The May 8th Seattle Times front page article “Huge park-and-ride closure leaves angry commuters feeling stranded” reflects Sound Transit’s response to the Times May 3rd editorial “Help Eastside Bus Riders Survive Rail Projects”. The editorial claim, “officials cannot ignore the needs of riders traveling from Eastside cities to Seattle by offering longer, more complicated routes” was simply “ignored”. As a result thousands of transit riders will undoubtedly find their normal P&R full well before they get there, effectively ending their access to transit.
Rather than “speaking out” as the previous post suggests, the Times, apparently less concerned about bus riders concludes, “The multiyear parking closures are another sacrifice, beyond the median $600 or so a year per household in taxes, in the service of the future high-capacity rail network.” They ignore the previous post concern regarding Sound Transit’s June closure of the I-90 Bridge center roadway.
A 2004 FHWA ROD concluded the two center roadway lanes were still needed for vehicles even with added outer roadway lanes. The Times apparently concurs with Sound Transit making no attempt to demonstrate capacity, forcing I-90 Bridge commuters to “sacrifice” with longer travel times as a result, inevitably leading to gridlock with future cross-lake commuter growth.
The Times apparently believes the years of “sacrifice” from added taxes, loss of transit access and potential outer roadway congestion can be justified by light rail “high capacity transit” service when East Link begins operation. They still don’t acknowledge East Link’s share of the light rail spine routed through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) will be limited to one 4-car train every 8 minutes; The equivalent of thirty 74-seat light rail cars an hour; hardly high capacity transit. Sound Transit could have added that capacity years ago with 50 buses an hour without ever closing the P&Rs or bridge center roadway. (or spending billions in the process).
East Link capacity limits the “they” in the Sound Transit spokeswoman’s claim, “In 2023 "they’ll" be on a train and avoid congestion completely” to a fraction of cross lake commuters. It will do absolutely nothing to “avoid congestion” that frequently begins near Issaquah along the I-90 corridor. East Link’s affect on I-90 Bridge outer roadway congestion will be miniscule since Sound Transit plans to use East Link to replace I-90 Bridge bus routes will at best replace about 50 of the thousands of vehicles creating congestion on outer roadway each hour. Particularly since the worst congestion is on the GP lanes not the HOV.
Even those riding East Link may not be enamored with doing so. Sound Transit’s 2030 ridership projections were originally based on East Link replacing all I-90 Bridge bus routes; providing 40,000 of their 50,000 projected daily riders. Cross-lake buses were to be terminated at either the South Bellevue or Mercer Island light rail stations.
As of their April 2017 East Link SEPA Addendum Sound Transit still had not finalized their “Bus Transit Integration” plans for doing so. Transit riders who, prior to East Link enjoyed congestion-free cross-lake commutes but still had the benefits of HOV lanes for the commute into Seattle during construction, will be forced to transfer to and from light rail trains when East Link begins operation. It’s doubtful they will be “pleased” with the hassle of transferring from buses to light rail in the morning and from light rail to their respective bus routes on their return; and likely paying a second fare in each direction. Those choosing to drive rather than ride will only add to GP lane congestion.
Since the two stations are the last with access, East Link’s limited capacity means those transferring from buses along with those using the P&Rs at the stations will find it increasingly difficult to get access to crowded light rail trains; especially with growth of commuters within walking distance of earlier stations. The limited capacity forces everyone to deal with the access problem for the return routes. Neither station was designed to accommodate the thousands of transferees every morning and afternoon. Thus more light rail riders will likely “regret” rather than “rejoice” the result of “sacrifices” enabling East Link.
Even the Times, in a Nov 4th front page article, concluded light rail extensions would not reduce congestion saying at best “it offers an escape from traffic misery for people who can reach the stations on foot, on a feeder bus, or via park-and-ride”. Yet the May 8th article, six months later claims the future of high capacity transit justifies multi-year parking closures and $600 or so a year in taxes. That’s only 5 days after Sound Transit ignored their efforts to help eastside bus riders cope with P&R closures. Yet the P&R closures are just the beginning.
In conclusion, the vast majority of those who benefit from east-side “sacrifice” will be those who live within walking distance of light rail stations for their commute into Seattle; and they will likely have problems on their return trip. It’s not clear whether the Times is aware of the other likely “sacrifices” commuters will make. What is clear is they need to reconsider the claim “East Link performance will justify the sacrifice”.