So, what would happen if the City of Seattle where to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and not replace it with anything?
According to most pundits: Gridlock!
But according to the Braess Paradox: Better traffic flow and less traffic.
This is the conundrum presented in the Infrastructurist post “Huh?! 4 Cases Of How Tearing Down A Highway Can Relieve Traffic Jams (And Save Your City)”, where four case studies are examined and show that removing roads can actually reduce traffic in a city.
Now, there are two major caveat emptors to this pardox:
- You have to have plenty of public transportation to take up the slack.
- You have other ways for freight traffic to move through your city.
Are those two things we have to worry about for the Seattle waterfront area?
Well, no, we don’t have to worry about them too much.
If Seattle were to go with a “surface option” only option, the money saved could be diverted into Metro Transit and provide more buses for the West Seattle connection. Additionally, the Elliot Bay Water Taxi would see more use and could be expanded to take up more of the slack.
As for freight, according to the Peoples Waterfront Coalition:
About 80% of container traffic comes and goes by rail, and nearly all of the remaining 20% comes from or goes to I-5 and I-90 on trucks. Only a tiny percentage of the containers are headed from or to Seattle businesses. Freight trips, some of which are between our two industrial areas, account for about 4% of total Viaduct trips, which is about average for freight use of any arterial or highway.
So why is Seattle and the State of Washington going with the “Deep Bore Tunnel” option? Well, it’s in the mistaken belief that you need to replace the loss of the Viaduct with more roads. We probably don’t have to replace the lost roads at all.
To prove that the surface option will work just needs a simple experiment: Close the Viaduct for a month. I’ll wager that traffic will redirect itself to a new pattern and we’ll find out that we don’t need to replace the Viaduct.
So where’s the harm in doing this simple experiment? More than likely a few bruised egos and not a few pundits that will be crying, “The sky is falling”. Here’s the thing; the Viaduct will have to be closed for at least 3 1/2 years while they build the tunnel and traffic will have to be redirected to surface streets during that period. In the end, we might find that we won’t need the tunnel when it’s finished. It’s worth a try.
For more info on roads that need to be torn down, visit this Infratructurist article:
7 Urban Freeways To Tear Down Today–And What Tomorrow Might Look Like If We Do