2009 - 2011 SLU Streetcar Average Weekday Ridership (SDOT)

As we have reported before, ridership on the SLU Streetcar has continued to grow since opening in December 2007 as new housing and employment continues to grow in the area.  The average weekday ridership figure for July 2011 is based on 1 week of data, so the June data is better to focus on. Average weekday ridership for June 2011 grew by over 900 additional boardings over 2010, with a year over year increase of 200 weekday boardings the year before. From June 2009 to June 2011 average daily ridership grew by 64%. Average weekday ridership  and year-over-year growth data below the jump.

SLU Streetcar Average Weekday Ridership (SDOT)

I find the year over year data the most interesting. The January 2009-2010 through September 2009-2010 data shows a year over year growth rate in the mid teens. After the October 2009-2010 data point the growth rate jumps into the mid 20s for a few months, finally increasing to the high 20s and low 30s after the March 2010-2011 data point.

SLU Streetcar Average Weekday Ridership Growth Year over Year (SDOT)

89 Replies to “SLU Streetcar Ridership Growing Fast”

  1. Do you know how ridership is doing in comparison to pre-opening projections?

    1. I think I remember reading that there was a 3000 riders/day target when the streetcar opened. I’m not sure what the target year for the 3000 riders/day was, but it definitely wasn’t immediate — I suspect it was 2015 or 2020.

    2. Yes. Annual boardings below.

      2007 Forecast 28,500
      2007 Actual 78,000

      2008 Forecast 346,800
      2008 Actual 451,000

      2009 Forecast 438,000
      2009 Actual 456,250

      2010 Forecast 492,750
      2010 Actual 565,655

      2011 Forecast 532,170
      2011 Year to Date 363,150

    3. This is off the top of my head, but I think the initial projections were quite low, about 1000/day.

  2. It may be useful to look up the dates the various Amazon.com campus buildings opened up in the area along Westlake & Republican. That might point to a correlation. Walking around SLU it’s hard to miss the people with the blue badges.

    While the new campus was great in terms of consolidating their various locations, it forced many riders to transfer since the campus is no longer aligned with the major Eastside bus routes. The street car most likely took a nice share of those transfers.

    1. Almost certainly a big part of it. One interesting thing though is that there are other bus routes that are about as convenient (depending on your transfer options) for getting to the campus (I work there). Did those show any uptick? Was it comparable? I suspect the trolley saw a greater increase because people prefer regular, assured transit — on rails — since they know it will (eventually [1]) arrive.


      [1] I say eventually because I’ve noticed south bound is regularly 5-10 mins late at Mercer in the evening.

      1. Metro doesn’t regularly publish boarding data on individual routes, although I can ask some people I know and see if I can get some data.

      2. As a regular morning rider on the NB 70, I can anecdotally note that the route is a lot more crowded than it used to be (at least on the run that goes through SLU just before 8am), with many riders deboarding at Fairview/Harrison. There used to be a lot of empty seats, and now it’s often on the cusp of standing room only. And on top of that there are some Amazon connector shuttles running between the waterfront and SLU.

    2. Also, the company wasn’t really previously alighpned around the east side routes except that it ran tons of shuttles. The Pacific Medical center building would not have been transit friendly if the company hadn’t run a shuttle from the ID station, They still do run shuttles from the ID station which makes the trolley usage even more interesting.

      1. Did you mean the Merchant Marine Hospital building, AKA The Public Health Service Hospital?

      2. No. I don’t know what other names it goes by but it’s the large orange-ish building on Beacon Hill right south of the 12th Ave bridge.

      3. “Did you mean the Merchant Marine Hospital building, AKA The Public Health Service Hospital?”

        Why would she mean that? It’s been known as the Pac Med building since the 90’s.

  3. Nice, now let’s extend it to the UW along Eastlake. There is a public vote I can get behind

    1. I agree! Extending the line to the UW along Eastlake is the logical next step. Does anyone know what the current status is of the streetcar master plan?

      1. Not really. A line through downtown to bridge the gap between the SLUT and FHSC would cost less and get more riders. In terms of redevelopment, the Aloha extension is a lot cheaper and has good potential.

      2. I think the most momentum right now is behind connecting the first hill line and the SLU line. This connection would have very high ridership, increase CBD access of both lines (rather than terminating at the edge of downtown), improve operating efficiency, and allow for consolidation of the maintenance facilities into one large facility south of the ID.

      3. +1 on connecting SLUT to First Hill first. Though I’d support an extension further into the Eastlake residential core if SDOT needs to rebuild the Fairview bridge — adding reverse-peak (i.e SB morning, NB evening) riders is a good way to increase efficiency, too.

      4. The Streetcar master plan does not connect the First Hill streetcar to the SLU streetcar.

      5. But it’s a plan. Is there a corresponding plan for connecting the First Hill and SLU streetcars? Especially after we just rebuilt McGraw Square?

      6. The “Streetcar Master Plan” was an extremely cursory evaluation of the possible demand corridors in the city that are feasible for modern streetcars. No serious engineering work on anything other than the SLUT and FHSC has been done or would be lost by throwing the whole thing in the trash.

        McGraw square is in fact built to accommodate a second track. I have a photo of this somewhere. I noticed this when I was waiting for the SLUT. The proposed “Central Line” actually did connect Westlake to a 1st Ave line, although it also included a line through Belltown which drew local resistance due to parking concerns (/facepalm).

      7. The plan was to connect it to the 1st ave streetcar, if that ever gets built.

        Some of the initial planning drawings & diagrams showed the line extending down Stewart or Olive. I’m scouring the web for those right now.

        To the U-district was an early goal, but I think U-Link makes that a very low priority. The SLUT’s main focus at present is local corridor service, not inter-neighborhood, anyway.

      8. The other issue with an extension up Eastlake is that SDOT needs to replace the decrepit old Fairview Ave bridge in front of Zymogenetics and navigate some major buried utilities on Eastlake, and that’s just to get to the University Bridge. To cross that requires significant additional engineering. There was rumbling a while back about replacing the Fairview bridge (or at least the wooden part carrying the southbound lanes), but I haven’t seen any updates about it on the SDOT site since an old engineering job listing was posted about a year ago.

        It would be great to have it fully replace the 70 and serve as a feeder between Westlake Station and the University of Washington Station (or eventually Brooklyn Station), but that’s likely going to be a long way off.

      9. I agree with going North with SLU and not south. If someone lives in the U District or Roosevelt or Northgate and wants to get to South Lake Union they will have to take a bus or couple or take the Link to Westlake and then transfer to the SLU to backtrack north. If the SLU went north, turned on Campus way then went north again and stopped at Brooklyn station anyone could take Central link to Brooklyn then the SLU. It would be a pretty painless connection. Also I think the current SLU is a joke because it’s so painfully slow but the connection north would be run at street speeds at least until it crosses the water then it would be stuck in traffic again. Going South it would be dog slow I think.

      10. To King Street Station. The FHSC terminus will be on Jackson just west of Occidental.

    2. yes … and then the 49 can be turned into a streetcar connecting with the SLU line and the First Hill Line … and since it runs down Pike/Pine … then the 14 could also be turned into a streetcar … then the 43 and finally the 10 … Pike/Pine could become a huge streetcar line thoroughfare. the only real change then required would be for the 12 to loop downtown since it now becomes the 10 and a streetcar couldn’t make it up merion/madison sts.

      1. What a waste of money that would be. You have perfectly good trolley bus service that can climb the hill, something that a streetcar can’t without assistance. A cable car on the other hand could climb the hill but talk about an even bigger waste of money.

      2. I don’t think streetcars would have a problem with Pine street, would they? I don’t know about First Hill though.

  4. In another post, I voiced my concerns about the First Hill streetcar getting stuck game day traffic in the Pioneer Square area.

    I found out that its southern terminus will be at Occidental and Jackson. And the system will be designed to allow trains to turn back at 5th and Jackson if necessary.

  5. OK, so here’s my master plan for the streetcar network:

    1. Use the “high capacity transit” portion of the $80 tab fee / CTAC money to complete the connection between the SLUT and FHSC down 1st Ave. This can’t happen until the DBT project is complete, for reasons apparent to anyone who lives downtown.
    2. Make 1st Ave a streetcar / ped mall. Run the streetcar center lane, center platform, prohibit non-transit turns across the tracks.
    3. Make all of this new line from Fred Hutch to 12th & Jackson ride free. ST has given SDOT a pretty free hand in how to run the FHSC so I believe SDOT could do this unilaterally if they wanted.
    4. Redirect the money currently given to Metro for the Ride Free Area to the operations on this new line. Metro can keep or abolish the RFA and/or PAYL if they feel like it.
    5. Build the Aloha extension as money permits.
    6. Waaay off into the future, plan for an Eastlake extension to replace the 70.

    What this gives you is an urban circulator to move people around the CBD, the huge local demand corridor on Jackson, and promote growth of the burgeoning SLU and south downtown areas. You move all that short-distance ridership off the busses, which can then focus on moving people to and from the rest of the city. This might also allow Metro to reduce the frequency on the 36 — the Jackson corridor has much higher ridership than the rest of the route.

    1. Oh — the other thing. Use the money that people want to spend rebuilding the Waterfront line to convert the Melbourne trams to pantographs and build ADA ramps at the streetcar stops to make those trams accessible. Would cost far less than rebuilding the track on the waterfront and would be used by far more people.

    2. Why 1st instead of 5th? I was skeptical of the 5th Avenue suggestion at first, but it does connect the routes’ established termini, and it’s more direct and central for those who are just going generally north and south through downtown, rather than to 1st or the waterfront in particular. And now that it’s no longer going to Seattle Center, that gives less reason for a 1st Avenue line.

      1. Mike: First has the advantage of connecting the two existing lines while also knocking out the 1st Avenue line. First also has opportunities for public-private partnering that Fifth probably can’t match.

        Also, it’s not a given that a connector would run from Westlake, which is to say that Seattle Center is not necessarily off the table. Any alternatives analysis SDOT conducts would look at a variety of options, including heading to Seattle Center before heading south. Whether this would leave Westlake as a little stub or eventually extend the line from there down 5th as well is, I imagine, anybody’s guess at this point.

      2. 5th Avenue is also a very narrow street from Westlake to about the Library. I don’t know if a double track streetcar line could be built that would be able to get anywhere during PM rush hour, when traffic headed to I-5 is backed up onto 5th Ave.

      3. 5th also has complications across the DSTT, the top of which is supposedly inches underneath Pine. I’m sure there is a solution but at a high projected cost mos def.

        Also, the plaza is not built for a second track – that is just a pedestrian design feature. The conceptual alignment that connects SLU and FH lines has double track the next block up on Westlake, and swings west on Stewart and returns east/northbound via Olive. This assumes layovers are moved elsewhere, which makes sense.

        Ideally, both streetcars stop at the plaza (for simplicity and to activate the plaza), with a left curb lane stop/track on Stewart that continues west. The south side of the plaza was left somewhat open to anticipate track from Olive.

        Left curb lanes are bicycle and bus compatible, which is key; the hard part is resolving bus (and many other) left turns onto 5th Ave and 2nd Ave. Best solution is perhaps giving heavy TSP at 5th and/or converting 8th Ave to two-way (i.e. opening up a new left turn option into downtown). Two-way 8th is a good idea for many reasons, not the least of which are x-town trolley bus opportunities like Ballard to First Hill/Downtown or to Yesler Terrace/Mt. Baker.

      4. OK but as Sam pointed out above, if the streetcar goes west of 5th it’ll get caught in Pioneer Square/ballgame traffic.

        Also, it means it’ll take longer to get from Jackson to Westlake. That’s not necessarily bad — every routing option benefits some trips and not so much others — but it’s important to recognize the tradeoffs. It’ll be great for those going to 1st Ave, but not so great for those going straight north-south.

      5. Okay, but between Westlake and all that congestion at the ballgames are literally hundreds of actual destinations and thousands of potential riders along 1st Ave. The purpose of a transit vehicle – any vehicle, but especially streetcars – is to actually serve people and places, not to go fast for the sake of going fast.

        For faster trips through downtown from the streetcars, we need better connections to the DSTT – radically better. The FH stop at 5th is lining up to be a great connection to tunnel transit at the ID station. McGraw was a first step at what ultimately needs to be completed by an overhaul of the Westlake Mall and better tunnel access right under the Monorail.

    3. If the streetcar is beefed up for high-capacity travel within downtown, would you then suggest turning some buses around near the edges of downtown, to save some service hours and perhaps make some of the buses more reliable? Obviously that would require some coordination and trust between various agencies involved, and would require more people to transfer more.

      At any rate, I agree that if we have streetcars they should run where streetcars’ advantages over buses (capacity and boarding speed) matter. That’s downtown, not Eastlake.

      1. Probably not, that would piss off too many people and I doubt it’d save that much time. I think the main savings would be reducing frequency on the 36 (which is currently 10 mins all day Mon-Sat — a LOT of service hours) and making the 7, 14 and 36 more reliable by reducing the number of on-offs on Jackson. The SLUT currently has a similar effect in the north — if all those people were on the 70, it would have vastly more demand in SLU than on Eastlake.

      2. Also, 3rd Ave doesn’t have major reliability issues most of the time when the busway restriction is in effect. The only exception is when viaduct traffic on Columbia gets really bad. Then the 5x, 2xX, 120 and 125 start backing up and southbound 3rd goes to hell. This happened yesterday due to a lane closure on the West Seattle Bridge.

      3. I think there should be much more cooperation between agencies and that we should as much as possible push people on to the trains and rapid rides and reduce significantly the number of buses that transit downtown. The service hours saved can be reinvested in EAST/WEST routes and more frequent service in neighborhoods.

      4. A high-capacity streetcar on 3rd or 5th could allow several of the trolleybuses and other routes to be truncated. But that would be much larger than this streetcar proposal. Also, trolleybuses aren’t the bad guys; they’re the good guys. A trolleybus is almost a streetcar, and it’s also a tourist attraction given the few trolleybus systems in North America. It would be inexpensive to jazz up the trolleybuses to make them even more distinct. And trolleybuses have a unique performance advantage on steep hills, although I don’t understand why. Finally, truncating diesel routes downtown is incompatible with Metro’s through-routing preference (although I’m not personally convinced that through-routing is all that great).

  6. The street car is a joke. It’s as fast to walk in the morning from Westlake to the Group Health station as it is to ride the street car. And it the street car isn’t ready to leave, or not there yet, it’s faster to walk. Now I’m all for providing disabled people access to the city, but until this street car gets signal priority, and extends the track to say Freemont or the the UW, it’s a total waste of transit dollars.

    1. I’ve ridden it a couple of times and I basically agree, it’s often faster to just walk. Yet, remarkably, even the 2010 riders per revenue hours make it at least as productive as other Metro routes according to this update from last month. By the sounds of it, the 2011 numbers are going to look even better. So, it’s relatively well used.

      1. Clearly all of those riders are wrong, and should be walking. Lazy riders.

      2. I know right? Just image if people ran…we could eliminate huge swaths of unnecessary service!

      3. Lazy riders is exactly right. All those cubical workers are facing an early death by not exercising.

        [link deleted upon request of website]

        Also Amazon hands out ORCA cards to it’s employees, which is a good thing. But since the SLUT doesn’t count them, the actual ridership numbers may be even higher.

        With the additional runs in the evening, there is a chance that the ridership numbers will increase in the fall when it turns cold and rainy. Also several new buildings are being built in the area, so even more people will be working near this line.

        However, I contend that to make the line really useful it should be extended to Fremont, and given signal priority.

    2. In my experience, if you arrive at Westlake and the trolley arrives in five minutes it’s faster than walking. I walk pretty fast but with lights and some of the more obnoxious intersections (there’s one that you have to walk through three crosswalks to get “across” the street) it still takes about 15 minutes.

    3. It’s definitely not fast enough, but it’s only phase 1 of the overall plan. Increased speed, signal priority, and reduced headways would help.

      IRT First Ave: I really dislike center-platform alignments. This should be right-lane, and get rid of on-street parking.

      1. As a bicyclist, right lane tracks are a death trap. The number of accidents on Westlake is way higher than it should be due to those tracks.

    4. I also work down in SLU and have yet to ride the trolly. It really is disappointing to me. I love transit and transit oriented development but more often then not walking is faster than this streetcar.

      I hope that people don’t get the wrong idea abut streetcars and associate all streetcar projects with SLU. Hopefully the First hill street car will have ROW and be faster.

      If we want people to use transit… just make it quicker and easier than driving (or walking in SL unions case). Then you won’t have to worry about the #’s

      1. The First Hill line will run in traffic with signal priority for essentially all its length.

    5. One downside of the streetcar, though, is the tracks are hazard they pose to bicycles. I’ve fallen on them once and was lucky enough to ride off with a minor scrape. I know others who were not so lucky.

      As the streetcar network stands today, it’s not to difficult to avoid the tracks, as I can take Eastlake instead of Westlake, or, if I must ride on Westlake, I can ride on the left lane and let the cars, who won’t trip over the tracks, pass me on the right.

      If the streetcar extended down Eastlake to the U-district, however, the combination of a tracks and parking would take up the entire street of Eastlake, leaving no room for bicyclists to ride the street safely. It’s sort of possible to ride down adjacent streets, but the trip is longer and has more turns and stop signs.

      While I’m all for the idea of a streetcar connecting downtown to the U-district, replacing the 70, it’s important to do this in a way that allows the train, cars, and bikes to co-exist, rather than shoving bikes out of the way.

      1. Still not sold on this biking argument. Amsterdam, the most bike-friendly city on earth, has streetcar lines running everywhere. People adapt and learn to avoid.

      2. I ride my bike and I’m by no means an expert. So I slow down when I get downtown. There are other hazards besides the streetcar that you should be careful of.

  7. I’ve asked myself in the past, why would someone wait 10 minutes for the arrival of a streetcar to take them the equivalent of a 5 minute walk? (I see this when I see people waiting for the streetcar across from Whole Foods to take them south toward downtown a few blocks). And I realize that for many, the streetcar is more about self-image than transportation. If you could hear their subconscious, I think it would say things like “I feel more cosmopolitan riding on the streetcar.” “I’ve always envied Europeans, now I feel European!.” “Riding this streetcar regularly (and my three tattoos), means I have finally shed my suburban past.”

    1. There are lots of reasons people take transit when walking might be faster (tired, in pain, don’t like walking, etc), just like there are reasons people walk when transit might be faster. I walked from Seattle Center to Safeco Field a few weeks ago, because it was a nice day and I had time to kill. Speed of travel or total transit time aren’t always the primary concern of travelers.

      1. Walking is faster unless you’ve just missed the last car, but its a nice option to have. Especially during a cold, rainy day where the walk just isn’t all that appealing. I think its a real shame that it doesn’t connect along eastlake to UW, but isn’t there a trollybus that serves that same alignment?

    2. Once the line is longer, it will make more sense. But also: if you’ve been shopping at Westlake, for instance, you might have a lot of crap to haul.

    3. When we moved to South Lake Union, I thought I’d never use the streetcar (I used it to commute back in 2008). Like most transit in Seattle it goes North-South, but the path from our apartment to work or most shopping is East-West.

      On top of that, to get downtown the 70 runs almost as often and is 2 blocks closer to our apartment. But we find ourselves using the streetcar quite a bit, usually to get downtown. My wife pointed out that we know when the trolley’s coming without having to use OneBusAway. And the stroller doesn’t have to be folded up. And it’s a much smoother ride.

      Also, despite its reputation for frequent stops, the streetcar has 2 fewer stops than the 70 between Mercer and Pine/Olive. By schedule the trolley is a couple minutes slower, but the bus is frequently running behind and takes longer at stops.

      As Human Transit points out, most of these improvements could, in theory, be made to existing bus routes without the need to install rails or build more streetcar maintenance facilities:
      But, in reality that would cost almost as much (require new low-floor buses, repaving uneven streets, build RapidRide-like stops, etc) and it’s harder to change a bus system that you already have than get investments for new streetcar routes.

      1. And the stroller doesn’t have to be folded up. And it’s a much smoother ride.

        This is the biggest advantage the streetcar has over the bus: it’s far more comfortable and efficient because you can stand on it. No more narrow aisle with a single file of people trying to squeeze past each other, no more wasted space when people are traveling under a mile and would otherwise be comfortable standing for a few minutes, no more trying to squeeze your groceries on your lap.

      2. Wheelchair board/deboard is a *lot* faster on the streetcar as well. Having a bunch of doors also (obviously) makes things faster. That you don’t pay as you enter or leave also speeds it up. A trolley with signal priority from Westlake to UW would almost certainly beat any local 7- bus (non-express) and be a nicer and more consistent ride.

    4. That’s why I’d love to redo the Fairview bridge and get the SLUT up the hill to central Eastlake, which would take it past enough mixed-use density to add a lot of riders. But until then, it seems to be doing well because a lot of people aren’t walking types.

      As for First Ave, that would go past my office and home a little over a mile apart…but even with low headways I’d usually walk. The point would be non-walking types. I’d kill to get it up a new counterbalance…but what are the odds of hooking up a rail system to a second propulsion, with all the quintuple redunancy that would be required today?

      On that note, maybe in a couple decades we can talk about a trunk rail line to the north, tunneling under Queen Anne.

      1. Putting a streetcar on Eastlake is pointless unless you can replace the entire 70, and unless it’s accompanied by an upzone, it’s unlikely to be much more than a very expensive (but very nice) route 70.

      2. [matt] I really don’t think it would be that difficult. SF still runs cable cars up steep slopes and have wooden brakes. The counterbalance could have a very nice technical solution using electromagnets, or just a simple hook and loop with the hook having a safe latching mechanism. Maybe add in some wooden brakes, for an extra level of redundancy.

      3. I’m not suggesting that a dual-mode train would need extra redundancies to work. I’m only suggesting that it might be required to have them anyway. The separation between Link and buses in the tunnel is an example of these things going nuts, or maybe that’s more about tunneled rail rather than streetcars.

        What applies to San Francisco cable cars might not apply to a new system. The US is full of stuff that’s below code but allowed to operate. Either way, I wonder whether another braking system or an upgraded backup system has been added at some point in the last few decades.

        Matt, your solution makes sense from my non-technical perspective.

  8. Stellar news. Sounding like there’s a good deal of momentum building behind getting something on the ballot this fall to connect the FHSC and the SLUS. A few different options make sense, but 1st Avenue would have by far the best chance of proceeding with some sort of public-private partnership, a la the SLUS.

    And once the Fairview Ave. bridge is rebuilt we should still proceed north, ideally to the U-District to replace some 70-series, but at least to the heart of Eastlake to terminate somewhere with a healthy walkshed.

    1. I think extending the streetcar beyond FHCRC is an all or nothing proposition. You need a strong anchor to justify extending the streetcar (UW), and you gain no operational efficiency unless you completely replace the 70.

      1. Yeah, I know that’s the general consensus. It’s just that going to UW necessarily involves so many stakeholders and routing options that it will take forever to get done. On the other hand, the channelization is basically complete up to Fairview, and not complicated up to Newton (where the planted median starts). There are hardly even any intersections to deal with. Slapping down some track could be done so quickly and cheaply while providing a much more natural terminus.

        Heck, one package could fund both building to Eastlake and planning for a UW extension.

    2. What about a street car that connects the FHSC with the ferry system, and the sculpture garden? Oh wait, we had one of those and shut it down… the waterfront street car.

      1. Which needs to come back. I’d say to run it up the hill to connect with Seattle Center and put the Monorail on ORCA. We could then go around in circles on three different types of trains for 2 hrs.

      2. LOL at Grant. Lets see, you can do at grade, street car, elevated monorail, and tunneled the Link. Maybe someone can create a riding tour of Seattle via this. :)

  9. While I’d like to see the FHSC go up to Aloha and even connect with the SLUT, what I would really like to see is an extention South, down Rainier, past the Rainier Station (East Link) and terminate at the Mt. Baker Station.

    It would REALLY tie the room together.

    1. Completely agree. From a network design perspective it is a very nice solution.

    2. It would make a lot of sense. outside a few folks in comment threads here, though, I haven’t heard much of anything about it. The neighboring businesses and community groups would need to get organized for it to have a chance.

    1. Most of the added riders are Amazon employees that are transferring at Westlake to the street car instead of getting off their 550 or 212 or whatever at International District.

  10. The orange streetcar is now the blue streetcar with a Swedish wrap. (I saw the purple and red so by process of elimination it was orange.)

  11. LOL at ads on this page. All these “SLUT” references apparently conjured up a sex offense attorney ad.

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