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There’s a habit of considering ridership projections as an essentially political document — and with all the arguing, perhaps they are — but at its heart lies a technical model with actual inputs and assumptions. One of those inputs, of course, is previous ridership, when that data exists.

I’m a bit late on this, but now that ST has a full year of Central Link ridership data with Seatac station included, it has another input to its model. As that ridership was lower than expected, it’s caused a general downward revision to ridership going forward. The upshot is that 2011 ridership is projected to average 25,000 weekday boardings, instead of 31,000. There are also revised estimates for Tacoma Link, Sounder, and ST express.

ST spokesman Geoff Patrick tells me that these estimates are the first that use 2010 ridership as an input. They also incorporate the latest economic forecasts; Patrick points out that “there are 30,000 fewer jobs in downtown Seattle today than there were in the year 2000.”

It’s a little odd to me that there’s still supposed to be a big jump in 2011, and then much smaller increases through to 2016, so my (totally amateur) instincts tell me this number is still too high. In any case, models are always wrong, although they do have their uses. In the next few days, we’ll have a more detailed analysis of the ST ridership model and its errors.

100 Replies to “ST Adjusts Ridership Forecasts Downward”

  1. Just a classic case of “moving the goalposts.”

    Tell the public you are going to have large numbers of people riding Link to get them to approve huge tax increases. Then, after you have their money, gradually revise your ridership projections downwards time after time so that you can, at some point, make the claim that “we are meeting our ridership projections!” which of course are then not even close to what the public was promised when they voted for the project.

    1. Classic case of irrelevant ranting. This is the first spoke of a regional transit system that’ll serve this Seattle well for decades. [ad hom]

      1. “This is the first spoke of a regional transit system that’ll serve this Seattle well for decades.”

        Kind of like the Seattle streetcar system that was all torn out by the early 1940’s?

        Sort of like “The Interurban” that went out of business in 1939?

        When is Link going to start “serving us well”? And how many billions of tax dollars are going to be plowed into this boondoggle by then?

        [resp to ad hom]

      2. Don’t forget the Waterfront Steet car, a perfectly functioning line that got shut down to install the sculpture park. And could be restarted with the mere construction of the maintenance building. Lasted for all of about 10 years… so much for lifetime investments in transportation.

      3. “Kind of like the Seattle streetcar system that was all torn out by the early 1940′s?”

        “Don’t forget the Waterfront Steet car, ”

        No, a subway between Downtown and Northgate — nothing whatsoever like either of those things.

      4. Norman, you have all the information you need to understand why the loss of the streetcars is nothing at all like Link. The fact that everyone around you knows that you have that information makes your argument appear intentionally misleading and biased, which is why you don’t get traction on it.

    2. An informed public voted for ST2, and would likely do so again even with the downward ridership revisions.

      That same public will likely vote for ST3.

      You lost and will continue losing.

      PS Once Link is fully built out and we are beyond the limited-scale/high capital costs part of the project, Link will enjoy near-universal support.

      1. Make that “misinformed” public.

        The public were told that Link light rail could move as many people as a 12-lane highway. lol

        That was a complete load of manure. Currently, past a point on the line, both tracks of Link combined are moving about as many people per day as one-quarter of one freeway lane — about 2 percent of what the public was told.

      2. The public were told that Link light rail could move as many people as a 12-lane highway. lol

        That was a complete load of manure. Currently, past a point on the line, both tracks of Link combined are moving about as many people per day as one-quarter of one freeway lane

        Norman, you CONTINUE to misrepresent “ridership” as “capacity.”

      3. Norman, Link can move as many people as a 12 lane highway. Nobody said it would in 2011. Implying that is intentionally misleading, and makes your involvement in the discussion unwelcome for most.

    3. Norman,

      I don’t think anyone really voted for light rail based on the margin between current ridership and what was projected in 1996. Indeed in 1996 there was no projection for 2011 ridership on Central Link because there was no initial segment in the 1996 plan. The whole thing was supposed to open in 2006.

      If you want to complain about moving goalposts, the real issue is the project taking 10 years longer than projected and eliminating a bunch of stations. That’s the thing to be sore about, although you and I would draw different conclusions from that discontent.

      1. “1996 couldn’t predict 2001.”

        So, can 2008 predict 2030? Because ST has been telling the public how many people are going to be boarding Link per weekday in 2030, and you guys quote those pojections for 2030 like gospel. Are the current projections for 2030 meaningful, or not?

        And the projection for Central Link of about 31,700 for 2011 was made only about 2 years ago. Was that a meaningful projection, or not?

        Is the current projection for U-Link meaningful? What is the current projection for the first full year of U-Link. Should we consider that projection to be significant, or just a load of bunk?

        And, by the way, Link can’t come close to moving as many people as a 12-lane freeway, and never will, so Ben just continues to keep lying to everyone.

      2. All future projections are estimates, especially the further out you predict. Everybody knows that ST’s projections are only estimates. We have no idea when peak oil and climate change will become so obvious that everyone will accept we have to make major changes. We have no idea when/if major inflation will occur or the Chinese bubble will burst or anything else that might cause trip patterns to change in a significant way. But we do know how many people are riding the 71/73/73/41/511 right now, so there’s a minimum number of riders. And it doesn’t take much guesswork to assume that if travel time goes from 25 minutes to 8 minutes, that that will attract riders rather than repel riders. In every city that has light rail or heavy rail, people start to move toward the stations after a few years, and choose jobs and shopping that are also near the stations if everything else is equal. Where is one city that wishes its light rail system weren’t there after 10 or 20 years have passed? The longer out, the less the capital costs matter. Nobody cares that BART or the San Diego Trolley cost $X billion in the 1970s and 80s; what they care about is that it’s running now and they can use it. Even car drivers use BART when their car is in the shop.

    4. Just a classic case of “moving the goalposts.”

      Hardly. It goes to the heart of whether or not this staggeringly-expensive mode – capable of delivering 200,000 people daily to downtown Seattle – is needed.

      Moreover, the trend is for downtown cores to be employment losers. That means the huge transit investments (buses and rail) set up to deliver ever-increasing numbers of commuters to downtown cores is an incorrect model.

      If the RTA decision-makers in 2001 had been presented with accurate projections it is fair to say they would not have approved going forward with light rail, which they did for the first time that year.

      Now, if it is a mistake, how can it be stopped and the damage minimized?

      1. Downtown cores (before the recession) were gaining employment in many cities, once the market turns around, Seattle will be one of those cities, for you to imply that cities(downtowns) are declining is absurd.
        Suburban employment (at least in the south suburbs of Seattle) Has declined far faster than the central city from what I remember, so your claims are absurd.

      2. Downtown cores (before the recession) were gaining employment in many cities, once the market turns around, Seattle will be one of those cities,

        Yeah, a rising tide raises all boats. But Seattle wasn’t gaining on a percentage basis nearly as fast as Bellevue and since Bellevue has continued to add jobs even in a down economy (one of the worst since the great depression) one has to question what Bellevue is doing right and Seattle has got oh so wrong. FWIW, the Seattle DT area hasn’t done nearly as bad as some recent (unsupported by fact) articles have suggested. It’s still the big dog.

  2. Patrick points out that “there are 30,000 fewer jobs in downtown Seattle today than there were in the year 2000.”

    I find that extremely hard to believe. Stats from the United States Department of labor show that Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue employment has increased by 116,000 in the last decade. A loss of 30,000 jobs in all of Seattle since the peak in 2008 is believable since as a region we’ve lost 81,000 jobs (~5% decline).

    1. That does seem hard to believe. As of the mid-2000s there was enough of a recovery from the dot-com bust that developers decided to build new towers downtown.

      1. And Amazon just moved to South Lake Union, filling 5 buildings and is overflowing it’s space, building yet another building… The Seattle Times had their local employment at 7,000

      2. Gary – Most Amazon workers who moved to SLU were from the Providence Hospital building. Lots also came from offices that were served by light rail (next to Union Station, Columbia Center, etc.). They moved AWAY from those locations proximate to light rail stations. That suggests light rail is NOT an amenity from employers’ perspective.

      3. Yeah — they moved to SLU, which is either within walking distance of Westlake station or the SLUT, which Vulcan helped pay the costs of building and is now paying extra to run more trams in the PM peak. This suggests that proximity to rail transit absolutely is an amenity from an employer’s perspective.

      4. @ Bruce – the SLU buildings where Amazon’s now located are not within walking distance of Westlake Center. Being near that trolley line may or may not be important to Vulcan or Amazon, but moving away from buildings right near light rail stations indicates light rail is not an amenity from the perspective of employers. That’s the point I was trying to make.

      5. Bollocks. I personally know Amazon people who walk it daily, unless they’re feeling lazy then they ride the SLUT. The fact that they paid and are continuing to pay for a trolley to shuttle SLU workers to and from Westlake (the SLUT isn’t currently much good for much else) suggests clearly that proximity to high-capacity transit is valued.

      6. Also, I believe Amazon’s space on Beacon Hill was in the PacMed building — far from the Beacon Hill light rail station. That couldn’t possibly be used as evidence that they don’t care about light-rail access.

      7. It’s not hard to believe, he just made a fallacious conclusion. He’s comparing citywide employment to downtown employment, which is why he’s confused.

      8. “the SLU buildings where Amazon’s now located are not within walking distance of Westlake Center.”

        Given the nice weather a while back, I did this walk. It takes the same time to walk from Westlake to the South Lake Union Park as it does from the time the trolley arrives at Westlake, waits to leave and then arrives at SLUPark.

        The distance is about a mile+ a bit and it’s quite pleasant. There are a lot of people out at lunchtime.

        Oh and I heard that Amazon and the other employers in the area have said they would kick in extra money to run the SLUT more frequently. So they do seem to care about mass transit, if not rapid transit.

    2. Bernie, you seem to see these two things as equal:

      “downtown Seattle” (from Geoff)

      “all of Seattle” (from you)

      If you realize you’re making a mistake there, you’ll realize why you’re having trouble. Jobs in Northgate are irrelevant to Link ridership today.

      1. No I don’t see them at all equal. By all of Seattle I mean everything within the City Limits. Downtown can have different boundaries and needs clarification but roughly I’d define it as “where the really tall buildings are” which would include SLU. The Gates Foundation campus might be pushing it. Do you really believe that over a decade that’s seen over 100,000 jobs added to the metro area that that Seattle’s downtown has had a net loss of 30,000? If that’s true where are the billboards saying “Will the Last Person Leaving SEATTLE — Turn Out the Lights.”

    3. Ok, here’s a link to the 2002 report to the PSRC on the Downtown Regional Growth Center. As defined this Growth Center is presented separately from SLU and Uptown. It reports 176,883 employees from the 2000 census data. The latest report to the PSRC is from 2009. It is a very poorly done power point type collection of numbers with little context. On page 5 there are these bullet points:

      •Neighborhood Plan Adopted in 1999.
      •952 acres.
      •17,826 households.
      •147,866 jobs.
      •Heavy concentration of office and retail uses.

      If you take this as meaning there are currently only 147,866 jobs in Downtown and subtract it from the 2000 census data you have a net loss of 29,000. But on page 7 it says, “Employment has decreased by 4% from the 2002 levels”. 4% of 176,883 reported in 2002 is only a loss of 7,000. There’s no way to tell where the 147,866 number came from. Perhaps it was the base number used when the Neighborhood Plan was Adopted in 1999 (1990 census?) or maybe it’s a typo that should have read 174,866 (which sounds about right). For SLU it reports 21,753 jobs of which most have been added in the last ten years. So combined with 14,549 jobs in the Uptown/Queen Anne neighborhood and another 40,667 on 1st Hill/Capital Hill net for the combined “City Center” is most likely positive. Here is the link to other Regional Growth Center Presentations.

    4. KUOW reports: Downtown Seattle Gains Housing, Loses Jobs And Retail

      Kate Joncas is president of the Downtown Seattle Association. She called the numbers in the business group’s latest economic report “tough data” for neighborhoods downtown. Speaking before dozens of corporate leaders Thursday Joncas said while the Puget Sound region gained 60,000 jobs in the last decade, downtown Seattle lost 21,000 jobs. She said during those years shoppers have also favored local malls over downtown.

      No reference sited for the 21,000 number (or how she’d defining “downtown”) and according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics her 60k number is half of what just the Seattle Tacoma Everett and Bellevue MSAs gained. Bellingham added 12,000 Bremerton 14,000 Olympia 15,000 Mt Vernon/Anacortas 4,000 for a total job growth of 174,000 in the Puget Sound region since 2001.

      Assuming the retail sales numbers are accurate, a 3% decline when the downtown population has increase by about 50% and everywhere else is posting gains is certainly troubling. Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded? Not to worry though, McGinn is bringing food carts to all the empty lots!

    1. [ad hom] I hate to break it to you, but judging from the number of cranes in the city and how full our busses are, urban Seattle is booming and this subway is long overdue. [ot]

  3. Well I’m sure there will be a lot of “We told you so”‘s from the crowd that did their own analysis on the ridership of Light Rail in Seattle vs other cities before it was built. And yeah their analysis still makes sense.

    But going forward, we now HAVE a Light Rail line, has ST done any studies to understand why people who could ride it aren’t?

    One thing that still amazes me is that at the Airport, there aren’t a lot of signs with clear directions in multiple languages how to get to the light rail station, and how to pay for it.

    Secondly, has Metro/ST worked with the local hotels to offer a 7 day or a 3 day OrcaCard ride anywhere pass? It would be good for a ferry ride, ST LINK, Monorail, Metro bus etc. Sort of a “Eurail Pass” but only available for people who don’t live here. Tourist only pass.

    1. Why would ST do studies? There are dozens of studies already about the recession lowering ridership on systems across the US. You don’t need a new study to know that.

      1. Why does Walmart survey it’s customers? Same reason, to figure out what is working and what isn’t.

        A lot of people fly into SeaTac and take some other mode of transit from the airport to downtown. Why? What could ST do to get more of it? My gut reaction is that there is poor signage at the airport. But I don’t “know” this, so hence a study.

  4. Models can’t be “right” or “wrong” they are precise or not, and they are accurate or not. It is certainly true that they often reflect and amplify incorrect inputs and they never account for every single variable. Some uses of model outputs require more accuracy, like determining how many trainsets to purchase on what schedule. However, in general discussions and political debates it is much less important for the prediction of X (i.e. link ridership) to be accurate in any particular run of the model, than it is for it to have the same relationship with other variables through multiple runs of the model and to investigate any changes in those relationships that occur when new data is accounted for. Nobody has ever had great success predicting the future with certainty, but modeling the interacting components of our transportation system in correct relation is possible at various levels of precision. IOW, Don’t ask, “Did the model predict Link ridership correctly? ask: “Can the model return results consistent with the observed relationship of ridership and downtown employment?”

    1. “in general discussions and political debates it is much less important for the prediction of X (i.e. link ridership) to be accurate in any particular run of the model, than it is for it to have the same relationship with other variables through multiple runs of the model and to investigate any changes in those relationships that occur when new data is accounted for”

      That would be fine if you were using the model to base the frequency of the trains, the number of cars etc. And making side bets on the outcome.

      But here the model was used to justify the expense of the system. I do remember the 12 lanes of freeway capacity argument, and that was based on the model showing that 12 lanes of freeway capacity would be served by LINK.

      So clearly the model was used to help promote a political agenda. And in this case who lost their job because the models were massively inaccurate? Why nobody.

      So given the poor performance of the this model in the past, why should anyone believe the predictions of it now? Why does anyone think that adding a year’s worth of history is going to improve the predictions?

      1. So you’re saying that you think revising the estimates downward because the initial estimates were overstated is the wrong thing to do?

        I know, I know, that’s a deliberate misinterpretation of your rant. You’re really saying you think future estimates, say, for ST 3, shouldn’t be trusted. And that you’re outraged that these were wrong. Fair enough. That said, do you think you can predict ridership for U-Link? If so, go for it. Let’s see if STB is better at predicting ridership than the professionals.

      2. Gary, fundamentally, there’s no way to predict the future. Calling the model bad because it didn’t include a real estate bubble is kind of silly. Yeah, it would be awesome to predict those. If you come up with a way to do that, please let Sound Transit know.

      3. On predicting real estate bubbles:

        It’s in fact quite possible and was done by a number of amateur economists.

        So this guy in 2007, notices that mortgages are being written with no possibility of being paid. But he’s an outsider to the business. So I’m arguing that an insider, someone who is supposed to watch these things would have seen it even earlier.

        And that means, not that ST would have known in 1996 that a real estate bubble was coming, but that the model should have been adjusted in 2007 or earlier to account for it.

        Now today the model should account for the fact that we are headed for a double dip recession. That government has been cooking the books for the banks. That the largest banks in the USA are insolvent. (they are still booking as assets mortgages (and second mortgages) at full value when in fact they aren’t worth that at all.

        I’m not outraged, I’m depressed. Because people who should know better apparently don’t really care.

        Oh, would a change in the model that shows we are headed toward these problems change my mind about building out to Northgate? No. It’s just that it would reflect the diminished tax revenues we can expect in the future and thus we should adjust the time table, or the rate of collection.

      4. And how many amateur economists didn’t predict it? Did this guy quantify the depth and extent of the recession? Did he predict the unemployment rate, foreclosure rate, and sales tax revenue rate for Seattle? How many bubbles did he spot before that? Did he provide actionable data or merely the statement that “something bad is going to happen in the housing market”? If I predict tomorrow’s weather — or not even that, whether tomorrow is cooler than today –correctly once, am I a weatherman in your sight?

      5. Gary,
        We don’t know for certain that we are headed for a double-dip recession anymore than we know for certain that we are headed for the biggest services boom in human history due to an aging population. The future course of events is unknown and unpredictable at higher levels of precision. The model is capable of testing different scenarios. People interested in determining the systems vulnerability to certain changes in underlying assumptions about the future (gas prices, economic activity, land use) should request that alternative scenarios be tested as well. The problem in actually doing so is that there are infinite variations and plausible courses of future history and with limited resources we need to draw a line somewhere. In addition, there is unpredictability in the timing of future events. I would put a large wager on the fact that there will be another recession between now and 2030, but if you ask me will it be next year, 5 years from now or 10, I don’t know. The prolem is you are trying to hold up the model #’s as a truth with which to crucify ST. But the absolute number is something we expect to vary with conditions and you are not accounting for these other factors. The really important question is: Given the change in underlying conditions that we now have data for, is ridership where we would expect it to be based on the relationships quantified by the model, or is there some aspect of the interaction between those variables that is not functioning properly?

      6. “I do remember the 12 lanes of freeway capacity argument, and that was based on the model showing that 12 lanes of freeway capacity would be served by LINK.”

        And as DWHonan and Ben said above, capacity is capacity. Do you not think people can understand the difference between “Can move 12 lanes” and “Will move 12 lanes because the train is always full?” If it is moving 12 lanes regularly, that means we need to build another line ASAP because there’ll be overcrowding whenever 30 students or a daycare decide to take a field trip together.

        More to the point, if we had only built it to 6-lane or 4-lane capacity, would the cost have dropped to a half or a third? Probably not. The guideway is the same. Dropping half the cars saves some operational money but probably not half. And we’ll need 4-car trains for the north end commuters, if this system is going to serve commuters at all. So we couldn’t build the stations half the length.

        So maybe we don’t need 12 lanes, but we do need some increased capacity because I-5 gets congested and so do the 71/72/73. If we don’t build light rail, what do we do? If it’s BRT, how much would the new road cost for the BRT buses to run on? And what about the pent-up demand for off-peak service that’s not being adequately met by transit now? Link makes it easier to extend the frequent-service hours and areas, both for destinations on the line and for destinations that could have a potential bus transfer to them (but don’t now).

      7. “Now today the model should account for the fact that we are headed for a double dip recession. That government has been cooking the books for the banks. That the largest banks in the USA are insolvent”

        ST can’t wade into these political debates. I think you’re right, but ST has to go by the reality that the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal admit, not some theory that is still considered fringe. One wishes the media and politicians would wake up to what’s going on long-term, but that’s a nationwide problem and ST can’t solve it itself, and it would be accused of partisanship if it tried. See Tim’s comment (quoting Bruce Gray) in the Roosevelt station article, about how wading into external issues would create enemies for ST as well as friends.

      8. I’m not saying ST should have any opinion on the banking problem. I’m just saying that the classic statement “things that can’t go on forever won’t” and that in the timeframe of ST’s plans, a correction in GDP will occur.

        Therefore the tax revenue projections & ridership models should account for it in the boundary models. ie run a scenario where GDP contracts by 20% in year 1, and in year 5 and year 10.

        And the double dip has already started…

  5. Ultimately, ridership is meaningless. The system will be built even if rosy boardings projections are not met. The whole point is to build it, and give people the choice to ride.

    1. Evergreen got it right: “the whole point is to build it.”

      It doesn’t matter to you that it is a stupid waste of enormous amounts of tax revenue — “the whole point is to build it.”

      Because you just love little trains.

      1. You just don’t get it, Norman. The public perception is building transit alternatives is not only a good thing, but that it’s worth it. That perception will not change – it’s shared around the country and the world.

      2. Ah but what is changing around the world is what is the best thing to build.

        The idea that bicycles could be a major component of the transportation network is gaining ground.

        Cities are looking at the last mile problem and trying to figure out how to make their transit systems faster/more efficient. One way is to reduce the number of stops. But then it’s less convenient for the passengers, so the ridership drops. But if you make it easy to bicycle to the stop it makes it reasonable. A two mile bike ride is about 10 minutes. That’s not much time vs walking which is 30 minutes.

        Add secure parking at the stop and now it’s easy.

  6. Ok, I get it you guys like this model even if it never actually predicts the future, because the future is totally unknowable.

    But there are alternatives to spending more money on trains.

    For instance, what if in stead of building a longer train, we made the one have more useful by helping people deal with the last mile?

    In the city of Hangzhou China they looked at that problem and added inexpensive bike sharing stations.

    That’s for a city of 6.6Million, 50,000 bikes. With a station every 300m to 400m apart. So if you extrapolated back down to a Seattle sized city, and added 1/6th of the bikes, to say 9,000. How many more transit riders would we get? Because isn’t one of the big complaints about riding the bus or LINK, or Sounder is that it doesn’t go close enough to where I want to go?

    If you could get off the bus, pick up a bicycle and ride a mile to your destination as part of the fare for your bus, wouldn’t you be more willing to have fewer stops making your bus faster, and yet more convenient?

    And wouldn’t adding all these bikes be cheaper than almost any other new right-of-way we dig/convert/elevate?

    That’s my beef. We have this model and we ignore the things it tells us.

    1. A great bike sharing system addresses a totally different need that Link extensions. Building a train from downtown to Northgate isn’t the last mile — even Cap Hill and U District trains aren’t the last mile. A train to the eastside isn’t the last mile.

      1. No but ST3… what should that be? More track North & East? For sure complete the promised Federal Way connection South but then what?

        What is the best way to get people on transit? A spine with no riders isn’t likely to attract voters. What would it cost to add bicycle sharing to the current stations so that instead of having 1/2 full trains now, we’d have full trains now.

        ST is committed to urban planning that is no more park and rides. I’m all for that, but to get to the stations people need a way that’s faster than just walking.

      2. Bike sharing isn’t going to replace any of the digging or elevating. You dig or elevate to go long distances fast. Shared bikes won’t accomplish that.

        I might personally like bike sharing more than trying to build a streetcar system. Unfortunately these uses are far from complementary, as streetcars turn simple streets that you can just ride on into complicated ones that require dedicated bike routing. Bike sharing, of course, excludes those that can’t ride a bike. Also, demand would be extremely seasonal in our rainy, hilly city.

        Even though I don’t like streetcars and think bike sharing is necessarily limited here, I do agree that building really long light-rail lines isn’t going to get us what we want. Well, it’s not going to get me what I want, anyway: walkable, human-scale neighborhoods and energy conservation. I’m not sure what is.

  7. It’s important to focus on ridership, but thinking back to 1993 when these systems were first being proposed, the sole reason was reducing automobile traffic.

    Now, you may say that ridership implicitly relates to that — but not exactly.

    How many people are those coming from airport trips (not daily commuters).
    How many are local stops along the route (people who would not be using I-5).
    In what way and by how much has this system impacted traffic on I-5?

    Most people were willing to spend money on this system if it meant reduced travel and congestion on roads. Nearly two decades later…has it?

    1. You are confused. No transit system ever reduced congestion from it’s current levels.

      That’s because as soon as you take N cars off the road, making it faster to drive, then new drivers will choose to drive. Because it’s now faster.

      You build transit because you want to move people. You enable congestion to remain at the current level yet more people can move. And this helps stimulate the economy because the greater the mobility of people and their ability to share skills, specialize and share ideas, the more wealth you’ll have.

      If the transit system were perfect, then I-5 would have no change in congestion. Yet more people would be moving from A to B.

      1. I’m confused?

        As I stated, at the transit planning meeting I attended in 1993-4 in Bellevue, the goal of light rail was to reduce traffic congestion.

        That’s how it was sold to the public.

        If I could, I’d get my Hot Tub Time Machine to bring you back there and show you, but it’s being cleaned right now.

      2. Gary wrote: “No transit system ever reduced congestion from it’s current levels.”

        Sound Move was sold as a way to reduce traffic congestion. Here’s how Sound Move starts out:


        There’s an old saying that advises “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But if you are one of thousands of people traveling on our region’s overburdened and clogged highways each day you can probably relate to a modified version of that proverb – it’s broke, let’s fix it.

        The problem is traffic congestion. Our region rates some of the worst traffic in the country (ranking behind only such major cities as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York). We’ve outgrown our transportation system. In the time it took to build our current freeway system, the region’s population grew by two-thirds. At the same time, the number of miles people travel each day grew by a whopping 450 percent. Today’s increased number of two-worker households, more frequent job changes and longer work commutes are putting more demand on our transportation system than it can handle.

        No one likes traffic. It takes a frustrating toll on our time and our nerves. But much more sobering and far reaching is the impact congestion has on our jobs, economy and environment. Congestion reduces productivity by making it harder for employees to get to work on time. Those same traffic jams also make it more difficult to get goods to market. Such impacts can cause existing companies to relocate and potential businesses to look elsewhere for places to expand and build factories. And as companies leave they take vital jobs with them.


        Sound Transit sold the ballot measure by promising to reduce congestion, and it promised 107,000 daily boardings on light rail by 2006. It also promised all that for FAR less money than it has hauled in.

      3. I would hazard a guess that the increased costs of labor, materials and environmental mitigation — to name three big-ticket itmes inherent to any large railroad construction project — over the last decade and a half just might have had an impact on estimated overall project costs.

      4. “Sound Move was sold as a way to reduce traffic congestion.”

        You’d better find a different reference, Fish Whisperer, because your post is just a classic example of people reading what they want to read. There’s absolutely no mention of congestion reduction in the passage you excerpted.

      5. “Congestion reduces productivity by making it harder for employees to get to work on time”

        Exactly. Right now your employees do get to work on time, but if we want to add more employees to our centralized location, we need to create a way for them to get there. Because if we don’t we’ll relocate.

        If they relocate, then congestion is reduced, but so is wealth. So the goal is to keep congestion at the current level. Yet add more people trips. In order to keep the wealth local. Otherwise it moves….

        That’s not reducing congestion, that’s increasing wealth.

      6. “There’s absolutely no mention of congestion reduction in the passage you excerpted.”

        That’s correct. It’s all about how congestion is bad. that’s what they started Sound Move off with, in order to convince voters that is what the tax hike would accomplish (reducing congestion).

        Where Sound Move promises to reduce congestion is in Appendix D, in table 8. By 2010 the benefits from Sound Move supposedly would include “Travel time savings for drivers of private vehicles” and “Increased mobility for commercial vehicles”.

        Get the picture now, Jason?

      7. I never said ST didn’t say it, I said the passage you quoted wasn’t evidence for your claim.

    2. John is right, there were some irresponsible claims being made in 1993, namely that Link would reduce traffic congestion. The advertising later got more realistic but that phrase sticks in people’s heads, and occasionally you still hear an unknowledgeable politician say it.

      Of course, it’s false for two reasons:
      1) Transit can’t capture enough trips to make congestion go away. Every city with a high level of transit also has congestion. What rapid transit does is allow you to bypass the congestion. Smart employers realize that if their employees can ride rapid transit, the congestion problem is solved for those employees.
      2) People who say transit is beneficial because it reduces congestion are generally assuming that other people will ride transit, not them. People who do use transit (or would like to use rapid transit) don’t care whether congestion goes or stays: they just want a way to bypass it.

      1. Mike – Sound Move (the measure that went on the ballot in 1996) claimed it would reduce congestion. That was approved by the RTA board. It was an official RTA policy assertion. What you are saying (that is was 1993 ads making that claim) ignores the truth.

    1. “goal of light rail was to reduce traffic congestion.”

      It can’t do that. At least not on a regular basis. The counter example is lets say a huge rock band concert is at one of the stadiums. The roads fill to max capacity immediately. With additional capacity of say Light Rail, or Rapid Transit or even buses, more people will leave the area faster than if each of them got in their car and tried to drive out.

      But on a daily basis, we all make a decision on how to travel based on previous attempts. If you knew that driving took 30 minutes, plus X for parking. And that transit took 40 minutes but no parking, you’d weigh the time/cost choice. If enough people choose transit then driving becomes 20 minutes plus parking. Now you readjust your personal transit model and realize that the extra 20 minutes you gain is worth the X parking cost. (I’m using parking as the sum total cost of driving.) So some people will switch back. Thus congestion rises back to 30 minutes as people make this choice over and over.

      Thus NO transit system which is inherently slower and less convenient (it doesn’t leave from in front of your house exactly when you want to leave and go directly without stopping) will reduce congestion.

      It’s obvious.

      To fix that, you have to make the transit system either cost way less, or go faster. Which is why dedicated right of way is so important (and my beef with MLK center roadway routing)

      And on cost, adding bicycles to the mix, because they are so cheap to operate. Yet they are slow for those middle miles.

      Sound Transit Lied when they said it would reduce congestion. Because the model is wrong, you won’t choose to spend more than 2hrs commuting each way. You’ll move, change jobs, telecommute etc. You can see the 2hr limit by looking at where people live vs where they work and 2hrs is about the max with most people preferring an hour or less.

      What ST should have said, but is far harder to grasp is that the greater mobility for people will create wealth. (which we can then tax and create more mobility….)

  8. Anyone want to speculate on why Tacoma Link numbers were drastically reduced from 2,944 actual daily riders in 2010 to only 2,500 this year and 2,200 the year after?
    1st QTR for 2011 is at 3,188 per day. Ridership is growing, not contracting. WTF.
    Either they are planning on reduced service levels, or across the board ridership due to deep cuts in bus service by PT.
    If the later, then will Link suffer the same fate, as MT is poised to take similar actions next Feb.

    1. The SIP noted that ridership was down 8% for the first half of 2010 and Russel didn’t Rosie out of town until the end of October. Since then they’ve lost more tenants to places like Federal Way where office space is cheaper and it comes with free parking. The SIP also noted fewer events booked at the convention center and Tacoma Dome (less discretionary money for people to spend on things like concerts). I’d bet that attendance at events that do happen, like the RV show are way down and I believe Tacoma has decided not to fund the Tall Ships festival due to budget constraints. OTOH, the LeMay Museum is set to open in May (nice touch) of 2012 and bring an estimated 425,000 visitors.

  9. Hi, I’m rather ignorant about the workings of sound transit so sorry if this question has been addressed before. That being said, I was wondering why ST decided to open the airport link prior to the U-link? From all I’ve read Capitol Hill and the U-District are much more populated, and transit enthusiastic, neighborhoods.

    1. In the original plan Sea-Tac to UW was supposed to open in one fell swoop. When it became necessary, for a multiplicity of reasons, to shorten the initial segment, both political and technical factors influenced the decision to build Central Link first. Perhaps first and foremost, ST wanted to try out the relatively straightforward tunneling through Beacon Hill before attempting to dig under Capitol Hill and the ship canal—a decision to go for a base hit before swinging for the fences and risking a strike out.

      1. Not buying that fairy tail anymore. Tunneling in unknown geography is a flip of the coin. Beacon Hill has had sink holes which are unlikely with Montlake. Closer to the truth I think is UW had a lot of clout and didn’t like ST’s original engineering designs (and UW had a lot more credibility in engineering than ST). Also the King County political establishment which is dominated by Seattle was really hot on the Social Justice paradigm of serving the Rainier Valley.

      2. My understanding (although it’s admittedly been a long while since I read up on this) was that serving Rainier Valley, far from some Seattle fetish, was important in terms of federal funding.

        Maybe you’re an engineer with expertise in this area. I am not, and when project engineers tell me the reasons they want to dig one tunnel before another tunnel I am not predisposed to doubt them or call their reasons fairy tales.

      3. The original ship canal crossing on the west side of the UW was so risky it threatened to bankrupt the project. So they could either do it anyway, abandon the project, or build the south half first and hope a better option for the north half would turn up. The incentive for Rainier Valley was already there: serving a poor, minority district looks good on a federal grant application. So they started constructing the south half, and then found another route under the ship canal that was less risky.

        Another factor is the UW. The UW is a state entity so it can override Sound Transit. The U didn’t want any station on its campus except at Husky Stadium, and it also didn’t want the train running on the west side of campus close to its seismic monitoring lab which could be affected by train vibrations.

      4. build the south half first and hope a better option for the north half would turn up. …, and then found another route under the ship canal that was less risky.

        You make it sound like Peter Puget sailed down the ship canal and discovered a 70,000 seat stadium, UW Medical Center and the 520 crossing of Lake Washington. This idea “never occurred” to ST engineers? And why is this below sea level route less risky than the original? Oh yeah, their initial plan involved doubling back to 1st Hill which was deemed too risky because of soil conditions. The “couldn’t afford to build it” argument I’ll buy and the attempt to railroad an alignment through UW that bypassed the logical place to put a station would have been an expensive legal fight. Thing is, Central Link ended up costing more than U-Link. The reason Central Link was affordable is because they delayed three years. BTW, cost of C9T is $150B. ST debt to cash out of pocket goal is 50%. The Eastside surplus after operations is ~$80B. Recently announced delay of 1 year == tunnel now affordable.

      5. Ooops, you know how it is… a billion here a billion there, pretty soon we’re talking about real money := Thanks for the catch.

  10. The original decision of which light rail line to build first was called MOS-1, Minimum Operating Segment number one, and it went from Lander Street in SODO to NE 45th in the U District (Brooklyn Station now). Following an EIS and Record of Decision in 1999, this line was served up and ready to go in the summer of 2000, to begin construction in the fall and open in 2006.

    However, after a long series of revelations from citizens and government officials that got into news media, this project was declared dead by the U.S. DOT Inspector General and by Sound Transit in the spring of 2001, unaffordable with existing resources. The IG report is online for those interested in history.

    Within a few months — following an independent review process spearheaded by former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer — Sound Transit wrote a new plan that applied all available resources to a line from Pine Street to Tukwila called Initial Segment that operates today with the additional extension to the Airport that was added later.

    The $500 million New Starts grant that was to help pay for MOS-1 as of January 2001 was declared “abandoned” by Federal Transit Administration later in that year after the project collapsed. Senator Patty Murray deserves full credit for keeping an earmark on that tranche of U.S. Government money for Sound Transit so that the agency could apply and win that same grant to build the Initial Segment, starting construction in 2003, opening in 2009.

    The original 2020 weekday rider forecast for Initial Segment as put in print in the Environmental Assessment of 2002 was 42,500. That number is confirmed in a May 2002 ST press release at . Sound Transit is still holding to that goal because it is a commitment of the $500 million Federal grant. Sound Transit’s year by year forecasts starting in 2009 are all predicated on a smooth ramp up to that figure or greater, with the knowledge that Pine St to Airport line is scheduled to be extended and operated to Husky Stadium in 2016. Actually, the 2020 target is 45,000 2020 including Airport, and even was sometimes bumped up to 47,000 in the heady days following the Prop 1 election 2008 doubling of ST’s local tax funding.

    As of summer 2010, well into the current recession, and with the steady climb in Link ridership experienced in the first half of 2010, ST’s forecast for 2011 average weekday ridership was the 31,750 mentioned (with truncation to 31,000, not rounding to 32,000) in the posting that leads this string of comments. See original forecast on an ST 2011 budget page at .

    ST staff at a recent Board meeting said the decline in ridership in the second half of 2010 took them by surprise. So in April the adjustment down to 25,000 average for 2011 was made. As I described in Publicola on June 1, this new lower figure likely won’t be reached.

    1. The original 2020 weekday rider forecast for Initial Segment as put in print in the Environmental Assessment of 2002 was 42,500. … Sound Transit’s year by year forecasts starting in 2009 are all predicated on a smooth ramp up to that figure or greater, with the knowledge that Pine St to Airport line is scheduled to be extended and operated to Husky Stadium in 2016.

      Please clarify, does 45,000 +/- mean total Link boardings or only boardings in the segment from Westlake south? That is, are boardings at Capital Hill and Montlake in addition to the 45k goal?

      1. Yes, future boardings at Capitol Hill and Montlake when the open are in addition to the 45k goal for Airport to Westlake. With the extension, the forecast is extended out to 2030, and the average weekday ridership for the entire Montlake to Airport line is 114,000, as I detailed in my Publicola piece at 114K is the sum of Husky Stadium/Montlake boardings of 25K, Capitol Hill station at 14K, the original 45K for Westlake-Airport, and an additional 30K forecast to board along Westlake-Airport because of the two new stations and other growth from 2020 to 2030.

  11. One important element of ridership production is beyond ST’s control: duplicative service.

    I would dare say that if the 101 and other routes that could terminate at Rainier Beach Station did so, ridership would go up, no?

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