Seattle can’t handle more vehicles, SDOT director says

Jan 4, 2017, 5:46 AM | Updated: 9:13 am
Seattle, traffic...
Seattle's director of transportation says more drivers need to ditch their vehicles and choose alternative modes of transportation. (AP)

Seattle is overloaded with vehicles and the director of transportation says it’s time to cut back on single-occupancy transportation.

In an interview with TransitCenter, Scott Kubly, the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, says city drivers need to cut back on their time behind the wheel.

“The City of Seattle can’t handle any more cars than we currently have,” Kubly told TransitCenter, which describes itself as a “foundation dedicated to urban mobility. “Our mode split needs to go from 30 percent SOV [single-occupancy vehicle] to 25 percent SOV and the lion’s share of that is going to be carried on the bus.”

Related: What’s planned in 2017 that could impact your commute

Seattle traffic and the ‘war on cars’

Kubly and city administration have been accused of being anti-car for years. Recently, the city received criticism for its comprehensive plan, which Seattle Times columnist Brier Dudley said proves there’s a “war on cars.”

“The city has been denying there’s a war on cars for a long time,” he previously told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “It’s very explicit that there is indeed a war on cars when you dig into this growth plan. There are all kinds of stuff in there about how they want to turn street right-of-ways into parklets and cafes. It talks about how cars are the least efficient use of streets. There’s also some policy changes that … have some far reaching effects on Seattle and across the whole region that will increase congestion instead of battle congestion.”

As Dudley pointed out, single-occupant vehicles are inefficient. By reducing the number on the road, it improves the level of service throughout the city, officials argue. He also said city hall is assuming that driving is optional — a lifestyle choice — which isn’t always the case.

War on cars or not, data shows traffic congestion remains horrific within city limits. GeekWire recently reported that Seattle tied for the fourth-worst among U.S. cities for overall traffic. The city’s traffic caused a “31-percent spike in extra travel time in 2015,” GeekWire reports.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff told TransitCenter that with Seattle being one of 11 metropolitan areas that will welcome in the majority of 70 million estimated people in the U.S. by 2040, officials have to act now to make sure the city’s roads don’t become more congested.

Sound Transit CEO: Voters have forgiven us for past troubles

People in and outside Seattle haven’t ignored the problem, however. Voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties approved the $54 billion Sound Transit tax package that will allow the agency to expand light rail service throughout the region and improve Sound’s bus service.

King County Metro plans to add buses in March and again in September to relieve crowding and make routes more reliable. The agency is also working on RapidRide expansion and a long-range plan.

In Seattle, voters passed the $930 million Move Seattle levy that will support road maintenance and repair, as well as pedestrian and bike safety projects, bridge repair, congestion relief, improve light rail connections, according to the city.

And the city is already pulling lanes away from single-occupancy drivers for the benefit of buses. For example, the city is converting a westbound lane of Denny Way into an eastbound bus-only lane. The city is also giving buses head starts at traffic lights to help bus drivers avoid long backups and difficult lane changes.

But thanks to an ever-growing population, it sounds as if more drivers will need to make what can be a difficult switch to public transportation.

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Seattle can’t handle more vehicles, SDOT director says