Typical morning traffic on I-5 approaching Mercer Street

Earlier today, Mayor Durkan announced a pair of initiatives that aim to reduce car traffic through downtown in the coming years.

A $30 million package of near-term mobility projects will come online through the end of 2021.  This period is called the period of “maximum constraint” caused by the Convention Center’s takeover of Convention Place Station and other downtown megaprojects. Simultaneously, the mayor announced ($) that the city would investigate a congestion charge and hopes to have it in place before the end of her first term in 2021.

Both projects are connected, with a stated goal of reducing 4,000 SOV trips in downtown during peak hours by 2019. It remains to be seen if the two would complement each other, or become yet another addition to the transportation puzzle that already has missing pieces (namely the now-frozen Center City Connector).

The full slate of One Center City projects (click to enlarge)

The $30 million One Center City package, developed jointly by the City of Seattle, Metro, Sound Transit, and the Downtown Seattle Association, would target modest improvements for buses and bikes along north-south streets in downtown. Chief among the transit improvements is the implementation of all-door boarding on 3rd Avenue by March 2019, but no word on whether the most important busway in the Puget Sound region will be exclusive to buses.

The existing pair of peak-only bus lanes on 2nd and 4th avenues would receive no improvements beyond signal re-timing that is already underway; for the thousands of suburban riders who will continue to use these stops until 2024 (or later, pending federal funding), agencies claim a 10-15% improvement in northbound bus service on 4th. Some routes will be moved to a new transit pathway on 5th and 6th avenues in September 2019, as part of the bus tunnel mitigation, but existing (and congested) pathways on Olive and Howell will remain unchanged. Enhanced bus stops will come to UW Station and International District/Chinatown Stations as part of the Eastside restructures along SR 520 and I-90 sometime in 2019, but the specifics are unclear at the moment.

For bicyclists, the new One Center City plan falls short of the Basic Bike Network long desired for downtown, with implementation of protected bike lanes on Pike-Pine and 4th Avenue pushed back to 2021. A connection between the PBLs on 2nd Avenue and South Dearborn Street is planned to open in 2019, but no specific corridor has been identified at this time (only a few months before construction should begin).

Mayor Durkan is clearly not endearing her administration to drivers, who will likely oppose efforts to charge a congestion fee.  At the same time, transit and bicycle activists, upset about delays in the bike network and the streetcar pause, may be disappointed as well.

94 Replies to “Mayor Durkan Proposes Short-Term Downtown Mobility Projects”

  1. According to King5, one of the ideas behind studying a congestion charge is to avoid “free riders” avoiding 99 tolls.

    It will be interesting to see if there is a “low-income” pass/reduction for drivers who have to live far away because of housing costs, but still work in the city

      1. And adding to income inequality is as bad of a policy. Congestion charges coming before Link has reached enough of the suburbs and buses can be redeployed to serve further-out suburbs would be inexcusable.

      2. What’s the earliest date you’d bless a congestion pricing scheme, Bruce? 2023? 2024? Surely we don’t have to wait until 2041, right?

      3. @Bruce Englehardt using a car to get to downtown is already expensive enough that I can’t imagine increasing that cost would really have any worsening effect on income inequality.

        In the case of passing through downtown …well I-5 exists and probably can’t be tolled under this proposal anyway because the city doesn’t have jurisdiction.

      4. I think 2025 would be theplace to start, with Link extended in three trunk corridors and a few of the enhanced RapidRide lines already up and running. Also gives a bit of buffer room if, god forbid, Lynnwood or Federal Way run into some kind of schedule hiccup.

      5. Rohan is right. The folks who can’t afford to pay the extremely high prices for driving to downtown don’t do that.

        To other destinations (such as Northgate, Fremont, Ballard) it is a different story. If the proposal was to tax all commuters before they have a reasonable alternative to locations like that (some of which will have considerably better transit options) would be harsh. But downtown remains one of the few areas where commuting by transit is not only the most affordable option, but the best one.

      6. @Bruce,

        Ah, no. Congestion pricing for downtown should start as soon as the tolls start on the DBT, or as soon therafter as possible. Waiting any longer will add to the congestion downtown.

        Will it happen at all? I doubt it. It is just too progressive an idea for this city to stomach?

        Would it work if implemented? Heck ya. MIT would work wonders.

      7. “Congestion charges coming before Link has reached enough of the suburbs and buses can be redeployed to serve further-out suburbs would be inexcusable.”

        Agreed.

      8. Here is a partial list of further-out suburbs (and cities) that are one are two seats away from downtown Seattle:

        Tacoma, Kent, Auburn, Lakewood, Issaquah, Smokey Point, Arlington, Stanwood, Granite Falls and Gold Bar. Where exactly do you think the buses will be redeployed once Link reaches more suburbs, Bellingham?

        The argument makes no sense. In every case, there are buses from the various corridors into Seattle. In many cases, if Link causes buses to be redeployed, it will mean a *longer* trip into downtown Seattle. If you don’t think that will ever happen, talk to someone who used to take the 71, 72 or 73 from the U-District to downtown. Now they have an extra transfer at Husky Stadium. That is a trade-off, as service to various other parts of the north end is much better. But more importantly thousands of people now have a fast bus ride to Capitol Hill. That is the way subways work. It isn’t about the fast trip to downtown, it is about the trips somewhere else.

        Which is why it is silly to wait. No matter where you come from, you can find a bus that will take you downtown. You may have to take a bus to that bus — or even drive to that bus — but that will always be the case, even if the last leg of your trip is on a train.

      9. @Tlsigwn,

        The point of congestion pricing DT Seattle is twofold: 1) to help deal with the period of max constraint, and 2) to help deal congestion in DT Seattle caused by DBT toll diversion. Both of those start in about two years.

        That is when congestion pricing should start in DT Seattle. It has nothing to do with bus service in the suburbs. The suburbs will always be screwed when it comes to transit. Seattle shouldn’t tie its future to a problem that isn’t in our jurisdiction to solve.

      10. Most suburban residents are not within walking distance of a regional park-and-ride. Some may even want to use services a bit outside the peak service window, which means extra transfers and longer waits for infrequent buses. The last part is key, since a slower time on vehicle is a good trade-off for the convenience of a shorter wait for the Link-to-bus transfer. Otherwise, people would want to drive and we all know what a bucket of worms the suburban park-and-rides are and will be.

      11. “It has nothing to do with bus service in the suburbs.”

        That’s a nonsensical statement as it’s all tied together. Give me at minimum a two-seat transit ride from my home in southwest Snohomish County to my company’s offices in downtown Seattle that won’t take three times as long as driving, as it does today. Link to Lynnwood should cut that transit commute in half as well as improve frequencies on local CT routes once the service hours are freed up. Adding congestion fees to the cost of commuting via car before we have a viable transit option strikes me as very unfair for folks like myself who have supported regional transit plans and their associated taxes since the passage of Sound Move back in 1996 and have been waiting patiently for light rail to reach the north end. (Fwiw. Our local sales tax rate is 10.3%. Of that, 2.6% is composed of transit taxes for ST and CT. Of course ST also collects 1.1% MVET and $25 per $100,000 valuation in property taxes.)

        “Seattle shouldn’t tie its future to a problem that isn’t in our jurisdiction to solve.”

        Again, it’s all connected. Do you know how many suburban commuters work in downtown Seattle? I assume that many, like myself, who put a premium on their time will simply continue to drive and thus pay any required congestion fees until such time as they are given a viable transit option, i.e., one that doesn’t take three times as long. So Seattle actually has a vested interest in this, as you state, non-Seattle problem.

      12. Dah. Of course it is all connected.

        But you miss the point. Why should Seattle sit idly by doing nothing while we wait for the burbs to get their act together. Seattle needs to do whatever is required to improve transit and reduce congestion inside the Seattle city limits. And we have shown over and over again that we are willing to raise the taxes to do that.

        The burbs? Not so much. You want improved transit options from BFE SnoCo to DT Seattle? It is simple: Raise your taxes to do it. But you shouldn’t expect Seattle to sit back and wait for you to get your act together.

        And you shouldn’t expect Seattle to pay for correcting or mitigating the effects of your poor planning. And if we did pay we’d expect to call the shots – if it is our money then it is our rules. No complaining allowed.

      13. Give me at minimum a two-seat transit ride from my home in southwest Snohomish County to my company’s offices in downtown Seattle that won’t take three times as long as driving, as it does today.

        I have no idea where you live, but consider some options:

        1) You walk to the 416, which goes to downtown Seattle.
        2) You drive and take the 416.
        3) You take a bus that connects to one of the 510/512 bus stops, and then ride from there.
        4) You drive to the park and ride and take that bus.
        5) You somehow connect to the E, and ride it all the way down.

        Now consider how you would drive:

        1) You take SR 99 all the way down.
        2) You cut over to I-5, and then drive it.

        It the same basic route! You are ending up on the same freeway, but this time you aren’t in the HOV lane. I realize the HOV lane isn’t as fast as it should be, but it is still faster than the general purpose lane.

        The only time savings from driving involve the initial leg of your trip — from your house to the freeway ramp. We understand that, which is why folks like the park and ride. But it is ridiculously optimistic to assume that somehow, when Link gets to Lynnwood, CT will build a perfect transit system that enables people to get to the freeway as fast as they would if they drove.

        Of course transit will improve. But for a lot of people, it will still be much faster to drive. For some (but not as many as with the U-Link restructure) the current setup will actually be a bit faster. The basic premise is “don’t start congestion pricing until transit gets really good”, but that is a judgement call, with no obvious end point. Should we wait until Link gets to Northgate, Lynnwood, or Everett? What about the local streets, which are obviously the biggest slow down. Should we wait until the restructure is “good enough”? Should we wait until transit lanes are added to the Link stations, so that the bus can compete with driving?

        Link to Lynnwood should cut that transit commute in half as well as improve frequencies on local CT routes once the service hours are freed up.

        The latter is quite likely, while the former is not. Cut the transit route in half? I don’t see it. As said up above, if driving is three times faster, it is because getting to the freeway (where the Link stations are) is so much faster. But even for a regular commuter, the savings will be substantial, but not enough to cut the time in half. Let’s say it takes 20 minutes by bus to get to Lynnwood. With Link, the train will take another 26 minutes to get to Lynnwood. That is 46 minutes. If that cuts your transit commute in half, it means the current commute takes 92 minutes, with 72 of that on the second bus. I’m sure it very rare to ride the bus for over an hour from Lynnwood. Link will definitely improve things, but it isn’t magic.

      14. “Give me at minimum a two-seat transit ride from my home in southwest Snohomish County to my company’s offices in downtown Seattle that won’t take three times as long as driving, as it does today. Link to Lynnwood should cut that transit commute in half as well as improve frequencies on local CT routes once the service hours are freed up.”

        Well, why is there no Move Lynnwood or Move Snohomish County? Seattle decided the problem was too critical to wait and passed a supplemental tax for more bus service. If it’s that critical for Snohomish County too, maybe they should do the same rather than just waiting until Link frees up the service hours.

        And why does it take three times as long by bus than driving? Let’s start with that. The issue here is not Link or buses on the freeway because a bus on the freeway should take the same amount of time as a car. So the problem must be at the tail end. Is it a two-seat ride, a long transfer, or a long walk to get to an express bus stop? Maybe you can get CT to do something specific about that. Targeted requests are easier for agencies to address than a general request for “more service”.

        Lynnwood Link’s estimated travel time is in the midrange of ST Express: faster than peak but slower than the off-hours. So it won’t be a major timesaver, it will just get it down to what the bus would do if there weren’t heavy traffic.

        Tisgwm may be counting from the bad traffic days. If it takes 15 minutes from Lynnwood with no traffic and 30 minutes with normal peak traffic, it might take 45-60 minutes on bad traffic days, which judging from my experience in the U-District happen once or twice a month.

        If the difference is because the bus gets off at Stewart/Denny and your car gets off further south, then there’s probably nothing we can do about that, since I can’t see different express buses going to different parts of downtown. Although ST implies it when the bus signs say “Seattle 5th Avenue” as if there’s another route going to 3rd Avenue or 9th Avenue — it looks very NYC subway-ish.

      15. Most suburban residents are not within walking distance of a regional park-and-ride. Some may even want to use services a bit outside the peak service window, which means extra transfers and longer waits for infrequent buses. The last part is key, since a slower time on vehicle is a good trade-off for the convenience of a shorter wait for the Link-to-bus transfer. Otherwise, people would want to drive and we all know what a bucket of worms the suburban park-and-rides are and will be.

        How does that change once Link gets to Lynnwood? The basic trunk service is still pretty frequent (every 15 minutes, all day). Link might be more frequent, but it might not. If it is better, it probably won’t be by much.

        In terms of speed, the 512 is pretty fast from Lynnwood to downtown in the middle of the day. It is basically a wash compared to what Link will be. If you are headed somewhere else (e. g. Capitol Hill) it is much faster, but if you are headed to downtown (where the congestion pricing is) than it is about the same.

        So the problem remains the park and ride lots and service to them. The connecting buses should improve, but who knows how good they will be. My guess is people will do what they do now. They either put up with a connection that is less than ideal, or they drive. If the park and ride is full, they park outside of it somewhere. It is hard to imagine that it is harder and cheaper to park outside a park and ride than it is to park downtown. Another option is to park closer to a more frequent connecting bus and time things accordingly. That is likely the cheapest option, as it involves the least amount of driving (and relatively easy parking). All of that is possible now, even if it isn’t as good as it will be.

        No matter how you cut it, driving downtown is a luxury. Charging more for a luxury is a very reasonable way of improving things. Since this is congestion pricing, it probably won’t even be that high in the middle of the day, which means that those who can afford to park downtown will only have to pay a bit more.

      16. why is there no Move Lynnwood Lynnwood Prop 1.

        I forgot that Move Seattle is capital projects while Prop 1 is operating hours, and it’s the latter I’m envisioning.

      17. “Congestion charges coming before Link has reached enough of the suburbs and buses can be redeployed to serve further-out suburbs would be inexcusable.”

        Please define what you mean by “enough” and “further-out,” and propose what Seattle should do in the interim.

      18. @Lazarus. Your latest comment is so ill-informed that it doesn’t really warrant a response. I suggest you actually take a bit of time to study the actual facts regarding transit financing in Snohomish County.

      19. @Ross. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I should have been a bit more specific. My route today involves taking a local CT to the Ash Way P&R and transferring to the 511. It takes about an hour and thirty minutes for that trip if all goes as planned. The drive takes 35 minutes from door to door. Assuming my spouse can drop me at the Lynnwood Link station (10 min), I’d gladly take that 26-minute ride on the train into dt Seattle, for a total commute time of 36 minutes. (Even at 45 minutes, this would still halve the current commute time.) Sadly, I will most likely retire before Lynnwood Link is operational.

      20. @Mike Orr. Thanks for your thoughful reply as well. My reply above to Ross may answer some of your questions.

        “Well, why is there no Move Lynnwood or Move Snohomish County?” Two reasons. Firstly, we are maxed out at 1.2% sales tax for CT after passing a .3% increase back in 2015 I believe. As I stated before, of my current 10.3% sales tax rate, 2.6% is dedicated to transit funding. Which brings me to the second reason. There is no appetite for additional taxes to fund such measures as you’ve mentioned at the county level.(I am an unincorporated county resident.) The county dynamics are quite different here.

        “So it won’t be a major timesaver, it will just get it down to what the bus would do if there weren’t heavy traffic.”
        Actually, compared to today it will be a major timesaver (see my earlier reply). Also, that heavy traffic during peak hours is what it is, but I understand what you’re saying nevertheless.

        “Tisgwm may be counting from the bad traffic days.” Nope. Just using what has been the norm for my commutes.

        “Although ST implies it when the bus signs say “Seattle 5th Avenue” as if there’s another route going to 3rd Avenue or 9th Avenue — it looks very NYC subway-ish.” As a former New Yorker, this made me chuckle. :)

      21. @Ross. “It is hard to imagine that it is harder and cheaper to park outside a park and ride than it is to park downtown.” Is this really what you meant to say? Did you mean to say “harder and more expensive”? Thanks in advance for the clarification.

      22. Tisgwm, I’m having a little trouble juggling all the times and routes and traffic loads in my head. What time of day are you envisioning? How long does the local CT route take? How much additional overhead of walking or transferring to the express route is there? (Especially northbound where the local bus may be infrequent.) What’s the difference in time between a no-traffic trip, normal traffic, and bad traffic?

    1. Its simple: Create a Low-income GoodToGo transponder, with the income of the registered driver validated the same way as ORCA LIFT, that offers toll charges at 1/3 the standard rate.

      1. It’s the state’s GoodToGo program. What’s the chance that it would develop or allow such a responder, to charge a kind of toll it doesn’t have, on roads that aren’t state highways, and then to enforce it so they don’t become abused like disability placards, and deal with people going in and out of low-income status?

      2. That plan would see widespread abuse. People registering cars to relatives, children, or even paying “poor” people to use their transponder. If you have enough money to buy a car and pay parking downtown, you can pay a congestion charge. Driving to a park and ride is always an option.

  2. After all the exposes about personal privacy and how far this congestion pricing could go, the answer has to be HELL NO. Oh and as most know, I can’t drive a car without supervision. But I’d love to!

    It’s bad enough ORCA Data was given to a political campaign, albeit one I supported. I’m NOT going to relitigate that here.

    But folks… this, this, and this is how civil liberties die. Declare a crisis, propose a supposedly sane solution and wa-la your right to privacy is at risk. See PATRIOT ACT, see clear backpacks and now this.

    The Washington Policy Center is working to redeem themselves and posted a note how the Washington State Patrol is very interested in the data by the congestion pricing testing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14u27tp4FMQ

    Mayor Jenny Durkan, set up toll booths already. No need to spy on the sheeple. Otherwise… I can’t support this.

    Sorry.

  3. Would really be worth all the rest to keep at least the 41 and the 550 in the Tunnel ’til no longer needed. More congestion on already packed streets- bad enough. Or at least chief contender.

    Because until North and East LINK arrive, these two routes can also personify Sound Transit itself. And ST’s ability to maintain passenger service along its most important corridors through our service area’s most trying conditions. Putting Seattle, Bellevue, and their Downtown passengers in a lot better frame of mind for whatever’s coming for transit next.

    Constantly refreshing the public’s memory that transit can actually move at all, let alone fast.

    And re: Convention Center itself: A lot more visiting customers for Seattle, taking home a lot better recommend for us. Threats always questionable policy- so passing reminder should suffice that with modern hacking techniques, conventioneers can really be convinced the Sons of the Desert got their booking by mistake.

    And for First Avenue- trolleywire does seem to run from Jackson to Virginia on First. So tracks or not, with lanes and signals, streetcar could have customers and merchants used to electric transit when (ever) the streetcars arrive. Considering traffic conditions on First at rush hour now, city might not be sacrificing much to make it a main transit-reserved corridor through next years.

    Though for city and ST, and KC Metro Route 41 both, a lot will depend on how much the years themselves will interfere with the whole CBD. So final point: Every plan- and official- and all of transit need to be ready to flex, by the month, week, day, and minute.

    Mark Dublin

  4. Just to clarify: Whatever colors the buses wear, no insult to either consider the 41 and the 550 on same duty. Because they’ll be both be facing the exact same brutal conditions, just in different compass directions. And share same number of passengers, often same people.

    MD

  5. As always, these little arrows show theoretical routes for theoretical cars and buses, not actual routes for actual people, who move by foot from buildings into cars, bikes, buses and sometimes just to their final destination.

    Which leads to the usual crap that delays people’s actual commutes, like finding the sidewalk is blocked by a small sign mid-block, by being delayed by signals timed for when there was a crosswalk but there isn’t (e.g., southside of 5th and Union) or by the ridiculous design choice to have only one escalator for the downtown bus tunnel and expect it to have 100% uptime when it does not. People don’t get to choose when they leave work and if these delays hamper their ability to catch one bus or train and they have to wait for the next, that’s actually a far bigger inconvenience than some driver of an SOV having to wait for another light while complaining about “those goddamned bikes that took up a bike lane” while the reality it’s his fellow SOV drivers he should be blaming.

    1. +1

      The persistent bus delays on 3rd Avenue are often blamed on SOVs, but I’ve noticed that they are only part of the reason.

      Emergency responses, broken down buses, oblivious jaywalkers, and buses just getting in each other’s way are all unfortunately common detractors from throughput.

  6. The new Mayor, same as the old mayor (Murray), who was same as the old mayor (McGinn), who was same as the old mayor(Nickels), who was same as….. hahaha. Every mayor that has been elected has had nearly zero influence on making geniune large scale changes to an environment that is screaming to be recognized as a city.

    It is no coincidence mayor Turduckin wishes to postpone any substantial changes until 2021: gives her time to claim she is saving money on the budget and kicks the can down the road until after the election of another “same as the old mayor”

    We continue to elect those that are nostalgic for automobile transportation to remain our future.

    1. You could have had Jessyn Farrell. One of the heroes of ST3.

      Instead, Seattle voters had a choice between experience and hot air. In part because of whining over Rep. Farrell’s political moderation on MVET.

      Now we have a Mayor who is going to torque off each and every single political ally in her first year. Sigh.

    2. No, different mayors have different goals and priorities.If you can’t see the difference, you’re not looking close enough. McGinn was very eager about streetcars and making Ballard-downtown the next Link line, and initiated a Seattle Transit Master Plan that had not been done for years if ever. Another mayor would not have pushed the first two, and as a result ST3 and Move Seattle might be different and on different timelines. ST3 might have Ballard-UW, and the vote postponed to the late 2020s. The CCC likely would not exist; I don’t remember if it was McGinn or Murray who started the project. If you see any continuity going back to at least Schell, it’s because the voters choose mayors with the same ideas, or each mayor evaluated his predecessor’s work and judged it good. Seattle going back to Schell has been going gradually in an urbanist/transit direction even if it’s not far enough or fast enough for some. But none of them have contradicted it, and the voters have not chosen one who would.

      1. I can’t find the exact sources, but I do remember reading a Seattle Transit Master Plan dated sometime between 2006 and 2008. I also remember seeing a comprehensive streetcar plan map dating between 2003 and 2007 that had lines to 23/Jackson, Fremont and UW as well as the CCC. Let’s not erase history and attribute the ideas to McGinn.

      2. No, I don’t see the differences and considering the glacial speed at change and the level of congestion the city itself has forced upon itself regardless of growth, it is no wonder so many are blind to the fact we keep electing the same old mayors. In fact, your response confirmed the reality on the ground: so long as mayors with similar views get elected, then the responses will be similar. Seattle mayors have not pushed an urban/transit agenda, they’ve supported getting businesses on-board with voter requests. I don’t believe for a second Nickels, or McGinn or Murray has put a transit agenda forward that celebrates the voter first without going to the businesses (and/or the unions) first for their blessing. And if they did, the businesses and unions would say “hey Mr./Ms. same old mayor, you need to speak to us first before going to the voters.”

      3. Al S: I didn’t hear much about planning before I found STB around 2008, so there may have been plans I didn’t know about, or I may have seen them and forgotten. I attended the first streetcar open house around 2000 where SDOT asked what modes we wanted it to focus on for the next generation transit network: light rail, streetcars, or buses. (I said either light rail or buses, not streetcars.) After that the only things about streetcars I recall are the SLU line and the First Hill line, and both of them were presented in isolation, not in reference to some larger network. I mean, there was a pie-in-the-sky idea that the SLU line might someday be extended north, but no specific alternative. That was all I heard until they resurfaced in the 2014 TMP. Unless I’m forgetting something. That 2003 streetcar plan may have coincided with the open house I attended (because it was around 52nd & Roosevelt and I think I was still living at 56th & UWay at the time so it would have to be before April 2003), but I don’t remember a streetcar map.

        Pablo96: It’s a lot better now than my experiences in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, so I’d say things have improved significantly. I don’t like to put unrealistic expectations on people. You find a better mayor and get them elected; I haven’t seen one. Even if a mayor wants to go lightning-fast, they can’t quickly turn a lot of people a way they don’t want to go, and they may have trouble getting elected. Your saying that the mayors are all the same reminds me of when people say, “The Republicrats are all the same”, when there are very real differences and voting for one person or another leads to a different outcome.

  7. As a transit enthusiast and employee of a local transit agency, i vehemently oppose a congestion fee UNLESS there is a robust network of reliable bus service to downtown from all corners of the region. Just as there was an increase of frequency on SR520 routes when tolls began, the same must happen everywhere else – Lynnwood, Shoreline, Renton, Federal Way, under-served parts of Seattle, etc. It would be unfair to charge people if they don’t have a reliable transit option.

    1. How robust do you want? If anything, service to downtown is much more robust that service on SR 520. The highway is a corridor, while downtown is a destination. If downtown is used as a corridor, then it is being used improperly (and you should use the freeways).

      1. One example of lackluster service is Snohomish County. Lynnwoood has 7-10 service from 530a-8a, then every 10-15 min until 930-ish. Buses are chronically late and unreliable. Service from Everett is every 15 after 730-ish and buses are full. Then at 9a riders have to slog through multiple stops on the 512 milk-run. If we’re going to essentially price people out of their cars, then we must have service that is worthy of making the extra effort of taking the bus. I think many of us transit enthusiasts are so focused on efficiency that we lose sight of the overall customer experience, which is a large determining factor of whether or not someone will pay more to drive downtown or take the bus. And there are plenty of people who choose the former because transit has failed them too many times.

      2. @Jordan. Agreed and well put. Speaking as a SW Snohomish County resident, I can totally relate to your assessment. I have tried to use transit to commute into Seattle for work purposes and it is just a far too inefficient use of my time as it takes about three times as long even if all goes well. We will see if Link coming to SnoCo changes the situation but I suspect I will be retired by then. Sigh.

      3. So what would be a better solution? Just let everyone sit in their own congestion downtown for hours per day?

      4. The 510, 511 and 512 is lackluster transit? Come on. It runs every 15 minutes all day long. The 511 and 510 operate as super express routes, making very few stops. Even the 512 doesn’t make that many stops. Link will stop way more often.

        Oh, and since when is driving reliable? If you get on I-5 at Lynnwood at 8:00 AM heading for Seattle, you have no idea when you’ll be there.

        I think you are also missing the main point here. This is only a tax on *driving through downtown*. It really doesn’t matter how else you get there. Here are some possibilities:

        1) Drive to a park and ride that has better service, like the one at Northgate. Yeah, I know, sometimes it is full. This leads to a couple other easy options:

        2) Pay for parking in Northgate or some other convenient location.

        3) Drive to a neighborhood and catch a bus from Seattle. Seriously. It really isn’t that complicated. I can think of several bus routes that work really well for that. The 41, the 77, the 522 all have areas in the neighborhood where you can park, walk a couple blocks (if that) and then ride the bus into downtown.

        Of course driving is sometimes faster. But remember, this is *congestion pricing*. When driving is really fast, they won’t charge much (and when the charge a lot, the bus will be faster). More to the point, so what if driving is faster? There are alternatives, as downtown is one of the few places (if not the only one) that has decent transit from every major corridor.

    2. Whew! Good thing Seattle has a robust network of bus service to all corners of the region. Seriously, Sound Transit is by far the highest ridership “Commuter Bus” agency in the nation (in the NTD database). No other place in the US offers such density and frequency of regional freeway-based bus service.

      The reliability problems that the buses suffer from are due to car congestion; car congestion that could be cleared at the right price allowing buses to move more freely.

      Now, it is true that this theory only works if some commuters choose another mode, such as bus, instead of driving on now-tolled roads. So some/all of the decongestion tolling revenues should be passed along to transit agencies to keep up with demand, as was done in London. Considering that the City is proposing the tolling and not WSDOT, it is quite possible that some revenue can be used to purchase additional transit service.

      1. “-Sound Transit is by far the highest ridership “Commuter Bus” agency in the nation (in the NTD database). No other place in the US offers such density and frequency of regional freeway-based bus service”

        But it’s not enough. It truly isn’t. 30 min service from Federal Way and Tacoma? 15 min service from Everett with way too many stops along I-5? Even more stops along SR522 from Bothell? No service from Mukilteo or Edmonds or Kent or Burien – If Seattle is going to force commuters to take the bus, then we should be prepared for an influx or new ridership that has never taken transit before.

      2. Agreed! I think many people underestimate how bad transit service is in a lot of places, even going towards downtown. Just a few examples (you can verify these on Google maps):

        *Westlake station to Alki takes at least 45 minutes in the evening, since transfers to the 50 do not appear to be timed. During the day, you might get a shorter transfer time, but you’ll also be at risk of missing the connection and having to wait 30 more minutes. (Driving takes 13 minutes without traffic.)

        *Westlake station to Newcastle takes a full hour off-peak (driving is 18-35 minutes). I’m not sure how this can be improved honestly, aside from better timing between the 554 and 240 (it’s atrocious on weekends; there’s a 30 minutes wait).

        *Westlake station to Mukilteo: at 9pm, this takes 1 hour 41 minutes by bus (35-45 minutes driving)

        *Westlake station to Canyon Park: at 9pm, this takes at least 1 hour 18 minutes by bus (24-35 minutes driving)

        As Jordan mentioned, even the major express lines to downtown are inadequate (more examples include hourly evening frequencies on 101 to Renton and 554 to Issaquah). But the situation is even worse if you don’t live near a direct bus to downtown. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with transferring, the current experience sucks. The trunk downtown buses are so unreliable that it’s completely uncertain whether you’ll make your transfer; buses can often be over 20 minutes late (!). But missing the transfer often means waiting 30 or even 60 minutes. And off-peak, many transfers are very poorly timed.

        (I know that the situation is better during rush hours, even though reliability is worse. However, the reason why many people drive is because they need the flexibility to stay in downtown late or leave early.)

      3. Josh,

        Those long travel times you listed are a result of The Last Mile problem being insurmountable in the destination areas. That simply cannot be fixed at any cost. The towns you mention are either filled with culs-de-sac, making access to local bus service from inconvenient to impossible or simply too small (Mukilteo and Newcastle) to generate fixed line ridership.

        I’ll be honest. I think that the Sound Transit, Metro and CT service areas all should be significantly shrunk as was done in Pierce County so that you folks who live there don’t have to pay the MVET and property taxes. I doubt you can avoid the sales taxes, because a small town that can’t support fixed route bus service can’t support a place to buy anything except groceries and “sundries” a la Rite-Aid and Walgreens either.

        There simply will be no “frequent service” to Mukilteo or Newcastle until at least 2050, unless they change radically. If there were most of the people who live there would be complaining about “empty buses”.

        It’s not a soluble problem.

      4. I know those long travel times because I experienced them a lot growing up and nowadays try to avoid going to those areas, or if I do to try and go in the evening peak. But Metro has plans to improve it, and at least get 30-minute and 15-minute service to the arterials. American transit is around half as much as other countries, which do have reasonable all-day service with timed transfers even in areas like Newcastle and east Renton and Kent. The problem with the US is that we’re cheapskates and don’t prioritize transit, not that it’s impossible to serve Newcastle. They can’t expect a light rail line anytime soon but they should have good local bus service. Then it would be a last half-mile problem rather than a last 2-3 mile problem.

      5. >> I think many people underestimate how bad transit service is in a lot of places, even going towards downtown

        So drive somewhere that has better bus service. It really isn’t that complicated.

        Oh, and remember, this is *congestion pricing*. This means that it won’t cost that much during off hours (if anything at all).

        >> Those long travel times you listed are a result of The Last Mile problem being insurmountable in the destination areas.

        Yes, exactly. If only there was some sort of device — a vehicle perhaps — that could fix that last mile problem. Maybe the exact type of vehicle that you would use if you ever paid this fee.

        Come on, people. You are defending driving and parking downtown, but you think that people can’t figure out how to drive and park in the various places that have frequent and fast transit. That just doesn’t make sense.

        We are talking about a fee, that’s all. It isn’t like we are banning all personal vehicles from downtown. It is a fee that a lot of people won’t like, but guess what? That is the point! Some will just pay it, while others will find an alternative. Those that pay will see improved transit, whether they use it or not. They will also see less congestion (if it works properly).

      6. @Richard Bullington Just two points to add. One, shrinking the transit districts would impact the sales tax base also. I understand your point, but retail transactions will still transpire in the same locations, many of which would then be assessing the lowered rate. Secondly, I just wanted to remind readers here that CT’s formal policy position at present is to prioritize coverage over frequency. Of course, that can always be changed.

      7. @Ross. Just a couple of follow-up questions. One, how many p&r lots today are at capacity? Two, so are you advocating for commuters to use public ROW in various neighborhoods to park their vehicles when they take a bus route headed to dt Seattle? Thanks.

      8. @AJ. Thanks for the link.
        “And if the public ROW is intended for parking, what’s the problem?” I didn’t say it was. Why did you assume such?

      9. Sorry if I wasn’t clear: I’m not defending driving and parking downtown, but just pointing out that for many people in metropolitan Seattle, there is no acceptable alternative right now. At a minimum, local bus service needs to be greatly improved, and there needs to be a much better attempt to coordinate transfers so people aren’t stranded for 30 or 60 minutes. (I guess biking might work but I don’t know if there’s bike parking and most suburbs lack bike infrastructure.)

        And unfortunately driving to a park and ride isn’t feasible unless you commute very early. On the Eastside, almost EVERY park and ride with all-day service to Downtown Seattle is over-capacity, including Mercer Island, Eastgate, Issaquah TC, Issaquah Highlands, South Kirkland, Evergreen Point, etc. (https://kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/travel-options/parking.aspx) In most of these, you cannot find parking unless you arrive before 7:30am. And expanding parking is cost prohibitive and not a good use of land, as argued here. There are some other park and rides, but most have extremely poor service outside of a few hours. For example, Newport Hills P&R has direct service to Downtown Seattle on the 111, but you need to leave downtown between 3:30-6pm, and service is infrequent. (After 6pm you need to backtrack all the way up to Downtown Bellevue and transfer to the hourly 560.)

    3. Here’s a thought: The toll revenue could be used to enhance the express bus service to downtown and/or connector busses to LINK and Sounder. So I say don’t wait for 2021. The period of maximum constraint begins *within a year* not 2021. While Link doesn’t yet extend in all directions, the idea is many people will adjust their trip times to avoid the highest peak period charges.

  8. I don’t know if congestion fees are right or wrong. But it is a good control over where I use my car. I won’t pay a toll. I won’t pay for parking. I have used subsidized buss passes to make that happen. I am l lucky, I don’t pay full fare for transit. That should maybe be discussed also. But if you are trying to keep people like me out of my car in certain areas, fees work.

  9. The issue is that parking charges affect destination travelers but congestion charges affect through travelers as well as destination travelers.

    Given the very limited ways to get through Central Seattle, charging through travelers seems very unfair. Why should a low-income landscape guy with a truck who lives in Auburn because that’s all he can afford pay a congestion charge to get through Downtown to someone’s yard in Magnolia — at the same rate that a wealthy executive who lives in Mercer Island and works Downtown pays?

    I could understand a system that treats Downtown like a big parking lot, giving drivers an entry ticket (or scan code) when they enter and require them to pay when they leave if they stay over a minimum time period (say 90 minutes) — in exhange for eliminating all parking meters. However, this just seems over the top. The thing about the big parking lot concept is that those executives with “free parking” paid through the rent of those office building parking garages would pay for the congestion they create — but not those just driving through.

    1. No one, to my knowledge is proposing to toll I-5 through downtown. The new SR 99 tunnel will be tolled, in a decision made long ago and unlikely to change. Also tolling certain downtown streets should punish any additional through travelers.

    2. Tolling I-5 is a non-starter, it would require WSDOT/FHWA approval, which obviously isn’t happening. And it’s not what’s being proposed. What’s being proposed is a toll on entrance to an area bounded by, say, Dearborn, Boren, Denny/Mercer, and the waterfront (and I just pulled those bounds out of the air, they don’t constitute an actual proposal), especially I-5 offramps.

      1. I don’t think WSDOT/FHWA approval is even an option. Existing Interstates are prohibited from being tolled unless they were existing tollways at the time of incorporation into the Interstate system in the 1950s (think New York Thruway). There have been pilot programs proposed throughout the history of the Interstate system to change this, but they have all been nonstarters, as far as I know.

        Sometime, I think in the Bush 2.0 administration, the FHWA started allowing for major improvement undertakings to be tolled for financing (think the new I-5 Columbia River crossing if it ever happens), but they still require congressional approval and (I’m not certain on this one) that may preclude federal financing.

        I-5 through Seattle would not meet any of these requirements for being tolled, unless (1) there is complete political reversal in transportation thinking from the last 70 years or (2) a massive reconstruction project of I-5 through downtown Seattle. Don’t hold your breath on either happening soon.

      2. That falls under my scenario (2), which was one of the tolling options added under the Bush 2.0 administration, which turns out was part of SAFETEA-LU. Again, I don’t see I-5 undertaking a massive reconstruction through downtown Seattle.

    3. The landscaper can pass the charges on to his customer. Markets correct; life goes on. Driving becomes slightly less attractive, and transit becomes more attractive. If the charges are working, then driving decreases, and it becomes easier to add exclusive transit lanes.

      We need carrots and sticks.

    4. I could understand a system that treats Downtown like a big parking lot, giving drivers an entry ticket (or scan code) when they enter and require them to pay when they leave if they stay over a minimum time period (say 90 minutes) — in exhange for eliminating all parking meters.

      No, that misses the entire point. Look, as said, you can drive I-5 if you don’t want to pay a toll. As Chris said, markets adjust. But here is something folks aren’t talking about: downtown kiss and walks. A driver drops off his sweety downtown. He doesn’t pay for parking. This is a very cheap way to get his partner downtown in a hurry. But it costs all of us. It means that traffic is worse and it adds to global warming.

      These are people that will likely avoid the fees, and start doing crazy, radical things, like taking a bus or train. Yes, their partner will spend a bit more getting to work. They will survive.

      Meanwhile, businesses that have no alternative (such as vans making downtown deliveries) will simply pay the fee. It really is a small price to pay, and if it actually reduces congestion, they will be thrilled to pay it. The highest cost (by far) for those sorts of businesses is labor.

  10. EDIT:

    Also tolling certain downtown streets *won’t* punish any additional through travelers.

    1. What about an UberPool/LyftLine rider who is passing through downtown only for the purposes of picking up or dropping off another passenger? If the toll is high, and the thru-rider gets charged a share of the toll, it could lead to a weird world where a solo ride (by bypassing downtown on I-5 and avoiding the toll) costs the same amount as a pooled ride for certain trips.

      1. Anything that keeps the TNC’s out of downtown during the rush hours is a good thing. Period.

      2. Exactly. Markets adjust. If the rider doesn’t think it is worth the extra money, they will take a bus somewhere and then call a ride.

  11. Whatever the plans, a few bets bets. One, if anyone can work online or phone, they’ll probably be encouraged to. Or ordered. Also, work hours adjusted to avoid “rush hours” as much as possible. For younger people, short term residential ,mini-hotels or motels if they have to come in.

    Also chance that many firms will relocate outward, temporarily or permanently. Since people have considerable advanced notice, at least some are already checking out choices. My call is also that fairly soon into the changes, many people will make other choices. More than once.

    And much as possible, bus routes deliberately routed to serve closest LINK stations. Only this time, with UW experience in mind, start designing these routes so they work. My main point is that transit is finally going to have to start thinking as a region.

    Because that’s the span across which events in Seattle CBD will strongly affect every surrounding acre.
    But in return for the extra effort that Downtown development requires from everybody- of which last four years’ handling of I-5 is an unacceptable example.

    Given how critical, and stretched the transit world will be, I think it’s fair to take a very hard line with Ms. Durkan and other decision makers that since transit needs its reserved lanes and pre-empted signals to move at all, transit has every right to withhold service from every place that won’t at least provide this much.

    Start early, and a lot of feared trouble is not going to happen. Procrastinate and nothing else BUT…will happen.

    Mark Dublin

  12. I am delighted to see the graphic showing the bus-rail interface at UW station receiving much-overdue attention in 2019, I assume to support redirection of some or most of the Eastside-Seattle routes to UW station. That concept has been floated a few times in the last few years with mixed feedback, most recently as part of the One Center City process, both to get buses off downtown streets and to provide more reliable trips to downtown, at the expense/benefit of introducing a transfer to Link. Many of us predicted this could, should and would eventually happen when UW station and the SR 520 project were first being planned.

    It looks like the concept is for inbound bus routes to be redirected to stop in front of UW station and turn left at via Pacific Place, whereas outbound bus routes would stop below the west side of the pedestrian bridge, probably with some surface ROW and signal modifications. This would reduce the need for legions of Eastside commuters to make multiple at-grade street crossings across busy traffic out in the weather, which would have been likely to be experienced as a downgrade despite the improvements Link would bring to the commute.

    I wonder if the intention is for all buses to use the new pathway, or just Eastside buses. Seattle routes like the 48 (a future RapidRide route) sure could use a better connection to Link than they have now. As it is, I end up on a bike share more often than a connecting bus in part because of the lousy bus connections at UW station.

    1. Such a move would slow down buses for thru-riders headed from the U-district. Whether it’s worth the tradeoff or not depends on the ratio of transferrees from Link to thru-riders. I can see it being ok for the 545 – the 48, not so much. The difference is that most of where the 48 goes, it is quicker for those coming from downtown to just take a direct east/west bus than to go through UW Station and ride the 48, so there’s a lot fewer transfers.

    2. Easy to get from UW station to University Village. Getting back, however, is a different story. Still haven’t figured out how to get a #65 bus southbound (Not that it stops any closer to the station). There has got to be a better way for busses coming from the NE to reach UW station. UDistrict station will still be a bit out of the way if you’re going downtown, and it doesn’t look like NE 45ST is being rebuilt as a transit /pedestrian/bike priority road either.

      I almost feel that: If UW won’t accommodate busses in the concrete crater in front of Husky Stadium, Couldn’t Sound Transit/Metro just put a bunch of bus shelters on Montlake right under the pedestrian bridge, car traffic on Montlake be damned? That ought to get UW commuters’ and UW leadership attention. Or just have more SB busses use the existing bus stop SB by the elevator–I have rarely seen bus congestion there.

  13. I do think that it’s important to recognize that the 99 AWV replacement tunnel opens in about five or six months! Simultaneously, the viaduct closes.

    This will cause a profound shift in traffic patterns. That includes at intersections all over Central Seattle from Mercer to I-5 to Spokane Street. Suddenly, everyone will have to figure out and try other routes, and it will take weeks if not months for the patterns to stabilize because it is a grid network.

    I’m hoping that SDOT will have to have an “action team” around to tweak signal timings, to send out some traffic control officers and to assess and direct crews for immediate things like No Parking Signs or lane stripes that need to be changed quickly. It’s going to be messy until well into 2019.

    With this major event so imminent, I think it’s wise to decide to delay implementation lots of new things, especially when it involves lane closures. To that end, I’m glad our Mayor is being cautious right now. Despite sophisticated models of average conditions, it’s entirely possible that the best list of solutions will change once the new patterns take hold.

    1. This. The period of maximum constraint doesn’t begin in 2021. It begins this fall. Mitigation measures like congestion tolling really can’t wait anymore.

  14. Isn’t one of the point of congestion pricing to get people to view roads as utilities that way they can manage how much the use.

  15. What about the rideshare and self employed delivery drivers? If the roads get priced, I doubt Amazon Flex workers would continue. Goodbye 1 and 2 day Amazon Deliveries!

    1. It will continue. You really think congestion charges will end Prime?

      “Rideshare” providers are just smartphone connected cabs. They pay the same as everyone else. If the economics no longer work out, then so be it.

    2. The vast majority of Seattle would be outside the congestion tolling zone. Deliveries to and from those places could continue uninterrupted. For those trips that do require going inside the tolling zone, a surcharge would need to be applied.

      1. Nope. Today we are picking up packages from downtown Macys. We always pickup and delivery to Central downtown Seattle. Mostly likely because it’s so crowded that people would rather have items be delivered … And no one wants to walk to a bus stop or ride a bike in the rain.

      2. Seattle has one of the busiest bus systems in the U.S. Considering how much it rains here, that’s very strong evidence that lots of people here are willing to take the bus in the rain.

      3. They may be willing to take a bus in the rain, but they’re apparently not willing to go to Macy’s and bring something home in the rain.

    3. What is Amazon Flex? Is it just expedited shipping, or does it use freelance Uber-like drivers? The biggest issue would be if Amazon is inside the tolled area, but I imagine that most deliveries come from the outlying warehouses. If most of Amazon’s deliveries were tolled I’m sure it would be howling at the moon and the city would give its biggest employer an exemption or bulk discount. If it’s only deliveries to residents within the tolled area, well, maybe it’s time to look for an Amazon Locker just outside it.

      1. Amazon flex is self employed delivery work for Amazon. We deliver all over Seattle, including Central downtown Seattle. All fees, tolls, and tickets (including parking tickets) are payed for by the deliver driver. We don’t choose where to deliver, so we can’t just tell someone to pickup there packages at a locker outside of the boundaries. We deliver to the residence.

      2. Then Amazon will have to pay drivers a surcharge to deliver in downtown. All cars add to traffic, and delivery vehicles are no exception.

  16. One of the complaints I’ve seen about the possible tolling is that many buses are already overcrowded, and that something like this shouldn’t be started until more bus trips can be added. I think I agree with them. It’s already very hard to get buses to downtown, at least from some places. And I don’t think they’re planning on increasing bus service, are they?

    1. If a congestion charge works, it will reduce gridlock, which allows buses to travel faster. This creates more trips and more capacity using the same resources. More trips, faster trips, lower trip costs.

  17. Another childhood memory: many more stores than now “delivered.” Definitely took care of carrying purchases to bus stops, elevated and subway stations, and home. Might be good if airline passengers could do that too.

    Would not only leave more room on LINK for people, but also get rid of those gross signs about what part of human anatomy belongs on a seat. Though a lot of little girls would love to put the little seat-hog in their lap and pet him, because how much room can a miniature marmot’s suitcase take up?

    MD

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