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Congestion Fixes Will Require Hard Decisions

Original Article
There’s hope for those caught in daily congestion — if we make the necessary hard decisions.

A conference last week, sponsored by Microsoft and the Cascadia Center at Discovery Institute, a private, nonprofit public policy group, attracted 200 local and national transportation experts to Redmond. While participants didn’t pull any punches about the problem, there are ways to improve the situation.

* First and foremost, it’s time to stop the endless debate over cars versus mass transit. Both are needed and will be with us for the foreseeable future, so the sooner we end that fight, the better.

* Toll roads. They’re coming. The Legislature already has authorized a demonstration project on State Route 167 to determine how “HOT lanes” might work. Such lanes allow single-occupant vehicles to use HOV lanes if the drivers pay a fee. Tolls also have been mentioned for a new Evergreen Point Bridge and the Seattle Viaduct.

* Buses. Improving bus travel is a necessity if it’s going to pull drivers from their cars. Where it’s been successfully done — Vancouver, B.C., for example — bus transit has seen its market share grow from 10 percent to 12 percent in three years. That’s impressive, given that mass transit in Seattle accounts for just 7.6 percent of travel trips. In Vancouver, buses arrive on time, travel in their own lanes and are comfortable.

* Smart cars. Microsoft features installed in 23 car models allow drivers to use hands-free computers that can find destinations and give directions, make phone calls and find and play music. The company also wants to get into the traffic signal control business, and car computers could tie into future electronic toll systems, according to Martin Thall, general manager of Microsoft Automotive.

That last item deserves special mention. The fact that the software giant actually has an automotive division holds out hope that congestion relief someday might be a mouse-click away.