(I submitted the following to the Seattle Times in response to their Oct 27th Opinion page column. I'm posting it since they will likely ignore it.)
Why I’m Pessimistic About Seattle Times Livewire Event
The responses to the “How to fix the I-5 Bottleneck?” on the Oct 27th Seattle Times “Opinion Page” by the four “local and national transportation leaders" the Seattle Times selected “to explore creative ideas about how to keep people and commerce moving forward” at their Oct 29th “Livewire Event” sponsored by Sound Transit exemplify why I’m pessimistic about the result.
The responses by the four are “summarized” below
There is no “fix” to the I-5 is congested” problem. It will continue to be congested in the foreseeable future
The best thing we can do to fix I-5 is to complete the Sound Transit route between Tacoma and Everett
The data now exists to identify the bottlenecks, model the impact different alternative would have and make better investment decisions
We’ve figured out that a fast trip can only be provided for those willing to pay for it
The I-5 congestion problem is not that complicated. A May 8th, PSRC presentation to the Eastside Transportation Partnership (ETP) “Stuck in Traffic: 2015 Report” includes a chart (Page 20) showing I-5 HOV travel times in 2014 between Everett and Seattle had increased to ~75 minutes in the morning and ~68 minutes in the afternoon. Comparable times between Federal Way and Seattle were ~52 minutes and 48 minutes.
No one in their right mind would conclude that the delays in the HOV lanes are due to too many buses. Yet none to the four seems to recognize the futility of Sound Transit spending billions over the next 8 years on Central Link extensions to stations where the only ones with access will be to those who previously rode buses. That even if ST manages to utilize all of the Central Link capacity (8880 rider per hour per direction per 2004 PSRC report) they will only reduce the number of buses on I-5 by 100 per hour and have a minuscule effect on the 5000-per-hour-vehicle capacity of each lane.
None of the four seems to recognize the solution to the I-5 HOV congestion problem is to reduce non-transit HOV traffic on the HOV lanes. The way to do so is a combination of the “carrot and stick”. The “carrot” would be to provide carpoolers with the option of using added P&R capacity and additional bus routes to Seattle. An additional 100 buses per hour could reduce the +2HOV traffic by 5000 vehicles an hour, dramatically reducing HOV lane congestion. The “stick” would be to limit use of HOV lanes to +3HOV during peak commute.
None of the four seem to recognize additional parking and bus routes could also reduce the I-5 regular lane congestion. An additional 100 buses per hour could have the capacity to reduce the traffic on I-5 by more than 10,000 vehicles per hour. ST should use the Central Link funds to add parking for the additional transit riders and bus routes to service them. If each parking space in the suburbs cost $20,000 they could add 15,000 parking spaces with the $300 million ST will spend on the Northgate extension next year alone. And they could begin doing so in 2017.
The increased I-5 bus frequency could be facilitated in Seattle by converting 4th Ave. to a two-way, bus-only lane configuration. Buses would use one side to drop off riders and the other to pick up riders depending on which direction they came from. Doing so would allow each route to have one or two dedicated egress and access locations making maximum use of the roadway and further reducing transit times.
Again, based on their Oct 27th “Opinion” page comments on I-5 congestion it’s unlikely the four participants in the Oct 29th “Livewire Event” will propose these "Solutions".