The population projections in the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study (table 3-4) are very low and the methodology Sound Transit uses to create these projections should be updated. In the past the media has criticized ST for projections that seemed overly optimistic, but then proved valid post-recession. Sound Transit should avoid over-correcting by using excessively conservative estimates now. Beyond helping to decide which routes to build, the estimates will communicate a potential project’s value to stakeholders and make a case for funding to the federal government.
We were shocked to see that ST was using 29,580 for Ballard’s 2010 population, with expected growth by 2035 of 14% for a total of 33,820. We asked Sound Transit to explain why both numbers were so low. Their explanation was based on an area defined by the Ballard Existing Conditions Report:
The Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study used a definition of Ballard which covers the area from 8th NW to 32nd NW, the Ship Canal to NW 85th. This includes all of census tracts 30, 32 and 47 and approximately 80% of census tracts 31 and 32 (which extend west to Shilshole Bay). The total population of the five complete census tracts in the 2010 census was 32,502; the 29,580 number reflects the reduction of the western portions of census tracts 31 and 32.
The area covered is where all the growth in Ballard has occurred in the past and is occurring now. Additionally, nearly all of the larger development since 2010 has been apartments; there are currently only two condominium buildings under construction. This makes the comparison pretty easy. We asked the apartment market experts at Dupre & Scott if they had numbers for Ballard since 2010. For this example, to be conservative we assumed anything built 2009 or before was 100% absorbed and anything built in 2010 was 50% absorbed when the census was taken at the end of that year. We will also assume apartment occupancy of 1.8 people per rental unit and 2.3 people per sold unit per the census numbers for Seattle.
Here is what Dupre & Scott sent us:
Through 2010 there were 1639 apartments total in Ballard. In the years 2011-2016 there are 2000 apartment units either opened or opening. That means there are 22% more apartments opening between 2011-2016 than existed in 2010. Adding the 2010 apartments that were not absorbed yet by the census study, a total of 2134 apartments will open between 2010 and 2016. At 1.8 residents per apartment, this means 3841 new residents in Ballard by the end of 2017, excluding any units built in that year.
Ballard will have 33,421 residents by the end of 2017 just due to apartment growth. If we add in the 137 condo units under construction and 108 new townhouses from 2011-present, the total 2017 population is 33,984: passing the PSRC 2035 projection 18 years early.
Over the next 20 years, all these figures will likely grow a great deal. Seattle grew by 18,000 people between July 2012 and July 2013. Simply carrying that absolute growth rate forward, 396,000 people would move to Seattle through July 2035. At least some of them will move to Ballard.
Why it matters:
Though Ballard already rates highly in the Ballard to Downtown and Ballard to UW studies, these numbers are used to communicate the value of the project to stakeholders and to the federal government. Higher population in this area means higher ridership. It is not in our best interest to short population and ridership projections when competing with other cities and states for federal funds or when talking to local stakeholders about how great the need is for high capacity transit to Ballard as soon as possible.
Sound Transit is now a mature agency with 15 years of experience delivering projects under budget and ahead of schedule. While it is understandable that an agency would rather under-promise and over-deliver, it should use the most accurate numbers possible to create its estimates. It shouldn’t start out by using artificially low input numbers and a known overly conservative algorithm.
The comment period for this study is over, however Sound Transit is now accepting comments in relation to its Long Range Plan. Please ask Sound Transit and the PSRC to review and update their projections based on current conditions so that we have an estimate that is close as possible to what we will really see in 2035. It can help us get better transit faster and have more of it paid for by the federal government. Win – win – win.
The comment period for the Long Range Plan ends 7/28/2014. Send your comments to LongRangePlan@soundtransit.org.
What to say to Sound Transit in your comments:
1. Update the ridership and population projections in the corridor studies to more accurately represent growth in Seattle and the region.
2. Use the corrected ridership projections to further the case to build the highest quality grade separated subway system possible.