Local government officials must moonlight as comedians — or at least they should because Seattle traffic has become such a joke. But that doesn’t stop officials from making the city the punch line of even more new jokes.
In the most recent case, the new state Route 520 bridge — which doesn’t fully open to vehicular traffic in both directions until April 25 — was unveiled to such fanfare last Saturday, April 2, that crowds couldn’t leave the grand opening events…because of a bottleneck of pedestrian traffic.
Upwards of about 30,000 attended the daylong event, according to the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), though 40,000 were anticipated. Still, WSDOT officials declared that the bridge load was at capacity around 3 p.m., refusing entry to anyone who wasn’t already on the bridge.
Inbound shuttles from the University of Washington, Bellevue and Kirkland were stopped, while people waited more than an hour for one of the 51 shuttles — the only means to get to the SR 520 opening event — to take them away from the festivities.
Sure, there were many interactive exhibits, stamping stations and food trucks for the thousands of people to enjoy while they waited, but the nine food vendors soon ran out of menu items to serve and one could only weave through a thick crowd to cross the world’s longest floating bridge so many times before the novelty wears off.
Ultimately, even WSDOT promised to bring water to those waiting in line for the shuttle.
WSDOT clearly underestimated the ease of moving the mass of people who responded to the agency’s publicity campaign that began in January. Moving thousands of people to and from the bridge on buses that can carry about 100 people each in a short amount of time isn’t an equation that makes logistical sense.
“We do big things,” Gov. Jay Inslee said during the ribbon-cutting ceremonies. “We do hard things. And we do things that work.” Yet, the one thing that has yet to work, must less be perfected, is how to get traffic — of any kind — moving smoothly.
The state can pride itself on having a Guinness world record, but the Puget Sound region is where getting stuck in traffic has become second nature. Officials have proven this with yet another case of not being able to “cross that bridge when we get there.” Not only can officials still not proactively manage traffic for such a large event, but they also can’t respond adequately to it when it happens.
“We were a victim of our own success so to speak,” said WSDOT spokesperson Steve Peer. Or maybe they are just too focused on the spectacle to worry about the little details, like getting people off the bridge deck.