In Seattle we are having some freeway construction. It's fairly invasive and shuts down 3 lanes of a five lane freeway that is usually very congested at rush hour. This means that the suburbanites can't rely on their main route into town.
These are generally the same people who vote against transit plans.
So now, they have to give up their highly subsidized means of commuting (driving) for a slightly less subsidized one (transit). This morning, many of them drove to a park & ride to take the Sounder Commuter train.
They were very upset that there wasn't more parking for them or more trains. On King 5 news this morning, the reporter was amazed at the number of people waiting for the Sounder commuter train.
The platform was about half full.
Meanwhile, the horrific,terrible traffic never occurred.
Why did it not materialize?
Because people actually planned their trips. They took transit, they left later, they worked from home. They were the solution to congestion.
Going clear back to 2001, we can see Seattle's traffic has been nearly the "worst in the nation". This clearly indicates that this horrible wound that is crippling our economy is purely self-inflicted. Further, it is a strong indication that the billions we are spending expanding our freeways (and not maintaining others) is wasted on people who cannot fathom that they are the problem.
We have met the commuter and he is us.
In the end, this is a networking problem, a social inertia problem. Up until this morning, the assumption was that driving was the only option to get downtown that was socially acceptable. But suddenly, there was an issue so big, so large, that people couldn't fathom continuing their usual routine - even though their usual routine wasn't working in the first place.
These commuters were already stuck in traffic for up to an hour. These commuters already had alternatives available to them. They already had the pain and the remedy.
But as a network, as an organism, the culture of suburban Seattle couldn't fathom taking transit, altering their commute times, or having flexible schedules.
Why? Because the freeway itself is seen as an immutable object in suburban culture. The freeway itself, according to suburban lore, is always under the control of the driver. Congestion is other people's fault and interferes with the driver's freedom. But the driver is never personally part of that congestion.
It often takes an outside disruptive influence to alter the behavior of a network. In this case, WSDOT was the outside influence that disrupted this world view. WSDOT told them point-blank, "Your beloved I-5 will shrink dramatically for two weeks." This disruption was so profound that it altered their behavior, even though the status quo should have already warranted this.
Tomorrow, we shall see if people want to game the system by commuting tomorrow because volumes today were so low. After that, we shall see if they learn any lessons whatsoever from this experience.