The C Is for Crank

The C Is for Crank: Carpocalypse Never

As usual, a road closure fails to lead to gridlock, despite hyperbolic predictions that narrowing I-90 to one lane would result in a traffic disaster, including 10-mile backups and travel times six times as long as usual.

By Erica C. Barnett July 21, 2014

The C Is for Crank

Learn to trust the Crank. 

Prior to this week's partial westbound I-90 closure (the freeway has been narrowed to a single westbound lane so the state transportation department can replace expansion joints on the aging roadway), the local news media inundated readers and viewers with hyperbolic headlines, many implying that drivers will literally have to struggle to survive the partial shutdown.

Among the dire predictions: 

"WSDOT: Expect 10-Mile Backups in I-90 Lane Closures" (KING 5)

"What's Your Plan? I-90 Shutdown Could Create Carpocalypse" (KIRO radio)

"CRUNCH COMING: I-90 bridge work will squeeze all westbound traffic into 1 lane" (Q13 FOX)

"Weeklong traffic snarl starts Friday on I-90" (The Sammamish Review)

"Here's What the Big I-90 Closure Will Look Like. How Will You Survive?"  (KPLU)

"Brace Yourself: Major I-90 Closure Will Pinch Region's Roads" (KUOW)

"'The week from hell!' Commuters are upset over looming I-90 lane closures" (Puget Sound Business Journal

"Prepare for huge delays on I-90" (The SnoValley Star)

"Surviving the I-90 mess" (The Bothell/Kenmore Reporter)

"Big traffic headache coming to I-90"(The Bellevue Reporter)

And finally... "How Will You Cope with I-90 Lane Closures?" (The Seattle Times) This is the poll that included options like "just sit in the traffic jam" and "bite the bullet and pay the 520 tolls," but did not include non-car alternatives like taking the bus or biking to work. 

Now, here are some of the headlines today and over the weekend, many of them from the same outlets that predicted doom just days earlier:

"No Major Weekend Delays"(The Kirkland Reporter)

As with previous predicted "Carmageddons," this latest catastrophe failed to materialize.

"Drivers Avoid I-90 Construction Zone Monday Morning" (Q13 FOX)

"I-90 Closure Monday Morning Commute Goes off Fairly Smoothly" (this from the same outlet, KING 5, that was responsible for that "ten-mile backup" prediction)

"I-90 Backups Not as Bad as Feared During Monday Commute" (KOMO) 

"I-90 Traffic Not So Bad on First Day" (The Seattle Times)

"Traffic 'Free-Flowing' on Westbound I-90, Despite Predictions" (The Seattle Times)

"Work, Traffic Moving on I-90 Project" (The Bellevue Reporter

Bottom line: As with previous predicted "Carmageddons," this latest catastrophe failed to materialize.

Instead, drivers did what rational people always do: They made different choices, using alternate routes (according to the Times, traffic on parallel SR 520 was also "flowing freely"), driving at different times, avoiding unnecessary cross-lake trips, telecommuting, or using other modes of transportation, like carpools, buses, and bikes. 

It's the exact same scenario we saw play out in 2007,  2011 (again in 2011), and in 2012—to name just a handful of examples when road-closure-related traffic catastrophes have failed to materialize.

As I noted last week, "People make smart choices, traffic moves relatively smoothly" doesn't grab viewers' attention the way a headline like "The Week From Hell!" or "Expect 10-Mile Backups" does.



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