Back-to-back Seattle games don’t create traffic nightmare

  • Sat May 26th, 2012 7:47pm
  • Sports

By John Boyle Herald Writer

SEATTLE — Between Alex Liddi’s grand slam and Sigi Schmid’s soul searching, there was a bit of worse-than-usual traffic in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood.

And you know what else happened? More than 60,000 sports fans had a whole lot of fun.

Mariners fans saw their team win a fourth straight game behind Liddi’s home run and another brilliant outing by Kevin Millwood (no really, you read that right). More than nine hours after the first pitch of that game, Sounders FC fans left CenturyLink field a bit bummed out after seeing their team lose 2-0 to Columbus, prompting Schmid, their coach, to say “we need to soul search.”

In between, fans packed bars and restaurants and other business in the area to either celebrate the Mariners win or get ready for the Sounders game, or both. FX McRory’s owner Mick McHugh had a huge grin on his face while talking about this unusually busy day in his restaurant (then again, when doesn’t McHugh have a huge grin on his face?).

Walking around SoDo were fathers in Mariners hats escorting with sons in Fredy Montero jerseys. There were people with rave green scarves draped over Felix Hernandez jerseys. It was the kind of day that a city should celebrate, not fear.

As Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said earlier this month when discussing a plan for a south downtown arena that could house pro basketball and hockey teams: “People coming to the city to an event is a good thing.”

Days like Wednesday, which featured a Mariners game at 12:40 p.m. and a Sounders game at 7 p.m., are rare in this city, particularly on a week day. If the new arena being proposed by Chris Hansen is built south of Safeco Field, there will be a few more of these days with basketball and perhaps hockey mixed in, and a lot more evening events in the area.

Opponents of the arena, and the Port of Seattle in particular, worry about the traffic these type of days will create, particularly when daytime events occur. Well as a very unscientific study, I started the day by intentionally arriving at Safeco Field close to Mariners game time. To get there, I drove north on First Avenue from Spokane Street, which put me right in the heart of SoDo. This harrowing journey through a mix of game-day and Port traffic took me all of 41/2 minutes.

Now to be fair, Google maps say I should be able to make it in three minutes, so traffic was clearly an issue. OK, kidding aside for a moment, I did make the same trip between games when Mariners traffic had let out, but the afternoon rush had begun and Sounders fans were starting to arrive in the area, and this time that same stretch took about 25 minutes to navigate.

Is that inconvenient? Sure, but having drive that stretch of road plenty of times, traffic can be bad at that time of day whether there’s a game going on or not.

No, an event of any sorts doesn’t help congestion, but it is only one factor in what can be messy traffic in an area that’s also currently impacted by several construction projects, most notably the tunnel being dug to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

“You’re going to see a busy drive, that’s always going to be down there. But I don’t see an arena being a problem down there,” King 5 traffic anchor Tracy Taylor said. “Traffic is already bad, but it’s not going to get a lot worse.”

In a study that was much more thorough than me driving my Subaru around SoDo before and after games, the Seattle Department of Transportation found that the additional people an arena would bring to the area “could be accommodated within the existing roadway, parking, and transit capacity in the area.”

At some point, Seattle and King County leaders will have a choice to make. It will come down to this. Take a sweet deal from Hansen that will bring the NBA and possibly the NHL to area, and in the process anger the Port of Seattle, possibly the Mariners — who can forget M’s president Chuck Armstrong saying in a radio interview that Chris Hansen would “rue the day” he built an arena in SoDo — and upset some people who live and work in the area, but don’t care about sports. Or don’t build the arena and accept the fact that this isn’t going to be an NBA city. (And let’s not kid ourselves, if this deal can’t get done, no deal will. It’s that good).

Seattle is a big city, and big cities have traffic, whether sporting events are going on or not. A new arena and the benefits — both financial and in the simple joy more sports will bring fans — are worth a few more traffic headaches.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Port’s concerns are real, and should be addressed. But that is the case with or without a new arena in SoDo. If a new arena is what brings attention to problems that have existed in the area for decades and improves roads for sports fans and the Port, great. But those problems should not be what keep an arena from being built.

Yes, traffic will be a problem on rare days like Wednesday, but days like that can also be special.

Trent Truesdell and Mark Tate, who came from Olympia to witness the Wednesday sports double, both said the trip wouldn’t have been worth their time for a Mariners game alone, but that the appeal of seeing both teams in one day made a special trip worthwhile. Tate said the last time he came to Seattle for a game was an overnight trip with his son that included a Mariners game one day and Sounders game the next.

Would he make more trips like that if hockey or basketball were an option? “Absolutely,” he said.

Again, days like last Wednesday should be cherished, not feared. They should be days for rooting, not ruing.

Herald Writer John Boyle: