This little stretch of newsprint has reached a milestone. The first Street Smarts column appeared 25 years ago, on Nov. 20, 1989, a Monday that year, too.
The esteemed Bob Wodnik was in the driver’s seat that day — and for the next 10 years — and drafted a road map we still try to follow (and yet we somehow get lost anyway).
“If you live in Snohomish County, you’re learning to live with traffic,” Wodnik wrote in the first column’s first line. Marysville was starting to blow up. Getting from Edmonds to the Seattle waterfront was a headache.
The mission of Street Smarts, he wrote, would be to “explore the issues that matter as you fight the ride around Puget Sound.”
That mission continues.
But before I get a bit doe-eyed in the headlights, let’s flash back to 1989.
Seems like… well, 25 years ago
Also in the paper the day of the first Street Smarts column:
A front-page story detailed the pending vote by Boeing machinists (which would go on to end a 48-day strike).
The Legislature argued about whether to hold a special December session to pass a transportation package.
Further afield, eastern European clashes continued in the wake of the Berlin Wall coming down; there was a follow-up story on the Bay Area earthquake; and a brief item noted Prince Charles’ and Princess Diana’s complaints of paparazzi photos of their young sons.
An Everett City Council notice displayed the city logo at the time: a lower-case “e” topped by a lower-case “everett,” all inside a rectangle with rounded corners.
In features, “The Little Mermaid” was advertised in theaters; Judyrae Kruse had a recipe for mincemeat fruitcake; and there was a crossword but no Sudoku (talk about surviving the ’80s!).
In that previous Sunday’s seemingly endless pages of classified ads (sigh), there was a dealer ad for a 1989 Ford Escort wagon for $8,399, a substantial “Singles” section, a new home in Snohomish (three bed, two bath, 1,660 square feet on 1.14 acres) for $142,500 (it’s now Lake Stevens, and the property last sold in 2004 for $289,950); Boeing stock closed the previous week at $58, Microsoft at $86.88 and Costco at $33.38.
In sports, the Seahawks general manager denied rumors that Chuck Knox was going to be replaced as coach at the end of the season. The team’s record at that point was 4-7. The Sonics were 5-5.
In the business section, there was a story about Boeing’s illegal trafficking in Pentagon secrets, notes on Fluke’s efforts to rein in “out-of-control-medical-costs” and a choice ad for a Commodore Amiga 500 family computer for “only $999.”
Though it wasn’t in that day’s paper, the major state transportation project of 1989 was completion of the I-90 Homer M. Hadley Bridge, which added a second bridge across Lake Washington to handle increasing traffic.
At the pump, the average price for a gallon of gas in 1989 was $1.06. (The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects the nation to finish 2014 at a $3.45 average.)
The first Street Smarts column ended with a notice about upcoming lane closures on I-5 for paving that would be in the middle of a weekday (I’m sorry, what?). There also was a quick front-page story about 60 people blocking I-5 southbound in downtown Seattle to protest U.S. policy in El Salvador. The protest started at 8:30 a.m., “during the morning rush hour” — not a syllable, however, about the backup.
So, yes, traffic is worse.
In fact, annual average daily traffic volumes through Everett have gone up by more than 55 percent since 1989. That’s according to data from the state’s annual traffic reports from 1989 and 2013, the latest year available.
Street Smarts has changed, too.
For many years, it was a Q-and-A column to accompany a “Road Work Ahead” map. In 2005, Lukas Velush took on the column. In 2008, Jeff Switzer briefly held the post. There was a hiatus, and then Bill Sheets’ mug appeared at the top, from March 2009 to April this year. Now you’re stuck with me.
I’ve worked with each of those Street Smarts reporters except Wodnik, though his name is a respected one that’s still thrown around the newsroom.
Wodnik’s last Street Smarts column was July 19, 1999. He went on to Sound Transit, where he still works 15 years later.
“Actually, I remember it fondly,” he said, when I called him the other day. “It was a lot of fun. I tried to make it fun, and got into some issues.”
His daughter was 9 years old when he left the column and the paper, old enough to be a back-seat driver, much like my 7-year-old.
Kids grow up, but roads apparently don’t.
“I think that, by any way you measure it, things are worse, in terms of the car commute,” Wodnik said when asked about his impressions on then and now.
“One of the big differences is now there are options,” he said, noting that his current employer wasn’t around 25 years ago. He uses the Sounder train to commute from Everett to Seattle, enjoying the time to sit and take in the views. “My commute is a lot longer, but my commute is really nice. … But if you’re out there in a car, good luck.”
Wodnik chooses to be optimistic about our transportation future. On the Sound Transit side, there will be 30 miles of light rail extension under construction next year.
The times have changed.
“But, look, Street Smarts is still around. People’s interest in traffic and driving and commuting is still clearly an issue,” Wodnik said. “People are still reading.”