Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Taking a whole new approach to traffic congestion

By guest blogger Joe Irwin

We’ve probably all done it. Taken an on-ramp onto I-5 during rush hour thinking maybe this time it won’t be so bad only to run into a sea of red brake lights, and then subsequently cursing Henry Ford for inventing the automobile.

As most Washington drivers can attest, traffic congestion is becoming routine on certain sections of highway statewide. In addition to numerous projects to improve traffic flow, we analyze and report on highway trends.

We’ve been doing this for the past 12 years, but this year we took our in-depth review a step further and in a new direction. The idea is to provide a much finer level of detail in telling the story behind traveling on our state’s highways.

We recently released the 2013 Corridor Capacity Report, providing an unprecedented look at how transit and park and rides fit into the overall transportation scheme on our state highways, while making note of empty seats and parking spots along specific corridors.

This unused capacity on buses is a big deal because it shows us and transit agencies exactly where we can add more riders, park and rides and/or transit services to make things more efficient on the highways at reasonable costs.

According to the report, mass transit took more than 43,800 vehicles off the road each day in 2012, reducing daily carbon dioxide emissions by 674,700 pounds. Even so, our findings show we can improve transit use and reduce emissions by using the existing capacity we have and filling unused seats during the tail ends of the peak periods.

The report focuses closely on routinely congested sections of highway, which also allows us to figure out exactly where the problem areas are located. Traffic patterns differ during the morning and evening commutes, and determining where congestion is worst, when and for how long, helps us as we work to alleviate it.

As more and more people hit the roads each day, the corridor capacity report is providing us a new tool with which to decide the best ways of helping everyone get from Point A to Point B as efficiently and reliably as possible.


Art Allen said...

The number of empty seats are of real importance, but are you counting th eempty seats in cars and light trucks?

Anonymous said...

Bus routes are critical. I am a long time bus rider, but find at my new job that there are no convenient routes. By that I mean, I would have to switch from Sno-County routes to Metro routes (adding an additional half an hour) because the Express bus from the northend is just that - an express that does not stop at the park and ride I need. And now I hear that Metro is looking to slash a bunch more routes. I think our region really has a bus problem. We spent money on the Sounder and light rail, when way more people could benefit from bus routes.

WSDOT said...

Great idea there, Art. While we agree the empty seats in the personal cars must be accounted for– personal cars and light trucks differ from the mass transportation options that are available for everyone. We certainly encourage commute options that put more people in less vehicles through the programs such as rideshare online. The high occupancy vehicle lanes in the region are present specifically to encourage more than one person in each vehicle.

Mfffffffff said...

HOV lanes on some roads, notably 167 and southern 405 are horribly under-utilized. So why are they not opened to all traffic? Instead WSDOT stubbornly maintains them for no apparent reason. There's another irksome item: The red lights on entrance ramps. WHY is the light red during idle times? It should be GREEN until a car passes whereupon it should enter it's normal cycle, but again become green if no cars are present. The EPA should have something to say about this.

Mfffffffff said...

You say: "The high occupancy vehicle lanes in the region are present specifically to encourage more than one person in each vehicle." But you continue to ignore facts. i.e., most people have ABSOLUTELY NO CAPABILITY to force others to ride with them. And the fact that the HOV lanes are under-utilized for decades (!) is tantamount to proof that your platitude about encouragement is ridiculous. Open your mind and accept reality, not hopes. Your wishful thinking inconveniences and delays hundreds of thousands of people annually. You profess a desire to eliminate congestion, but your actions say otherwise... that you HOPE to eliminate congestion but are unwilling to actually act to do so if those actions are contrary to your ideological beliefs, no matter how much contrary evidence to indicate otherwise exists.

grensquell said...

I agree with Mffffff, WSDOT seems to be a failure in this state as any improvements they attempt just cause more congestion.
On ramp lights, traffic lights, HOV lanes and of course the foolish roundabouts do nothing but bunch cars together and cause more congestion.
It's even proven that a normal use lane moves a third more vehicles than a HOV lane.
And now some of the roadways are lowering the speed limits. Most drivers can't get to the legal speed limit as it is, probably due to lack of proper drivers education.
Loosen things up and let the traffic flow!

The Geezer said...

Mffffffff and grensquell are absolutely correct. WSDOT needs to get off their PC wishlist of everyone living next to work, and upgrade their drug of choice to understand that not everyone has the capability, or desire to pool/ bus.

Fact is, on the north part of 405, where they are building a HOT lane in addition to the HOV lane, the HOV travel time is often only 1/3 of the general purpose lanes. Well, nice for the busses and those who can carpool, but it suggests to the Geezer's simple mind that it is a gross waste, and contributes to congestion, rather than resolves to reduce it.

The Geezer was working at M$ when the moved the HOV from the right to the left. For three days there was no HOV, just one additional GP lane, and guess what?

You guessed correctly, no congestion at all for those three days. Guess everyone at WSDOT had the old blinders/PC on, and didn't notice.

Yeah, right.

It is about ideological beliefs, not about the evidence. And you want me to buy a gas tax increase? For bikes, walkers and transit? Nutz, and a pox on your houses.

Anonymous said...

I would disagree with all of you. As a regluar user of the HOV lanes on I5, they're often congested with single car occupants and buses. The point of having them 'under-utilized' is for those who can use them to move more efficently through the corridor as a benefit of having more than one rider. If you took away the beenfit of the HOV my counter part and I would simply take two vehicles and forgoe the hassle of carpooling; only adding more cars to the road. Most days while in the HOV we evetunally end up sitting in stop and go traffic alongside everyone else. If DOT simply opened them up, it would serve to move the bottleneck by a fraction down the road, not necessasily increasing capactiy. I've seen other studies by DOT that say for I5 to be at freeway speed during rush hour it would need to be 22 lanes wide. One HOV lane isn't going to assit here.

Don't like it? Pay for the HOT lanes. According to this study, you're paying either way if you caluclulate the time/$$ you sit and traffic and/or burn your personal time.

I know I'm in the minority, but I would pay $10 each way into downtown Seattle each day if it was congestion free.

Also, roundabouts signficantly increase traffic flow and lower congestion if placed in the right corridor, you should do your homework. Have you ever timed yourself at a traffic circle compared to a traffic light?

Anonymous said...

Wow good point. My friend and I commute together and if it weren't for the HOV lanes and ease of travel, as Anonymous mentioned he'd take his own car. The time it takes to take him to/from work is still less than what it'd take to sit in traffic.
If more people were to educate themselves about how to drive through roundabouts then traffic would flow more smoothly. And at low traffic times stopping isn't necessary. Saves not only time but reduces emissions. Educate yourselves before ranting and raving.