47 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: How to Make Congestion Pricing Popular”

  1. I’ve come to the conclusion that in areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic, road congestion isn’t really such a bad thing. It is the ultimate form of traffic calming, and congested roads tend to be be both quieter and more pedestrian friendly (if the cars are stuck in traffic, you can cross the street just about anywhere). Even freeways, congestion has its value, as a freeway is much quieter when bad traffic forces the drivers to slow down. Over time, as more and more of the vehicles on the road become electrified, the sound advantages of slower speeds will become bigger and bigger.

    While it may suck for the drivers stuck in the traffic jam, as long as sufficient alternatives exist to bypass it (transit, bike lanes, sidewalks), I don’t really care.

    1. I don’t entirely agree with your point. Drivers stuck in congestion seem more aggressive. Even though it’s easy to get through stopped vehicles, those vehicles can move very wildly as soon as they have an inch of room.

      But even if I did agree, yourself is not the only thing you need to transport. Delivery trucks, emergency vehicles, even buses, are all things you rely on. Those vehicles ability to get through effects prices and quality of service.

      Now it does sound like you are set for non-car transporting of yourself, but for a lot of people “sufficient alternatives” don’t exist. For example me. Even though I’m a fast cyclist, sometimes that doesn’t cut it. Like last time I moved, I need to drive my stuff. Or the times I need to go between Bellingham and Seattle for work. Maybe if there was proper high speed rail, I could avoid driving on I5, but right now there isn’t. And there will likely never be a way to transport your cargo without some sort of large personal vehicle. I would really like it if I could pay 10-20 bucks to not be stuck in traffic the few times I do drive.

      As far as not caring if it sucks to drivers stuck in traffic, you will end up dealing with these people while they are still frustrated about a drive they view as unavoidable, whether that is true or not.

      1. Also, it’s hard to get across the street when people won’t stop blocking the crosswalks.

      2. I personally don’t mind congestion pricing as a way to convert total gridlock into a least a little bit of vehicle movement – the roads can be priced to still get the “traffic calming” effect of lots of traffic, without the system totally breaking down.

        But, all too often around here, departments of transportation look towards widening roads, or getting rid of those pesky pedestrians that obstruct the movements of turning cars and the traffic engineer’s dream of free mobility.

        We also have too many arterial streets that are engineered like highways, leaving road congestion as the only form of traffic calming available. From a pedestrian standpoint, the right-turn pockets of Leary Way onto 34th St. and Nickerson onto Dexter are annoying and somewhat dangerous, and I always find it most welcome when traffic leading up to the turn pocket is backed up enough to prevent turning drivers from actually using it.

    2. Question should really be why so many people drive where they know they’re going to be stuck in traffic at all? Maybe it’s the only route to their destination they know. Or the only one there is.

      Frequent problem is that whether a freeway is clear or jammed, many people will endure the worst if they can’t reach their goal when they get off. The “last mile” problem.

      Worst consequence of a 70 year pattern of sprawl. Remember, the Interstate system was a national defense measure for getting war supplies across a huge country. When standard military transport plane was twin engine C-47. Civilian version, DC-3 Tough and indestructible. 32 passengers.


      I doubt the highway building officers ever though they’d end up being daily urban transit. When plans were laid, “suburbs” probably didn’t exist at all. And until mid 1950’s, when factory shift work still existed, do did streetcars, elevated trains, and subways.

      Now, as I don’t think any Interstate planners though possible, the urban segments of the system, never intended in the first place, were permanently disabled by cars themselves.

      With complete disaster warded off when airline deregulation gave thousands of ordinary people the swiftest and cheapest intercity rides possible. Killing train travel and rendering Greyhound “Living Dead.” Both un-missed.

      Today’s transport planes may already have made the whole system obsolete for national defense. If so, good chance the Federal government will agree. And stop maintaining them, let alone building anymore.

      Leaving us with a lot of right of way and infrastructure for fairly fast electric rail. With whole neighborhoods lidded over them. Was also told years ago that anything structured for highway can easily hold trains.

      So, imagination time again. What we’ve got could also put us a lot further ahead than we think.


      1. “Remember, the Interstate system was a national defense measure for getting war supplies across a huge country.”

        Remember, that was just an excuse to get the authorization and funding through Congress. Since when has the military used even 1% of our freeway capacity, enough that civilians would notice?

      2. “Question should really be why so many people drive where they know they’re going to be stuck in traffic at all?”

        Because the packed HOV bus is stuck in traffic and there are no disincentives to driving solo in the same traffic.

        When the jam packed 100 person bus is treated the same as a single occupant vehicle and they are both stuck in the same bumper-to-bumper traffic, wouldn’t you choose the luxury of driving solo in a spacious car in that traffic? Exactly, and so traffic is made worse.

      3. There’s a nugget of gold here, in the paragraph that starts with “Frequent problem…”. It strikes me that stuck in congestion has similar earmarks to losing in gambling. Most notably that people in it create their own experience in it and will participate in it over and over and day after day.

      4. A lot of people use freeways without checking whether arterial streets would be faster or more pleasant. But in some cases there is no other way, such as 405 around Kennydale. And while a friend and I take Rainier/Boren between Renton and central Seattle to avoid the freeway, other people think that’s crazy. And if the city follows through with its threat to lower all arterials to 25 mph, it may not be practical anymore.

        A few favorite non-freeway streets, most with with few or no lights: 116th Ave NE and 140th Ave NE between Bellevue and Kirkland, Sand Pint Way between 70th and 125th, 95th between Lake City Way and Sand Point Way, Meridian Ave N between Northgate and Aurora Village, 15th Ave NE between the U-District and Mountlake Terrace.

      5. Because the alternative is often still slower (which is something public transit advocates often ignore – that public transit should effectively compete with alternatives rather than try to outlaw them) OR people need to use the vehicle during the course of the day.

  2. It’s now been 3 months since RapidRide went 24/7 All Door Boarding, but the off-board ORCA readers still say, “RapidRide Only 6 AM – 7 PM Tap your ORCA card below, then board through any door,” leading the majority of people who board after 7 PM to still believe that can’t tap off-board after that time, and need to line up at the front door and tap on the bus.

    Did Metro hire the company that’s digging the Alaska Way Viaduct tunnel to engrave the new 24/7 All Door Boarding signs? Did the engraving machine get stuck? I think Fast Signs could have done 50 or so little square signs in about 2 days. Once again, if they can’t even get the simple things right, how can they possibly do the big things right?


    1. Honestly this just isn’t a big deal. The effect of a few night riders boarding through the front door is so small that I wouldn’t even worry about it.

      1. It is a big deal. It was a great idea that Metro didn’t follow through on by fully informing their passengers of the policy change. And by doing such poor job of educating the public of this change, it defeats one of the purposes of RapidRide. And the effects add up. 15 people waiting at the front door for 30 seconds at 7:30 to tap-in, times how many RR lines, times how many times per day, etc., etc.

        It’s one thing if they gave an A effort but it didn’t work. They gave a D effort and failed. To me, the fact that they had such horrible followthrough on their idea is a big deal.

    2. The effects go behind that. It just adds to the number of rules and restrictive signs that makes the environment stressful and unfriendly. An ideal transit system would welcome its passengers and make it easy and convenient for them, not make them remember which hours to tap in one place and which in another, or have signs that feel like, “What are you, a criminal, wanting to ride the bus after 7 pm? You need special scrutiny.”

      1. I’m on vacation in San Francisco, and traveled on Muni for the first time. I had this thought: I wonder if it’s OK to board through the back doors with a paper transfer, since I’ve already paid, and there’s no reason for the driver to care? Turns out my mind has been polluted with the Metro way of thinking: if we can make things confusing and inconvenient for riders, let’s do it! Muni, on the other hand, would prefer that you board through the back door and even puts a Clipper card reader back there.

    3. This seems to be a bit of a hobby horse for you, Scam. Are you angling to get Rob Gannon’s job permanently?

  3. Stockholm has long had an excellent public transit system. So more than 20% of car trips are completely by choice. First condition for what eager (they all are!) young man is Ted-talking about.

    More and more, exactly like in this country, since the average Swede could afford to buy a car, many people, many people have them. Whether there’s any room for them or not, as long as they can keep moving at all.

    Remember how much more land the United States has than northwestern Europe itself, let alone any individual country- reason for so little transit here, since end of WWII, when average American could have a car.

    Sweden isn’t the only country where huge numbers of people can now have cars, and like every new romance, love them madly. Down-side, more room for cars and malls. Up-side: a snowballs’ chance in hell of surviving in the modern world.

    Us? An enormous amount of transit-building, real fast. Like freeways used to be, national defense measure. Easier when people and Government start calling it that. Luckily, tunnels and bridges a lot faster to build now.

    First pm rush hour’s worth of transfers between Northgate and EastLINK trains will show us a lot about our own progress toward where we can even think about “Congestion Pricing.” Based on loads since UW (very temporary terminal) Station, I think we’re in good shape.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “Us? An enormous amount of transit-building, real fast.”

      American transit building has gone from low to medium-low. It’s not enormous yet, and it won’t get us to a Scandinavian level of transit in forty years. We need to focus on universal frequent transit in urban areas, getting streetcars and BRT out of shared car lanes, and at least hourly transit in rural areas including weekends. Spokane to Minneapolis may be unusually challenging, but Seattle to Bellingham, Whidbey Island, and the cities down to Portland is comparable to European regions.

      1. Yeah, ex-East Germany after reunification is an enormous amount of transit building real fast.

      2. Mike, you’re right about the lanes, and the streetcars, and the BT. Given the coupled buses and absolute separation from traffic to make it R.

        But most crippling damage the United States has taken in my lifetime owes to the idea that our government at all levels is an incurably incompetent threat to liberty. Justifying, over decades, starving it to death.

        A proven disaster of an ideology, pretty much an exact mirror of the Soviet Union’s , except luckier in our longer distance from Nazi Germany.

        Over about seventy years, we’re taking about the same amount of time Communism took to rust itself to ruins. And for several decades to follow in its wake. For self-same philosophical mistake.

        Democratic (especially in the form of a republic) government is neither a tyrant nor a benefactor. It’s ours, the people’s, own powerful machine for organizing and accomplishing work we need done.

        Requiring that, like any machinists, we be trained and educated accordingly. For us, about a political generation between “can’t” and “won’t”. Depending on our own view of that difference.

        Starting with the understanding that present local laziness and bad organization owe nothing to either Russian history or plate tectonics.

        Personally, every trip along I-5 (I know enough transit and road shortcuts not to be on it) shows me that progression of corridor travel speed from low to zero, from occasionally to frequently to every single day is going to speed up transit building.

        Assisted by limits of current legislators’ lifespans. And likely, from what I’m seeing of people about 25, long enough retirements to ride some trains.


      3. Some milestones along the way:
        – Businessmen who were anti New Deal in the 1930s.
        – The head of GE, who was anti-union and anti-welfare. He was the one who convinced Ronald Reagan to reverse his liberal positions, when Reagan worked for him in TV ads. That led to Reagan bringing these attitudes to the White House, and to the later Republicans consecrating him Saint Ronald.

        “getting streetcars and BRT out of shared car lanes”

        Watch as a streetcar turns magically into light rail by giving it its own lane and underpasses.

  4. Very important clarification, though. Europe will have to face down more cars and malls because, however vehemently people over 40 talk about age-old culture their intractable age-old cultures, there really is no choice about a whole continent of Europeans turning themselves into a truly United States. Not just a currency arrangement.

    Lacking the giant oceans that used to protect the United States from the rest of the world, the most advanced single country of 5 million people couldn’t border-police its own boundaries with its whole population sworn in. With a major war in walking and boating distance.

    Let alone anywhere near pay the taxes for the retirement benefits its older citizens desire and deserve. Even though they’re not inclined for driving or supervising transit good enough to make Congestion Pricing a choice.

    Which luckily, thousands of European born and democratically minded citizens of Turkish and Persian (they don’t say “Iranian”) have done for years. Worked for us. Though in world mentioned above, union with us will have to happen too. For both sane transit and our own survival.


    1. See “The Nordic History of Everything” by Anu Partanen. She’s a Finn who married an American and moved to New York. She discusses the phenomenon that the Nordic countries score highest in the world for quality of life, education, life expectancy, satisfaction with their government and society, etc. She describes the differences between American and Nordic fiscal and social policies from a Finnish perspectives. She says that if you include both public and private spending (taxes, personal, employer, and charity), Nordics and Americans spend the same in total but Nordic outcomes are either twice as good (e.g., education) or cost half as much (healthcare and I assume Internet access). She says that many of the Nordic policies are actually based on American ideas; e.g., education ideas in the 1960s that were not implemented here but were implemented there in the 1990s. There’s a saying now, “If you want to live the American Dream in the 21st century, move to Finland.” She says she’s more optimistic than many Americans are that things will change for the better soon, because of all the little innovations happening in cities and states. And that while it may be difficult to have more positive national policies across such a large and diverse country, the size of individual states is comparable to Nordic countries and they could start there.

      So she is not pessimistic that the Nordic countries will reach a downward spiral where they can’t pay for their social benefits and have to cut them drastically. She sees the programs as like infastructure: it enables people to be independent, not dependent on family members or employers, and promoting a well-educated population which is their main economic resource besides forests and snow.

      As for the EU, that’s complicated. Europe’s future is probably regional groups, whether that means continent-wide or smaller. The Euro is a contradiction: they either need to agree on a common monetary/fiscal system or split the currency. Different countries have different goals for the EU, with some countries wanting to have a small United States of Europe and others wanting merely a large free-trade area. Pursuing both simultaneously ends up bringing in people and countries who may only agree with the looser goal but imposing the tighter goal on them, and they don’t like that; it’s a kind of hoodwinking. The Euro can be seem as one of those steps. I have no idea where “the EU” should go or whether it’s the right-sized unit. But it’s clear that the Nordic countries are doing well together, the central Germanic countries are doing well together, the German-French union might last, and Italy and Spain might stick with a Germanic-French union, and these groups could certainly fit into larger alliances.

      1. In case anyone else has the same trouble I had finding the book: the actual title is “The Nordic Theory of Everything”

  5. I thought I’d share something I overheard the other day. Two men were coming out of the Rainier Club and stepping into the back of a Rolls Royce Phantom, when the man dressed in a black trench coat, black fedora, and wearing a monocle, said, and I quote, “Of course it should have been called Surrey Downs Station, but they f’ed with the wrong transit agency, so we named it East Main.”

    True story!

  6. Glenn, over history, was eastern Germany ever as prosperous as western? Even before Russia historically recently got done with it? For its history’s whole seldom-happy length?

    Our own history is nowhere long enough to know Mississippi’s ranking in our own economy about ten centuries from now. Including in miles of railroads built, let alone either light rail or allegedly rapid rubber tired things.

    Some comparisons with China,for instance, might give us a little more competitive energy.


    1. Before unification, there were a few lines in East Germany still worked by steam locomotives. Today, you can go from Berlin to Leipzig in about an hour on true high speed trains. It’s a pretty huge change (in most sectors of the economy, not just transit) in a fairly short time.

  7. “American transit building has gone from low to medium-low. It’s not enormous yet, and it won’t get us to a Scandinavian level of transit in forty years.”

    That’s a national average of course; Pugetopolis is significantly ahead of that. But how far? I’d hesitate to call our transit commitment “medium”, but on the other hand if all the transit master plans and ST3 are implemented it will definitely be significantly closer, perhaps “medium” or a bit higher. So, Sunday trivia question:

    – What would a Scandinavian transit network in Pugetopolis look like?
    – If we take ST3, Metro’s long-range plan, CT’s long-range plan, Seattle’s and Bellevue’s transit master plans, and fill in similar plans in other areas, and take it out to 2040 with favorable funding, how far will we have gotten? Will it be close to a Scandinavian network?
    – How much is our land use patterns a limitation? How much can we overcome them with transit, assuming the current zoning trends?
    – If Swedes are buying lots of cars, does that mean Sweden will become like Los Angeles, with uniform medium density in cities and parking garages everywhere?
    – Some people say Europeans in general are buying cars as fast as they can. If their cities don’t have parking garages everywhere, where do European drivers park?

  8. Strange thing I saw two days ago late at night at the 6th Avenue exit of SR 16 on Bantz Boulevard: A Metro bus, with a bunch of people on board, was driving there. Anyone know what was going on?

    1. The agencies sometimes borrow each others buses when they’re short, but Metro to PT is unusual. Maybe it was chartered for a special event.

      1. Maybe they wanted to try a bus brand they are considering for their next purchase?

        They can’t do charters any more. CT might be able to. Other than that public agencies running private chargers was ruled illegal some years ago.

    2. Once while deaheading from Federal Way to Metro South Base, I looped around onto SB I5 at S 188th Street to rescue a bus load of passengers on a PT operated 594 which had broken down. I needed the PT supervisor to route me from the Portland Avenue exit to Freighthouse square. Both busses were ST livery but PT has few alternatives when their operating base is so far away.

  9. At the end of World War I, assessing our serious logistics problems in a one-front war, it wasn’t either incompetence or corruption for our military to think about a re-armed Germany, which did happen, joining forces with an upcoming aggressor to the west. Which also happened.

    Good chance it was our luck the Japanese decided to Pearl Harbor instead of California. Where they could have held a beach-head ’til we could get anybody out there. For the counter-attack that would have destroyed California.

    I doubt any of these officers felt bad about being wrong about the danger. Or embarrassed that the National Defense Highway Act got signed in 1956 without it being needed for the war nine years past.

    Because in ’56, we were still thirty years short of safety from a full-scale attack from a lot worse threat than the Axis.

    However justified, every military project in world history has had enough pork in it to feed the army. Which also included civilian business and wages which also made the country stronger. It wasn’t the Civilian Conservation Corps that pulled us out of the Depression. Anymore than we deliberately started THAT war to create jobs.

    Remember also that in 1956, the average American couldn’t imagine that freeways would have any downside at all. Or that our land would ever fill up with parking lots. Trains and streetcars die. The very real pro car conspiracy had very few opponents, but a whole country-full of collaborators.

    What I’m really saying is that rather than place blame, which could be undeserved, best fighting tactic for us is to point out what needs to be changed, and find fastest way. And also create our every plan for fast and easy course changes. Which will always be needed.

    And Poncho, before you say anymore about punishing people into using public transit-guaranteeing their votes against it- be sure that there’ll be transit that won’t lose them the jobs that their cars let them keep.

    Including when they leave the freeways. I feel worse than you about buses stuck in traffic. Looks worst through the left-hand windshield of a bus. I’d also reserve the lane for fewer cars, like none, enforced by effective barriers. And ramps of transit’s own for every stop.

    But leading with proof that transit can deliver will put a lot more passengers on transit, and willing to vote for more, than any amount of “disincentives.” Also get the right-wing stickers off a lot of presently-trapped bumpers. Whose solo drivers don’t see their single-seat ride as luxury.


    1. Don’t want to OT, but

      “Good chance it was our luck the Japanese decided to Pearl Harbor instead of California. Where they could have held a beach-head ’til we could get anybody out there. For the counter-attack that would have destroyed California.”

      Is pretty much impossible. Attacking Pearl Harbor was already stretching the limits of Japanese logistics; any attack on California would quickly run out of supplies and fail.

  10. Thanks, Bob. To tell the truth, I really have gone beyond [OT] to [WOB!] for Way Over Board! on this whole line of argument, and really do apologize to everybody. Trying to broaden and lengthen perspective of these discussions.

    But like the way persuasion by penalty gets my goat, especially for measures like lane reservation, which I really support, I’d better follow my own nasty advice and let perspective lengthen and broaden itself.

    Did read the book “American Road”, by Peter Davies. https://www.amazon.com/American-Road-Story-Transcontinental-Journey/dp/0805072977, that shows that interstate road conditions did worry the Army about possible two-front war, given railroads’ performance in WWI.

    It’s (shamefully) historically accurate that west coast residents were so scared of Japan’s potential that they induced both Governor, and later Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, and President Franklin Roosevelt to incarcerate thousands of American citizens.

    Confirming my belief that only thing more dangerous to American freedom than a right wing extremist is an office-holding liberal who’s scared of one. Anyhow, does WordPress have a red pencil feature? If not- Mike, Poncho, and everybody else, demand I cite my every source. Transit, Truth and History herself will thank you.


  11. Anyone know how reliable the 10 AM Bolt Bus up to Bellingham is on Saturdays? It’s scheduled to arrive at 12, which gives an hour leeway before my 1:00 appointment (just a little ways away from the stop.)

    1. No idea, but if no one else answers here, try asking the Lonely Planet forum- plenty of backpackers will know how reliable the various bus companies are.

    2. The times that I have taken BoltBus, they have arrived early. They seem to provide a fair amount of makeup time in their schedules.

      However, I’ve not taken that segment.

    3. Since it can run i the HOV lanes north of Northgate it ought to be pretty reliable. There isn’t THAT much traffic on I-5 at 10:00 AM on Saturday.

    4. Taken the Bolt quite a bit – never had it arrive more than 15 minutes late, and there was an accident that day. Most times it arrives early (they schedule in time for their drivers to take a break).

  12. The bus lane just went in on Pine Street in front of Nordstrom, Pacific Place and all up by Paramount. Of course motorists will ignore it like the rest and the right turns will cancel most of the benefits of this lane but every bit of bus lane helps especially on this major bus corridor.

Comments are closed.