Ballard Bridge in a up position to allow a gravel filled barge to go by.
The Ballard bridge, currently undergoing study to be eventually replaced. (Credit: AvgeekJoe Productions)

Middle age, quarterbacks, and “Don’t Look Up”

Here we are at the threshold of the most important celebration of the year: my birthday. As it happens to fall the day after much of the world celebrates a new year, it’s a whole Ray-centric holiday weekend. Fireworks and rampant debauchery? You’re welcome. Gifts are accepted.

Now, in true Roaring 20’s fashion, I’m going to be spending this birthday in isolation due to a positive Covid test. Me and my boostered self are very fortunate to be in good shape with decent health and most things taken care of. Of course, that gives me plenty of time to read through all the year-in-review retrospectives that come with my birthday. 

It’s amazing how year-enders look back at this tumultuous, bizarre year and mention how strangely quick it went. Didn’t feel like it at the time, but here we are. In the moment, it felt like things were never ready to get going. So it’s a little surprise to find it’s the end of December. Over and over, we were told things are not ready yet, it’s coming, we have plenty of time to get this whatever done in 2021. It’s too soon, we can take care of it. Except, oops! Happy New Year.

Coincidently, such a year ends just as I attain this ripe age of 45. It’s an age that also collides with really noticing how much quickly switches from being too soon to being too late. Too soon to be considered for that job quickly turned into not getting on that 40 under 40 list. Too soon to try that new app quickly turned into OMG, it’s collapsed democracy. Too soon to take up a sport quickly turned into ouch I hurt my shoulder popping the ice tray. To ice my other shoulder.

(Really, it’s been a while since I’ve been too old to pitch the final out of a World Series. But it’s a change to note that there’s no one my age in sports. In fact, there’s no longer any active MLB, WNBA, or NBA players who were born in the 1970’s. NHL’s down to two. NFL’s down to one.)

That too soon/too late switch isn’t just confined to personal life. It gets used way too often in public life. I saw it very closely this year working on issues in Interbay in Seattle. The same refrain came up all the time, usually to shut down some public comment. “It’s too soon to be concerned about the design of the Ballard Bridge.” “It’s too soon to get worked up about that intersection.” “It’s too soon to talk with people about this plan.”

But what we found over and over again was that decisions had already been made. Yes, it was early to determine which of three alternatives would be the final design for the Ballard Bridge. However, the south intersection was already set. It had already been decided not to pursue an at-grade interchange. It had already been decided not to move it. It had already been decided not to consider anything but a massive highway death pretzel. It wasn’t too soon, it just wasn’t the right decisions for us to participate.

The stunningly overbuilt Death Spiral intersection of Emerson Street and Nickerson Street on the south end of the Ballard Bridge (left in each image) is maintained through all three “alternatives” to replace the bridge itself. Relying on this design limits the options for bridge replacement. (SDOT)

If you scratch the surface of many public decisions over the last year, you get the same too soon/too late switch in all sorts of places. It’s too soon to be worried about shelved highway plans until there’s a surprise big influx of federal dollars. It’s too soon to think about redistricting until the midnight hour passes. It’s too soon to worry about Seattle holding the bag for regional homelessness until a bunch of suburban cities opt out

Of course, those are the big decisions. What becomes frustrating is how the “it’s too soon” is weaponized against regular folks who just want an answer about something in their neighborhood. For most of winter break, it was “too soon” for Seattle parents to know whether schools would reopen on January 3. We had to wait until Thursday at 4pm to find out schools will be closed. It’s still “too soon” to know whether or not schools will reopen on Tuesday, given there’s absolutely no word on what positivity rate will trigger a closure of a school, much less the district.

Art imitating life imitating art

A lot of digital ink is being spent dismantling the movie “Don’t Look Up.” Most reviews and critiques focus on whether it’s a great climate movie or a terrible comedy or something else. That’s not why the movie’s good. When you see it (and you should, clutching a hugging pillow) I hope instead you pay attention to the very small choices that characters make in the movie. There’s a couple of big set pieces where things go awry and they’re goofy scene chewing fun. The movie is great because a lot of the characters make these set pieces inevitable by small choices. So many times it’s because each buys the lie that it’s too soon to do anything else. Until it’s very much too late.

Admittedly, I caught that because I do the same thing to myself. That list of prerequisites that need to be finished before this idea will be taken seriously or that article needs supporting evidence enough to be “done.” Part of me is shaking that I’m not watching “Don’t Look Up” again to get an even better point to add to this article. But the perfect is the enemy of done. And it’s time to let you out of this article to begin celebrating my birthday and any other lesser stuff you have to do.

So, as we all take a collective moment to ask where the hell 2021 went, it’s a good point to recognize one absolute, unequivocal fact: it’s not too soon. There’s only one thing that happens prematurely in this city, and it’s calling the Third District on Election Night. Everything else is fair game. Speak honestly about what you find important, and tell everybody why. Perhaps that sounds like a resolution, but it’s not. We’re already living in 2022. Speak up now because it’s much too late for anything else. 

Article Author

Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.