Anyone who travels on the area’s major roadways or listens to the radio about traffic problems during commute hours is surely aware of the area’s congestion. The obvious problem being current roadways don’t have the capacity to accommodate current number of vehicles. Yet, two articles in the Seattle Times, June 19th edition typify their inexplicable failure to acknowledge that, barring additional highway lanes, the only solution is to increase the 10% of those who currently use public transit for their commutes into and out of Seattle.
The paper’s front-page article “Here’s why I-5 is such a mess, and what keeps us moving at all” identifies the problem; the increased “daily vehicle volume”. The article details the increased traffic volume, the resultant increase in traffic delays, and lauds those responsible for the “incident response” efforts to minimize their impact on travel times.
However the article fails to provide any realistic “solutions”. Instead, the article concedes Sound Transit’s failure to address problem with the following:
Sound Transit 3’s light-rail system, as it expands over the next 25 years, will do little to ease I-5 traffic, but it will give some commuters an escape hatch to avoid it”.
Yet the Times played a major role in allowing the Sound Transit Board to proceed with plans to spend the vast majority of $54 billion over the next 25 years on this “escape hatch”. Sound Transit’s problem being their decision to route the spine through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) limited capacity to the point where it will do essentially nothing to increase the percentage of commuters who use transit. Yet the Times limits their criticism to this relatively benign comment.
Even worse, if Central Link attracts even a fraction of the over 100,000 daily riders Sound Transit "anticipated" for the ST3 extensions to Everett, many trains will be full before they ever reach the UW station, at least during peak commute. Thus the Times “escape hatch” for some will severely limit access for many current riders.
The edition’s companion article, ”Can’t state ease I-5 traffic? Fixes exist, but most of them are pricey”, attempting to propose solutions further exemplifies their incompetence:
The most obvious way to reduce traffic on I-5 is to reduce the number of cars on the road. The most obvious way to do that is to make it more expensive for them to be there.
The Times apparently doesn't recognize the absurdity of warning about I-5's "pricey fixes" in the same edition they seem to have no concern about Sound Transit spending much of ST3's $54 billion on light rail extensions they admit won't reduce congestion. Instead, typical of the Times, their "obvious" solution to congestion is to impose tolls. (e.g their support for I-405 HOT) The article quotes WSDOT estimates the tolls would raise $22 million, increase rush-hour express-lane travel speeds by up to 17 mph, but reduce GP velocities by up to 5 mph. (The article fails to mention current GP lane velocities so it’s unclear if they will drop from 40 to 35, a 12.5 % increase in travel time; or 25 to 20, a 20 % increase.)
They fail to even consider adding bus service “to reduce the number of cars on the road”. A 70 ft articulated bus can accommodate up to 119 sitting and standing riders. An additional 100 such buses could replace nearly 12,000 vehicles. An additional 100 bus routes an hour during the 3 hour morning and afternoon commutes could replace nearly 36,000 cars going into an out of the city during peak commute.
The buses could minimize travel times if the HOV lanes were restricted to buses or +3 HOV during the peak commute. Commuter egress and access in Seattle could be facilitated by converting 2nd Ave into an elongated, bus-only T/C. Each bus route would have one or two designated drop-off points on one side and one or two designated pick up points on the other side. The time saved by the limited number of stops and avoiding the need to cue up behind other buses more than offsets any loss of convenience with “on demand” egress and access. (Also likely far more convenient than light rail stations)
The “pricey” part will be the added parking required to access the bus routes. All the current lots in the area with access to I-5 and I-90 are essentially full. Sound Transit could have added parking to increase access to transit years ago. Instead, they typify their approach by waiting until 2024 to begin spending $698 million on 8560 parking spaces; as if that will provide sufficient access to their $54 billion light rail spine.
At least 10 times that amount should be spent over the next 5 years adding thousands of parking stalls annually both expanding current and adding new parking facilities. The costs for the Seattle T/C, and for the added parking and bus service each year would likely be far less than what Sound Transit would spend on their light rail spine each year.
After 5 years they could have an additional 50,000 parking stalls and bus routes able to accommodate the additional transit commuters. Those willing to leave their car near where they live rather than near where they work would ease congestion throughout area. Additional parking and bus service could be added to accommodate additional growth wherever that may be.
In conclusion, it’s unfortunate the Times is so “blasé ” about the inability of Sound Transits $54 billion spine to address the area’s congestion. Also, that they don’t recognize that adding parking and bus service is not a “pricey” way to increase the number of transit riders needed to “fix I-5 traffic”. The entire area will pay a very heavy "price" if they continue to do so.