I submitted the following to the Seattle Times in response to their March 29th article where County Executive and Sound Transit chairman Dow Constantine extols the benefits from spending $50 Billion over the next 25 years extending light rail throughout the area. Again I post it since they will “likely” ignore it.
Constantine “Unaware” of BRT Advantages,
A March 29th Seattle Times article reported that County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chairman Dow Constantine’s opined during his “State of the County” presentation “There is simply no other option (than transit) that can add the kind of capacity we need to our transportation system”. He did so to argue the case for the $50 billion Sound Transit 3 proposal that will go to the voters in November. The only apparent “pushback” to the proposed ST3 light rail extensions was “We want it sooner and we want more”.
Apparently neither Dow Constantine nor those in attendance were aware of the other “transit” option: Bus Rapid Transit or BRT. BRT could go a long ways towards providing the area’s commuters with fast, reliable transport for a fraction of the cost and time required for light rail. A bus-only lane can easily accommodate more than 1000 buses an hour with capacity dwarfing the 16,000 people per hour Constantine claimed for light rail.
It’s most effective when access is limited to one or two large P&R lots rather than with multiple stops along the route. Fast, reliable transit requires it use either dedicated transit lanes or lanes requiring +3HOV to minimize non-transit vehicles to one or two dedicated drop-off locations rather than multiple “on demand” stops along the route.
The I-90 Bridge center roadway would be ideal for BRT across Lake Washington. Non-transit HOV traffic could be moved to 4th lanes on the outer roadways and two-way BRT initiated on center roadway with capacity dwarfing any foreseeable cross-lake transit demands. (With ST3 Sound Transit will close the center roadway next year, exacerbating cross-lake congestion for 7 years while they construct an East Link light rail system capable of just one 4-car train every 8 minutes that most I-90 corridor transit commuters won’t even have access to. ST3 will increase not decrease I-90 Bridge congestion.)
During peak commute hours every eastside P&R would have added BRT express bus connections to and from one or two dedicated drop-off and pick-up locations in Seattle (or to Bellevue and Overlake T/Cs). 4th Ave could be converted into an elongated, two-way, bus-only T/C with egress on one side and access on the other depending on the routes. (The limited BRT stops on 4th Ave would still likely be more convenient for most commuters than the light rail stations.)
For SR-520, BRT could provide eastside commuters with direct routes from eastside P&R’s to a T/C at the UW light rail station and Seattleites with return access to Bellevue and Overlake T/Cs. The large numbers wanting to go both ways during the peak morning and afternoon commute epitomizes effective public transit. Restricting the SR-520 HOV lane to +3HOV during peak commute hours would minimize cross-lake transit times. During off-peak hours all the lanes could be open to general-purpose traffic to ease congestion.
The same approach could be used for I-5 commuters south of Seattle with access from expanded P&R capacity during peak commute hours to added direct BRT connections into the Seattle 4th Ave T/C or along I-405 to Bellevue T/C. HOV lanes on both I-5 and I-405 would be restricted to +3HOV during peak commute but could be open to general-purpose use during off peak hours. North end commuters would also have similar access to BRT from expanded P&R capacity during peak commute into Seattle with one of the two HOV lanes on I-5 limited to buses (and possibly +3HOV if doing so doesn’t increase travel times).
The common denominator for improving congestion on all of the traffic corridors is the need for added P&R capacity. If each P&R space costs $40,000, 10,000 parking spaces could be added for $400 million, slightly less than Sound Transit’s 2016 budget for light rail extensions beyond UW, Angle Lake, and East Link. Total light rail capital expenditures averaged slightly more than $575 million from 2013-2015, presumably with Prop 1 funding.
Thus if Sound Transit stopped light rail extensions they could still presumably “afford” to spend $400 million a year adding parking without the ST3 funding. After 5 years they’d have 50,000 additional spots available near where commuters “live”.
Getting them to near where they “work” would presumably require additional buses. Assuming each bus can complete a circuit in an hour, roughly 35 buses could accommodate the 10,000 riders during the 3-hour peak morning and afternoon commutes. Assuming each bus costs $1M, $35M could buy the needed buses each year to provide transit from and to the added parking.
Assuming the 35 buses average schedule includes 6 hours of operation a day for 300 days gives 63,000 hours of revenue service annually. Sound Transit’s 2016 budget projects a $217.89 cost per revenue hour for buses. Thus transporting those using the added 10,000 parking spaces would increase operating costs by $13.7M annually each year (This could be more than offset by the $15M Sound Transit would receive in fare box revenue from 10,000 commuters paying $5 a day for their commute into and out of Seattle for 300 days.)
Thus, Sound Transit could, for ~$450M each year for 5 years or a total of $2.25B, add parking and BRT service for up to 50,000 commuters. They could surely do that without ST3 funding by adding a T/C at the University light rail station rather than extending light rail to Northgate, stopping East Link, and any Central Link extensions past Angle Lake.
As transit demand increases an additional $2.25B could be spent over the next 5 years, again without needing ST3 funding, adding 50,000 more parking spaces and bus routes where needed to meet commuter demand. (The 100,000 spaces may seem like a lot but then those commuters have to park their cars someplace; the nearer to their homes the better.)
Compare that to what the area will have in 2027 if ST3 is passed. Presumably some $20 Billion will have been spent on Prop 1 Central Link extensions to Lynnwood, Des Moines, and East Link to Overlake. Until Sound Transit adds the 2nd tunnel Central Link “North” capacity will be limited by the tunnel to 9000 riders per hour (slightly more than half the Constantine claim) and not even sufficient to accommodate the 33,000 commuters who currently use transit during the three-hour peak morning and afternoon commutes.
Routing the buses that Central Link could accommodate to light rail stations rather than into Seattle would have a miniscule effect on I-5. Sound Transit could increase transit capacity by continuing to route the existing buses into Seattle and adding parking with bus connections to new light rail stations. (However neither Prop1 or ST3 appear to include the needed funding.) Again they could route those buses directly into Seattle with a minimal impact on I-5 congestion without spending a dime on light rail. East Link and Central Link “south” would presumably each get 4500 people per hour capacity with Prop 1, a tiny fraction of what BRT could provide.
The first “ST3 funded” extension to Redmond would still be a year away from completion in 2028. Other areas would have to wait even longer to get any light rail “benefits” from all the additional billions they will have provided to Sound Transit for ST3. Again, accessing those “benefits” would still require the, as yet “undefined”, added parking and connecting bus routes.
The only ST3 benefits for Seattleites currently using Central Link from the years of doubling their taxes will be access to Lynnwood and the ability to transfer to East Link. The only ST3 extension that makes any sense is a “West Link” tunnel light rail that could supplement the West Seattle Bridge transit capacity rather than attempt to replace it like East Link. However, typical of Sound Transit, with ST3 “West Link” won’t be available until 2033. It’s not “impossible” Sound Transit could see the “wisdom” of spending East Link funds on West Link if ST3 is rejected, expediting its completion.
In conclusion, BRT is surely a “viable” alternative to spending $50 billion over the next 25 years on light rail extensions attempting to reduce congestion. The area’s commuters have already endured years of needless expenditures and congestion because of the failure of Constantine and others to recognize that reality. Voter rejection of ST3 this fall is probably the last chance to give them a “wake up” call.