My first glance at Bryan Mistele’s “Special to the Times” on the July 10th editorial page “Sound Transit’s expansion will be obsolete before it’s built” suggested the paper had once again gone from “cheer leader to critic” regarding ST3. It included the following criticism of the $54 billion proposed expansion:
“As proposed, it would be constructed over the next 25 years and is projected to provide transit an additional 1 percent of daily trips by 2040.”
While I agree ST3 will have a miniscule effect on congestion, I’m not sure where he got the “1% increase” in transit and I disagree with his objection to ST3 that “light rail may be obsolete before the ribbons are cut”. The problem with ST3 is not because light rail will be obsolete, it works very well in San Francisco as BART and countless other cities and is unlikely to be "obsolete in 25 years". It’s because the Seattle tunnel prevents the ST3 Prop 1 and beyond light rail extensions from ever having the capacity needed to significantly reduce congestion.
There are two ways to reduce congestion. You either add highway lanes or you increase the capacity of existing lanes. Mistele’s INRIX proposes to increase lane capacity with ACES an acronym for “autonomous, connected, electric, and shared vehicles". Autonomous vehicles purportedly reduce congestion “by allowing vehicles to drive more closely”. “Connected” drivers can use the internet to avoid roadways which are “congested”. “Electric vehicles” may not reduce congestion but will decrease vehicle emissions. “Shared vehicles like “Uber and Lyft reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles coming into the city”.
It’s difficult to see how any of the four ACES will significantly increase capacity on any of the major roadways into Seattle. I’m dubious any improvement because autonomous cars “can drive more closely” would significantly reduce congestion. Especially since any improvement would presumably require all the cars on the roadway be autonomous. Not likely to happen for a very long time.
The “Internet Connection” is unlikely to help those forced to use I-5, I-90, or I-405 to avoid congestion during peak commute. Electric vehicles don’t reduce congestion and its unlikely many commuters will use “shared vehicles” like Uber and Lyft for their daily commutes.
While the car pool version of “shared vehicles” can reduce congestion the only way to significantly do so is to attract more commuters to high capacity buses. If reducing emissions is the goal use engines running on liquified hydrogen (or hydrogen fuel cells) to power the buses. Particularly since we can use our ample sources of “carbon free” hydroelectric power to provide the liquefied hydrogen rather than sending it to other states.
In conclusion, while there are ample reasons to vote against ST3, light rail obsolescence isn't one of them. High capacity buses are the only way to provide the capacity needed to reduce the congestion on the area’s roadways. The environmental benefit from using hydrogen to power the buses is just an extra bonus.