We tend to think of traffic as a given, and that the amount of driving we do is simply immutable—that there’s literally nothing we can do in our day-to-day lives to drive less.

But Seattle’s continued breezy traffic—in the midst of a major construction project that some feared would trigger a morass of congestion throughout Puget Sound—shows that this is simply false. Far from being immutable, traffic and travel patterns are surprisingly fluid. If drivers have travel choices and the right kinds of information and incentives, they can get out of their cars—or even use alternative surface routes more efficiently.

Expecting a quagmire, and warned off the highways, commuters found alternate ways to get to work—despite having fewer lanes to drive on. Some drivers got out of their cars, switching to buses, commuter trains, and water taxis. Others stayed off the roads entirely, by telecommuting from home or from temporary workstations set up by far-sighted employers. The end result: despite the reduced highway capacity, traffic’s been better than it’s been in years.

Of course, this P-I editorial, by the redoubtable Cary Moon and Kamala Rao, makes the point better than I ever could. So I’ll just shut up now and recommend that you read it.

(But before you go, the I-5 story has obscured some other interesting traffic news—Puget Sound just got a big chunk of money from the feds to try out tolling on the Evergreen Point floating bridge. Maybe that’ll help get people out of their cars too—undermining the argument for widening the thing…)

  • Our work is made possible by the generosity of people like you!

    Thanks to Diane Horn for supporting a sustainable Cascadia.