Ridership Patterns on King County Metro 120
Ridership Patterns on King County Metro 120

I have a substantial post coming up later this week about the 2004 Ambaum/Delridge restructure, which lead to the creation of what is now one of Metro’s workhorse frequent-service routes, Route 120, serving Delridge, White Center and Burien. To whet your appetite, I’ve obtained stop-level data from this summer; analysis and discussion after the jump.

  • Great overall performance. Most times of day, the bus seldom has less than 15 people on board, all the way out to Burien TC; most stops are well used, and many exhibit the steady turnover of riders that characterizes strong routes which connect ridership centers.
  • Best performance in White Center, South Delridge and northern Burien. All the stops between Holden and 136th St are very busy, surprisingly more so than North Delridge; 15th & Roxbury stands out. I don’t know the area well enough to say why, although my guess would be a demographic difference.
  • Dovetails beautifully with SR-509 peak express service. In the peaks, ridership in Burien is very light, particularly the AM peak inbound, probably because riders have chosen to backtrack to the TC for the copious express service. This is smarter than simply throwing peak trips at the 120, as it gives Burien riders a faster trip and relieves crowding in Delridge.

One of the many unfortunate actions related to the Viaduct replacement project was the Governor’s veto legislature’s decision not to enact MVET authority for Metro, which would (I’m told) have paid for the 120 to become a RapidRide route. It should be clear from this chart the 120 has excellent potential to benefit from RapidRide-like improvement, as it’s a service with strong, bidirectional all-day demand (like the 358) that will only get stronger with the planned deviation to Westwood Village. This should be the first major improvement project on Metro’s list when long-term funding authority is forthcoming to replace the temporary $20 CRC.

28 Replies to “Ridership Patterns on Route 120”

  1. Sounds like you’re going say more about this later (maybe), but your chart also helps lay out where a RapidRide line could optimize stop spacing.

    1. Ridership patterns are only half of the picture when selecting RapidRide stops. There are also infrastructure questions about how hard it is to run power to the stop for lighting, ORCA reader, and arrival time signage, how much sidewalk space is available for a larger shelter, sidewalk quality and stop accessibility etc. Some stops are obvious (e.g. 15th/Roxbury) but more than that you’d need detailed knowledge of facilities that I don’t have.

      1. Would you also need hardwired data connections for the ORCA reader and arrival time signage, or do they use radio?

      2. For communication the station ITS devices (ORCA reader and sign) uses a WiFi connection to the nearest intersection, which is in turn connected to a wired communication backbone either over fiber or VPN… So no the station does not need a wired communication connection although I needs to be within range of an intersection that is connected to the TSP backbone. Go here (http://bit.ly/vzIbHu ) to see a PPT about the system.

      3. My intended point was a simple one (that I think you’ll agree with). The rt. 120 could have fewer stops and probably would as a RapidRide line.

  2. remind me again how exactly the ons/offs are calculated (considering paying fares depends on the direction of travel and time of day)

    1. It’s an infrared sensor at the top of each door that counts bodies in and out. It’s independent of the farebox or ORCA.

      1. Is the data from the sensors adjusted to correct for people who are getting off just to make way for other people to get off, then themselves get back on, as often happens with crowded busses?

      2. Correct, they are on a subset of buses which cycle through Metro’s routes. Metro rescales the raw numbers to accurately reflect the ratio of observed to unobserved trips. Long-term, Metro’s goal is 100% APC coverage.

      3. Peter: No. To the system, that looks like an additional off and on. It doesn’t effect passenger load statistics, but does effect the stop utilization numbers (but only when the bus is overloaded)

  3. I think there are more people living near Delridge Way south of Holden. Plus the topography limits the walkshed to the east along the northern part of Delridge. It flattens out south of Holden.

    1. Paul’s right, population density is much greater at Roxbury than at north Delridge, and probably a greater proportion of working-age, lower income residents too.

    2. In much of north Delridge, the 120 walkshed is limited to two blocks on either side of Delridge, mostly single-family homes with some townhomes. South of Holden, as Paul notes, the topography flattens out a bit, the neighborhood become continuous, and the 120 walkshed is only limited by how far people want to walk. South of Holden the grid is primarily single-family homes, with a healthier smattering of large apartment complexes and more townhomes.

      Demography is similar all along Delridge, except for the far north end (Andover & Genesee stops) which is more middle-class, but also higher ridership than mid-Delridge.

  4. Any thoughts on why there is a discontinuity for the inbound trips before 6:00 at Delridge and Juneau? Is there a large traffic generator there, or a transfer point that gets used more at that time of day?

    Averaged over the day, it doesn’t look like a highly used stop.

    1. Juneau is the location of the Boren School, now closed but recently the temporary location of Chief Sealth High School. Its probably a blip in the data.

  5. in the last paragraph of the post, the MVET story was incorrectly conveyed. the January 2009 agreement between the three executives called for a one percent MVET for King County Metro; it was not and has not been implemented by the legislature; the Governor may not have lobbied hard for it; Nickels and Sims are no longer in office; its revenue would have done three things: pay for AWV transit capital (e.g., Yesler wire), pay for AWV related service (e.g., Route 120 BRT), and make up for the recession induced decline in sales tax revenue. in 2010, the Governor did veto a $20 VLF for Metro, arguing that it already had that authority under the TBD legislation. in 2011, the CRC VLF bill became law. the revenue streams have different magnitues and rates of progressivity. the one percent MVET may considered again.

  6. 15th & Roxbury is the de facto White Center transit center, whereat the 22, 23, 54, 60, 85, and 125 all terminate.

    Beautiful Downtown White Center features a large sampling of exotic dining: Several Vietnamese cafes, a Salvadoran restaurant, a couple carnicerias (for which I can not offer a recommendation, since they don’t appear to cater to vegetarians), and more.

    Within a short walk of BDWC are brand new townhouses just outside the reach of Seattle city government, charming suburban-style single-family housing blocks, aquatic preserves, a King County branch library, and a bustling rivalry between Walgreens and Eckerds.

    A further sign of White Center’s uppity bourgoisness is its own newspaper: the White Center News.

    Live the luxurious life, at affordable prices, in Beautiful Downtown White Center.

    1. Brent – I was interested to see the traffic patterns at 15th&Roxbury. I always think of it as a major stop, but there aren’t that many homes within a short walk. The White Center commercial district is, as the name implies, almost exclusively commercial (and King County probably has a 1950s era backwards zoning code to keep it that way).

      I see the 15th & Roxbury gets an equal number of on/offs throughout the day. Burien folk are riding the 120 to White Center; transferees and local residents are boarding the 120 there. A very well used stop. Good potential for a Seattle Subway stop sometime in the 2030s, once more housing is built in proximity.

      1. It depends on what you mean by a “short walk”. The business district fizzles pretty quickly to the north, yielding to SFHs.

        Heading south a couple blocks, and then either east or west, you’ll find more SFH blocks. In addition, there are (relative to the SFHs) dense apartments as close as 14th and 104th.

        The business district is relatively small. Heading east, Roxbury is quickly surrounded by SFH streets on the north and parkland mixed with townhouses on the south. The Greater White Center business district runs off and on along Roxbury all the way over to 35th, and includes an old senior housing complex that is several stories tall — perhaps above the height allowance of the Roosevelt Station area.

  7. Notice the high loads on the To Burien chart in the evening. 18:15 to 21:30 is the most heavily loaded time period heading out of downtown, besting even the afternoon peak. After 21:30 isn’t far behind. Have any other charted routes shown such high evening loads?

    The reason for the high per-bus loads is the lack of evening frequency. After 7pm the 120 starts running every 30 minutes, and from 10pm to 2am it runs once an hour. Metro planners have matched the service to the demand, so every run is well used right up until the very end. It makes for very cost-efficient service, but a little inconvient for late night users. In other neighborhoods, hourly evening service might lead residents to their cars in droves; but luckily 120 riders are very devoted to their route.

    1. “Metro planners have matched the service to the demand, so every run is well used right up until the very end.”

      That’s the fallacy of buses should only run if they’re full. Double the frequency and the ridership increases. How many people are driving because the 120 is hourly? When I go to a house party in White Center, if I’m going alone I’d take the bus no matter what it’s schedule is. But if I’m going with friends who are more used to driving, it makes a difference to them whether the bus is 15-minutes, 30-minutes, or 60-minutes. If it’s 15-minutes they’ll take it. If it’s 60-minutes they’ll drive. If it’s 30-minutes they’ll think about it.

  8. I wish we could get ORCA transfer data and see where the riders getting off in Burien head next.

    I’ll bet there are more of them transferring to other buses to head east to the airport or to other jobs along Highway 99 than there are riders going to jobs in Burien.

    As I’ve said before, if West Seattle wants a direct route to the airport, the blue-collar 120 is a better candidate route than the low-ridership 560.

  9. For folks who love to demand density, you should come check out the corridor…

    North Delridge currently has a 200+ unit luxury apartment building under construction, and the neighborhood north of the community center and skate park is was upzoned from single family several years back. The entire length of Delridge is zoned for growth as well.

    Unfortunately, zoning doesn’t produce much when the market isn’t yet there for it.

    1. 200+ unit luxury apartment building

      Read: 150 cookie-cutter $2000/mo 1 bedroom units, with a handful of $1500 studios and $3000 2 bedroom units thrown in to give the appearance of providing “workforce” and “family” housing.

      Most of the units will sit empty for 10 years, as the property managers wait for the high-income to slowly fill in the building, rather than filling it up immediately at affordable rents.

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