One frequent open-thread discussion is the merits of Lynnwood as a destination for rail. I certainly agree that it shouldn’t be the highest priority for rail in the region, although perhaps it should be the highest rail priority in Snohomish County. That’s where the money is coming from and by law must be spent. Although I suspect most people’s opinion of this is motivated by something other than the specific situation in Lynnwood, here are some facts about what currently funnels into I-5.
Bus service into Seattle currently consists of Sound Transit routes 510 through 513, in addition to wide array of 400- and 800-series Community Transit (CT) commuter routes that terminate in either Downtown Seattle or University of Washington. As Link will provide frequent, traffic-separated, reasonably direct access to both destinations without having to stage through the HOV-lane-free I-5/UW bottleneck, it would take suicidal tendencies on the part of CT to not truncate their buses at Lynnwood and/or Mountlake Terrace and transfer riders to Link.
According to Martin Munguia of CT, in 2011 CT’s commuter routes to both destinations had 9,800 daily boardings, all in the peak. That’s down from 12,000 per day in 2008, before everything imploded. According to ST’s 2012 Service Implementation Plan, weekday ridership on routes 510 through 513 was 8,002* in 2Q 2011. We can conclude that if Link through Lynnwood opened tomorrow, they’d draw at least 8,501 boardings at the two stations, presumably most at Lynnwood. For comparison, in 2Q 2010 the most weekday boardings at any Central Link station was at Westlake, 3,976.
And when I say “at least,” I’m assuming that the service hours saved by not sending buses into downtown Seattle go into the ether, rather than being redeployed to improve service. I’m assuming that absolutely no one is attracted by the superior speed, reliability, legibility, and frequency of rail. No one finds Link to be superior to the 510/511 to go to a game or get to the airport. And of course, the station will actually open in 2023, when the region will presumably have grown, CT might not be destitute, and from which point Lynnwood will take their shot at fostering development in the station area.
Finally, a note on capacity and headways: with the peak lasting about three hours, those 4,900 AM peak rides on CT comes out to about 63 riders per train at six-minute headways. The 510 and 511 average 53-64 passengers per trip in the AM peak and at the peak of the peak arrive 10 times an hour. Together, that’s about 125 people per train before it crosses the county line. If you want to use the Tokyo-style capacity of 800 per train, that’s 15% full under extremely conservative ridership assumptions. Using ST’s planning capacity of 548 per train, which provides a little slack in the system, it’ll be about a quarter full before a single King County resident gets on.
All this is not to say that Lynnwood is transit Nirvana, as high a priority as UW or Northgate or downtown Bellevue, or even some unserved King County neighborhoods. From a narrow engineering perspective, it might have been possible to build something nearly as nice with buses, with less capital cost but with supreme political will from both voters and agencies at all levels.** Nevertheless, it’s a good project to provide a high-capacity link to the natural collection point of all the county’s buses, and a sensible use of Snohomish County funds.
* Add 946 more boardings for 2012, but I’m trying to keep my inputs constant.
** As with all idealized BRT concepts that demand total focus of all players in the political system on good service delivery at minimum cost, I have my doubts!