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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Council Consultant: Tunnel Tolls Will Cause "Significant Diversion of Traffic" and Risk to "Vulnerable Roadway Users"

Posted by on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 11:13 AM

A consultant working for the Seattle City Council will present a traffic analysis today on the deep-bore tunnel that finds tolling the project will cause "significant diversion of traffic from SR 99 onto Center City surface streets." Tim Payne, the principal of consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard, says the tunnel's tolls and general traffic growth will be felt particularly hard in South Downtown. The briefing will touch on some of the worst-affected intersections:

This illustration depicts intersections that will experience significant new traffic compared to today as a result of three factors: general growth in the greater downtown area; shifts in traffic patterns to access Downtown; and traffic diversion that might result from tolling. The yellow dots indicate intersections that will operate at a significant level of congestion during peak traffic periods as a result of one, or a combination of, these three factors.
  • Nelson\Nygaard
  • "This illustration depicts intersections that will experience significant new traffic compared to today as a result of three factors: general growth in the greater downtown area; shifts in traffic patterns to access Downtown; and traffic diversion that might result from tolling. The yellow dots indicate intersections that will operate at a significant level of congestion during peak traffic periods as a result of one, or a combination of, these three factors."

"The issues, left unaddressed, will impact accessibility to and the character of the Center City, particularly in the vicinity of Pioneer Square and the Seattle Center/South Lake Union areas," says a briefing paper that will be presented to council members this afternoon (.pdf). The Nelson\Nygaard report also finds that the uptick in traffic may result in longer travel times for transit and "will increase conflict between automobiles and vulnerable road users."

State and city officials say they currently lack any plan or any money to manage the flood of new traffic. Council Member Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council's transportation committee, has argued that the city has five years to make a plan, but it's unclear where the cash-strapped city or state would find the funding.

Council Member Mike O'Brien, a tunnel critic who secured $2,000 in city funds to pay for the analysis, said a few weeks ago that his some of colleagues were "in denial" about the tunnel's impacts. The council is expected to approve contracts for the deep-bore tunnel in February.

"I hope this is a starting point for the city, which is about to see a significant change in a number of historical patterns," says Payne by email today. "Managing change under any set of conditions is challenging. This will be particularly the case here, as the changes are a significant departure from the roots of what has existed throughout the development of Center City as far as auto transportation is concerned."

The state's Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement found that most of the 110,000 vehicles that currently use the Alaskan Way Viaduct each day will divert to city streets and I-5. For instance, just on the southern end of the tunnel, 40,000 additional vehicle trips a day are projected use eight streets that cross South King Street

Nelson\Nygaard suggests several methods for mitigating the traffic: Dedicated transit lanes through downtown, wider sidewalks, tolling a longer segment of RS 99 to discourage drivers from siphoning off en masse at the portals, expanding tolling to surface streets and I-5, timing traffic signals through downtown, and others.

The noon briefing will be streamed live here.

 

Comments (25) RSS

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1
Good thing nobody ever intended to leave it unaddressed, then.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 25, 2011 at 11:23 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 2
Are we actually pretending most that other Council members will do anything but pretend this is bullshit and/or ignore it? They're failures.

Why isn't the Downtown Seattle Association totally livid about this stuff? It will screw their membership hard.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi http://twitter.com/joeszi on January 25, 2011 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
Gee this sure sounds like what I've been warning about.

Increased capacity: NO.

Decreased commute time: NO.

Paid for within bonding limits: NO.

Clusterfuck: YES.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 25, 2011 at 11:54 AM · Report this
BigSpinach 6
Expanding the tolling perimeter further up 99, over to the 5, and some of the surface arterials makes for a solid plan. It would, in essence, institute a congestion charge. It would be great if Seattle was the first city in the US to institute one.
Posted by BigSpinach on January 25, 2011 at 12:06 PM · Report this
SPG 7
I just took an informal, yet scientific and legally binding poll of all drivers present regarding using the tunnel with a $4 toll.
The 100% consensus is that none will use it.
Posted by SPG on January 25, 2011 at 12:07 PM · Report this
raku 8
This is so ridiculous. People are going to die, people are going to become disabled, and people are going to be seriously injured because of this terrible project.

SDOT needs to project how many more deaths, injuries, and disabilities this project will cause, and WSDOT needs to compensate the victims and victims' families for their lifelong care. Not optional.
Posted by raku on January 25, 2011 at 12:08 PM · Report this
orino 9
I am so glad I moved to Bellingham...
Posted by orino http://www.scootinoldskool.com on January 25, 2011 at 12:15 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
Every single death will be on the Council's head.

Every. single. one.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 25, 2011 at 12:23 PM · Report this
11
@6, that's a good point. I'm watching the livestream now, and though Nelson/Nyberg seems pretty sure the 40,000 figure is way higher than what we'll actually face, nonetheless they're making the point that addressing these impacts will finally make our downtown grid traffic strategies grow up - that the viaduct always made it easy to not have to implement modern techniques.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 25, 2011 at 12:24 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 12
I'm not sure how traffic planning works, but it seems like, since they know the cycle of every traffic light in the city and the relative usage of each street, they'd be able to make a fairly accurate computer simulation of such a traffic impact.

How come we don't see something like that up on SDOT's site? Instead we just get videos of the "glorious future" variety.
Posted by Free Lunch on January 25, 2011 at 12:41 PM · Report this
cressona 13
There's a wonderful opportunity here for Seattle's green community to shape the future of this city, but we're too busy being right and righteous to notice it. If the prospect of tolls will cause a "significant diversion of traffic," then we have an opportunity to do something with that diverted traffic.

The simple genius of a pure surface+transit proposal as proposed by People's Waterfront Coalition is that, with lower capacity, much of the traffic will simply evaporate. Now, those "disappeared" trips run the gamut from being purely discretionary ("Ah, I can live without it") to pure pain ("The only thing worse than not making that trip is making it"). To the extent those forsaken trips run to the pain side of the continuum, you try to mitigate their loss with serious transit alternatives. And over the long term, development patterns adapt and evolve anyway.

If a tolled tunnel is going to have the same effect, then we can either let "shit happen" and let those cars overwhelm the existing street network until it's too painful for the drivers and the street network, or we can adapt our downtown transportation grid to absorb those trips and, better yet, prevent them from happening and provide viable alternatives in the process. This is where "tunnel+transit" needs to be more than just a catchphrase that the downtown "tunnel at all costs" proponents have diabolically adopted to try to defuse their opponents' arguments. If we do a smart mix of transit and dedicated transit lanes and controlling street use, we have a great opportunity to make those potential spillover trips "disappear" just as they would under the PWC plan--to really shift the travel mix more towards transit with the least pain possible.
Posted by cressona on January 25, 2011 at 12:43 PM · Report this
cressona 14
A confession. I wrote the above comment before reading the actual post. Why let a little information get in the way of my opinions? So upon reading the actual post, I was pleased to see Nelson\Nygaard do what I just did and interpret this problem as an opportunity, right down to using the phrase "dedicated transit lanes."
Posted by cressona on January 25, 2011 at 12:43 PM · Report this
15
Cressona, I'm still able to watch the livestream before heading to work, and Nelson\Nygaard has just started to talk excitedly about the all the many ways to deal with this. Using traffic signals in the same metering fashion as on freeway onramps. Using it as a kickoff with Metro to increase high-frequency transit service, not just rapid ride but fast-cycling trolley buses east to west, plus opportunities to make transit frequency consistent no matter how non-transit traffic cycles throughout the day.

The notion is that transit can not just be, but be perceived as, faster and more reliable than SOV travel through downtown. Continuing to unbundle parking costs from private development, focusing congestion where it belongs by closing some areas for exclusive pedestrian use and....congestion tolling too! Exciting stuff.

(I get the feeling N/N will be glad to help with more specifics if the Council, Metro and/or WSDOT cares to hire them for further work as the planning keeps ramping up!)
Posted by gloomy gus on January 25, 2011 at 1:14 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 16
Dedicated transit lanes are another word for the changing of parking lanes into bus/freight lanes - which if you'll recall was one of my earliest methods proposed for how Surface plus Transit could actually be viable.

it's not rocket science.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 25, 2011 at 1:26 PM · Report this
cressona 17
Gloomy gus @15, you're recounting all of N\N's small-bore concepts, but none of those concepts does much without the foundation of the one big, simple, yet difficult concept, dedicated transit lanes. You can throw all the money you want at King County Metro, you can talk all you want about high-frequency bus service and new trolley service, but it's ultimately not about the vehicles or the schedule or the funding; it's about the right of way.

To achieve this: The notion is that transit can not just be, but be perceived as, faster and more reliable than SOV travel through downtown.

You need this: right of way

Well, you did mention one of idea of N\N's I consider foundational, and that's pricing. And we don't have to resort to a London-style congestion charge to get the necessary effect. Just extend the tolling purview of 99, as N\N suggests, though perhaps at a lower rate. I'd love to see I-5 tolled as well, but hey, I'd love to date Jessica Biel too.
Posted by cressona on January 25, 2011 at 1:42 PM · Report this
Lose-Lose 19
Never has the "drink the cool-aid" metaphor been so appropriate.
I still don't know who came up with this deep-bore idea, or why the city council is such strong proponents to it.
Did they really drink tainted cool-aid? Or are they all really that brain dead?
Posted by Lose-Lose on January 25, 2011 at 1:56 PM · Report this
michaelp 20
Having actually sat through the brown bag...the...entire...thing...

One takeaway was this:

According to Mr. Payne, the effect on traffic downtown (and as far east as 23rd) were Option B of the Surface/Transit plan have been used would be twice as much of an increase as the diversion from the highest tolls on the tunnel.

It was a very informative presentation, I will say that much, and full of all sorts of fun facts and figures, and the occasional political posturing. Fun!
Posted by michaelp on January 25, 2011 at 1:57 PM · Report this
21
@17 - I hope you weren't taking my blather as verbatim or whatever, I was just typing in bits of what I heard - they did talk about removing parking lanes for transit, FWIW. The livestream is well over, but I'm sure the archive will be on the council site pretty soon. It was a nice brownbag format led by O'Brien, lots of impromptu questions, not stiff at all. Check it out for yourself.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 25, 2011 at 2:03 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 22
@21 you pretty much have to, to handle the freight time aspect and to optimize transit.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 25, 2011 at 2:20 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 23
@19 we all know who it was, but you'd never believe us.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 25, 2011 at 2:22 PM · Report this
Baconcat 24
Michaelp: the political posturing you refer to includes O'Brien asking about the depth of research into the surface option, yes? Just to clear out your pro-roads spin.

As for the rest of this, remember that all these lovely transit solutions will not be easy to come by. Governor Gregoire personally stripped transit funding, the Port of Seattle won't pony up for it and recovery to Metro's funding won't even begin til at least 2014.

Anyone who says we can spend so much, screw it up, then rescue it with transit we can't fund is dreaming. This is how freeway revolts begin, kids.
Posted by Baconcat on January 25, 2011 at 3:11 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 25
Good point. Time to shut down the Freeways.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 25, 2011 at 3:17 PM · Report this
michaelp 26
Baconcat:

I actually was impressed with O'Brien, and as I have said before, the anti-tunnel folks are lucky they have him. While I disagree with him on this issue, he presents his arguments very well, and they are typically very well thought out.

And there was posturing all around that table.

As for the transit portion - that is a big part of what was said is needed, but there was an acknowledgment, I felt, that a lot of the County's portion of transit is failing or not coming. Regardless, I have yet to hear anyone disagree that the surface option would cause massive increases in traffic (I think the best case scenario numbers that I saw in 2009 was 6 minutes for each trip, per car), and hearing the difference between the two as bluntly as was put today (twice as much)...well, that's a hard number to really argue with.
Posted by michaelp on January 25, 2011 at 3:50 PM · Report this
cressona 27
Baconcat @24:
Michaelp: the political posturing you refer to includes O'Brien asking about the depth of research into the surface option, yes? Just to clear out your pro-roads spin.

Pro-roads spin? The only thing michaelp said @20 that could be remotely construed as pro-roads was this: According to Mr. Payne, the effect on traffic downtown (and as far east as 23rd) were Option B of the Surface/Transit plan have been used would be twice as much of an increase as the diversion from the highest tolls on the tunnel.

That's spin? That's just recounting the obvious results of a reputable study.

Baconcat, your entire post @24 was pure spin--all about how hard it will be to get transit funding to go with the tunnel. Like it will be any easier to get the even greater amount of transit funding that will be needed for surface+transit?! This is the classic FUD we hear about any project. If it isn't wrapped up nicely with a pretty, little bow, then there must be something fundamentally wrong. Never mind that all the alternatives could be FUD'ed to death as well.

And Baconcat, maybe it's time you started being a champion of transit for the sake of being a champion of transit and not just as a righteous, little cudgel with which to bash the tunnel project. Maybe it's time you started to have a serious thought about what transit plans would be effective and what wouldn't. King County Metro is spending $600 million a year:
http://metro.kingcounty.gov/images/budge…

You think the transit answer--whether it's the tunnel or surface/transit--involves just throwing more money at Metro? Apparently, because that's all we hear from you. Meanwhile Nelson\Nygaard has some real ideas about improving the transit mix--ideas that require some heavy political lifting--and you're so busy with your own spinning you can't even be bothered to notice them.
More...
Posted by cressona on January 25, 2011 at 7:03 PM · Report this
28
Since 2002, my proposal for downtown transit, the Seattle Circulator Plan, reconfigures and adds trolleybus routes west of Broadway between King and Mercer. Adding trolleybus routes limited to downtown requires the least number of buses to provide frequent service where it is needed most.

It's a basic problem with downtown transit in most cities: more people wait for a particular bus line than actually ride buses passing through. With downtown-specific routes, when the bus comes, everybody gets on board. In this configuration, trolleybus (or regular bus) lines become more like streetcar lines, shuttles or circulators.

Seattle's arduous hills require frequent and duplicative transit. Motorists must be able to use any convenient parking place and rely upon frequent transit to complete trips downtown. The Seattle Circulator Plan's "Trolleybus Reconfiguration" aims for 5-minute trolleybus service on nine E/W streets between Alaskan Way/1st Ave and Broadway, six E/W streets between 1st Ave and Harrison, and in the N/S direction along 1st & 3rd streets between King and Mercer. All I've got for my efforts so far is a ration of shit from smart ass activists and unaccountability from city hall.

Posted by Wells on January 31, 2011 at 12:07 PM · Report this

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