Seattle is facing a dire transportation crisis with the Jan. 11 closing of the viaduct, politely dubbed the “Period of Maximum Constraint” (POMC). While commuters, employers and school officials are busy making contingency plans, why not take advantage of this moment to tackle some of our traffic congestion problems with creative solutions that might not be possible in normal times.
We write as co-chairs of ACES Northwest Network, a coalition of tech businesses and major employers working to bring Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared vehicle technologies to the Seattle area, with the goal of a cleaner environment and better transportation for all.
First, let’s suspend the suspicion that too often exists in Seattle between government and business by jointly supporting programs that will reduce congestion and create transportation equity.
We commend Mayor Jenny Durkan and Executive Dow Constantine for the on-demand van services operated by Hopelink to connect commuters to West Seattle’s water taxi dock, and Uber and Lyft for providing discounted shared ride services to the dock and numerous transit centers and park-and-ride lots. Don’t view this as competition, rather as government and business working for the benefit of everyone. Together, why not explore jointly subsidizing shared rides to downtown so they cost little more than buses, thereby alleviating overcrowding on buses and encouraging people to double up?
Commute Seattle and local private employers such as Amazon, Expedia, Boeing and Alaska Air are also to be commended for adopting employee programs for easing the POMC. Amazon is funding 12,000 hours of additional Metro service and adding more private buses.
Here are some recommendations for Metro working with private companies:
- To fill the need for additional buses and drivers, suspend rules to be able to borrow idled cruise ship buses from Victoria and local private companies. Employ retired Metro drivers for the emergency. Neil Peterson, former director of Metro, recalls a similar mobilization of buses from Los Angeles and use of retired Metro drivers when a gas crisis in 1979 idled cars.
- Implement a proposal by Sightline fellow Dan Malarkey to redirect Metro buses from low-density routes to overloaded commuter routes and fund mobile car services such as Uber, Lyft and Reach Now to provide same-price service on the low-density routes.
And we have some recommendations for the Seattle Department of Transportation:
- Allow taxis, employer shuttles and mobile-car services to operate on Third Avenue, presently restricted to buses only.
- Suspend on-street parking during rush hours on additional high-traffic downtown streets and expand adaptive traffic signaling.
- Convert 30 downtown curbside parking spaces to pickup/drop off locations for mobile-car services.
- Pilot a downtown electric-scooter project.
These recommendations can help pave the way for Seattle to be a leader in using ACES technologies, which will reduce traffic accidents and deaths, improve the environment, reduce congestion, recapture wasted time, increase accessibility and substantially lower the cost of transportation.
These solutions do not merely benefit the wealthy but will improve transportation for everyone, regardless of age, disability or income level. For example, low- and middle-income downtown workers who live in South King County where housing costs are lower need more convenient and lower-cost transportation alternatives.
ACES is supporting on-demand mobile-vehicle services to transit hubs and in the future direct home-to-work autonomous electric and mobile vehicle services. On the Eastside, we are supporting the expansion of the City of Bellevue-backed CommutePool project for Interstate 405 and State Highway 167 corridors, which lack express transit.
Beyond the POMC, ACES is also conducting research, helping organize and publicly and privately advocating other programs including autonomous vehicle pilot projects, additional electrical charging stations, marine-passenger services such as proposed by SECO Development, and an Interstate 5 demonstration project for autonomous trucks.
ACES means better uses of our urban land. Repurposing of the first floors of parking garages for rideshare, delivery and charging uses can hasten the transformation of our cityscape for parks, pedestrians and safe use of bikes and other micro-mobile services.
Eleven years ago, Seattle’s Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute, helped by funding from the Gates Foundation, advocated that the viaduct be replaced by a deep-bore tunnel, and in 2008 then Gov. Christine Gregoire selected the tunnel alternative. That example of private and public efforts working together on new ideas should be the model for our work today when we have the chance to realize cutting-edge answers to transportation riddles bedeviling cities across the country.
As Seattle has so many times before, we can exemplify the city of the future.