The Traffic Lab team is launching a new Q&A column to answer readers’ questions about the region’s thorny transportation issues.
Have Seattle transportation officials ever considered an urban gondola? Are there any plans for redesigning downtown Interstate 5 to relieve congestion? What’s the public discussion over telecommuting to ease traffic?
You asked. We found the answers.
The Seattle Times Traffic Lab team is seeking questions from readers about getting around in our region.
Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may highlight them in an upcoming column. Here’s what readers asked about recently:
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Q: Does the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have plans for redesigning the downtown portion of I-5? The current onramp/offramp situation creates really bad bottlenecks that cause miles of backup.
— Erik Schwedhelm, Edmonds
A: Although not an end-all, be-all solution, WSDOT does have a plan that aims to improve mobility along the roughly 2.5-mile stretch of northbound Interstate 5 from Yesler Way to Lakeview Boulevard East.
Right now, though, the agency doesn’t have the money to move forward with the project. WSDOT engineers have finished design work.
The roughly $17 million project would add a lane between the Seneca Street and Olive Way offramps, install new ramp meters on onramps, add new signage and extend a traffic-management system that uses overhead lane signs to help reduce collisions.
Projections show the improvements would reduce travel times by up to three minutes on weekdays and weekends, WSDOT says.
A WSDOT spokeswoman said the Legislature is aware of the plan, and the project is on the agency’s priority list for state funding.
Q: To fund and improve transportation, have state leaders ever considered implementing something like the Measure M tax that was used in Orange County and approved by voters in 1990?
— Richard Frontino, Mulkilteo
A: Measure M was an initiative to boost local sales taxes to fund transportation projects in Orange County, California. Voters first approved a 20-year, half-cent sales-tax increase in 1990, according to the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Similar ballot measures to fund transportation improvements in specific California counties have surfaced since. For example, Los Angeles County voters last fall approved a $121 billion plan, with at least $81 billion for transit, funded through an indefinite sales-tax increase.
In Washington, the Legislature allows for similar voter-approved sales taxes for local and regional transit agencies. Those local and regional sales taxes have caps that can be changed by the Legislature.
Voters last fall approved Sound Transit 3 — a $54 billion plan that committed residents to tax increases for light-rail extensions and additional bus-rapid transit lines. The measure included property tax, car-tab and sales-tax increases lasting decades to fund the projects.
Los Angeles County’s recent initiative and ST3 are two of the biggest transit measures the nation has seen.
The FasTracks measure in Denver once held the record at $4.7 billion when it passed in 2004. Phoenix voters passed $31 billion for rail and bus in 2015, while San Diego County voters rejected an $18 billion measure last fall.
Q: Have transportation officials ever considered an urban gondola to be part of the transportation infrastructure mix?
— Andrew Wellerm, Seattle
A: Designers in cities from Austin, Texas, to Washington, D.C., are pitching aerial cable projects, similar to those used to carry skiers up the mountain, to help get people off increasingly congested streets.
Right now, just two U.S. cities host gondola systems: Portland’s Aerial Tram that travels 3,300 feet from the city’s South Waterfront district to the Marquam Hill neighborhood, and New York City’s Roosevelt Island Tramway.
The transportation method is quickly gaining traction in European countries, however.
In Seattle, the owner of the Great Wheel proposed a gondola in 2014 to carry people down Union Street from the Washington State Convention Center to the waterfront.
But that was a private proposal, not from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) or other transportation officials, said SDOT spokeswoman Sue Romero.
SDOT reviewed the proposal and the permits the gondola would require to operate in the city’s right of way, she said. The proposal got as far as feasibility discussions but did not proceed beyond that.
So, no, city officials have not looked extensively into an urban gondola as a means of public transportation, Romero said.
Another proposal in Seattle surfaced years ago to connect Capitol Hill’s light-rail station with Belltown’s Olympic Sculpture Park, though that idea had even less political traction than the other.
Q: Why is there no discussion of how to not move people? There seems to be no talk, at least publicly, over using telecommunications to remove people from the traffic flow or centralizing office spaces so people don’t have to travel long distances.
— Scott Williams, Renton Highlands
A: Actually, state and local leaders have put a lot of effort into encouraging people to travel less, especially for work, says University of Washington professor and traffic expert Mark Hallenbeck. He explained in an email:
A Washington law, called the Commute Trip Reduction Efficiency Act, requires employers with more than 100 employees at a work site to develop a program to lower the number of people traveling to that site by single-occupant car. One alternative could be working from home, or telecommuting.
Many smaller companies adopt the same programs, in large part because employees support them.
Also, the region has a long history of promoting carpooling, going back to the 1970s when the first carpool-matching programs launched. The development of the high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lane system is an example.
State and local agencies run and promote RideShareOnline.com, a tool that registers people for carpooling or helps them plan a public transportation route to get where they need to go, for instance.
They also encourage and work with car-for-hire companies, such as Uber and Lyft.
And regional leaders support urban villages, mixed-use areas where people can live within walking or biking distance of work and shopping.