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Will Seattle’s “Carmageddon” Be as Anti-Climactic as LA’s?

The Seattle news media is predicting that the sky will fall during the planned nine-day closure of the Alaskan Viaduct. According to area headlines, the region's commuters will be "slammed" and "hurt" by the temporary closure of this one roadway. Prognosticators warn "everyone will be affected" ... "even if you don’t use [the] Alaskan Way Viaduct."

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Boy, where have we heard this one before?

Meanwhile, at Network blog PubliCola, they are taking a much less alarmist view of the whole situation. Blogger Erica C. Barnett has a long memory and she recalls after the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, about 30,000 of the highway's 110,000 daily users disappeared:

Where did all those drivers go? They chose alternate routes, took the bus, chose alternatives like bicycling, combined trips, or stayed at home. Which is why I’m not especially worried about Seattle Carmageddon 2011. Despite all the dire warnings, people consistently prove that they’re smarter than the engineering models give them credit for—when faced with the prospect of a gridlocked highway, they choose alternatives.

Would it be better if we had more alternatives, including more frequent bus service or west-side light rail? Of course. But people are smart and adaptable enough to identify alternatives to sitting in rush-hour traffic while the viaduct is closed, and that’s enough to convince me that Seattle, like even more car-dependent LA, won’t suffer from a 2011 Carmageddon.

When closure occurs and the city functions more or less normally, as prior experience tells us it will, the irony will run especially deep for Seattle. Because if The Emerald City can function just fine for nine days without the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which is slated for demolition, does it really need to invest $2 billion in a deep-bore tunnel to replace it?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Radials Blog explores how the mode of transportation we choose affects our behavior toward others, for good or ill. Bike Portland discusses how even public appeals to cyclists can draw artificial boundaries between people who bike and people who drive. And The City Fix wraps up an international scan of World Car-Free Day celebrations.

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