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As we start to plan for BRT along 405, we’re finding that it consumes huge sums of cash to rebuild freeway segments that can provide direct access to buses in the managed express lanes at the center of the roadway. Just one of these stations, at NE 85th Street in Kirkland, is expected to cost $250 million–most of which is the cost of rebuilding the interchange to accommodate direct access to the Express Toll lanes. Little of this cost would be necessary if we could manage our roadway capacity more effectively. Easier said than done? Consider this…

Our roadway capacity is a finite resource, yet most roads have no means for managing the demand other than waiting in a line we call “traffic.” During peak hours, people sit in cars, burning fuel, wasting time, and keeping anyone from going anywhere. Could we somehow re-shape traffic so that everyone can get where they need to go without clogging our roads?

Consider the last time you went to a popular restaurant. Did you have a reservation? Or did you have to wait for a table? Now imagine a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, yet the crowd extends far beyond its doors.

This is what we see on many freeways today, but the negative impact is much larger, spanning our economy, environment, and families. On-ramp meters that limit the flow into the freeway actually exacerbate this problem on local streets, shifting the congestion from the freeway to local streets, impeding access to local destinations (and impacting the speed, reliability, and cost of local transit services).

Instead, imagine if you could make a freeway reservation, perhaps via a website, SMS, phone call, smartphone app, or even integrated with navigation software–which is even easier than making a restaurant reservation. So now you have a reservation. Where do you put your car if it isn’t on the road?

We often exclaim, “The freeway is a parking lot!” But this mocking also hints at the solution: cars at rest should be in parking lots, not roads. And there are many grocery stores, coffee shops, malls, churches, schools, and restaurants where parking spots are abundant. Any vehicles that can’t be handled on the roads should be diverted to queue in nearby parking lots rather than gridlocking streets. Instead of being trapped in traffic, drivers could park their car and read a book, grab a snack, sit and chat with others, or just put in a few extra minutes at work. The reservation might suggest a place to park and wait; this provides another revenue opportunity for our transportation system: advertising. Your freeway reservation might even include a coupon for a discount at a nearby shop or cafe where you relax or run some errands while you wait.

But sometimes you can’t wait for a reservation. Maybe you need to pick-up kids from child care before the late fees kick-in, you’re running late to catch a flight, or you absolutely can’t be late for work. In these cases you’d be willing to pay a couple bucks if you could just go now. If you can’t spare any time, you should have the option to pay with your money.

Or maybe you simply forget to get a reservation. If that happens, you’ll be charged the prevailing freeway access fee when you enter the freeway.

And if you’re sharing your ride with anyone else (carpool, bus, or other HOV), you get a free pass as a ‘thank you’ for helping increase the capacity of our transportation system.

What if there’s an accident that blocks traffic? People holding reservations could be contacted with an suggestion to postpone their reservation, perhaps including some kind of incentive to encourage them to delay their travel, such as a coupon for a local business.

With peak hour freeway reservations, tolls, and rideshare incentives, we could convert time wasted in traffic to do something useful while significantly reducing roadway congestion. Recent advancements in communication technology make it easy for drivers to easily request reservations and drastically reduce freeway congestion.

The end result? More time with families, living life, earning money, or connecting with others…and less time and energy wasted behind the steering wheel. Freeway reservations eliminate the need to build and manage dedicated HOV lanes or toll lanes, optimizing freeway capacity for greatest efficiency with minimal initial cost. We’ll spend a lot less money on circumventing poorly-managed capacity by properly managing the capacity we have. People will spend more time getting stuff done, rather than sitting in traffic. And buses will move faster, more reliably, both on freeways and on local streets.

2 Replies to “A more affordable strategy for 405 BRT”

  1. Implicit with a restaurant reservation is that you will actually use it, and spend money at the restaurant. Some restaurants simply don’t take reservations, while others will charge you if you make one but don’t show up.

    For your system to work, you would have to do the same thing. Otherwise, everyone will simply reserve I-5 at 5:30 on a weekday. Even if everyone was expected to show up, how do you handle conflicts? Lottery system? First come, first serve (which would work out the same way, as loads of people reserve for the same period as soon as it opens up). What makes more sense is to simply charge more. Set aside lanes for those who carry lots of people, and charge more for those that want a spot during a peak time.

    Which is essentially what HOT lanes are. They are actually better than that — they don’t change extra until you actually need it. Someone who doesn’t want to go slow, nor pay extra can always just wait in a parking lot and keep checking their phone (or radio) to see when traffic is light. They are a good idea that involves a very similar concept.

  2. I’m trying to understand what exactly you’re proposing? Are you suggesting that the purpose of buses is to reduce traffic on the freeway, so with proper tolling to keep the freeway moving, you don’t need any buses?

    That logic only works for people that 1) already have cars, and the money to operate them and 2) have flexible enough schedules to be able to shift commuting to an off-peak hour to avoid the toll.

    For people that need to commute peak hours, or people that don’t want to pay for a car, there has to be a viable transit option that doesn’t involve slogging it out through stoplights and bus stops every quarter-mile for 15 miles on end, each way, every day.

    And, in the case of Kirkland, if there’s no stop there, that means the bus has to either pass them on by, or take a very expensive detour into Kirkland Transit Center, which would nearly double the commute time for everybody else. Or, a 3rd option, as RossB suggested, which is a hodge-podge of overlapping routes, some serving Kirkland TC, while others bypass it along the freeway.

    You’re proposal doesn’t really address how some in Kirkland is supposed to be to Bothell or Bellevue, beyond “if we just had tolling to keep the freeway moving, everybody could just drive their car”.

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