I-90 and I-405 Interchange

Martin did a great run-down of the Governor’s transportation proposal before the holidays.  There’s a lot of new highway construction in there that transit advocates and people who care about the future of the earth should be concerned about, but I think it’s important to distinguish between types of highway construction.

One thing most transit advocates agree upon is that transit should run in uncongested lanes (when not grade-separated of course) and that roads should be priced to help ensure that free-flow.  So it’s worth noting that about a quarter of the highway expansion money in the proposal would go primarily towards completing the system of express toll lanes on I-405.  Through downtown Bellevue, 2 of the 5 lanes in each direction would be tolled.  This is hugely significant, since the current HOV lane often fails to maintain consistent 45MPH speeds in the afternoon peak, hurting transit.

The first express toll lanes will open between Bellevue and Lynnwood this year.  The lower half, between Bellevue and Renton, is currently unfunded, but would presumably receive the bulk of the funding from Inslee’s proposal.  Completing these projects will create the largest stretch of congestion-priced roadway in the region, stretching from Auburn to Lynnwood.

Photo via user mspdude on Flickr

91 Replies to “I-405 “Expansion” Would be Good for Transit”

  1. Adding capacity to 405 will induce more sprawl. Why can’t we just toll the HOV lanes we already have so that they perform for transit?

    1. Interesting corollary–because using tolling to control congestion may have the effect of increasing capacity, tolling freeways could actually lead to increased sprawl.

      1. With as poorly as the existing lanes perform, why haven’t they been converted to HOV-3?

        And if the answer is policy or legislation, why isn’t that being changed? Non-performing lanes need to be fixed in real time, otherwise count me skeptical about the new lanes

      2. No, Jeffrey, it doesn’t work that way. Increasing capacity *at the same price* leads to more sprawl. *Raising the price* of sprawl by tolling previously-free routes, however, leads to less sprawl.

    2. They are: the new lanes only run to 522 and the rest of the way to Lynnwood is a conversion job on the existing lanes.

    3. So if I’m in a carpool, I pay a toll, but if I’m a SOV lane, I don’t pay? Doesn’t sound like a good plan for encouraging carpooling.

      The point of the toll lanes is that they are free for carpools and transit, but SOV can pay the toll to buy entrance. We can’t do that in the existing carpool lane because it’s already past capacity.

      1. Except, don’t carpools need to register as carpools and buy a transponder? That’d discourage spontaneous, one-time or few-times carpooling (which might have motivated people to do it more regularly). Yes, that’s a minority of all carpools, but discouraging it is still suboptimal.

      2. @William C: No, currently on 167 carpools can use the HOT lanes without a transponder or registering for anything. The system is different than the Narrows/520 bridges. It’s sorta complicated and requires active enforcement (which is never done).

        Basically, a cop waits by each toll transponder. If a car goes through and a light flashes, that person has a transponder. If a car goes through and the light doesn’t flash, it’s up to the cop to determine whether the car is a legal carpool or not.

      3. Look for the switchable pass. On WSDOT’s GoodToGo pass list. We have these in our cars. Turn the pass off if you have the required number of passengers in your vehicle for HOV access or leave it on if you don’t. Works very well.

      4. In a word, no, carpools don’t need to register or get a transponder.

        From the DOT’s web FAQs web page for SR-187

        Do I have to have a Good To Go! pass to use the HOT lanes?

        No, not if you are in a carpool of two or more people or driving a motorcycle. Solo drivers wanting to use the HOT lanes will need a Good To Go! pass.

      5. It will be subtly different on I-405 than on SR-167. (and if Anandakos is reading, my apologies for getting this wrong a few weeks ago).

        On SR 167, the absence of a pass indicates that the vehicle is a HOV-3 (or trying to pass as one).

        On I-405, carpools will require a “Flex pass”. It should be set in the “HOV mode” to avoid a toll.

        Users of SR 167 HOT lanes could use a switchable pass that could be set to the off-position when car-pooling. The Flex pass for I-405 seems to be a different pass, with a regular and HOV mode.

      6. Thanks for the quick correction.

        I wonder what rental car agencies would say about my putting the Velcro backing from the switchable pass on their windshields to go over 520?

      7. Different passes and rules for adjacent highways? That sounds like different fares and zones for adjacent transit agencies.

      8. Mike, just guessing here, but I suspect the new passes on 405 is a learning from the 167 experience. Multi-mode passes allow them to track all the vehicles in the HOT lane whether or not they are revenue-producing.

        If that’s right, and they have better outcomes with the Flex pass, they’ll probably align around the Flex Pass for 167 too.

    4. Sure, in an ideal world we’d convert all existing lanes to toll lanes, but that’s not the proposal on the table. This a big step forward for regional congestion pricing.

      1. In your ideal world, would you use congestion pricing to quit building more of anything?
        How about variable pricing of the internet, cable TV, cell phones, grocery store pricing during the PM peak, and on and on?
        Tolling every road isn’t practical, but all the major arterials are, forcing some cars to play pac man trying to find a route that doesn’t involve getting tagged. Also, tolling is more than 10x as expensive to collect the toll, than conventional at the pump taxation. Fix that, then come back to me.

      2. I’m certainly for congestion tolling the internet. I stream Netflix at 11:30 to 2:30 at night, when there’s plenty of capacity. I should pay some more than the person who just surfs and emails, but if I’m REALLY not stressing the system it should be relatively modest.

        Now someone who streams HD movies at 3:00 PM? Sock ’em!

    5. So the incentive to encourage commuters to share a vehicle were the HOV lanes, either 2 or 3 occupants per vehicle. That would yield about 4 or 6 thousand riders per lane per hour and allow transit a reasonably fast trip of 45 mph or better each day. That’s about the same as E.Link running packed trains on 6 minute headways in the peak, consuming 40 feet of pontoon width.
      Sprawl is much more complicated to figure, pairing cheap abundant land and cheap homes in the suburbs against dense, higher cost homes in the city. Offsetting costs of transportation and the ‘time is money’ factor starts to clarify how people choose where to live and for what personal reasons, which are many.
      Now enter HOT lanes, where the goal is not so much on increasing the capacity of the same number of lane miles, but of generating more income for the DOT’s. Sure, some SOV’s vacate the GP lanes, freeing up some additional capacity, and in the case of underused HOV lanes like on HWY 167, it’s a net gain. I-405 HOV lanes are fully used in the peak, so the capacity isn’t increased, only the revenue.
      Chasing 2+ cars out of the HOV lanes, in favor of SOV’s who can afford it is catering to a new master, ignores our past commitment to use concrete better, and does little for transit.
      How about if we double fares on transit riders to help pay for new lanes for GP traffic? More capacity would speed up the trip for everyone, right?
      I only see sprawl controlled by making travel times longer or more expensive for those wishing to live 50 miles from where you work. High Speed cheap trains through an Alps style tunnel to Moses Lake would make my point.
      UGA boundaries could control sprawl, but the regulatory fences look more like old chain link with big sections cut out along the Rio Grande, than high block walls surrounding the moats.

      1. A week or so ago there was an article in the Oregonian about a new plan for downtown Portland. One item that was briefly mentioned was that currently some 40% of the land in downtown Portland is devoted to parking. Even with our urban growth boundary and the efforts to redevelop the Pearl District and South Waterfront into high rise areas, still somewhat less than half of our most valuable land is devoted to vehicles.

        The reason housing is expensive in downtown areas isn’t really that much to do with the housing, but more to do with the fact that people are willing to pay more to live there.

        Developing better land uses than surface parking lots (and Seattle has a few of those pretty close to downtown as well, though not quite as much as we do) on the most valuable plots of land would help quite a lot. After all, the prices of close in housing indicate people are willing to live close in and avoid the congestion.

      2. I don’t know as much about Portland, but in Seattle If there were more areas outside downtown, Capitol Hill, and the U-District that were a walker’s paradise and with a lot of transit going in all directions, then people wouldn’t squeeze into those neighborhoods so much, and would be more willing to live in other areas. But when other areas are much more difficult to live in because of the need to go out of the neighborhood more, half-hourly buses when you do go, and adding 45 minutes to a regional trip, then the high prices of more convenient neighborhoods become worth it. What we need to do is make more neighborhoods convenient, and that means a wider variety of businesses within walking distance, and frequent transit full time and in all directions.

      3. My recollection is that 167’s HOT lane is costing more to operate than the revenue it brings in.

      4. +1 Mike. We have so many isolated neighborhoods, either by water (Laurelhurst), topography (Leschi, Madison Park, Queen Anne Hill), or both (Magnolia, West Seattle). None of these locations is great for higher density because of the poor connectivity to major employment centers. Unfortunately, collectively those neighborhoods represent a big chunk of the city’s land area.

        None of those neighborhoods has 1-seat transit access to all three of Downtown, SLU, and UW. Even 2/3 is hard – QA lacks UW access and SLU is awkward at best, Magnolia to SLU is bad, Laurelhurst and Leschi might as well be islands, etc.

        No amount of densifying can change the terrain. Take Amazon employees – lots of them live in Seattle, but from many neighborhoods the transit/walking/cycling commutes are difficult because of hills, water, and street layouts. I suspect a lot of them drive to work despite the relatively short crow-flies distances. Plus, lots of people voluntarily choose to live where they have suboptimal commutes because of other considerations, like schools, nightlife, proximity to family, neighborhood safety, etc.

      5. +1 DP. Many times I’ve had to shift to the other side of the street and back, which can require waiting for two traffic light and missing my bus. Usually I walk next to the fence, but once at one of the U-District developments there was a cop standing there sternly warning people to cross the street, implying they’d get a ticket if they didn’t. Since then I’ve noticed that the street-crossing is only actively enforced 8-5 Monday-Friday, and a few projects put cones out at other times to create a walkway. But it annoys me greatly that there are so many of these projects: one finishes and another one starts a couple blocks away, and you don’t know about it until you come to it, and sometimes you’re already mid-block by then, or there’s a “Sidewalk closed” sign on one end of the project but not the other.

        What also irks me are the permanent one-side-only sidewalks on James Street and Denny Way where they cross the freeway.

      6. Mike Orr says:

        What we need to do is make more neighborhoods convenient, and that means a wider variety of businesses within walking distance, and frequent transit full time and in all directions.

        Plus figure out how to better mitigate neighborhood fragmentation from busy roads. I’ve noticed there is an awful lot of fragmentation in Seattle that’s just from a “You can’t get there from here” attitude towards pedestrian access taken by some of the road planning. As I don’t live there I don’t want to sound like I am finger pointing (we have this here too) I won’t go into the details of all the ones I have run into, but fragmentation due to busy roads with little safe crossing is a real problem that I run into when I visit Seattle.

        One of the worst examples I can think of is the Bell Street Pedestrian Bridge, which does a great job of providing pedestrian access to a busy unsignalled crossing at Elliott Avenue, and then an even worse crossing of Western Avenue where freeway speed traffic drops off the Hwy 99 viaduct at an unsignalled crossing.

      7. “We have so many isolated neighborhoods, either by water (Laurelhurst), topography (Leschi, Madison Park, Queen Anne Hill), or both (Magnolia, West Seattle). None of these locations is great for higher density because of the poor connectivity to major employment centers.”

        Ballard, Lake City, Northgate, and Rainier Valley should be our next major centers. That means they should have a similar number and variety of businesses/housing/nonbusinesses within a 20-minute walk as Capitol Hill, and minimum 10-minute grade-separated transit. Ballard’s biggest lack is high-grade transit. Rainier’s biggest lack is the variety of businesses. Lake City doesn’t have either. Northgate has been designated an “urban center” but the zoning hasn’t been revised to reflect that yet.

        Upper Queen Anne, Leschi, and Magnolia will never be dense, so they’re essentially suburbs to these areas. That means they won’t help the housing problem or walkability problem much, and thus they won’t get major transit upgrades.

        West Seattle (the Junction to Westwood Village) could go either way. On the one hand it’s a quarter of the city. On the other hand it has unique access and topography challenges (steep hills everywhere), and they’re not that excited about upzones or limited parking. But it is getting a lot of multifamily housing in spite of that. The future seems to portend an emerging “core city” of central Seattle – central Bellevue – central Redmond — that’s where the most people will work, live, and travel between. If so, West Seattle will be on the far corner of it.

      8. I’ve been up on UQA a bunch recently, for the first time since I lived on the hill’s peripheral backside seven years ago. I’ve been genuinely amazed at the sudden and apparent density of foot traffic. Frankly, the pedestrian-able built environment and business density compares favorably versus LQA at this point. Frankly, it’s busier than a certain marquee southwestern “junction” about which planners love to crow.

        The topographical challenge of the place — which is otherwise highly proximate and right “on the way” to other crucial destinations — lends itself to the argument that a north-south line, if ever built, should look favorably upon conquering that challenge. (This is a point you made long ago, Mike.) Meanwhile, the current situation highlights the absurdity of routing major trunk transit down streets 5mph streets with multiple all-way stops. The 13 is awful at any frequency.

      9. I do still think a Queen Anne Station would solve the physical problem of getting transit at a reasonable speed to upper Queen Anne, so that it doesn’t take as long to go a mile as it takes other routes to go three miles when there’s traffic. But Queen Anne is also not that enthusiastic about upzones. “Just a little bit, and only on the Ave.” So it may be a larger small but it’s still a small, and if it gets that station it’ll be due to coverage rather than the size of its urban village.

      10. People squeeze into those neighborhoods because they are allowed to squeeze into those neighborhoods. Even neighborhoods that I would hardly call a “walker’s paradise” have huge growth right now. Look at Northgate and Lake City — both areas are growing, and they are pretty bad for walking. They are dominated by major thoroughfares. It is obvious that cars were the first priority when most of the area was built (it is hard to find interesting old architecture in those neighborhoods as a result). If you decide to walk away from the freeway or highway, you probably won’t have the luxury of a sidewalk. Yet people keep filling up the apartment buildings, and they keep building them. It isn’t cheap to do so, either. Nor do they have wonderful views — a lot of these are very close, if not adjacent to the freeway or highway. But growth occurs here because it is allowed here.

        As someone who walks over a thousand miles a year in this city (although not as much as this woman) I can tell you that Seattle has plenty of great places to walk. As long as you are in the old city limits (the area with sidewalks) and as long as you avoid the industrial areas or the streets where cars outnumber pedestrians, there is very nice walking. Avoiding those streets isn’t that easy, of course, especially if you want to get from one neighborhood to the other. But by and large, the city is pleasant for walking, even if much of it lacks the amenities that are both convenient and interesting.

        While West Seattle may not live up to the urban standards of d.p., and while its residents complain bitterly about horrible transportation, people still want to live there, and are being asked to stomach ridiculously high rent increases (http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2025448532_rentsrisingxml.html). These folks would gladly move to basement apartment or a house converted to a duplex, but they can’t. For the most part they don’t exist, and the law makes it very difficult to build them.

        I think Alan Durning explained it quite well here: http://daily.sightline.org/2013/03/07/in-law-and-out-law-apartments/
        Check out the link to Vancouver that he provides (http://goo.gl/maps/TP2iF). This is not the “urban paradise” that many think of when they think of Vancouver. This is not Gastown. There are no huge “pencil” buildings, surrounded by parkland. It is an area dominated by single family housing. But it is not Bellevue — there is a regular street grid and the houses are very close to each other. Other than the size of the houses (these are big) it could be West Seattle or Magnolia. Other than the age of most of these houses, it could be Wallingford. But there is a difference between this neighborhood and similar neighborhoods in Seattle, and that is that Vancouver allows ADUs. This allows for much higher population density without tearing down everything in sight (and only building next to busy streets). In short, it creates much cheaper rents in the entire city. Can’t afford a place in Ballard or on top of Queen Anne? Fine, rent a basement apartment in Magnolia. Nothing could do more to make apartments more affordable than changing the ADU rules. Tearing down a house and building an apartment only makes sense if you can make enough money to make up for the cost of the demolition, the loss of the house and the new construction. In other words, it only makes sense if rent is high. But adding a basement apartment or converting a house to a duplex is ridiculously cheap. You can make your money back even if you charge very low rent.

        The problem isn’t that everyone wants to move to these “happening places”, or that there aren’t enough of them, or that some neighborhoods are more convenient that others, it is that rent is just too damn high everywhere. The main reason rent is too high is that there is so little growth in the single family housing areas (unlike Vancouver).

        Of course, if the city allowed more growth there, then more neighborhoods would undergo the transformation that upper Queen Anne has. Or, at the very least, these areas would look like Queen Anne did ten years ago (just as Uptown, Fremont and old Ballard changed quite a bit over the years — I remember when all three areas were less lively than the Magnolia Village is now).

        More importantly, public transportation then becomes a lot more affordable (per person) and can then be improved substantially. There are plenty of challenges, of course, but if we spend a little money and make smart decisions they can be overcome fairly easily (although it will take a while).

      11. To Ross’ point about where development is allowed, this is a condo complex adjacent to one of the new braided lanes going in on 405. Dense, but not walkable. But it had a nice greenbelt to separate it from the highway. Not so much anymore (apparently they are getting a noise wall, but really).


      12. As far as upper Queen Anne goes, ideally it would have a station. But if a Ballard to downtown route includes a stop on Lower Queen Anne (and it should) then it would be the next best thing. I would put a station on Queen Avenue North and Roy (with an entrance on Mercer as well). Then run a bus (or several overlapping buses) along Queen Anne Avenue down to the bottom. If traffic is so bad beyond that point, then just turn around there. I think a bus like that right now would be reasonably popular (since Lower Queen Anne is a decent destination). But a bus like that would be extremely popular once a light rail station was added.

        The biggest problem with a station on Upper Queen Anne is the added cost, not the value of the station. I think it would be a great station, just not worth the money. I would first start with Ballard to the UW, then Ballard to the downtown the cheap way (via Interbay). This would (as I mentioned) also include the lower Queen Anne station. Having two lines means both can be extended — the UW to Ballard line can go further into Ballard (24th) while the downtown to Ballard line can go further north (65th, etc.). Eventually, you could build another north-south line from lower Queen Anne, to Upper Queen Anne, to lower Fremont, to Upper Fremont (where it connects to the UW-Ballard line) and on to Phinney Ridge. But before I built that, I would build the “Metro 8”. All of this means that I think it is unlikely that Upper Queen Anne gets a station for a while, even though it might “deserve one” more than a lot of neighborhoods. There are other neighborhoods in the same boat (like Lake City). They are just victims of bad geography (in the grand scheme of things). Even South Lake Union has to wait a very long time for a station.

      13. The one thing New York City consistently does right is that sidewalks are *never closed*. If the sidewalk is actually under construction, a protected path will be created.

        The sidewalk is often illegally blocked by *police cars*, because NYPD is full of lawless, thuggish criminals. But the city never allows the sidewalks to simply be legally closed, such as apparently happens in Seattle.

  2. OK, I’m confused. Right now, only HOVs can drive in the HOV lane. With this change, HOVs and toll paying SOVs can drive in the special lane. How, exactly, is that supposed to reduce congestion in that lane?

    1. It reduces congestion by doubling the HOT lane capacity, as long as <2x as many cars use the combined facility.

      1. OK, so now there will be two HOT lanes instead of one HOV lane. These lanes can be used for free if you are a carpool, or a small charge if you are not. As of right now, the HOV lanes are clogged. So, if very few people actually pay the toll, then there won’t be much congestion. But if lots of people pay the toll (as many as now use the HOV lane) then it will be clogged. So either it won’t raise much money, or buses will again be stuck in traffic. Excuse me if I’m not excited about this.

        If we are going to have two lanes, then why not have one be HOT, and the other be exclusively for buses. Carpools still get to ride in the HOT lane, but so do people willing to pay a toll. If very few people carpool, it is no big deal. If the carpools get clogged with toll paying customers, it is not big deal. Either way it doesn’t prevent the buses from moving fast.

      2. Glass half empty: “So either it won’t raise much money, or buses will again be stuck in traffic.”

        Glass half full: Either it will raise a lot of money or buses won’t get stuck in traffic.

        I’d hope that the plan is to adjust the rolling rate dynamically to discourage SOV traffic when the lands start to get congested.

      3. I think it will raise some money, and buses will occasionally get stuck in traffic. The HOT lanes will be better than the general purpose lanes, just the current HOV lanes are better than the general purpose lanes. But if your goal is consistency, I really doubt they will achieve it. When traffic is really bad, cars will pay the toll. This won’t bring the buses to a standstill, but it will slow them down.

        The best part about this is that capacity in the special lanes is being increased. This is great. But the same thing is happening in other places, only they are HOV 2 lanes. Either way it is good for transit, but it is not as good as if HOV3 lanes, or HOV4 lanes, or simply exclusive bus lanes were added.

      4. @RossB HOT lanes rates will vary *dynamically*. As the lanes get more full, the rate goes up. Essentially price is used to create an equilibrium right at 45MPH which is the speed at which the most vehicles (an people) can travel through the lanes. If congestion is so bad that the HOV lanes are even filling at $10 WSDOT can close to HOV lanes to pay vehicles and only allow HOV and buses.

      5. Adam, you know the DOT will never do that, just like they have had years of data to support changing some 2+ lanes to 3+ lanes when average speed drops below 45 mph in the peak, as the current law requires. This is clearly just a way to add more pavement along 405 and increase the HOV lane to 3+ at the same time. Giving the boot to 2+ers, puts half back in the GP lanes, and the other half on their books as ‘paying customers’.
        HOT lanes along 167 currently charge anywhere from half a buck to $9 just to go a few miles. This has revenue enhancement written all over it.
        Congestion control? not so much.

      6. I’m cynical, and lean towards mic’s assessment, but I should reserve judgement until I see it in action.

      7. @Mic WSDOT *ALREADY* does this. I share you cynicism about WSDOT to a point but variable rates are the cornerstone of what make it a HOT lane in the first place.

  3. This is a significant step forward for Eastside transit. Maybe not the purist approach of removing GP lanes, but that was never possible. The Eastside’s land use doesn’t support that sort of reduction in GP lanes. Too many people don’t have transit options and the GP lanes would have choked. Transit investments alone aren’t going to change that, but this is about the most progressive thing WSDOT could have done.

    Currently, the HOV lanes are 2+. The HOT lanes will have free travel for HOV-3. So that alone opens up a significant amount of transit and toll capacity.

    WSDOT has, so far, been adamant about maintaining capacity and speed in the new HOT lanes. They’ve fought off a lot of lobbying for HOV-2, for electric vehicles, even the “Smart cars only have two seats and this is really unfair” lobby. (You might suppose I’m joking about the latter, but we’ve learned it’s a real thing).

    If WSDOT remains as committed to supporting transit-friendly speeds in the corridor as it is today, this will work well.

    1. “If WSDOT remains as committed to supporting transit-friendly speeds in the corridor as it is today, this will work well.”

      That is the part that really worries me. WSDOT’s proper use of the lane could be as fickle as the next governor election.

      1. So could just about anything else. The status quo doesn’t work for anyone, transit included, on the 405 corridor.

      2. WSDOT is supposed to be committed now. So why hasn’t it already changed HOV-2 to HOV-3 for just the cost of a sticker on the signs?

      3. Besides utilization one thing I’ve noticed on the 405 HOV lane is because traffic is so heavy and it is an inside lane that when people want to get on/off they need to merge into slow moving traffic backing things up even further. On my morning bus ride things lag significantly around 116th to 85th where there are no direct access ramps and it appears to be at least in part due to people trying to get over. The other locations with direct access like 128th are much better.

        I’m sure 3+ carpools would address it but it might not solve it. On the other hand having two lanes to allow “passing” in the HOV around those trying to merge might go a long ways.

    2. I guess I still don’t see how this is likely to work. Let’s say I’m driving alone on 405. Traffic all of the sudden comes to a complete stop. I hear on the radio that it is stop and go for the next ten miles. Since I already have my “Good to Go” transponder, I figure it is worth a few cents to head over there. Lots of other people join me. We aren’t cruising, but we are moving much faster than the regular traffic. I look down on my speedometer, and notice we are going about 20MPH. Not too bad considering the general purpose lanes are only going about 5 MPH (if that).

      Sorry, but call me cynical. The additional lanes may help for a while. Even general purpose lanes always help for a while, but certainly another HOV lane (even an HOV2 lane) would make a big difference. But in this case, all it means is that buses will, at best, travel just a bit faster than general purpose traffic. That isn’t much different than an HOV2+ lane right now.

      That answer really is to have a bus lane and an HOT lane. Allow HOV2+ for the HOT lane (that doesn’t bother me). Then the HOT lane becomes the lane that is always just a bit faster than the general purpose lane, while buses in the the bus lane actually travel the speed limit, every day, even during rush hour on the busiest of days.

      1. Well I would think a lot of this depends on what the cap on the toll amount will be and how quickly WSDOT can respond. If the current morning toll is say $4, but when the lane drops to 20MPH within 10 minutes of that traffic announcement the toll has gone to $8 for a trip from SR-522 to downtown Bellevue I bet you’d see a significant drop in utilization and return to speed. If it takes them a half hour or an hour to respond then yeah it’ll never work. I am most interested in if we will continue to see heavy diversion we do today onto major roads east of I405 such as Willows Rd.

      2. @Rossb WSDOT already has a automated algorithm that adjusts prices on the fly. It’s been used on SR-167 for over 5 years and works well from what I’ve seen. The video (from 2008) walks through all of the details. See 1:40.

      3. Thanks Adam. Got to love those WSDOT videos. Seriously, though, I think WSDOT has top notch marketing.

        Anyway, back to the issue at hand. I see how it works, and I get it. But a few things from that video jumped out as me. First, the focus is on improving automobile throughput, not in improving people throughput. If the 520 HOV lanes have buses streaming by, all going the speed limit, then I really don’t care if the regular lanes are stuck. Even if it does mean fewer people are getting across the bridge, it is great advertising. Over time, I think it ultimately leads to a lot more people taking the bus, which in turn leads to greater (people) throughput. This has happened before in various areas (like Lynnwood when they first added the HOV lanes). But that doesn’t seem to be the focus of the project. The focus seems to be on maximizing the throughput of cars, even if it means that buses (or van pools) move a little bit slower.

        For example, in another segment they stated that on 167 the HOT lanes move about 15 MPH faster during peak hours. This means that either there isn’t much traffic on the regular lanes, or the HOT lane isn’t moving that fast. I think this 15 MPH difference isn’t much better than a lot of HOV lanes. If traffic is stop and go (averaging around 5 MPH) then the HOV lane usually moves around 20 (if not better). I would expect the same thing with HOT lanes. After all, the difference in this case is huge (unlike the difference between 30 and 45). In other words, if traffic gets really, really bad on the regular lanes, then I would expect lots of people to flood to the HOT lanes, regardless of cost. Maybe its not fair to make this judgement, but I would really like to see the data. How often are the main lanes of 167 stop and go, and what is the HOT lane like at that time?

        Then there is the kicker — towards the end of the video they show how allowing drivers to use the HOT lane is essentially better for everyone. Since Jane moved out of her lane and is now paying to drive in the HOT lane, Joe doesn’t have to put up with Jane. It is very similar to when everyone started taking the bus. Sure it is. Except, of course, when you ride the bus and still don’t move as fast as you would if you simply had the lane to yourself.

        This is simply a compromise between the folks that want to drive and folks that want fast transit. It kind of reminds me of the “roads and transit” initiative. I supported that, by the way. I figured it was the best we could get. I was wrong, and realized after the fact that I should have driven a harder bargain (and voted against it). I think we should do the same thing here. I support road projects, but they really need to be aimed at maximizing transit. If you are going to add a lane, then add an HOV3+ lane. If you are adding two lanes, than I think adding an HOV3+ and and HOT lane is a great idea. I also support eliminating bottlenecks and other problems that make roads terrible for everyone (145th and I-5 is a good example — maybe there should be a cloverleaf there). But excuse me if I’m not that excited about this project. If the state does go ahead with this, then I would attach an amendment to simply change HOV2+ to HOV3+ in corridors that have common slowdowns.

      1. The highway expansion has made for a lot of unhappy homeowners. There are noise walls going in at some locations, but there have been a lot of people who are separated from the highway by an increasingly skinny barrier of trees.

  4. It seems to me that this whole “HOT” lane idea is based on a lot more on conceptual free-market ideology than transportation engineering.

    Idea of constantly-changing prices sees to it that users have no idea form minute to minute, let alone daily, which lane they can drive in, and how long their trip will be.

    Also, every entrance or exit is bound to cause either a back-up or at least seriously changing, uneven speed of travel on any lane.

    But mainly, you’ll have cars in the way of transit in the places they’ll do the worst schedule damage. So, especially somebody with recent SR 167 experience: tell me where I’m wrong.

    Mark Dublin

      1. Too true. But tell me how HOT arrangement will lessen, rather than increase uncertainty. And again, what about the traffic flow problems due to frequent entrances and exits from the special lanes?

        Also tell me again: why would this arrangement be better instead of worse for transit? Will transit be good enough for working people who can’t afford tolls to use?

        Or better yet, so people of all brackets will voluntarily choose to use transit? And to reach this level of service, aren’t fully-reserved and ramped- access lanes necessary to achieve the goal?

        And if that’s the case- why doesn’t this transit-oriented blog just come out and say it? Present legislature can’t become any more hostile to transit. Future one might think different.

        Isn’t it best to have a transit-only plan worked out in some detail when the future makes a change of policy not just desirable but unavoidable?

        So again, Mike and everybody else: tell me where I’m wrong.


      2. I think you are right, Mark. The main argument for this is that we are adding lanes. Ideally we would add HOV lanes. But at least we are adding HOT lanes, and those are almost as good.

    1. Mark: you’re right. Nobody wants variable tolls except free-market lunatics. People want to know how much they’ll be charged in advance.

      1. Nobody wants variable tolls except free-market lunatics. People want to know how much they’ll be charged in advance.

        They will know. At the entry point, there’s an electronic sign with prices to various exit points. The quoted price at that moment is what you pay for your entire journey even if the rate changes while you are in the HOT lane.

  5. Perhaps this is a stupid question, but since 405 is in a generally already developed/sprawled out area, how would adding a smidgeon of capacity there increase sprawl?

    You are never going to realistically undo nearby sprawl like the areas southeast of Mercer Island, for example.

    1. If this actually works, then I could see how it would increase sprawl. Right now a guy is considering buying a new house somewhere along this corridor. He decides to drive out and check out the neighborhood after work. He gets stuck in horrendous traffic. They ask around and people say this is typical. So, he decides he doesn’t want to spend his life stuck in this kind of traffic. So he starts shopping around for something closer. Other people do the same. As a result, property values in the city go up. New condos and town houses are built in the city. People buy smaller houses (or a condo) just because it is much more convenient.

      A year later and a different guy looks in the same suburban neighborhood. Only now this work has been done. He drives out there, and it is all smooth sailing. He asks around and folks say things are much better now that they’ve added in the new lane. He buys the house. Other people buy similar houses in similar areas. The price of housing goes up, and people build more houses. This is sprawl. Of course, in ten years this guy has a terrible commute (because of all the other people out there).

      That’s the idea, anyway. As mentioned, the same argument applies towards improving transit to the suburbs as well. As far as this particular area, I’m not sure how much it can sprawl. I’m not sure if there are lots of empty lots that can be developed, but are waiting for enough interest. It may be that any increase in value (whether the result of increase convenience or something else) will have no sprawl effect, because the area is actually all built out. Maybe every bit of open land is protected. I’m not sure if that is the case here, but I kind of doubt it. I’m guessing East Renton has some empty land that is just not worth developing right now (because it is “too far out there”). The same with areas to the east or north of Woodinville. But again, I’m not sure. Anyway, these are areas that aren’t really close to 405, but 405 serves as the nearest freeway. In other words a commute would involve driving ten miles on 405, and another five or ten miles on secondary roads.

      1. I used to live in a place like that east of Woodinville. It’s a 20-minute walk from my old house to the 5-times-a-day bus (and subsequent transfer). The binding constraint on development out there is zoning, not transit or even road capacity.

        (Needless to say, I drove everywhere. My commute, when I could car-pool, was five miles on mostly arterial roads, then a dozen more on 405. When I couldn’t carpool, I took surface roads all the way to Bellevue because 405 was that bad.)

        But it was absolutely no-growth for miles. The whole area was outside the urban boundary zoned for 5-acre minimum lots (in reality, grandfathered 1 acre lots).

      2. Read the I-405 Corridor Program FEIS.
        Look at the pages showing traffic volumes at selected screenlines.

        The sprawl is already there.
        See where the traffic enters the corridor.

        The construction happening now is just CONGESTION RELIEF.

        Thank you for your support.

      3. Ross,

        Your description is spot on. The only fly in the ointment is that the increase in people in the inner city ALSO increases congestion. True, it may not be as dramatic, but the arterials in the center city are much smaller than those in the suburbs so you get a different, more general, kind of congestion. For people in the ‘burbs, the only real problems happen on the freeway. In most newer areas the arterials are basically boulevards with huge capacity. Folks zip along all day and all night.

        But the city has streets that were built in the 1920’s and even earlier. They can’t be widened because the buildings come right up to them. So you get fusterclucks like Fremont and the U-District where people who can’t or simply won’t take the bus or train crowd every street in the grid.

        We need to be careful to be honest with people that densification is not a free lunch.

      4. All this worry about SOVs filling the HOT lanes assumes people are willing to pay the toll. But people drive five miles out of their way to avoid paying a toll. There are a few rich people who will just put the toll next to their yacht expense and not think anything further of it, but there aren’t that many of those. How many paying cars did the existing HOT experiments attract? I didn’t hear of any new congestion caused by them.

      5. @ Anandakos — Yes, increasing density definitely increases traffic in those areas. But it also provides the opportunity for alternatives, like cost effective transit. Without good transit, increased population in the general area will add to more traffic in various neighborhoods. Fremont is a great example. A lot of people clogging up the streets don’t live there. They work there, or are visiting someone there, or going somewhere nearby.

        Seattle right now is an awkward phase. We are getting too big for us to expect cars to provide adequate, easy transportation the way that they used to. At the same time, we aren’t big enough to afford to pay for every possible solution. This is why we need to pay for cost effective mass transit. The more densely populated we are, the more cost effective the solutions become.

    2. A marginal amount of new capacity will have a marginal effect on house prices and sprawl. The biggest capacity increase was when the new Mercer Island bridge was built around 1989, adding six lanes. Adding two HOT lanes to 405 is not that. It may change 405 from “worse than I-5” to “almost as bad as I-5”. That’s not going to make people suddenly love houses around 405 more. Juanita and at least half of Newcastle is already built up so there aren’t empty spaces for more single-family developments, and those areas are going up in price because of their proximity to downtown Bellevue and Kirkland and Microsoft and Renton Boeing. I expect most Juanita growth will be multifamily. The areas with room for single-family growth and less price pressure are in the exurbs: Woodinville, Issaquah, Maple Valley, Covington, Auburn. These are far from the major employers, so only a subset of people will consider them no matter how inexpensive they are or whether two HOT lanes are added.)

  6. Incredibly doubtful that this will provide any relief to transit. WSDOT is using this as a carrot to expand 405. When numbers like SR-167 clearly show people won’t pay for the facility, one HOT will be removed and added back to general purpose lanes. WSDOT is explicitly obfuscating their true intent for this project.Transit loses–with more congestion in the former HOV lane.

    1. I think it’s a different scenario. 167 had unused capacity in the HOV lane. 405 doesn’t. The HOV lane is already too crowded. Adding a second would provide more throughput for HOV/transit. If no SOV’s pay to enter, even better!

      1. WSDOT is plainly greenwashing transit here. The HOT lane won’t last once the numbers come in. This is admittedly a clever way to get new highway miles under the agency’s belt, but it’s no better than the old Roads and Transit measure a few years back. Fundamentally, it’s an unholy attempt at greenwashing. Transit loses in the end.

      2. Someone has to pay for the expansion unless the Legislature increases gas taxes for everyone.

        The numbers back up the decision for 405-BRT (vs. Light Rail) as the preferred transit option, that coincidentally makes all the neighbors in the corridor happy.

  7. I can understand how HOT lanes work and their advantages. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether or not we should impose the user fees where people park. As long as much of the Eastside office parks outside of Downtown Bellevue provide free parking, I have my doubts that the HOT lanes going to have a major impact on transit ridership. I could see the lanes increasing auto occupancy but not transit riders.

    In fact, I worry that the Eastside park-and-rides will fill to capacity earlier, and transit riders who park in them will get pushed out thus reducing transit ridership in suburban areas.

  8. Thanks for answering me, Ross. But again, since I last drove SR 167 five years ago, I’ve got no “feel” for how well HOT lanes really work.

    In the first place, with price more changeable than electronic speed limit postings, how is any driver going to know the price of the fast lane in advance?

    Also, from what I’m told about them, since tolls can change very fast, the decision whether to take special lanes has to be made instantly, under terrible pressure, and without advance warning.

    And again, won’t exiting these lanes interfere with traffic flow as much as entry? And exactly like now, won’t both entering and exiting drivers have to cross at least two lanes to exit the freeway?

    And then: major safety problem with HOV lanes is that entering and exiting drivers have to negotiate a serious change of speed really fast- or delay the HOT lane until entry or exit is complete. True?

    In other words, the only advantage I can see for anybody is that SOV drivers who can afford it can buy trip on lanes now forbidden to them. Also, the State collects more revenue.

    Now, once more: why is this not worse for transit, but much worse?


    1. This isn’t necessarily about allowing the rich to avoid the congestion cause d by the hoi polloi. Given the choice between paying 11 bucks to use the HOT lane or showing up 20 minutes late to pick up two kids at day care (at a dollar per minute per kid) what is *anyone* going to choose?

      1. WSDOT has some research on this. I don’t believe they reported the numbers, but they claim HOT lane is largely made up of occasional users. People will drive in the regular lanes most days, and the HOT lanes when they really need to be somewhere quickly.

  9. Frank, since this is your posting, I would really like your take on the questions I keep raising. I’m speaking from personal experience dealing with HOV lanes and lane changes behind a steering wheel at the front of 60′ of standing passengers.

    If the State has never, ever been able to enforce a 45 mph minimum speed in decades, what reason is there to think they’ll be able to do it now? Besides, I think WSDOT’s plan was always to possibly raise minimum passenger numbers- though they never have. But never to change conditions instantly.

    One of the hardest maneuvers in heavy traffic is to take a right-and exit without an HOV ramp straight ahead or next lane over. With best mirrors in the world, this one is always a real strain. First move is generally put turn signal one and start moving over at least a quarter mile in advance. Often sooner.

    And then do the same thing once or twice more. Bad enough going rightward into slower traffic- which always slows the HOV lane behind you too. With enough practice, it really is possible to edge an ‘artic slowly over until traffic clears a space for you. It’s like smoothly steering a boat into faster current. 60’ buses make a special impression on motorists alongside.

    But erratically moving traffic in next lane right is flat dangerous. And of all objections, this is my worst problem with the whole HOT idea as now practiced. Money-wise, people don’t have enough information soon enough to make the right decision. In commerce, answer to demand for a fast decision is fast decision to exit.

    Reason I keep stressing ideology is that for any real business, there’s a limit to how fast prices can change before customers just wear out and take their business elsewhere- including where the price is reasonably higher.

    Aside from the crowding, the stress and the body searches, reason I’ll go rail if I can, and will even take intercity buses when they become fit for humans.

    So I’d relax a little more if the HOT system would just set one toll, even on the high side, and make it permanent. And when speed falls below minimum, just have the signs go flashing red for “HOT lane closed to entry.

    If Adam Smith had been driving transit even with wagons, idea of fast-changing price-driven weaving would have led to following incident report:

    “Verily any business transaction made under duress or induced time pressure shall be known as a Hustle and result in immediate transportation to Tasmania! Put that in thy long white clay pipe and swiftly inhale it!”


    1. I think the state is doubling HOV capacity to enforce it. Will it work? Time will tell!

      1. If they enforce it, it will be a rare occurrence.

        Since moving back to Seattle four years ago my commute has required cross-lake travel, which I normally do over I-90 in the morning and 520 in the evening. (I live in a neighborhood unfriendly to eastside-oriented transit; that will change when East Link opens but fortunately the firm is moving to Seattle later this year.) Both freeway onramps have HOV lanes; I’ve made it a habit whilst sitting in line waiting for the light to try to determine how many cars using those lanes actually have two or more people. Of course it’s not always possible to do so; tinted windows, possibility of small children etc.–but over the course of that many days I can say with some certainty that at either one of the ramps entering I-90 at Rainier between 40-50% of cars have one occupant; at 84th and 520 it may be even a bit higher. As the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” I’ll defer to any actual studies of this that have been made.

        The larger point–and one that has been observable without guesswork–is that not once in those four years have I EVER seen any attempt to enforce the 2+ rule. Ever. Not a single member of the WSP has been seen in several hundred days of commuting; in fact, I’ve only seen them with any regularity at the Cherry Street on-ramp to I-5. The entire system is clearly predicated on the honor system, meaning those without it don’t pay any penalty for being an SOV. I have no faith that there will be any better enforcement of the HOT lanes, particularly of those with a transponder who “forget” to switch it to SOV when driving alone.

      2. @Scott, for the particular case of the I-90 between ICW and Rainier avenue, I don’t believe that there is an enforceable restriction on the number of vehicle occupants to use the HOV lane.

      3. @William, I’m not sure about the lane itself, but I’m referring to the on-ramps, which have a metered lane for SOVs and a non-metered HOV lane. Both on-ramps (northbound on Rainier/southbound on Rainier) are clearly signed, painted and signaled that HOV only is to use the non-metered lane. If that isn’t true…well, then it’s a nice trick pulled on the lot of us who are using the SOV lane and waiting for no reason!

        The onramps on 520 aren’t enforced either, though, and I’m sure the lane regs are enforceable there….

  10. Thanks, Frank. But how exactly is the State doubling the HOV capacity? And how does this relate to the HOT lanes?

    And behind it all-especially since I live less than a mile from the State Capitol: what’s short and long-term political approach to get the State to keeping those lanes moving instead of just having them?

    If you lived in Olympia- how would you take advantage of being in my neighborhood?


  11. I used to drive from Mercer Island to Redmond and back everyday with a couple of friends on HOV. Knowing how little state patrol does to enforce the HOV lanes during peak hours, I am very pessimistic about the new HOT lanes.
    Even if WSDOT and the WSP started taking HOV/HOT enforcement seriously, enforcing HOT will be a challenge. Even when traffic is free flowing, it is difficult to effectively enforce HOT rules, since you have to come across a transponder (?) to see if a SOV is paying its toll. But when traffic slows down, it will be almost impossible for a patrol officer to tell if someone is paying the tolls or not.

  12. A bit of skepticism for the expansion? Why not? I mean, why exactly do we bother advocating for transit?

    Because we know that the amount of driving we do daily is deeply unsustainable, and mass transit is one of the things that we’ll need to do well in order to use fewer resources without taking our economy back to the 1920s. Fewer resources doesn’t mean fewer resources per-person, it means fewer resources in total. It means we don’t each need to drive less, consume less, throw away less, eat more efficiently (i.e. the end of animal agriculture as we know it, i.e. much less meat and eggs and stuff), etc… but that we need to do all these things collectively while still growing and improving meaningful living standards. The number of vehicles on 405 today has no future. A larger number doesn’t have a future just because some of them have more people in them, or just because some of them pay more money. This is a dangerous form of greenwashing, a convenient lie.

    Or because we love cities. Because we recognize the value in being close to a lot of different people and the opportunities that presents, and we know that mass transit can bring the corners of a dispersed city closer together without breaking up its centers the way interchange ramps and parking lots do. But that love calls us to remember that more isn’t always better — that more cars squeezing into Bellevue isn’t mitigated by buses getting there faster. Because without less — less traffic, less road width, fewer parking lot entrances, shorter signal cycles — people won’t arrive in eastside towns in meaningful numbers without cars. Land use will continue to be limited by parking, and that means opportunity will continue to be limited by parking. Opportunity for cities we might love, but also for cities that just work, that are springboards and meeting grounds and marketplaces and shared spaces. Just making transit faster on 405 at the expense of more vehicles and more traffic pressure on every arterial with an interchange isn’t going to get us there.

    405 expansion is sort of like the CRC in miniature, or like 520. How much extra exit capacity, pulsing out traffic, overwhelming the local grid, foreclosing on any possibility of more versatile and sustainable local roads, are we going to accept in exchange for fast transit along the freeway? When we need 405 contraction — roadway contraction, interchange contraction, arterial contraction — to increase the true capacity of (e.g.) Bellevue.

    1. (FWIW my mind is not closed to the idea that the proposed tradeoff is a bad one; I do lean that way, for these reasons. The CRC is relevant as an example where the negatives, seen from a bunch of different perspectives, and the project’s expense, conspired against it, and if it comes back it will come back in a more modest form. Maybe something similar is true here… though it certainly isn’t on 520, where WSDOT is as bold as ever proposing, yes, G.P. lane expansion on the Portage Bay Bridge, as much as they try to hide it.)

    2. “Land use will continue to be limited by parking”

      Great statement. That summarizes the problem of parking taking up a third of buildable land in cities, and severely restricting the design of townhouses, and why Los Angeles is so unwalkable, etc.

  13. Darn comment system put my comment in the wrong place again.

    All this worry about SOVs filling the HOT lanes assumes people are willing to pay the toll. But people drive five miles out of their way to avoid paying a toll. There are a few rich people who will pay it every time without thinking about it, but there aren’t many of those. How many cars have actually bought into the toll lanes when available? I haven’t heard of any new congestion caused by them.

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