Another week, another congestion debacle during this Thursday’s rushhour:

With both gameday crowds (5:30 kickoff) and those coming for the free Pharrell Williams and Soundgarden concert (3:10-4:45), expect large crowds downtown…

Regular Riders: If possible, try to flex your schedule to avoid traveling during the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 4.

When cities go through the long process of watering down their own BRT investments, there’s always a process of measuring “typical” congestion and weighing the time savings against parking and SOV interests.

However, this framework breaks down during bursts of “atypical” construction and event congestion. Agencies have to play a peculiar confidence game: if people heed their warnings and defer trips or switch to transit, then congestion won’t be as bad as advertised; if this experience causes people to ignore warnings, than the jam will be epic.

This makes it all the more shameful that the only alternative to making traffic worse or staying at home is transit — and except for Link, Sounder, and a few busways, that transit fares even worse than the cars that create the problem.

With only a few exceptions among regional trips, all levels of government have placed such a high priority on fast car access that transit is almost always slower. As a result, transit ridership is a mix of people unable to drive, the price-sensitive, and people for whom time spent on transit is more valuable than a shorter time behind the wheel. To increase ridership, as government must do to avoid gridlock during foreseeable congestion events, policy must reduce the time penalty of transit.

This argument isn’t about the general case for dedicated transit right-of-way; although that case is correct, it’s obvious that the leadership values the interests of other stakeholders more than transit riders. In the specific case of construction and special events, the only way to give citizens any alternative to total gridlock is dedicated transit lanes.  If that means closing off certain streets except for local access and transit and posting some cops, so be it; the great thing about cars is that they’re not limited to scheduled routes or reroutes, and can adjust to change quite easily. And it seems like the new SDOT director is at least open to the idea:

Unfortunately, although Sound Transit warns Link riders to “expect heavy crowding,” Spokesman Geoff Patrick explains that they can’t run three car trains because the stub tunnel above Westlake still restricts trains turning around to 2 cars. However, “we do plan to have a four-car train staged at OMF [running Stadium-Seatac] if the tunnel should experience gridlock.”

59 Replies to “Carmageddon, Again”

  1. Remind me again how long ago that ceremony removing Balto (I think it was) a second time from the pit at 9th and Pine?

    And they haven’t added tracks to the section of tunnel behind the stub end wall?

    The way ST is going about this is creating lots of “NotFan” acolytes out there in Pugetopolis.

    1. Haha! It’s a lot more than just adding tracks. Even with tracks in place there is a lot of work to do before you can ever put a train on them, much less a train in revenue service. The uninitiated might think, ” the tunnel is dug, where’s my train?” But it just doesn’t work that way.

      We are all impatient for more LR, but we will get there.

      And of coarse if it wasn’t for this silly joint ops that has been forced on ST the politicians ST could just increase the frequency and achieve the same effect.

      1. Yeah, increase frequency on one route and push all the others to the surface where they’ll lose frequency and reliability, including some of the most important all-day routes in the system, and many that connect to additional P&R capacity that’s vital for peak commutes and events.

      2. Buses are inherently unreliable anyhow. It doesn’t matter if they are on the surface or in the DSTT. But put them in the tunnel with Link and they make Link unreliable too.

        Low reliability bus service should not be allowed to damage the service quality of Link.

      3. I’m just talking about knocking down the stub wall (and maybe building another one 300 feet down the tracks, not about service to Husky Stadium. It would allow four car trains to operate to Westlake.

      4. With about one and a half years until university link opens, any amount of money spent on expediting the capability of four car trains before then in the DSTT would be a complete waste. Best to wait until 2016 for that.

      5. @Slyfield,

        I concur. If it was easy, cheap and quick to do then I’d support having ST do it, but I don’t think that is the case.

        And ST and its ridership base has more to gain by increased Link frequency anyhow. And that means making real progress towards the LR only DSTT that we all know is coming anyhow.

      6. @Lazarus, I concur, but I think it is easy and cheap because the wall will eventually need to come down and the tracks be extended anyway. Perhaps one of us should ask ST to look into it?

      7. In my opinion, that’s not the only thing that needs some looking into.

        At some point, it becomes far too congested to put all buses on surface streets, and significant numbers of them need to have termination points north and south of downtown with good transfer to Link.

        Once the tunnel becomes light rail only, there’s a pretty obvious transfer point (or two or five) for the buses that used to come from the south and go into the tunnel, plus a few other routes.

        Buses from the north, however, are a different matter. Convention Place is essentially already set up to serve as a nice bus terminal, but there is no easy way to get to Link to serve this purpose. Sure, once Link reaches Northgate then the longer distance buses can terminate there. However, other routes can’t do that. Run all the routes to Westlake and then terminate them at Convention Place? That would work I suppose but it means a lot of extra vehicle hours. It would be nice to know if someone has cooked up a plan for how that will be handled.

      8. @Glenn,

        Running with all buses on the surface is not a new thing. During DSTT reconstruction all buses were surfaced and there were essentially zero issues. The anti-LR and ST haters had predicted that downtown streets would turn into concrete, but it worked smoothly and eventually we heard nary a whisper from them.

        Running with all buses on the surface has been proven to be an effective operating mode, and that was before LR supplanted some of the routes. If we could do it back then with more buses, we can do it now with fewer buses.

      9. Putting all buses on the surface works in the sense that it doesn’t cause gridlock, but it makes a trip from Westlake to Intl Dist take twenty or thirty minutes. That’s what people are complaining about.

      10. If the goal is increased operational efficiency, then putting buses on the surface streets works as well as the SLUT does.

      11. @Mike

        Howl against the moon all you want, the moon is still going to rise. Likewise the future of the DSTT is LR only.. Whether it happens in 2016 or in 2019 as currently invisioned is hardly material — it will happen. The only question between now and then is how much money will be wasted on joint ops between now and then.

        Probably shortly after the first service adjustment after U-Link opens you will see more LR users in the DSTT than bus users. At that point it becomes a question of how long and how badly should a minority of the users be allowed to harm the majority of the users.

      12. @Laz: After U-Link opens, kick everyone out. Go nuts. Before U-Link opens the most important transit routes in the PNW run between the U District and downtown Seattle.

      13. @AlD,

        I don’t think anyone is proposing surfacing the DSTT buses before U-Link opens in 2016, but the process of moving those buses to the surface certainly should start with the first Metro service revision after U-Link opens.

        Once U-Link opens some of those key tunnel routes from the north should be revised to truncate at Link, thus reducing the number of buses in the tunnel.

  2. My eyeball analysis of traffic (documented lightly in STB) during the last “Carmageddon”, when I-90 was closed this summer tells me that the Puget Sound highway system is simply poorly constructed and inadequate. What I saw was that the southern sections of both I-5 and I-405 were backed up even without the interchange problems with I-90. In addition, much of the traffic freed up before it even got to the I-90 interchanges.

    These traffic problems were happening in the No Man’s land where there are few exits with reasons for mass numbers of cars to enter or exit.

    It’s one thing to “fight sprawl” by saying not to expand the highway system. It’s another to advocate even more transit (if only to act as a parking lot shuttle). But it’s a different thing entirely when incompetence and bad design of the minimal use of highways forces hardship on to the people.

  3. If one can take a bus that serves the tunnel that helps considerably. Also kent riders might consider taking 180 to seatac to take link and blow by traffic.

    Seems kind of absurd that a bus load of people has to wait behind a trove of sov’s. If only we could extend the busway further south…

  4. New to all this, but trying to learn. PLEASE spell out acronyms yhe first time you use them in a story. BRT? SOV? I just stopped reading because right after the first quotes because I was lost already. Thanks.

    1. Welcome! Yeah, there’s a bit of jargon and the glossary that aw links to is very useful, though not 100% complete.

      If you see any terms in posts that aren’t explained in the glossary, please comment / email, since it helps all future readers who are trying to learn as well.

      1. Thanks for the pointers to the glossary. What would be awesome and would take great advantage of this medium (web with hyperlinks) would be to have a WordPress theme that would provide mouseover support for items listed in the glossary automagically.

        Again thanks to the pointers to the glossary.

  5. Why can’t public transit riders who will possibly be stuck in traffic on Thursday just be happy that they: 1. Don’t have to buy gas. 2. Don’t have to pay to park. 3. Are making the greener choice. 4. Don’t have to pay good-to-go tolls. 5. Are reducing stress. 6. Are saving money. 7. And are traveling more safely than if they were in a car? All these benefits and advantages, and they still find something to complain about.

    1. Easy one for you, Sam: make a few street and road lanes transit-only, strictly limited to times when every vehicle in the region might as well be axle-deep in set concrete. And for Seattle and King County reps, get the DSTT under the coordination and control it was designed to have.

      My brothers report seeing firsthand that the temporary busway thing moved a huge amount of people during the famous soccer match in South Africa a few years back. Big African cities are usually a jammed hornet’s nest of traffic, but simple temporary action took care of situation.

      Here’s why this effort will be so great for you: You’ll be treated to the sight of thousands of really nasty transit advocates deprived of anything at all to complain about next Thursday. Any progress will result in permanent improvements will make these pests stomp their way through the ground like Rumplestiltskin.

      Just an idea.


      1. The easiest way to expand the amount of roadway available to transit is to get rid of the on-street parking. Along Aurora Avenue, there is plenty of space to allow RapidRide the ability to be on Aurora Avenue without disrupting traffic. Downtown Seattle(or even just Belltown!), there is plenty of space if you get rid of the on-street parking. That way, you don’t have to build more roads, you don’t even have to ‘steal’ a lane of capacity for cars, you just get more of what taxpayers have already paid for–use of the roads for transportation, not parking.

      2. Careful, talk of removing parking along Aurora (aka “Stealing our lanes, Metro!”) results in businesses being spray painted with messages that the owners Have No Idea How That Got There.

    2. When I’m slogging through event congestion on public transit, I like to take that time to read. I don’t become impatient and demand that streets and parking be changed so I never have to encounter heavy traffic again. That’s a form of narcissism, is it not? At the very least, it’s being petulant. “I’m being slowed down so all on-street parking must be outlawed!” Remember, Lewis and Clark averaged 15 miles per day. So let’s not complain about it taking an hour to go 15 miles. Something to think about.

      1. Sam, there’s a place on Iceland called “Thingvellir”, a shallow cliff-lined valley with a small stream flowing through the middle. However, this peaceful meeting place of the old Norse clans is really the place where two giant plates come out of the earth. One moves westward, and the other eastward at something like a mile every 25 million years.

        It’s a tempting to put both a KC Metro bus zone and any extremely rugged bus, maybe one of the old GMC 200’s in front of the shelter, one signed “Seattle via Chicago”, and the other one “Vladivostok via Europe”.

        And on the side of each should be painted the accurate and appropriate KC Metro slogan: “We’ll Get You There!” Plane to Keflavik leaves every afternoon. The jet’s a mite fast. but you’ll get a lot of reading done on your way back to where Seattle is now.


      2. It all comes down to what is a well-functioning city, and what is the purpose of city government. A well-functioning city should have a good transit core, that is not impeded by SOVs, and ideally runs faster than SOVs. That’s the default choice available to all citizens and visitors. If they want a luxury beyond that, they can get a private car, but the cars must not be able to impede the transit. Because a car contains one, two, or rarely up to six people, while a bus contains twelve, fifty, or a hundred people. Say this particular bus has fifty people, and we subtract six that could have carpooled in one car. Why should the forty-four remaining people have to sit behind six SOVs with one person each, who are taking three times the space as the bus and slowing everybody else down. Are those SOVs VIPs? Are they the barons of their neighborhoods? Or are they just random people who happened to leave a second before this bus, half of whom are driving from outlying areas (with no bus option) and half of whom are just lazy (with a practically door-to-door bus route they refused to use)?

      3. I usually bike home from Mariner’s games, and, yes, being able to average 15 mph all the home does feel quite quick. The problem, Sam, is that in post-game traffic, our buses don’t average 15 mph, or anything close to it. After considering wait time, the effective average speed is more like 5 mph (1 hour to get to a home 5 miles away). And, no, 5 mph transit is not acceptable.

  6. How will 4 car link trains fit again? The link stations seem only long enough to cover two trains. I was at Tukwila yesterday, and the two car train filled the station.

    1. I have no idea what you think you saw — Link stations are sized to fit 4 car trains. All of them are.

    2. Alex, there’s a chance you misunderstood train placement. At all stations, including Tukwila, the blue and white lollipops are temporary front-of-train markers for two car trains. When trains get longer, they’ll be removed.


    3. All Central Link stations, including the ones in the Transit Tunnel, are built with 400-foot platforms that can handle 4-car Link trains.

  7. I just love getting back to Ballard from weekday evening games! Between the indirect, but easy to get to 40, with its half hour headways that reaches critical mass very quickly and leaves riders stranded, and the mile long slog to the 15 minute headway RapidRide D, there so many, reliable, frequent choices for a transit dependent sports fan trying to get back to the urban village that is Ballard!

    And before some smarty pants chimes in “BUT TEH RR D DOESN’T HAFS 2 SITZ IN STADIUM TRAFFIC!!111”, the old 15/18 combo was shuffled by police through post game traffic pretty efficiently and gave us Ballardites faith that transit was an efficient, affordable, reliable choice to get to sports games.

      1. Whoa…’mind blown.’

        If only people would start thinking that way, it would be a great big step to solving the traffic problems around here.

    1. The problem is, at the end of the day, appeals to altruism don’t work – regardless of what people say, the vast majority of people will make the decision that is in their self-interest. We want to get to the point where people go “Traffic is going to be bad. Let’s take the bus because it will bypass the traffic”. Instead, people go “Traffic is going to be bad. But, however bad it is, the bus is going to be stuck in the same traffic, plus however long it spends a bus stops. And the traffic might cause the bus to be late getting to my stop. And, with all the events, the bus is likely to be crowded, which means I would have to stand for the entire 45 minutes the bus inches along in traffic.” And so, they conclude that if they’re going to inch along in traffic anyway, they may as well do it in their car, and so they drive. And so traffic is horrible. And so the cycle repeats.

      1. Well put. I like your argument.

        Frankly if I had a choice between using the bus and driving, I’d use the bus when I could. I’d save money, be able to read (and do correspondence) instead of drive and be less stressed.

        I really like “You’re not in traffic. You are traffic.”

      2. Another factor that is extremely important to get people to take transit to downtown events is being able to depend on transit to get them home. This means running enough buses at 11 PM to carry enough passengers so that a significant portion of event-goers could actually ride it.

    2. A back of the envelope calculation …

      Suppose that 70,000 people took transit to an event at one of the stadiums (which would be nearly everyone). The major demand spike should be after the game / event (assuming people tend to trickle in more gradually than they depart). Suppose that we had enough equipment and personnel to handle such a localized demand spike (OK, I’m dreaming, at least now and in the near future).

      Suppose that each bus can transport 70 people (reasonable, though probably low, but good for round numbers). Suppose (back of envelope again, and thinking round numbers again) that (including only those routes that can be made relatively fast) the logical exit route for 17,500 of the attendees was I-90 east, 17,500 was I-5 north, 17,500 was I-5 south, 7000 was Aurora north, 7000 was SR99 south (West Seattle, Burien, Des Moines, etc.), and 3500 was Elliott. Suppose we had a fully reserved transit lane from the stadium district as far out as necessary in all those directions, nearly absolute transit priority at traffic lights (where applicable early-on), and temporary closure of a few selected blocks to autos in the immediate vicinity of the stadium (which should be do-able if few people drove). Such reserved lanes should easily be able to handle 10 buses a minute (gives 528’ “box” per bus at 60 mph). That would allow clearance of the entire crowd in 25 minutes, at the capacity-cost of a single lane in various directions (and probably a few reserved ramps) – which would, I think, empty the crowd much faster than the current traffic messes – and with substantially less impact on other traffic not related to the game/event. Of course, some people would linger in the local bars (at least the bars hope so), lightening the crush. And, of course, I didn’t factor in Link (though it will probably never come close to being able to handle this large a demand spike this rapidly on its own).

      Obviously, loading that many buses that quickly would be a challenge, but with traffic priority and a few temporary street reservations, it should be possible. Clearly, we don’t now have enough equipment and personnel available (it doesn’t make sense to buy equipment and train people for one-off events). With more intelligent development policies and emphasis on transit, we could have the necessary off-peak resources in the middle future.

      Incidentally, this exercise, by reminding us of the prodigious people-moving capacity of a fully-utilized, fully-reserved transit lane, also indicates the amount of new highway construction (not much) we would need to handle quite a bit of growth, were we to have intelligent development policies and major emphasis on transit.

  8. It’s certainly true that we should create incentives to use transit for events. Then when we do, transit had better be sufficient to get people home when it’s over. Pretty much the same goes for construction — when road space is most limited, the first use of road space has to be one that incentivizes transit use.

  9. Seems to me we’re being handed a priceless opportunity to make transit’s case to a captive (and therefore more freedom-loving than recent wartime allied governments) audience. Also including our own relevant elected leaders

    There may not be time for an organized full-court press- strategic demonstrations, placards, and the rest, everywhere- though maybe at key screw-up points. But the two and a half working days next week should be time for:

    1. Delegations to offices, and possibly presence of, King County Exec Dow Constantine, the King County Council, and the Seattle City Council, demanding both busways and better DSTT opertions.
    In particular, especially if Mike Lindblom can be along, canceling Tunnel bus fare collection for duration.

    2, If Sound Transit has a board meeting Thursday…a strong presence there will be able to put representatives of every pertinent agency on notice that what’s imminently about to happen will be recorded and remembered- public commenters holding up cameras and cell-phones will make point visible.

    3. Above threat, I mean promise, already in action before meeting time, that as many knowledgeable transit people be posted, or post themselves, at strategic should-be busway locations, all transit LINK stations, aboard trains and buses, and most of all in the DSTT- ready to observe and record events.

    4. Well publicized post disaster, I mean event, mortem, I mean operations, report on investigative results.

    If STB can help organize these events, it would be good. However, it seems to me a lot of regular contributors and commentors can organize and position themselves if necessary.

    Even though I hate social media, it manages to mortify scarier governments than our local ones. Same squared for email and pics, real time. Would be good if we could use this ability to deny deniability to every government and relevant institution regionwide.

    I’ll take DSTT either Westlake or either portal. What’s everybody else think or want to do?

    Mark Dublin

  10. Rats! (Both exclamation and subject) ST meeting has been canceled as whole Board scatters through the drains with their cheek pouches full of cheese. Note that cancellation notice didn’t mention reason.

    But it might make a good official kick off to Thursday’s transit counterattack to show up outside the closed Ruth Fisher room and have our own meeting, maybe holding up name-tag shaped signs representing absent members. Promise of an an unclad creature in a cage might work again on the media to interview dog, hamster, or other occupant.

    Still and all, most important mission will be to record, note, and report- secure in the knowledge that nobody thinks STB has six million dollars to get us back. Or cares if our heads end up on YouTube. Seriously, though- no confrontations with authority needed or wanted- as if they won’t have enough to do.

    If we do our work well, the public embarrassment part will come later.


  11. I like the idea of a “Where’s Our Transit?” demonstration during large congestion-causing events. It’s a different kind of demonstration than the ones that usually advocate for tax increases (and thus turn some people off); this focuses more on the outcome, and the goals of transportation policy. Why don’t we have reliable transit paths in all directions whenever there’s a spike?

    I frequently take the bus to Coscto, and I’ve learned never to take the 131/132 before or after a ballgame because it may be stuck at the stadium for 20 minutes. So if I see a proliferation of sport jerseys downtown on my way there, I know not to take them back (but to either walk to Spokane Street and catch a tunnel bus, or SODO station and catch Link). But why should non-attendees have to plan their lives around the ballgames? It’s one thing if it’s just the rare Super Bowl win and the annual Torchlight Parade, but these spikes happen some two dozen times a year.

    1. I’ve noticed that above sports-night LINK trains fairly often, out of town passengers seem to be in a very cheerful, generous, beer-filled mood after our team loses.

      Does anybody else suspect dark financial interests- bars usually aren’t brightly lighted- behind local sports performance? Or maybe Chamber of Commerce thinks a guy dressed as a happy corncob is good for Seattle’s tourist image.

      Or maybe, playing for Seattle, our guys make it clear that while they don’t want to be offended by hostile cheering or vuvuzela blowing at soccer matches, if the other side and their fans are nice, we’ll show our appreciation by not beating them. Fits the facts too.

      Just curious.


    2. This is slightly off topic, but in the context of the discussion I think the issue of sporting events touches a sensitive nerve around here. Apart from the impacts of major events at sporting venues (Safeco, Century-Link, Key Arena, Husky Stadium) the good folks of Seattle are also confronted with other activities that tie transit and other vehicular traffic into knots. The recent marathon provided a replay of our experience last year where every surface access to the King Street Station for Amtrak was blocked–well in advance of the race “for security purposes.” I admit it was a sunny Sunday afternoon last week when the soap-box derby was held, but, apart from the 27 Yesler, how many other routes were impacted? I was told that the entry fees for the last foot race were quite hefty. Does the city get reimbursed for the hours of police/traffic duty?

      1. Were passengers literally trapped in the station for several hours after getting off the train? If so, that’s ridiculous. Or were pedestrians still able to get through, even if vehicles were blocked.

      2. When I was in college I had to cross the Chicago marathon to transfer from the L to Metra… fortunately it was the mid-pack runners going by, not the leaders. I was far from the only person crossing the course… we all just sort of picked a spot and darted across.

        It wouldn’t shock me if it was different here “because Seattle”, though.

      3. To clarify–I don’t know about incoming passengers–it was at 7:00 am on a Saturday, but we were attempting to reach the station by vehicle to catch a train–with luggage and some personal mobility issues. “Darting” across wasn’t an option. The race had not yet begun. The street was blocked for “security.”

      4. Frank — that’s a violation of the ADA, which has no exceptions for “security”. Considered suing to get a change in policy? They needed to make reasonable accomodations, which basically means finding a route for you to drop off the mobility-impaired passenger.

      5. Frank, did you try the Weller Street Overpass? There’s an elevator at the end that takes you down to behind KSS.

  12. As a matter of fact, the foot bridge was also inaccessible since 4th Avenue S was blocked from Jackson to the Seattle Blvd (Dearborn St. connector). My post was not to dissect my misadventure, but to raise the issue of how special events for which participants pay high fees and which use great amounts of city resources are allowed to completely disrupt transit and vehicular street usage. Metro does publish diversion announcements, but at no site I could locate was there a public notice regarding the “for security” blocking of streets in advance of a race. Look, I am certain that many STB readers are avid runners and think marathons and other races are great fun and great for fitness. Is the city compensated for the impact costs?

    1. Did you write to the city? SDOT has to approve road closures and they know better than to cut off access. If the event organizer isn’t posting and publicizing access routes then the city needs to know so they can make sure next year it is fixed.

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