Interstate Highway System

We need big projects like the Interstate Highway system again (RL109, RL250)

We need to find a new project to galvanize the will of the people again. They are burned out from a lot of fucked-up projects and nobody is into a big project anymore. Everybody knows so much whom they are not into, what they are not into, what kind of stuff has screwed with them, and we are hypersensitive to all those things that didn't work out before. We need a new American hero! So many things had been built as a WPA project. Or take the whole Interstate Highway System, which is unimaginable to pull off in modern days. You can't just come into the center of every major city and tear down a 6-block wide stripe through the heart of town, because you need to build new roads. It is an incredible story that has not been told! John's mom told him that at a certain point in 1960 there were barges with Victorian homes floating out of the city that people had bought for $1 and they are now out in the wild near the river in the middle of nowhere. Seattle did not have any national political influence and was happy to even get an Interstate through them, but they still managed to draw the Interstate where it was least disruptive for the city. Cutting it through the centers of Detroit or Chicago must have been massive projects and they just went along. You can't find any photos of protests from that time, people just went along with it. If you think what we protest about now! (RL109)

For example, the music commission in Seattle now got signs "Musician Parking" up in front of concert venues for artists to load and unload their gear without getting ticketed by the police all the time. In other cities you just put some cones out and park your truck in front of the venue all night. The only place where this is not possible is New York. There was a huge outcry from people in the neighborhood just about those musician parking signs! Not even 50 years ago they were bulldozing through cities to build Interstates on no further authority than Eisenhower saying that the Germans had a good thing going with their highways over there. Somebody connected it to the idea that we needed the Interstates to escape in the event of a nuclear war. We had sirens on top of phone poles, you would grab the kids, jump into the car, hit the Interstate and empty out the cities, get the people out of the blast zone, camp out somewhere and develop a Burning Man-type of encampment. That phantasy was all it took to galvanize the bulldozer people and the homeowners. Nowadays you don't need to look further than Obamacare, a dumb no-brainer where you don't have to tear down a single building, but people are reacting as if Obama said "I will come into each home and take the oldest child! Democrats who donated to my campaign get a little bit of lamb's blood on the door." We need Obamacare! We need to build a bridge through the Darién Gap! We need to build a CO2 sequestration system on all the coal plants! There is no such thing as clean coal, but there are technical systems that take a lot of the garbage out of it and re-inject those carbons back into the earth. It is complicated, but not as complicated as building an Interstate highway system. Still, all coal plants are looking into their books and ask "What's in it for us?" (RL109)

The original Interstate Highway was the combination of the Ohio Turnpike and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Their first attempt was just to build a giant straight road, but already after a fairly short amount of time, people would become mesmerized and drove into the ditch. They realized that they need to add giant gradual turns and swoopy cures in order to give the driver some work to do and don't let them look out into the horizon and see their destiny. This is a really Malcolm Gladwelly idea, something you would talk about at a TED Talk. You should be able to drive from Yuma, Arizona to Austin, Texas without ever having a curve in the road. Maybe going through Laz Cruces you might have to like whistling. (RL250)

How the Interstate Highway System in Seattle should be improved (RL289)

Many people don’t know the specific rules about driving in the city that are very different from driving in the county or on the Highway. Seattle has originally been built very poorly by Jesus and by every subsequent group of people who came along. It is an Isthmus-city and similar to San Francisco which is a peninsular city the options how roads can be built are limited. It is not like Chicago that stretches to infinity. Seattle has water around it on all sides and you can’t just do what you are going to do. They slammed the Freeway through the center of town in such a way that there are 8 different places where people merge from the right and have to go all the way across 8 lanes of traffic to get off on the left because their exit is only 2 miles (3 km) down the road on the left. In addition there are also instances where the cars come in from the left, all within a very short distance of about 4 miles (6.5 km). Traffic would even be jammed up if everybody was Michael Schumacher! The goal of the Freeway and the Highway is to provide mostly long stretches where people can go uninterrupted above normal speed. The original purpose was to get everybody out of town in the event of a nuclear war.

The American Highways were designed at and for a time before now and because they are built already, we can’t just rebuild them to be better. Science has proven that adding lanes to a freeway never actually makes it better, but it creates more traffic and makes it worse every time. Closing a lane to repaint the stripes causes a traffic jam that lasts for a century. John has a big plan of how he would redesign the Freeways, but whenever he goes down any one of the little rabbit holes he discovers that there is no good way to do it unless you had the money to dig a mega tunnel, which they didn’t have then and which we don’t have now. Elon Musk wants to make tubes, but they technically don’t have to be tunnels.

The Express Lanes were built to get people between their suburban homes and town without the bothersome traffic at local exits. What we need now are express lanes that do not stop in Downtown, but are built for people who just want to get from one end of the city to the other side. They are trying to solve this with Freeway ring roads like the I405s for instance, but those are jammed up by all the people who live out in the areas that now have become developed. You can’t go around the city anymore because those Freeways are now going through their own little cities. A lot of trucks and a lot of people come to the edge of a city and all they want to do is get to the other side. They are tightening their seat belts and ”Here we go!”, because there are all these dingelings: people coming in and getting off, people taking their kids back and forth to soccer practice, bakery delivery trucks, farm-fresh eggs, little old ladies, and people who drive two miles every day. People just want to get from here to Vancouver or they have stuff to do on the other side of town. There should be a separate road that you could get on at any point and once you were on it you couldn’t get off. There are very few expressways/Turnpikes that do not terminate or deliver onto 1st and Broad (which doesn’t even exist in Seattle, but does probably exist in non-Euclidean cities).

When John was running for City Council, he was getting a phone call from Duff McKagan, a supporter of John’s campaign. He told John ”Here is what we need” and if John was going to change his campaign to suit anybody’s personal needs, it was going to be Duff McKagan. Duff said that we needed special lanes on the Freeway just for trucks. Unfortunately the city council does not have authority over the Freeway lanes, but John understood what he was saying. Trucks are going through the center of town to bring farm-fresh eggs somewhere else. They need their own lanes and that is one thing John would do.

Driver’s licenses should have extra ratings, like "this person is rated to go on the Freeway". Driving on the Freeway is a whole different set of skills than puttering along from the old-folks home to the supermarket and back. Maybe there should be tiers of roads. We are on our way into self-driving car times and there are definitely going to be roads where you can’t be a person driving and certain areas of cities will just be for self-driving cars. Then there will be pleasure-driving roads for those of us who want to drive our MGs on the twisty roads out in the mountains.

How the Interstate Highway System was built (RL289)

When Eisenhower came to Germany as the commander in chief, he was fascinated by their Autobahns. Instead of also recognizing Germany's incredibly effective train network, he only brought their big roads back to America because whatever is good for General Motors is good for America. Seattle is at the end of the road and any road you build will not start in Seattle, but it will end there. It starts in Ohio or Western New York.

The last section of the Interstate to be completed was a stretch of I90 through the mountains of Idaho. You would be driving on I90 through that panhandle of Northern Idaho that is full of old silver mines and all of a sudden the road would start to change and there would be a stop light. The town was called Wallace, Idaho (John said Silverton, Idaho) down in a little valley and it had the last stop light on any Interstate. You would stop at the stop-light in this one-stoplight town, you would wait for it to turn green, you would start driving to the other side of town, pass the drug store and the barber shop and then you were back on the freeway again and can drive all the way to Boston. They couldn’t do anything about it because it was a tiny narrow little river valley and they couldn’t put the road anywhere else. In order to build a Freeway through there, you would have to destroy the whole town.

Down the street where John lives there is a bridge to nowhere that goes from nothing to nothing, built as a Highway overpass for a Highway that never got built. Some American Highways went all the way across. US40, ”The Main Street of America” went from San Francisco to Atlantic City, New Jersey over a stretch of 2285 miles (3677 km)! It still exists for long stretches and like on Route 66 you will find all the old motels and little towns, which is such a great thing! US99 used to go down the West Coast, but great stretches of it were paved over by I5. In Los Angeles they call it ”The 5”, but if you say ”The 5” in Seattle, they will ride you out of town on a rail that they literally built just for people who are adding an unnecessary article to a road.

Random facts (RL289)

John spends a lot of time sitting in Seattle, sometimes in traffic, sometimes in a lawn chair on top of his RV that he has parked out by the airport. He will put a tarp over himself that will make him invisible to satellites and traffic cameras. He has a Jingle Stick next to him to keep the tarp off of his hair and to make a little tent up there. On the hottest day of the year it gets a little perspire-y.

In San Francisco they have an Express bus that makes a lot fewer stops, because most of the people who are getting on here are roughly getting off there and if you take out 70% of the stops, the whole thing is going to move a lot faster.

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