Last week, Seattle saw its notorious traffic trouble worsen with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s official visit to Western Washington. His three-day stay involved several major freeway closures as he traveled from Paine Field in Everett, where he landed, to the Westin Hotel in Downtown Seattle, and then trips between Paine Field (again), to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, down south to a high school in Tacoma and back again.
These trips required closures of upward of two hours of major highways — the worst happening during the Wednesday afternoon rush hour, when both Interstates 5 and 405 and all of their on-ramps were shut down. This coincided with traffic for a Seattle Sounders home game and a Puyallup Fair concert. It took some southbound commuters three hours to get home. And it’s likely that many of Xi’s 1,000-member entourage were caught in the same traffic.
Drivers even encountered a two-hour commute between Everett and downtown on Thursday morning, when the state closed the southbound Interstate 5 express lanes for more than an hour to accommodate Xi’s departure. Those traveling through the North Sound endured closures each of the three days of Xi’s visit.
Xi’s officials and Secret Service determined the itinerary, ignoring city and state officials’ input about timing and traffic patterns. Yes, they could have consolidated their trips, landing at Boeing Field in Seattle or visiting Boeing immediately after he landed in Everett. Or to be even more cloaked in secrecy and thus improve his security, Xi could have not publicized his visit, like the dozens of high-tech and aerospace CEOs from around the country who gathered in Seattle to attend a summit with him.
Instead, the most impacted by Xi’s visit were the ones who didn’t have an opportunity to meet him.
Thankfully, official visits by dignitaries to the Seattle area that necessitate such inconveniences are rare.
While President Barack Obama’s past visits to Seattle have had similar security measures around the Westin Hotel in Downtown Seattle, they didn’t require the hours-long closures of our major roadways between his destinations. Obama, on a tight schedule, kept his last visit to the Seattle area, in July 2014, to 4.5 hours. His itinerary included fund-raisers in Madrona and Hunts Point on the Eastside, which required a short afternoon-rush-hour closure of the state Route 520 bridge. Surely, his attendance at a fundraising event for Sen. Patty Murray at the Westin on Oct. 9 will duplicate the efficiency.
But in light of events that took place just two hours after Xi’s departure from the Greater Seattle area, our complaints about the previous three days’ traffic are trivial.
No one groused about being diverted around the Aurora Bridge later that day, after a Ride the Ducks tour vehicle crashed into a charter bus on the bridge, killing five North Seattle College students on the bus.
In fact, it’s a humbling reminder that we are lucky to be alive to be able to sit in traffic — some won’t have that opportunity again.