"Lots of buses stuck in traffic", by Oran

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit has one of those bookmark posts that he seems to generate about once a month — this time about why transit and road capacity don’t solve congestion, and what remedies actually will.

Congestion reduction is a common slogan in any transportation infrastructure campaign. Like many slogans, it suffers from some definitional vagueness. Of course, in an obvious and minimal way a person who switches from driving to transit, or adding more road space to fit cars, reduces short-term congestion in some sense. In the long term, either way the free car capacity is consumed by induced demand.

What’s frustrating about capital project debates is that the general public hasn’t generally been sufficiently exposed to the concept of induced demand. On one level in the media, the debate is how much a capital project will or will not reduce congestion. Meanwhile, a wonkier debate using other metrics is going on places like this one. Project advocates are stuck with a very unattractive dilemma: essentially mislead the public (“we’ll reduce congestion!”) or try to educate people that nothing will, thus running the risk of sensationalist headlines (“project supporters admit measure won’t solve congestion.”)

Not only does Walker tackle this subject, but he ties into a cogent summary of why transit service is important (see my thoughts on this). Notably, the most clearly palatable solution to congestion, pricing, is one of the stronger reasons to support quality transit service. It’s an excellent piece and you should go read the whole thing.

97 Replies to “What Solves Congestion?”

  1. Tolls (aka road pricing) are the only good part of several recent or planned WSDOT major projects.

      1. Depends how you look at it I guess. WSDOT has to get funds from a variety of sources because gas and tolls don’t cover costs anyway. As Jarrett points out, only road pricing (or highway removal) seem to provide any long-term reduction in the number of vehicles using a highway. So in my view, even if I oppose a certain road expansion (such as the DBT or SR-520 expansion), if it has tolls it’s better that one that doesn’t (such as 405 expansion or Mercer West).

  2. I do believe transit solves congestion. But it requires a lot of transit. Having a token amount of transit does not solve congestion. He does not actually make a case that transit does not or cannot reduce transit congestion. If they stopped every highway project and diverted the money to transit expansion, that would be a good start IMHO.

    But more to the point, even if transit does not cause a decrease in the flat number of congestedness, it almost certainly DOES cause a decrease in the RATE at how that number rises. Seems like a disturbingly large number of people are intellectually incapable of the notion of “Rate Of Change” and that SLOWING isn’t the same thing as DECREASING but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile accomplishment. And Walker plays right into that mass misconception by poo-poohing transit as congestion relief.

    To be sure, though, the best solution to congestion is density and walkability. Suburban sprawl needs to be shot dead. Satellite cities need to let their 50s-era delineated rigidity expire peacefully and allow density to happen. Unless you have very accessible, reaching, and expedient transit, the further you put things away from other things — e.g. offices from homes, commerce from homes, offices from commerce, you name it — the more cars you put on your roads and it’s your own damn fault.

    1. “To be sure, though, the best solution to congestion is density and walkability.”

      Uh, no. If this were true, we would find a negative correlation between population density and traffic congestion. This is not observed. What we see instead is a positive correlation, almost universally, but that correlation is weaker in cities that have good mass transit. That is to say, congestion increases with density, but it increases more slowly if high quality transit is in place.

      “…the further you put things away from other things — e.g. offices from homes, commerce from homes, offices from commerce, you name it — the more cars you put on your roads and it’s your own damn fault.”

      True, higher density means destinations are, on average, closer together and thus, on average people travel shorter distances. However, with higher density, you also have much less room for roads and road building is also much more expensive.

      Congestion is effectively a function of the ratio of total VMT over total system capacity. If you take a circle-shaped city and double its radius, you double the average distance between two points and thus you double VMT per capita. However, you also quadruple the total land area, and if you dedicate the same proportion of land to roads, you quadruple road capacity. Assuming that this 4-fold increase in area occurred in order to accommodate a four-fold increase in population (i.e. maintain the same average density and grow out rather than up). Under such a scenario, you’ve doubled VMT per capita and quadrupled population. This yields an 8-fold increase in total VMT and a 4-fold increase in road capacity. “Congestion” increases by a factor of 2.

      Now consider the urbanist alternative, which would be to grow up rather than out. Such a scenario yields no change in VMT per capita (no change in physical distance between destinations), but you still have that 4-fold increase in population, and thus a 4-fold increase in aggregate VMT, but you add zero new road capacity. “Congestion” increase by a factor of 4.

      More density, more congestion.

      Now, this correlation can be mitigated if, and only if, the increase in density in accompanied by a significant mode shift. This is possible, but it is by no means guaranteed. The only instances in which a mode shift has been significant enough to actually reduce congestion while increasing density have always involved massive investments in transit, biking and pedestrian infrastructure; far, far more massive than anything that is being considered here in Puget Sound.

      1. More density, more congestion?

        My urban household has one car for 3-4 occupants. Public transit is the mode to get to school and work for all but one occupant. The grocery store is within walking distance for daily supplies. We put a lot of annual miles on our car, but we also spend a lot of time on Link and buses. My brother’s suburban household currently has 4 occupants and they own 4 cars. There isn’t a grocery store within walking distance and both adults spend a good deal of their commutes 405 stuck in traffic on 405. Both of the kids drive their own cars to school everyday– and they go to the same school!

        So, should we spend billions to relieve the congestion cost of the suburban family or should we reevaluate the cost of the suburban lifestyle?

      2. I meant to say: There isn’t a grocery store within walking distance and both adults spend a good deal of their commutes stuck in traffic on 405.

      3. They don’t…Bellevue School District high schools charge $100/year for a parking pass

      4. I believe the suburbs have created their own problems and we’re now spending billions to fix them. While all the construction dollars are going to re-do the 405/520 interchange AGAIN, and 405/167 interchange AGAIN, nothing has been spent in the actual city of Seattle since the freeway was first built. And now that we’re on the cusp of building/fixing here in Seattle, all we get are delays and more delays.

      5. Actually, the revenue stream was a problem. Ed Murray’s amendment to exempt new cars from the car tabs cut the revenue stream almost in half, ballooning the debt projections.

      6. Well that’s why he said that the increase in congestion intrinsic in increasing population can be mitigated if “the increase in density in accompanied by a significant mode shift.” So if we increase density and get all those new people to commute by something other than cars, then there is no increase in congestion. But even if a small percentage of those new people drive, they are introducing new cars onto the roads with no new road infrastructure and congestion will worsen.
        So basically, density doesn’t really solve congestion as there will always be at least couple people in each new apartment building who drive, but it does decrease VMT per capita.

      7. “If this were true, we would find a negative correlation between population density and traffic congestion.” And that’s exactly what we see. As long as you define the problem correctly. I think it’s most correct as to define congestion on a per-person basis. After all, what do you care if traffic is backed up if you never drive? It’s certainly true that people that live in dense cities spend less time on average in traffic than people in sprawled cities.

        re your analysis: I see a few significant issues with your analysis:
        1. You’ve assumed an unacceptable definition of traffic congestion (see above).
        2. You’ve assumed everyone drives everywhere. Even without transit, people walk far more in dense cities. Because they can. Although a driving radius can double easily, a walking radius does not. If you quadruple the density you’ve also quadrupled the amount of services within that walking circle.
        3. You’ve assumed a constant road area ratio. Dense cities have much less road area than sprawled cities. This means your walking circle (see #2) actually encompases more than quadruple the amount of services.
        4. You’ve neglected the fact that almost without exception, dense cities have more transit than sprawled cities.

      8. But I think when people hear “we need to solve congestion,” they certainly think “we need the roads to flow freely with no more traffic jams.” So I think we are talking about raw amount of congestion, not per capita, although you are right, it does go down per capita.

    2. Where, ever, has congestion been reduced? Whether by road building, transit, or some other way. Besides population decline.

      Transit levels increase because of congestion. Transit doesn’t reduce the congestion, it provides a way to bypass it. Or at least rapid transit does. Regular transit suffers the congestion, but at least you can read rather than watch the road.

    3. Transit *can* solve congestion.

      If your transit is huge enough, you can bypass the congested roads entirely *and* ride on uncongested trains.

  3. I can’t contribute much to this converstation without writing way too much but I think it is simplistic to say that transit does not reduce congestion. Take New York as an example. It has horrible congestion and it has a huge transit system. So in simple terms yes transit doesn’t eliminate congestion, but if there wasn’t transit New York couldn’t exist. Congestion is an equalibrium point, and rapid transit allows a city to exist (and thrive) beyond a point which it could otherwise exist.

    1. In short, transit is not about relieving congestion but about enabling higher density. If you consider density to be an end unto itself, then hurray for transit, but it shouldn’t be surprising why people who don’t want Seattle to grow at all are not very enthusiastic about funding light rail.

      1. Ah, but transit and living in walkably dense areas are the only way out of congestion in any city.

        Density isn’t an end to itself. It leads to:
        1. reduced time in cars
        2. decreased travel times
        3. increased services within a walking radius
        4. energy and resource efficiency
        5. reduced land impacts
        (I could go on)

      2. But, there will still be traffic congestion even with the increased density and the great things that come with it. The only difference is, you won’t have to sit in traffic, because you will have other options. I am very in favor of higher density, but I see what Tony is saying.

      3. There may still be *car* congestion, but it’s possible to build enough transit so that you can ride uncongested trains. That is a way of eliminating congestion from your life.

        Fundamentally, cars are a low-capacity solution to transportation problems. They’re lovely, therefore, for rural areas and other areas which need low levels of service; the very areas which do not suffer car congestion.

        If you are suffering car congestion, your best return on investment is a higher-capacity solution: something like trains. If even your *trains* are congested, you may need to build more trains (but this is only happening in a few huge cities like London and New York), as we haven’t invented anything with higher people-moving capacity per square meter of space used yet.

    2. He addresses this point in the article, writing that having lots of good transit allows a city to have economic growth at a given level of congestion.

      Think about it this way. If the viaduct was torn down with no tunnel and no transit investment, the city streets would become very congested and would reach their carrying capacity. This would limit the number of people willing to commute or travel downtown, and would hurt Seattle economically.

      With the “surface-transit” alternative, the streets will still get congested but people will also have the opportunity to take transit into downtown, thus allowing more economic growth. The deep-bore tunnel uses tolls, so congestion will be reduced in the tunnel, but since there are no downtown exits the surface streets will also get congested. That is why the tunnel project also needs to include transit investment, which the legislature has refused to provide.

      Clearly no matter what you do, congestion will always be a feature of successful cities, but they will be more successful with good transit.

    3. And a 2 day strike a few years ago proved that theory completely. Some estimates of the economic impact of the strike was nearly 1 billion dollars and I think the amount they were striking over was less than $ 30 million in compensation and about $160 million in employee required pension contributions.

  4. i was at a community council meeting a few months ago where washdot representatives were talking about the 520 plans, talking up the increased number of jobs in the U district and the vital importance of allowing people to get to those jobs, and thus the need for an increased number of lanes to reduce congestion.

    when i asked where all those cars they were planning to push into the city were supposed to park, when the city is already packed to the gills with parked cars, they didn’t seem to know or care.

    there’s a near sociopathic ambivalence at washdot, and the lack of communication and cooperation with sdot, the city and other planning entities is shocking. they seem content to cram as many cars into seattle as possible, and let other people deal with the mess.

    1. Yeah I agree that using “the new 520 bridge will solve congestion and allow more people to drive into the city” as an argument for the bridge is ridiculous, as the city can’t accommodate more cars. But luckily, the main expansion to the bridge will be for HOV lanes which will make transit a far more desirable option for people commuting into Seattle, and a bike/pedestrian path to allow non-motorized commutes along that corridor. Maybe that’s not what WSDOT thinks their bridge is going to do, but it is.

      1. I agree. There’s not much capacity expansion planned for 520, especially given the growth expected within Seattle and on the Eastside. The project is mostly about preserving existing capacity and increasing transit and carpooling by getting buses and carpools out of the bottlenecks, not that there are supposed to be any bottlenecks with the variable tolls. The new bridge should also enhance transit access and spaces in neighborhoods around the freeway blight on both sides of the lake.

  5. Transit will never solve congestion based on how we measure it. Look at a city like New York(the greenest city in the country!). If you were to try and drive from Staten Island to Manhattan you would be in for some horrific traffic. But who would do that? Hope the ferry and you’re there in half an hour. There is congestion for sure, but it only affects a small number of people.

    The point of transit is not to make sure one can drive quickly places, its to make sure that people can get to places quickly. Who cares if I-5 is backed up if you can hop a train to work?

    I would much rather we focus on reducing trip times and hassle based on moving people instead of looking at how backed up a freeway is.

    1. “Who cares if I-5 is backed up if you can hop a train to work?”

      Because transit is slow. North of downtown, Link averages about 30 mph when you factor in the stops. South of downtown it’s even slower, and that assumes that you are lucky enough to work downtown.

      There are about 100,000 jobs within walking distance of light rail in downtown Seattle. Factor in Capitol Hill the U-district and Northgate and you have about 150,000 jobs, which is less than 1/3 of the 480,000 jobs that are just within the Seattle city limits, and less than 10% of the jobs in the region as a whole.

      Even with 50 miles of Link built out in 2023, transit will only be time-competitive with driving in congestion for a tiny fraction of trips and it won’t be competitive with congestion-free driving for any trips. And that ignores trip chaining and cargo transport.

      Who cares if I-5 is backed up if you can hop a train to work? How about the 90% of people who can’t?

      1. If we were to use tolling to manage congestion – essentially set the toll rates at the levels needed to keep traffic moving freely (say 50 mph on freeways) – then likely the compelling offering of transit would not be that it is faster or saves time, but that it saves money in return for greater travel time and inconvenience.

        It is impossible to imagine that transit will ever save time over the private automobile on uncongested roads.

        In the great transit systems, where transit saves time over the auto, it is only because of great congestion.

        I see the function of transit as that of creating alternative travel capacity, which is either not subject to the same congestion (if we don’t charge enough to eliminate it) or lets the rider travel without having to pay the costs needed to eliminate congestions.

        In the long run, having jobs in locations that can’t be served by transit also creates costs for the rest of society, and right now those costs are underpriced. If we move to making people pay for roadway capacity, then those transit-unfriendly work sites will becomes financially less attractive, and employers will have to factor in the costs they’ll impose on their employees in deciding where to locate.

      2. “…then likely the compelling offering of transit would not be that it is faster or saves time, but that it saves money in return for greater travel time and inconvenience.”

        With the unfortunate side effect of stealing precious time away from low-income households and transferring it to high-income households.

      3. You seem to forget there are such things as Libertarians and conservatives that hate, HATE ! impositions of taxes and tolls and regulations that inhibit them from doing their own thing. You charge them $10 to travel on HWY 167 during rush hour, and you’re going to have more backlash against the elected officials and against funding for transit proposals. Lets not incite unintended consequences.

      4. I realize this discussion is centered around congestion and therefore travel times, but time is not the only factor in deciding how to get to one’s destination. The whole cost equation has to be looked at – subsidized transit passes, the costs of fuel, tolls, parking etc., not to mention environmental costs (which only become evident after a lot of time passes).

        Perhaps 90% of the Seattle-area workforce won’t be able to walk to a Link station by 2023, but they may be able to bus or bike and then ride Link. Time-wise this will only make sense to the majority when (a) it saves them time, or is at least a wash or (b) when it costs less than driving. Otherwise people will still drive.

        Unless the number of jobs in Seattle proper grows considerably or we remove freeway capacity, (a) isn’t likely to happen for a majority of commuters. I think (b) will happen before congestion sends people to transit. Look what happened in Summer 2008 when fuel prices skyrocketed – transit usage jumped double digit percentages.

      5. What is your definition of walking distance? I have always heard there are 250,000 employees in Downtown Seattle. Accompanied by a completely redone grid-style, Link-focused bus system, Link can help a much larger proportion of Seattle-area residents get to their jobs, errands, and entertainment much faster and at far less expense than with driving.
        Your time-competitiveness argument is untrue, also. Sure, Link’s average speed is lower than the average speed of a vehicle travelling along the freeway. However, Link goes right into the heart of neighborhoods that are not right on the freeway, that are slow at all times to drive through, and Link goes to areas that are very, very hard and expensive to park in, and will become more so as Seattle grows. A quick Google Maps driving directions search for Northgate to 3rd & Pine shows that by car it would take 10 minutes with no traffic, and 20 minutes with. But even when there’s no traffic, when you factor in the time it takes to park Downtown and go to your destination, it becomes faster to take the light rail, which will take 13 minutes from Northgate to Westlake. And, instead of paying a few dollars worth of gas and wear and tear on your car plus like $22 dollars for a parking for a few hours, you’re spending $2.50 or so for a light rail ticket, so it’ll be far more cost-effective to take the light rail.
        Finally, Link will increase residential and commercial density around stations, so a far larger percentage of jobs, residents, retail, and attractions will be around stations in 2030 than today.

      6. Why stop at Link? We need to be building more, lots more. Though even right now it is faster for me to take the train to the airport than to drive and thats with no traffic. A hell of a lot more pleasant and cheaper too.

        I am not saying that we are even close to where we need to be, I am saying focusing on congestion, which in our region is an unsolvable problem, is the wrong approach. We should focus on moving people and goods in the best way possible. Roads are a part of that, I favor rebuilding 520 and the tunnel, but its only one piece and transit should not be judged based on how it benefits drivers.

      7. There are about 100,000 jobs within walking distance of light rail in downtown Seattle. Factor in Capitol Hill the U-district and Northgate and you have about 150,000 jobs, which is less than 1/3 of the 480,000 jobs that are just within the Seattle city limits, and less than 10% of the jobs in the region as a whole.

        Less than 1/3 of jobs in Seattle would be within walking distance of the full Link line? Where are these other 330,000 jobs located?

      8. Well, the rest would be everywhere else… you know the 99.9% of Seattle that’s not in walking distance. They’re spread out; and there in lies the challenge. Picking up a third of the destination is great I don’t think Link picks up nearly 1/3 of the origination’s.

      9. In NYC, driving in congestion is never time-competitive with the subway.

        Congestion-free driving also doesn’t exist except in the wee hours.

  6. When the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened a few years ago, it completely eliminated congestion over that bridge (according to articles I have read) through a combination of increased capacity and tolls. Is traffic still flowing freely over that new bridge, or has “induced demand” made it congested?

    Obviously, increasing highway capacity can reduce congestion, as can increasing bus service, so you increase the average number of people per vehicle on existing highways, reducing the number of vehicles per hour. Congestion pricing would also likely help, although that has not really been tried in our area.

    Telecommuting, van-pooling, car-pooling all work to reduce highway congestion, without tax increases.

    1. One key point in Jarrett’s article is that our policies underprice the available roadway capacity at peak times. There are more people who want to drive than the roadway can accomodate. Instead of using money to allocate the available capacity, we charge time, via congestion. The more capitalist thing to do would be to use tolls to regulate demand during peak periods – costing road users less time (and gas!) but more cash. Instead we do the socialist thing of making it free to everyone and creating scarcity – there is not enough to go around.

      The Tacoma Narrows isn’t a good example precisely because there are tolls causing a charge to use the bridge.

      But essentially our roadways fit the “tragedy of the commons”. We don’t charge people to use them, so everyone wants to use them, without concern for what impact their use has on others – then we get congestion.

      When a new road/lane is opened, induced demand happens in the short term. Instead of “costing” X units of time, all of a sudden the road is cheaper in time. So people shift their travel or take trips they wouldn’t have taken because the time cost when down. In the longer run, new development occurs around this easy travel capacity and congestion is back.

      It makes sense that traffic congestion always returns to whatever level we will tolerate, and you won’t build your way out of it – it will find the next bottleneck or cause growth to fill it.

      1. So, the problem is growth. To “solve congestion” we need to stop growth.

        Stopping growth is the key to solving pollution, also, along with many other problems.

        Growth is the real problem. Instead of building transit systems to accomodate growth, at very high expense, we should be doing everything we can to stop growth.

      2. Ya, all the talent from Detroit escapes and comes to Chicago or Minneapolis. The city proper is pretty dead.

        And unless you’re going to suggest that humans stop procreating or that we close our borders to immigration, then growth is going to be an inevitability in our society. That is unless you can magically re-invent our economy away from a corporate/crony capitalist based one that is obsessed with making things and making a bigger profit this quarter than last quarter but then the neocons come out and scream all kinds of invectives that keep us from seriously considering what our future could look like.

      3. Our entire economy is based on growth. Without growth there is no lending, which means no investment.

      4. Well, yeah, but we still need transit to support the *existing* level of use. Although stopping growth is OK, we don’t want *shrinkage* because that’s *very* hard to manage properly. We want a comfortable *stability*.

    2. While some induced demand is seen in the short term (optional trips, etc), a large part of the congestion equation is how it influences things like land use, living arrangements, and commerce over years/decades. To say the bridge has induced no additional demand is premature at this point, especially since tolls are probably working their magic on that “short term” (for lack of a better name) demand.

  7. You’ll probably dismiss this as trolling, but I proudly hold myself up as an example of how to reduce congestion. I used to live on one side of Lake Washington and work on the other. Over time, I realized I was part of the problem. Even if I took public transportation to work, my lifestyle was not sustainable and harming the earth. So I moved to the other side of the lake, to within walking distance of work. I am now part of the solution, and not part of the problem. THAT’S how you reduce congestion.

    Do I consider myself some sort of hero? That’s not for me to say, but yes I do.

    1. I think you’re a hero Sam. But that’s only because I did the same thing. When I considered leaving my previous employer bumped up a counter-offer several times to the point where I had to decide how much not commuting over the bridge was worth for me (I also had factors for stability, loss of friends, etc. – hey, I’m an engineer). My value for not driving over that bridge was $10k. I think I had undervalued that daily trip – my life has become far more than $10k worth of more enjoyable since switching to a job near home. Later on when I lost my job from the recession (should have bumped up that stability factor) I chose not to look for a job outside the city. I don’t regret that for a minute.

      Of course that’s reverse induced demand – right there. The same calculation – whether in a spreadsheet or using gut feelings – would go on in a few thousand homes if we took down the Viaduct right now. And they’d continue to go on until congestion found a new normal.

    2. I want to live in Seattle but I have decided to live at home with my dad in Kirkland for the time because my job is a 10 minute bike ride away. So I guess I’m a hero as well.

    3. Aye. I likewise am making some sacrifices to be able to move to Seattle. Took a job in a town that really REALLY sucks (half the density of Bellevue, twice the area) but one that would allow me to deploy alot more (with no Federal Taxes, Hazard Duty Pay, Hostile Fire Pay, and Family Seperation Pay I make over double being deployed) and where we could buy a house that will make a little bit (BRAC means over 20k people will be moving here in the next 2 years) so that we could save up enough money to move back to Seattle as opposed to just staying in Bellevue.

      One of the many times when I was thinking about how much Fayetteville completely blows an old joke came to mind:
      Why is divorce so expensive?

      B/c it’s f***ing worth it!

      LOL. While for the record I love my wife dearly, the point still stands. Most things that are worthwhile have a cost associated with them. While I very much would like Seattle to expand it’s affordable family housing, the fact is it is going to remain relatively expensive compared to the suburbs (unless of course oil becomes correctly priced but I don’t see that any time soon).
      B/c living in Seattle is f***ing worth it.

      1. It will always be more expensive to live near a center of activity than away from one, simply because there’s much less land near centers of activity than away from it.

        If/when oil becomes expensive, maybe the suburbs will contract and cities will redensify, but the Midtowns and Westlakes will still be more expensive than the Brooklyns and Green Lakes.

    4. May I ask which side you settled on?

      I’m in the same (or maybe the reverse) situation that you were in: I live in Seattle and commute to Overlake. I love cities, so I’d never really move, but every so often I’ve half-heartedly considered what it would be like to live in Redmond.

      The problem is, there isn’t a single grocery store within walking distance of anywhere that’s within walking distance of Microsoft! And if I lived somewhere with a high Walk Score, I’d still have to take a bus to work. The commute from Bellevue to OTC is only 8 minutes shorter than the commute from Capitol Hill. The commute from Redmond Town Center is only be 3 minutes shorter.

      There’s also the fact that I like spending time in Seattle, and so I’d probably frequently go into the city at night and on weekends — trips that I can walk or bike or take a local bus for, but that would require crossing the lake if I lived on the Eastside.

      Finally, of course, there’s the fact that Microsoft is going to run their commuter shuttles whether I take them or not, and so my absence is hardly reducing congestion. (Yes, elasticity of supply, etc. etc., but there are enough empty seats on my bus that I doubt they’ll be adding any more capacity soon.)

      In other words, unless I radically changed my lifestyle, and abandoned most of the people and places I like here, moving closer to my job would actually make my life significantly *less* sustainable.

      1. there isn’t a single grocery store within walking distance of anywhere that’s within walking distance of Microsoft!

        BS, our company just recently moved from a place on 148th across from Nintendo. I rode my bike from there to Bridle Trails and saw lots of people walking from the apartments on the west side of 148th to Fred Meyer and Safeway with groceries. It’s farther than you are willing to walk. You don’t like the eastside ‘burb lifestyle. Fine! Jobs are here, jobs are there. Lots of people do want to live in Bellevue and Redmond and that’s why property values are comparable to Seattle. You’re concerned about night life; others are concerned about the public school system. It’s all good.

      2. I don’t doubt that there are some people who are willing to walk a mile from their apartment to the grocery store and a mile back. What I can tell you is this:

        – As of the 2000 census, out of 56,474 workers in Bellevue, 1,462 (2.5%) walked to work. Out of 316,493 workers in Seattle, 23,291 (7.4%) walked to work.

        – Out of 45,687 housing units in Bellevue, 2,574 (5.6%) had no car. Out of 258,510 housing units in Seattle, 42,180 (16.3%) had no car.

        I certainly don’t mean to criticize people who live on the Eastside for their choice; people choose where to live for all sorts of reasons, and it would be stupid of me to presume that I knew what they wanted better than they did. But I think it’s a bit misleading to suggest that the “eastside ‘burb lifestyle” is anything but car-dependent. An anecdote or two won’t convince me otherwise.

      3. It’s not “car-dependent” it’s mostly “car-choice”. I gave the example of what I saw or people walking to get groceries (Claudia Balducci sees it as a shopping cart problem). No bars along 148th so you won’t be convinced by reality.

      4. Bernie, the reality is the car choice offered to many residents of Bellevue is ‘own a car or don’t go anywhere.’ The Red Apple in my neighborhood closed right before I left meaning the only places one could walk to were the Mustard Seed, Herfy’s Burgers, Teryaki Town II, and a Chinese Restaurant. Bus service was near non-existant. Before my then girl friend now wife loaned me her personal car (she had a company car) I tried to take the bus up from Ft. Lewis but doing so took 2 or 3 hours. Ended up just taking the bus to SEATAC and having her pick me up there.

      5. I’d agree that’s the choice for most of Bellevue. If you’re parked out by Interlake HS it’s slim pickin’s. But there are places in Bellevue where you can live car free. Close to DT is one of them and there are cheap places to rent right in the old Main area (not many but they’re there, at least until the next building boom when the owner will undoubtedly reapply for demolition). The buses run fairly frequently on 148th (walking distance to Microsoft) and to Overlake TC. Crossroad is another choice. Houghton/Rose Hill sort of works. Of course nowhere will you have the choice of nightlife and degree of public transportation you will in areas like Capitol Hill or the U District (but hey, A Red Apple, DQ and Tech City Bowl; what more could you want?). But then there’s large parts of Seattle where you’re just as car dependent as Bellevue… Magnolia, Madrona, Laurelhurst, Sand Point, etc. In fact, with the exception of DT/Belltown transit service seems to be inversely proportional to the median price of housing. Sort of the same way that it works in Bellevue.

      6. I definitely agree with you about Seattle. There are parts (like the ones you’ve mentioned, and lots of others south of I-90) that are as sparsely-populated, and as hard to walk, as some of the sparser parts of Bellevue. But I’m not just talking about living car-free; I’m talking about walking everywhere, as Sam brought up. If you live in one of the walkable parts of Bellevue, and work at Microsoft’s main campus, you’re probably not going to walk to work. That’s all.

      7. Actually Interlake HS isn’t that bad Bernie. 10 minute walk to Uwajimaya, 15 minute walk to Top/Crossroads, and MT 230, 245, 249, and 4 peak hour buses–225, 229, 250, 256–into Seattle, it has pretty decent transportation. I know because I go to Interlake and don’t drive!

        Bridle Trails and CherryCrest are bad areas. For me, it’s a 15ish minute walk to 249, 256, or 234. The 249 is a joke and the 256 is peak hour.

        If you want to live in Bellevue and don’t want to drive, living on the NE 8th corridor, Crossroads, Downtown Bellevue, or even the northern part of Surrey Downs has excellent public transportation.

      8. Also, I’m not sure I’d agree that Eastside property is worth as much as property in Seattle. As of May 2010, the median sale price per square foot for Seattle is $264; for Belltown, it’s $435. For Bellevue downtown, it’s $356; for Bellevue as a whole, it’s $233. For Redmond, it’s $218. Kirkland, $239.

        The median home price in Bellevue may be as high or higher as that in Seattle, but who cares? According to these numbers, if you built the exact same house (or apartment) in Bellevue and in Seattle, the one in Seattle would sell for more.

      9. Sure, if you want an acre where you can board a horse in Seatle it’s going to cost a hell of a lot more that Bellevue. And that’s why most people that want to do that are now moving to Duvall, Carnation, etc. High density is more in Seattle because that’s where most of the jobs are. But if you want an acre (now days) then your not looking within a couple of miles of DT Seattle. So yeah, try building my house in DT Seattle and, well gosh, sort of off the chart expensive. Yet I’m still (for now) able to live in Bellevue. Give me the property in DT Seattle and I couldn’t even afford the taxes.

        I believe your numbers but they are 2000 censuses. I’d bet the latest numbers put prices even closer together for comparable property.

      10. It’s really too bad that Microsoft chose the suburbs for their campus. Boeing has an excuse since they’re heavy industry, but Microsoft could benefit from the idea exchange that comes with working in a city. Add to this the cultural preference many in Microsoft have for living in the city and they should at least split their campus and buy out one of the struggling buildings downtown.

      11. When Microsoft first moved to the Seattle area it was in a building at NE 8th St & 108th Ave NE – then called the ONB building (for Old National Bank.) When they outgrew that space, they took space in another building near 108th & NE 4th. Then Microsoft moved to a building near the South Kirkland P&R, and as it grew to the buildings across the freeway. And then Microsoft needed a lot more space. It was around 1984. Maybe in today’s environment they would have made a different decision, but in 1984 the land in what at the time was called “Evergreen Highlands” (which had been assembled to build a regional mall) was the best space to build a multi-building campus. At that time there was no reverse commute whatsoever, and Boeing workers lived in Bellevue and drove to Renton and Kent to their jobs.

        It might have been good for the region if Microsoft had located differently, but priorities and traffic were very different back then, and it as a logical place for Microsoft. Bill Gates lived in Laurelhurst at the time.

        In the 1980’s the Overlake location made a lot of sense. At that time, the route 256 was extended to Overlake, and ran through the Microsoft campus, and the route 263 was created, which was later converted to ST 545 and 546.

      12. PS: (partially replying to Sam)

        In 1981, I rented a 1BR in a condo bldg on 148th Ave NE, and walked to the Safeway on NE 24th for my groceries. But I drove in my car to the Microsoft office on NE 8th in downtown Bellevue with free parking on a surface lot. 520 dead-ended at 148th. The condo and the safeway are still there. The 545 drives right by without a stop at what should be both a good connecting point and access to housing, retail, and jobs, and the investment in the 520 bus transit corridor, with inside HOV lanes does not change that.

      13. I heard once that the reason so many companies are located in suburbs has more to do with the fact that executives live in suburbs than it being a rational business decision.

        I don’t know if it’s true, but it certainly seems to fit the facts.

  8. So I think you can say that transit reduces congestion if you calculate congestion not based on the percentage of miles of road that are congested (which is what this article seems to say), but on the % of people that are stuck in congestion. In that case, if you build a new light rail, there will then be a higher percentage of people taking transit, not stuck in congestion. Even if that doesn’t reduce the number of miles on the road that are congested, it still improves the overall quality of life of the area because a smaller proportion of people are stuck in traffic.

    Think of NY for example. They have “terrible” congestion, but somehow the vast majority of the population can get around without ever getting stuck in traffic. Thus, clearly transit has reduced congestion (if you measure it by the % of people in congestion).

    1. Think of NY for example. They have “terrible” congestion, but somehow the vast majority of the population can get around without ever getting stuck in traffic. Thus, clearly transit has reduced congestion (if you measure it by the % of people in congestion).

      Are you sure about that? I would venture a guess that in at least 2 of the boroughs of New York City (Queens and Staten Island) car ownership and use is rather high. In one, (brooklyn) its probably about 35-40%. Even in the Bronx there…

      Well, Der Google found more precise numbers:

      Newly released U.S. Census data show that 54% of New York City households do not own or lease a motor vehicle (down a scant 3% from 1990). Manhattanites are the most car-free; 78% of households there do not have a vehicle. In the Bronx, the car-free share of households is 60%. Brooklyn is also majority car-free, with 54%. Only Queens and Staten Island have car-free minorities: 34% and 20%, respectively. from: http://www.cars-suck.org/research/censusrelease.html

      Seems the percentage of car ownership/use increased by 3% between 1990 and 2000.

      1. I think the claim you were challenging was that a vast majority of New Yorkers don’t drive. You’ve shown that a majority of New Yorkers don’t own cars, but you haven’t shown that those that have them use them. The minor increase over a decade a decade or two ago seems beside the point.

      2. And notably, Queens has large areas with no subway service — the two main subway lines run parallel to each other a couple of blocks apart, plus there’s the Astoria line — and Staten Island *mostly* has no subway service (the East Shore has SIRT). The areas without subway service have no bus lanes, and of course no light rail, streetcars, etc.

        It seems clear that providing mass transit to the car-dependent areas would reduce car ownership in Queens and Staten Island. In Queens at least it’s dense enough to be worth doing.

        In Staten Island it’s not clear, but the fabled and long-planned subway extension from Brooklyn to Staten Island via the Verazzano Narrows, or the more likely possible HBLR extension to Staten Island, would probably pull a lot of cars out of the other boroughs as more people would park and ride.

  9. What solves congestion?
    Selfishness. Sounds simple, but an economics professor drummed the idea home until I finally ‘got it’.
    Why are all the lanes of a busy freeway or all the check out registers about equally loaded? Nobody is assigning lane numbers. People are selfish. They consider their time valuable, and get into the lane or line that they think will save them the most time, or the least hassle, or cost the least, or what ever – but they all vote for themselves in the long run.
    Your want less congestion? Come up with a transit network that saves people time, makes their lives more enjoyable, or cost them less money. As it stands now, cars are still winning the battle over transit by about 10:1.

    1. This is why we need more exclusive transit lanes. Right now cars are stuck in traffic and buses are stuck in traffic. If someone has a choice, of course they will choose a car. You get to have your own space, listen to music, etc. Buses won’t compete well in Seattle until they get much better vehicles and exclusive transit lanes. Read Human Transit’s profile of Paris from a few weeks ago to how it might look.

      1. Buses compete extremely well in Seattle, right now. I read here all the time about many bus routes which are crammed to the gills on a regular basis. How can anyone claim that “buses can’t compete” when buses are regularly crammed with passengers?

    2. Opening the inner city transit market to private bus companies, jitneys, and ride sharing taxis regardless of whether they are corporations or mom or pop part-time businesses will provide other alternatives to the private car and

      • Improve the lives of low income people while reducing the social problems associated with poverty.
      • Help reduce consumption of fossil fuels resulting in cleaner air.
      • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
      • Slow the development of farm land.
      • Reduce city street congestion.
      • Save tax dollars.

  10. The only way to reduce congestion is economic collapse.

    Congestion is a GOOD thing. It’s a sign you’re doing it right — that people want so badly to get to where you are that they’ll put up with a little traffic to get there. That’s what retail people call it — traffic — and they LOVE IT. Can’t ever have enough traffic.

    Tony the Economist sez: “If this were true, we would find a negative correlation between population density and traffic congestion. This is not observed. What we see instead is a positive correlation, almost universally”.

    The good kind of congestion can be fostered by transit. The example of New York as stated here is obvious — great transit, horrific congestion. Some people still drive their cars, and that’s fine — but you don’t bend over backwards for them, lay down fifteen-lane freeways for them everywhere. Make ’em slog through traffic to get to you. In New York, they still come, because they want it badly enough.

    If you want to see a city with no congestion, visit Detroit.

  11. Seems pretty clear that the only way to reduce congestion is either by disincentivizing driving through tolling (which has obvious social justice implications) or by pairing a vehicle capacity increase and a robust regional transit network with an extremely restrictive regional growth management policy that sets a high bar for any new development not oriented around a node in a high-capacity transit corridor.

    Short of that (and seeing as much of it is politically unfeasible in these parts), your best option is providing as many people as possible a convenient congestion-free alternative via mass-transit running on dedicated ROW.

    Either way, extensive rail (light, heavy, commuter) and high-quality BRT are part of the response.

    1. While I personally like your solution, for arguments sake, the problem that is likely to come up is private property rights and the deprivation of such rights causing political backlash. I understand that the Portland area had a very powerful and comprehensive land use plan that strictly regulated growth only to have these regulations be overturned by zealous and powerful land developer interests that put forth the libertarian anti government arguments. Am I remembering that correctly?

      The other thing to consider that will have a big impact on growth and congestion is that the area’s largest employer is hell bent on getting out of Dodge and transferring the construction of $300 million dollar per copy complex high technology machines to areas where people are less well educated, less experienced in the craft of making these machines and consider themselves not deserving of being paid well for their craft. What is this region going to do when 100,000 jobs go bye bye?

  12. Requiring every private car owners to drive only Mini Coopers or Smart cars would allow more vehicles to use the same amount of space or the same amount of vehicles to use less space. That would allow us to solve the congestion the problem until someone redefines what congestion means. Congestion is a very elastic word.

  13. USA Today just did a pretty good article on congestion reduction programs in Minneapolis: “Cities tackle traffic head-on with commuter options”

    Seattle makes a cameo with the new ITS system on I-5. Did you know response time for accidents has dropped from 18 to 12.9 minutes? Or that reducing speed limits to 40mph after an accident reduces the chance of secondary collisions by 30%? Interesting stuff.

  14. There are so many nonsensical elements to Washington traffic design, that it doesn’t take a whole new view to understand the problems.

    Case in point, East Valley Highway connection to I-405.

    First of all 167 is too narrow to begin with…it should be 5 lanes. But let’s ignore that for a second. What happens at the terminus in Renton is that you can enter I-405 North or South on the right hand side. The HOV lane is on the left so you get cars scrambling to get to the exits on the right. BUT — at the terminus the highway suddenly empties out into Rainier Avenue and a traffic light!

    So what happens? In heavy traffic when the light is red, all the cars back up and this holds up people who just want to exit to 405.

    I see this all the time. At Tacoma for instance…where there’s a big slow down for miles and then cars crawl and crawl until you realize it’s because there isn’t enough capacity for several exits and that backs up into the through traffic!

    I believe that this region doesn’t need any sort of Nirvana or “way to look at things” other then simple observation and common sense.

  15. This is just about a dead thread but I stumbled across this piece,
    Reducing Traffic Congestion and Improving Travel Options in Los Angeles
    . A few tid-bits:

    the density of the road network in the greater Los Angeles region, measured in lane miles per square mile, is already far greater than in any other large metropolitan area in the country… LA traffic congestion is further exacerbated by the fact that Angelinos do not curtail their driving as much as one would expect in response to higher population density… Looking across the different regions, there is a fairly consistent relationship in which per-capita VMT declines with regional density. Los Angeles, though, bucks this trend… In the end only pricing strategies promise sustainable reductions in traffic congestion.

    1. Los Angeles has unbelievably wide roads.

      If they could be convinced to put bus lanes on all of the mega-boulevards — which would still leave two lanes in each direction, parking lanes, *and* left turn lanes — I don’t see that it would hurt car drivers much, and it would sure speed up the buses.

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