In this episode of “How You Can Help Get Us Transit,” we look at a couple of examples that help demonstrate why removing highways is not only not a big deal, but also good for transit.
I’m going to use two real viaduct commutes as examples. Both originate in West Seattle. One drives to work at Google. The other drives to First Hill – this is actually the commute of a doctor I know, so we’ve talked about it quite a bit. He usually takes the bus – he’s an occasional driver.
Today, both commutes are highly congested on the West Seattle Bridge, but not very congested on the viaduct itself. Neither spend very much time on surface streets in the city today, most is spent on highways. Google lady gets off 99 near Fremont, and doctor dude takes the Seneca exit.
If the tunnel were built, Google lady’s trip time would be faster – the deep bore tunnel is designed for this commute. It would be more expensive for her, but it would be faster. Her time on the West Seattle bridge would remain similar, but her time on 99 would decrease. At the same time, some of the traffic that was using today’s viaduct goes to downtown streets. So instead of the bus looking like a more attractive option than the toll, because she would have to take two buses *and* the buses are now a little slower, she keeps driving.
Doctor dude switches to I-5. His commute time increases overall for bus or car, and he’s very angry, because this tunnel thing was supposed to help. He votes for a Republican to replace Governor Inslee in 2016 because he remembers this is Gregoire’s fault. The Republican scuttles Sound Transit 3…
If a surface option were built, Google lady’s time on 99 would be a little slower than it is today – by as much as a couple of minutes. However, because the fast bypass through downtown isn’t there, a lot of trips aren’t taken, so the West Seattle bridge is less congested – making up time. Her total trip is still slower, but not nearly as slow as tunnel proponents suggest. Because the surface option also included transit improvements, there’s also a significantly better chance that she’ll take RapidRide and a local bus (or Dexter bike lane) the rest of the way to work. There’s another good discussion here about Central Streetcar and a future Fremont extension, but that’s for another post.
Doctor dude uses the new surface boulevard when he drives – it’s faster than sitting in traffic on I-5. He wasn’t spending that much time on 99 anyway, and the West Seattle bridge is now slightly faster, so his commute time improves. Transit improvements more than made up for that travel time decrease, though, so he continues to bus.
For both users, the surface option makes transit more attractive by encouraging trips to match corridors easily served by transit. In the longer run, this means surface gives us more potential ridership for serious mass transit to West Seattle. And it’s cheaper, so we lose a little pressure on the state’s backlog of highway maintenance and repairs – meaning it’s easier to fight for transit funding.