(I submitted the following to the Bellevue Reporter in response to the “Kemper Freeman transportation plan" in their 4/15/16 edition)
Mobility 21 Ignores BRT Congestion Relief
The Kemper Freeman Mobility 21 contention in the April 15th Bellevue American that “light rail is not the answer” is well founded. However, the claim the regional plan “is too Seattle-centric” ignores the reality the desired destination for the majority of commuters, wherever they live, is in Seattle. The claim the plan “focuses too heavily on transit” fails to identify the real problem; Sound Transit’s decision to emphasize light rail rather then bus rapid transit (BRT) for the area’s commuters.
The fact the Freeman team only wants to “contain light rail to what already had a record of decision” presumably means they concur with Sound Transit proceeding with the Prop 1 extensions. Limiting light rail extensions after Prop I wastes billions. It allows Sound Transit to spend billions on an East Link light rail system that will increase rather than decrease I-90 Bridge congestion. While the billions Sound Transit will spend on Central Link extensions to Lynnwood won’t increase congestion, they will do little if anything to reduce I-5 travel times for the vast majority of commuters.
They use the fact that only 2.9% of commuters use mass transit to justify the claim that “highways would continue to be the future under the Mobility 21 plan”. Yet, the likely reason for the limited mass transit use is the vast majority of commuters don’t have access to it. The less than 10,000 parking spaces in the major King County P&R lots are already more than 95% ”in use”. Those finding parking will likely be forced to commute on “standing-room-only” buses during peak commute.
Sound Transit Chairman Dow Constantine is right with his claim “the age of freeway building is over” as its “unlikely” highway lanes, that could be added on I-5 and I-90, would significantly reduce congestion. While light rail capacity far exceeds that of highway lanes, Constantine’s 16,000-rider-per-hour-capacity claim is nearly double the 8880 level the PSRC concluded due to Seattle tunnel restrictions. Even this capacity requires Sound Transit provide access via bus routes from P&R lots since few commuters will live within walking distance of light rail stations and parking will be limited. Yet Sound Transit Prop 1 funding doesn’t appear to provide increased access. While existing bus routes could be routed to light rail stations, doing so will have a miniscule effect on congestion.
Even Constantine’s “optimistic” light rail estimate is only a fraction of potential bus rapid transit (BRT) capacity. A bus-only lane can easily accommodate more than 1000 buses dwarfing light rail capacity. Rather than routing buses to light rail stations they could be routed directly into Seattle (or Bellevue and Overlake T/C) eliminating the need to spend billions on light rail tracks. The bus routes could take advantage of two-way bus only lanes on the I-90 Bridge center roadway and limiting I-5 express lanes to buses only or +3HOV traffic.
The way to reduce congestion is to take advantage of the BRT capacity by adding thousands of parking spaces. Survey all the major employment centers in the area asking when and where commuters would like to leave their cars. Use the results to prioritize locations for adding 10,000 or more parking spaces each year to existing or new P&Rs and connecting bus routes. The added parking and connecting bus routes would cost far less than what Sound Transit will spend on light rail.
After 10 years the added highway lanes Mobility 21 seems to propose will require parking near where the 100,000 or more commuters “work”. With BRT they can do so near where they live. The choice seems obvious.