way.

“I’m not OK trying to trick people into paying $124 fines.”

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