ST Express bus enters the ETL lane at Bellevue (Image by author)

WSDOT’s express toll lanes on I-405 opened in September 2015. Having recently passed the two-year mark, the Legislature may consider next year whether they should continue. At stake is not only the improved efficiencies of the managed lanes. As Peter Rogoff highlighted last week, an end to tolling would force a rethink of the Sound Transit BRT program that only makes sense if buses can move reliably in well-managed lanes. The loss of tolling revenues would also defer highway investments benefiting drivers.

By many measures, the lanes have been a success. At peak, each express lane carries more vehicles than each general-purpose lane. In some places, vehicle throughput in the tolled lanes is up to 30% greater than the regular lanes. Overall, the busiest parts of the corridor are now transporting 20% more vehicles, or 30% more people, than before. Pricing allows more people to travel with greater reliability and higher speeds than the congested GP lanes.

The lanes have been popular with drivers from the beginning. Politically, they were less favored at first. Improved operations, a strategic retreat on night and weekend tolling, and toll-funded investments at the north end, have made the lanes more popular.

Transit Performance: The lanes also deliver faster and more reliable transit performance. Metro travel times on I-405 have improved 15-29% in the PM peak, and 3-7% in AM peak. Community Transit times have improved 7% northbound, and are more reliable in both directions. In 2015, Community Transit added $2.6m in schedule maintenance costs on I-5 (added service hours so buses could arrive at their scheduled times). Community Transit has not needed to make similar investments in the more reliable I-405 corridor. The variability of travel times on I-5 remains twice that of I-405.

Sound Transit reports a +1% improvement in performance on I-405 routes, vs. a 6% deterioration on other routes in the same time. Ridership has increased 4%.

Vehicle Performance: Average vehicle speeds have increased 6-7mph in all the northbound general-purpose lanes and in the northbound general-purpose lanes between Bellevue and Bothell. Between Lynnwood and Bothell, southbound peak speeds are the same as before the ETL opened.

This WSDOT slide demonstrates the far greater efficiency of vehicle movement with ETL lanes vs comparable areas on I-5. Two ETL lanes on I-405 move three times as many vehicles as a HOV-2 lane on I-5.

Highway Investments: In April, WSDOT opened a peak shoulder lane northbound between SR 527 and I-5. It was an inexpensive project, just $11 million, relieving a chokepoint and significantly reducing congestion. Throughput improved 15% to 5,200 vehicles per peak hour, with improved speeds and reliability across all lanes. Toll rates fell, with far fewer drivers paying the highest tolls.

The peak shoulder lane was funded from toll revenues. With gas tax revenues fully committed until 2030, toll revenues become critical to funding more improvements in the corridor. WSDOT projects a cumulative $1 billion of toll revenues on I-405 by 2040 that must be invested back into the corridor.

Earlier this year, the Legislature authorized $5 million toward preliminary engineering for improvements on the north end of I-405. Adding an express lane in each direction north of Bothell, and partially rebuilding the interchange with SR 522, would cost about $450 million. With pay-as-you-go toll revenues alone, the added southbound lanes could open in 2027, and northbound in 2033. Both could open as early as 2024 with bonding or other revenue sources (a small gas tax increase may be considered by the Legislature in 2018).

What will the Legislature do?: The enabling legislation specifies the lanes must cover operating costs and operate at least 45 mph speed at least 90% of peak hours. The former requirement has been easily met. Over the first 21 months of operation, tolls yielded $38.6 million in revenue with operational costs of just $13.6 million.

The speed requirements is fulfilled in the 2-ETL lane sections and in the northbound 1-ETL section. All exceed 45 mph about 95% of peak hours. The southbound single-lane section, where AM peak demand exceeds the capacity of one ETL lane at $10, only exceeds 45% about 63% of the time. That pulls the average down to 85%, narrowly missing the Legislature’s target, but much better than the 56% performance in the HOV-2 lanes before tolling.

Some lawmakers have made noises about ending express lane operations, a few even demanding that they be removed as soon as practicable. More seem content to defer the discussion to the next legislative session.

ST3 and I-405 BRT: The ST3 program commits $869 million to BRT services on I-405 between Lynnwood and Burien. The Board could spend more if WSDOT makes complementary investments. For instance, when WSDOT adds express lanes at the north end, Sound Transit could fund inline stations or direct access ramps. But as Sound Transit also warned in 2016, effective operation of BRT relies on WSDOT to maintain adequate speed and reliability of the I-405 express toll lane system.

Last week at a meeting of the I-405 Executive Advisory Group, Peter Rogoff spelled out the implications for I-405 BRT if the Legislature were to end the express lanes:

The question arises: if we do away with the potential to have high-capacity transit on 405, is Sound Transit even authorized to build the BRT project? I’m not authorized to just throw more express bus service on the street. I’m charged by law with providing high-capacity transit, transit that will move. And I think that needs to be a serious consideration as to any revisiting of the managed lane regime on 405. Because we would have to have a very rich conversation among our board members … [] We’re not talking small amounts of money, we’re talking north of 800 million dollars … [] We are working to make this happen by 2024. But if the traffic’s not going to move, there will be no rapid in bus rapid transit, there will be no high in high capacity transit, and we would have to completely rethink the investment as a Board. So I hope to be able to communicate that to those that want to revisit the regime at this point because frankly our whole plans for the I-405 BRT are premised on the facts that the lane has got to move.

It’s not just transit users who would regret if express lanes were converted to HOV-2. WSDOT modeling suggests a steep deterioration in traffic conditions across all lanes in the corridor, with extended ramp queues onto I-5. The revenue sources for corridor improvements would be removed, as travel demand from fast-growing South Snohomish County continues to grow.

57 Replies to “I-405 express lanes successful, necessary for I-405 BRT”

  1. Several comments on this. I believe that essentially ALL of the transit-related benefits would have occurred had the existing HOV lanes simply been changed from HOV-2 to HOV-3. The problem was that the HOV lanes were jammed up. Adding tolling to these lanes was a separate issue, and in generally there was not much in the way of capacity increase, and in fact the performance of the highway suffered as a lot of merge lanes were eliminated.

    I’m not sure that the whole toll experiment provided a lot of benefit vs. just going to HOV-3. If it results in the legislature opening the lanes to general traffic it will turn into a transit disaster. I hope that an HOV-3 lane would be retained but that is not necessarily clear.

    The southern portion of I-405 HOV lane should be turned into HOV-3, also. I expect that WS-DOT isn’t doing that solely so that they can use it as justification for building HOT lanes there.

    Another comment is that the project built ZERO transit-specific improvements. The ramps at NE 6th St in Bellevue and NE 128th St in Kirkland were funded by Sound Transit taxes. And there are no other ramps that are useful for transit. The placement of the lanes make it difficult for transit to serve stops, there are not ramps at the 520 interchange, etc.

    It is at best a mixed bag.

    1. As for the hov-3: without enforcement they don’t work. I see SOVs all the time on 520 in hov-3.

      1. I see SOVs all the time on 520 in hov-3.

        But no so many that they cause a lot of congestion. 520 HOV lanes still run way better than just about any HOV 2 lane.

      2. HOV enforcement on I90 and 520 would be lovely.

        It seems that its a low priority – since WSDOT would lose the justification for expanding toll lanes.

        The most immediately useful action for 520 would be for the previously promised HOV lane move from rightmost lane to leftmost lane between overlake and 108th ave.
        When WSDOT broke that commitment, it guaranteed slow peak hour commutes for buses across 520.

      3. FWIW, the I90 HOVs lanes seems to be legit HOVs ~90% of the time, and they definitely flow better than the SOV lanes during all but the peak of peak.

      4. Enforcement can be a problem in an HOT lane too. If you put the switchable transponder in the HOV mode, then no toll is charged.

      5. It seems that its a low priority – since WSDOT would lose the justification for expanding toll lanes.”

        So the DOT did a hostile takeover of WSP? Who knew?

        If there’s a “bad guy” here, it’s the State Legislature, who actually controls WSP. Sure, the Governor appoints the Chief and some assistants, but it’s the Legislature who directs the agency by its funding. So if there’s no enforcement of HOV, it’s because the legislature wants that.

        And it does, because freedumb.

    2. “I believe that essentially ALL of the transit-related benefits would have occurred had the existing HOV lanes simply been changed from HOV-2 to HOV-3.” – that may be so, but then you have a project that only benefits transit without helping other drivers, who are still the primary users of the 405. The advantage of tolling is that WSDOT is able to deliver transit improvements while also helping out SOV drivers, with 1) better flexibility, and 2) additional funds for further improvements. This project isn’t a transit project, it’s a freeway project that, among other things, delivers transit benefits.

      “I expect that WS-DOT isn’t doing that solely so that they can use it as justification for building HOT lanes there.” – the southern half of 405 will become HOT as part of the project that will add an additional lane each way to 405 between Bellevue and Renton (167-ish). The HOT lanes don’t need to be “justified” – they are already planned & funded.

      “there are not ramps at the 520 interchange, etc. ” – the 405 long term plan includes direct access ramps at the SR167, I90, and SR520 interchanges. Only the SR167 is funded (it’s under construction). The other two are ~$0.5B projects, each. WSDT will need the toll revenues to get anywhere close to delivering those direct access ramps in the next few decades. Also, the ST3 Kirkland-Issaquah line is designed to deliver the same transit benefits as those direct access ramps – so once that rail line opens, there ceases to be a compelling transit argument for direct access ramps (though there may still be good HOV/SOVs reasons to rebuild those interchanges).

    3. “I believe that essentially ALL of the transit-related benefits would have occurred had the existing HOV lanes simply been changed from HOV-2 to HOV-3.”

      I disagree. One of the issues with the old lanes is that one the few occasions when the old HOV lane was clear and traffic was moving very slowly in the GP lanes, buses had to limit their speed to 30mph or so. Better than the GP lane, but still slow. You can’t stop a bus quickly when some moron decides to jump from the GP lanes to the HOV lane.

      By having two HOT lanes, you give buses some buffer room and you stop (most) people from switching lanes when no one expects it. There’s a reason 405 buses use the left lane despite the fact that technically they should probably be using the right HOT lane.

      “Also, the ST3 Kirkland-Issaquah line is designed to deliver the same transit benefits as those direct access ramps”

      How? That line only helps for the 90 interchange. 405 buses from the north heading to Seattle will still need a 405-520 interchange. Some traffic will get diverted through Bellevue, but realistically going to UW or downtown will be faster over the 520 than using East Link.

      1. We really need to put a Sand Point light rail bridge in ST4 along with Ballard to UW light rail, and we should have built a Montlake station for U Link to take riders from 520…

      2. “but realistically going to UW or downtown will be faster over the 520 than using East Link.” – I disagree. And even if it is faster, it doesn’t make sense operationally to provide duplicative service.

        If you live in Snohomish and you are going to Seattle, you’ll have 522 BRT as your primary option. Transit that runs on north 405 will be overwhelmingly for Snohomish – East King trip pairs. Once ST3 is up & running, the only buses running on 520 should be for Kirkland-UW and Redmond-UW trips, neither of which should use 405. I would expect both CT and Metro to get completely out of running buses along 405, instead truncating lines and forcing transfers on to 405 BRT, the same as will be done along the Link “spine” instead of continuing to run buses on I5.

        For example, Totem Lake will have a 2-seat ride to Seattle where both lines are HCT. Why would metro or Sound Transit run yet another bus to make that a 1-seat ride?

      3. The specific area I’m looking at is north Kirkland, southern Bothell, and Woodinville. The areas is served by the 252, 257, 277, and 311 all going to Seattle. Most of those buses are typically standing room only. Except for the 252, they all have the “tail” that was talked about for 405 BRT but not done – they serve both the big stops (Totem Lake and Brickyard) but also spend a bunch of time on the local areas.

        Yes, you could convert all those routes to locals feeding into 405 BRT. But my guess is that none of those local routes will get much ridership because doing a longer and slower 3 seat ride is going to be much less attractive than a 1 seat ride.

        PS. Changing my name to David L since there’s another David on this post with a substantially different view.

      4. David L. Yes, and that area is getting denser, at least along the freeway and major arterials. If there were a decent transfer at HSS and we could be certain that Link will have the capacity once it’s extended, it would make sense to truncate the peak-hour expresses there. But forcing people to take the “long way round Robin Hood’s barn” across I-90 AND change at Bellevue will kill ridership for sure.

        Now those peak expresses might very well command a premium fare, because they’re a premium service. But they do need to be run; there’s no easy way from North Kirkland to Seattle except via SR 520.

      5. Yes, I’d expect the 252, 257, 277, and 311 to all go away, at least outside of peak. It simply doesn’t make sense to run those buses into downtown Seattle when there are better ways to move people in & out of Seattle and across Lake Washington. The only reason I could see some routes to stick around is to assist with capacity during peak.

        Giving up 1-seat rides for slower but more frequent & longer span of service multi-seat rides is a common trade-off that is being built into our system by design. Instead of a bunch of 1-seat rides served by Metro that sit in traffic, we are investing in major HCT corridors that (in theory) will run free of traffic. If you don’t live along one of those HCT lines, you’ll need a local transfer to get to most major destinations. It’s a bummer for someone who lives in, say, Finn Hill or Woodinville, but those sort of low density neighborhoods are a secondary market by design.

        For the same reasons that CT will cease running buses into downtown Seattle once Lynwood Link opens, I expect Metro will stop all of these routes you mention once 405 BRT is open, if not earlier when East Link opens.

      6. 252/257/277/311 are already all peak-only routes. I agree for all-day service there is no need to duplicate service. I can see dropping, say, the 252 which only goes to Kingsgate P&R. But the remaining ones are going to be hard to replicate while keeping ridership if you switch to local buses with multiple transfers to Seattle.

      7. I think the most sensible thing to do is for the 252/257/277/311 to continue running, but drop people off at the UW Station at not go downtown – with the train running every 3 minutes peak hours, and the Montlake HOV exit ramp completed, the transfer to the train should be more than sufficient.

        Off-peak, if there’s not enough demand to justify running the direct bus, they’ll just have to suck it up and either take the long way around to I-90, endure the slow meandering of the 255’s Grand Tour of Kirkland, transfer to a 520 bus in Bellevue with a big detour, or drive to a P&R with more direct service (perhaps Bothell or South Kirkland). That’s the price they have to pay for living in Sprawlville. Which option makes the most sense ultimately depends on exactly where they live, where they’re trying to go, and what the traffic is like.

      8. Unless they’re going to U district, is taking East Link really that much of a burden to go the “long away around”? The ridership for these routes is overwhelming downtown bound, right? The bus -train transfer will be much, much easier in Bellevue than it will be in Montlake, even with the Montlake lid. If the bus is already on 405 and the goal is to get people to downtown Seattle, it seems much easier to get them to Bellevue to transfer to link rather than dealing with the 520 interchange before getting to Link. Serving Bellevue vs. serving UW is a wash as a secondary location, and the time to downtown Seattle should be comparable, right?

      9. On East Link, it’ll be 19 minutes from Downtown Bellevue to ID/Chinatown, plus 3-4 minutes average wait time, plus about 4 minutes bus travel time from the 520/405 interchange to Bellevue TC. (I’m ignoring the transfer since we don’t know what it’ll be like.) That’s 26 minutes in all.

        In comparison, it takes 7 minutes U-Link from UW Station to Westlake, plus 2 minutes average wait time, plus 9 minutes across 520 and the Montlake Bridge in free-flowing traffic. That’s 18 minutes in all.

        I’m ignoring transfer time both places, and measuring both to the closest end of downtown. In all, it depends on whether you think traffic on 520, plus the worse transfer at UW Station, will eat up eight minutes – and I don’t know; I haven’t gone from 520 to 405 in the AM rush.

      10. There is enough time savings going to the U-district to justify running a peak-hour bus down 520. Especially since it’s not really just the U-district, but (with transfers), most of north Seattle.

        Downtown, it depends on a number of assumptions, such as where in downtown you’re headed, what traffic is like on 520 vs. 405, etc., although I’m still somewhat skeptical about the Bellevue option because of the extra distance, extra stops, and sharp turns. At the end of the day, though, cutting the U-district bus wouldn’t really save any money because you’d need to add an additional Bellevue bus to maintain the capacity, so I’d rather give people the option to choose and keep both routes running.

      11. Honestly, I’m guessing whether buses go to Bellevue or Seattle doesn’t matter too much. I’d argue for Seattle, so that people can choose where they’re going and transfer appropriately, but both are options. The bigger issue is on the more suburban side – having the diverse tails does bring in ridership. 1/3 to 1/2 of the 311 ridership is Woodinville and probably 1/2 the 257 ridership is not at the Kingsgate P&R.

        If you really wanted to make things simple, instead of making an HOT-HOV direct ramp, add a 405-520 interchange bus station and run all buses to Bellevue. Then people can choose to switch at 520 or in Bellevue depending on their needs.

        BTW, I wouldn’t call the Totem Lake/Brickyard/Woodinville area “sprawlville” Especially the area around the 405 is densifying slowly and is not substantially less dense than some parts of Seattle. Another 10-20 years and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was much denser.

      12. Once ST3 is up & running, the only buses running on 520 should be for Kirkland-UW and Redmond-UW trips, neither of which should use 405.

        Huh? You mean folks from Totem Lake should just slog through the rest of Kirkland before getting on 520? That is an extremely slow way to get there. I know it is common, but that is a weakness in our system, and likely to go away as Totem Lake gets rebuilt (and they add a lot of apartments there).

        I guess another option is to go via Bellevue, but as mentioned, it takes a lot longer to go that way. Of course it depends on where you are going, but nowhere in Seattle is it faster. To get to IDS takes five minutes longer via Bellevue. To get to Westlake takes over ten minutes. This means South Lake Union, Belltown and the Denny Triangle all take an extra ten minutes via Bellevue. It is even worse for Capitol Hill and the UW. Instead of a one stop ride to the UW, you spend and twenty minutes going around. The same is true if someone wanted to get to Northgate.

        The ridership for these routes is overwhelming downtown bound, right?

        Yes, but mainly because it is the only available option. Bus service is simply not that good from the UW to places like Totem Lake, which means people drive. Ridership is way higher to the stops that are much faster via 520. None of the stops south of Westlake are over 6,000, while both of the stops north of there are. Westlake itself is 11,500, which is more than Pioneer Square and I. D. combined.

        It you are going to truncate, you want to add some value at the same time, while hopefully not costing your riders much time in the process. Truncating at the UW does that. You not only save service hours, but you provide much better service to a very popular area.

        Along with that, we need to mitigate the problem areas. This includes getting to the station itself, of course, but also the 520 to 405 interchange.

    4. “I believe that essentially ALL of the transit-related benefits would have occurred had the existing HOV lanes simply been changed from HOV-2 to HOV-3.”

      Technically yes but politically no. The net result would be no tolls but no HOV-3 either. The same people who object to tolls also object to HOV-3 because they can’t drive in it. We’re building light rail to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and West Seattle partly because it’s easier to get that approved than to get HOV-3 lanes on I-5 and the West Seattle bridge. The appalling state of Snohomish County and Lake City buses on I-5 was not enough to move WSDOT, Not to mention the Northgate and former U-District buses that had to use the regular lanes when the express lanes are going the wrong direction. That’s what 405 would be like if we remove tolls and the HOV status.

    5. They act like all these speed increases are because of toll lanes. Prior to the toll lanes it was a 3 lane highway. Now it is at least a 4 and sometimes a 5 line highway. The reason commutes are better is because they added two lanes, not the tolls. If they made them regular hov-2 lanes it would be even faster. As someone who frequents this commute, but lacks the resources to constantly pay tolls, this has actually been detrimental. Hardly anyone uses the toll lanes, and this congesta regular lanes even more. Supporting the toll lanes is an utter joke and an insult to people who drive on this route every day.

      1. Of course traffic got better because of more lanes. But if they added only regular lanes, it would not be as good. Look at the numbers — the HOV lanes take way more *people* per lane than the regular ones. Oh, and these numbers don’t include the buses! By adding HOT lanes, you simply move way more people.

        Everyone has a choice when it comes to driving alone, carpooling, or taking the bus. I don’t blame you (or anyone else) for driving alone. I’m sure part of the calculation has to be whether you actually save time by carpooling or riding the bus. In your case, it may be that no matter what they do, it will always be faster to drive. But for a lot of people, it is a simple trade-off. Specifically, does the faster speed of the bus (on the freeway) make up for the inconvenience of the bus? If the bus is stuck in traffic, then it is always faster to drive, and way more people do. That creates a vicious circle, where way more people drive, and traffic (for those who feel they have to drive) becomes much worse.

  2. The WSDOT report is a total hoax full of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt)
    The comparison to I-5 is totally invalid and WSDOT knows it.
    1. The volumes of traffic are not the same
    2. The HOV lane on I-5 still has the problem of friction because they did not build it to FHWA standards that require a 4′ separation from the GP lanes
    3. I-405 has added direct access ramps and limited entry/exit points.
    4. The 3 lane section is heavily congested limiting the flow into the 5 lane section.

    Comparing to before the tolls is totally invalid. The lanes are faster because they added capacity at the same time.
    The survey they conducted asking if people like the tolls is invalid because they only asked people who have a GoodToGo Pass and left out the other 80% of drivers who never use the tolls.

    They ignored the increase in diversion traffic.
    They ignored the increase in collisions.
    They ignored the fact that carpooling has been decimated, increasing the solo drivers on the road.
    They ignored the negative impact to trucking.
    They ignored the fact that Snohomish County is paying almost all of the toll revenue with $10 tolls and suffering with 3 lanes while Kirkland enjoys the $0.75 tolls and 5 lanes.
    They ignored the fact that the lanes were paid for by everyone using our gas tax money, but then charge to use the lanes.

    In their report they even tried to compare to a 20 lane highway built somewhere else in the world and use that to say our 3 lane rural highway will never meet the need.
    No WSDOT, that is just spreading more FUD trying to get us to believe a 3 lane rural highway is OK in a metropolitan area.

    Criminal. But WSDOT is just trying to save face that it doesn’t work.

  3. Ah yes, and thanks for pointing out Peter Rogoff’s threat to even further deny us bus service after taking all the money from ST3 and spending it on trains in Seattle. As few as 2 buses / hour were seen between 7:30am and 8:30am passing the Beardslee overpass. How’s that for giving us choices? NOT.

    1. Actually, thanks to subarea equity, money from each subarea gets spent in that area or projects that benefit that area a lot. So North King money gets spent in North King, South King money gets spent in South King, East King money gets spent in East King, Snohomish money gets spent in Snohomish, and Pierce money gets spent in Pierce. The bulk of North King’s money is being spent in Seattle because that’s where the bulk of the current transit need is there right now. And not all of North King’s money is being spent in Seattle- there’s 522 BRT, for example. And the bulk of North King’s money actually comes from Seattle.

    2. Dude, he’s not “denying [you] bus service.” He’s reminding the legislature that it restricted Sound Transit to building and operating “high capacity transit” in the Puget Sound region. There’s the caveat that it can provide “Express POBS” until a transitway is constructed, but it can’t run POBS on an ongoing basis. That’s the responsibility of the local transit agencies.

      Soooooo, if there’s no transitway, there will be no ST-operated BRT in the I-405 corridor. I’m sure he’s grinning inwardly when he says those things, because he’s got the BloviatingElephants® of the State Senate over a barrel when he does. But still, it’s not a threat he genuinely wants to fulfill.

      1. I hereby forswear every using my copyrighted term “BloviatingElephants” again. Henceforth it shall be “BloviatingPachyderms”® It has a more elevated sound, don’t you agree, dear reader?

    3. In the Deepest, Darkest wilderness of northeast King County an explorer walks out on a bridge, extends his hand and says, “Mr. Hablewitz, I presume.”

  4. How about drivers get end of tolls and we get fully-reserved – ramps and barriers- transit only. In the Art-World of the Deal, isn’t that a Mona Lisa? Or Sistine Chapel, whichever is bigger.

    Mark Dublin

  5. Regarding some “improvements” cited, on environmental grounds I can’t consider an increase in vehicle throughput/capacity an improvement ever.

    1. I can’t consider an increase in vehicle throughput/capacity an improvement ever.”

      That’s pretty unrealistic. If you are talking about I-405, here in the hydropowered northwest and the cars were all electric, the only objection you could have would be that they create sprawl. That’s a valid environmental objection but is impossible to eliminate.

      1. 0. Damn right it’s a vaild environmental objection. Maybe it can’t be eliminated completely (even with a strong growth boundary preventing outright sprawl, a lot of auto-oriented development within existing growth envelopes can be characterized as “infill sprawl”, but that’s hard to even define precisely, let alone prevent). But that doesn’t mean it has to be encouraged through increased vehicle capacity!

        1. Cars aren’t all electric, not even close, and considering the lifespan of vehicles these days it’s silly to expect they will be any time soon. More cars means more pollution, and will mean that for years to come.

        2. All those cars don’t magically appear on the freeway and magically disappear from it, they use surface streets for the last mile. More cars on the freeway means more cars on the surface streets. This actively degrades pedestrian, biking, and local transit conditions and creates pressure to expand vehicle capacity on these streets, degrading conditions further. In fact, this is one of the defining challenges of 405 BRT: it must drop off passengers in the shadow of the freeway, which messes up walksheds… but then also typically along roads leading to and from interchanges, which mess up walksheds further. An example of the overall dynamic exists at 520 near UW: the freeway is built, it adds traffic to local streets, the streets are reconfigured to better serve as freeway feeders, interchange congestion grows; now the interchange is being expanded, along with the freeway below it and the “mouth” where it interacts with the local street above; and there’s talk of building an expanded Montlake Bridge at some point. Freeway expansion pushes its way into an endless cycle of road expansion, taking up more and more space to move people by private cars, the most ineffecient way possible.

        3. What about all that additional salmon-killing runoff from stuff like tires and brake pads? BTW, that stuff also contributes significantly to particulate pollution near freeways, which is not great for human health.

        4. Freeways and major surface roads are expensive to maintain, and we’re doing a pretty bad job of maintaining the stuff we already have. Further expansion is financially irresponsible. Putting our infrastructure and planning resources toward accommodating more routine freeway trips undermines efforts to encourage more efficient means of routine travel.

      2. Well, Al, welcome to the political woods, then. The autoistas vastly outnumber pro-transit folks, and if you press too hard the reactionaries will win and screw everything else so good about the Northwest up too.

        Look at all the damage they’ve done to schools and other government activities with a freaking one-vote margin in the State Senate.

      3. Politics is, as they say, the art of the possible. When it comes to evaluation of those possible and done things, I just can’t call more VMT an improvement. If people that believe that don’t say it we’ll never be accounted for in the politics.

    2. Keep in mind, the buses run on those lanes, too. It really is kind of crazy that the WSDOT report doesn’t include the people on a bus, which would greatly improve the number of people per vehicle ratio.

      Also keep in mind that there are plenty of vehicles that pretty much have to operate on the road. They carry equipment or supplies that a city uses. Other than Venice, I can’t think of any city that doesn’t primarily use roads for local goods. Of course a lot of them use rail, but not to reach the corner cafe.

      Also keep in mind that less vehicles per hour does not mean less vehicles. There are always other ways to get there. You would be surprised how many people get off the freeway when it is moving slowly and try their luck on the surface streets. It hardly ever makes sense — and it likely uses more gasoline — but it is common nonetheless.

      Yes, in an ideal world we would have lots more people moving and a lot less vehicles. But given the choice, I would rather have the vehicles — especially the ones in HOT lanes — moving much faster.

    1. And then get laughed at by actual decision makers. I guess it helps to start negotiations with a bit of levity.

  6. Lawmakers need to hear the cautionary tale of LA’s El Monte/I-10 HOV2+ trial in the 1990’s. It was a political nightmare.

    When the lanes were HOV3+, Foothill Transit buses reliably zoomed to and from Downtown LA. When they tried HOV2+, the HOV lane travel time gre to rival the other lanes. Thus no SOV or HOV2 people perceived a benefit, and the HOV3+ and Foothill Transit people perceived a huge loss in speed and reliability. It was a major political failure!

    There are some case studies published about it, but they don’t do justice to the political debacle.

      1. What HOT 3+ at peak means is that those are the only ones who don’t have to pay a toll. Anyone can drive in the HOT lane if they pay. WS-DOT wants more revenue, and the former HOV lanes proved that they’d be gummed up if 2-person vehicles got them for free. As it is they are already gummed up between Bothell and Lynnwood.

        SR-520 is only 3+ west of I-405 it is 2+ to the east, and frankly WS-DOT has made at best a half-hearted effort to provide them at all (the westbound HOV lane from 148th to I-405 is useless during the peak because of the congestion at the I-405 interchange, it needs to be at the center where it was designed to work. So it’s kind of moot.)

      2. 520 has been HOV3+ for decades because the crowding was so severe and the right of way too narrow to do anything else so they made the exit lane into an HOV+exit lane. That’s the only place that has gotten HOV3+ that I’ve seen, even as traffic jams became every day on I-5 and 405.

      3. What Mike said. In general, when it comes to HOV lanes, there is great inertia. If it used to be HOV-2, then it remains HOV-2. If it used to be HOV-3, then it remains HOV-3. Occasionally there are new bus lanes added (Aurora bridge has them, as does the West Seattle bridge) but it is rare, if not unheard of around these parts to see an HOV 2 switch to HOV 3 (or vice versa).

  7. There should be a huge distinction between express buses and BRT. I get concerned about blurring these lines on I-405.

    To put it bluntly, it takes at least 3/4 of a mile of exclusive bus lanes for buses to use median HOV lanes safely and have places to pull off and on. If BRT station spacing is less than two miles, the buses will be spending at least 38% of the distance in exclusive lanes anyway. At what point do we quit fooling ourselves about these lanes and design a separate busway next to the freeway instead? Median stations are horrible environments to wait anyway.

    If the 405 strategy is to facilitate express buses, design and operate for express bus use — but please don’t get it too blurred with BRT or the hybrid will frustrate all the users!

    1. I think the difference here between ST Express and BRT is frequency and span of service. Similar to Rapid Ride and SWIFT, with BRT you can expect 1) bus will arrive within 10 minutes at peak and 15 minutes all other times, and 2) buses will run all day & late into the night.

      Will also include other bells and whistles like off board payment & all door boarding. In other words, ST Express : Regular Metro :: ST BRT : RR+

      1. ST hasn’t said anything about how frequently the “BRT” bus will run outside of rush, or even whether it would run at all. The only thing they’ve promised is 10-minute headways during peak.

        That said, I think it is reasonable to assume that all-day service along the I-405 corridor won’t drop below the level we have today on the 535 and 560, which means at least a bus every half hour midday weekdays and a bus every hour weekends (with the north section not running on Sundays). I am cautiously optimistic that ST3 will provide enough money to do at least a little bit better than this. My best guess at this point is 10-minute service rush hour, 15-minute service 9 AM-3 PM Monday-Friday, and 30-minute service after 7 PM weekdays and all-day weekends (with restored Sunday service along the north section). A huge improvement over today, but still a long enough wait on evenings/weekends for one to contemplate ordering an Uber instead.

        Also worth nothing that, even off-peak, the ETL lanes do matter, as the 405 GP lanes can back up at any hour of the day, given a provocation, and a bus that’s running all the way from Lynnwood to Renton is going to need all the help it can in order to provide any semblance of reliable wait times for people getting on in Bellevue.

  8. The HOT v. HOV problem would go away if all lanes of the limited access highway network were variably tolled. SR-520 works well. The issue of diversion would be eliminated by making it network wide. all modes would flow better. The revenue could go into maintenance. The rates could be set to achieve 45 mph flow. Discounted rates could be provided to poor households.

  9. My wife and I make a very good living but neither of us can afford the rich Lanes they are exclusively for people that must make over $150,000 a year or they are blue collar workers that have the tolls paid by their company I have lived here 62 years and you would think all these johnny-come-lately- lees could take that into consideration how they messed up are nice quiet lives so they could live in their track mansions and have a pleasant commute to their high-tech offices. What about my needs who cares a damn about me

    1. The toll money goes straight back into highway spending, so this is basically a way for better off people to pay for more highway spending for you.

    2. It was planned 16 years ago to build 4 general purpose lanes.

      The only question after the EIS was completed was –

      “How are we going to pay for it?”

      The legislature didn’t have the balls to tell people that the (YOE) price tag of $8+ Billion would require a substantial increase in the gas tax, plus some sort of tolling.

      They sat on their thumbs for 14 years.

      In the meantime, the HOV lane performance continued to deteriorate until there was hardly any difference in speeds, and in fact, from Totem Lake to Bellevue (my former stomping grounds), there wasn’t.

      If those 4 GP lanes were built back in the aught’s as the plan was assuming, do you know how long the relief would have lasted?


      We’d be back to the same crappy commute.

      Plus, there is no such thing as a 2.5 person carpool, so in order to bring the performance level back up, the jump to 3+ carpool was necessary.

      At least the HOT lanes allow some relief to the GP lanes, plus they generate money to allow some improvements to be made, such as the Bothell to Lynnwood hardened shoulder.

      And to top it all off, now that the legislature, without public input, i.e. a VOTE, the gas tax has increased for everyone to help pay for it.
      Including mine, and I don’t live in the I-405 Corridor any more.

      I’m being taxed extra to insure the unfettered commute for people in the I-405 Corridor.

      What about my needs who cares a damn about me – indeed.

  10. I think that for at least thirty years, long discussions of passenger minimums between two and three in lanes, and motorcycles shared with express buses have been getting ever farther out of date by the day.

    Any vehicles that aren’t buses render a lane General Purpose for its entire length. So let’s start the discussion there. Personally, would be willing to give GP traffic an extra lane each direction in return for lane each way for buses only, including ramps on and off.

    Win-win squared for motorists.None of those confiscatory tolls. And buses clearly out of their way. Whose visible speed provides constant visual evidence of which form of transit is fastest, theirs to ride by leaving the car parked in transit-center structures by the ramps, or in their own garages.

    Transparency And Choice. Yeah, applies to a wide choice of transparent things. But would be great to poll voters leaving the polls about their idea of the actual ideals, programs, or objects they think they just voted for.


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