Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Traffic jams don't stop BART

Although Puget Sound is still many years away from having a truly regional rail backbone, the obvious benefits of a reliable rapid transit system can be observed firsthand by visiting almost any major metro area in the United States.

Take San Francisco.

The Bay Area, home to roughly seven and a half million people (according to the State of California) is one of the nation's most populous and congested urban centers, encompassing some nine counties and one hundred and one cities.

Highway travel on Bay Area highways is notoriously unpredictable and difficult, just as it is in Puget Sound. Some highways are so bad they even have their own nicknames - like I-880, known locally as the "Nasty Nimitz". (I-880's official namesake is World War II Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz).

What San Francisco and its suburbs have that Puget Sound doesn't, though, is BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit, which serves forty three stations on one hundred and sixty seven kilometers of track, carrying close to 400,000 riders each day.

Because BART runs in its own right of way (like Sound Transit's forthcoming Link network) it is impervious to traffic jams - something that I'm appreciating at this very moment, as I'm on my way into the City on a BART train (and liveblogging, thanks to the power of mobile broadband).

While single occupant drivers are forced to idle or creep forward slowly on the interstate, we're speeding along at a fast clip, pausing only occasionally to pick up more passengers, and then quickly getting underway again.

This is the future of transportation in Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Redmond, and points in between: high speed, reliable rail travel that takes the stress and unpredictablity out of the commute. Link will make it possible for a Bellevue-based software engineer to get to a Mariners game after work, or for a Tacoma couple to go shopping in downtown Seattle, or for a Lynnwood mom to meet her son at the University of Washington for dinner - on time, no matter how bad traffic is.

That's what we've invested in with the passage of Mass Transit Now.

Thanks to the Sound Transit Board's willingness to give the voters the transit-only package they wanted to vote on, our future is Link.

UPDATE: Speaking of transit expansion, it looks like a proposal to expand BART south towards San Jose has a shot at passage.

The additional revenue required to build the expansion must be approved by a two thirds majority of voters. That's an awfully high bar.

The measure just obtained the necessary threshold, 66.67%, yesterday.


Blogger jniles said...

Link light rail will have maximum four car trains. BART has 10 car trains.

BART has no at-grade, signalized street crossings. Link Initial Segment has 18 of them in the Rainier Valley, plus some additional pedestrian crossings. Plus three gated street crossings in SODO. Plus signalized bus merge points at each end of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel

Light rail and platoons of buses will intermix along the tracks in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. BART has the tracks all to itself.

We'll get to see within a few years if these facility and operational differences make any difference in public transit performance and customer satisfaction with the urban rail transit in the Seattle and Bay Area regions.

November 18, 2008 11:42 AM  

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