More drivers, more time in gridlock
Published Sat, Nov 18 2006 1:27 PM
Technorati Tags: News and Politics
From the Tacoma News Tribune comes another article on the WSDOT traffic study report issued earlier this week. This one focuses on the increased number of people in the region and the lack of infrastructure growth:
If you drive a car in the Puget Sound region, you already know the conclusion of a state Department of Transportation report issued this week. Traffic congestion is getting worse on the area’s freeways.
“We’re certainly seeing a trend,” DOT spokesman Lloyd Brown said Friday.
Data collected from car-monitoring sensors embedded in area highways show traffic conditions significantly worsened between 2003 and 2005, according to the department’s annual congestion report.
“On 34 of the 35 commute routes analyzed, travel times increased at peak periods, speeds slowed, peaks lengthened and the reliability of travel times worsened,” the department said in a Wednesday statement announcing the release of the study.
The biggest reason for the increasing congestion isn’t difficult to discern, according to state traffic engineer Ted Trepanier. State records show some 70,000 people moved to the Puget Sound region during the study period.
“The biggest factor is the area is growing and the infrastructure isn’t,” Trepanier said Friday. “You just have demand outstripping capacity.”
So why isn't the infrastructure growing to match the demand? Could it be because transportation officials in the King County area are obsessed with mass transit, even though only about 6 percent of trips in the area are taken on mass transit? The cost of weekday delays on major Puget Sound freeways was estimated by the DOT at about $164 million per year, affecting both commuters and commercial transportation in lost productivity, higher fuel costs, and wear and tear on vehicles.
Have you ever wondered why it is that so few people take transit despite the congestion? Maybe a little story from my personal experience will help to illustrate the problem. Or maybe I'm the exception.
I drive to and from work every weekday. By the shortest route I have found so far that's about 25 miles each way. The shortest time on that route is about 45 minutes. I don't drive on the freeways at all during that trip. Part of the reason the trip takes that long is due to speed limits on the roads. Another part, the frustrating part, is sitting behind busses that block entire lanes of travel while they're stopped at bus stops.
This past summer I had a trip planned that required me to not drive home after work. My family was going to pick me up in the van and off we would go. So I decided that that morning I would take the Sounder to Seattle and ride a bus from there to where I work. The day before the trip I researched the bus routes and the times that the Sounder ran.
The Sounder runs on a limited schedule. This is partly due to the fact that it has to share tracks with other trains. Bus service in Seattle runs pretty much continuously, but the routes are anything but convenient. I determined by checking the schedules that if I caught the Sounder, rode it in to Seattle, caught a bus, and took a transfer to another bus I would be able to arrive at work on time. If I got up an hour and a half earlier than my usual time and was willing to spend 45 minutes on the bus after I got into Seattle.
That was with the help of Metro's trip planner.
So I got on the Sounder and headed to work the next morning. The ride on the Sounder was for the most part pleasant. It was very easy to find a seat. As an estimate, I would say that there were only about a third of the seats filled. The only bad part of the trip was when the train stopped to wait for another train to clear the tracks ahead. This was an unscheduled stop and we sat there, not moving for over 15 minutes.
That's not so bad I was thinking. I usually end up stuck for that long near Boeing Field if I take I-5 Northbound to work (which is one of the reasons I don't anymore). Oh well, I got into Seattle a bit later than I thought I would.
I decided not to take the bus. Instead I walked from King Street Station to where I work in Capitol hill. It was mostly an uphill walk, and I'm a bit out of shape. I stopped to sit in a park to cool down a bit about three quarters of the way to work. I sat for 5 minutes. Then I got up and walked the rest of the way in to work. The total time for my walk, including the rest stop was just under 40 minutes.
So, based on this experience, I would say that the reason ridership on Sound Transit is so low compared to other forms of transportation would have to be convenience. Sound Transits routes are inconvenient to the average commuter. They take far longer than is necessary to get from place to place, and they cost far more than they're worth.
Meanwhile, the roads are deteriorating. Rainier Avenue South is cracked, full of potholes and poorly patched areas and uncomfortable to drive. I-5 south of Seattle to Federal Way is in horrible shape, with large holes in the concrete that wait to trap and bust the unwary tire, and uneven slabs of concrete that make riding along in the right-hand lane feel like riding an old poorly suspended wooden carriage over cobblestones.
I-405 has such poorly planned on-ramps and exits that parts of it are backed up for over 1/2 mile near exits even during low volume times. The shoulders are so narrow on the freeways that if your car broke down there's not enough room on the shoulder to pull over and stop without leaving your car halfway into the lane of traffic.
When I moved to the Seattle area in 1990, I-405 was under construction. Several years later the same areas were still under construction. For the last 5 years SR-18 has been under construction. The major work in both areas is done, but the pace of construction work was ludicrously slow. Meanwhile, other roads are falling apart and still we focus on mass transit as our solution.
It's time the DOT and King County started focusing their infrastructure dollars where they'll do the most good. Instead of spending nearly half of the transportation budget on mass transit while over 94% of the trips made are only inconvenienced by mass transit, we should start spending it to improve our infrastructure.
Sources: King County Budget Office 1998 annual growth report, King County Budget Office 2005 annual growth report.
Cross posted to NWBloggers.com
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