8 Ball In The Wind

Friday, June 2, 2017

Seattle's Traffic Woes Overlook A Safe, Cost-Effective Option

Seattle has the 23rd (out of 1,064 cities) worst traffic on the planet, 10th worst in the USA (according to Kirkland-based traffic data firm INRIX ).  This is even more staggering when one realizes that the Seattle metro area doesn't even crack the top 90 metropolitan areas in the world for population.  The current focus on congestion relief for the metro Seattle area are the tunnel on the north side of downtown, and the Sound Transit Light Rail.  Both are multi-billion dollar projects than will have little or no flexibility to respond to area traffic needs.  With traffic this severe, and bound to increase as the regional population increases, congestion will also increase.  Surely there is a more cost-effective measure than can be taken to aid in the reduction of this dire problem.  I believe there is.

The transportation policy planning in Washington State has been primarily focused on a two pronged approach; infrastructure, and public transit.  Once the capacity for additional freeway lanes was reached in Seattle, the policy began to shift to promote the use of public transit.  Which is not a negative policy.  However, there are further options which the transportation policy planners have come to look at merely as vehicles that represent safety concerns to be dealt with.  

Outside of the United States, in some of the most congested traffic in the world, those options are being seriously looked at as part of a comprehensive transportation policy.  Not only looked at, but actively supported and promoted by the government.  What are these options?  Powered Two-Wheelers (motorcycles and scooters).  In the US, and especially evident here in Washington State, the powered two-wheelers are looked at by transportation planners only in relation to safety of the rider.  Motorcycles and scooters are left out of the equation virtually completely when it comes to efforts to reduce traffic congestion.  This is a counterproductive way of thinking.

In the UK for example, it has been realized that this mindset created a perceived lack of motorized transportation to replace the single occupant car in traffic.  So for a long time, no few actually "thought outside the box" until about the late 1990's.  In a policy framework, Highways England stated; "Failure to consider all modes of transport, including motorcycling, denies the opportunity to create fully rounded transport policies, which are relevant to all who need to use transport for differing purposes and in widely varying circumstances.  This narrow approach to transport policy also fails to maximize the opportunities that exist to reduce urban traffic congestion and pollution-an area where motorcycles can play a significant role."

I specifically mention the UK and it's effort to support a comprehensive planning policy that includes powered motorcycles and scooters for a few reasons.  One, is that environmentally speaking, the UK is not too different from Washington State, with a similar annual precipitation spread out throughout the year.  It is also slightly cooler on average than Washington State.  Another reason is that London is even further up the congestion ranking than Seattle.  London is ranked 7th in the world for it's congestion.  Lastly; the UK, as well as most of the rest of the world, uses lane-sharing on the main freeways ad lane-filtering on the city streets to help ease congestion.  

Imagine if you will, if all the motorcycles in Washington State were given the opportunity to help ease congestion by lane-sharing as described in ESB5378.  A program manager in the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission informed me they do not believe there would be any congestion relief because only 4% of registered vehicles in Washington are motorcycles.  That is over a quarter of a million motorcycles.  Yet the WTSC doesn't believe they would have any effect on congestion.  That is a perfect example of the mindset I have spoken of.  Instead of placing motorcycles in the same category as; public transit, pedestrians, and bicycles for promotion of their use, the state doesn't even consider them as an option.  If motorcycles as an option can be of effect in the UK, as wet and rainy as it can be, imagine what removing a quarter of a million vehicles from the traffic stream would do.

As for safety, European and American studies have shown that less than 1% of motorcycle collisions involve lane-sharing motorcyclists.  Even though more than 60% of motorcyclists observed were lane sharing.  This is a safe, flexible option for easing traffic congestion.  Instead of tens of billions for infrastructure that cannot be adapted easily to changing population needs, lane-sharing would only require an initial public awareness program to educate drivers on the technique.  A public promotion campaign showing the benefits of motorcycling to work, and/or taking the light rail versus sitting in traffic in a single occupant vehicle could bring positive effects to the congestion relief effort.  Again from Highways England; "It has been contended that it would be a bad thing if people chose motorcycles over the bus or train.  Industry contends the contrary.  In many urban areas, buses and trains are already beyond sensible or comfortable passenger carrying capacity, which reduces their attractiveness to both existing and potential new users.  If a proportion of bus and train users were to switch to motorcycles, valuable capacity would be opened which would then be more attractive ti those current car users who would never consider riding a motorcycle or bicycle.  Transport usage and choices would start to balance better than at present."

Motorcycles make for a safe and cost-effective option for congestion relief if taken advantage of.  Ignoring them as a vehicle laden with risk to its rider is an outdated, and myopic point of view.

Catch ya on the road sometime...

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