A joint regional transit agency news release provides the first, rough estimates of transit’s contribution to the estimated 700,000 who showed up for the Seahawks’ parade. The numbers, especially bus numbers, are largely guesstimates, but here are some ridership highlights:

  • Link had over 75,000 boardings, over double the average weekday and well over the previous record of 51,000 on opening Saturday in 2009, when rides were free and certain transit nerds boarded again and again.
  • Sounder had about 20,000 boardings in the morning and “a similar number” in the afternoon.
  • Combined CT and ST bus service into Seattle totaled 22,500 boardings, 5,000 above the average; there were a record 55,000 boardings in Snohomish County.
  • PT estimates that there were 6,500-8,500 more boardings than normal at the Tacoma Dome between 7am and noon.
  • The West Seattle Water Taxi carried 4,600, compared to a January average of 416. Vashon foot ferries were up 20% to 928.

Across all agencies, there were more vehicles, more trips, and (in the case of Sound Transit) longer trains.

In all, a memorable day for transit. All transportation modes were overwhelmed beyond their capacity. Things might have been much worse had it not been for crowds of riders in good cheer, orderly, and forgiving of systems well beyond their design limits. Moreover, agencies showed uncommon agility in mobilizing for Wednesday on short notice, and the efforts of foot soldiers controlling crowds at Westlake station and other places were nothing short of heroic.

As a Seattle sports fan, I hope this is a problem we have many times in the years to come. The best news of all is that Seattle’s transit capacity is set to increase. As University Link cars continue to arrive, ST’s surge capability will increase incrementally. And in two years, U-Link will effectively quadruple the ability to get people out of downtown over the current Central Link standard, by doubling both directions of travel and train length.*

However well Wednesday made the point that Seattle’s transit capacity is valuable, there were certainly some suboptimal operations. In particular, joint tunnel operations are severely capacity-reducing when demand reaches these levels. Your humble correspondent arrived at Westlake a little before 5 pm; lines criscrossed the mezzanine as police limited access to the platform for safety reasons. These volumes compounded the usual bus friction, with restricted movement on the platform, Metro’ s insistence on adding congestion at the point of maximum stress, and the apparent breakdown of Metro’s sequencing system for southbound buses. It was clear that the surge of novice riders was largely waiting for the train, well in excess of the share of platform time granted Link.

Moreover, the consistent weakness of rider information arose once again. The tunnel message boards spouted useless platitudes. The crowd got restless as train headways widened, with no real-time information to satisfy them. Moreover, the instinct of a savvy rider, knowing that full trains will pass up riders further South, is to head to Westlake, which no doubt added to the overflow there. Sound Transit, in a brilliantly creative move, sent some trains “out of service” through Westlake to clear out the other crowds and ran some trains between Stadium and Seatac only. It might have relieved some of the pressure to let people know that taking relatively empty buses a few stops would not maroon them, and in fact might get them home sooner.

For all that transit was absolutely vital Wednesday, I’m not sure it won itself many new riders with the overall experience. Here are some suggestions in the hope that there’s a next time, perhaps within the next year:

  • Nimble Rider Communications. No amount of tweeting helps people in the DSTT. Sound Transit was extremely agile in responding to conditions, but didn’t leverage the tools in the tunnel to allow riders to exploit it.
  • Suspend fares. For any large event like a parade, there’s a budget to pay for police coverage and the rest. It should be part of the package — whether covered by the City, the team, or whomever, to deliver a lump sum to transit agencies and suspend the fare on buses. While there are first hand accounts that ST staff waived fares at times, there have been no reports of Metro doing the same. Fare collection is one of the main reasons that buses don’t scale and that tunnel operations were slow. Moreover, complicated transfer policies discourage transfers, which interferes with…
  • Getting creative with truncations. Link is the most efficient way to move large numbers of people through downtown, for several self-evident reasons. Under the current configuration, it would be operationally simple to have 100-series tunnel buses terminate at Stadium or Sodo, and accept their riders from 3-car Link trains. This would increase throughput in the tunnel, and therefore overall capacity.

Transit agencies reacted forcefully to an event thrown together at the last moment with no reliable estimate of how much demand there would be. The creativity and hard work of staff saved the network from total collapse, but by examining lessons learned the future can be bright.

* And a 25% increase in trains per hour, from 8 to 10 per direction (see p.106).

39 Replies to “Preliminary Parade Numbers”

  1. Nice postscript on transits 100 flood, Martin. Now can we all get back to lethargic changes, endless process, and bitching about why 95% of all trips in the region DO NOT rely on transit?

  2. It seems likely that Link ridership was even higher than the 75,000 reported. APC systems are not always reliable in the event of crush-level crowds, and most trains were crush-loaded throughout the day on Wednesday.

    In any event, good effort on very short notice by the agencies involved.

    1. But let’s also remember, more riders served does not equal quality or success. As Tim Cook recently said about selling iPhones, “We don’t get up in the morning saying we want to sell the most, we get up saying we want to make and create the best, and so that’s our strategy and it doesn’t change.” We have to be careful quality isn’t being lost or sacrificed in the quest for more and more boardings.

      1. (picturing smooth, white, rounded Link trains, rolling in silently and a little tone playing as the doors open)

      2. Tim Cook only said that because Apple is no longer selling the most, and their market share is declining. He needed to say something to placate the investors. You’re lying to yourself if you don’t believe Apple wants to sell the most phones. If they only wanted to sell the best, they wouldn’t have made the 5c and wouldn’t still be selling the 4s. Those phones are definitely not the best.

      3. @kpt I was going to compare buses to PC’s, with a mostly-functional medley of components, built as cheaply as possible, slow to load, crashing often… but decided not to go there.

  3. Excellent debrief. I’m still wondering why they had to hold this event during the week…

    1. Super Bowl parades are almost always held in the middle of the week after the game. Baltimore had theirs on a Tuesday last year. Seattle probably did Wednesday, since they didn’t have any experience.

    2. The Seahawks players were done with their official requirements with the team on Tuesday and the parade and celebration on Wednesday was extra. Players who do not live in this area year round probable would have left for their offseason homes on Wednesday or Thursday and would have missed the celebrations if it had been held on Saturday. And as pointed out most cities hold these types of events during the week.

      Another thing that will come out of the Wednesday events are lessons learned for the transit agencies of what went right and what went wrong. For the most part it went well considering the size of the crowd and it is not likely we will see another event of this size soon. But even if another event like this happens but on a smaller scale the transit agencies can go back and review what they did this time and try to improve on it.

  4. Question: is it true that the stub-tunnel where LINK trains turn back could have been put into condition to handle three car trains in time for the celebration?

    Mark Dublin

    1. If ST had known about the celebration months in advance? Possibly.

      With two days’ notice? No.

  5. I didn’t hear about any problems with Sounder. I take those in for the regular games. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the parade, but I will next year, and the year after…and the one after that…

    1. My mom was on the 8:30 train which left people on the platforms all the way up. This would have been a good opportunity to try out all day service on Sounder, if BNSF had accommodated it. Third mains can’t come soon enough.

      1. That’s what I was hoping for….being able to take an 10:30am train to get there around 11 for the 11:30 parade. The returning train I believe was 2:30pm which also left a lot of free time assuming you didn’t wish to sashay around freezing your keister off.

        I admire your mother who was willing to spend 3 hours in 25 degree weather to wait for it, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me.

  6. How many south sounder roundtrips are planned for the future? I had thought 13, but I recently heard someone say 16.

  7. It’s too bad KCM doesn’t have a ridership estimate. I’m sure there would be some guessing involved, but it would have to be a wild number.

    Also, WSF routes serving downtown Seattle carried much more foot traffic than usual.

    1. Nearly 40,000 passengers took either the Bremerton or Bainbridge runs Wednesday, according to WSF.

      I’d imagine even Kitsap Transit saw a bit of a bump in ridership, though I suspect most of them drove. Downtown Bremerton is awash in paid parking.

  8. Another metric that hasn’t been reported is the sheer size of the mass of people who WALKED west to the parade. First and Capitol Hills were under a deluge of people enjoying the wonderful sunny morning.

    What’s really cool is overhearing people who weren’t aware that business X or restaurant Y existed when they passed (like Top Pot donuts on First Hill) … hopefully that will mean increased business for them as well in the future.

    Regardless … wonderful to see people walking.

  9. I can’t imagine how people think this would have been successful on a Saturday. Would Sounder have been able to run as often as it did on Wednesday? Probably not. The Water Taxi doesn’t run on weekends in the winter meaning many more added trips. (This possibly might have been better if you didn’t run the Vashon route and doubled up on WS runs). Would you have run special routes for the areas covered by peak only routes/runs to get people to the parade on a Saturday?

    Having it on a weekday kept the attendance down, which is a good thing. If it overwhelmed the system built for weekday peak, it would have collapsed one running on a Saturday.

  10. The point is that A) you would effectively limit demand to the event crowd, while still B) ramping up supply beyond the level of normal service.

    1. I’d love to see the 4-car trains from Stadium Station become a fixture after major events at the stadia, at least until U-Link opens.

    1. Same with the 106 I was on. Although I really, really, really hated the Ride Free Zone, I don’t mind falling back to that modality, at least in the tunnel, during after-event crushloads.

  11. My experience was that the 2nd Ave buses back to the Eastside were running pretty well, at least at 4:45. If this remained true in the five o’clock hour, and if 4th Ave was in reasonable shape by then, It might have made more sense to run the 550’s on the surface in the afternoon. Was 4th in reasonable shape?

  12. Is there any reason ST can’t just buy a few old passenger carriages and store them somewhere for Sounder to use in events like this? Sure we’d run out of station length, but they could just load and unload in steps (first the front, then pull forward a bit and unload the back). With some luck this won’t be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

  13. Stumbled across one of Oran’s videos online, and here is a comment he made:

    Oran Viriyincy3 years ago
    in reply to K64JT

    @K64JT The platforms are 380 ft long. Each car/vehicle/unit is 95 ft long. So, nope, nothing longer than a 4-car consist in regular service. However, they can hook up eight together for “emergency moves” according to the manufacturer’s fact sheet. Each car has 74 seats and a maximum capacity of 200 passengers.

    Just an FYI…party trivia at this point.

  14. I’m not getting how the Seahawks tsunami builds a case for truncations. Every bus that didn’t take its passengers all the way downtown Wednesday was not a part of the solution. Indeed, every cross-town route became a diversion of resources, when every available bus was needed to get everyone to the parade.

    Unfortunately, when the topic of truncations comes up again, traumatic memories of the Seahawks tsunami will overrule reason, due to Wednesday’s excursion (or attempt there-at) being the one experience large numbers of infrequent riders will have had with transit. It will be a much stronger reason for resistance than the small (imaginary?) handful of people who are okay with truncations so long as they get to keep using paper transfers. But then, if the truncations are to Sounder or Link, the paper transfers are useless. I guess I’m also not getting why anyone sees a link between paper transfers and political will for truncations.

  15. Running “out of service” trains to Airport Station would have helped immensely Wednesday.

Comments are closed.