A map showing the demand for internal trips that aren't from home to work. 83% of internal trips aren't commutes.

Representatives from the Seattle Department of Transportation briefed the city council yesterday on early findings from work on city’s new Transit Master Plan. This is the first update to the plan in more than five years, and will likely in the end contain a recommendation for a major capital project such as an extension of light rail or the city’s streetcar network.

In the presentation, SDOT said it has asked reached out to citizens for information on their travel patterns and reviewed “the state of transit in Seattle.”

One strong conclusion is that 83% of transit trips internal to Seattle are not “work trips,” and are significantly less likely to head downtown. The city notes that urban-village-to-urban-village service is in general much weaker than urban village-to-downtown service. The image on the right represents demand for these trips. The city hopes to use the results from the Transit Master Plan to help Metro re-align city bus service.

PubliCola has a great summary of some information in the report:

– Queen Anne and Capitol Hill residents were the most likely in the city to use transit, with between 4,000 and 5,000 transit trips between those neighborhoods and downtown every day.

– Transit tended to be least reliable downtown (where buses are subject to frequent traffic jams) and in far-flung neighborhoods like White Center, South Park, and Bitter Lake (where service tends to be less frequent).

– The report also notes that Seattle’s transit system is oriented toward moving people to and from downtown at rush hour—”a fraction” of all trips in Seattle. Reorienting the system to serve more people outside downtown might be more efficient, the report suggests.

Capitol Hill Seattle blog has its own report with, of course, a neighborhood-focused perspective.

30 Replies to “Transit Master Plan Progresses: Looking at Trips”

  1. That maps seems weird to me. Are non-commute trips from Ballard to anywhere downtown really that low? Or is that just a function of the visualization?

    1. These are the top 100 non-work trip pairs. It’s based on a demand model rather than being actual measured data. More on this in a couple of hours.

      1. Yeah, this map for the top off-peak ridership routes would be interesting, although you’d want to split out the turnback route variants because some of those perform differently to the full route.

  2. What also surprised was the ratio of commute vs non-commute trips in Seattle. I expected the commute trips to dominate non-commute trips, but instead it’s just 17% of all trips. This seems slightly counterintuitive to me for a couple reasons, all quasi-anecdotal admittedly:

    1) Buses are packed during commute hours
    2) Service frequency is highest during commute hours
    3) I see an approximate 60% drop in traffic to OneBusAway during the weekend. If commute trips were really such a small portion of transit usage, I’d think that drop would be smaller.

    Anyone have any thoughts on this?

      1. So in the article when John said:

        One strong conclusion is that 83% of transit trips internal to Seattle are not “work trips,”

        That refers to trips using any mode, not just public transit?

    1. I think we’ve all been misreading this report. The 17/83% numbers refer to trips *by all modes* in Seattle, not just transit trips.

      If you add up the numbers, you see that the first two maps say that there are approximately 20,000 to 25,000 trips per day between Capitol Hill (Broadway) and downtown. The map on the next page says that approximately 4,000 to 5,000 of those trips are on transit. That’s about 20%, which sounds about right.

      You don’t need this report to tell you about Metro service utilization. The 2009 route performance report indicates that about 43% of Metro’s Seattle revenue hours are during peak (another 43% is during off-peak until 6-7 pm, and the rest is at night), and that Seattle service has about the same number of riders per revenue hour during peak and off-peak.

      But what’s interesting about this chart is it tells us that there’s a huge untapped market in the form of non-commute travel.

      1. We’ve known for a while that ~60% of all regional trips are non-work-related (PSRC). While some of those happen during peak hours (school trips in particular), there are a lot of potential trips during off-peak that aren’t currently served by transit. the question naturally from there is, how do we better serve/capture that market?

    2. Maybe with OBA the sample is skewed by more affluent commuters who are more likely to have smartphones?

      1. See the above discussion about how I was misreading the numbers.

        That said, the OBA numbers are roughly the same across interfaces (web, apps, sms, phone). Certainly you could argue that OBA users might not be representative of transit riders as a whole, but they still seem to take the weekends off no matter how they access the tool.

      2. I bought a smartphone just so I could use OBA. It’s quite literally changed my life. While I’m at it I’d like to nominate OBA for the nobel prize in transportation.

  3. internal to Seattle

    So, it doesn’t include the many Seattle-Redmond (Microsoft), Seattle-Bellevue, Auburn-Kent-Tukwila-Seattle, Renton-Seattle hub-spoke commuter traffic.

      1. Yes, the *Seattle* Transit Master Plan will disproportionately benefit Central City residents, and have about half the benefit for the typical edge city resident.

        The problem that arises from ignoring greater Seattle is that there is a concentration of apartments along the city limits. Apartment dwellers are the most likely to take transit if it meets their needs. But if the nearest grocery store is a couple miles outside the city, and bus routes are designed to dead-end at the city limits, that means a lot of edge-city apartment dwellers will just get a car.

        In the case of South Park, one of our goals is a bus route to Tukwila International Boulevard Station. I’ll be very surprised if the Seattle Transit Advisory Board takes up that cause.

        South Park is one of the neighborhood groups that takes a pro-transit position, trying to get more and better of it, rather than protect ourselves from it. (That’s what happens when bus riders show up to neighborhood meetings and get to know their neighbors.) Unfortunately, South Park’s business district was left off the list of urban villages.

      2. Actually, the TMP work does acknowledge serious problems with transit across the city line. I’m hopeful that Seattle does find a way to include some improvements for those trips in the plan.

        The question is whether neighboring cities will match those improvements.

      3. “there is a concentration of apartments along the city limits”

        I don’t think there are that many. There are some on Aurora and more in White Center, but few in northeast or southeast Seattle, and none on the west or east coastlines. Only White Center is as large as a Seattle neighborhood. So the number of apartments throughout the city dwarfs the number just outside or just inside the boundary.

  4. Is it within the scope of the STMP to nudge metro to continue and expand ETB service, like electrifying the 8? I guess the survey didn’t ask this, but I certainly prefer riding ETBs.

    I note that hub’n’spoke works pretty well for commute traffic; basically one big hub at DT and one smaller one at UW.

  5. Maybe this is discussed deeper in the report, but I don’t see the utility in trying to capture most of the 83% of non-work trips. I certainly don’t see the utility of doing that if it comes at the expense of the time-tested commuter bus routes. If buses are already full, then don’t redeploy them.

    The advantages of going after downtown commuter trips are numerous, including predictability, volume, and created connectivity.

    Those 83% of other trips will need to be categorized better into regular trips and irregular trips before any of them can be captured in new routes.

    1. I think it’s about enabling car-free lifestyles. When people can ditch the car, that’s impetus to less car-centric land use and creates a virtuous cycle of densification,improved walkability, and more transit use.

      1. Precisely. It’s always nice to be reminded how completely I agree with Martin on basic principles of sustainable urbanism (as opposed to wonky transit expectations).

        When I look at the above map, three very dark lines jump out at me that I know to be horribly served by transit: Ballard to Greenwood (44+5 and 18+48 are all reliability nightmares); Admiral to Alaska Junction (half-hour headways for a pretty short hop, and daytime 55 trips overlay the 54, killing reliability); Greenwood to Lake City (75 takes ludicrous detours and 30+ minutes to accomplish this).

        The first two trips are faster/more reliable to walk than to bus, but most people just drive ’em. You’d be insane not to drive the third under current circumstances.

        If we want to achieve the “virtuous cycle” Martin describes so well, these sorts of trips must be improved through better routing design and real improvements in headways and reliability. Any half-way measures are doomed to fail.

      2. “When I look at the above map, three very dark lines jump out… Greenwood to Lake City (75 takes ludicrous detours and 30+ minutes to accomplish this).

        …You’d be insane not to drive the third under current circumstances.”

        Actually, that’s two lines, Greenwood to Northgate and Northgate to Lake City. Greenwood to Lake City is there too, but it’s relatively lightly travelled.

      3. Ah… indeed. I just saw the two thick lines as a single corridor, which I suppose may not be how this “top trips” map is supposed to be read.

        Greenwood-to-Northgate is nearly as excruciating as the through-trip, though.

      4. Having done the Northgate to Lake City trip a few times over the years I’d say that is just as excruciating at Greenwood to Northgate if not more. For such a short trip the buses on this route seem to take forever.

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