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A view of the 520 tolls from Capitol Hill

The state says we won’t know the full traffic impact of the 520 tolls for six months but that hasn’t kept Seattle from trying to analyze the early results. Pictures of an empty 520 are too easy. There’s more going on. Seattle Transit Blog takes an effectively simple look at choices now faced by the city’s commuters: “If they’re in a hurry (like most freight presumably is), there’s now a fast way across the lake. If they’re not in a hurry, they can still be thrifty.” Meanwhile, a new presence enters our collective smart phone — 520or90.com.

Anecdotes we’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook and have heard from friends usually boil down to the joy at speeding across 520 or the painful sadness of being slogged down on 90. KOMO TV ran a kind of silly anecdote that a gas station in Montlake is already suffering from the tolling. Montlake, by the way, has also suffered new vandalism as taggers have targeted the new “smart” signs above 520, according to a recent police report. Another anecdote relates to bus riders as we’ve been told that it seems like frequency of routes like the 545 have been increased — though we’ve not yet confirmed that with Sound Transit. We’ve also witnessed some peculiar new traffic patterns. Can anybody explain the new back-up that forms on the Montlake exit of eastbound 520? Presuming these are people who are getting off the highway to avoid the toll, where are they headed once they exit at Montlake?

So, while we wait six months to figure it all out, what are you seeing now that the first real commutes of the first full work week of 2012 are underway?


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Matt
9 years ago

Maybe the east bound backup is caused by people slowing down to avoid hitting the tolled section before the tolls change? San Francisco encountered the same behavior when they started variable tolling on the Bay Bridge. Apparently Singapore solved this problem by adding a +/- 5-10 minute variation to the toll switch times.

Aleks Bromfield
9 years ago

I can think of a couple reasons (albeit not very good ones) for the backup:

– People who see the “toll bridge” sign, freak out, and get off at the last exit before the toll. If this is true, you’d expect to see many of them get right back on the freeway.

– People who have heard that 520 is free-flowing, and so use it as a shortcut to UW or NE Seattle. (Previously, it probably would have made more sense to use I-5.)

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Is it possible to get a bigger version of that graphic? That’s hard on the eyes.

As for the backup, I’d assume it’s people who would normally take 520 west to get to the area but are taking I-5 instead on top of the normal traffic.

jseattle
9 years ago

was playing even less nicely with our layout than typical diagrams so removed the image — you can view here http://www.520or90.com/app/webroot/blog/520-tolling-week-rev

jw
jw
9 years ago

much longer left turn back up at Denny (westbound) & Stewart light than usual – consistently all the way up to Bellevue Ave this last week around 8am. (i presume more people getting on I-5 South for 90 instead of I-5 North for 520). If you are just trying to get to Stewart, don’t. it’s a easily a 5+ light cycle.

David Seater
9 years ago

I wish I could remember the source, but prior to the start of tolling Sound Transit said they’d have extra buses/drivers standing by to run extra (unscheduled) 545 trips to relieve overcrowding. That may be what people are seeing.

hybridtoaster
9 years ago

Last week, the first real working week after the holidays, I had great luck on the 545. It was actually less crowded than usual, and I tried it at all the normally packed times, like 7:45, 8, 8:30, 9. I saw a few of the unscheduled extra buses. Twice, at montlake the dueling 545s stopped and let people offload from the overcrowded one onto the more open one. It was really quite a nice week for commuting. There were definitely lots of new faces, mainly Microsofties who thought it was OK to drive a single occupancy vehicle from Cap Hill to Redmond every day up until they got a taste of direct taxation. While the buses weren’t too crowded, I heard *lots* of complaints from the newbies, about how crowded it was (much more crowded than one person in a BMW X5, of course), how it smelled, how it was loud, how it wasn’t exactly the right temperature, etc.

This week I haven’t seen any extra buses, and the 545s I’ve ridden have been insanely packed, worse than ever. I’m talking standing at the front of the bus getting crushed between two other people so that we all fit in behind the yellow line. People who are standing putting all their bags in the overhead compartments to fit more and more people on. Bus traveling at a very sluggish pace apparently not coping well with the additional weight. It has been awful. Not bad enough to start taking the Connector (I’m morally opposed to elitist, exclusive private transit), but close.

ohnoohno
9 years ago

Morally opposed to the shuttle but not Microsoft in general…

I guess they don’t hire the best and the brightest any more.

JimS.
9 years ago

well, ohnoohno, you don’t seem too morally opposed either. Are you working on a Windows-based computer, after all? How would you be doing that without Microsoft? Or if it’s an Apple, that’s somehow more “morally acceptable”? OK, if you say so.

kristins
9 years ago

I don’t work for Microsoft but I think the Connector buses are a great service that they are providing to their employees that also has tangible benefits for the rest of us. They are completely subsidizing these large vanpools, essentially, making it very appealing for their employees to choose ride sharing over single occupancy vehicles. If more large corporations took similar responsibility for their traffic impacts, and had robust programs to encourage ride sharing and telecommuting, the region would benefit greatly.

calhoun
9 years ago

It’s hard to imagine that those who live here have not heard that tolling has started on 520, but perhaps there are some who are unaware. Then, when they see the “toll bridge” sign as they head eastbound to Montlake, they panic and make an exit.

calhoun
9 years ago

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree completely.

Boeing, are you listening?

ohnoohno
9 years ago

You are absolutely right, I am not morally opposed. Did my comment confuse you that much?

In fact, I ride the elitist exclusive private transit everyday and yet I am still part of the 98%.

Greg
9 years ago

People are pretty irrational about travel costs. They routinely will drive long distances to a store to save a few pennies per gallon on gas or to save a couple dollars on a sale. Similarly, people often are willing to exchange a long commute to work for ability to buy a larger and nicer house, even if the cost of the commute in terms of time, gas, and wear-and-tear is higher than the savings on the cost of the home.

This is why the 520 toll revenue is going to be wildly lower than WSDOT projected. WSDOT expected only a 15-25% drop in traffic on 520, but the drop so far has been 40%. This means tolling of the I-90 and other roads is in our future, though I suspect political fallout from voters angry about how badly this is all going might stop that from happening.

In the end, a lot of people are going to be thrown out of office, and I think that politicians who thought tolling was an easy way to avoid the political strife of trying to push through higher gas taxes and higher car registration taxes are going to find that tolling wasn’t any easier politically.

badguy
9 years ago

The cause is people from the south end like renton kent area who need to go to UW area. For example I live in kent and depending on traffic I could use 405 to 520 to get to campus or I5 to 520 montlake exit. So now that tolling has started I only take I5 because 405 to 90 has to much traffic.

jseattle
9 years ago

Ahhh — this makes sense. I’d bet on this as winner. Pretty interesting.

Alex Brennan
9 years ago

I’d love to see CHS blog do some coverage of the real time ride sharing pilot program that WSDOT is running from Capitol Hill to Microsoft’s campus. Are people using it? Do they like it? Do people want to use it who don’t know about it? Has it become more popular since the tolls started?

http://www.avego.com/st/wsdot.php

anon
9 years ago

much harder to get on 5 south:( took me 6 light cycles on denny this am- worst ever. assume it is extra people going to the 90. lame all around for those of us just trying to go south to work. this stinks, i was late.

pragmatic
9 years ago

Melodramatic much?

pragmatic
9 years ago

That’d be interesting. You should totally do that, Alex. :)

Wayne
9 years ago

It used to be stop and go from I-5 to the Montlake exit. Now it goes much faster, so theoretically, maybe more cars get to the exit more quickly than before, and the light is not timed to let them through at a faster pace than before. Also, if you’re an eastsider avoiding the toll you might take I-90 or Lake City to I-5/520/Montlake to get to UW.