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.