Editor’s note: Another version here.
Via Sightline pal Joe Cortright and Google maps, a graphic depiction of what happens when you toll a formerly free stretch of highway: drivers flock to a nearby, untolled route.
(The image is a web animation—so if it’s not flipping back and forth between two different maps, you may have to change your internet browser settings to allow “animated gifs.” Also, the “Toll” image is from this morning at 8 a.m., and the “No Toll” image is a typical weekday morning at 8 a.m.)
For those not familiar with Seattle traffic, SR-520 is the northern Lake Washington crossing on the map above. The bridge has been the bane of commuters for quite some time: state traffic figures suggest that it’s been full during rush hour for over a decade. But last week the state Department of Transportation put a $3.50 rush-hour toll on State Route 520—and drivers have flocked in droves to I-90, about 3.5 miles to the south. I-90 used to be the fast way across the lake, but now you’ll have to pay $3.50 for a quick rush-hour trip between Seattle and the east side.
Of course, the tolling is brand new, and it will probably take a few months for traffic patterns to settle into a new equilbrium. But for now, it’s clear that tolling is creating significant diversion to nearby toll-free routes—which is much what we argued would happen in our report on toll avoidance last year. The real question, though, is what will happen over the long haul. If tolling and congestion cut back on demand for car travel across Lake Washington, will the state be able to raise as much money as it needs to replace and repair the cross-lake bridges? At this point, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Seems something funny is happing on 405 near Totem Lake. Is it just not having my coffee yet?
I’m looking forward to more data on this subject. and, maybe a line graph of the number of articles on tolling & traffic in the Mercer Island Reporter?
The reason for the red around totem lake (near where I live) is because of the north route – something this article doesn’t technically bring up but it still really annoying. If you don’t want to head south to I-90, you probably will head north to Lake City Way (not pictured, just a little too far north). Totem Lake via 100th + Juanita are “shortcuts” to get to Lake City Way.
For those of us living in along Lake City Way, it’s already obvious we’re getting more traffic. Very annoying.
Thanks, great visual. The bridges are 4 miles apart, of course drivers will switch!
Toll revenue is going to be way down. We need to toll both bridges at half price, and collect far more total revenue. TollI-90.com
Oh, that’s what it will come to. The liberals of Seattle who have a lot of money want to fix it so only rich people can drive anywhere.
I’m not sure that word means what you think it means. It sure wasn’t the ‘rich liberals’ who voted down the income tax on 6-figure salaries. It wasn’t the ‘rich liberals’ who are fighting tooth and nail against an affordable rail transit option across the water. And all those ‘rich liberals’ who pay the toll are reeeally angry that the money will go to fund something that will help the public at large, aren’t they?
I’m amused by all the folks who line up to sit alone in their cars for an extra long trip across 90, spending an extra $3.80 gallon of gas idling on the 405 ramps to avoid a $3.50 toll. Are you one of them?
Shteevie, the income tax lost in every single county in Washington State, including King County. I voted for it, because I think the tax structure here is too regressive. But it lost; so be it.
At least I feel consistent. If I think it’s too regressive, then it’s pretty logical to oppose things like the S.R. 520 tolls, which have instantly transformed that route into the rich-guy’s drive, and the recently defeated Seattle Prop. 1, which would have taxed every driver $60 a year for a grab bag of amenities few of which had anything to do with driving here.
Moreover, as it concerns the S.R. 520 toll, it funds a bridge that’s vastly too expensive on account of freebies for bicyclists and pedestrians (who, as usual, will pay nothing for them, because they’re so selfish and somehow get away with it), and light rail capacity without the rail, plus a variety of yet-to-be-determined costs that are not connected to bridge construction or even maintenance.
All of this is supported by Seattle’s hypocritical liberal elite, who then turn right around and claim to oppose regressive taxes. [Comment edited to remove abusive language.]
Keep your language civil or we’ll delete your comments.
It’s interesting to see how the “sustainability” group just hates being opposed. You guys, the Seattle Transit Blog, the Seattle Bike Blog, you’re all the same: In the end, you will censor your opponents. And then, at some later date, you’ll wonder why you get swamped in this or that election.
Have your blog. Talk only to yourselves. See what happens.
By the way, I’d appreciate it if you’d not edit my comments. If you are afraid of what I have to say, delete the whole thing. There was nothing obscene, or threatening, in the comment that you “edited.” Either run all of it, or admit that you can’t handle the thought of vigorous opposition and dump the whole thing.
Oh, and to satisfy your sense of decorum: “Please.”
As a resident of Wallingford/U-District, I have already noticed the decrease in congestion across the ship canal bridge. Most welcome!
It’s great to see the early data. Once this hits equilibrium, it will provide really helpful information for other projects planned to have congestion pricing, particularly those with other non-tolled facilities nearby (read: the CRC mega-highway in Portland-Vancouver).
Publicola is reporting that only 2% of drivers have switched to I-90. Is that different from what you’re finding? Or maybe it’s that the 2% diversion is just enough to put put I-90 past a congestion tipping point?
Or maybe it’s simply that Publicola looked before the holidays ended and we got a regular weekday commute day.
Tolls are a nuisance; of course people are going to avoid them. Toll 90 and people will start avoiding it too, though I feel badly for all the poor schmucks who would be stuck working on the opposite side of the lake from where they live.
It unfortunateely seems that 520 has turned into an upperclass bridge… I know there is no way I can afford the extra toll each way every day. And with other time obligations(ie kids, ect) busses are just not an option for some people.
crystal, no one cares what you can afford. You are not “sustainable.” You’re an ordinary person trying to make ends meet, and you don’t count. The smug liberals who run Seattle hate you for driving a car, even to the point of sticking you with a huge, regressive tax to fund their biases against you.
Sorry it worked out that way, crystal.
Using the tolled bridge will save you lots of time, making room for those other obligations.
If I asked you if you’d pay $7 a day for an extra 2 hours with your kids, I expect you or any other parent would say ‘Yes, of course!’
There is an expense involved, but if you look at this as an opportunity, I’m sure you can make something great happen.
To pay $7 per workday requires about $2,400 a year in extra pretax earnings. That might be nothing to a rich guy like you, hence your empty and truly offensive platitudes. To people who are struggling to make ends meet, it’s a big problem. Not that you could possibly care less, as you made clear.
The toll is exorbitant, and does not need to be anywhere near that level. The proceeds will go not just for the bridge (which itself is way too expensive given that it was unnecessarily designed to include light rail, pedestrians, bicyclists, the latter two categories of users paying nothing), but also for other projects.
The “liberals” of Seattle, who make a great show of opposition to “regressive taxes,” have gone all-out for a hugely regressive tax on S.R. 520. Why? Because when it comes to their boondoggles, the “liberals” here are no different than the Republicans: They want poorer people to pay for rich people’s toys and dreams.
The hypocrisy isn’t surprising to anyone who lives here, yet it’s still shocking. Please, Seattle “liberals,” will you drop the presense of caring one bit about anyone who’s not rich like you?
You can’t just compare a random day and get an accurate picture of traffic. First (as you stated) the patterns haven’t even come close to settling down, but more importantly there are all sorts of anomalies on a daily basis that cause congestion (accidents, weather, etc). You will need to do an aggregate over several weeks, and probably not include the first month (especially given some of that was holiday level traffic and people figuring out their permanent route.
I totally agree. I’m fascinated with the patterns over the short term — and I know that lots of others are too. So I hope that this sort of visualization is at least somewhat helpful.
But it’s awfully easy to read a big story into the first few days of traffic — when, as you point out, what *really* matters is the aggregate effect over a few weeks or months. Still, the short-term patterns — as people figure out the new reality & settle in on new routes & commuting strategies — strike me as really interesting!
Monday was a holiday. Further ammunition against this having any meaning. Pretty useless.
The Google map traffic application didn’t show data from the prior Monday, but from an average Monday morning. I figured that was the best proxy for a Tuesday after a long vacation.
Please check your facts. No need for snark until you’ve actually done your homework.
The 520 troll has been great. The traffic is much lighter and civil from Madina and Hunt’s point. I am also noticing a much better class of automobiles. At least now I know that if I were to have an accident, the other driver will have insurance. I use to worry about my Mercedes, getting hit by those cheaper cars, but now they are all on 90 or 522. With the faster commute to my office in Seattle, I have more time for another cappuccino before I leave the house. Since the traffic is lighter, let’s raise the toll to $9, that would be okay with my neighbors and me.