The 6/20/14 and 7/03/14 posts detail why East Link has been and will continue to be a debacle for cross-lake commuters. This post explains why even if the combination of light rail on the center roadway and the added lanes on the outer roadway can accommodate all the cross-lake commuters East Link will still be a transportation debacle. It does nothing to reduce the congestion on 405 and I-90 since its only access for those commuters will be the South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations.
Reducing congestion on those corridors requires either adding highway lanes to accommodate more vehicles or attracting more commuters to mass transit to make better use of existing lanes. Increasing capacity by adding highway lanes tends to be prohibitively expensive in our area, particularly in comparison to the costs of improving bus service. During peak commute a single bus-only lane, with 3-5 seconds between buses, can accommodate up to 1200 buses an hour, more than enough to meet any foreseeable transit commuting requirements.
The costs involved in limiting HOV lanes on I-90 and 405 to “buses only” during peak commute are trivial. Safety considerations would necessitate permanent two-way bus only use on the I-90 bridge center roadway. Again those costs would be minimal. The only significant costs are for providing the additional parking needed for commuters. However, the costs for parking lots near where people live would presumably be far less than the cost for adding parking required with the added lanes near where they “work”.
The bus-only lanes and the additional parking would attract more commuters with express bus routes connecting individual P&R lots with one or two dedicated drop off points along 4th Ave for the morning commute and with return routes from one or two dedicated pick up points along 2nd Ave in the afternoon. Each P&R would have its own bus service with frequency matched to meet the routes demand. (Some of the P&R lots would add similar connections to and from the Bellevue T/C.) it’s likely thousands of commuters would relish the opportunity to leave their car at a local P&R and have a fast, reliable commute into and out of Seattle.
East Link would end that option. Instead of a quick ride to a drop off point in Seattle, commuters will be forced to exit the bus at either the South Bellevue or Mercer Island light rail station and wait for a light rail train for the trip into Seattle. Instead of a non-stop ride from a pick-up point in Seattle to their local P&R they’ll be forced to exit at one of the two light rail stations and wait for their local bus to continue the commute home.
Even if East Link had the needed capacity, many commuters will likely chose to drive rather than put up with this hassle. It reinforces the reality ST made a monumental blunder when they refused consider the bus-lanes on the I-90 Bridge 20 years ago. Cross-lake commuters, who could have enjoyed many years of fast, reliable bus connections from P&R lots throughout the area, have instead endured years of increased congestion.
What's practically obscene is ST proceeding with their plan to spend nearly $3 billion completing a light rail system that will reduce capacity on the I-90 center roadway and dramatically increase congestion on the bridge outer roadways. (As well as devastate parts of Bellevue along the route.) That surely meets anyone’s definition of a “debacle”.