This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Chad Newton has an interesting post at STB on stop spacing, speed and ridership of various rail systems across the US. He’s making the case that more stops on LINK wouldn’t necessarily hurt ridership, and might even help.

That seems fair to me. But the graphs make me think about something else. If you look at the graph of systems sorted by stop spacing, the ones on the left (with the greatest number of stops) tend to be hybrid subway/commuter rail systems, while the ones on the right are strict urban systems, supplemented by a separate commuter rail to provide service to the suburbs (commuter rail systems are seemingly left out of this analysis). It makes sense the hybrid systems (BART, MARTA, DC Metro) are going to have a larger average distance between stops, because they go all the way out into the ‘burbs.

Now, maybe in the 21st century the old hub-and-spoke model doesn’t apply, but there’s still a qualitative difference between a system that’s geared towards commuters who use it once a day, and urban denizens who use it for errands and socializing and the like.

So the bigger question is: what kind of system is LINK? Or, rather, what kind of system does LINK want to be? Thus far, I think Sound Transit has thread the needle quite carefully (and quite well). It’s a regional agency, with a regional constituency, so of course the bias is going to be toward a hybrid system that serves commuters as well as urban metro riders. But they’ve also been very good about avoiding the freeway median stations and massive park-and-rides that characterize other hybrid systems. Thus, density can still occur around stations, and more stations can be added relatively easily (in places such as the Rainier Valley or, later, Bel-Red).

The real test will come later (ST3? ST4??), when the agency is forced to make tradeoffs between developing a true urban system and providing a commuter rail for a mostly suburban constituency.

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