One criticism of stringing light rail lines along freeways is that one could achieve similar transit outcomes at vastly lower cost, by simply taking a freeway lane for transit. Failing that, adjusting HOV lane thresholds so that speeds remain high would achieve much of the benefit of entirely new right-of-way, except when an incident or construction congests the lane. This observation is entirely, unequivocally true.

An alert Everett Herald reader, through the newspaper, asked WSDOT if they would consider this. Bus commute times are rising due to congestion in those HOV lanes:

Either of those fixes would certainly solve HOV congestion, but at the expense of the general purpose lanes, making bad congestion there even worse.

Keeping the regular lanes moving — even if it’s at a snail’s pace — is still a priority, too, with lots of economy-driving business in the corridor. Not everyone can accommodate a second occupant, much less a third. Think also of the semi-truck driver moving freight, who is banned from the HOV lane regardless.

“We need to be looking at the system as a whole. … They’re all great customers. They move a ton of people,” said Travis Phelps, a WSDOT spokesman. “It’s a balance that we have to keep going.”

First of all, shame on WSDOT. This argument undercuts the entire rationale for HOV lanes, which is that it encourages high-occupancy (including transit) through higher operating speeds, increasing the overall person-throughput of the highway. Of course, WSDOT has every incentive to think this way, as the legislature (especially Republicans, but many Democrats) doesn’t care about transit throughput.

Secondly, ordinary transit advocates ready to oppose ST3 because of more cost-effective right-of-way options ought to have a theory of change on how to ensure free flow of buses. In Seattle, it’s possible to win an argument by pointing out the effects on transit (but not always). But initiating change at the state level requires a different rhetorical and interest-trading toolbox. I haven’t seen anyone articulate one, much less successfully execute a strategy. In the absence of such a strategy, relying on freeway expresses is spending less to build crappier transit, which is not transit advocacy worthy of the name.

[UPDATE: The article also reveals that state policy requires WSDOT only to “consider” lifting the threshold when speeds fall below 45mph. There is a federal requirement to do so only in the case when the lane allows single-occupancy vehicles, i.e. a HOT lane.]

124 Replies to “WSDOT Says HOV-3 “Difficult to Justify””

  1. I carpool with my wife on 520 but we can’t use the HOV lanes because they are 3+ (despite a WSDOT mistake that has a 2+ sign on the new bridge). The reality is that we aren’t upset about it because we realize it keeps the express buses moving. Yet that logic apparently only applies to 405 when they can also toll and 520? What is their criteria for determining when a highway is ready for a 3+ HOV versus 2+ HOV?

    1. I don’t think there is a criteria — I think it is just political inertia. The lanes on 520 were originally HOV3 to reduce the number of vehicles there, because the roadway was too narrow. But now that the road has been redone, there is no reason for that. But if the lanes were switched to HOV2, a lot of people (including myself and most of the people on this blog) would raise hell. Unfortunately, the same is true for changing HOV2 to HOV3 in other areas. Those that ride in two person carpools would raise hell, and politicians are too cowardly to do the right thing, and raise the limit.

      1. A large chunk of the two-person carpools out there aren’t even carpools, but parents driving their kids around.

    2. If the 520 HOV lane were only 2+, the result would be a 3-mile line of cars from where the 3 lanes merge down to 2 in the middle of the bridge, all the way to Bellevue Way. Considering the shear volume of full buses that go by every day, passenger throughput would definitely decrease. You need to look no further than I-90 to see this.

      1. Ya I understand why it’s 3+ already on 520 (I grew up here too). That’s exactly why I don’t complain about it despite the new shoulders and fact that the lane was moved to the left side of the roadway. What I don’t get is how 405 requires 3+ at peak to keep things flowing but that same logic isn’t applied to I-5.

        I’ve been stuck in grid lock on I-5 where the carpool lane moves just as low as the GP lanes due to the 2+ only requirement. I figured the rule was keeping traffic moving at 45 mph so convert them to 3+ when required. Except WSDOT is saying here that this doesn’t apparently apply to I-5. So they are saying no to federal funding on that interstate or maybe the section through Seattle isn’t a large enough percentage for the whole state that the feds don’t cut funding?

      2. I-405 is HOT, right? If so, that is your answer. HOT is new, so establishing new rules (HOV3) or even changing those rules soon after implementation (full access outside of rush hour) are pretty easy to do.

        It is a textbook example of political inertia. Once people get used to something, there is reluctance for it to change. The argument for I-5 or I-90 HOV3 is just as strong as it is for 520 HOV3 (the opposite is true as well) but cowardly politicians don’t want to change things.

  2. Wait a minute I thought WSDOT had an agreement with someone (The Federal DOT? Local transit agencies?) that HOV lanes would meed some threshold for speed and congestion (I believe a 45 mph average) during peak commute hours.

    Yet we have HOV 2 lanes not meeting this threshold but we can’t get WSDOT to go to HOV 3?

    Do local transit agencies not have any leverage with WSDOT?

    In any case as expensive as rail is, and as appropriate as well done BRT might be to solve some transit problems BRT without exclusive ROW is subject to the whims of WSDOT and local governments.

    1. From the article:

      There is no legal mandate that the state increase the occupancy requirement — or do much of anything, actually — in its HOV lanes.

      State policy says to “consider” going three-plus when an HOV facility is no longer reliably moving drivers along at speeds of at least 45 mph.

      The federal government only enforces that 45 mph standard (specifically, a minimum 45 mph over 90 percent of the peak commute hours in a 180-day period) if a state allows single occupant drivers to use the lanes — such as by paying a toll.

      So no, the feds don’t matter unless it’s a HOT lane.

      1. Interesting. So that is a strong argument for HOT lanes then, right? As much as I don’t like them, personally, if they manage to at least get the vehicles running at 45 MPH, then so be it.

      2. I thought the 405 ETLs were built specifically because WSDOT was required by the feds to move people through the HOV lanes at > 45 mph. Maybe there’s some difference in federal funding for the 405 pre-ETL HOV lanes vs the I-5 HOV lanes?

        As for the 405 ETLs, as much as I’m a supporter of them, they’re slowly being watered down. The problem is that the easier WSDOT makes access to them, the slower they go because people merge into them over a longer distance. Since there’s no “transition” lane, you’re basically asking people to accelerate from 5 mph to 60 mph, which is difficult. The ETLs are now regularly backed up in the mornings just south of Totem Lake, where you first have a merge from the left from the direct access ramp and then from the right from the GP lanes.

        Still, they work a lot better than the old HOV2+ lanes used to work.

    2. Therein lies the biggest advantage of light rail over buses. It’s totally true that in most cases a BRT-like bus route could do as good of a job as a rail line, but buses can’t reliably get priority over general traffic.

      1. If you give buses their own ROW like you do with rail, then they can move as fast as rail. The problem is most “BRT” systems don’t, so they’re not reliable. It’s a lot harder to put LRT in an existing lane (though I’m pretty sure it’s been discussed at some point).

      2. What David said. Take, for example, BRT to West Seattle. The most cost effective thing to do is leverage the existing freeway. But if new lanes and ramps need to be built, then build them. These become bus only lanes (not HOV lanes). This is still a lot cheaper than building a light rail line to the area, because you wouldn’t need to build a tunnel (the tunnel is needed because a train can’t go up a steep grade). A train can carry more people per trip, but a bus can carry similar numbers if it travels more often (buses have much lower headways since they can stop a lot faster). A train can fit into an existing rail system (e. g. a train could merge with the existing train tunnel and then head to the UW) but in this case, it can’t (the downtown area has capacity constraints). This means that the main advantages of a train are nonexistent for this corridor. The advantages of BRT are that it can extend outward to many more areas for a lot less money. The most populous or popular areas (High Point, Alki, South Seattle College, White Center) can all have direct service to downtown.

        It is simply a matter of trade-offs. Some areas make sense for rail, some for BRT.

      3. Is there a good example of a large BRT project in the Puget sound region that hasnt gotten watered down as political compromises were hashed out? Wasn’t RapidRide supposed to be “true” BRT too?

      4. Pridge,

        Eugene’s EmX system is the first one that comes to mind:

        It has 60% dedicated busways, off-board payment, 10 minute headways during the week, 15 minutes on Saturdays, 30 minutes on Sundays.

        I’ve never used it but certainly would like to give it a whirl if I were in the area.

      5. Madison BRT is another. It will be center running most of the way, with off board payment and level boarding at every stop and six minute headways all day. The transportation engineers have said that it doesn’t need to be center running to the east, so they didn’t do much work there. They also said that if that doesn’t prove to be the case (if there is congestion) then they will add lanes. If not, they will put the money into other projects.

        What I want to know is whether there is a light rail system in the area that hasn’t been watered down. I don’t think so. The streetcars are stuck in traffic. The light rail line abandoned critical stops (First Hill), put in terrible ones (Mount Baker) and simply forgot to add them (NE 130th, 23rd, etc.). It will be very disappointing if the engineers are wrong and the Madison BRT gets stuck in traffic, but this can be fixed. We will have to live with most of the rail problems for a very, very long time (if not forever).

    3. So 405 BRT is dead, and I guess we’d better stick with light rail to Everett and Tacoma. Then the next step would be 405 light rail.

      I thought WSDOT had promised ST the HOT lanes would be 40 mph minimum, and that that was part of the state’s BRT design for the road. I’ve heard of definite specs and optional specs, but not “oh, just kidding” specs.

      “Do local transit agencies not have any leverage with WSDOT?”

      Do you have to ask?

      1. What a ludicrous argument. 32nd NW in Ballard won’t be converted over to bus lanes, therefore, the obvious answer is to run light rail there. Come on Mike, you are smarter than that.

      2. It takes a lot longer to get from Bothell to Bellevue than it does from 85th to Market Street on 32nd NW, and there are many more work and other reasons somebody might need to and traffic is a barrier.

      3. So what? It takes a lot longer because it is a lot longer. But if you made it marginally faster (and only faster at rush hour), hundreds of thousands of people will flock to a subway that runs right along side the freeway? Nonsense.

        It takes a long time to get from Long Island to Manhattan, so is New York building a subway out there? No, it is building a Second Avenue subway right in the heart of Manhattan, close to the other subway lines, because way more people take short stops on a subway. Not that many people ride the subway a long distance because it takes so damn long. Besides, compared to alternatives, a subway is ridiculously fast in an urban area, and often much slower compared to a bus on a freeway. How fast do you think the 8 is at noon compared to a bus running on a freeway? How about the 44? The 7? How about rush hour? A freeway bus travels at speeds that 7 riders only dream of, yet carries way more people than an I-405 bus.

        Then there is the transfer. The 405 BRT can only justify ten minute headways. A train would do worse. Why then, would someone want to take a bus to a train that travels at most every ten minutes and then ride it as it makes several freeway stops? That is once again treating a subway system as if it was a freeway. It isn’t. Ridership all over the globe shows this, and it makes sense when you go through the particulars.

        I have no idea as to whether a new busway makes sense for I-405. It is quite presumptuous to assume that this is the most cost effective improvement that can be built in the area. Maybe the slowest link in a typical trip is not I-405 itself, but getting through the neighborhood and onto the freeway. But it is absurd to think that just because some poor gutless guy in an agency that is under fire (in an administration that is worried about reelection) says we can’t convert HOV 2 to HOV 3 means we never will. It is just as absurd to think that even if that was the case, that building rail is the answer, instead of building a brand new busway. The major destinations and pockets of density aren’t right along the freeway. We will never be able to afford a major train network that covers areas like Juanita or UW Bothell (and if we did, it would run so infrequently as to be useless). Why have all those folks — just about all your potential ridership — suffer though transfers and stops that are of no interest when running an express would be way faster and more frequent? That makes no sense.

      4. But it is absurd to think that just because some poor gutless guy in an agency that is under fire (in an administration that is worried about reelection) says we can’t convert HOV 2 to HOV 3 means we never will.

        I’d never say never, but I’m much more optimistic about discusssions that can happen in a city (Move Seattle) or regional (ST3) context than those that happen statewide.

  3. “…doesn’t care about transit throughput.”

    Perhaps that should be worded “people throughput”?

  4. Is there any data on the number of cars of each occupancy type (2 person, 3 person, 4 or more) travel the particular roads? It wouldn’t surprise me if more people (not cars) travel in 3 or more person vehicles. For example, if 60% of the cars have 2 people in them, that means more than half the people could ride in the lane if it changed to 3+.

    Speaking of data, does anyone know the average speed of the HOV lanes of the various highways?

    1. For starters, the well-known average vehicle occupancy rate of 1.1 implies about 20% of cars on the road have at least 2 people. Which is enough that if you have 1 HOV 2+ lane, with 4 GP lanes, the HOV lane will naturally be just as crowded (and just as slow) as all the other lanes – the 20% of cars meeting the occupancy requirements simply move to the left lane, but with 5 GP lanes and no HOV, 20% of the cars would still be in the left lane. That, right there, is why you need at least 3+ in order to make any difference in mobility at all.

      1. That 1.1 figure is for work trips only. There are lots of other trip purposes on freeways – especially in the afternoons.

      2. It sounds like you don’t the answer. We can all speculate until the cows come home, but I would like to know if anyone has any data (for the particular roads in question).

      3. “That 1.1 figure is for work trips only.”

        The 1.1 figure sounds about right for all trips. But regardless of whether it’s closer to 1.1 on the low end or 1.6 on the high end, it’s still too low. At least 2/3 of the cars on freeways have one person in them, and that’s why they need so many lanes and get so congested.

    2. Not all high-occupancy cars can use the lanes because they don’t match up with their exits, or the benefit isn’t large enough to cross four lanes of cars twice.

  5. Really? You don’t need a “Theory of Change” because SR-167, which is over 8 years old, and the I-405 Express Toll Lanes are real-life examples of how to get congestion free lanes for transit.

    1. Setting aside the enormous pressure to water down the I-405 HOT lanes, those projects were *new* right-of-way, not setting aside existing ROW for transit. BRT can certainly avoid quality issues if you build an entirely new lane for it, but that negates the idea that it can be done cheaply!

      1. Boy, too bad there isn’t a parallel corridor that runs the length of I-405 that would provide transit mobility without impacting SOV’s.


      2. I also think you are being to quick on the trigger to pronounce HOV and transit lanes as dead ends. Right now, we have successfully built some HOT lanes and HOV lanes on freeways and in Seattle, we have managed to add BAT lanes, queue jumps and the like in some of our most congested corridors. They have come with lots of controversy but I haven’t seen particularly smooth sailing on the light rail front either and I am reminded every time I walk by every single parked car at Seatac to get from the light rail station to the terminal that no endeavor ever lives up to the ideals behind it.

        I would like to believe that our region’s HOV lanes are the seeds of inevitable change. An analogy I would point to is water. It is hard to imagine how a place like America can get a grasp on collectively managing our water supply more effectively as we have all grown up in a place where you could pretty much use as much water as you like for whatever you want. But, then you have watershed moments (no pun intended) such as California’s measures to manage their water usage this past year.

        I personally think using our roads more efficiently and sustainably is inevitable, though I couldn’t neatly package the various triggers and social pressures that will move us in that direction. I simply disagree that the backlash reverberating through WSDOT right now, as evidenced by this Travis Phelps comments, are temporary, cowardly regressions from the inevitable.

      3. Right Drew, but this is straw men are made and die. We can’t get HOV 3 + lanes now so therefore it makes sense to put all of our energy into building light rail there. I look forward to taking Link from Olympia to Bellingham.

      4. “I simply disagree that the backlash reverberating through WSDOT right now, as evidenced by this Travis Phelps comments, are temporary, cowardly regressions from the inevitable.”

        That was butchered in haste to get to crying baby. For what it is worth, I meant to say that I disagree that WSDOT’s current stance will last forever. We are in the midst of a big HOT lane backlash which has obviously scared WSDOT and the governor’s office.

      5. I agree that Seattle politics is a different matter entirely, which is actually an argument for more light rail in the suburbs and less in Seattle, if anything.

        Whatever HOV and HOT success there is in Olympia is in new lanes, not in converting existing lanes. This largely eliminates whatever cost advantage BRT is purported to have.

        I look forward to taking Link from Olympia to Bellingham.

        If people in corridor had a serious congestion problem on I-5, I would definitely endorse light rail over widening the highway.

  6. Great article Martin.

    This is a shameful response by WSDOT. It is an asinine argument, and I’m appalled that it is made by a Democratic administration. I am a fan of Jay Inslee, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the guy (before he was governor) and this simply isn’t the way he feels about the issue. He is a strong environmentalist, but the problems at WSDOT have him (or his administration) scared to death. The mess with the HOT lanes on 405 was completely mishandled. They over-promised and under-delivered. Now they don’t even want to talk about the issue in this, an election year. Quite cowardly.

    The answer is clear. Start with a study. Look at the average speed and how many people ride in various vehicles today. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how much time will be saved or lost per person if the road is switched to HOV3. Two person car pools will have to travel in the general purpose lanes, so they will lose time. But unless there are huge numbers of two person car pools (well over 60%) or the HOV2 lanes are running much better than the general purpose lanes, more people will save time if the switch is made. That doesn’t even count the number who would switch because of the faster speed.

    The last point is the obvious counter-argument to Mr. Phelps’ statement. If a significant number of riders switch to a bus or carpool because it moves a lot faster (a reasonable thing to do) then the result is faster travel in all the lanes (including the general purpose ones). Of course, some have argued that there is nothing we can do at this point to get the general purpose traffic to move faster. Even if we add new lanes, that will induce enough demand to balance things out. This means, of course, that his argument that sending two person car pools would have no effect on general purpose traffic. If the numbers show that more time would be saved by kicking them out, then it makes sense to do that, before we even figure out how many new riders would benefit.

    1. Why would WSDOT care about an election year? Nothing they do gets put to a vote. It seems to me they are completely unaccountable to what the general public wants.

      They are a highway department with a seemingly bottomless pit of money to draw from. They reluctantly fund non-highway uses only when forced to. What exactly would it take to get WSDOT to take the ‘transportation’ part of their name seriously? They should be doing everything they can to make transportation in this state run smoothly, not just SOVs.

      1. WSDOT is controlled by the governor, who is up for reelection this year. Look up Lynn Peterson and WSDOT to get an idea of the politics involved.

      2. I think we can assume WSDOT knows the legislatures’ priorities and is following them.

        “It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how much time will be saved or lost per person if the road is switched to HOV3.”

        They probably already know this. The issue is not calculating time, but priorities. SOV travel time is all-important. You know how people sometimes say that transit agency execs set poor technical standards because they don’t use their own transit? In this case they do use their own roads… in SUVs. Both WSDOT execs and politicians. Those who live in Pugetopolis when they’re not in Olympia do so because they can afford to and it’s the American dream. Those who live outside Pugetopolis do so because that’s the only alternative that exists in smaller cities and rural areas. They’re also responding to the hundreds of people who call their legislators when the SOV lanes slow down or they have to pay tolls.

        One leverage point would be the ratio of transit riders to drivers on 405. For I-5 between Lynnwood and Seattle I think I heard transit share has reached 50%. The 405 share is probably much less, but if it’s enough to be meaningful it would show the percentage of constiuents who benefit from transit priority. In the real world there’s also people who would use transit if it were higher quality and more comprehensive, and those who would but don’t realize it until it’s running. But state policymakers would be less persuaded by this Walkerish stuff than by the actual percent of riders.

        Freight traffic is another neglected issue, which the state rightly raises. But note the bait and switch. For the greatest economic benefit to the residents and industries and environment, trucks need to run at full speed. Speeding up the GP lanes slightly would be a slight improvement on freight efficiency but still below standard. But the overwhelming majority of vehicles in the GP lanes are SOVs, not freight trucks. So in the name of improving freight efficiency it would actually benefit mostly SOVs. That might sound like a few tax cuts you’ve heard of, that ostensibly would benefit one group but mostly benefited another. What we really need is both transit priority and freight priority: two pairs of dedicated lanes. Not specifically in the 405 footprint but somewhere in all major corridors. Pitting transit vs freight vs SOVs in a zero-sum game is missing the point.

  7. In the absence of such a strategy, relying on freeway expresses is spending less to build crappier transit, which is not transit advocacy worthy of the name.

    What about having ST build and own the HOV lanes and thus be the one that charges a toll on them, when such access won’t interfere with the bus traffic?

    That would help get higher quality transit to the sprawling masses where light rail won’t be justified for some decades.

    1. In Seattle we have: SDOT, WSDOT, Sound Transit, King County DOT… do any of them ever talk to each other? We need one single data-driven agency to take over all the transportation policy in this city before anything cohesive will get done.

      1. “Data driven” sounds great, but “data driven” in the purpose of what? The problem isn’t that WSDOT doesn’t have data, it’s that they’re mostly concerned with SOV throughput.

        And I think WSDOT actually wants to run HOT lanes at 45mph +. The problem is the legislature. To be really data driven you must remove democratic accountability.

      2. The problem is not data or agency silos. It’s political priorities by those who oversee the agencies.

      3. That was the intent of why MPO’s were created in the 1960’s – and given more power in 1991. Unfortunately, the agencies in this region are perfectly happy ruling their own worlds with as little multi-agency decision-making as possible and there is no forced punishment for not coordinating.

        Other regions have developed better methods – but it’s not going to happen here until big funding sources are controlled by third-party agencies and not individual operators, cities and the state DOT. This is a big issue that I have with the general concept of ST3.

    2. That might make sense. It still might make sense to leverage the existing HOV lanes (as weak as they are) and put the money into other projects. The HOV lanes have to be extremely slow to warrant the investment, let alone replacement with rail. More to the point, it has to be the weak link. Getting to the freeway has to be extremely fast (which I doubt is the case). If the bus runs at 30 MPH, it seems very slow, but is not much slower than light rail, even in with the huge stop spacing in the suburbs. But the difference between BRT (including low dwell times) and a bus caught in traffic could be much bigger.

      1. The issue is not how weak the HOV lanes “are”, but how weak they will be. I do not feel good about likely express bus operating speeds in 2040.

      2. Try coming back from Bellingham on a weekday afternoon and see how far the traffic backs up. The HOV lanes are weak already now in places.

        The existing HOV lanes are pretty clearly either going to have to be purchased by a transit agency or some other agency whose primary goal isn’t moving cars from one parking spot to another.

        Chances are, it will be cheaper to just build new ones that go where the buses need to go, have exit ramps where they need to, and other transit oriented facilities. WSDOT isn’t going to sell them cheap.

        Light rail would be nice, but light rail can’t serve sprawl to sprawl destinations that well.

      3. OK, so let me get this straight. You think traffic will get much worse 25 years from now, but there is no possibility that WSDOT will change their attitude before then.

        Folks keep claiming that we have the data, but no one wants to point to it. Instead we have speculation about traffic and how WSDOT will be run 25 years from now. That’s nuts.

        Data bolsters the argument. Mr. Phelps is claiming that pushing out 2 person cars will increase traffic. I will make a counter claim. With faster speeds will come much higher transit usage, and thus fewer SOVs on the road. Who is right? I have no idea.* This is why data matters.

        * Chances are neither one of us (traffic will balance out to where it is now because of induced demand).

    3. “What about having ST build and own the HOV lanes and thus be the one that charges a toll on them”

      That would cost billions of dollars, or as much as a light rail line.

      1. True. That’s why the MAX green line was created from a bus way right of way.

        Except, with huge low population sprawl, light rail won’t serve some areas very well. It also must be completely new from end to end. Transit owned and operated lanes could go anywhere there is a major issue, and not be built where surface streets work.

        As an example, ST could build the section of missing bus lanes that create a decent transit route to West Seattle. When the light rail line gets built, the bus lanes could be sold to SDOT for use as general traffic lanes.

    4. Also, I would point out, if ST built and owned the lanes, they could make them HOT lanes, and maybe recover some construction cost.

      I would hope that such lanes would also be allowed to help Amtrak Thruway, BoltBus, Greyhound, Bellair Bus, and others that offer bus service.

  8. Wow, what a fail WSDOT is on the HOV issue. They just don’t get it! My bus in the afternoon from Seattle to fed way doesn’t even use the HOV lanes most of the time because they are SLOWER than the carpool lane. It’s crazy.

    What’s the incentive to take transit or carpool if the lane is slower?? Makes no sense.

    1. I meant slower than the general purpose lane.

      But I also just thought of something. Bus-only shoulder running on I5? I think that’s on ST3. I guess that’s something…but wow. No consistency on the HOV – some are 3+, some 2+, some tolled.

      1. But how could we even trust WSDOT to not botch shoulder running and allow it to be used as a GP lane?

      2. Shoulder-running isn’t a solution. Buses would then have to deal with merging traffic on entrance ramps. That was a real impediment for the WB 520 buses when the HOV lane was on the right.

      3. Yeah I know shoulder running isn’t a solution. But at least it’s something during worst of the worst. WSDOT doing anything.

        I think ST said shoulder running would be only used during stop and go traffic and the buses would have like a 25 mph speed limit or something.

      4. Would you trust WSDOT and the legislature to adhere to this, though? Didn’t they cave on the HOT lanes about 3 weeks after they opened?

      5. no! I don’t trust WSDOT.. I’m just saying since WSDOT is not budging on making any HOV lanes 3+, that ST is at least offering some relief through bus shoulder running in the worst bottleneck spots. I’ll take anything really..desperate here

      6. The issue is that a GP lane in the shoulder means no shoulder, which leaves cars with no place to go if they break down and become a hazard.

  9. In general, WSDOT refuses to consider cheap solutions, such as re-striping. Any solution to traffic problems has to be strictly additive – you can only add lanes, never remove or repurpose them. Part of the reason for this is to make sure the political support for more and more billions of dollars every year never dries up – if you don’t allow people to get their congestion relief without billion-dollar projects, then the billion-dollar projects will always get funded.

    1. There are other billion-dollar projects it could do instead. Transit lanes, heavy rail, finishing its own mainline railroad plan, freight bypasses, etc.

  10. “Not everyone can accommodate a second occupant, much less a third.”
    Hey WSDOT, not everyone is supposed to have access to HOV lanes in the first place. That’s the WHOLE freaking POINT of HOV lanes. Calling two people “high occupancy” is already stretching things.

  11. Sounds like it would be prudent to write congresspersons to get the federal law changed to honor the 45 mph standard. Could have major improvement not just in our region but in others. We have a broken federal rule, let’s fix it.

    1. + 1.

      If cities that fail their clean air act standards can’t get federal funds to build bigger, badder roads then maybe HOV lane failures should also fall into that category.

  12. I hypothesize that HOV lanes DO NOT encourage higher vehicle occupancy enough to justify there existence but rather that they mostly just reward families whose members would already be traveling together anyway. I would further suggest that the number of vehicles in an HOV lane containing multiple drivers who would have driven individually if there weren’t an HOV option is minuscule.

    Casual observation bares this out: just look at how many vehicles in the HOV lanes contain an adult driver with only children accompanying them. Many more contain only two adults – likely a household couple that were also going to be traveling together anyway. Strictly speaking these are HOVs; in reality they are a perversion of the laws intent to encourage people who would otherwise travel in separate vehicles to double up and eliminate a vehicle from the road.

    If HOV lanes are going to be set aside for anything other then general usage, they should be either A) transit and van-pools only (these are the only true HOVs), or B) set aside for tractor-trailers, which cause a lot of congestion in slow-moving stop-and-go traffic since their acceleration/deceleration isn’t as efficient as that of personal vehicles; segregating them from the masses would allow the masses to move more freely.

    1. Yessss. Most of the cars in HOV lanes are families, couples, solo drivers in super tinted cars..

      The article mentioned that only 350 buses and vanpools use the lane per hour. So I wouldn’t be opposed to tolling the lane either to increase throughput.

  13. 350 per hour = nearly 6 per minute. 12 people per vehicle (think small vanpools with larger buses in the mix) would be 4,200 people per hour.

    At 1.2 per vehicle and a vehicle every second (one every two seconds is almost a safe following distance), that’s 4,320 per hour.

    It isn’t clear to me that the “only 350 buses and vanpools” are carrying so very few people than a normal traffic lane.

  14. What if our theory of change is that we can either build crappy transit that doesn’t move a lot of people for a little bit of money or crappy transit that doesn’t move a lot of people for a lot of money? What if we think that’s the choice?

    What if we want to tell the various agencies: nope, not gonna let you spend a lot of money and pretend you did anything to fix the problem?

    1. Transit completely separated from traffic is not “crappy.” You may not be interested in providing the suburbs an alternative to congestion, but many people in the suburbs probably are.

      1. It’s crappy when it comes infrequently and takes longer than even driving in traffic. That’s what we’re going to be voting on.

        I mean, if you really really really like rail, then you’re going to prefer it even if it takes twice as long. The commenters on this blog being the unrepresentative sample of the population they are, I can see how that sentiment gets a lot of play.

        But, normal people aren’t like that. They just want to go somewhere, and they aren’t willing to get up a half hour earlier just to take rail. They DO NOT CARE about mode. They want the freedom to go somewhere when they feel like it.

      2. I think in the minds of many here, rail *by defintion* is superior transit. No matter what it does. No matter that the vast majority of the city dwellers here who will do *anything* to get their Ballard line will never have reason to ride that rail out to the far reaches of the “network”.

        I think that’s the trouble we’re all having in talking with each other. Rail is best, so a plan that has a lot of rail is worth fighting for, even if we quibble over the timing. It just never occurs to many that if rail wasn’t always best, we might reach a different conclusion.

        Full disclosure: I was absolutely a died-in-the-wool rail-is-best guy until maybe a year or two ago. I was all look at what Portland did why can’t we do that, etc.

        But now I see that what matters is freedom. Freedom of people to move about their environment and do the things they want to do, whether that’s work, play or things in between. They cannot do that with this linear suburban model. Mode is a secondary consideration to providing people that freedom.

        Those of us arguing against ST3 get accused of not caring about the burbs and the people in them. This is willfully ignorant nonsense. We are instead advocating that they get transit that fits their needs. Rail to Everett definitely does not. Rail to West Seattle doesn’t fit needs nearly as well as great BRT would. Great BRT to West Seattle would cost a lot. And I wholeheartedly endorse spending that. As it would be money far better spent than on this silly rail line.

        Then, once you finally get one of our local transit advocates to admit that this is a crappy plan, you get the “you just don’t understand state politics” argument – see, if you knew how the state legislature worked, you’d swallow this terrible plan just to get your Ballard line, cause that’s all we’ll ever get.

      3. Based on his writings here, Mr. Duke seems quite enamored with transit mediocrity as long as it is hugely expensive and totally ineffective for the stated purpose of congestion relief and the betterment of suburban commuting.

        Fine, as that is his prerogative.

        For the remainder of our diffuse and suburban public, however, who deserve frugality and cost-effective decisions from its civic institutions and representatives, bus rapid-transit and commuter rail upgrades are easily the way forward.

        New greenfield and urban railroad alignments that: 1) immediately feature major capacity constraints; 2) which will provide only a poor-man’s local service that is removed from most populated zones, and; 3) which also happens to cannibalize or cancel existing rail and bus offerings, is quite clearly non-sensical to anyone who is objectively reviewing these projects on a quantitative (and frequently qualitative) basis.

        Sure, bus rapid-transit has not had the faddish, twenty year, multi-billion dollar backing that light rail has enjoyed in the Puget Sound, but that does not mean cost effective bus transit proposals warrant dismissal, especially when they are a slam dunk for a particular corridor (like on I5 or to West Seattle from Downtown).

        And if it truly is an impossibility to reserve just a single lane in each direction amongst many others for transit exclusivity, maybe the problem of congestion is not overly problematic at all, and certainly it must mean it is not critical enough to require massive expenditures into new rail lines.

        Something is definitely amiss here.

      4. “And if it truly is an impossibility to reserve just a single lane in each direction amongst many others for transit exclusivity, maybe the problem of congestion is not overly problematic at all, and certainly it must mean it is not critical enough to require massive expenditures into new rail lines.”

        Not for you maybe but it is for those who have to live in it day after day. Should they be held hostage because other people want to keep their SOV privileges? The entire problem revolves around prioritizing the the throughput of vehicles rather than the thouroughput of people. Early on the driving lobby got the streetcars eliminated because they didn’t want to wait behind them, and that ushered in the principle that every vehicle is equally important. But a bus often carries fifty people or sometimes a hundred, so it should have fifty or a hundred times priority over single-occupant vehicles. Do our HOV lanes or HOT lanes look like fifty times priority? I didn’t think so. Therein lies the problem. And if it’s too politically difficult to get adequate priority on the streets, then they need their own right of way. Since we ripped out the rights of way too or never built them when we built suburbs and subdivisions, we have to build it now. Which is more expensive than if we’d built them in the 1960s.

      5. Mr. Orr, I totally understand the desire for action and the urgency of securing public rights-of-way for the future.

        Those rights-of-way already exist, however. They sit unexploited in the Green River valley, or they rest alongside general purpose lanes that are far too clogged by SOVs. And despite the fact that these low-hanging fruit promise dramatic improvements in regional mobility, they are deemed too politically fraught to exploit and are immediately dismissed as impossible.

        You would think a region afflicted by a crisis of congestion would explore intuitive alternatives.

        How are the enormous capital and operational costs of a new light railroad jutifiable when heavy rail alternatives presently exist and, also, bus rapid-transit opportunities are similarly unexplored?

        Is new rail infrastructure to be advanced when local municipalities reject new alignments through our region’s most sensible corridors, cannot prioritize lanes and signals for transit, and cannot even properly fund their local bus systems?

        I have a real problem with the approach being made by WSDOT, ST and our cities.

      6. What you want your transit agency to have is
        CONTROL of that right-of-way.

        That is the whole issue here.

      7. Why does ST necessarily have to control freeway lanes if they are dedicated to transit?

        Has ST in its lengthy history even explored control opportunities of the BNSF corridor between Seattle and Tacoma?

        Isn’t control of facilities and it’s resultant turf war the reason why Sounder riders are denied access to King Street Station? This is despite the fact that commuter rail numbers dwarf daily Amtrak figures into Seattle, subjecting thousands to precariously crowded waits on a single, narrow and exposed platform?

        Is this control not removing buses from the Metro tunnel Downtown, despite the fact that buses are better suited to it and they serve far more destinations than the rail line ever could?

        I bring these points up because I am not so sure that control is what is needed here, at least not always. We need sensible planning and better resource utilization.

      8. We need a Transit Dictator.

        Too many bosses, especially if elected officials are involved.

        I once asked a WSDOT manager who was in my vanpool how WSDOT ever accomplished anything since it was like having a ‘bungee’ boss.

        She just rolled her eyes in agreement.

        I don’t know how young your are, or how long you’ve lived in this area, but the fact that Sound Transit even exists is amazing to us old timers. I remember when KCMetro and Community Transit wouldn’t even talk to each other.

        Yes, control of your own right-of-way is the key element in how your system will perform, and the more grade-separated the better.

        By the way, how are Sounder passengers denied access to KSS? If they use the Rail Plus program, they can go in just like everyone else.

      9. A 27 year-old here, a land surveyor, and I work in passenger rail operations. I have lived in the region since I was a year-old or so.

        I know the politics of this place are complicated. They always are. I further understand the symbolic importance of Sound Transit and the value of its existence. Indeed, I use ST services daily.

        Unfortunately, it is becoming an agency in need of political reform. Its funding mechanisms will continue to propose and deliver projects of high cost and diminished return.

        Anyway, my comment is referring to station headhouse access. The thousands of daily Sounder passengers, averaging roughly 750 per train, must loiter on a narrow platform that features multiple surface levels, bulky stairways, and steel pillars, all-the-while being exposed to the elements and swift inbound trains. The platform is surrounded by rails and has no access to the station building, ensuring crowding and egress issues. Those numbers don’t even factor in North Line Sounder trains!

        One day, and mark these words, a pedestrian will die at King Street Station due to the dubious set-up there. What, some may ask, is the logical alternative, the one that should currently exist barring this ludicrous fight for space? Well, the two agencies could actually share the station tracks and forgo the turf war.

        Give Sounder passengers access to the headhouse by routing trains up an assigned terminal track, from track three to (eventually) seven, and further remove the pointless security gates about the station.

        Amtrak leases the bottom floor of the building and occupies it jealously. There is no immediate Sounder access, no ORCA machines and no information boards for any trains whatsoever. There is no reason it must have exclusive access to it, especially when we consider the ridership disparity between Amtrak and Sounder.

        And Rail Plus? My goodness, to any random member of the public it is wildly complicated to use, requiring an ORCA card and monthly pass, and other stipulations. It also is available for but two departing trains out of eight. Worse, you have to buy the Rail Plus ticket on the Sounder platform machine by climbing downstairs to the ST platform from either Weller or Jackson St., then go back upstairs, then go back downstairs, walk a block to enter King Street Station, and then be provided a seat assignment.

        The Rail Plus program is a little-used program for several good reasons. It is hardly something to laud and is a weak example of agency cooperation.

      10. Why does ST necessarily have to control freeway lanes if they are dedicated to transit?

        If ST builds the lanes and owns the lanes, they can control access to them as it is their property.

        WSDOT lanes may be subject to political pressure and returned to general purpose lanes. They may also be built in a form that primarily benefits auto use and only secondarily transit use. The situation with HOT lanes on I-405 illustrate how easy transit lanes are to gain and lose due to political pressure.

      11. “One day, and mark these words, a pedestrian will die at King Street Station due to the dubious set-up there. What, some may ask, is the logical alternative, the one that should currently exist barring this ludicrous fight for space? Well, the two agencies could actually share the station tracks and forgo the turf war. “

        Well, right now, the station track switches are all manually thrown, so operationally Sounder probably preferred the simplicity of staying where they are. Of course, they are working on that as we speak.

        You are aware it’s the BNSF Seattle dispatcher that determines where trains go, right?

        Tracks 2 & 3 are the biggest problem, since there’s no way the RR will allow open access to pedestrian onto live tracks.

        Sounder movements are happening at the same time Amtrak’s Northbound Vancouver BC train is in their boarding process. In the evening it’s the same with the Eastbound Empire Builder.

        I like the idea of using some of the stub tracks for Sounder, but then the question is, which trains would be using those, vs. the regular platform. Plus in 2017, two more Cascades round trips to Portland start up.

        Ah yes, the old KSS PIDS issue… and how is that going?
        I have no idea either.

        As far as transit/train use goes, the travelling public out here is not transit savvy like the east coast. To them a train is a train, but go back east, (at least in my experiences) and people do understand the nuances.

        Here they default to driving.

        I agree, an Orca/Sounder machine in KSS would be useful.

        Listen to people like Mike Orr, he articulates the best on the politics and how difficult is has been for those of us who have been working on getting the travelling public’s asses unscrewed from their car seats.

        The problem is still that the elected officials need to be pushed more.

      12. Much respect for Mr. Orr here, most certainly.

        I am sure there were a myriad of justifications for the slew of bad choices the professionals made that brought forth the ridiculous situation we confront today at King St.

        They are bogus, or at the very least have no merit today.

        First, the lack of automatic switches, good grief. I don’t even know what to write to that absence of basic infrastructure. It’s about time the station tracks are being reworked. While I strongly doubt that auto switches were the reason tracks 1 & 2 were selected to host Sounder (…more that Amtrak desired the tracks fronting the station headhouse for their riders), auto switches are an impossibly minor improvement with huge benefits to overall station operations that should have been made decades ago.

        I detailed earlier that thousands of people are precariously subjected to live tracks on a crowded and narrow platform daily *now*. While people are just fine being on platforms while trains move nearby, as they are in the United States and the world-over, this specific platform, for tracks 1 & 2, is not suitable as a host for the large passenger loads being forced onto it. The trains should be redirected to the stub tracks where passengers can access the trains immediately from King St., Weller St., and King St. Station. It just makes sense to give the larger passenger loads more egress points and congregation space.

        And track assignments for outbound trains are a routine operational practice throughout the world. Whether BNSF throws the switches or Amtrak (and, yes, I am intimately aware that BNSF dispatches and owns these tracks), all trains should have access to all the tracks of KSS (where they fit), and trains should have pre-ordained slots that are detailed on timetables. :


        “So, the schedule says train 1507 leaves at 16:35 from track 4, perfect! I will wait inside this lovely station protected from the inclement weather as I wait for the crew to bring the train in from the yard. Oh! I should go buy my ticket at the ORCA machine right over there, too. So easy!”

        —A hypoethical scenario from a frequent Sounder passenger during a situation that currently is totally and frustratingly impossible.

        We fail at basic railroading.

      13. While I strongly doubt that auto switches were the reason tracks 1 & 2 were selected to host Sounder (…more that Amtrak desired the tracks fronting the station headhouse for their riders), auto switches are an impossibly minor improvement with huge benefits to overall station operations that should have been made decades ago.

        Don’t I wish.

        Cascades trains regularly stop at the stadiums to align the hand thrown switches.

        In addition to everything said above, Sounder is also able to roll into the station much faster on the through mainline tracks than Amtrak is on the branches. Watch what happens at the station sometime.

      14. When I return from vacation, I will look out the window and do just that.

        Just to note, I have been doing that for the past six years! ?

      15. I think in the minds of many here, rail *by defintion* is superior transit.

        I’ve ridden Link, and I’ve ridden ST Express, RapidRide, and Swift. It may not be superior by definition, but my lived experience suggests Link is much, much better than the others. I think there are important practical issues that lead to this outcome, and I’ve seen no plausible path to overcome those issues.

    2. WashDOT doesn’t require citizens to vote on badly conceived highway projects. Too much of the crappy stuff comes from highway projects.

      1. Can WSDOT hold a vote on highway projects? I see WSDOT proposing them and implementing them but I haven’t seen it deciding on them. It’s like Metro bus routes: the legislature reserves for itself the right to approve them. If the legislature says “Build a highway”, I’m not sure that WSDOT can say “We’re going to hold a public vote in it first”. The legislative tradition seems to be that gas tax funded projects don’t go to a public vote because the public approved them when the gas tax was established a century ago. As for transit projects going to a public vote, that may be not because they’re transit per se but because they’re a new tax, and in this Eyman-fearing era every new tax needs a public vote. The problem then is that transit doesn’t have an ongoing capital-funding mechanism from the pre-Eyman era while highways do. (And the SOV drivers on 405 say, “That’s the way it should be. Build asphalt, baby, build asphalt.”)

      2. That should change.

        In fact, the whole process for how we go about conceiving, designing, funding and constructing infrastructure projects should change.

      3. WSDOT is the agency responsible for designing, building and operating transportation in the state (Highways, Amtrak Cascades, Wash St. Ferries).

        It’s the elected officials who decide how and when the projects get funded, and in what order.

        Just like many of the nerds on this blog in the IT industry, they’re geeks who like to engineer this stuff, and work the numbers.

        Some will have opinions, just as there are biases for operating systems of programming languages, but in the end, WSDOT will just execute what they are told to execute.

        There is, just like any organization, politicking going on between departments, but if you want real change, it’s your state representative you have to be talking to.

      4. Mike: My comment is only to contrast the hoops SoundTransit and other transit agencies must go through for public approval for transit projects with lots of public feedback with what happens with massive highway projects.

        For that matter, maybe there should have been a KCM style public feedback session about the 3+ lanes with a social services agency explaining how much of an impact slow bus service has on the poorest of eastside software executives or something.

  15. We can see how much WSDOT cares about mobility with the viaduct closure. Rather than increasing the HOV limit from HOV-2 to HOV-3 (or even beyond!) on I-5, they opened the HOV lanes to SOVs. This punishes people who want to do the right thing by carpooling and taking transit, and just encourages the use of SOVs.

    1. It’s all politicized. Don’t forget the rich people of Mercer Island get to use the HOV lanes driving solo for free on I-90. I doubt no other community would get that kind of deal.

      1. It seems as though that any solo driver could ride the express lanes to Mercer Island, exit the freeway, then immediately re-enter the freeway to continue onto Bellevue.

  16. Just remember, you push too far and you’ll get no HOV lanes at all. I’m reminded of this every time I drive to Portland and see the odd empty sign bridge for the former I-5 HOV lane removed at the behest of Rep. Benton (R-Vancouver).

    HOV-3 is never going to happen, except in the HOT/ETL context. It just isn’t. The SR520 lanes will go HOV-2 as soon as the west approaches are done, and that’ll be it.

    1. I wouldn’t say that. Inertia is very strong, and there are a large number of transit commuters who would see a big impact if the HOV lane suddenly got reduced from 3+ to 2+. During rush hour, a full bus goes over the bridge about every other minute, both directions. Even with the west approaches done, it still have to narrow down in order to merge with I-5. Short of widening I-5 all the way from Tacoma to Everett, that isn’t going to change. I have also never seen anything in the WSDOT plans about reducing the occupancy requirement on the 520 HOV lane in the future.

      1. I agree (and said as much up above). Inertia is really strong.

        I will also say that the argument for HOV 2 in many areas is very weak. But data helps. For example, let’s say they do a study, and on I-5 between Lynnwood and Everett, 60% of the people ride in two person car pools. Well, this makes it easy to make the following statement:

        Most of the people who travel in the car pool will be able to do so in HOV 3+. They are being needlessly slowed down on that road as a result. It is a matter of fairness (majority rules).

        With the HOV lanes moving faster, more people will switch to using transit. As a result, there will actually be fewer cars in the general purpose lanes. This will result in faster traffic speeds overall.

        The first claim may be true (I don’t know the data). The second one is pure speculation, but so too is the idea that general traffic will necessarily be worse.

  17. Why don’t we just be honest in this state and call it the Washington State Department of Highways. For the past decade I haven’t seen the department put a lot of thought into ALL transportation modes, just cars and semis.

  18. But initiating change at the state level requires a different rhetorical and interest-trading toolbox. I haven’t seen anyone articulate one, much less successfully execute a strategy.

    Here is the strategy:

    1) Elect a governor who is an environmentalist (done). He has little power right now, though.

    2) Elect a Democratic majority in the state house and senate, with environmentalists in the key transportation positions.

    3) Pass a law that requires the HOV limit be raised when the speed threshold (45 MPH) is reached.

    1. 2a. Elect a large enough majority that two D’s caucusing with the R’s aren’t enough to eliminate it. And make sure these majority D’s value and prioritize transit because not all loyal D’s have done so.

    2. 4) Organize a call-in protest of Lars Larson’s radio show.

      Every once in a while, he goes on a tear about the I-405 toll lane mess. This has included on air interviews with state legislators. He’s been going on about these lanes since at least 2012 and I would imagine his influence is having an effect on the views of a number of Republicans outside Puget Sound.

      Unfortunately, his program is on in the early afternoon, so most people who actually work for a living (and therefore get stuck in afternoon traffic) can’t actually call in.

    3. I realized after I wrote this comment that it is unfair to Republicans (and as Mike suggests, perhaps gives Democrats too much credit). I should have said

      Elect a pro-transit majority in the legislature.

      Also keep in mind that this isn’t the only strategy that could work. Does changing the HOV lanes require a new law? I don’t think so. I assume up to WSDOT, which ultimately means that it is in the power of the governor to change. If that is the case, there is a different, simpler strategy:

      1) Wait until the Democratic governor wins a comfortable victory (which could happen as early as November).

      2) Petition the governor to change the policy.

      3) Watch as the governor changes it.

      This would not mean a new law, but would involve a couple steps. First, the issue is studied. Let’s figure out how bad the problem is and how many 2 person cars there are. Again, I think the argument is much stronger if it turns out that most of the drivers are driving with two people in the car, but most of the people are riding in 3 or more person vehicles (which is quite likely).

      The numbers (and studies) might also support the idea that congestion won’t actually rise. Either you believe in induced demand or you don’t. If you do, then kicking out the two person cars only hurts them (it will have no effect on SOVs). If you don’t, then it gets more complicated. But folks are claiming that ridership of light rail will increase substantially because it will be faster, then it stands to reason that bus ridership will increase just as much (if not more, since it will be faster for more riders than a train that makes stops). The increase in transit ridership will come out of SOV riders, and it will balance out. I don’t have the numbers to show this to be the case, but again, it is quite a reasonable case to make.

      Once you crunch the numbers and make your case, make the change. The legislature might throw a fit, or they might throw a fit in certain areas and not others. So what — let them whine. Like a lot of things, the whining ends after a few years, and people wonder if things were ever different in the past.

    4. I haven’t seen any evidence that converting existing lane capacity into HOV/HOT, or upgrading HOV2 to HOV3, is on the radar of the state Democratic Party. So just voting for Democrats isn’t going to cut it.

      “Pro-transit”, in a state context, means “willing to allow jurisdictions to tax themselves to fund transit.” It doesn’t involve managing state resources to optimize transit, much less giving them to local agencies.

      And if the Democrats recover strong majorities, the (Democratic) median House and Senate members will still be from outlying, heavy car-dependent districts.

      I want to emphasize, once again, that I’m all for fighting this fight. It’s just that it’s entirely reasonable for people in the suburbs to pin all their hopes for congestion relief on it.

  19. WSDOT does what the elected officials allow. The Legislature and Governor set policy. Progress toward tolling has not been as fast as many of us would like, but there has been progress: Narrows Bridge, SR-167 HOT lanes, SR-520, and I-405 HOT lanes. the PSRC has systemwide tolling in the 2040 plan, just as it has the Link spine. WSDOT has improved the back room regarding fare collection.

    There are both left and right wing populist arguments against tolling. both are false. the left wing argument is that tolling leads to Lexus lanes; only the rich will use them. the very poor do not have cars at all; the working poor are helped by transit, that flows better with tolling. usage of tolled facilities is by all income classes. time is money. folks picking up kids from day care or shift workers need certainty about travel times. congestion is a cruel tax in how it impacts travel times. the right wing argument is that we should be not taxed a second time for the highways we paid for. first, the US taxpayers paid for 80 to 90 percent of the interstate highways, not state taxpayers. second, the toll need not be for construction as the Legislature used it on SR-520 and the Narrows. it could be to manage demand and assure reliable travel times. variable tolling would improve flow for all modes: freight, transit, and general purpose. enough trips need to shift away from congested times to get speed and reliability up. SR-520 was a success except for the diversion it caused.

    the Legislature needs tolling. their tax aversion has led us to a fiscal crisis. they have used most all the new gas tax to build new highways. they have passed little through to local jurisdictions for maintenance; they have not funded maintenance of I-5. there is a big bill coming. I suggest that tolling should focus on demand management; keep it moving at 45 mph; the revenue will come. the voters may dislike tolling but they dislike congestion even more.

    we could have two types of tolling. HOT lanes with variable tolls that assure free flow traffic; and, low nominal tolls to access all the lanes. network wide tolling would help with diversion.

    the Link spine in South King and Pierce would use our most powerful and costly mode where it would not load up well. the south spine would cost a few billion. the main issue with it is the opportunity cosst of the stream of ST3 funds. they would be much better spent on improving intra Tacoma transit, providing all day serving on the BNSFRR line, and providing a frequent all-day two-way regional express network. South King could have a more frequent A line, a fast frequnent line between Tacoma and Seattle via Federal Way, and fast frequent line between Tacoma and SeaTac via Federal Way. South King could have a network of east-west express routes. it is not the choice between one Link line and one bus line; rather between one low ridership Link line and a network of bus lines.

    Link is a powerful tool. four car trains should be used to connect closely spaced urban pedestrian centers with strong all-day two-way demand for transit. the capacity of Link is not needed on the South line. there are NO such pedestrian centers along the I-5 corridor. the South King pedestrian centers are along the Sounder line in the cities with street grids developed before WWII. the south Link spine would provide slow intercity trips. those are better provided via bus and Sounder. in 2007, ST estimated the Link travel time between IDS and the Tacoma Dome at 72 minutes. Link takes much too long to implement. the South corridor riders need better service now.

    the objective of ST3 should be to maximize ridership, not maximize Link. all benefits follow ridership.

    1. he objective of ST3 should be to maximize ridership

      Then let’s ship the money to Delhi to build their Metro. That’ll generate ridership much more cost-effectively. Unless you’re going to provincially expect money to stay closer to home, which is the sentiment that leads us to subarea equity and the voting patterns that underlie it.

      And there are of course other metrics that matter. Passenger miles matter. Quality of transit service to dependent populations that would even ride crappy service matters. Potential for future development matters. Airport access that attracts employers matters. And of course, you get zero riders if you lose the election.

      Everyone understands how to maximize ridership; sole focus on that is playing checkers when everyone else is playing chess.

      1. Martin,

        I have a very strong disagreement with how this is being characterized in comparison to another city in the developing world. If we are going to pull that, then most funds should in reality be diverted to improving Seattle’s interconnections using the rest of the subareas funding but that is simply not going to happen.

        I believe the love of light rail comes from the frequency and guaranteed travel times. But if you placed a Sounder train with the same characteristics in front of them versus a Link vehicle, I am guessing most people would choose the Sounder train.

        That option sailed once Lynnwood Link was place on I-5 rather than SR 99.

        If we do not have a high quality transit system, it will look like a failure just like San Jose’s pitty of a light rail system is. If we are going to build light rail, keep it within its means and do it right. I feel we are compromising for a mediocre solution in search of a problem rather than a solution to a problem.

        I have not seen the origin destination studies that show the SeaTac-Tacoma market, it is simply assumed there is and of course there is but airport trains as Yonah Freemark and Alon Levy have pointed out do not generate ridership. Fixed rail infrastructure is not cheap and if we are going to use a $300 per mile capital investment then we need to pack it in as much as possible and make sure it is used to the max and show this is the way to go and it is successful rather than a political pet project for a ribbon cutting at the expense of generations to come. Once those investments are in there is no going back and there is no next shot let alone we can just spend more money. At some point, taxpayers are going to be out of dough and we should maximize returns sooner versus later and benefit as many users as possible rather than chasing mediocrity down.

      2. >> The objective of ST3 should be to maximize ridership

        Then let’s ship the money to Delhi to build their Metro. That’ll generate ridership much more cost-effectively. Unless you’re going to provincially expect money to stay closer to home, which is the sentiment that leads us to subarea equity and the voting patterns that underlie it.

        And there are of course other metrics that matter. Passenger miles matter. Quality of transit service to dependent populations that would even ride crappy service matters. Potential for future development matters. Airport access that attracts employers matters. And of course, you get zero riders if you lose the election.

        Everyone understands how to maximize ridership; sole focus on that is playing checkers when everyone else is playing chess.

        First of all, I’m sure Eddie meant spending the money within the area given the existing subarea equity rules. Second, you are right that focusing solely on ridership (as ST often does) is a very poor metric. But pick almost any meaningful metric, and a very expensive light rail along the freeway performs poorly. TOD along a freeway seems like it would be terrible, so I don’t see that working out well. I would focus on time saved per dollar spent (the number of riders multiplied by the time each rider saves divided by the cost). This tends to favor suburban commuters, but since this line is likely to only benefit them, it is a good metric. A subway along the freeway performs poorly on this metric for several reasons. First of all, most of the riders want an express. This eliminates the biggest advantage of a subway — the time savings for a rider who isn’t going downtown. So, for example, light rail won’t save that much time over the 41 for someone trying to get from Northgate to downtown (especially headed downtown in the morning — in some cases it will cost time). But a rider will save an enormous amount of time for a trip to Roosevelt, the UW and Capitol Hill. There are plenty of these riders. But there aren’t many riders like this as you get farther away from the city. There just aren’t that many riders trying to get from Ash Way to Eastmont Park and Ride, for example. So a subway that is averaging 35 miles an hour will be great in some areas, but not especially popular if you are in a hurry to get downtown. This means that the train is only faster (for most riders) if traffic along the HOV lanes is absolutely terrible, and that happens rarely. Thus there won’t be that much in the way of time savings. Since many (like those that travel in the middle of the day) would actually lose time, the net savings would likely be very low.

        Then there is the cost. This is extremely expensive. Improvements to commuter rail, in many cases, would be much cheaper, and thus result in a much bigger speed improvement per dollar (if not overall). The same is likely true when it comes to building a busway. But maybe the most cost effective solution from this standpoint (time savings) is to add service and make dozens of small (and maybe a handful of large) improvements in bus infrastructure. There is congestion on the surface streets and fixes to them are likely to be much more cost effective. Simply adding more buses would likely improve things (Swift, as good as it is, only runs every 12 minutes).

        I am speculating, of course, but unfortunately, so is Sound Transit. They haven’t released any data as to whether this will save time for riders, and if so, how much. Nor have they explored alternatives. They started with a ridiculous assumption (that the spine made the most sense) and worked backwards from there. There was no consideration of one metric versus the other, although they do proudly point to the very meaningless measure you criticize. This is a sign of an organization that is broken. This is not software. You can’t just change a few bits here and there and fix it. This should be a “measure twice, cut once” type operation, and ST hasn’t bothered to measure once. Not only have they failed to release basic data on various options, they haven’t released data on the option they actually chose!

        I think we can only conclude that Sound Transit doesn’t care. They aren’t taking a methodical, data driven approach to building the most effective transit system possible. They are simply drawing lines on the map and connecting them with rail. That is just a poor way to design a transit system.

      3. I think we can only conclude that Sound Transit doesn’t care. They aren’t taking a methodical, data driven approach to building the most effective transit system possible. They are simply drawing lines on the map and connecting them with rail. That is just a poor way to design a transit system.

        This is a bizarre conclusion for someone following this process as closely as you have.

        I agree that freeway routings are suboptimal. Everywhere we can, we’ve advocated for SR99 alignments. On the Eastside, I advocated for giving up on Issaquah and making Kirkland rail awesome.

        And in the I-5 corridor, really only the Star Lake and the Everett stations will be on I-5. The Star Lake story is long. Everett has promised to fight stuff on SR99 tooth and nail.

        Kirkland developed a well-organized movement to do nothing and no counteracting political force to do something.

        The clear conclusion is not that Sound Transit “doesn’t care”, it’s either that they are very responsive to what cities want, or that they are not going to let marginal differences between outer suburban alignments jeopardize what we have to do in the core.

        So where does that leave us? Do we stall the whole project until Everett gets a new Council? Just cut off Everett and expect them to vote yes anyway?

      4. TOD along a freeway seems like it would be terrible,

        I think it’s important to understand why freeway alignments are bad, because this isn’t quite it. There’s lots of dense development along freeways. We can point to it everywhere. The problem is that the highways take up some of the developable land.

        So freeway alignments — when not committed to maximum P&R — absolutely can produce development and all its benefits. Just not as much as could be.

      5. They also can create a huge wall. Witness the various problems of getting buses around I-5 in downtown Seattle. I-405 through Portland has frequent crossings and even it has altered development patterns from one side to the other.

        Then, there’s the issue that nobody really wants to live next to that much traffic noise. Despite all the housing shortages in various areas of Portland, several condo buildings have been stillborn due to their location next to I-205.

  20. The long light rail spine can be looked at as multiple interconnected local lines. Tacoma to Seatac airport, Downtown to the airport. Lynnwood to Everett, etc. It is odd to see buses be faster on some spine routes though.

    1. Sure, ronp, but the majority of those station pairs generate nowhere near the ridership demands that dovetail well into rail transit service. Additionally, the key pairs are already served by commuter rail or express bus services (that are painfully absent of rapid transit upgrades).

      With regards to the comments of Mr. Duke, we just have to agree to disagree. Pray tell how light rail better serves dependent populations, for example, better than expanded and more affordable bus options, rapid transit or not?

      And if your answer is the at-grade Rainier Valley alignment, then there is not much middle ground to how we go about “helping” disadvantaged populations.

      You may be playing chess, but you are still losing the game.

    2. @Ron

      I think that viewing things that way is common. I think it comes from driving those roads, or even riding a bus along them. I know I used to feel that way. It is very easy to get excited about rail from Everett to Tacoma, because there is a feeling that everyone along there (including everyone in those cities) will get something that will dramatically improve their transit mobility. It seems like a brand new freeway, but with transit instead.

      The problem is that it doesn’t work that way. If I drive to Tacoma at 3:00 in the morning, it takes about a half hour. If I were to ride Link, it would take about an hour and 15 minutes. This is because the train comes to a complete stop and waits for a pretty long time before going again, dozens of times. That is just what a subway does. Every subway does that, which is why a trip from Queens into Manhattan takes a while. The difference is that a huge portion of the riders from Queens to Manhattan get on and off well before Manhattan. (It is also why there is express bus service from Queens to Manhattan). But there simply isn’t the type of ridership along here to have those types of trips. New York has very high density, very popular locations for the entire length of every subway line. Even so, their lines don’t go out as far as ours would (which is a staggering thought in itself — our subway line would be longer than any in New York). It is absurd to think that you will get a substantial number of riders going from Federal Way to Angle Lake, but that is exactly what a subway does best.

      It is simply the wrong tool for the job. You can see this is the case when you consider what is actually involved in a typical trip. You have to get to the train, which means taking a bus (since not that many people live close to the train station). You then have to wait for the train. Trains like this don’t run that often. It is expensive to do so, and the ridership just doesn’t justify running them often. So there is likely a lengthy transfer, followed by a very slow ride into town.

      Building a system like this is also very expensive. If subways were cheap to build and operate (even along the freeway) then it might be worth the effort. But they aren’t. Simply just improving bus service (running them more often and to more places) is way more cost effective. Infrastructure improvements on the bus routes is also a lot cheaper, as they can be done piece meal (take care of the biggest bottlenecks first). Then there is commuter rail, which could actually deliver a much faster ride from Tacoma to Seattle than Link.

      This is not just theory. It has been shown to be the case all over the country. Express bus service and commuter rail have shown to be very successful, while long distance subways have not. Even BART, which is much faster, has fewer stops and serves an area many orders of magnitude bigger has very low ridership outside the urban core (Oakland/Berkeley/San Fransisco). There just aren’t that many people trying to take a long distance subway trip, or a short distance trip outside the biggest of the big cities. Subways just don’t work well for that sort of thing and they won’t work well for us either.

      1. Then there is commuter rail, which could actually deliver a much faster ride from Tacoma to Seattle than Link.

        Commuter rail exists, will get more investment in ST3, and is not incompatible with investments in Link.

      2. The ST3 plans for Sounder are oddly lacking in detail or basic estimates for cost. There is no real long term plan for Sounder, it seems, which is misguided.

        As for incompatibility, how is duplicative rail service between the primate city pair of the South Sound necessary? As for the in-between, are those pairs not better served by immediate local transit upgrades?

        The notion of incompatibility here seems lacking in nuance or reason.

      3. That’s by design. You don’t enter a negotiation with BNSF announcing exactly how much you’re willing to pay. You also can’t promise a particular result until you have the outcome of those negotiations.

        As for incompatibility, how is duplicative rail service between the primate city pair of the South Sound necessary? As for the in-between, are those pairs not better served by immediate local transit upgrades?

        From the in-between to the endpoints, and within the in-between. As for whether they can be “better served”, I suggest you ask Highline College, the Kent and Federal Way governments, and Tacoma businesses that want a train to the airport.

        People used to say the 194 ‘better served” Seattle-Seatac than Link, and yet I wouldn’t make the trade even if we could get all the money back.

  21. my response suggested an alternative way of spending the Pierce and South King subarea funds. ST will use subarea equity. so, of course, ridership is not the only objective; equity constrains that. the South King and Pierce subarea riders would get ST2 and ST3 benefits much faster and more effectively if Link were not used, but BRT, express bus, and Sounder were used instead. in a cost benefit analysis, the early benefits are discounted less. better transit is needed not today.

    1. I think Sounder is a good, better investment. And there’s money dedicated to Sounder. What they can promise is limited by the negotiations with BNSF.

      As for BRT/Express bus, this post is about the practical limitations of that approach.

  22. Secondly, ordinary transit advocates ready to oppose ST3 because of more cost-effective right-of-way options ought to have a theory of change on how to ensure free flow of buses. In the absence of such a strategy, relying on freeway expresses is spending less to build crappier transit, which is not transit advocacy worthy of the name.

    Wow, that is a huge leap that would make Bob Beamon proud.

    Actually, as it turns out, it is more of a triple jump, or as they used to call it, the hop, skip and a jump. So, here it is, on instant replay:

    The Hop: Changing HOV 2 lanes to HOV 3 lanes won’t happen now, so it will never happen. This subject has been beaten to death up above, but I think that is ridiculous. Less than 8 years ago the state of California (California!) voted against gay marriage. Even without the supreme court decision, such a vote in that state (or almost any state) would seem absurd right now. Attitudes change.

    The Skip: Improving the speed on a freeway corridor is the most important thing to do. You have shown no evidence whatsoever that this is the case. You haven’t even pointed to anything that suggests that the corridor moves slowly. Consider the section between Lynnwood and Everett. How fast do people travel? Most of the day (from what I can tell) it is over 60 MPH. So how often is it less than that? How many riders want to travel when there is congestion and when their isn’t? More importantly, is this really the weakest link for all of the riders? Maybe the biggest delay occurs in simply getting to the freeway. Of maybe the weakness is in coverage or frequency. If the train averages 60 MPH on the freeway it is great, but if the train runs every every twenty minutes and the local bus runs every ten, then way too much time will be spent waiting (especially if the bus is stuck in traffic). It is quite possible that running more frequent buses to Lynnwood would result in much better service (much higher time savings) along this very line. It is also quite possible that improving service on the other corridors would result in much bigger overall time savings. Swift runs every twelve minutes. Double the frequency and you don’t need a schedule. Drop it to 3 minutes and you don’t chase after a bus. Has every obstacle been removed from Swift’s path? Are there infrastructure improvements that can be made there, or along other bus routes in Snohomish County? I would assume so, and it is quite likely these would save way more time than simply improving one corridor (at a huge cost) that moves relatively quickly, even during rush hour.

    The Jump; This is the best way to solve the problem along the corridor. Light rail, by its very nature, makes lots of stops. Along a freeway corridor, the travel pattern is more of an express. This means that for most of the riders, each stop is simply a delay. It also means that for most of the riders, the train will be slower most, if not all of the day. Consider the Everett section again. If the train follows the freeway the whole way, then it will take 25 minutes. That is an average speed of 34 MPH. This is blazing fast for a subway, but really slow compared to an express bus on a busway. That trip would take about 14 minutes, or 9 minutes less as an express bus. It is also quite likely that a busway would be cheaper to build, as it doesn’t have the same limitations as a rail line.

    This article points out the difficulties in getting HOV lanes changed. It provides insight into an administration battered by missteps and controversial decisions. But to jump from there into the idea that the money must be spent on a light rail line along a freeway corridor or the results will be “crappier transit” is a leap of Olympic proportion. [ad hom]

    1. The jump you’re making is that congestion now = congestion in 2040.

      As for changing attitudes, if your argument is that we should wait to invest anything until statewide attitudes change in favor of HOV-3/HOT, thus giving Pierce County confidence that they can let Seattle do its rail thing without jeopardizing their shot at reliable transit, that’s coherent. I just disagree.

      As in West Seattle, building a rail trunk line enables more frequent and reliable access bus service. So if I-5 isn’t the real problem, running express buses isn’t the real answer. Loading a full local bus onto an express bus with the same capacity doesn’t really work.

      1. Sure, and no one advises loading a local bus into an express bus.

        Funny, though, how many advocate unloading buses of all types into long distance, not-quite local, not-quite express light rail trains, and that somehow represents intelligent planning.

        And yes, many are talking of congestion now, because congestion is a problem now and it is not being addressed adequately, and definitely not in a timely manner. Additionally, many of the ridership loads projected in faraway 2040 are easily accommodated with modes other than light rail transit, and on far more acceptable delivery timeframes.

        We do not have to fund everything out of worry that nothing will be funded in the future. Attitudes do change, and better plans will come to fruition.

        Certainly, Mr. Duke, you will play a large role in that.

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