photo by Mike Bjork

I get asked occasionally why I blog, and why I blog about transit.  I’m not going to bore you with self-analysis on whatever psychic rewards I get out of this, so instead, here’s a brief Boxing Day summary of why I think transit, and rail transit in particular, is important:

  1. Cost effectiveness: A 4-car light rail line running (800 passengers) at 7.5 minute frequencies can carry 6400 people in each direction.  At 2.5 minutes, it’s 19,200.   According to FHWA, highway lane of traffic at capacity can carry 2,200 people in single occupancy vehicles under ideal conditions.  Given that regional growth will continue, what’s a more plausible way to expand capacity in, say, the I-5 corridor?  North Link, or 16 new lanes on I-5?
  2. Positive Societal Effects: There are a bunch of societal drawbacks to driving, some well-understood and others not: air pollution, water pollution, trade deficits from oil imports, sedentary lifestyles, traffic deaths, hideous parking-lot-oriented architecture, sprawl, personal transportation costs, and congestion.  Widely available transit is a partial antidote to all of these.
  3. Quality of Life: We usually talk about the other things because they’re more quantifiable, but ultimately it comes down to quality of life.  In major cities around the world, rail is simply the best way to get around.  As Seattle enters that class of metropolis, residents shouldn’t tolerate the lack of such an important amenity any more than they would tolerate the absence of parks and libraries.

190 Replies to “Why Transit”

  1. don’t know if anyone here knows this … but Mo Rocca is a big fan of transit … y’all should see if he’d be willing to post a guest article here

  2. Succinct and to the point. I tend to focus too much on your second point and not enough on the other two – I’ll resolve to be better in the new year. Thanks to all the bloggers and commentators!
    May all transit services receive adequate and steadily growing funding starting in 2010!

  3. Here’s my story:

    When I first came to the area as a UW student (Fall 2000), there was just me (no other family members – I came to UW on a scholarship). This was after my accident where I screwed up my leg and landed in my wheelchair.

    Since I was under 21, I couldn’t rent a car (yes: cars can be adapted) even it it wasn’t for my leg, and the people I first met at UW (when I was still home in Virginia and learning about the school) bragged about Metro and the then-recently-started ST Express.

    Hopped on the 194 at the airport, then transferred to one of the 70 Express buses (forget which specifically). It felt so good to be able to go without having to arrange for a lift-equipped van.

    When I saw the 194 deploy the lift (it was the old Breda tunnel bus), I knew: this is going to work out so well. All these years later, I have plenty of money to afford an adapted car (I even purchased a house in Bellevue which I had modified for my needs), I still would rather ride a bus or train.

  4. I am an Ex-NYer, so transit has been a part of my life for a long time. The traffic in NYC doesn’t matter to its inhabitants since they use transit to go everywhere. My feelings are how transit + bikes need to get along well for suburbs and urban areas.

    I am very happy that NYC has now banned motor vehicles in Times Square. I only hope that NY and Portland both continue to be good examples so Seattle has domestic leaders to follow. I don’t expect Seattle to blaze any trails.

  5. Rail or any type of fixed ‘mass’ transit is worse for human life than ‘personal’ transit.

    The source of all woes is high density: crime, drugs, unemployment, costs.

    Rail and centralized ‘mass’ transit fosters high density.

    Look at Seattle — over the past 15 years the high density policies of Nickles and company have turned the last remaining American middle class city into a haven for criminals, addicts and psychopaths.

    Mass anything is bad for people.

    Personal transit, taxis, bicycles and flexible bus transportation allow people to have more land, better homes, more personal income.

    The ‘mass’ policies of the Democrat are to tax and remove personal freedom from the individual, and to create a highly taxed society of drones.

    ‘Mass’ transit is one of their social control mechanisms.

    1. Since we have more than enough land!

      Land for everyone! A PRT to the hospital, school, grocery store and your neighbor’s house for EVERYONE! Hooray!

    2. waah waah waah.

      If you don’t like Seattle, then move 50 miles away to that low-tax, no-transit, low-density paradise I’ve heard called PARKLAND.

      Because of course crime doesn’t follow socio-economic follows density!!!

      1. The bus runs through Parkland every 15 minutes.

        PT Route 1

        There’s also a Pierce transit center

      2. Oh that’s even better since Blue Swan supports flexible bus transportation. My no-transit comment was referring to the lack of rail rapid transit.

    3. You’re not going to like it here.

      1) It’s a myth that density is associated with crime. Most crime-ridden neighborhoods are primarily single-family housing and some low-density apartments. See: Rainier Valley, Central District, Tacoma Hilltop, Parkland, etc. Creating mixed-income density is the best means of crime reduction from a development standpoint.

      2) Nickels has only been in office for 8 years, and we’ve only slightly scratched the surface on increasing density.

      3) Violent crime has in fact gone down greatly in Seattle the last few years. It went up this year only after dipping to lows unseen since the 1960’s:

      4) Building infrastructure for personal transit use is also a form of social control; a method that has been employed widely for the last 75 years. If you want to live in a low-density suburb, there are many many options for you. But a lot of us want to live with density. We want to have mass transit, and our options are few. We are controlled into a system where there is often a necessity to have personal transportation means, and thus the heavy financial burden coming with it–not to mention a social burden.

      1. Imagine.

        A 12 seater “Suburbocruiser”…powered by Hydrogen…you dial it up using the Web, and it arrives at your doorstep within a minute.

        Completely autopiloted…with a cabin room, and View Deck.

        You enter your Suburbocruiser, and punch in “Porland” to see the Trailblazers.

        The car glides out your driveway, and enters the nearest “Parkway Gate”…prepped for insertion. 15 seconds later, your vehicle is turbo-spun up to speed, and put on the magneto-glide path. You jet to Portland at 350 mph, glued to the track by magnetism, and powered independently by H2!

        The 180 miles whiz by, as each person listens to his own personalized podcast of music and information…at journeys end, the cruiser pulls right up to the Rose Garden and then self-parks…waiting for your party’s return!

      2. How can you automate something like that when our roads are in such bad condition already?

        This doesn’t seem at all cost-effective. You’d have to basically redo all of the roads out into the suburbs and rural areas, which is far more expensive than a bus line.

      3. “Turbo-spun up to speed”! Woo-hoo, tinfoil hat time! Do you have any idea how gluttonous turbojets are? And they don’t run on hydrogen; they must have liquid fuels to provide the necessary energy density.

        And that’s not to mention how much electricity the super-conducting magnets used for magnetic levitation consume? You are living in a thermonuclear energy wet dream, dude.

        It would be nice were it to happen, but try as thousands of very brilliant PhD’s might, net energy generating fusion is still twenty years in the future, as it has been for the past thirty.

      4. Uh, why would it “be nice if it were to happen”?

        After all, they actually did build the flying car- it just turned out nobody wanted one.

        And- traveling long distances to see something that will surely be televised? Well, that might actually be necessary for Blue Swan, who apparently has a hard time holding on to reality. Most of us, though, will find the televised game to be fairly convincing.

      5. It sounds like you’ve got some exciting ideas. I suggest you work with people designing the technology you mention (I am completely unfamiliar with it, but I trust you that it exists). One of the challenges of urban planning is that planners are generally in a position of having to work with extant technology, rather than designing and deploying new systems (although I respect science fiction writers greatly, it is generally much easier to write sci-fi than it is to build things). In any case, though, I wish you and the people you’re working with the best of luck.

      6. Sometimes I get the feeling I’m reading the “Ask an Uptight Seattleite” column for some of these posts.

    4. When you move to a really rural county, one of the first things you notice is that crime is serious. If you don’t watch, you will be robbed, if you’re not careful, you will be swindled, and the chances are pretty good that the richest families in the county got that way by some previous robbery. As they are also the governance of the county, you can probably guess the governance, if any, isn’t that good.

      Naturally, in such a situation, most people are poor, life expectancy is low (you can see from the number of obits for 50-year olds), commerce is on life support, and taxes struggle to support the bare minimum. The best you can say about all of this is that we highly prize volunteers.

      In the real world, “Personal transit, taxis, bicycles and flexible bus transportation allow people to have more land, better homes, more personal income” is entirely the opposite of the facts. You can’t ride bicycles on rural roads- the distances are too great, as is the danger of sharing roads with logging trucks when there isn’t even a shoulder. Everyone has less money, even before you spend more because you’re so far from everything, most of the houses are just barely shelter, and if your car breaks down add a half hour wait time to the trip time for that flexible bus.

      I know I shouldn’t feed the troll, but this was a fat floater right over the plate and I couldn’t resist taking a swing.

      1. I love how they keep saying “residential”.

        Yes, if you have a single use neighborhood, you’ll have dead times that lead to crime. This is why we have Jane Jacobs.

        Next 1960s planning failure? I have answers for all of them (and damn, it looks like I’m not the only one).

      2. One thing Jane Jacobs says is that it’s not the number of people per square mile that creates overcrowding and crime, but the number of people per room. A city should have at least one person per room on average. Two people in a 1 BR apartment meet that criteria. This allows everybody to be in a separate room when they need to be alone. Having more people than rooms increases tensions between people, which contributes to crime. It doesn’t matter whether the rooms are large or small, in houses or in apartments, in dense Manhattan or medium Seattle or small Mount Vernon.

      3. That’s something Christopher Alexander talks about too – I didn’t even notice Jacobs had mentioned it. Thanks. :)


        “Of special interest has been the observed rates of crime and deviant behavior found in cities. In the United States city crime rates are higher than suburban rates, which in turn are higher than rural rates. Studies on animals as well as observations of human behavior have been used to examine density and human pathology, but results have been mixed. Regoeczi shows that the effect of crowding on human behavior is non-linear. Further, people who suffer from the effects of crowding self-select into lower density living conditions to self-treat their condition.”

    5. Yeah, you are right. Carnation, WA two years ago. Yakima Valley, the hotbed of density and mass transit, 25 homicides, many in the lower valley. Oh yeah, where were the latest police officers gunned down?

    6. “The source of all woes is high density: crime, drugs, unemployment, costs”

      Yes, just look at third-world hellholes like Singapore! I’d rather be somewhere nice and safe, like Brown Sub in Miami…

      1. To be fair, Singapore beats the shit out of people for spitting on the sidewalk. I’m perfectly fine with that, but it would never fly here.

    7. Folks, don’t listen to this lunatic. This is a common thing that anti transit advocates always say. The US is one of the lowest density nations in the world, why is it one of the most violent? One more inconvenient truth for Blue Swan to consider: why is LA more crime infested than the SF metro area if Mass Transit brings crime?

      Also, if mass anything is bad for the people, what about the police, fire departments, street lights, or better yet, what about Mass Interstate Highways?(FYI, they cost far more taxpayer dollars than any rail infrastructure.)

      The great thing is, no one will ever listen to Blue Swan’s nonsense in this town.

    8. Interesting citation to support the argument that density is the cause of increased rates of crime. Using that same citation though, and looking at the statistics behind the link (all available at that same website), it seems that there are other cities and towns with even higher rates of crime.

      They include McAllen, TX, Lafayette, LA, West Valley UT, Odessa, TX, Corona, CA and Fall River, MA. Not sure we’d consider then high density, urban centers. Maybe higher density, low income, concentrations of minimal education?

      Also I see that Cambridge notes that “In the northeast, because of climate, Larceny is less of a factor between three and six months of the year.” Larceny is often the major type of crime typically.

      So, is it density, or weather, that is the causal reason for increased crime?

  6. Quality of Life: Air Quality warning in effect til Monday…take the bus or walk to the store please, my throat hurts.

  7. I don’t know where Martin H. Duke got his numbers in “1. Cost Effectiveness”, but they are not even close to reality.

    First for light rail. The capacity of one light rail car is about 148, according to Sound Transit. That means that 4-car trains every 7.5 minutes have a capacity of 4,736 passengers per hour per direction, and 4-car trains every 2.5 minutes have the capacity of 14,208 passengers per hour per direction.

    Then for highways. The average sedan has a capacity of at least 5 (SUV’s normally can carry 8, and there are a lot of SUV’s in our area). A highway lane can carry about 2,200 VEHICLES (NOT people) per hour. That means one highway lane has a capacity of at least 11,000 PEOPLE per hour per direction in sedans. If it is all SUV’s then the capacity of one highway lane is 17,600 PEOPLE per hour per direction.

    Vans can carry up to 16 people. So the capacity of one highway lane carrying all vans is 35,200 PEOPLE per hour per direction.

    Articulated buses can carry 90 people per bus. One highway lane can carry about 1,000 buses per hour. So one highway lane has the capacity of about 90,000 PEOPLE per hour per direction if it is all buses.

    With a mixture of buses, vans, SUV’s, and sedans (5 people capacity), a highway with 100 buses (9,000 people), 200 vans (3,200 people), 1,000 SUV’s (8,000 people) and 600 sedans (3,000 people), which would total 1,900 vehicles per hour, would have a capacity of about 23,200 PEOPLE per hour per direction.

    That is more than one light rail track.

    1. When does this ever happen? At rush hour, trains are occasionally full, but I don’t ever see vans and SUV’s and sedans packed to the gills with people. Just drive onto a highway at rush hour and look at all the stalled cars. How many of them are full? Also, your division of vehicles is WAYYYY off. Less sedans than SUVs?

      The sad thing about this comment is I think that the author actually believes what s/he is saying.

    2. Seated capacity on an articulated bus is ~60 people, depending on bus type. 90 total passengers is *possible* but that’s a serious crush load and is not very efficient for purposes of loading and unloading. Another issue: 60 foot coaches are 60 feet long and require longer following distances than a car – 6 seconds is the recommended *minimum*. At 60 MPH that translates into a following distance of 528 feet or 588 feet per bus (coach length + following distance.) If I round off each bus to 7 second intervals, you can fit 514 buses on a lane in one hour – UNDER ABSOLUTELY PERFECT CONDITIONS.

      This isn’t factoring in loading time, wheelchairs, bicycle loading, people asking questions, and a myriad of other issues that will decrease your bus throughput. I’d be shocked if you could pull off 30 second intervals on a corridor like I-90 without a dedicated BRT lane. Even if you could, that would translate to 10,800 people using 90 per coach or 7200 using 60 per coach.

      1. Actually, on highways, the distance between buses is nowhere near 528 feet. Just watch I-90 or I-5 for a while, and see if buses are 6 seconds behind the vehicle in front of them. The answer is no.

        The recommendation I have seen is that buses have twice the distance behind the vehicle in front of them as cars, which would mean that highways can carry about half as many buses per hour as cars, or about 1,000 buses per hour. Which is a capacity of 90,000 people per hour per lane.

      2. The shorter following distances you observed is due to lower speed and higher vehicle density. If the lane is shared, adding more vehicles will cause the flow to breakdown and reduce the capacity to well below 2,200 vph.

        The highest ever observed bus flow in the U.S. and Canada is 735 buses per hour (32,600 people per hour) in the peak direction on a 2-mile long exclusive bus lane with no stops serving the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. That terminal has 800 berths to load and unload buses. No such loading facility exists in downtown Seattle or Bellevue.

        Volumes of 180 to 200 buses per hour have been observed on other highways and downtown streets with intermediate stops and passing lanes. These figures are from the Highway Capacity Manual.

        Whatever recommendation you were citing ignores safe driving and coach operating practices. Can a coach safely stop in 3 seconds if the vehicle ahead suddenly stops? What about lane changes? What about sight distance along curves and crests? What about rain, fog, ice, snow, and other incidents? 90,000 people per hour per lane is unrealistic and unsafe.

        I trust an actual Metro bus driver’s experience more than some theoretical numbers based on idealistic assumptions.

      3. “The recommendation I have seen is that buses have twice the distance behind the vehicle in front of them as cars”

        You are close – A *minimum* spacing of 2 seconds is recommended for cars. For a 40 foot coach, the spacing is 4 seconds, and as previously mentioned, 6 for a 60 foot coach. These numbers are all in daylight and dry conditions.

        You are also right about real-world following distances. It’s rare that we can actually achieve the safe following distance of 6 seconds (or 4 in a 40 foot coach). Automobile drivers look at the large gap in front of us and merge into that space quite frequently. We then have to slow down to reestablish the spacing. Translation: We rarely can drive at the speed limit which means further reductions in vehicles per hour figures.

      4. 1,000 buses per hour is an AVERAGE of 3.6 seconds between buses. And an average means that some buses are farther apart — and some are even closer!

        sometimes it’s better to listen to the bus drivers rather than theorists with a calculator and no real-world awareness.

  8. I do believe what I am saying, because I am correct. When have you ever seen 200 people in one light rail car? Never.

    When have you ever seen 148 people in one light rail car? Never.

    When have I seen 90 people in one articulated bus? Often. When have I seen 16 people in one van? Often.

    The author of the original post was writing about CAPACITY — not reality. So then only honest thing to do is to compare CAPACITY of light rail to CAPACITY of highways. He wants to compare the CAPACITY of light rail to what he thinks is the REALITY of highways.

    This is dishonest to compare theoretical capacity of light rail to his concept of reality of highways.

    Compare theoretical capacity of light rail to theoretical capacity of highways.

    Or compare reality of light rail to reality of highways.

    But, what he did is dishonest.

    Some studies show that the REALITY of light rail in the U.S. is that they average about 10 passengers per light rail car at any given time. That is REALITY. So compare that REALITY to the reality of highways.

    Try to be honest and compare apples to apples.

    Use any ration of sedans to SUV’s you like. Use 1,000 sedans and 600 SUV’s, for example, and you get a total of about 22,000 people per hour per highway lane, if you keep 100 buses, and 200 vans.

    1. The system in Seattle is new; most cities deal with crush loads on light/heavy rail quite often. I lived in San Francisco last summer and it was often full, especially during commuting hours. Light rail doesn’t always carry that many people, but one of the biggest advantages is the low cost in adding extra capacity during rush hour, unlike buses. And with that, I’m going to stop feeding the troll.

      Seattleite commuting breakdowns
      BART train packed to the gills

    2. No, the point was cost effectiveness not capacity.

      What’s more cost effective to operate? You’ll need 160 buses/hour to carry the same amount of people 24 4-car trains can carry in an hour. Using Sound Transit budget figures: $131/ for ST Express bus, $376/ for Central Link == $20,960/hr vs. $9,024/hr.

      Vanshares are cheap but who’s using them as a substitute for a transit backbone?

      1. If his point was cost-effectiveness, why did he never once mention cost?

        $376/rev. hr for central link — central link is operating 2-car trains, not 4-car trains. So, even if that cost per-vehicle-revenue-hour quote is for a “train” and not for one car, the operating cost to move the same amount of people would be approximately the same for link trains as for ST express buses.

        However, the construction costs of link light rail are vastly greater than that for buses. SWIFT BRT cost about $29 million, and probably has about 1/3 the capacity of LINK light rail. So the capital costs of BRT is something on the order of 1/30 that of ST light rail. Obviously, building BRT is vastly more cost-effective than building light rail.

        But, the $376/ you quote for Link is “per vehicle.” In other places, ST uses “vehicle” to mean one Link car — not a two-car train. So, if Link light rail costs $376/ per CAR, that is twice as expensive just to operate, as buses are.

        Whichever that $376/ refers to — one car or one two-car train — there is one thing of which we can be certain: it does NOT refer to a four-car train.

        Vans and buses in our area take hundreds of thousands of people every day where they want to go, using highways and roads which are already here. I-5, SR99, I-90, etc. are the transportation “backbones” of our area. They have worked for decades. They would work better if we could get more people per vehicle on those roads, which is easy and inexpensive to do by adding buses and vans. That is the “cost-effective” way of increasing our transportation capacity.

      2. I don’t think we disagree that more transit (be it rail or bus or whatever) is more cost effective than more single occupant vehicles, hence the name of the post “Why Transit”.

        The $376/ is per car but hooking up two-extra cars will not likely double the operating cost. There are economies of scale to take into account when calculating the final operating cost.

      3. To Oran: If the $376/ for light rail is per car, then you just disproved your own point — that means that even the operating cost of light rail is about twice as high as that of express buses for the same capacity.

        That cost that ST gives of $376/ already figures in whatever economies of scale there are to running two-car trains. That is their actual cost now, and they are now runing two-car trains, not individual cars. So ST’s current cost of operating a two-car train is $752/ Compared to $131/ for one ST express bus.

      4. Norman, listen to the intelligent people you’re talking to, because if you ignore their points and respond the way you have been, you’ll be moderated.

      5. Interesting that you would make a comment like that here, after Oran and I agreed that Link light rail costs twice as much to operate as ST Express buses for the same capacity.

        Link light rail: $376/ per car; capactiy 148

        ST Express bus: $131/ per bus; capacity 90

      6. I didn’t agree to that. The definition of guideway capacity is actually variable. If you use VeloBusDriver’s figures, then rail actually costs less to operate.

        Vehicle capacity can be listed by the number of seats or the crush load. By seats, standing room only would be a load factor greater than or equal to 1.

        Standing capacity varies by the density, interior layout, and passenger tolerance. The ST2 documents list various standing capacity by how crowded the trains are. The max on a single car is 200 passengers.

        Cramming an extra 30 people on a bus is not as comfortable as cramming and extra 100 people on a light rail car. That light rail car can load and unload that large amount of people much quicker than a crammed bus with only 2 or 3 doors. You can design a bus for more standees like Swift does but it still needs to deploy a wheelchair ramp. That alone takes up a minute.

      7. When you talk about cost, you never factor all the costs of those buses and the roads they are on. When thinking about BRT(Swift is not real BRT by the way) you also need to factor in the following costs.
        a) the shelf life of busses (lasting about 25 years on average, compared to 60 or more with a light rail car)
        b) the number of drivers needed to be employed (one 4 car light rail train can have just one driver with the capacity of more than 10 buses)
        c) the cost to re pave and keep up the roads the buses go on.

        Also, swift is not at all a good transit service. Real BRT costs far more. And the way we are moving people around in this region every day (as you pointed out) is chocking this city to death. Our socialistic, high tax base highways may have worked for a few decades, but rail transportation has worked for over 150 years all over the world (not just in North America)

        Ask anyone and everyone with real access to real rail transportation, and they will tell you that it is far better than some buses and wide roads.

      8. Articulated buses cost about $800,000 each. Light rail cars cost about $4 million each. Ergo, you can buy 5 buses for the cost of one light rail car.

      9. So? Don’t forget that you have to pay me and four other drivers to drive those buses, pay mechanics to maintain them, and Hugo Chavez to fuel them. Rail has a higher capacity and a lower operational cost per passenger mile. Frankly, $4 million sounds like a bargain, especially given the longer life of the rail cars.

        That said, buses will continue to provide the majority of passenger trips given their flexibility and lower cost for low and medium density routes. Don’t believe me? Just look at London transport. Buses there carry more passengers than their rail network but nobody is suggesting that they scrap the tube and replace it with a BRT system.

      10. Buses need to be replaced every 12 years, light rail every 25 years per FTA guidelines.

        Therefore those 5 buses are reduced by half due to their shorter service life.

        And compare the condition of a 20 year old bus (our Bredas) to a 20-25 year old light rail car (the MAX Type 1 & 2). We can’t wait to junk those buses while those LRVs keep going and going. They’re still in good shape and are expected to last for years to come. To be fair, those Bredas have had problems during most of their life but a 20 year old bus is going to feel beat up.

      11. Velo: ST provides the operating cost per revenue hour for both their light rail cars, and their express buses:

        One light rail car, in a 2-car train: $376/; capacity 148

        One Express bus: $131/; capacity 90

        Those figures do include the cost of the driver/operators. I am sure ST is not forgetting that.

        By the way, how much do bus drivers make? I would appreciate knowing that. And, do you happen to know how much ST light rail operators make?


        Oran. If you replace buses every 12 years, you would never ride on a “20-year-old” bus. After 15 years, you would be riding on a 3-year-old bus, or a 15-year old light rail car. I think a 3-year-old bus would likely be in much better condition than a 15-year-old light rail car, unless a whole lot of money had been spent on that 15-year-old light rail car to refurbish it.

      12. Operating cost per revenue hour shows how much it costs to provide the service but says nothing about how well that service is utilized. I see empty buses pass right by my house every day. It’s not cheaper if no one uses it. A more appropriate metric would be operating cost per passenger mile or cost per boarding.

        Looking at Portland’s statistics operating costs/vehicle hour for MAX are 2.8x more than buses. However, the cost per boarding for MAX is 30% lower, MAX’s fare recovery is 78% better than buses, resulting in half the bus subsidy per boarding for MAX. Cost per passenger mile is $0.35 for MAX and $0.77 for buses. Portland’s system is quite mature and shows the trend to expect as our system grows.

        Even Sound Transit’s budget figures show $1.67 lower cost per boarding for Central Link over ST Express. The 2010 budget expects Link cost per boarding to decrease 38.1% while ST Express cpb to increase 9.5%

      13. Norman/Copernicus, Please stop dropping that 148 number. It is incorrect. Capacity is 200 per car.

      14. [deleted, disproven drivel dependent upon believing Link cars have a lower capacity than they actually do]

      15. Norman, you’re confusing the physical capacity of the LRV with the capacity that is used for planning purposes. The capacity of 148 is used for planning purposes to introduce excess capacity into the system so that at peak hours the trains are not packed full. With 148 passenger each standee has 4.2 square feet of space, even with 200 passengers each standee would have 2.5 square feet of space, still less than crush loaded.

        Even if you pretend the trains will never have more than 148 passengers per car, Central Link still has a capacity of nearly 18,000 people per hour per direction.

        See sections 6.3 and 6.11 of the Central Link operating plan.

    3. This poster has never seen 148 people in a light rail car? If not, he just hasn’t been at the right place yet.

      OK, I’m in Portland riding on the MAX, and not in Seattle, but there are lots of times where the light rail cars here are full. It happens during rush hour. It happens before and after Blazer games and other events. You can easily get half that many on any given trip over the course of a day. People will use the system once it is in place and running, and they are used to it being there.

      Build it, and have it running for more than a few months, and they will come. Even in Seattle.

      1. I’m also in Portland, and use MAX as often as possible. I live west of PDX, in Beaverton, and catch MAX quite early – before 5:30 am. No problems getting a seat. However, on the ride home – after 3:30 pm – it’s packed and you’re lucky to get a seat, and that happens for the next several hours. Bikers, skateboarders, students, shoppers, commuters- all squeezed in. It’s great!
        I lived in Seattle in the late 70’s and early 80’s, just when traffic was getting horrible. I have never understood why
        it’s taken so long for Seattle to deal with the traffic problems.

    4. I’m with you Brother Norman!

      You make the perfect argument for NOT increasing highway capacity!

      I couldn’t have said it better myself!


      1. [deleted, ad hominem]

        Highways carry far more people per hour per lane with buses and vans than they do with cars carrying only a few people each. Adding just one bus per minute on a highway lane gives you the capacity to move 5,400 people per hour on that lane, with room for another 2,100 other vehicles, as well, many of which could be vans.

        [deleted, ad hominem]

        Just as you can increase the capacity of a light rail line by operating 4-car trains instead of 2-car trains, you can increase the capacity of an existing highway by operating more buses and vans on that highway, instead of cars.

      2. Pardon me, my typo. I did mean to say Lanes.

        So, how are you going to accomplish this?
        In other words, how would you make it happen?

        Still a great argument. Saves lots of money.


      3. Norman is going to Conquer the SOV drivers by standing on the Denny Way bridge and picking them off with a Mauser.

      4. How am I going to accomplish adding one bus per minute to I-90, or I-5? I would shift money from ST light rail to buses. There is plenty of money to do that right now. It is just being spent on the wrong things.

        But, Metro is going to be adding a few buses a couple of highways in a couple of years when the RapidRide routes are established. It’s a start.

        There are already about one bus per minute in each direction on the I-90 floating bridge in the pm peak hour. So, that highway already has the capacity of about 5,000 people per direction just on buses.

        The easiest and best place for lots of buses is I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue. Compared to one light rail train every 9 minutes being planned for the I-90 bridge by 2030, buses could have far greater capacity on that route than light rail, which would be just under 4,000 people per hour per direction.

      5. All the RapidRide routes are running on arterial streets not limited-access highways.

        You wouldn’t run a bus every minute if they were all going to the same place and serving the same stops like a light rail line would. You would hit a bottleneck when you exit the freeway on to arterial streets and would need to build a terminal to handle that large flow. Now if you were running a bus every minute, 1st bus goes to Bellevue, 2nd bus goes to Eastgate, 3rd bus goes to Issaquah, 4th bus goes to Newcastle, and so on. Then it might work but that reduces the frequency of the branches, adds complexity and confuses riders.

        In practice, such point-to-point service exists only during peak hours.

      6. Ah, I see, but how will you convince the current SOV drivers to ride said buses? Even with the time-savings advantage of carpooling, they’re still staying in their SOV’s?

        I see your ‘carrot’. What is the ‘stick’?

      7. If you find a stick, please use it on arterial streets as well! Shifting people to carpools and buses would really help on congested roads like Mercer and 45th. There is no new transit service planned for these east-west corridors.

      8. Many buses, particularly during peak hours, are currently full. There are a lot of people who now drive cars on their commute who would take the bus if there were room for them on the bus. The reason these people do not take the bus is because there is no room for them on the bus.

        Therefore, you do not need a “stick”. Just provide room for them on buses, and they will ride the bus. This has been proven over and over as Metro adds capacity to routes, ridership goes up.

        I thought there was BRT planned for the 520 bridge. Perhaps that is not “RapidRide”. Maybe it is ST BRT. But that is on a major highway. The RapidRides are mostly inside Seattle, it is true. But they will increase the number of buses per hour, which should increase ridership on those routes significantly, without any “stick.”

        A significant “stick” already exists — the cost of parking a car downtown.

      9. Norman, the “full bus” thing was true a year ago, but it’s not really true today. There’s a lot of upward room still.

      10. Buses are more full than Link cars today. If you expect Link cars to become more full in the next few years, you do not expect buses to become more full over the next few years, also?

        What is the “stick” you plan to use to force people to ride Link trains — taking away their buses?

        Just withing the past few weeks, I have seen very full buses on the 194, 15 and 18 routes, meaning aisles full of standees and every seat occupied. The 194’s I observed, and occasionally boarded, at the stop next to the SODO light rail station in the afternoons, heading into downtown, and the #15’s and #18’s I observed at the stop next to KeyArena, heading to Ballard in the pm peak hour.

      11. What’s wrong with “taking away people’s buses”? In point of fact they’re not “their” buses, they are the taxpayers’ buses. Yes, the riders are in that pool of taxpayers, but just because there is a one-ride express serving an outlying area this year is not an implicit guarantee that service will be provided forever. That is particularly true of park-n-ride service along a major corridor.

        I can sympathize with folks who live on 15th NE north of 84th who will presumably lose the spectacular 77 Express when North Link is opened. They have “walk to my bus get off at my office” service that will be truncated at Roosevelt Station forcing them to transfer vehicles in various types of weather. But I don’t sympathize at all with the people who drive to Northgate, Alderwood or Star Lake Park and Ride who will in the future have to make a few stops on their trip between downtown and the Park and Ride. The trip might take a few minutes longer — especially for the Northgate riders who get to use the tunnel today — but it will be much more reliable, comfortable and cheaper for the taxpayers of the future — including themselves.

        You spew these “statistics” about bus versus rail costs per hour, forgetting that the one most unpredictable and damaging “costs” of bus operations is traffic congestion. It leads to overtime, wasted fuel idling, and wear and tear on brakes and running gear stopping repeatedly. Metros like Link exist in order to make it possible for the road network to function.

        You have this fantasy of getting everyone into vanpools. And you know what? They’re already a great deal today. They get subsidized by the employers or Metro, they run in the HOV lanes. I’ll agree, you’re right, they’re the perfect solution to traffic congestion!

        And they’re also a huge FLOP, because very few people want to ride with same people day after day. If they’re gregarious transit riders they strike up a conversation with someone new every day. If they’re more introverted, they read. But they don’t have to be “on” for anyone.

        The only way you’re going to cram people into of those vanpools is by standing on that bridge.

      12. For the 77 it is anyone within walking distance of Lake City Way and 15th or any other stop on northward. While I don’t think I’ll likely be living here in 10 years or so when North Link opens I’ll gladly make the trade since if I miss the last 77 or 312 in the morning I get a very slow 66 or 72/73 ride into downtown. If North Link was open I’d just have to get myself to the Roosevelt Link station to have a fast ride downtown.

        Furthermore any plans on what to do with bus lines once U Link and North Link open aren’t set in stone. The 77 may very well live on and see increased service because it works so well the way it is now.

      13. Well, Norm, you just get right on that. I would love to see the expressions on the faces of people riding in full cars and vans.

        Reminds me of the day I was strolling in the U District in the early 70s and stopped to ponder why a bloatmobile marked ‘State Highway Department’ would be parked there. Just then four huge guys, each about 300#, came out of a Chinese restaurant and got in the car. You could see the poor thing settle down on its springs like a pickup truck loaded with too much gravel.

        I knew then and there that we were doomed to another 20 years of bad luck.

      14. You seriously have never seen van pool vans with the seats full?

        What exactly is the difference between a full van and a full bus? I take you have seen a full bus? But not a full van?

        Car pools often have full cars. That is the point of forming a car pool. Five adults in one car is not a stretch. Not all cars are compacts. For a car pool, you likely would not choose to use a very small car.

      15. We don’t dispute your analysis of the mechanics, we’re just wondering how you plan to convince people to do it.

      16. Norman,

        There are plenty of people already engaging you, but three more points:

        I got my 200-pax per light rail car figure here:
        I don’t know what yours is.

        It’s true that the capacity of a highway lane is larger if it consists entirely of vanpools and buses. I think you’ll find that when the proposal is to convert GP lanes to vanpool/transit only, or even build new capacity of this nature, this blog will generally be in favor of it.

        The other comment I’d make is that it’s really hard to precisely control the volume of traffic in a highway lane, which can quickly reach congestion collapse with the addition of a few cars. If you click on the link in the post, you’ll see that 2,200 vehicles/hr is the absolute maximum that FHWA figures it can possibly absorb.

        The problem is that no one has ever put together a serious proposal to do that, except when there happens to be a light rail measure to defeat. Afterwards, that proposal mysteriously disappears.

      17. WSDOT defines a lane as being congested if the average speed falls below 45mph.

        What’s interesting is that a lane will actually have greater capacity at an average of 35mph, which is about 3100 vph.

        However, at 35mph, the lane is considered congested.

        The other thing to consider about traffic congestion is what’s called “friction”.

        That is where one lane will slow down in response to the traffic in the adjacent lane being slow or stopped.

        The best example is when all the GP lanes are moving slow, the carpool lane, when it can sustain a higher speed and greater following distances, will slow down, too.

        However, that can be cured by better highway design, which isn’t necessarily cheap, either.


      18. I’m not disputing your numbers on highway vehicle capacity. I am disputing the contention that highways can only carry one person per vehicle! That is what I am arguing.

        The author compared the number of VEHICLES per hour on a highway, to the number of PEOPLE per hour on a light rail line. This is ludicrous. What sense does that make? The implication is that highway capacity is only one person per vehicle. That is obviously foolish, as we all see lost of buses on highways which have more than one passenger per bus, lots of vans with multiple passengers per van, and even many cars with more than one person per car.

        And again, ST is never going to run 4-car trains every 2.5 minutes, so that is ludicrous, also. And ST itself says the capacity of their Link cars is 147. In face, in the EIS’s, they use 137 as the capacity of one LINK light rail car.

        So, I am just saying it is utter nonsense to use ONE for the “capacity” of each vehcle on a highway, and TWO HUNDRED for the “capacity” of a light rail car.

        That is just patently absurd, and dishonest.

      19. Norman,

        This was obviously meant to be a quick post, although everything is factually correct. I don’t have the figure handy, but I believe the average is something like 1.25 people per vehicle. Considering it’s a factor of 8 between the Link and highway examples, I think I have quite a bit of cushion, don’t you?

        As for whether it’s an appropriate comparison, anywhere in the world peak-hour trains are packed, and most rush hour vehicles on the freeway aren’t.

        As for the bus/vanpool alternative, it again depends on you getting dedicated right-of-way. Comparing that to rail is the subject of a whole different post, but if you equalize the assumptions rail will come out ahead. But you could do worse than starting here:

      20. And again, you make the ultimate argument for not needing to increase the number of highway lanes. (heck, I’d be tickled if they just repaved a few local streets with my gas tax money)

        Your points are valid, but the big question remains, HOW?

        HOW will you get people to conform to get the passenger flow count you describe (via vanpool/carpool/bus)?

        A good capitalist would have the answer.

        Your line of thought is definitely at odds with the way transportation planning is done for highways.

        Just food for thought. Way back when, when traction companies were running for-profit passenger service, why didn’t a local/regional business construct and build a competing highway?


      21. There are waiting lists for van pools. People want to use van pools. But there are not enough vans. Provide more vans, and there will be more people in van pools.

        The contention that everyone who wants to ride a bus or use a van pool is already doing so, is just wrong. A lot more people would be riding buses or van pools if there were room for them to do so.

        Are you actually disputing this? You believe that everyone who wants to use a bus or van pool is already doing so?

      22. I’ll have to research to see the waiting lists.

        Although I don’t think everyone wants to vanpool/carpool that is currently in their SOV.

        That’s the ratio that would be meaningful.

      23. There is no need to get “everyone” out of their SOV. You think light rail gets “everyone” out of their SOV’s? You never see any SOV’s driving along MLK Jr Way alongside Link trains now?

        I think ST is projecting about 3,000 boardings per day on Link trains at the new airport station. That is a small fraction of the total number of people who fly into and out of SeaTac and work at SeaTac each day. The airport Link station is not going to get “everyone” who travels to and from the airport each day out of their SOV’s.

        ST is projecting very little, if any, impacat on traffic congestion in our area due to light rail, even after the entire system currently planned is completed.

        So, light rail will not come close to getting “everyone” out of their SOV. There are a whole lot of people who prefer their SOV to light rail.

        Why would you expect buses and van pools to do that?

      24. “ST is projecting very little, if any, impacat on traffic congestion in our area due to light rail, even after the entire system currently planned is completed.”

        Light rail does a lot to alleviate congestion for the people who choose to use it. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to drive or sees the automobile as the ultimate expression of personal freedom. Investing in multiple modes of transportation is part of building a society that supports the mobility needs of everyone, not just car owners.

      25. “I’m not disputing your numbers on highway vehicle capacity. I am disputing …

        That is just patently absurd, and dishonest.”

        For years, when trying to make sense of all the numbers, and getting bogged down in the minutia in discussions such as these, I felt it helpful if I would take the numbers which seemed to have as varied of measurement nomenclature as there were modes, and correlate them.

        One of the first statements to become clearer happened when trying to relate the idea of ‘farebox recovery’ and its highway equivalent.

        After hearing it so many times, and even seeing transit proponents on this blog refer to it as the popular culture does, the first one that comes close to Norman’s description in his last sentence quoted above is that the Gas Tax is a User Fee.

        So I will repeat my previous statement:

        “Way back when, when traction companies were running for-profit passenger service, why didn’t a local/regional business construct and build a competing highway?”

      26. The vanpool is the most efficient form of transportation in the world. If we all vanpooled there would be no more traffic, greatly reduced pollution, and less carnage out there on the highways.

        Unfortunately, most people are simply unable to organize a vanpool. And when they do there are bound to be problems. I never bothered. It seemed like a bigger pain in the ass than taking the bus. My girlfriend quit her vanpool after her bitch driver left 10 minutes early one day, leaving her stranded at her job.

        If I really cared about the environment, traffic and quality of life, I would support vanpooling over all other forms of transportation. But screw it, I like trains.

      27. So, Norman, do you have a number for the potential number of Vanpools that could be possible in the Puget Sound Region.

        In particular, which ones are in the same corridor as Link. as Sounder?


      28. Jim,

        The reason for “friction” is that people jump out of a slower lane into the shortest possible gap in a faster one, endangering themselves and the people in the car at the upstream end of the gap. As a result, drivers in the lanes adjacent to a nearly stopped one slow down defensively.

    5. [deleted, ad-hominem], you’re citing the brand new Link system which is very rarely crush loaded. Take a ride on Westside Max at the rush and you’ll often see fifty standees per car. Before the advent of the Green Line the eastside trains at the rush hour were just as full. Adding the six trains per hour from Clackamas has eased crowding a bit, because people west of Gateway often time their arrival to the availability of a Green Line train in order to be less crowded.

      Of course it doesn’t happen all day, but neither does bumper to bumper traffic on 26 and I-84.

      1. Adding 50 standees per car to the 74 seated passengers would give you 124 passengers in that light rail car. Not close to 200.

      2. Stop by the Muni Metro on market Street during the PM peak travel time westbound – you’ll see one or 2 car LRVs every 2-3 minutes at crush loads. Our transit tunnel will look that way in about 15 years, maybe less.

      3. Max Type I, II, and III cars are considerably smaller than the KS cars on Link. Siemens sells the new nearly ten foot longer type IV’s with 74 seats per car as you note, but rates them for 220 with standees. The type I high-floor cars have 68 seats per car but are rated for only 170 with standees. Siemens doesn’t publish statistics for the Type II and III SD660’s since they’ve been superceded by the S70 Type IV’s) but they have considerably fewer seats than the Type I’s — probably 60 — but standee space about 85% of the S70’s. Figure total capacity about 190 or so.

        The new cars are bigger and have traded one cab per car for eight seats which allows the low-floor portion to be nearly completely side facing, resulting in much higher standee capacity.

        The Kinki-Sharyo’s are essentially the same size as the Type IV Siemens cars, but they do have a cab at each end (IMO a mistake since they’ll never run in single-car service). So the capacity with standees is probably the advertised 200.

        As soon as U-Link opens they’ll be running like that.

        Look, you’re so hostile to Light Rail why don’t you go start the “Seattle Bus and Vanpool Only Transit Blog”?

      1. I have ridden in an SUV with 7 other people in it.

        People do this all the time. Something tells me you are not really familiar with SUV’s.

    1. BART is heavy rail, but anyone who thinks that 200 people can’t fit in a standard size LRT vehicle has never been on the Muni N-Judah line.

      1. That’s right, Chris, and the Muni cars are those shrimpy Bredas. Two fifty is tight in them. Tokyo Tight!

  9. I used to commute on transit, but then I realized I was part of the problem. People who use purposely live miles away from work are a causing our society, and our planet, harm. That’s why I chose to be part of the solution. I decided to move within easy walking or biking distance from work. Multi-billion dollar transit systems do not have to be built for me.

    The only real way to be cost effective, have positive social effects, and improve our quality of life is not to selfishly choose to live commuting distance from work.

    I can proudly say I am part of the solution. Can you?

      1. Most of us don’t have the option to work from home. So for the majority of people, we have to get there somehow. Also, it is not always affordable to live close to work. Many people would live close to work if they could afford it.

      2. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you worked for Boeing. I wonder how many people buy a house near the plant that they work only to be transfered to another plant far, far away.

    1. Transit creates more dense, more livable communities. Granted, there is no need to build rail to Issaquah. We need to live closer to where we work and go about our daily activities, but those densely knit communities in which we can do such a thing need to be connected. If they are connected with massive roads, sprawl and suburbia are quick to follow.

      This should not be a transit vs. good urban design argument.

      1. I think places like Issaquah are here to stay, so we should serve them with rail, and prevent them from growing outward at all anymore, instead becoming more dense like Issaquah Highlands.

  10. Can Martin H. Duke — or anyone else here — give me a documented example of any light rail lines in the U.S. which are operating 4-car trains every 2.5 minutes?


    1. Can Norman – or anyone else here – give me a documented example with freeways full of SUVs, Vans, Sadans, and buses exactly at capacity and exactly spaced apart so to no cause a traffic jam inside or outside the US?


    2. There are plenty of non-light rail systems that have far more trains than that running, and there is no reason to believe that ours can’t/won’t. A combination of expansion into dense areas, higher gas prices, and and densifying around stations will result in the need for that much capacity.

      1. Actually, Alex, while it’s true that the Green Line tunnel section in Boston and the Muni Metro tunnel east of the Duboce portal both have trains running at two minute headways during the peak, they’re one and two car trains of smaller cars than the K-S honkers on Link. Norman is right that there are no Light Rail technology systems (i.e. overhead power with the ability to traverse level intersections with rubber-tired vehicles) with four car trains running at 2.5 minute headways, at this time.

        But that’s a result of historical construction decisions. At one time it was a rail transit dictum that peak hour peak direction capacities greater than about 15,000 passengers per hour demanded heavy rail (third-rail power, 100% grade separated) technology.

        It was not considered safe for LRT trains to be longer than three cars because of the need to stop rapidly when blocked by non-rail traffic and level crossings with rubber tired traffic made reliability random such that headways of less than two minutes lead to bunching and unreliability at merge points. Ben has written extensively about this. You were right in your assertion that there are several heavy rail lines in New York and on the Chicago El loop that have headways of 2.5 minutes or less. But they aren’t light rail with four car trains, which is what Norman asked for.

        Today the difference between heavy rail and light metro is blurring. LRT cars have gotten bigger and more powerful (I doubt that Max Type 1 cars could climb the hill leading to Tukwila International Blvd) so fewer cars are needed to handle the same number of people. It’s now possible to consider LRT technology for a BART like regional system for a smaller SMSA than the Bay Area.

        Link with its long stretches of elevated and tunnel construction is such a light regional metro — really the first other than TransLink in Vancouver — (this discussion has been frequent on the board and I think we all agree), not “traditional” light rail with its emphasis on separated but at-grade right of way. When the Northgate stretch is opened it will certainly have headways in the low three minute range within a few years eventually reaching 2.5 minute Valhalla to be be the first installation of LRT technology to achieve more than 20,000 people per hour in the peak direction. Obviously, the parts of the system with the level crossings (MLK/SODO and downtown Bellevue and Redmond) will be outside the 20,000 pph zone to the north of the the Seattle CBD.

        If the westside line is actually built by Sound Transit (why should it be, since it’s entirely within Seattle? but that’s a political question) it will probably be more traditional LRT technology with shorter trains and more frequent stations, certainly through its Ballard and West Seattle collection zones.

    3. That’s future capacity as shown in the ST2 plan.

      The closest thing to that we see today is the Canada Line which runs every 2-3 minutes during most of its service day on a shared section. Their trains have a max capacity of 400 and they have limited expansion capabilities. It is quickly approaching 100,000 riders each day.

      Link will be similar to that on the portion between Intl Dist and Northgate where it is completely grade separated and service shared between Central Link and East Link.

      1. Oran,I was just accepting your information, but I decided to do a search for the Canada Line, and here is one site I came up with:

        This site says that the Canada Line has 3.75- minute headways, not 2-3 minutes headways, between Bridgeport and Waterfront. Between the airport and Bridgeport, and Richmond and Bridgeport the trains have 7.5-minute headways.

        3.75-minute headways is a far cry from 2.5-minute headways. It means 16 trains per hour, as opposed to 24 trains per hour.

        And the Canada Line operates only 2-car trains, not 4-car trains. And this site gives the maximum capacity of each 2-car train as 334, not 400.

        So, the official capacity of the Canada Line is 5,344 people per direction per hour between Bridgeport and Waterfront. This is nowhere near the 19,200 pphpd that the author claimed in the original article.

      2. I will concede that I made a mistake reading the schedule info on the Translink website but it doesn’t matter. Canada Line has phenomenal ridership, significantly more than the 98 B-line BRT service it replaced.

    4. Norman, can you give any documented examples of anywhere in this country where the typical occupancy of cars and SUV’s on a highway have the seats even close to filled?

      Wouldn’t the logical solution to increase highway capacity from your information be to switch the lane designations from one lane for carpools and high occupancy and the rest unrestricted to the opposite? One unrestricted lane and the balance for carpools and high occupancy vehicles?

      Then, you’re on to something.

      1. Can you give me a documented example of a highway where every single vehicle on that highway has exactly one person in it, as the author gave for his capacity of a highway in his original article?

        Can you give me a documented example of a light rail line with 4-car trains every 2.5 minutes where every singe car for an entire hour had at least 200 people in it? Or, on average over an hour, anwhere close to 200 people per light rail car?

        There are not enough buses and van pools in our area right now to make your suggestion effective. If enough buses and van pools were added in our area, a couple of HOV lanes in each direction might make sense on some sections of some highways.

      2. A Central Link Operations Plan from 2008 [via public records request] states “After the light rail line is extended north and train operations require sole possession of the DSTT, the signal system will enable trains to operate at 2-minute headways. At that time four-car trains will also be able to operate in the DSTT tunnel. Under these circumstances, the line will be capable of carrying nearly 18,000 riders per hour in each direction, as summarized below.” It assumes a load factor of 2.0, meaning 74 seated and 74 standing per car.

        This is what the ST2 Plan had to say about capacity:

        While no rail transit system runs fully loaded 24 hours a day, the difference between the ultimate system capacity and the ridership forecast shortly after opening represents the reserve of capacity for accommodating a large amount of future ridership demand in the decades after the system is built.

        Link is more of a light metro than light rail, especially in the downtown to Northgate portion. No light rail line in the U.S. is built to accommodate 4-car trains.

      3. So there is another documentation of ST using 148 as the capacity of Link light rail cars during normal commutes.

        They claim the system “will enable trains to operate at 2-minute headways…” but they don’t say they ever plan to do so. Since no light rail system in the U.S. is doing this, I don’t expect it to ever happen. I don’t think there are many people who think it will ever actually happen. It certainly is not going to happen in the next 20 years.

      4. You’re not looking long term, Norman. Link is unique among light rail systems in the U.S., it is designed to handle 2-minute headways because of the projected demand and for future demand to avoid expensive retrofits. These things stay around for more a hundred years.

        Did anyone ever predict massive congestion when the interstate highways were first built?

    5. Norman, I’ve started to moderate you based on the personal attacks you’ve sprinkled into your comments.

      Frankly, I think your next comment should be to accept some of the great points made (such as SkyTrain’s expansion to lower headways) and consider the information you’ve been given. If you continue with bogus, misleading assertions without responding to the people around you, you will be moderated.

      1. I got the operating costs per revenue hour from Oran. Refer to his post. He got them from the ST budget for 2010. Someone else already put the link to the website for the ST 2010 budget in this thread. I don’t recall quoting any costs per hour for Metro buses — only ST Express buses, which is the information Oran provided.

        Capacity for Link light rail cars are in many Link documents.

        You tell me what bus drivers and Link train operators are paid per hour, and I will look up some links to websites that give the information you are asking for.

      2. I’ve already posted a link to ST’s listed capacity of 200 per train above to correct your stated capacity of 148 for a Link train. If you’re going to persist in comparing crush capacities, at least use valid numbers. ST doesn’t list a standing capacity for 60 foot hybrid so I’ll give you 90.

        As for what we make, ATU 587’s contract is public record. Feel free to look it up yourself.

      3. Norman, projected ridership is not the same as capacity. At all. Accept that and move on.


        In this north link SEIS, ST uses 137 as the “person-moving capacity” of one light rail car.

        Page 3-4 bottom paragraph:

        “Regional Travel Corridors
        For the years 2015 and 2030, project staff compared the general shifts in traffic flow that would occur
        under the No-Build and North Link light rail alternatives. Theoretical screenlines were drawn across one or
        more roadways to compare changes in traffic volumes and person-moving capacities. Person-moving
        capacities would increase with the North Link light rail alternatives compared to No-Build, as shown in Table
        3.1-5. Assuming the system would operate with four-car trains (137 passengers per car) at 5-minute headways,…”

        The same 137 passsengers per car capacity is repeated twice under table 3.1-5 on the next page.

      5. Norman,

        those are assumptions for planning purposes. See Zed’s comment about that above.

        Assuming the system would operate with four-car trains (137 passengers per car) at 5-minute headways”

        Assumes the total system could operate with four-car trains at 2-minute headways and a passenger capacity of 137 passengers per car (74 seats with a load factor of 1.85).”

        Load factors can vary and they don’t say anything about how much capacity is actually available.

        Sound Transit’s public info page on Link LRVs and the widely disseminated and vetted ST 2 plan document and the more recent 2008 Central Link Operations Plan [internal] say 200. Even a presentation by the Link LRV manufacturer Kinkisharyo contradicts itself by listing two completely different “crush load” capacities.

        If you choose to ignore other credible sources, then I don’t think we should continue this discussion. I think we’re beating a dead horse at this point anyway.

      6. 200 is the “crush” load for light rail cars. It is never achieved in normal commutes. If you insist in using the “crush” load as “capacity” of light rail cars in peak commuting hours, then you are being dishonest. That is like using 140 as the “capacity” of an articulated bus, just because it is possible to cram 140 people onto one bus. But that does not happen during normal commutes.

        By the way, coming back to the real world, I just rode Link round trip between Westlake and SeaTac around noon today. There were a total of 7 boardings on the way to SeaTac, and 3 of them were fare checkers.

        On the way back to Westlake there were a total of 58 boardings. I counted 11 large bags on that car on the way back to Westlake. Each of them took up one seat — people placed them on seats, or in front of seats. Either way, nobody could use those 11 seats.

        How many people do you think could board one light rail car if even one out of five had a large bag? Since it now goes to the airport, it is likely that there will be large bags on many light rail cars.

      7. Here is a WSDOT document where it clearly states that a “fully-loaded car” is 137 passengers. 137 is the accepted “capacity” of a light rail car in North America. It is based on real-world studies of what is actually achievable, not on what the light rail car manufacturer says is possible.

        Page 2:

        Central Link LRT
        Ridership Estimate (yielding Projected bus volume)
        Estimates are for a maximum line load of 2,100 passengers/
        hour in 2010 and 3,020 passengers/hour in 2020. The midpoint
        of 2,560 was used for 2015. Since this is the peak direction,
        a high estimate of 500 reverse peak riders was added to this
        Capacity Estimate (yielding Minimal bus volume)
        Current plan is to use 2-car vehicles with peak frequency of 6
        minutes. A fully loaded car of 137 passengers, x 2 cars per train,
        x 10 trains per hour yields 2,740 passenger capacity per hour
        in peak direction. The 500 reverse peak rider assumption was
        added to this figure.

      8. That report came out before Sound Transit has ordered their LRVs. You can tell how old it is because it still references the Monorail Green Line. Besides, you really expect us to believe that every light rail vehicle in North America has the same capacity no matter how large it is? Is there some light rail gnome that lives on them and turns back the 138th passenger?

        Capacity is capacity, it doesn’t matter if it is achieved or not. The maximum capacity of a vehicle is a calculated number that for the Central Link LRVs has been stated by both Sound Transit and Kinkisharyo as 200 passengers. The capacity of my car is 5 passengers even though it has never achieved more than 4.

          /kəˈpæsɪti/ plural -ties, adjective

        1. the ability to receive or contain: This hotel has a large capacity.
        2. the maximum amount or number that can be received or contained; cubic contents; volume: The inn is filled to capacity. The gasoline tank has a capacity of 20 gallons.

      9. That’s an SDOT document, not a WSDOT or Sound Transit document.

        “137 is the accepted “capacity” of a light rail car in North America”

        Says who? Different models of light rail rolling stock have different capacities, even from the same manufacturer.

        What’s the definition of “fully-loaded” i.e. what is the standing space per passenger (or inversely, passengers/area)?

        What document says 200 is considered crush loaded, specifically?

        The only true way to resolve this question is to get the interior measurements of the car, calculate available space, and then make assumptions about how close people are willing to stand close to each other during a commute. There’s a whole manual about Rail Transit Capacity that describes how that is calculated.

        The section to the airport is not expected to be the highest ridership part of the system (see ST2 Plan) and therefore is irrelevant.

      10. “the capacity of my car is 5.” Now we are getting somewhere.

        Therefore, the capacity of one highway lane with all cars (no buses or vans) is 11,000 PEOPLE per direction per hour, right? 2,200 cars times the capacity of 5 people per car.

        So, we can now agree that the actual real-world capacity of one highway lane with only cars on it is about 11,000 people per direction per hour.

        This is what I am trying to explain. If you want to compare “capacity” of light rail to highways, then use the “capacity” of cars, which is about 5 people per car.

        Oran, if you use the same accepted North American sq. meters/passenger for both Link cars and articulated buses, you get a capacity of about 148 for Link cars, and 90 for articulated buses, which is what I have been using.

      11. Oh and in the SDOT document under “Lake Union Streetcar” it says:

        “Typical capacity is a design load of 154 with a crush load of 221; midpoint (188) is used. ”

        A smaller streetcar has more capacity than a light rail car! Likely because there’s more standing room.

        If Sound Transit took all the seats out, they could comfortably fit 150 people without body contact or over 300 people at North American crush load standards per car! It’ll be perfect for hosting parties and cocktails on the go.

      12. An articulated bus has close to 2/3 the usable square feet as a Link light rail car. So, whatever number you care to use for a Link car, take about 2/3 of that, and use that for your capacity for an articulated bus.

        Take all the seats out of an articulated bus, and it will hold about 200!

        Good point.

      13. “So, we can now agree that the actual real-world capacity of one highway lane with only cars on it is about 11,000 people per direction per hour.”

        Which is still less than the capacity of one light rail line, even if you could find a way to insure that every car on the freeway were full. In the real world when North Link is open it is completely plausible that at peak hours every light rail train between Northgate and downtown will be full, and every car clogging I-5 will still have on average one occupant. It would be great if we could use our highways to their fullest potential, but in the real world that just doesn’t happen. In the real world in dense urban environments rail moves far more people than highways can and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Seattle isn’t any different than any other major city on the planet and the experience of all those cities shows that roads can not provide the transportation capacity needed to support their populations.

      14. “Which is still less than the capacity of one light rail line”

        Depending on how many trains per hour, how many cars per train, how many people per light rail car. I believe that when North Link opens, ST is expecting to run one 2-car train every 5 minutes or so (someone here can surely correct that, if it is wrong). That would be 12 trains, or 24 light rail cars per hour. If you use the 137 in the North Link SEIS as the “person-moving capacity” of one light rail car, that gives you 24 X 137 or about 3,288 people per hour per direction. Not close to the “capacity” of one highway lane with the “person-moving capacity” of 5 people per car, which gives you about 11,000 people per hour per direction.

        Even with 4-car trains every 5 mintues, the capacity of North Link would be about 6,576 people per direction per hour.

        Of coures, in the real world, highways also carry buses and vans, as well as cars. And a bus can carry 90 people. So, just 100 buses per hour in one lane gives you the “person-carrying capacity” of 9,000 people per direction per hour per lane, or far more than the North Link line when it opens.

        Do you think that 100 buses per hour is achievable on one lane of I-5?

        “the experience of all those cities shows that roads can not provide the transportation capacity needed to support their populations.” So, you don’t think Seattle’s population has been “supported” for the past several decades? People have literally been dying for lack of light rail trains? Seattle is not “working” because we don’t have enough light rail?

        Interesting, because Seattle has often been rated one of the “most-liveable” cities in the U.S. before we had any light rail at all.

      15. Whatever you say Norman. You obviously already have your mind made up and will tell yourself whatever you need to to convince yourself that you’re right. You can fudge the numbers however you want to, but in the “real world” that you say you’re basing your numbers on private cars aren’t filled to capacity and an armada of buses and van pools that we can’t afford to run. Until the legislature makes all the freeway lanes HOV4+ and bus drivers will work for slave wages roads will never have the people moving capacity that a rail line does. Until then just keep using Limbaugh’s method of “lying with the facts” to make yourself feel that the world is perfect how it is and we don’t need to do anything to make it better.

      16. 100 buses per hour gives the same capacity as 4-car LINK trains every 4 minutes with 150 on each Link car.

        You don’t think we could afford to run 100 buses per hour on I-5 on the north Link route? That would cost a fraction of what it is going to cost to build and operate North Link.

        Metro right now operates around 1,400 buses each day.

        And, I believe there are around 1,000 van pools in King County right now, also. Van pools come close to paying for themselves. There is almost no operating subsidy for van pools.

        Again, 100 buses per hour would fill just part of ONE highway lane. You don’t need to convert every lane to HOV4 to accomplish 100 buses per hour.

      17. Metro spends most of its money on operations with its 0.9% tax. It has to pay a high cost of operations, forever.

        Sound Transit spends most of its money on capital projects, which will be completed and paid off, allowing the tax to roll back (unless voters want more), resulting in less operating cost long term (50-100 years).

      18. Spokker, read our comment policies if you have questions. Personal attacks are clearly verboten. Picking at people to get a rise out of them also counts.

      1. True enough, but very very few people use I-25/Broadway for anything other than a park-and-ride/transfer point, and even fewer people use 10th/Osage for any reason at all. Almost all people are traveling from points south of Broadway heading north of Osage. Those 3-minute headways are because all rail traffic is bottlenecked into shared track between those two stations. That’s just where the shared ROW happened to be when they designed the 5-line (C,D,E,F,H) interchanging system.

    6. The densest part of the built-out Link light rail system will be Northgate to ID/C Station, which will be entirely grade-separated. Yes, it will sustain 2.5 minute headways.

      Re the capacity of Link light rail cars. The 137 number was a planning calculation based on standees about one arms-length apart — a moderate load used to plan system capacity and purposely leaving lots of room to accommodate more riders due to the normal ridership variations and surge events (stadiums exiting).

      200 riders in a light rail car is a very full load but not a crush load, certainly not the crush load I experienced on the opening of the West Side line in Portland some years ago. Tri-Met had no crowd control and people just filled each car to absolute capacity, approaching the loads resulting from white-gloved pushers in Japan. I’d hesitate to guess a number under those circumstances, but way beyond 200.

      1. Right, like I said before. 137 is not the absolute maximum capacity. It is an assumption of a particular load factor based on the standing density of passengers. That’s how transit planners do it. That’s why the ST2 plan had a capacity table based on how crowded the train is. Comfortable capacity is 150 per car and crowded capacity is 200 per car.

      2. ST itself, in more than one document, says it plans to add cars or increase frequency, to keep peak hour ridership at a “maximum” of 148 riders per car, which is a “load factor” of 2 (2 riders for every seat). This is their plan — to never have more than 148 riders in any Link car during normal commutes.

        ST uses 200 riders per Link car as the capacity for after “special events”, such as football games. After Husky football games, I have been on articulated buses with around 140 people on them, but I do not consider 140 to be the “capacity” of an articulated bus, just because I have seen that on special occasions. I have never seen a bus that full during a normal commute.

        I am just using ST’s own figures. For peak hours during normal commutes, ST claims a capacity of 137 for its Link cars in the EIS’s, and 148 in other documents. You can disagree with ST if you like, but I am just using their numbers.

        I roder the Link trains on several round trips on opening weekend when they were free, and never saw more than about 150 people on any given car. I have never seen anything close to 150 on a Link car during a normal commute since they started collecting fares. The most I have seen is just about 75, or rider for each seat.

      3. Opening weekend had crowd control.

        You want to twist the definition of capacity to your benefit, be my guest.

        I’m not disagreeing with ST. The ST 2 plan, a Sound Transit document, said so. So both of us are right.

      4. After Husky football games, I have been on articulated buses with around 140 people on them, but I do not consider 140 to be the “capacity” of an articulated bus, just because I have seen that on special occasions. I have never seen a bus that full during a normal commute.

        You obviously don’t ride the 41, 71, 72, 73, or 74 much. The 41 can be crush loads during peak hours and the 71/72/73/74 can be packed when the UW is in session any time between 7 AM and 9 PM. I have no doubt U-Link/North link will show a similar pattern of use with all 4 cars of multiple LINK trains at crush loads during peak times.

  11. One of the things that I really like about transit is that it provides an place in which people from every different background, every race, every socio-economic level, every age, etc, are close together for a long period of time. Because of this, it dispels stereotypes that people have about other people, and provides an opportunity for everyone to understand each other a little bit more.

    1. Alex,

      That’s exactly the part of transit that [deleted, ad-hominem] Norman and Blue Swan hate. Congratulations to you for your openness to different cultures.

      1. I ride buses all the time. I don’t hate buses.

        The part of light rail that I hate is the $2.7 billion for 15.7 miles, or the $1.9 billion for the 3 miles from Westlake to UW.

      2. Norman, I think you hate math more than anything. Cost per passenger mile on Link will be lower in the long run than cost per passenger mile on the equivalent bus routes.

      3. Right. And the $2.6 billion construction cost of Central Link will be lower than the capital cost of SWIFT-type bus routes to SeaTac, Tukwila, and along Rainier Valley, too?

      4. There’s a trade off. You could buy something cheap that costs more to run and needs to be replaced sooner or you could buy something more expensive with higher quality that costs less to run and lasts longer.

        Look at LA Metro’s Orange Line. It’s certainly a success but buses are overcrowded and the pavement needs to be replaced sooner than later. They’re not running them more frequently because of the constraints at grade crossings. Some would argue a light rail line would’ve been a better investment despite the higher cost.

      5. Norman,
        Could you please tell me where the right of way for a SWIFT type service between downtown, Capitol Hill, and the UW can be found? Please include the capitol cost of acquiring that right of way and building a transit way on it.

        For bonus points do the same for serving Roosevelt and Northgate.

        Oh and Rainier Valley has the same problem with a constrained ROW. The at-grade portion would have cost around the same for BRT due to the need for widening MLK.

    2. Exactly. Cities are about sharing resources, that’s why you live close to other people, to share and live in a community. It is quite ridiculous to then have to get in your own metal box and drive on massive roads to get anywhere. Why not share that resource as well?

  12. Yes, Transit is a much needed item for a major area to work. However, what some Transit advocates forget is sometimes it makes more sence to drive. Even if it a SOV. Example, a friend ask me to find her a way to work by transit about 3 years ago. Well I checked. The fastest way for her to get there was 2 and a half hours and 5 buses, It takes a half ah hour to drive. Every indvidual should look at there options and make informed decisions.

    1. Yes, I’ve done the same thing. I’ve also advised friends and relatives to think about where they work, and where they are likely to work in the future, when choosing a place to live, so they’re not stuck with one of those mandatory car commutes. During the height of the car culture in the 60’s – 80’s, that kind of planning never occurred to lots of people.

      1. One thing that would help with an ‘informed decision’ would be if the ‘fare structure’ of highway corridors would duplicate the way fares are collected on a transit corridor.

        Right now, auto commuters don’t pay for the facility they are using at the same ratio that transit commuters do.


      2. Hmmmm. Link fares pay for ZERO percent of the construction costs of Link. And the fares pay only a tiny percentage of the operating cost of Link.

        Bus fares pay ZERO percent of the cost of the highways and roads the buses run on.

        I’d like to see the numbers you are basing that on.

      3. Here we go again.

        And the gas tax pays for what?

        Which part? The construction of the highway or the operation?

        Why divide the two? To slant the costs to favor one over the other?

      4. Actually, it is expected that by 2017 after U-Link opens, 52% of Link operating costs will be covered by fares. That’s twice the target Metro set for bus fare recovery.

      5. My point is, how do you make a valid comparison when the taxing structure, fare structure, construction and operating cost have seemingly very different metrics?

  13. Thank you all for the most informative and entertaining thread I have ever had the pleasure of reading!

  14. You know maybe it is time to consider an idea of my father. He thinks that if the area was really serious about transit then it would be tax payer funded. In other words no fares. I do not know how it would work. I do think that it would result in more riders. I am not saying that it would work. I am sure there would be drawbacks. But, fares barley make a dent in operational costs. (So I’ve been told on this very blog.) I am not even sure I like it. Let’s take a look.

    1. Better yet, privatize the road system, go back to privately owned and operated transit systems, and see where we end up.

    2. Mathew, something else we’ve mentioned on this blog is that on higher capacity systems like Link, fares cover a lot more of the operating costs. U Link will cover half of its operating costs after a few years.

  15. Is it true that Seattle’s light rail is subsidized to the tune of $130 per ride? That’s what I heard.

    1. As heard on KVI? Those types of calculations are meaningless. Any cost subsidy per ride is obviously dependent on ridership. By cherry picking initial ridership and the compressing 30+ years of capital investment you come up with meaningless numbers like that. I think it’s a pretty safe estimate that when it all shakes out between now and 2040 the cost per ride will likely fall somewhere between 2 to 4 times the price of a fare. If you factor in the cost of providing alternate public transportation then it might be even better than 50% recovery on investment.

      1. That’s what I thought. Subsidy per ride is obviously going to change as capital costs become a less important component of the project costs.

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