Friday, April 6, 2012

Seattle Sports court case: Mariners V Sonics/Totems

The past week in professional Seattle sports has had a few headlines. The Seahawks unveiled their new look for 2012 and beyond, the Sounders Women began to appear in Starfire to begin training for the best women's club team in history, and the Sounders saw Steve Zakuani find the field again for the first time in nearly a year. I wrote articles about most of these events (sorry Hope Solo!).

Perhaps it was conspicuous that I have neglected to write about the recent craziness involving Howard Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong, and the arena traffic kerfuffle. As I understand it, the Mariners, specifically Lincoln, sent Seattle mayor Mike McGinn a letter on Tuesday evening laying out their feelings on why an arena for basketball and hockey would not be a good idea in the Sodo area commute-wise. Beyond the two new teams that would be playing and whatever other events would be held in a building south of Safeco would of course be the Mariners, Seahawks, and Sounders along with thousands of Seattleites that work along the waterfront and "South of Down Town".

In truth, these are completely understandable concerns. As things are right now, traffic in the area isn't good, especially on a game night. Even with several new routes and overpasses, parking and commerce are at a standstill from about 5pm until the 7pm gametime. After hundreds of hours spent with Sim City 4, there are few things about Seattle (after its sports) more interesting than city planning.

But help is on the way, and there are solutions to be found to the gameday traffic problem. In four years, Sound Transit Light Rail will have extended north to the University of Washington and south past the airport. Construction will have begun on two additional lines across the floating bridges to the Eastside, which personally would probably mean an end to driving into Seattle ever again. The Viaduct will be torn down, and the replacement tunnel will be in place, further easing the agony of getting in and out of that area of the city.

For freight and the port, the best possible fix would be a previously promised overpass at Lander St, as mentioned in Lincoln's article. As someone who frequently parks at Lander and 6th and take Light Rail a stop or two down, I know that freeway access there is about as good as it gets before a game. The truck drivers know that too, but the trouble is that they are frequently held back by the train tracks that cross only a few blocks from the freeway entrance. Building an on-ramp across those tracks similar to the one on Edgar Martinez Dr. would be a somewhat expensive but possibly ideal fix.

But you know what would cause even more serious traffic problems? Putting the arena ANYWHERE ELSE. Unlike the SoDo area, which over the last two decades has seen its freeway access and public transportation options streamlined, renovating Key Arena or building in Bellevue or Renton would cause said cities to slow to a crawl for five hours each game day. They simply don't have the same traffic capacity. Anyone who has ever tried to park for a Sonics game knows how much easier SoDo is, and Bellevue/Renton would each be far more difficult. Each of those cities are bad enough WITHOUT game day traffic.

I'm not really worried about schedule conflicts between the (hopefully) five pro teams occupying the Stadium District in the near future. The sheer numbers of fans won't be an issue, even in the rare occurrence of three (could four be done?) teams playing in a single day. After all, if the Seahawks and Sounders can manage upwards of 67,000 with all the construction going on today, having 20,000 for basketball followed by a max of 47,000 for the Mariners shouldn't be a problem five-ten years down the line.

As Softy said so aptly on KJR today, when Christopher Hansen is doing something so great and giving Seattle such a great deal, and all we might have to do is settle some road infrastructure issues, we should be delighted to step up. And compared to the cost of an arena, something like an overpass is chump change.

I don't know whether the Mariners are actively trying to sabotage the arena deal, and I don't want to think that they are. But the idea that SoDo won't work for a new arena is absurd. There's no better place to plop Hansen's gift, especially considering he has already bought the land. I'd rather see the Mariner's efforts go towards sharing their considerable knowldege of the area to make sure traffic and parking work down there, rather than simply telling everyone how bad an idea it is. And maybe that is still to come. After all, they said in their letter that if SoDo was found to be the best option, that they would get behind the movement. Hopefully, by the time these teams get here, the Mariners will be competitive again and won't have to worry about what might happen to their bottom line.

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