The Tunnel: 8 track technology for an I-Pod world

I have been trying to think of an analogy, a parable maybe, to explain the absurdity of a waterfront tunnel to replace the viaduct. I think I have one. This should also clarify the term “backward looking,” I used to describe tunnel advocates. That term is not intended to be an insult or some kind of transportation bigotry. Instead, it’s a kind of explanation of the confusion that could lead otherwise intelligent people to think of the tunnel as a replacement for the viaduct. So here it goes, the parable of the 8-track.

Imagine that for the last 35 years the main way you appreciated your music was using an 8- track player and 8-track tapes. When you bought it back in the 70s it was state of the art. You bought all your music, Donny Osmond, Earth Wind and Fire, Captain and Tineal and Golden Earring on 8-track tapes.

Things were just rocking along until your player started to break down. At first it was small things. A dial fell off, the vinyl siding cracked a bit, nothing serious. But soon it was mechanical problems. Tapes started playing slower. Donna Summers sounded like she wasn’t inhaling helium when she sang “Last Dance.” So you fixed it. And then you fixed it again, and again and then again.

So last night while you were groovin’ to the sounds of Steppenwolf, the player makes a weird sound. And right in the middle of Boddhisatva everything stops, smoke starts pouring out and your roommate, Jack Tripper, pours his Pina Colada on the flames. But its too late, the fire also consumes most of your 8-track tapes too.

Now it’s ruined. It will never play again. You have a choice. You can pay thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands to have someone build you a custom 8-track player and custom 8- track tapes. You don’t know where to start but you put out an RFP. The responses are really high and none of the contractors can guarantee that it won’t cost even more—and there may be legal problems because of copyright issues.

Your other choice is to buy an I-Pod and replace your music on I-Tunes for $1,000 maybe $1,500.

The same is true of the viaduct replacement. Freeways and cars are to transportation today what the 8-track tape players and 8-track tapes are to music listening devices of the 21st century. They work, but most of us agree its time to make a shift to new ideas and technology. Why would we rebuild or conform our thinking around a technology that is running, has run or certainly will run its course. Do we want to rely on Mideast and Alaskan oil supplies? An think about climate change and pollution.

And the thing is that we can still listen to our music, that is we can still get around town, travel to see friends and do everything else we want to do but we can just do it on foot, buses, zip cars or via the internet. The idea that we would spend billions of dollars to recapitulate an old way of doing things is backward looking, it assumes a one for one replacement of an old thing with something that is passé, outmoded and finished.

So let’s get the I-Pod and replace that old Deep Purple 8-track with some MP3s. You can keep the Matador. It’s still pretty cool.

19 Responses to “The Tunnel: 8 track technology for an I-Pod world”

  1. John of Humdinger

    The only problem with the 8-track analogy is that it falls apart with a little thought.
    8-track players were VOLUNTARILY replaced when a better solution was in the store, at a reasonable price.
    Today there is no way to get to Grammy’s house for Thanksgiving other than using the family car.
    Tomorrow our liberal friends in DC will present us with more efficient cars, but cars just the same.
    There’s only one reasonable argument against the tunnel: It’s a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. It’s part of the liberal spending spree which attempts to convince wagon pullers to think in terms of billions and trillions instead of the old 8-track millions. No two miles of road or rail or bike path is worth 5 billion dollars.

  2. City Comforts

    “No two miles of road or rail or bike path is worth 5 billion dollars.”

    And it’s not even really two miles. The critical area is about 15 city blocks. The extravagance is stunning and could only come from the minds of baby-boomers.

    But Roger, when you speak of obsolete technology do you mean cars-which-use-petroleum-as-fuel? or cars, period?

    If the latter, you can make an argument for obsolete. But that the people of the world will give up personal vehicles doesn’t comport with what I see around me. Will there be a shift in modal-split? Probably so. But a shift does not justify the extravagance of the dream of a car-free city….which is what surface/transit is all about.

    I challenge the very premise of surface/transit — that the waterfront cannot be made marvelous without the risk and civil discord (yes, civil discord is a cost) of the surface/transit experiment….which in any case ain’t gonna happen…nor will the tunnel. As I think I may have mentioned before, we are in political stalemate (the City Council not yet aware) about what to do with the Viaduct and as I may have mentioned before the outcome will be to simply repair the thing.

  3. Wells

    I can’t think of a logical analogy to represent the Deep-bore tunnel replacement for the AWV. The Deep-bore doesn’t handle thru-traffic as well as the AWV without the Elliott/Western access, a serious flaw in its design. The 4-lane Cut-n-cover is the better tunnel replacement in that critically important regard.

    SDOT plans to make Mercer a thru-corridor between Elliott and the Deep-bore portal on Aurora to reduce traffic overload on the new Alaskan Way boulevard. Are Queen Anne residents aware of the predictable increase of traffic through their neighborhood? I doubt it.

    Getting rid of the Columbia and Seneca ramps is a good idea. Traffic along Seattle’s dangerously steep hills leading to those ramps should be discouraged, period. And there’s too much traffic on 1st Ave.

    The Deep-bore is a Rube Goldberg contraption. It’s not the best tunnel nor the ideal solution to address traffic congestion through the corridor. It’s another Seattle political fiasco. I figure it’s a clear sign of corruption within WsDOT and SDOT. These public agencies are beholden to automobile-related business interests who’ve turned Seattle, nay, the nation into a cash cow. To them, the miserable traffic has the disharmic ring of Ka-ching! If their boy Mallahan wins, the battle against Seattle’s vile overlords will continue, a battle they will lose.

  4. jd

    Can I explain why some of us can be transit advocates with serious green cred, and still be extremely suspicious of the surface option?

    I live in a high-density neighborhood with great bus service. I bicycle commute in all weather. I take the bus to go downtown. I do half my grocery shopping on a bicycle. I don’t like to drive. I should be an easy sell on the surface/transit option.

    However, I still need to go from north west seattle to south of downtown frequently, for activities in Georgetown. These trips have to be done by car, as there is no viable public transportation option — where “viable” means “no more than a 25% increase in travel time over driving”. Traveling on the viaduct is efficient and fast, such that I can fit in these activities after my kids get out of school, or on the weekends (even if there are other things going on).

    However, when the viaduct is closed, these routine trips are HORRIBLE. 20 minutes takes 45-60, either crawling along I-5 or the waterfront. (In fact, the viaduct is closed right now, and the trip took me 45 minutes (rather than 15), in spite of it being saturday morning.)

    Every single one of these experiences convinces me that converting the viaduct to pure surface would be a disaster. Yes, road reconfiguration could help some, but I really doubt that my travel times would go down dramatically from what I experience when the viaduct is closed. Yes, improving transit will give people more options. However, there are simply some activities and trips than cannot be replaced by transit, particularly those trips that involve crossing from one side of the city to the other. Some might argue that my family and I should just stop doing anything in the south of the city (which I would have to do if round trip travel times went up to 1.5-2 hours), but really what is the point of living in the inner city, if you can’t take advantage of it? I’m not talking about choosing to live in a low density outer rim suburb and griping that it’s hard to get to the city. I live in a high density “urban village”. I am trying to get to other high density regions of the city, and when the viaduct is closed, I can’t.

    So, if you really want to promote a surface option, find a way to show that it can work Right Now, even before the viaduct is torn down. Go out and try to drive from somewhere near the north Aurora corridor, down to Columbia City and back, this weekend, while the viaduct is closed. (And remember, it’s a weekend, so the weekdays will be even worse). If you can find a way to improve that experience, maybe you’ll get more support for a surface option.

    In summary, you know the frequent comment that the only people who prefer bus transit over fixed track are people who don’t actually take the bus? Well, in my experience the only people who prefer the surface/transit option are the people who never actually use the viaduct.

  5. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Roger, the analogy is a little weak. I’d say it’s more like CDs vs iPod. The direction of the future is clear, but perfectly reasonable people still choose to buy CDs.

    jd, you may be correct, but WSDOT studies showed it is possible to do a viable surface option. Also, from my perspective I have to say it sounds like you’ve had a unbelievable convenient lightly used highway for your routine trips across the city. When I need to get from the U-District to the south end I always have to budget 45-60 minutes, and I’m no farther north. The new light rail tunnel for U-Link will be great, but I would not support a highway on the same route.

  6. John of Humdinger

    jd:
    Do you know why it’s closed today?
    They’re inspecting it to see if it’ll make it through the night.
    Gee, I wonder what the results of this inspection will be.

  7. jd

    John — Can you please hold your fire? I’m not an uninformed idiot. I know something needs to be done. I’m just pointing out that the actual real world experience of those who use the viaduct regularly reinforces skepticism about a surface option. Overcoming that skepticism, rather than scolding everyone to take the bus, is a necessary part of achieving the political solution that you desire.

    And yes, Joshua, I’ve had it good. But I have enough human nature in me to not be able to see making my trips as bad as yours as progress. (And in fact, I’ll make your situation even worse, as I join you over there on the great I-5 slog from time to time).

  8. Adam Parast

    I have been thinking about the process that got us to the deep bore tunnel and I can’t stop thinking about the Stepford Wives. The parallels are uncanny.

    The tunnel has been sold as the *perfect* solution. It initially appears that way but once you start taking a closer look the cracks start showing. The minute you move to challenge the system you are cast aside as a nut. And then when you stand up to fight you are attacked by the establishment. Then in retrospect the actions taken to defend the system and the status quo are obviously indefensible.

    The cracks are starting to show, McGinn is under attack from tunnel interests and Ericas piece earlier this week about “strategic misrepresentation” has been marginalized.

  9. RossB

    jd: Very good comment. However, it is important to know that the I-5/Surface Street option (http://tinyurl.com/qnvqyo) is not the same as simply closing down the Viaduct. There will be a lot of improvements made (if we go that route) that will make that trip tolerable. It won’t be as easy as it was yesterday, but it won’t be as bad as it is this weekend. Similarly, the tunnel won’t be “the Viaduct underground”. I’m not suggesting you think it is, but I bet a lot of people who support it will be shocked when they realize that there won’t be fewer on ramps, fewer exits and fewer lanes.

  10. Joe G

    I think Ross meant there will be fewer on ramps, exits and lanes.

    I am against this tunnel mostly because of the environmental implications of continuing our addiction to vehicles (because not only due they produce GHGs but they also take up a shit load of room in the environment, from highways to parking lots to everything else that is dedicated to the car) but also because I DO NOT want my tax dollars going towards such infrastructure when obviously we were not taking care of the infrastructure that we already had. The tolls on this thing should be raised as such that they will pay for at least a quarter of the cost of the project and will certainly pay for all upkeep of the tunnel. It really kills me that we continue to build all sorts of different new and interesting infrastructure when we really can’t take care of the things that we already have. That really doesn’t make any sense and would certainly be a GAME OVER in sim city.

  11. RossB

    Thanks Joe — You are correct (I meant to say that).

  12. Roger Valdez

    Great comments. A couple of items. Analogies are like jokes, so I won’t go into a lot of explanation of the analogy. I will just throw out more.

    Know that I love cars. Especially old ones. I once was on a Comet jag. Thank God I didn’t buy one. Cars are a wonderful invention and they will likely be around for awhile. Another great way to get around is the horse and carriage: http://www.tweedyhillcarriages.com/images/coach.jpg

    I am not trying to be an ass here. But the same reasons that a horse and carriage don’t work are the same reason cars will and ought to be obsolete. We don’t subsidize them (a horse and carriage are quite expensive), there is no place to park them that is convenient and we’ve moved on technologically. There are better ways to get around. And our policies should reinforce that.

    Now with cars, the issue is a bit more drastic. Cars create pollution and carbon emissions that are making our planet less livable. And they are alienating, separating us from one another and preventing us from experiencing community. Other options exist. So when elected officials lash us to an expensive,outmoded technology that is no longer viable and degrades our environment and economy, it isn’t just a stupid decision it is immoral. And these analogies are intended to make us think. Why in the world would we be spending so much money for so little highway when science, economics and logic tell us we shouldn’t?

    The answer is not blowing in the wind. It sits in Olympia and at City Hall in the form of elected officials. Lewis Namier, one of greatest historians of politics in the English speaking world wrote of office seekers (in this case Parliament):

    “Men went there ‘to make a figure’, and no more dreamt of a seat in the House in order to benefit humanity than a child dreams of a birthday cake that others may eat it.”

    We have a problem, and it is us. As long as we keep electing benign individuals because they are Democrats, or liberal on the issues, or because they are our friends, we will continue to have a political failure. I picked the 8-track because it represents something we would never consider viable and we would never go back to.

    We need our own party.

    A party for those of us who see more people in Seattle as a benefit, as a boon; for those of us who believe in the future of transit and land use policies to support it; for those of us that agree that schools and public safety will make our city more appealing, and draw more families here rather than Federal Way. Alex Steffen quoted Emerson when he introduced Michael McGinn at a recent fundraiser. He spoke of the party of the past and the party of the future.

    Let’s see what happens on November 3. If we win (electing McGinn and O’Brien for example), then we need to win some more. We need to do what parties do which is to consolidate the resources (especially money) of like minded individuals and put them to work to win majorities in legislative bodies to consistently carry the day in policy battles. We need to win and win consistently.

    If we lose, the call for a Party of the Future is even more urgent. Time is running out. It is up to us. We either go forward with a purpose, or we stand around and talk about what happened.

  13. Bill B

    Geez Roger, your last rant is so myopic it makes my head spin. Why can’t this blog get off the “Mike McGinn will save the world” jag?

    You should get away from the computer one day and watch traffic on I-5 or I-90 or the AWV. This delusional trip that somehow we are going to fix Seattle, let alone the planet, by not addressing the SR99 corridor is crazy talk.

    The 8-track to i-pod analogy is lame if not cute – at least when used as a replacement roadway analogy. What would be more applicable for this carbon-crime remediation would be for us to be replacing our internal combustion engines with clean energy based power sources. If the intent is to get out of SOVs, then your analogy should be, for example, promoting live music in all venues as opposed to everyone having their own portable listening device. I’d rather not even suggest that the carbon footprint of an i-pod is far greater than an 8-track.

    But all analogies fail and so let’s get back to dissecting your complaint.

    You say “There are better ways to get around [than in cars]. And our policies should reinforce that.” What is that better way to get around? If you are talking about buses and local transit services, then they need to be made available, universally and ubiquitously. If you are talking about light rail and a future city built around that network, then that isn’t solving today’s smoking tape deck (as it were).

    You say cars “are alienating, separating us from one another and preventing us from experiencing community”. But you fail to look at the more local issues that we need to muster political will to solve that would more effectively address this complaint. We have in this city an extant population that would most likely say the alienation and separation issues are related to proximity of quality schools and entertainment, availability of the local shopping and services needed on a daily basis, and quality open and meeting/communal spaces in our neighborhoods. These are local zoning and neighborhood planning issues – ones, I will add, that can’t be dictated from Olympia. Nor is getting rid of cars or letting our roadway network fall into disrepair going to fix that.

    The myth of a regional transit system such as Light Rail as a solution to our transportation needs is also false. No one is going to ride light rail from Everett to Seattle. If we had high speed rail, that would be more likely. I hear no one advocating for that.

    There are so many progressive solutions to various facets of our sustainability problems, but all we hear is this one issue of the tunnel. This only reaffirms my belief that you are not really interested in affecting broader change towards sustainability here in Seattle. Instead we hear constant salvos from the light rail and development industries that stand to profit from a TOD growth strategy. It is sold under the sustainability label. And I heard it being sold as social justice just this weekend.

    And towards achieving that, you are on the way to your new party – call it the Huge Ass City Party for a start.

  14. Mistamatic

    Yeah, this analogy isn’t the best…you’d have to compare 8-tracks with an as-yet-uninvented alternative, which is where we stand with replacing the viaduct. Everyone here seems to be forgetting a huge part of the traffic on 99 is trucks coming from the Port of Seattle. They avoid downtown and I-5 by using this one alternative to go north of the city…where do you suppose all that truck traffic is going to go with a surface alternative? You think the waterfront is unbearable now, just wait till it’s bumper to bumper semi trucks…inching along our fair city’s face, spewing black nastiness due to the crawling low speeds and gridlock. Why is this reality always glossed over? There is a very real need for a speedy north-south alternative to I-5 here…it’s not just for mommy and daddy taking Jimmy and Susie to Georgetown. :O)

  15. Alexis Martin

    i played the original SimCity in the 90’s and until now i still play the latest version of SimCity-*;

  16. Tub Chair 

    SimCity is the best, so damn addicting game. i used to play the original version when i was just a kid.”~

  17. Circuit Breaker :

    the original version of Sim City is quite funny because of the very poor graphics compared to the latest release of Sim City`”,

  18. Cutlery Tray

    SimCity is a classic city simulator game which i used to play in the early 90’s (the original version) *`*

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