The Seattle Times frequent “Traffic Lab” articles dealing with the area’s congestion typifies their approach to the problem. They fail to recognize that, barring added lanes, the only way to reduce congestion on the area’s roadways is to dramatically increase the 10% of commuters who currently use public transit.
Doing so requires providing commuters added access to transit near where they live to transit capacity and routes to near where they want to go. The Times fails to acknowledge the vast majority of the $54 billion Sound Transit will spend on their “Prop 1 and Beyond” light rail spine will do neither. Their complicity in first encouraging the initial enabling legislation and later support for its expansion played a major roll in passing fatally flawed ST3 funding.
Providing access to light rail spine requires locating stations within walking distance of potential transit commuters or providing them with parking near where they live with bus connections to stations. It’s unlikely sufficient numbers will live within walking distance so added parking and connecting bus routes are needed.
However, all of the current P&R lots with potential routes to light rail stations are already “fully in use”. Thus increasing commuter access to transit requires spending billions adding tens of thousands of parking stalls over the next few years. Yet Sound Transit waits until 2024 to begin spending $698 million of the $54 billion ST3 funding adding a measly 8560 parking stalls over the next 15 years. Far too little too late!
Even more problematic is Sound Transit’s light rail spine limited capacity. A 2004 PSRC report concluded the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) station lengths limited light rail to 4-car trains and that safe operation required a minimum average of 4 minutes between trains. They also concluded each of the four 74-seat cars could accommodate an average of 148 riders.
Thus total light rail capacity through the DSTT is limited to 8880 riders per hour in each direction. The East Link and Central Link south end extensions presumably share that capacity with each having one 4-car train every 8 minutes and 4440 riders per hour in each direction. Thus even with the adding parking light rail will not have the capacity needed to attract the thousands of commuters required to reduce congestion on either I-5 or I-90 corridors.
The limited capacity along I-5 means riders attracted by the ST3 extensions will likely restrict access for commuters using existing light rail stations, especially during peak commute. ST3 approval, made possible by Seattle voters 70% support, will actually reduce access to those currently using Central Link.
Meanwhile all I-90 commuters will have reduced access to Seattle when Sound Transit closes the bridge center roadway to begin constructing East Link. During construction, Sound Transit’s failure to demonstrate outer roadway capacity will inevitably force commuters to choose between high HOT fares on HOV lanes or gridlock on GP lanes.
When East Link begins operation Sound Transit plans to force many if not all bus riders to transfer to and from light rail trains at the South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations. The hassle of transferring to overcrowded trains in the morning and return bus routes in the afternoon “may” dissuade many from using transit. Those choosing to drive rather than ride will likely far exceed the 500 daily cross-lake-bus routes avoided with the transfer; increasing not decreasing outer roadway congestion.
All of this could have been avoided had the Seattle Times had exhibited a modicum of competence in dealing with the issues involved. They could have alerted the public Sound Transit’s Prop 1 light rail extensions violated the Revised Code of Washington by neglecting to consider lower cost BRT options on both I-5 and I-90 corridors.
They ignored the 2004 PSRC report limiting light rail capacity to a fraction of what’s needed to reduce congestion. They promoted an ST3 that spends $54 billion and 25 years adding light rail extensions yet waits until 2024 to begin spending a measly $698 billion on parking; a fraction of what’s needed even for light rails limited capacity.
Those currently using Central Link will lose access. I-90 corridor commuters will endure ever increasing congestion before facing a choice on I-90 Bridge between HOT fees on HOV lanes or gridlock on GP lanes.
Again it could have been avoided if not ignored.