How Seattle City Council is preparing for Viadoom
The countdown to the Seattle Squeeze is on, with around two weeks to go until the Alaskan Way Viaduct closes for good.
That closure is expected to wreak havoc for commuters of all kinds across the region.
Seattle city leaders have plans to try to soften the blow, but City Councilmember Mike O’Brien says everyone needs to be prepared.
“It’s going to be horrible for pretty much everyone unless we can figure out some small changes we can all make,” O’Brien warned.
“Currently, almost 90,000 vehicles a day use that viaduct, and after work on Jan. 11, that thing is going to be closed for good and the tunnel is not going to open for three weeks, so those 90,000 vehicles are going to go somewhere, and that’s going to have a ripple effect on our entire region,” O’Brien explained.
In other words, not just those who normally use Highway 99 are going to be impacted.
“Obviously if you’re someone who uses 99 now you’re going to have to think directly what you do differently, but a lot of those vehicles will go to I-5. I-5 is already overcrowded, so some of those vehicles will move to I-405,” O’Brien said.
That means this will be felt across the Sound, everywhere from surface streets to freeways.
O’Brien says that’s why the city is asking employers, workers, shoppers, and its own staff to seriously think about what changes they can make during those three weeks to ease the burden for all.
“If you’re driving a car, especially to downtown Seattle, if there is any way you can get downtown without driving alone, we really ask you to try trying some alternatives. So that might mean taking transit. It might mean carpooling or van-pooling with someone. It might mean working from home for some of the day, maybe you’re just telecommuting for a little bit and then driving downtown on an off hour,” O’Brien suggested.
And he says they’re not just asking drivers to change their routines.
“Our transit during rush hour is already really crowded, and so even if you’re someone who already takes transit downtown, but you’re commuting during peak rush hour, we’re asking if there is any way you can shift your commute a little earlier or a little later to create a little more space on those buses and trains,” O’Brien said.
He says the city is also doing its part to help by allowing as many city staff to telecommute as possible.
For its own part, city council will also be making its own changes during those three weeks.
“We’re adjusting our committee meetings so that our morning committee meetings are going to start at 10 a.m. instead of 9:30 a.m., to give city employees or any members of the public who are planning to go to those meetings a little more time to get downtown, and maybe come after 9, when buses are a little less crowded. Similarly, in the afternoon we are moving our meetings up a little bit so that they hopefully will end by 3:30,” O’Brien explained.
He says the impact and response to the viaduct closure will be a fluid situation, and they’ll be watching to see how things are going and make changes accordingly.
So for instance, if buses are getting jammed up on certain streets with 5 to 10 minutes delays – the city will make a change.
“We may look at adding cones to add an additional bus lane to get them through because, you know adding more capacity for a handful of people in cars or adding some more capacity for thousands of people on a bus,” he said.
As for biking as an alternative:
“Biking and walking are both great options. Now, I’m a daily bike commuter I should probably be mostly fine in this. (But) If you’ve never bike-commuted before, the first time in a cold, wet January evening is probably not the best time to start,” O’Brien said.
“But if you’re already a bike commuter and you’re kind of a fair-weathered bike commuter — you do it in the summer and spring — think about getting some gear and trying it one day a week. I mean look at that weather forecast, so if it’s going to be a nice day commit to saying ‘I’m going to try a January bike ride on a good day, I already have some of the gear, I’ll make that work,’ O’Brien added.
He says the city realizes not everyone has the ability to shift their routine.
“And so for those people that can’t change, we’re asking everyone else that has some flexibility to really stretch yourself and try to find something new,” O’Brien said.
He also stressed this is not about telling people not to come to Seattle.
“We don’t want to shut down the commerce in Seattle. You know people are working here and it’s still going to be vibrant, but we are saying ‘hey, if you’re taking a discretionary trip – if you’re running downtown to do some shopping – do it outside the rush hour window if you can,’” O’Brien said.