In June SDOT launched the City’s first freight master plan. Even a strong advocate of moving travelers to transit like me recognizes that short-haul cargo isn’t going to ride transit, and the free flow of freight is to Seattle’s long term advantage.

However, freight is often an excuse for too many general-purpose highway lane-miles. The Port of Seattle injected itself into the Deep Bore Tunnel project for the ostensible benefits to freight. Whenever state leaders advocate for their giant transportation package of new highways, the economic impact of businesses moving their goods is a main justification.

Anyone familiar with induced demand knows that this is a fool’s game. Cars will fill up any new capacity and leave freight just as stuck as before. Tolling or dedicated freight lanes might actually allow lucrative time savings for freight, but there is little momentum for that.

Fortunately, although we are in the early going Seattle’s FMP is not looking at new general-purpose capacity to help freight. According to Kevin O’Neill of SDOT,  “We’re not, as a city, generally talking about widening arterials or expanding curb lines because that goes against a lot of other city objectives.”

The purpose of the study is to identify key freight corridors, especially “major truck streets,” and improve their reliability and suitability for freight. That might include grade separation projects, like a Lander St. rail crossing; prioritized maintenance on certain roads (because “trucks are more impactful”, says O’Neill); intersections modified for a certain turning radius or signal enhancements; locations and operating hours of load zones; and so on. In some cases, it might mean putting in a bike lane to separate bikes from freight, a freight lane in the industrial areas, or even transit capital projects to reduce SOV congestion. At the moment, nearly everything is on the table.

SDOT is also communicating with Metro and Sound Transit to identify any issues, as buses often use the same streets. There is also some overlap with WSDOT and Port of Seattle freight mobility projects. And although interfaces with rail, sea, and air transport are in scope, the study will focus on what SDOT has control over, which is city streets.

The current phase is “stakeholder engagement” with freight interests to identify “how the city may help these sectors improve how they move freight around the city,” says SDOT’s Sara Zora. More than anything, Mr. O’Neill notes, freight interests don’t want to be forgotten. “I haven’t gotten a strong sense that people are saying, ‘add more lanes’… [stakeholders are saying] ‘make sure you’re thinking about our needs as you do your work’… They don’t want us to do things that make things worse.”

The FMP prime contractor is Parsons Brinkerhoff, with subcontracts to Heffron Transportation, C2HM Hill, and EnviroIssues. They will release an Existing Conditions Report this fall. Then there will be an extensive period of public comment and open houses, a policy framework released around the holidays, a “future evaluation” in early 2015, and a draft network map likely in Spring 2015. SDOT hopes to finish a draft report in late 2015 and complete the entire process by the end of that year.

52 Replies to “Freight Master Plan Launches”

  1. Why don’t they call it the truck master plan instead of trying to fool everyone into thinking its multimodal freight including rail and water?

    1. Mmm-hmm. Part of a freight master plan should be an effort to divert long-haul freight *off* of the city’s roads, onto ship or rail, so that the city truck plan can be all about local traffic….

      Is there an overall analysis of how much truck movement is for long-hauls? Are ship-rail movements done direct through on-dock cranes, or done the stupid way with very-short-haul trucking? Etc.?

  2. It’s hard to see how the tunnel will be of all that much use to freight, since it does little to move goods from the port toward Interbay/Ballard. The Port would have been better off urging the state to spend the money on things like a grade separation at Lander and other improvements to separate road and rail movements – and those improvements could, depending on how they were designed, help buses too.

    Ah well. Maybe when the tunnel is finally abandoned as unworkable, there’ll be a chance to do those smarter fixes.

    1. Remember that the Port actually put in $300m to the DBT. They wouldn’t have had to “urge the state” to do anything.

    2. I forget, was the Port a propoent of the DBT? Or did it just give money after it looked inevitable. How could the Port not have noticed the tunnel wouldn’t be feasable for its delivery trucks? Is it just counting on the tunnel sucking up passenger cars to keep the boulevard running freely? Is the Port not concerned that the tunnel tolls may discourage most passenger cars?

    3. I’m sure it was less about actual benefit to the Port’s business, and more about certain state politicians “encouraging” them to have a hand in funding it. When you ain’t got money, but there’s a pot of gold right next store with no accountability….If only they spent $300 million dollars on buses, bus lanes, bike lanes, and bikeshare instead…

  3. Shipping traffic has dropped precipitously all over the West Coast.

    I’ve read one analysis where we could close either Port of Seattle or Tacoma and there still wouldn’t be enough traffic.

    Can you imagine what prime residential real estate there would be if we could free up one of those industrial areas?

    1. The reason? Expanded Panama Canal, and the planned Nicaraguan Grand Canal, will bring less freight to west coast ports. These projects are decades from realizing their full potential, we’ll need to maintain a healthy port for many years ahead. But yeah, I’d love that view too ;)

      1. Also special purpose ports like the coal terminals.

        And Vancouver, BC and environs becoming competitive.

      2. Canada’s West Coast Ports Continue Cargo-Handling Growth as U.S. Ports Decline

        Canada’s west coast ports posted growth increases in 2013—while U.S. ports showed declines—as Canada pushes port expansions with an eye to capturing an increasing portion of trans-Pacific trade with Asia.

        Year-end statistics for Port Metro Vancouver showed the marine port handled a record 135 million metric tons of cargo, up from 123.8 million in 2012, which is an increase of 9 percent compared to 2012. Import and export tonnage maintained balanced growth, each showing a 9 percent increase.

        Bulk cargo volumes rose 11 percent, buoyed by increases in coal and grain, the report said.

  4. I would think just rebuilding half the streets in that area would be the first priority as some of them are literally falling apart off of the main arterials.

    Other than that, yes to more Grade Separation over the the tracks at multiple points.

  5. Thanks for this one, Martin. Situation could also put some energy into passenger transit in a critical and neglected part of the city: the Waterfront between Spokane Street and Queen Anne Hill.

    One badly and probably deliberately undiscussed aspect of freight increasing amount of railroad devoted to coal, and worse, oil. Only difference between Seattle and Lac Magantic is likely casualty count. How many people do Safeco and CenturyLink hold? Port would lose a lot of freight capacity and property too.

    Would help if every time Sounder announces a “freight traffic” delay, bulletin could specify cargo. From the get-go, our side needs to set best number of both these train- types through Seattle as zero.

    On the opportunity side, best approach is view freight and passenger transportation as part of same category: wheels not on automobiles. Also hulls for people and freight alike. One suggestion to come out of Central Waterfront discussions is freight and car-ferry terminal several miles south, leaving Colman Dock for passengers.

    Won’t fight against First Avenue streetcar. But FOR trackage, maintenance, and communications tied into First Hill and a restored Waterfront streetcar line, extended south past whole stadium district. Tenth floor of Central Library has archived plans for this exactly.

    Also would not rule out electric freight on rails- which used to be fairly common in this country. Check out “Streetcar Rail, Dresden” online- some pretty big freight cars same tracks as streetcars same caliber. Precisely because absolutely nobody has ever considered this approach for Seattle, might be good time to inject it into project now- with a sharp needle and a lot of pressure.

    Finally: John, if you’d a been a suburban kid, I could see this condominium thing outta you. But all those great trips downtown, all the excitement and activity…everything you useta love owed to background presence of machinery and the people that rode the “Els” and subways to work it. Best use for land that had machines and lost them is to put some new ones back. And the subways and streetcars along with them.

    Chicago’s still got a huge Museum of Science and Industry- and once had a Railroad Fair every year with some really great rail stuff- with steam up! What’s the Real Estate Speculation museum gonna look like. Anyhow, hope the condo industry can do better than the Street of Dreams.



    1. Mark,

      A Sounder freight traffic delay isn’t the fault of any one commodity. It’s the result of the total number and frequency of trains in the neighborhood of the Sounder Train at that moment. Then of course, derailments and mechanical failures are usually the “triggering event”. But you’ll almost never be able to pin it on a specific coal or oil train.

  6. Rather than being suspicious of the plan’s objectives, we should be advocating ways in which transit will be impacted or can benefit from some plan elements. For example, if we can get more freight moved to rail and away from highway we may need to add tracks that can also be used for Sounder service. If we can rebuild a dangerous interchange like I-5 at Spokane Street, maybe we can get direct access into the SODO busway included. We should look at this as a way tot get good things for transit, and not summarily scoff at the effort!

    1. > »Has anyone told Volkswagon this?«

      They built a factory in the middle of a city, at the corner of a beloved park (to the dismay of quite a few locals), and are using the tram to bring in parts form their logistics center in an industrial area. Weren’t it for the advertising impact, it might be better to build such factories in industrial areas with good freight connections (road, rail or whatever) in the first place.

      So the only working example of streetcar freight is a point-to-point connection where the separation doesn’t make any sense in the first place. But please note that the CarGoTram is heavier than ordinary trams and restricted to a few selected routes; this might not bode well with the shallow construction of Portlandia (lighter than ordinary European) Streetcar fame. If you want to haul freight from the seaport to the railroad or somewhere else, the tracks will be more expensive.

      > »They use streetcar lines in several cities to move freight between plants«

      They? VW? Where else?

      1. Appreciate your perspective on the details behind a few minutes of YouTube, Sascha. Though mislocation of a factory can’t be blamed on trains that serve it. From some observations of my own, I wish CarGoTram were northern Europe’s worst example of overweight and badly-built street rail.

        Oslo, Norway’s 1995 fleet of Ansaldo streetcars has been doing worse things to tracks and passengers on a beautiful street rail system for 19 years. Gothenburg’s recent purchase of cars from same company are prettier, but show same symptoms. Fact that both cities had many times enough streetcar experience to know better indicates that world’s procurement system is in same condition as a certain manufacturer’s trains.

        The problem in Seattle, and the rest of the United States, is to rebuild, decades updated, a street rail system that we threw away more decades ago. The freight trains that ran on streetcar tracks in the past aren’t going to be put back into service, except in museums.
        But their past history shows that the concept once worked, not that identical equipment should be returned to service.

        In Seattle, our whole effort toward street rail revival isn’t being done for its own sake. For in a growing city of very limited space, the transportation system of fifty years ago no longer works. Dresden’s example of a misfit train serving a mislocated factory. An easy mistake to avoid if industry and transportation are designed anew- and together.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Every single business in a downtown area requires more than just workers. In Seattle at least there are restrictions on the hours the trucks can be downtown. However, just because most people don’t get to see the 53 foot trucks blocking the streets doesn’t mean that food, beverage, toilet paper, and the thousand and 1 things needed to keep those office buildings going simply appear there by magic.

        As to other places that are using tram lines for freight, what about the Zurich garbage trams?

  7. I understand the underlying issues are surprisingly thorny, but ending the mad practice of moving containers a scant 1/4 mile over public surface streets from the world’s most efficient transportation mode (ship) to the world’s second most efficient transportation mode (rail) employing the worlds’s least efficient transportation mode (worn-out longhaul trucks repurposed as street legal forklifts) would be a fine thing.

    Containers arrive after efficiently traveling thousands of miles by ship, continue via rail but the transition from ship to rail is laughably ugly in all ways.

    Properly marry rail and the port at long last, please.

    1. +1

      I would absolutely love port management to publish a piece on exactly how they move cargo around and why. To my untrained eye it looks amazingly inefficient. I’d be putting the boxes directly on rail cars off the ship, send them off to a side track for sorting, and send them on their way.

      1. There is always a drayage move, even with “rail to dock” trans-shipments. It would be incredibly difficult to co-ordinate the movements between a train and the cranes such that there was always an available car at the right point when the crane delivers the container.

        And, think about it; that would mean that the ship would have to be loaded in such a way that all three containers on a 2 X 20 + 1 x 53 well car were all stacked in the proper order to place them on the flatcar.

        Trucks hauling the containers between the stack placed by the unloading cranes and the line used by the straddle cranes to place them on the trains are like messenger RNA. They can go to precisely the proper place for the straddle crane to lift a specific container onto the correct car in the right order.

      2. One of the several reasons that Long Beach, Calif. is favored by some shipping companies is they have a direct mainline connection there.

        There really shouldn’t be any reason for that 1/4 mile move over public streets. Sure, sorting and movement still need to happen, but it can happen within a single facility.

      3. LA is competing with Long Beach by installing its own on-dock rail (as the procedure is known).

        NO DRAYAGE at the better Long Beach and LA operations.

        Crane from ship to dock, crane from dock to rail. Efficient.

        As I noted below: In Seattle, it looks like this would be easiest to install at Terminal 5, and second-easiest at Terminal 18. It should be easy to install at Terminal 30, but there’s this darn elevated highway (Alaskan Way Viaduct) in the way….

      4. I mean, I guess you could call the multiple crane moves drayage, but it’s much more efficient than using a diesel truck.

    2. They’re doing it the stupid way? They need to stop that.

      The most efficient method is direct crane transfer from ship to rail. This is done in many places, and is specifically being expanded at both LA and Long Beach.

      Now, it looks like it wouldn’t be too hard to implement this on Harbor Island or the “Industrial District West”. Unfortunately, east of the Duwamish, there’s this *stupid road in the way* between the port and the railyard.

      The best thing for freight movement would be to demolish the southern end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct entirely, and then construct direct crane transfers from port to rail.

      1. Has that concept become re-invigorated? I always heard places that tried it found it didn’t work, because re-spotting the rail cars in between containers took too long compared to moving trucks.

  8. Enough of these planning silos! Today it’s the Freight Master Plan. Yesterday it was the Transit Master Plan. The day before, the Bicycle Master Plan. What Seattle desperately needs is a Transportation Master Plan where all the pieces fit together, where planners talk to each other and work together.

    We can never get to Complete Streets (remember them?) when every transportation function is walled into its own separate compartment, its own silo.

      1. Will he be able to overcome the squeals of opposition from all the separate stakeholder groups who just love their individual master plan?

      2. It is, of course, important to think about how all modes work in a corridor when that corridor is being designed.

        It is also important to think about how all the city’s transportation corridors combine into a network for each particular mode of travel. It can reveal gaps that corridor-based thinking misses. One of the most glaring examples in Seattle is the gap in our cycling network south of downtown. In every specific corridor a combination of weak cycling advocacy and strong trucking opposition has doomed bike facilities. But when we look at the cycling network as a whole it’s clear that a bike route is necessary in the general area, even if none of the individual corridors cry out for it.

        Of course the example that comes to mind first for me is a cycling example, since I get involved in that more than other stuff, but it wouldn’t be hard to come up with driving, freight, and transit examples where whole-network mode-specific thinking is needed to identify weaknesses and inform and prioritize improvement projects.

      3. Al Dimond, I think the Complete Streets approach to corridor planning or district planning (or subarea planning — pick a name) can solve the problem you raise. Better than the current approach where designers for an arterial upgrade project (23rd Avenue, anyone?) have to pick and choose among an array of pieces from all the discordant “master plans.”

    1. I agree with RDPence. We should be doing district multi-modal transportation planning at this point. The biggest problem with mode-based planning is that the stakeholders that participate do not represent the whole community. The result is that the mode-based plans are advocacy documents and not plans with a general public consensus around them.

  9. Their blog posting announcing the new plan features a company (DHL) that hasn’t operated in delivery service in the US since 2009 (according to Wikipedia). Oops.

      1. In 2009 they pulled out of there local US operations. They still have there international business that services the US for international parcels.

  10. I would assume the most important and currently least functional road on the map is the I-5. As far as money spending solutions, even if we put in the money to maintain it, something we’ve been neglecting, it wont move freely short of a doubling of capacity. That leads us to money making solutions, tolling. The problem with that is, tolling the 5 would probably make downtown street traffic even worse. Tolling or blocking all roads into and out of downtown would probably be politically untenable. The only thing left to do is make a self righteous conclusion that excessive focus on personal needs over the needs of the group is making living in a dense city hard on all of us. If our packages must be stuck in traffic, at least we can be smug about it.

    1. Most trucks headed south leave the Port area along East Marginal, cross the First Avenue South Bridge and then use 599 to I-5. They don’t join I-5 until almost I-405.

      These guys aren’t dumb.

  11. After this morning’s incident between a bike and a delivery truck resulting in the death of the cyclist, separating bikes from freight seems like a very worthy idea.

    1. Amen. Box trucks are definitely taking out quite a few peds and cyclists in downtown Seattle these days.

      Of course very few sane city DOTs would think to place an unprotected bike lane on the left side of the road between parked cars and busy one way traffic that tends to make left turns…across the bike lane.

      Hopefully the new cycle infrastructure works, but it’s a bit too late to prevent this stupid loss of life.

      1. The left-side bike lane on 2nd is the mirror image of lots of right-side bike lanes on other streets. Bikes pedaling in the door zone with motor vehicles turning left or right across the bike lane.

        Don’t these same problems occur on these right-side bike lanes, with right-turning vehicles? Or do cyclists instinctively know not to pass a motor vehicle on the right — as we’re taught in driver’s ed.

      2. …but this issue could be addressed in a greater complete streets or Seattle Transportation Master Plan.

        Cycling infrastructure only benefits cyclists and further feeds the flame of modal wars. The placement of the bicycle lane on the left side of 2nd is contrary to most other bicycle lanes in the city and state. Conventional design puts the bicycle lane to the right side of the road. This was the confluence of a lot of bad issues.

        When will we stop separating bikes from freight? What kind of precedent are you trying to set? Kneejerk policy shifts in immediate response to tragedy rarely yield good results.

      3. Y’all, if the bike lane was on the right it would have similar turning conflicts plus bus zone conflicts. The modern solution to that would be Dexter-style bus bulbs, but 2nd was laid out before they were ever tried around here.

        Often it’s clearer how to handle turning conflicts than on 2nd — there aren’t really turning pockets or a clear place where drivers are expected to merge into the bike lane to make their turn, so many try to turn from the through-lane, and many cyclists expect to pass on the left. The left turns off of 2nd should be marked better, but the general concept of a left-side bike lane isn’t necessarily wrong.

      4. Al,

        I never said it was wrong. You put words in my mouth. What I am getting at is something called driver expectation . If you are an unfamiliar driver on 2nd, you would be caught off-guard by a bicycle facility on the left. On most other SDOT and WSDOT roadways, bicycle facilities are found on the rightside of the roadway.

      5. I think it’s a combination of unfamiliarity and a steep downhill run. Traffic there is often stop-and-go, so bikes barreling downhill are often going 15-20 mph faster than the cars. Drivers not only don’t expect a bike lane on the left, they really don’t expect bikes to be closing on them at those kinds of speeds. I assume this is why bike lanes often merge into traffic on downhill stretches of other streets.

Comments are closed.