As reported by multiple outlets, the City of Seattle and House Speaker Frank Chopp appear to have shifted their opposition to the SR520 plan, with less emphasis on unworkable highway tunnels under the cut, instead pushing for the HOV lane to become transit-only.  The Stranger claims they’ll ask for light rail tracks on the bridge in anticipation of Link operations across the bridge:

Sources tell us that city leaders will soon release plans for a set of specific requests. Among them, the sources say, the city wants: only four lanes dedicated to traffic and the other two lanes dedicated to transit only, light rail tracks laid on the bridge for future use, no ramp leading to the Arboretum, and a smaller footprint through the Montlake neighborhood. This layout could include a transit-lane connection from 520 to the north side of the ship canal.

More after the jump.

Converting HOV lanes to transit-only is one those ideal-vs-practical fights that easily divides the pro-transit community.  Personally, I’d say that if HOV volumes are likely to be high enough to impede bus service, then it’s time to either kick them out or ramp it up to HOV-4, HOV-5, or whatever is necessary to decongest it.  That’s ultimately an empirical question.

On the other hand, making the lane transit-only lets you put the HOV access ramp in the lane because there is no through traffic except transit.  This would not only reduce the footprint through the neighborhood but allow restoration of the Montlake Flyer stop in the plan.

As for light rail tracks, I’m obviously in favor of more rail.  However, I’m a little skeptical of SR520 as a high-priority future expansion so I’m concerned this investment might end up having to be redone anyway by the time we get to it.  But that’s really a subject for a whole different post.

Lastly, I’d like to think the “transit lane to the north side” is a lane on Montlake Blvd. itself, not some sort of unworkable flyover/tunnel to get buses directly from the left lane on 520 into the Husky Stadium parking lot.

In related news, the legislature is considering removal of the ability of cities to block permits for major highway projects.  According to my Olympia sources, this bill is phrased so as to not prevent Bellevue from blocking East Link if they don’t get their way on the alignment through downtown.  I’ve been told that the GMA prevents this blockage anyway, but only after a long fight in court that could delay completion.

80 Replies to “HOV or Transit Lane on 520?”

  1. Couldn’t 520 have a bus way like the one on I-90 designed to have rail on it at a later time?

    Also, putting a transit only lane on Montlake instead of separating those lanes at an earlier point to go to the UW station would create large complications for rail it we get it there.

  2. Will the State ever end their war on transit? I’m sick of these dinosaur legislators cramming car capacity down our throats. Ben, what’s the latest on your Transit PAC? I’m ready to donate.

    1. Email and I’ll be happy to accept a donation!

      The latest is that we’re starting to fundraise, and I’m spending time in olympia collecting stories about who supports what.

  3. The 520 bridge should be scraped. It’s not needed…I-90 and the expanded I-405 “U” can handle the traffic including transit.

    Getting 520 out of the grid will eliminate the bottlenecks of I-5 northbound and I-90 Westbound into Seattle.

    1. In a perfect world, it’s not needed. But it’s not a perfect world. 520’s 115,000 vehicles that would have to be diverted around the lake onto I-405 and I-90. Suddenly, all that one-new-lane capacity we just gave the southern half of I-405 is totally gone, resulting in slower travel times for cars and buses. And there hasn’t been any additional capacity added on the north end.

      The existing bridge is a major safety hazard. It has to be closed frequently during large storms. Engineering estimates say that it could sink in a 20 to 50-year storm event.

      The bridge is a necessary evil and it’s unrealistic to remove such a critical regional infrastructure component.

      1. Oh gosh I hate I-90! It’s so long and inconvient for me. 271 is a popular bus. It would be really frusterated to always have to drive south to come back to the north. I rarely get on I-5 or 405 when i use 520 (busing or otherwise) so an increase capacity in 405 wouldn’t help at all. But 520 thos is a reality so a nondiscussion. I think a 3+ HOV with transit would be fine. It’s typically really open and would let carpools in the lane too.

      2. Let’s close it for six weeks for “inspection and emergency maintenance” and see how bad traffic really gets. By the end of the I-5 work, traffic was improving, remember?

      3. 115,000 cars. That’s just not a whole lot.

        And how many of those trips could be turned into transit rides? Or simply done away with because people find reasons not to travel — or better yet — give people a good reason to move to the other other side of the lake so they don’t have to commute?

    2. I completely disagree. This is a very important connection between the Eastside, with its hundreds of thousands (millions yet?) of residents to the University of Washington (and in some cases Downtown), and for the hundreds of thousands of residents of North Seattle to access Downtown Bellevue and Microsoft. Even in a perfect world where we had no cars, we would want at least transit on this route.

      1. In my perfect world, the 520 bridge would be heavily tolled, with 2 lanes each way, 1 rail, 1 cars/trucks, with two bicycle paths one in either direction. Rail would run to Ballard and Kirkland and Redmond.

        The current actions by WSDOT are to cram a 6 lane bridge into this slot. WSDOT is all about auto traffic.

        In my less perfect world, it would have no car/truck traffic and 1 lane each way with bicycle paths.

  4. I agree with Martin on the decision to make this a transit and HOV lane. One alternative with the HOV lane is to simply change the requirement for HOV use depending on the time of day and/or congestion similar to the tolls on HOT lanes on SR 167. For example, say sensors detect that the HOV lane is not maintaining a speed of say 45 mph and the HOV requirement is 3+. A sign further downstream can be changed to allow only carpools with 4+. Then, maybe at a certain point (say 6+), the lane could read BUS ONLY or something similar.

    Of course, it would create havoc for those who are trying to do a good thing and have the minimum people required at the time.

    1. An option I’ve advocated to allow enough room for transit to quickly exit and enter the 520 HOV/transit lanes is to not allow GP traffic to use 520 between I-5 and Montlake. IOW close the WB GP onramp and EB offramp. It will cut down the traffic impact to the Montlake neighborhood, and allow for a flyer type stop at Montlake Boulevard.

      But then again I’m one of those car-hater types.

      1. If you close off GP traffic between I-5 and Montlake, try to visualize how very many more cars will whip through our Montlake neighborhoods on their way to 520. What we really need is high cost of tolls for SOVs, fast and adequate transit to get people out of their cars. Climate change issues are upon us.

  5. If it would be track only, wouldn’t it be much easier to build? Lanes are wider than tracks… I could imagine a Link line from Kirkland to Ballard which would meet North Link at the University. People going downtown could transfer at the University, no need to build an HOV lane over Portage Bay.

    1. If you push for tracks over the bridge, the answer from most people will be “that’s great, where are you getting the money for that?”

      1. How much would tracks across the bridge cost? The lanes are already going to be there. Maybe we can apply the $81 million from the second drawbridge that doesn’t actually help buses per WSDOT’s traffic analysis. That might be a start. You wouldn’t put rail on that drawbridge anyway (unless it were a streetcar, but I doubt that would be sufficient here.)

        Of course, a full system would cost a lot of money, but we should at least be thinking now about how it might work in the future… so thank you to Seattle Transit Blog for enabling this discussion!

      2. In reality there is little difference between light-rail and streetcars. Most LRVs used here are actually based on European or Japanese tram designs.

        As for running light rail across a drawbridge, Portland does that with the Steel Bridge and MAX. Though I’m told the bridge is rarely opened these days.

    1. as long as they don’t hire the same “brilliant” folks who put the initial rail in the DSTT

      1. The idea of putting rails on the bridge before East Link over I-90 is built is still a half-assed attempt to be cool.

      2. Beyond “not engineered properly” I think they knew at the time it was put in that it would never be usable, but that it sent a message. Rail on 520, cool, but only if we ahve a way to use it. Put it in to send a message, then just make it HOV 3+.

    2. Yeah, why not even wall off that transit lane from the rest of the lanes so you don’t have the cheating car stray into that lane or accidents slowing down transit in that lane. Making it BRT/Light rail line over the bridge, perhaps continuing it down 520, pretty much like what is happening in the DSTT now but just at grade. Going over I-90 to get to Redmond has always felt a little kludgy, especially for those of us in N. Seattle.

  6. The current plan to have 6 vehicle lanes and no exclusive transit lanes is based on decisions made 10 years ago, practically a generation ago in transportation planning, back when 8 lanes was taken seriously, before Sound Transit proved they could even plan a line, let alone build anything.

    Since then, public opinion has shifted. The roads votes have gone down big despite huge amounts of money pumped into the campaigns, and transit keeps passing by wide margins. Current polling indicates this trend is continuing not just in Seattle but the region at large. This 520 project in its current form is impossible to distinguish from what would have been suggested in 1975 – bigger, wider, more cars, transit stops removed. It is the last gasp of the road lobby.

    Despite the greenwashing, the proposed HOV lanes are a Trojan horse to get 6 general purpose vehicle lanes into Seattle by the same crowd that still wants to see 8 vehicle lanes into Seattle (which the new bridge is wide enough to support on day 1.) The state will be under enormous financial pressure to convert them to HOT lanes, and if that happens, traffic will overwhelm Seattle streets and I-5. Even as HOV lanes they are projected to bring another 20,000 cars across the lake, impacting transit reliability for Metro 43/48 and many other routes. Most of these would be carpools already and the major time advantage is from the queue bypass on the Eastside (which can remain there.) Drivers are now coordinating with mobile phones to cheat and skirt state patrol enforcement of that HOV lane… It’s a joke (albeit a sad one.)

    I’ve come to the conclusion that transit only lanes from day 1 are actually the magic bullet for SR 520. We can make this project work for Seattle and the region on a new 6 lane bridge with that configuration. With the consensus we will build around this new vision, we can finally get started on this project, preserve the corridor, create jobs, improve mobility and public safety – all those benefits and more.

    As an indication of the state’s insincerity in supporting transit, they’ve done precisely nothing to optimize the transit connection at UW while removing transit access at Montlake, which forces extra transfers. Metro believes this is a meaningful loss that needs to be mitigated by running more buses ad infinitum. The only way to bring the transit stops back to Montlake is to do transit-only lanes, unless you build nine lanes across Portage Bay, and that isn’t happening. We can try to excuse this, but these things are fundamentally disadvantages for transit, not advantages. What’s the priority here and what should it be?

    If we build HOV lanes, we aren’t going to get that right of way back for exclusive transit use – ever. We’ll have to tear up the corridor again as soon as it’s built to reconfigure it, or wait another generation. If we funded rail on SR 520 in Sound Transit 3 in, say, 2016, when U Link opens, we’d be starting construction on that as soon as this project is complete, so we’d be looking at two consecutive decades of construction. That doesn’t sound like fun to travel through in any mode.

    We get one shot to do this right and optimize the project for transit, not cars.

    1. if they did want to run link across the 520 bridge … would this be a line from East Link through the U District (connecting with the line being built) to Fremont and Ballard?

      1. Most likely yes, something similar to that, but probably not in one single phase. Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan for 2005 contains UW to Ballard and UW to Redmond corridors. They’re described as “High Capacity Transit” rather than light rail per se, but I’m not sure how you’d get HCT between UW and Ballard unless at least sections of it were grade-separated, in which case I’m not sure buses would be the best thing to run on that line.

        ST Long Range Plan

        We’ve spent so long planning SR 520 that the “long range” isn’t far beyond the end of the construction period anticipated for this project! The region and the world have changed since 1997. You won’t see any more grand ambitions for new highway lanes for cars coming from me.

  7. I’m for Link on both bridges. Build it and they will come. Especially with good transit connections, lots of bicycle lockers, and high volume kiss-and-ride turnouts.

    1. I like the idea. 520-Link could have it’s own drawbridge via McCurdy park, across the Montlake cut straight to the U-Link station so that people can quickly transfer downtown.

      1. I don’t see that as being applicable as the graphic is talking about 520 INSTEAD OF 90, and not 520 TO COMPLIMENT 90. Those are two entirely different scenarios.

        But I agree with the point of the thread, that for what East Link is designed to do, 90 is better. But for the next phase… well that is a different story entirely.

        At a later date, I’m not seeing what would be so bad with a Ballard-Freemont-UW-Kirkland-Bellevue-Issaquah line. That’s just is unrealistic just a 520 connector. Whatever goes down, I think rail is the future and prepping for it now when we are building something from scratch is not just a good idea, but a no brainer. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

      2. Lighten up, Ben. Being a transit snob turns off potential allies. Please find more political patience. “We’ve covered this extensively.” “At LEAST look at the graphic.” Sorry I haven’t read your blog every darn day… I guess was earning a living or something.

        The graphic is a fabulous succinct argument against making 520 the only trans-lake line. It does not address running Links on both bridges, with 520 coming later.

        Of course EastLink on 90 is first and better be guaranteed. My point is that also 520 would be great, too. Looks like it’s too late to figure out how a 520 line would meet Central Link at Husky Stadium. But it could sure relieve the Redmond-Seattle “reverse commute” that is more of a daily crunch than any other trans-lake commute.

        Imagine if you could have both bridges link both sides. I still like that idea and would like to explore how that would work.

        Imagine a 520 line that hooks to EastLink in the Overlake stations to run out to Redmond, but also branches north, maybe in the BNSF corridor to link Kirkland and Woodinville. Something wrong with this? It would be fabulous, it would be fast, it would be ADDITIONAL.

      3. And since bridges have a way of closing for repairs or being swamped, it would be good to have alternative ways to cross the lake.

  8. I don’t think a Ballard-UW-Redmond line would be a good idea. It reminds me of the Green Line in Los Angeles that doesn’t serve downtown LA, which means it has low ridership. I think light rail has a tough time serving areas when it doesn’t connect to a downtown.

    But if that was built, wouldn’t it be easier to build an elevated section parallel to 520? It seems to me it would be really hard to connect the UW station to 520. I admit I’m not an expert on this, and the East Link design probably shows how to connect I-90 to Central Link,

    1. From a transit perspective, the UW is a lot like a downtown — more so than anything on LA’s Green Line (or than DT Bellevue, for that matter).

      That said, I’d expect Ballard – UW to be lower ridership than Ballard – DT Seattle.

      1. The ST Long range plan, when you put the pieces together, is Redmond — U District — Ballard — Downtown Seattle.

        The primary connection to downtown Seattle from the Eastside is East Link over I-90 (although SR 520 would still serve some of these trips, e.g. to Kirkland.) This east-west line concept is about mobility within Seattle north of the ship canal (currently a problem due to hills, I-5, Aurora, heavy surface traffic and limited ROW for streets to run buses on), as well as better connections to the Eastside. It would interface with the north-south Link line somewhere in the U District, maybe at both stations. I rather like the idea of a station around U Village with bus connections all over NE Seattle, if that can work out. That would get around the mess on Montlake Blvd. north of the canal, where we can’t reliably run buses today, as well as on 45th.

        Redmond has about 100,000 jobs. The UW is Seattle’s largest employer and the U District is the second largest urban center after downtown. So there might be a lot of ridership. It would have to be analyzed with all the latest planning assumptions from ST2 and other projects.

      2. What about a loop around the lake? In essence, turn Eastlink into a loop so it connects Bellevue, Redmond, 520, U-District, DSTT, across I-90, and back to Bellevue?

      3. The DSTT is fully subscribed and has zero spare capacity. Any junction at the UW by any mode would require a transfer for destinations on the central Link line. It would seem possible to interline with East Link in the Bel-Red area… Not sure what the constraints are there but it would be great to leverage what we’re planning to build anyway, and get it all the way into Redmond.

      4. Jonathan, I see two problems with your ideas on 520 light rail. Capacity and money.

        North Link will be one of the busiest lines in the nation the day it opens with peak loads between the U-District, Capitol Hill, and Downtown stations. You have a serious plumbing problem putting full trainloads of people on to full trains of people. The only way to possibly allow transfers is to have a matured network of trains and less pressure on each line.

        And money has to be a consideration. You are talking about at least six miles of tunneling through many challenges to get to Fremont/Ballard. If we did what you are proposing we would have to tunnel under the UW (good luck with that), tunnel under the U-District, somehow cross I-5, most logically enter the hill under 45th to a cut and cover tunnel to the other side where you would transition to an elevated alignment.

        Sounds like the mother of all projects to me. Who pays? Seattle? ST3? And is this even the priority right now? I love rail and want to build as much as we can as fast as we can, but we have to be realistic. West Seattle makes more sense because it offers strong ridership and development potential.

      5. As cool as an E/W in-city rail line between Ballard and the UW would be I’m not sure that would be the best use of limited transit funds. The line would have to be in a tunnel for significant sections of the line all at $400 million/mile.

        I think there are better potential rail transit lines in the city that would be more worthy of spending large sums of money building. For example a downtown/Uptown/Interbay/Ballard/Crown Hill/Northgate line has a very high ridership potential and could be much cheaper to build as much of the line could be at-grade or elevated.

    2. “It reminds me of the Green Line in Los Angeles that doesn’t serve downtown LA, which means it has low ridership.”

      But we have several successful crosstown routes: the 8, 30, 48, and 75. All of these were so popular they added service after they were introduced. And the 44 is no slouch either.

      The problem with the Green Line is it’s (almost) a line to nowhere. It goes from a mile outside the airport to an isolated transfer station on the Blue Line. Getting to downtown LA or Long Beach takes more than an hour if I remember. I not very familiar with LA so I don’t know what’s east of the Blue Line or if there are any other attractions on the Green. The Green Line was essentially built to get transit fans to not oppose the freeway.

      1. I don’t believe there is anything really east of the Blue Line on the Green line either. The Green line stops about a mile short of the Norwalk Metrolink station which would at least provide some decent feeder traffic both ways.

        Lets also not forget that the Blue line and bus portion of the transfer station is rather unattractive, under the freeway, and surrounded by a P&R.

  9. Here’s what I wrote in the current comment period to the WSDOT EIS:

    The existing freeway through the Arboretum is ugly as sin. Yet WSDOT is proposing to double its width and further raise it? The lids, while expensive, are hostile pockets of green pockmarked by offramps. The Montlake intersection is today a dangerous intersection between vulnerable pedestrians and bicyclists and irritated commuters distracted by cell phones. How do you propose to make this safer for vulnerable users despite increasing traffic volumes by 50%? Removing the Montlake flyer stop is wanton disregard for public transit. You managed to find an additional 60′ ROW for breakdown and additional traffic lanes, but it’s impossible to squeeze in an existing facility at one of the most-used exits of the entire freeway?

    The current proposals are designed with the convenience of the long-distance commuter as top priority. WSDOT shows no respect for the existing natural, residential or pedestrian environments, which would dictate a slimmer design. The threat of winter storms is slim justification for a traffic engineer’s wet dream of lanes, concrete and traffic. Go back to the drawing board and make this megaproject as demure and respectful as possible. If vehicle-miles-traveled or SOV commute times increase, then so be it — it’s in a city, after all. With some restrained engineering, you could even save money in the process.

  10. I was disappointed about the missing Montlake Flyer, so this option is intriguing. It also could make it relatively cheap to put flyer stops where there are none currently, e.g. at 10th Ave E. I would much rather catch the 545 there, and I think that would be the case for a lot of North Capitol Hill and Eastlake residents as well.

    1. Re: Transit stops around 10th Ave. E.

      I recently had this thought too… at least for the connection to the I-5 express lanes that will be used by buses on 520 targeting downtown. Per the current plans there will be two BRT lines using that ramp (Seattle-Redmond like the 545, and Seattle-Kirkland) and a whole lot of peak period service.

      I’m not sure it pencils out as that area isn’t that big of a destination, although it would be great for transfers to the 49. The interchange is getting reconfigured anyway so maybe it wouldn’t cost much more to add a couple of platforms (one for AM, one for PM service) and tie it into the local street grid in a couple of directions.

  11. “On the other hand, making the lane transit-only lets you put the HOV access ramp in the lane because there is no through traffic except transit. This would not only reduce the footprint through the neighborhood but allow restoration of the Montlake Flyer stop in the plan.”

    Can you elaborate on this for the uninitiated?

    Here is how I spun it in my mind:

    Less capacity -> lower margin of safety required -> smaller footprint -> room for station and then some…

    1. As I understand it, they eliminated the median flyer stop at Montlake because they were worried about buses not being able to accelerate up the hill westbound and safely re-enter traffic in the HOV lane. If the lane is transit-only, this worry is eliminated.

      1. The flyer stop at Montlake was eliminated to make the footprint through the neighborhood narrower. The original WSDOT 6-lane proposal included the flyer stop (and an acceleration lane over Portage Bay to give buses time to merge).

    2. HOV access ramps like in Bellevue or Freeway stations like at Eastgate, take up 4 lane widths because two is for through traffic and and another two is for access. By having the transit-only lane exit to a ramp and a station, cross a signal at Montlake, and then reenter 520 on a transit only ramp back into the transit only lane, at least 25 feet is cut from the width of the highway.

    3. If you have HOVs in the lane you’re not going make them all use the access ramp. So you need to have width for both the HOV lane and the ramp.

      With buses only, you can put the ramp right where the lane would be, because they’re all going to want to stop there.

      1. If the Westbound onramp and Eastbound offramp is HOV only that should give two-way HOV access without increasing the footprint.

  12. Martin, good thread but some detail is hard to follow. I want the footprint to narrow also (as we’ve discussed), but it should be possible to design the west landing, including Arboretum connection, without triggering a new EIS or taking the rest of the project backward. Think “rational segue”.

    1. Rep. Eddy,

      I’m far from making any kind of endorsement here. I’m merely pointing out that a transit-only lane makes it possible to reduce the overall width of the roadway by about 2 lane widths, because the HOV ramps can be done inline with the lane.

      As for how much that would set back the project, you’ll have to tell me.

      1. I probably need some further detail on this, Martin, because that’s the detail that becomes a little dense.

      2. I am not sure this is true Martin, my understanding is that HOV/transit lanes also continue to I-5 under A+ so the footprint is the same whether you have HOV using those lanes as well.

      3. RBC,

        Yes they continue to I-5. But since every bus will use the ramp, there’s no need to have a separate “bypass” HOV that takes up a lane width.

    2. including Arboretum connection

      Just say NO. Freeway ramps to the Arboretum were dumb in the 1950’s. Why are we even considering repeating this mistake?

  13. 520 has always been a hassle to cross over into Seattle. I like the suggestion for HOV4/HOV5 lanes. I have never heard of those, but it really might even reduce some traffic on regular lanes.

    Personally as an auto-oriented person I would prefer (if anything) to just continue with HOV (maybe HOV4/5). But I see how light rail may be appealing.

  14. They’re on the right track wanting to eliminate the ramps in the Arboretum. Next eliminate the GP entrance from Montlake to SR520 westbound. There is no reason for people to enter a freeway that ends in about a mile. The eastbound 520 exit at Montlake should probably be eliminated as well and improvements made to 45th/50th and the other arterials leading to the UW. In fact I’d be all for eliminating all GP entrance/exit ramps at Montlake.

    Transit only instead of HOV is just plain dumb. I’m sure it’s a starting point for negotiation (i.e. something to “give up”). Even the HOV restriction should be limited to certain hours like say 7AM to 7PM.

    1. Re: onramp to 520 westbound… Yes there’s a reason to be able to get on a freeway that ends in a mile: it’s a long on-ramp to I-5 north and southbound. It removes thousands of cars from surface streets on both sides of the canal! Imagine the traffic densities on Boyer and Pacific without the westbound onramp to 520…

      1. Most of those cars wouldn’t even be in the Montlake area if it wasn’t for the highway ramps. I suspect without the WB on-ramp and EB off-ramp thousands of cars would take an entirely different route.

        We have plenty of “long on-ramps” to I-5 called surface arterials.

    2. OK, so your traveling from I-5 southbound and want to get to Madison Park or north or east capitol hill, by car. What routing would you suggest? The 520 section through portage bay is an important conduit for traffic going to those neighborhoods.

      Like it or not, you can’t just eliminate roads and access points for cars in your lifetime. I think a more reasonable strategy is to build a transit system that entices people out of their cars rather than deliberately making life more miserable for car users.

      1. Why should Madison Park or East Capitol Hill get special access to I-5 as compared to any other neighborhood in the eastern portion of Seattle? There are surface streets that can handle those trips just fine.

        Besides a majority of the car traffic using 520 as a I-5 on and offramp is going from or to the UW, Childrens, or NE Seattle. There are plenty of other routes to and from I-5 for those areas. One of the big issues is getting cars across the ship canal, adding a second drawbridge isn’t going to do much other than destroy a bunch of historic homes and add more pavement to the area.

  15. Chopp is at large as per usual being a complete moron with transportation in this state meaning more cars. What the heck, come on, we need more rail transit in this area because we’re #1 in congestion.

    1. Yeah, Chopp is the same guy who thought an elevated tunnel on the waterfront was a good idea. I wish he’d stick to focusing on labor/social issues and leave transportation to the legislators who have a clue.

  16. This is great! I really hope it goes through, it would make it incredibly fast for buses going along there, and make ST2’s 520 BRT be at least partly real BRT. They just have to actually maintain the track carefully, and not repeat the mistakes they made for the DSTT.

  17. Rebuilding 520 without HOV lanes is a non-starter. Many of the current trips across the lake are car pool and van pool, which in many respects are more efficient (cost, fuel use and emissions per passenger) than both rail and bus transit.[US EPA, USDOT].
    Managing HOV/Transit lanes is something that is currently addressed by state law, but often times ignored. By monitoring the speed of the lanes the number of occupants can be changed.
    {“The current performance standard states that a driver in an HOV lane should be able to maintain an average speed of 45 mph or greater at least 90% of the time during the morning and afternoon rush hour.”}[WSDOT HOV’s]
    I see no reason why this requirement can’t be a dynamic one, changed electronically as road conditions change. Minimum 3+ might change to 4+ or 5+ during exceptionally busy spurts duing the commute, thus ensuring transit always has a big advantage.

  18. This has the appearance of an effort to do nothing….a “do nothing wash.” That would be a major set back to transit and the environment as people look ahead to 2011.

    The people supporting it appear to be still sore that their pet alternative (which produced far inferior transit service) was not selected. For the additional billions they wanted to spend on a tunnel under the Montlake cut, we could actually build great transit throughout the City.

    Yes, build the HOV to support transit only in the future, but not from day one. The green alternative is actually to encourage people to use 3 plus carpools. If the job housing densities on either side of the lake were different, then it would be a different story.

    There’s no money right now to operate the new transit service that would make it effective from day one. None. Focusing on this would interfere with the ability to get real money for better transit everywhere anytime soon.

    There appear to be a number of other fatal flaws in this proposal, and insufficient support from neighborhoods throughout the City and on the East side. It will be interesting to see the extent of environmental support – most major environmental organizations have been good with the plans so far, save the Sierra Club.

    If this is really a Trojan horse to do nothing, that’s really bad for transit and people who carpool. The structure is at risk. The current bridge is a bottleneck for people on buses and in carpools that ties everything else up. Tolls on the bridge soon will move everything better and will bring an immediate 25% increase in transit service across 520.

    There’s an even bigger issue. We need to get beyond 520 to start focusing on better transit service all over the place. For far too long, turf fights over the Viaduct and 520 have consumed too much air in the room. There’s a limited amount of time and energy for the people who do these things. Far better to get these things moving now and go to Olympia in 2011 to get real ability to get more transit. That ought to be the real transit and environmental strategy.

    Don’t let an obdurate focus on some boutique neighborhood issues get in the way of the big picture when it comes to better transit and the environment overall. Clear the field to do the right things in 2011.

    It is in everyone’s interest to get beyond 520 and move on. The people supporting this appear to be wanting to continue the same sort of impass position politics that have saddled progress around here for the past 25 years. This more of the same approach drives up costs and lead to doing nothing. That’s why this new proposal is really the retrograde approach – just more of the same (was actually proposed over 10 years ago) – and has been holding things up and stalling progress on more important things every since.

    1. I don’t mean to single Marge out on this — the opinions she represent are shared by some others, so I’ll respond to her but address any who may hold similar views.

      This has the appearance of an effort to do nothing….a “do nothing wash.”… The people supporting it appear to be still sore that their pet alternative (which produced far inferior transit service) was not selected. For the additional billions they wanted to spend on a tunnel under the Montlake cut, we could actually build great transit throughout the City.

      For years we have been working with the state’s mandate for a corridor with 6 vehicle lanes, attempting to optimize it for transit (among other goals.) Chief among our objectives has been a connection between whatever transit runs on 520 and Link light rail at the UW. This objective was widely praised and adopted by both the City of Seattle and the state. We’ve attempted to solve some traffic congestion problems at the same time, in part because of the benefits conferred to local transit routes, but the objective to reduce congestion objective was always subservient to the goal of improving transit speed, reliability and access.

      All ideas ever suggested for 520 have pros and cons. Prior to the tunnel plans, some of our communities (including my own) supported bridge options that were far less costly, but the impacts were considered too severe. The options including a tunnel to the UW were at at first estimated to cost $2 billion more than the non-tunnel plans, but after an intense and highly collaborative effort with WSDOT, by fall 2009 this gap was reduced to $1.2 billion. Of this figure, $522 million was a handout to the UW for a giant parking garage and other mitigation (not suggested by us), and some of the remainder consisted of negotiable or optional elements. We were hard at work reducing the costs and environmental and construction impacts (which remained significant, admittedly), and further optimizing the plan for transit when the process was curtailed in the fall and the clunker of a plan known as “A+” was selected.

      One flaw that remained in the arrangement we had suggested was the lack of transit access in Montlake. We prefer to maintain transit stops back to Montlake on the mainline of the highway (which we and many others use), and that is something many believe is worth doing no matter what we do across the cut or elsewhere. That is only achievable with lanes designated for exclusive transit use, unless you are willing to accept 9 lanes across Portage Bay (which we and the City are not.)

      Yes, build the HOV to support transit only in the future, but not from day one. The green alternative is actually to encourage people to use 3 plus carpools. If the job housing densities on either side of the lake were different, then it would be a different story.

      We can maintain HOV queue bypass lanes on the Eastside which already provide a huge incentive to carpool (SR 520 has one of the highest carpooling rates for any such facility, although many are cheaters.) That said, there are several problems with the “HOV now, transit later” approach once the highway crosses the lake, including these:

      All vehicles that use the HOV lanes free up space in the general purpose lanes for other single occupant cars. According to WSDOT’s thorough analysis reported in the SDEIS, the net result is an additional 20,000 vehicles per day coming into Seattle, driving through the Arboretum, Montlake Blvd., UW campus, 10th Ave. and I-5, none of which has any spare peak period capacity. That 20,000 figure is significant. This causes congestion that delays the same transit routes that we are attempting to assist. The proposed second drawbridge is completely ineffective at increasing north-south capacity according to WSDOT’s own analysis. It does not appear that we can build our way out of this congestion, even if we wanted to. Conversion of the HOV lane to HOT use (high occupancy / toll) would significantly worsen this problem. There just isn’t room for more cars coming into Seattle.

      Optimizing for transit does not simply mean replacing the signs on the road that say who can use the lane. Optimizing for transit requires a different interchange layout. It is not a responsible use of public funds, nor an appealing prospect for communities or users of the highway, to have two consecutive decades of construction. By the time we finish this project (realistically, probably 2020) the entire metro region will have grown by another 400,000 people, which is approximately the entire population of the Eastside today. We may be surviving today, but by then we are really going to need right of way devoted to transit.

      This is actually a pretty great transit corridor. We’ve got the University District, the city’s of Seattle’s largest employer (UW) and the north-south light rail line on the west side, and Microsoft and Redmond on the east end, with about 100,000 jobs, many of which are easily accessible from transit stops. En route is South Kirkland, and the Bel-Red corridor which is soon to be one of the biggest transit-oriented redevelopment projects in the nation, centered around the East Link light rail line, an investment we can leverage and extend.

      Ultimately we need light rail or some form of true high capacity transit on 520. That’s why the corridor is in Sound Transit’s long range plan. This is the time to think through what that means in terms of what we build now.

      There’s no money right now to operate the new transit service that would make it effective from day one. None.

      We already spend a great deal of money on transit service on 520 and that sum is poised to increase significantly in the years to come through an infusion of Federal funds (already allocated as part of the Urban Partnership program that also implements tolling) and ST Express funds from Sound Transit 2. These funds would actually go further to the extent we can transit faster and more reliable, and fill seats by increasing accessibility to the system. It doesn’t have to be a light rail line from day one in order to accomplish this, but transit-only lanes would do nothing but help transit. It does not help transit to clutter the lanes they occupy by adding an unbounded quantity of vehicles, which then clog up the streets where the buses get off.

      If this is really a Trojan horse to do nothing, that’s really bad for transit and people who carpool. The structure is at risk. The current bridge is a bottleneck for people on buses and in carpools that ties everything else up. Tolls on the bridge soon will move everything better and will bring an immediate 25% increase in transit service across 520.

      We who live near the 520 corridor and use it extensively are among the most enthusiastic about tolling. Please toll us as soon as possible and build a wider, safer, new bridge that works for transit. (But don’t make it 30 feet high on stilts across the lake…. That’s just wasteful.)

      Don’t let an obdurate focus on some boutique neighborhood issues get in the way of the big picture when it comes to better transit and the environment overall.

      If you take a look at the record, we have actually been speaking to the big picture and advocating better transit and protecting the environment from day 1, for regional benefits as well as our own. People we don’t know (and some we do) are naturally suspicious of our motives, but we’re the real deal. It’s the state that has been obdurate as of late, and I think that is out of a combination of understandable frustration plus a deep-seated and legitimate fear that the current plans are vulnerable. I think underlying this, all of us care about making this project work, but some of us who have been working on this for a dozen years have spent enough time (hundreds of meetings, thousands of hours) immersed in all the details to understand how to craft a real win-win for both our communities and regional users of this critical transportation corridor. That is what we seek.

      1. I’m with you on the opposition to the bridge on stilts. I’ve heard two reasons for that atrocious design. One was to keep waves from breaking over the bridge. That’s only really a problem now (and a limited one) because the bridge rides 3′ lower in the water than originally designed. The other reason was that it makes bridge maintenance easier. Yeah, leaving the lid to your garbage can open makes it easier to toss in beer cans. The State claims one of the reasons they didn’t consider building a permanent structure is that a proper bridge would be elevated and that would cause noise issues… so instead they build a floating bridge and elevate it, brilliant.

        You’re right also about too many cars trying to squeeze through Montlake and the we can’t (or at least shouldn’t) build our way out of it. Simple, HOV only access at Montlake from 7am to 7pm. Simple, cheap and effective. You get the flyer stop, the HOV/transit lanes, a much smaller footprint and could probably even dedicate a north south lane to HOV transit without the need to build anything additional over the Cut.

      2. Jonathan avoided the facts and gave no real answers.

        I do agree that the state should reduce the height of the bridge on the lake. The state must show more respect for the Lake and all the people who who use the bridge and look at it in the design. The lower the profile, the better.

        That ought to be easy, and less expensive, that a high bridge.

  19. So, Jonathan, let me restate to make sure I get what you’re saying: you are recommendinng a re-design of the transit lanes so as to make carpools of whatever number of occupants impossible? My concern is that this undermines the functional assumptions made for the corridor in such a way as to provoke/require a new EIS.

  20. That’s a great question. I’ve shared a lot of ideas and opinions here but until there is a “concrete” proposal for a set of specific modifications, it’s hard to answer the question fully… and should there be, I probably wouldn’t be the best person to answer it. I am somewhat familiar with the EIS process as a participant, but not an authority on it. My understanding is that the planning assumption has long been that over time, as the volume in the HOV lane increases, when it starts impacting transit, the restrictions on the vehicles that could use those lanes would increase. I have made the case here that the volume in the HOV lane is problematic from the day it opens, according to the current projections, and the current design inadequate in other ways, from a transit perspective.

    I’m not sure what scope of changes necessarily triggers a new (or supplemental) EIS. I believe there is some flexibility built into the process. WSDOT was able to slip the A+ plan into this SDEIS in a few weeks, though it was comprised of components that had undergone a lot of analysis already. Changes and hybridization of options is often done between a Draft and Final EIS, and the Final EIS has yet to be authored for this project. Again, I’m not an expert on the process, but I would certainly hope that any work that remains to be done can be done quickly and efficiently with a minimum of rework. The floating bridge is already being designed with quite a bit flexibility in mind. In any case, I understand and share the concern.

  21. Thanks for the response, Jonathan. Let’s stay in touch. I feel like everyone more or less wants the best outcome here, but there seems to be an awful lot of drama in getting there …

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