May 142011

Seattle is shaped like an hour glass, with salt water (Puget Sound) pushing in from the west, fresh water (Lake Washington) from the east. The jewel on Puget Sound has two principal north-south arteries through the narrowest part. One, an elevated double-decker built in the 1950s that walls the vibrant downtown from the vibrant waterfront, was badly damaged in an earthquake a decade ago and likely will fall down with the next serious shaker. Many could die if that happens during rush hour; Seattle is overdue. Washington’s governor wants the double-decker torn down by 2014.

Seattle’s mayor, Mike McGinn, a bicycle fanatic, promised in the closing days of his 2009 campaign not to oppose a deep-bore tunnel to replace the decrepit waterfront highway. Despite his campaign promise, he has done everything in his power since to torpedo the tunnel. He would prefer to route the traffic it now carries on to downtown Seattle’s already congested surface-street network.

If that means a trip that now takes a few minutes will in the future take an hour, well, so be it. The mayor and his minions want everyone to stop driving cars. They think people should get out of their cars and walk, or take transit, or get around by pedal power.

The permanent loss of so much automobile-carrying capacity absent a replacement will make Seattle’s other north-south artery, Interstate 5, chronically congested and badly in need of refurbishment in many places, even more a hindrance to mobility. This will push business costs higher and accelerate the flight of jobs from the city.

That doesn’t seem to bother Mayor McSchwinn, as he is sometimes called. He hires fellow bicycle fanatics who say with straight faces that reducing arterials from four lanes for autos to two and adding bicycle lanes does not reduce car-carrying capacity. Really.

A week after ordering city departments to slash their budgets because money is tight, McGinn hired as an aide the abrasive chief lobbyist for the bicycle brigade at $95,000 a year plus benefits. Members of the city council, meanwhile, are floating a plan to require all employers in Seattle, regardless of size, to provide mandatory sick pay at a rate that would raise annual payroll costs 3-5% in the midst of a creaky economic recovery. The mayor and council are truly Clueless in Seattle.

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