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An afternoon peak toll on certain streets leading to Interstate 5 entrances (Mercer, Yale, Olive and James) would reduce chronic congestion at key chokepoints and allow the street grid to work better for all users. Luckily, this approach is both legally and technically feasible for the City of Seattle.

Seattle was the fastest growing large city in the US in 2013, and South Lake Union has rapidly transformed from a low-rise warehouse district to a serious job center rivaling downtown.  Transportation capacity has not kept up.  Mercer Street has been a mess for decades, but now the Dexter disaster, the Westlake wrangle and the Amazon crush also snarl peak hour traffic and delay bus trips for dozens of minutes.  And construction in SLU isn’t finished yet: more buildings, workers and parking spots (!) are on the way.

Transportation planning usually focuses on the capacity of a single road, but the auto transport system is actually a complex network of linked components:

  • Parking capacity
  • Local street and intersection capacity
  • Freeway onramp capacity
  • Freeway capacity

Seattle Toll Points2The conventional American traffic engineering solution is to increase the capacity of the limiting component.  In downtown Seattle and SLU, freeway capacity and particularly freeway onramp capacity are the bottlenecks in the network.  Downtown streets become gridlocked, not due to massive traffic volumes, but due to cars queuing to enter I-5.  The gridlock delays all road users in the area, including transit riders on routes unrelated to I-5, such as Metro Transit routes 26, 28, 40, 70, 8, 3 and 4 and the SLU streetcar.  But there will be no new I-5 onramps or traffic lanes on downtown streets: there is physically no room.  So is this congestion solvable?  Yes, but only through a different mindset.

A constrained traffic planning approach is to reduce the number of cars accessing I-5 from downtown, to match the capacity of the onramps and feeder streets.  Marginally reducing the number of cars queuing for I-5 access via a toll, at the right price, would allow the street network to work for everyone.

Technically Feasible

An afternoon peak toll on certain entry points to I-5 (Mercer, Yale, Olive and James) would decongest downtown streets (red dots on the map).  Cities around the world, including Singapore, London and Stockholm, have employed decongestion tolling, also known as congestion charges, to reduce demand through bottlenecks and gridlocked areas.  Locally the SR 520 Evergreen Point Bridge is decongestion tolled (Good to Go), with variable rates throughout the day matched to demand.


Camera gantries would be mounted over specific lanes leading to I-5.  Unlike the Good to Go system, which uses car-mounted transponders for billing (with license plate recognition as a backup), the London and Stockholm systems rely on license plate recognition as the primary method to levy the fee.  Frequent users could load money into an online account which would be billed when their license plate passes a camera.  Infrequent users would simply receive a bill in the mail.  A camera system would be capable of tolling only vehicles in certain lanes (leading to I-5) and not adjacent lanes, which could be difficult for a transponder-based system.  The tolling system is technically feasible, and completely legal at the local level.

Legally Authorized (RCW 36.73)

State law allows cities and counties to form Transportation Benefit Districts (TBDs) and levy specific taxes for transportation. TBDs explicitly may levy vehicle tolls given a public vote, although no districts in the state have yet used that power.  A TBD toll on state highways also requires legislative approval and WSDOT to operate the toll system.  But TBDs can also toll city or county roads unilaterally, except that the Washington State Transportation Commission must review and approve tolling proposals that may have a significant impact on state highways.  Commission approval is likely to be required for the proposal above.

Seattle formed a TBD in 2010 and council-manically passed a $20 annual vehicle license fee for city street maintenance.  This fall’s Proposition 1 for bus service authorized the Seattle TBD to levy an additional license fee and a 0.1% sales tax, used to purchase bus service hours from King County Metro.  A future ballot proposition could propose levying tolls on strategic traffic lanes leading to I-5, to provide congestion relief throughout downtown Seattle.

*The relevant paragraph in state law about TBD tolling is below, an excerpt from RCW 36.73.040 (3) (d):

(d) Vehicle tolls on state routes, city streets, or county roads, within the boundaries of the district, unless otherwise prohibited by law. However, consistent with RCW 47.56.820, the vehicle toll must first be authorized by the legislature if the toll is imposed on a state route. The department of transportation shall administer the collection of vehicle tolls authorized on state routes, unless otherwise specified in law or by contract, and the state transportation commission, or its successor, may approve, set, and impose the tolls in amounts sufficient to implement the district’s transportation improvement finance plan. The district shall administer the collection of vehicle tolls authorized on city streets or county roads, and shall set and impose the tolls in amounts sufficient to implement the district’s transportation improvement plan. However, consistent with RCW 47.56.850, the vehicle toll, including any change in an existing toll rate, must first be reviewed and approved by the tolling authority designated in RCW 47.56.850 if the toll, or change in toll rate, would have a significant impact, as determined by the tolling authority, on the operation of any state facility.

89 Replies to “Decongestion Tolling for Downtown Seattle”

  1. As a Seattle resident whose commute from Capitol Hill to Fremont takes me through the Mercer/Dexter/Westlake tangle, I’d love to see less traffic.

    Unfortunately, although this plan is legally and technically possible, it is political suicide. Seattleites treat a $60 car tab fee ($0.22 a day) as a civil rights violation. Too many residents feel it’s their right and privilege to tie up traffic every day.

    1. I agree. Seattleites just aren’t ready for this. But you have to start somewhere on an idea like this. At some point you have to have a stick to complement the carrot of better transit. What we are doing now isnt working and is going to get a lot worse before any relief is in sight.

    2. Perhaps Seattle residents get a pass or a massive discount while everyone else from all over the region has to pay.

      1. I never knew that a Federally-funded Interstate constructed for the purposes of interstate commerce and national defense was now your exclusive gated driveway.

      2. Come on Dave. Most people that live within 5 mile radius downtown aren’t driving. The more Sound Transit routes that are removed the more likely people will get in a car to drive to work because…ya know…limited options. But by all means..just blame it on people that just “want to drive” into work everyday. If there was rail alongside the I5 ans I90 corridors, this would be less of a problem. Just sayin

    3. Seattleites treat a $60 car tab fee ($0.22 a day) as a civil rights violation.

      This is an odd thing to say a few weeks after they overwhelmingly passed it.

      I do agree that this plan is as good on policy grounds as it is implausible on political grounds, but let’s not get carried away.

      1. And I don’t think it’s quite as politically impossible as people are saying. This has been done in other cities so it’s obviously possible, though admittedly those cities have tended to have better transit networks. I think you could get a good coalition of the people who rarely drive plus some of the more well-off people who would be very willing to pay a few bucks every day to not sit in traffic. Not easy, but I don’t think we’re getting too ahead of ourselves by beginning a real discussion on the topic.

  2. When Michael Bloomburg first became mayor of NYC, he pushed for congestion pricing. Although a great number of residents supported the idea so long that the money went to transit improvements. However there were outer borough interests along with several legislators that were powerful enough to kill such a mesure despite a home rule request. Even several suburban interest groups from Westchester County & New Jersey were against it.

  3. Another gridlock issue is pedestrians preventing cars from turning right. Often I see a line of cars waiting to turn right and a small trickle of pedestrians preventing them from doing so, leading to gridlocks for blocks around. A simple solution would be right turn green arrows. Let the crowd of pedestrians cross first, then turn on the right green arrow and let the cars go. The small trickle of pedestrians after that would wait for the next light.

    1. This is something I hope the city invests in more. The 2nd Ave protected bike lanes use this to both improve ped/bike safety and improve the operations of left/right turning vehicles.

    2. Definitely. Seattle proper has a long ways to go in general when it comes to advanced signaling. They are much less advanced, not integrated, not timed properly, etc. Then you add in the lack of right turn or left turn lights that would improve situations drastically a variety of high volume streets and you are actually creating a lot more grid lock then the physical space is capable of handling.

      One obvious example, the left turn ramp off of 99 SB to Denny Way. If the light was timed better along with Denny and integrated, it wouldn’t take 20 minutes to get off the highway, the same time it takes to get through the 520 crawl. Let that sink in because that’s the state of traffic around SLU and downtown now.

      I really wish that SDOT would focus on signal improvements as much as they are focused on bike infrastructure. Signal improvements will also indirectly improve the situation for all modes of transit.

      Better signaling is the reason why Bellevue can handle NE 8th traffic much more effectively, since their system is at least a decade ahead of Seattle’s.

      1. Seattle also lacks a one way street grid. I understand why, but one of the several reasons some cities have gone this way is it is much easier to synchronize traffic lights. With two way streets, something will always be out of synch with something else.

      2. Haha, yeah, NE 8th in Bellevue isn’t something to emulate in any way. “Optimized”, “modern” traffic signals are somehow almost always lousy for pedestrians. Bellevue and SLU alike. I’ll take ones where our wait times are regular and short.

    3. What I’ve noticed is the proliferation of No Right Turn on Red signs. I’m sitting at the red light and can’t turn when there are no peds in the crosswalk ~ instead I have to wait until the peds start crossing to make my turn, but I can’t turn then either. No wonder motorists complain about a war on cars.

    4. This is a pedestrian penalty. Anything that takes away walk time share in either direction creates a disincentive for using the already slowest method of transportation.

      1. Just go. Whenever it is safe to go, just go.

        Taste the freedom, get there happier and faster (and often safer), and make the city function better while you’re at it.

    5. Well, we do already have this on the books:

      (2) Steady or flashing DON’T WALK or hand symbol—Pedestrians facing such signal shall not enter the roadway. Vehicle operators shall stop for pedestrians who have begun to cross the roadway before the display of either signal as required by RCW 46.61.235(1).

      But most people blithely wander into the crosswalk on the flashing signal anyway.

      1. In functional cities, people go whenever it is safe to go. And they tend to do so with the expeditiousness of momentum and purpose.

        Result: they get there faster, and they don’t build up at curb lines like a dam waiting to burst.

        When you’ve been forced/culturally shamed into twiddling your thumbs for 80% of the cycle, you’re more likely to dawdle, saunter, and block.

        The worst thing you could do is to ramp up the punitiveness by limiting people only to the “white man” part of the signal cycle.

    6. This is a direct result of decades of anti-“jaywalking” propaganda and punitive enforcement, born of autocentricity and a culture that privileges obedience over common sense.

      Seattle is reaping what it has sown.

      1. In some intersections in Bellevue there are signs saying what to do at each phase of the walk signal. And in Seattle now some of the buttons speak at you saying “Wait! Wait! Wait!”

      2. Brunnsparken, the Westlake Center of Gothenburg, has at least a dozen streetcar and triple-artic bus routes on very short headway, go through surrounding streets. Huge crowds, very few pedestrian signals.

        City Hall Park, the large flagstone plaza between Oslo city hall and the harbor, has double-artic streetcars run the double-tracked right of way through unconcerned strolling people, and bicycles, and baby-carriages without a single warning sign, let alone signal.

        Proving seriously wrong the idea that restoring our own Waterfront Streetcar would be completely incompatible with exactly the activities above which mix perfectly with street rail.

        The flagstone pavement of the plaza has the stones along the track cut so that the rails rest in grooves in a raised bed of stone. So a step an inch or two high precisely marks the outside edge of the trains.

        So anyone walking close to the track can feel their shoe hit the step exactly where they need to step clear of the train. Tram drivers told me that there were no pedestrian problems through the plaza.

        A huge amount of the relaxation comes from Europeans’ life-long conditioned reflex to listen for bells and vibrations along grooved rail with catenary overhead- and simply step the minimum distance aside as the car goes by.

        I think a the punitive nature of our own pedestrian control stems entirely from the long decades when this country’s main form of transportation was private cars. And other free-steered rubber-tired vehicles.

        On any given trackway, nearby walkers know the exact line marking the outside edge of the train. The edge never varies to either side- as is the case with most rubber-tired transportation.

        Also suspect that a legal understanding making it illegal to get hit by a train, combined with national health care generous enough to keep litigation down, greatly improves pedestrian-transit relations.

        Not to beat a young and healthy horse through repetition, but firmly believe that as steel wheels replace rubber tires Downtown, pedestrian quality of life will greatly improve.

        Mark Dublin

    7. Seattle would benefit from so many more pedestrian-only phases.

      Case in point: the intersections of Market Street with Leary Way and with 15th Ave NW. Buses will get caught through multiple light cycles at each because of peds blocking the rightmost lane.

      1. At Market/15th, the solution is to make the right lane right-turn-only (allowing more of them to turn on red), and to get 100% of the straight-bound drivers into the second lane (where any 44 driver who gives a shit about passengers’ time already is).

        I have never even once seen the second lane fail to clear in a single cycle.

        At Market/Leary, the solution is to encourage jaywalking. Seriously. I live a block from here, and I do it at least half a dozen times a day. Once you’ve memorized the cycle and its ebbs/flows/gaps, it is far safer as well as faster to do so.

        The last thing we need in either location is West Seattle-style scramble overkill making everyone wait longer.

  4. London’s and Stockholm’s tolling is like a wall around the inner city. It allows people to drive within the city without being blocked by commuters. Some of the money is recycled into transit to give commuters another way, and apparently the charge is so successful it makes the streets calm for pedestrians. The equivalent here would be a toll on all streets entering Center City, or even further north to the Ship Canal or 45th.

    This proposal tolls only freeway entrances. The effect would be like the existing ramp meters plus tolls. The ramp meters displace congestion from the freeway to the onramps and approaching roads. The toll would do the same (because the meters won’t go away), but deter some people who don’t want to pay the toll. Some of that traffic would evaporate, but some of it would shift to the nearest free entrances.

    Southbound they would head to Spokane Street. That would be OK on the intermediate streets because there’s capacity in SODO (if there’s no ballgame or people know about Airport Way), but it would cause a backup at the entrance, which the 101, 102, and 150 also use.

    Northbound they would head for one of the other Ship Canal bridges and the 45th entrance. But those streets are already congested peak hours, so this would add more. Some of them will assume 45th is gridlocked and head to 65th or Northgate Way, but that doesn’t help the streets south of the Ship Canal.

    1. Right – Any plan that does this would also need to phase in core city tolling as well to offset the redirect.

    2. That would be one of my concerns as well. Would this end up simply shifting the traffic problem? I really don’t know. I know that 520 traffic is a lot better now that it is tolled, but is I-90 worse? What about Lake City/Bothell Way? I’m not suggesting that people will necessarily drive miles and miles out of there way to avoid a toll, but if they are a little closer to the toll road, they will take the other one. My guess is that it would be a mix. Some folks would avoid driving downtown, some folks would just pay the toll, and other folks would change their driving habits (but still get on the freeway). To be really effective I think you would need to toll a lot of the on-ramps (there are a lot in Seattle) as well as 99 or maybe go “full London” and toll every street in the heart of the city.

  5. Bravo for posting a good idea, and bravo again, precisely BECAUSE it would be highly unpopular today. How else will we change the political landscape except to continue to make good proposals and good arguments for them?

  6. In theory, I love everything about this proposal, but the real nagging question in my mind is where will the toll revenue go. If it goes only to road maintenance, I’m not sure that’s good enough. The problem in my mind is that if the city doesn’t use the toll roads to improve the transit experience (which, to some extent road maintenance would do), this effort could be seen (with some merit) as inequality enhancing. After all, the roads will then be for the rich, who get to buy their way out of traffic.

    1. I think you are right. The “tat” here has to be better transit connections. A counter argument to “you can’t mess with our roads” is critical to moving forward with something like this.

    2. Yes, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Tolling on 520 started before building bike infrastructure on the corridor, providing no alternative to avoid the toll. I would like this to start after a few more bike projects are completed, like the Westlake and the center city cycle track network.

      This is an interesting idea, but I’m curious if it’s truly better than a congestion charge for the entire center city, especially given the forthcoming toll (if Bertha gets unstuck) on 99.

    3. The bike infrastructure is putting the bike on a bus at Evergreen Point and taking it off at Montlake. That’s the same both before and after the toll. I heard it was originally free to take a bike between those stops, but somehow that changed.

      1. Bike racks on 520 buses fill up quickly — they aren’t a scalable solution. A lot of people that use them could easily take the bus right to their workplaces. Unfortunately many people (especially people that work on the eastside) have bike parking available at work that’s so much better than the racks near the Montlake Flyer Stop (the ones next to the big sign that says “HIGH THEFT AREA”) that they want to use the buses anyway.

        Improving weather protection, security, and capacity of bike parking at key locations for reverse-commuting cyclists would help a lot. There are a bunch of decent options in downtown parking garages (for people biking from the near periphery to a bus at, say, Convention Place), but no covered parking near the freeway stations at 45th or Montlake (I don’t think there’s any at Rainier either but I could be wrong). Weather protection is easy in a place with little wind and lots of drizzle: a simple roof. Capacity isn’t that hard. Security is a little more complicated… but it might help to offer day-use lockers in places like the U District where demand would seem to be highest.

    4. That’s one of the reasons why London’s scheme has been so successful- the $$ went right into bus improvements, + less congestion allowed shorter turn-around times that allowed them to run with shorter headways.

    5. Given present trends, Ryan, possession of the roads will put the anti-transit rich exactly where they deserve: stuck in impacted motor traffic and observing that every single person in sight aboard a moving vehicle is on a bus or train.

      But…their call! Can’t countermand their determined choice of speed. Which, incidentally, is my own preferred speed for automated auto traffic.


  7. What about the entrances at 6th & University and 6th & Spring? Did you purposely leave those out of your proposal? If so, why?

    1. As of right now, the University/Seneca onramps don’t cause severe congestion or significantly delay buses. Route 2 is delayed, but there is already a reroute proposal on the table to fix that.

      If diversion of traffic to these onramps causes major cascading backups, then they could be tolled in a phase 2 project. Dearborn and I-90/Atlantic onramps may also need to be tolled in phase 2. Urban traffic is a complex, dynamic system – my proposal is to start tolling at the worst points, and then expand/adjust tolling points as required to balance the system.

  8. Great idea. those who tie up are streets and mostly Eastsider’s. They will now pay for their impacts.

    1. Great Idea. Polluters Pay and Congestors Pay.
      It’s unfortunate that some locals will also have to pay to get on the freeway, but what the heck, this is a gem money maker for Seattle taxpayers, at the expense of N, E, King and Snohomish Counties. Gov. Inslee will be a strong Allie knowing how he wants to enact his own agenda (carbon tax). The Transportation Commission and PSRC will also be on board with this knowing they want to charge by the mile in the future. WSDOT and all it’s fare collection vendors will be dancing in the streets to support more lucrative contracts, and the justice system will be doing back flips to add more justices, clerks and the like to extract addition revenue from the scofflaws of the world.
      This idea has all the ingredients for finally turning a sleepy little airplane town into the financial giant it has destined to be since Tacoma lost the race 150 years ago.
      All this windfall revenue from the latest batch of tax schemes could be dedicated to digging the 2nd and 3rd tunnels for transit under downtown, under Lake Washington and wherever Seattle Subway directs the ST Board to go next.

      1. Mic, do you think there’s maybe just a chance that by their own unpressured choice, a large number of people are already starting to notice what happens the freedom of anybody who takes a car onto any freeway?

        With all the tectonic activity in this region- been told that electric currents around very nearby Mt. Rainier that occasionally affect marine navigation instruments-there may be the multidimensional wavelength that will be the only way increase freeway capacity.

        ‘Til then…very likely that exact time and place every freeway motorist gets stuck is so precise that the occupant can consider it a free reserved parking space. Win-win solution: guaranteed access to the freeway, and free parking! 1955 revival!

        Curious about objection to carbon tax. If somebody regularly dumps trash and garbage on somebody else’s lawn, is it unfair to make the culprit pay to remove it?

        Current evidence also shows that the freely-expressed preference of a very large number of people with excellent education, skills, and work ethic is to turn Seattle into precisely the kind of place that will need subways. For which these new residents will be very glad to pay.

        Have also noticed that one major pillar of the aircraft industry has voluntarily made it clear that it likes its headquarters better in Chicago. Again, their choice. Seattle took the end of the gold rush in stride too. Just like the concurrent cessation of First Avenue toilets erupted with the incoming tide.

        But based on comments to posting below, Seattle Subways’ death grip on Sound Transit will come to a swift end when a runaway automated Far SouthLINK train demolishes the State Capitol after a retaliatory Korean hack hits its controls just as Jay Inslee gets stoned and makes Kim Ill Jung’s head explode.

        Blood of tyrants, Mic, blood of tyrants…


  9. Assuming the legal and political channels are cleared and the tolling is implemented, I am curious exactly how “An afternoon peak toll on certain entry points to I-5 (Mercer, Yale, Olive and James) would decongest downtown streets “.
    How does this decongesting process play out?
    What would happen to the current traffic?
    I don’t think the current congesters are doing this on a daily basis for the fun of it, but rather as the only way they see to go about their lives.
    What alternative routes might be impacted, what about strains on transit?
    IOW, what unintended consequences might be mitigated by thinking thru the ‘decongesting’ process?

      1. Whose boon-attracted wave of customers and residents will stay in vehicular motion…how? But one undeniable attraction. Freeway space already provides many miles of free parking every day.


  10. I agree that it’s going to take some innovative solutions to create mobility for us all.

    To make a solution like this tolerable, we need far better transit. The most likely source of that would be buses and making buses work better means further pain, such as reserving traffic lanes for them to keep them moving, and of course more funding.

    Unfortunately, a great deal of the available funding is being sucked up by the Light Rail Disaster, which is going to do little to solve this, or most other problems.

    Good transit is essential to a great city!

    1. What light rail disaster? It’s running fine. Would you prefer heavy rail? If you want buses instead, you’d have to explain where the new lanes for them would go and how much they’d cost to build, since there’s not enough room on the existing roads especially between Weller Street and 50th. If we have to build new roads anyway — which is most of the cost — we might as well put trains on them because they’re higher capacity.

    2. Improved transit is absolutely mandatory to get people to accept car limits in the city. But European experience flatly refutes the idea that there’s a conflict between light rail and cars. Stockholm has excellent light rail connecting with its extensive subway network.

      And locally: if it weren’t for Tukwila International and LINK, the city and ten miles of I-5 would be a parking lot on game day. With none of their occupants of a mind to ride local buses when they get here.

      Mark Dublin

  11. I think this plan recognizes the reality that Seattle’s transportation system is simply broken. Dedicating the proceeds solely to transit and other congestion relief is also a great idea. I also like how the author used the phrase “decongestion tolling,” instead of “congestion tolling,” which is what I’ve heard more used more often in the past. The apt name will help show voters that the plan is designed to improve transportation, rather than limit it.

  12. Are you sure you want to fix the congestion problem this way? It would lead to the well off paying the toll and going about their business, while the not so well off stuck a choice of a longer commute or a more expensive one.

    In other words, the only ones left clamoring for transit options will be the not so well off. We’ve seen how influential they are politically.

    Congestion is the one thing that treats everyone equally.

    1. That depends on where the toll money goes to. London put it into more tube lines and commuter rail.

    2. that’s my concern as well, Mark. If the transit system doesn’t drastically improve (as opposed to incrementally) after such a measure, resentment will build but not amount to much. Those well off taxpayers who now can simply pay to avoid congestion won’t be so keen on more taxes for transit.

      1. Any chance that personal experience will quickly teach the well-off that the only way their dollars will actually buy them freedom is to put them into transit?

        Might also be worth it to design first- and third-class into future light rail? Stuffy sahibs demanding gin and tonic while they play whist in first class, with kudu heads on the car walls.

        And sort of a Marakech Express atmosphere in third, with chickens in the luggage overhead, and people cooking Bedouin food in the aisles on flaming braziers. Leaving out second class, because worldwide it’s just boring.

        Real danger, of course, is like the real problem with gentrification: neighborhoods and trains, money’s freedom to buy limits freedom of those without it to use.


  13. Give us 2 wheeled riders a break for crying out loud! We pollute less. We take up substantially less space parking and on the roadways. We spend far less time spinning around needlessly seeking cheap parking. It’s practically impossible for a moto or scoot to cause gridlock; we can idle 2 or 3 abreast and stack twice deep leading 6 individual rides to occupy the space of one modest car.

    Basically, the less laws incentivize riding, the more riders will just find ways to break those laws and that annoys everybody.

    1. Except that these are people going to the Highway, so they live away from the downtown area.

      Are you seriously suggesting people be required to bike 15+ miles or more, one way, regardless of class, age, health status, weather, etc?

      Fine if you wish to live and ride downtown, but this is not the solution.

      1. I think someone is referring to us urban/commuting motorcyclists. I ride in all weather, as I’ve got the gear for it.

  14. Has anyone done an origin and destination study for our region?
    I feel like transit is focused on downtown, but I only go downtown for Sounders games.
    I pay $15 to park and carpool down there. I’d consider a bus except it takes three times as long each way and with the lack of personal space on top of that (crowded and stinky) I’d way rather drive.
    I did use the bus when I did jury duty. That worked fine because my house is just far enough up the bus line that I got a seat. Once we got to the Ave it was always standing room only. Also the AM express bus was pretty comparable to drive time due to the time it would’ve taken to park.

    1. Fascinating.

      Whenever I take a bus before a Sounders game, the Sounders fans that come on always seem to be clean and friendly. Some Sounders fans (and Seahawk fans for that matter) find that going to the game on the bus is half the fun.

      Plus you are going to a Sounders game. Unless you are in the skybox, the fans in the stadium are going to be mighty close, as close or even closer than you would be on the bus and for a longer time. And if you’ve been jumping around and cheering for awhile, you ain’t going to be fresh.

      1. This discussion topic brings back a lot of transit memories, baselle. (Lower case “b”, correct number of “s”s and “l”s, right?)

        Vivid memory of the “El” in the steambath summers of Chicago is the way a standing load of working people smelled in the days before air-conditioning.

        Which were also the days before advertising convinced the country that healthy people washed only in soap- in Madison Avenue’s words- “offended.”

        Also a couple of decades before the days when both our major parties decided that term “working class” no longer applied to anybody whose votes they needed. Just like the actual work that caused these people to offend by sweating.

        On the other hand, in my own transit driving days, only thing passengers did that I really couldn’t stand was to sit directly across from the driver after a year without either a bath or the ability to work. From mental illness, not any fault of their own.

        But my main point is that now- as then- transit will get more bearable to ride the more people who are making a living ride it. As transit ridership was in 1950.

        Which first and foremost requires that the same percentage of our population be able to find a decent working wage without a lifetime in debt for college. And when there’s transit anybody punching a time clock can use without being fired for lateness. Fix that and transit will smell just fine.

        Though will miss the forever-lost ozone fragrance of an electric arc, somewhere between roast beef and copper. Modern “chopper” controls are specifically designed not to do that.


  15. How about a higher parking tax? If you have monthly parking (even if your employer pays) There is a $100 tax on parking YOUR car that must be paid by the owner. Or make the tax the exact same amount as what a transit pass would be.

    1. I think that would be way easier to implement from a practical as well as political standpoint. Unfortunately, it would still run into the same basic problem: it favors suburban businesses. I never drive downtown, but I know there are people who like to shop there on the weekend. Slap a big tax on the parking, and next thing you know, people will flock to the mall. The same is true for offices. Basically, downtown businesses would oppose this big time, and it would be hard to pass.

      1. Short term worry. City or suburb, places where best-used parking lots already have Interstate signs at their entrances won’t keep their attraction forever- even if said parking remains free of charge.

        But as noted many times above- localities where transit is good enough to make life both free and enjoyable are already well-chosen.

        But in transit matters and anything else public: major principle of the world of tools and machinery is that if you have to use force to make something function, there’s something the matter with your design.


  16. Again, this page jumps the shark in suggesting too much stick over the carrot. You need the fast effective transit from out in the burbs and city neighborhoods first to downtown before you can whack people over the head with a toll to go about their daily business. Eventually that day will come, but it’s not here yet.

    And by fast I mean rail links, not buses.

    1. Rail will never go to every suburb. It can’t. Buses do this really well, but people still choose to drive. It really isn’t a case of convenience getting to and from work, it is either a case of personal preference (they just don’t like mass transit) or that they want there car in the evening to somewhere besides home.

  17. Seattle should promote congestion tolling through the referendum process. Drawing on the example of Stockholm’s referendum, even if the referendum is defeated, it starts the dialogue and changes the way people perceive traffic; shifting from an immutable truth to something that can be combatted.

    Tolling should be popular across a spectrum of interests. First, it will prove an economic boon since it will maximize the throughput of individuals. Second, the tax will fall disproportionately fall on individuals who do not reside in the city. The toll could then be contextualized as non-residents paying their ‘fair share’ since they use roads paid for by Seattle residents. Third, neighborhoods ought to support tolls since it will reduce vehicle traffic and pollution, while liberalizing spaces currently dedicated to the automobile for other uses. The referendum should establish toll revenue as a cross subsidy for transit.

    1. Also, it may make more sense to toll all traffic entering the city from north of Lake Union and all cars entering the city from south of Holgate and all exits from I-90/I-5 north of this point. Moving the boundaries further south would mitigate the congestion caused by the eventual toll on SR-99.

  18. While it may be legal, creating toll roads on public roads is a double tax, and this would disproportionally affect middle to lower middle classes and the poor. “Oh you want to go to work – you have to pay”. This is diametrically opposed to progressive liberal state.

    The constitution states that as part the governments collection of taxes, they are required to build and maintain infrastructure.

    Any tolls on non-private roads should be eliminated as they are unconstitutional and unethical as we have already paid for their construction and maintenance.

    1. The poor are already taking transit into downtown, since they can’t afford to park there. How many minimum wage workers have monthly garage parking? This would be a progressive solution, not regressive, since those who can afford to pay for parking (including myself) would be funding transportation to help those who can’t.

      1. Your statement is false, this is regressive. When it causes burden to most, but just a minor inconvenience for a few with more wealth, that is the definition of a regressive policy.

        There are plenty of 30-40K workers who do not live in Seattle, as the rent is too high. They commute in from places all over the sound, which the posted explained, not just the poor.

        These folk don’t have the cash to be adding 60+ a month in toll fees. The parking is private (mostly) so is not a double tax from the government.

        What you say would only be true if there was a reasonable alternative which, with the exception of a few areas, is not readily available, safe, nor convenient.

        And no, 3-4 buss transfers and 1.5+ hours one way by bus is not a realistic alternative.

        If there were NYC style, or European style mass transit, maybe this would work.

        You still are not addressing the double tax, lack of government doing what they are required to do, etc.

    2. Variable rate tolling designed to optimize throughout is actually a progressive tax since it falls heaviest on those who value their time the most. Just basic tolling is a pigovian tax, which is not necessarily regressive. Seattle should look to the example set by Stockholm. They tolled only during peak hours and at a very low rate. They found people discount the value of their time significantly more than its actual worth, thus a small toll yielded disproportionately large reductions in traffic; in the case of Stockholm the tolls ranged from 1.50 to 3.50. While gridlock does not discriminate between incomes, it is important to remember no one wins if they’re stuck in traffic, rich or poor.

    3. Absurd. This scheme is no more “diametrically opposed to liberal progressive” politics than charging for bus fare or parking, or charging ranchers grazing fees. Small fees for scarce, valuable access to a public resource that loses a lot of its value when overused makes it more valuable. What we’ve got now is a tragedy of the commons.

  19. How about using tolling as leverage, such as if ST3 is not on the ballot in 2016, and Seattle has to build its own rail (such as Ballard to UW)?

  20. Good discussion. I would expand the delays to cover routes going to First Hill and Capitol Hill too. 2, 8, 10, 11, 12, 43, 49 and future FH streetcar. Corridors such as Denny Way, Pike/Pine, and Madison/Marion could be added. Private vehicles, many drive alones, trying to get to I-5/I-90 create significant travel time, and service realibility issues for transit service. This impacts transit riders and increases the cost to provide the transit service too.

  21. “A camera system would be capable of tolling only vehicles in certain lanes (leading to I-5) and not adjacent lanes, which could be difficult for a transponder-based system. The tolling system is technically feasible, and completely legal at the local level.”

    Transponder-based systems that toll a single lane and not the adjacent lane are actually pretty easy to implement and the SR167 HOT lane uses it currently.

    1. Are they easy to implement? Are they easy to maintain? We have a tolling division that uses four different types of tolling equipment on four different facilities.

      The SR 167 do not operate with photo equipment and there are discusions to incorporate photo tolling into the system. …yet photo adds significant cost to tolling (hard-drive space, HD camera, UPS, camera/transponder mounting structures, etc). I ran into an issue that involved my motorcycle being tolled on SR 167. I contested the charges and I was told that because there were no cameras, they could not verify that a motorcycle with a motorcycle tag (that was issued by that exact office) had been tolled. I threatened to “Get Jessie” and the matter was resolved. The transponder-only system is still buggy. I still get tolled on occasion only to have the charges reversed a day later. My advice is to use cameras.

      If Seattle were to pursue such a program, my question is: who will enforce these access points? Will SPD have sufficient time to send infractions to drivers should they not pay tolls? This can turn into a big boondoggle if not applied appropriately.

      1. My understanding of the system is that they use two direction antennas: one in the primary lane (i.e. HOV) lane and one the adjacent lane. Any car that drives in either lane (primary or adjacent) will register a “hit” on both antennas. By comparing the relative signal strength it’s pretty trivial to determine which lane a car is actually in.

  22. I don’t think you can possibly withstand the political firestorm this would start until people feel comfortable with and happy about their other options for getting into downtown – until a tax on downtown drivers is primary a tax on others, not on me. For that we need light rail connecting all of the major neighborhoods with downtown, and a bus network set up to feed this rail. At that point, it makes sense to talk about congestion pricing, but before then just erodes your credibility with voters.

  23. Too much focus on just i5. Toll every crossing of the ship canal, West Seattle and 1st Ave bridges, i5 to South, and i90.

  24. The theory behind congestion pricing (which has been researched for decades) stems from the fact that it is the only way to achieve a system optimal transportation network (least delays). The whole point is to use these tolls as subsidies for those not driving, who are creating value by not driving (or delaying their trip).

    The issue arises when it comes to the enforcement of such a congestion pricing scheme. Some people here have referenced the London system, which operates via cameras throughout the cityas discussed. This operation costs a whooping 100 million GBP a year, with a revenue of 160 million GBP. Now of course, you cannot redistribute this money as you would like anymore, thus losing some ability to reach that system optimal network.

    This gives way to a simpler congestion pricing system as suggested in the article, pricing in select key areas. A great idea that will have a lot of loopholes to think through in the future.

  25. Bus only lanes would provide more benefit. When you are stuck in traffic and see buses moving, it becomes a real alternative to driving. Works a lot of places.

  26. What about a ring or wall of red light + speed cameras? This would act as a toll on the worst drivers who are most likely to tie up traffic by causing collisions and damaging life and property.

    It perhaps wouldn’t achieve much decongestion since it is hard to speed in a traffic jam, though it would deter running red lights at the tail end of green cycles and fines could be given to drivers blocking crosswalks and cross streets. It could act as broader psychological barrier to wanting to drive where traffic laws are actually enforced.

    If too successful as a deterrent it wouldn’t generate very much revenue, but the savings to the city from decreased severity of collisions would still make it a great investment.

  27. On the question of impacting city residents–London gives a substantial discount on its congestion charge for auto trips to people who live inside the perimeter.

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