Photo by author. Taken at 5:12 p.m., Thursday March 12, 2015
Photo by author. Taken at 5:12 p.m., Thursday March 12, 2015

While the year didn’t finish as strong as it began, 2014 was a year of explosive growth for link. Fourteen percent growth for a mature five year old line. While I don’t think Link can maintain that kind of growth rate until U-Link opens (simple math) it will be interesting to see how high ridership can get. Will summer ridership this year be enough to require Sound Transit to move to 3 car trains earlier than currently projected? Keep in mind that 2014 Link ridership was 22% higher than the 2011 projections. Link continues to overshoot revised projections, so it very likely that peak ridership will necessitate expanding capacity before currently slated. The only question is when. If only there were money for the cars.

December’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 31,671 / 22,469 / 18,592, growth of 6.8%, 7.4%, and 2.7% respectively compared to December 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 13.9% with ridership increasing on both lines. Sounder finished up the year with 10% weekday ridership growth. Tacoma Link’s ridership increased 0.3% with strong Sunday ridership making up for a weekday decrease. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.2%. System wide weekday boardings were up 7.4%, and all boardings were up 9.6%. The complete December Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the fold.




105 Replies to “2014 Link Ridership – Still Phenomenal”

  1. As your picture shows, Link ridership is being constrainted by capacity. ST really needs to increase capacity if it wants Link ridership growth to continue as it has been.

    Going to 6 min headways represents a 25% increase in capacity, but my understanding is that his won’t happen until September of this year (true?). If so, that increase in capacity will probably be too little, too late.

    It would be great if ST could run 3-car trains, but I’m not sure of the schedule for this. With system testing and the SCADA cur0ver concerns, I wouldn’t be surprised if ST stays with 2-car trains until fairly late in the year, or even until the 2016 U-Link opening.

    1. Six minute frequency would be great. This is valuable regardless of capacity. I doubt we are even close to capacity on most trains, but if that is used as an excuse for increasing frequency, then I’m all for it.

      1. I’d like it if they did three car trains during the evening peak. Or something. One train’s brakes broke or something last night and so we had two trains’ worth of people on one. It was pretty packed.

      2. According to a tweet from Sound Transit, they won’t be able to run 4-car trains (I believe this also applies to 3-car trains) until all systems are certified, which is unlikely to be before U-Link opens. The demising wall however is scheduled to come down in June/July.

    2. The photo above is what a train looks like after being stuck behind a line of 550s in the tunnel for 7 or 8 minutes.

      So really, that’s a 2-car train that only came about 15 minutes after its predecessor.

      Our Link cars are quite big, but have many interior subdivisions and thus, unsurprisingly, can feel pretty full under such conditions. The image isn’t even close to the Tokyo-level crowding seen on Boston’s Green Line (at 90-second average headways, to boot), but there’s no doubt that its occupants are reaching the comfort-level tipping point.

      So yes, of course… more cars, sooner. Higher frequency, sooner.

      But more importantly, ameliorate some of the tunnel troubles that double-stuffed this train in the first place. Until you’ve made the system function like it’s running as often and as easily as it claims to be, you have no business declaring a capacity crisis.

  2. Is this an April Fool’s joke?

    Link LRT is probably the nation’s worst performing new LRT with not much hope for its extensions north, south, east to have any affect for decades. Very funny April Fools joke. Link LRT phenomenal? Yeah right. Phenomenally underwhelming. More giant garages for new Link stations! Whee!

    1. >> not much hope for its extensions north … to have any affect for decades.

      Care to put some money on that? Seriously, I’m willing to make the following prediction:

      1) Link ridership will increase by 50% (or more) within a year of U-Link opening.

      It will grow substantially after LInk gets to the U-District (and Roosevelt and Northgate). East Link will also lead to another jump in ridership. It is too bad that the U-District isn’t included in the next round of changes, because if it was, the effect would be even more dramatic. Husky Stadium is a very good station (as is Capitol Hill) but I think Brooklyn (U-District) is even better. Those three combined will probably account for the bulk of our ridership outside of downtown. OK, that’s a bold prediction. I’ll water it down a bit, and hedge my second bet. So here is my second prediction:

      2) After North Link opens, the stations north of downtown (Capitol Hill to Northgate) will account for more ridership than those south of downtown (SoDo to Angle Lake).

      There are way more stops and way more miles to the south, but I feel confident making those two predictions. If I’m wrong, I’ll buy you a beer (or two). There are many, many justified criticisms of Link. But we are finally building a decent light rail route (as flawed as it is) by connecting the areas that most need to be connected (downtown, Capitol Hill and the UW). Everything else (like this positive report) is just gravy.

      1. You’re right, RossB. The success of Link will be demonstrated repeatedly — when U-Link opens, when Northgate Link opens, when East Link opens and when Lynnwood Link opens. I’d add that Angle Lake will also be a factor but I suspect it won’t add many riders.

        The level of Link success depends on Metro (and eventually Swift) restructuring.

        Of the various Link openings, U-Link will catch on the fastest. College students are usually the most savvy travelers and they won’t have years of entrenched commute familiarity.

        I’d add one more prediction: At least a third of King County transit boardings will be on Sound Transit vehicles within 10 years.

      2. I agree, Al with what you said, but your prediction may be more bold than mine. I think Sound Transit can match one third of current transit ridership, but I think Metro ridership will increase substantially as Link extends. That is one of the keys to success, really. Capitol Hill and the UW have a lot of people, but there are plenty that live in the Central District, Lake City, Ballard and lots of places that won’t have rail for ten years (although Ballard might, if we get lucky). Most likely, Metro ridership will go way up, but the actual amount of time sitting on the bus will go down. That would be really nice.

    2. Can you explain what criteria make Link the “worst performing” new LRT?

    3. It’s consistent with all the previous reports. If Link’s ridership changes it will be a gradual flattening out or decline, not a sudden huge drop. People in aggregate don’t change their trips or transit use that much. When one person starts taking Link, another person stops. The graphs just show that a few more people start than stop each month, and that accumulates over time. What we’re looking for is when will it flatten out, as it presumably must someday.

      The nation’s worst performing LRT is VTA light rail in Silicon Valley. It’s all surface, and while the San Jose portion goes through the city center and where people live, much of the rest is widely spaced office parks. One building per superblock, each surrounded by a large parking lot and open space. Don’t bother trying to find a supermarket or apartment nearby, or a restaurant or other typical destinations; there aren’t any. Sounds like it must be full peak hours and sparse the rest of the time, right? Wrong! It’s sparse peak hours too. VTA’s peak hours looks like Link’s mid evening.

      The Bellevue and Lynnwood extensions promise to be well used as soon as they open. People would jump on them now if they opened today. The 550 is overcrowded and can’t keep up with demand. The other extensions and potential ST3 suburban extensions, not as much.

      1. It depends on what criteria you decide to use as worst.

        The Norfolk, Virginia light rail line that generates slightly less than 800 boardings per mile of track per day and 5,900 or so per day total. VTA is 857 and 36,200 respectively, so even the VTA isn’t the worst.

        Link? 36,000 per day put it about 2,000 boardings per mile of track per day. It’s sort of the middle of the pack, on a par with Denver and Phoenix, with Portland being slightly better at 2,300 per mile per day. Nobody comes close to Boston (over 8,000) .

      2. Cleveland’s Blue and Green lines are even more pathetic with 8500 boardings per day and 557 per mile. To be fair it is a legacy interurban that has been upgraded to modern light rail standards. Also bad are New Jersey’s River line with 9000 boardings per day and 319 per mile as well as Oceanside’s Sprinter with 9100 boardings per day and 413 per mile.

      3. The RiverLINE is infrequent and diesel over an existing freight line, so it wasn’t built as a completely new line like most of the rest. I’ve read that it could be more popular if it didn’t shut down early every night to give Conrail freedon to run their freight. Sprinter falls into the same general category, but I know little about their operating pattern.

        People can’t ride trains that aren’t there.

      4. I think it is hard to measure the success or failure of a subway line. People per mile doesn’t take into account cost. Sometimes those miles come awfully cheap — other times they don’t. Meanwhile, you can paint lines down the street, pretend your bus is a train, and then announce that your new system carries huge amounts of people. If a train just carries people that would otherwise ride a bus, you haven’t done much.

        To me it is about how this improves the overall transit network. So the best way to measure is overall increase in transit ridership. It seems unfair to give a train credit for improvements in bus service, but they go hand in hand. Extending Link further north than Mountlake Terrace isn’t a huge improvement for bus riders (who would simply stay on the bus until Mountlake Terrace, instead of getting off sooner) but it saves a substantial amount of bus service hours. Those hours can go into better, more frequent routes. As has been mentioned several times, one of the best things about a station at NE130th is that it would improve the overall bus network. So someone could quickly and easily get from Lake City to Bitter Lake (or Lake City to Greenwood, or Bitter Lake to Matthews Beach). These are all trips that don’t involve Link, but will probably never be possible (or never be quick and easy) without it.

      5. Cleveland and Norfolk both suffer from lack of network effects; the rest of the network they should be connecting to is largely missing, torn out in the case of Cleveland, never there in the case of Norfolk. Extensions will improve Norfolk’s situation. RiverLine was, as stated, built on the cheap on existing rails, and works fairly well considering what it is. VTA is frustrating because it was new-build and could have been so much better.

    4. Check your numbers, Wells. By every morning’s KIRO- incidentally, Dave Ross makes public radio look like what it’s become: boring string of miserably dishonest business news- the region’s largest parking garage is its freeway system.

      A fact that undoubtedly counts for huge increase in LINK ridership, and like every other major transit in history provides the irreplaceable motivation for speeding up grade-sep. rail construction:

      Fact that nothing on the freeways can move. But I was wrong about possible number of Fools’ Days. A millenium has a lot more days.

      Mark Dublin

    5. We tend to compare the travel time of Link extensions to normal driving, either peak hours or off-hours. But whenever there’s an accident or a spike in traffic, the buses and cars get bogged down for 20 minutes or an hour or more. Lately it seems like there’s been a pileup several times a month, and those add up in lost time.

    6. Y’all know Wells is nuts, right?

      Like “loop monorails and trolleybus magic wands and government conspiracies to suppress his run-on sentences” kind of nuts.

      Nuts-even-for-transit-commenters nuts.

      Nuts-even-for-Oregon nuts.

  3. What strikes me is the high proportion of weekend riders relative to weekday riders. It looks like weekend ridership is roughly 70% of weekday ridership overall, with summer weekends often exceeding 80% (no doubt thanks to Mariners and Sounders games).

    Probably a function of sports and solid 7-day demand for the Airport, but also that most weekday-only commuters from the suburbs don’t need to use Link to get to work. U-Link would change the demand profile towards weekdays with more UW-related travel and many more commuters making bus-Link connections.

    1. Yes, I think event ridership does have a large influence on the strong weekend numbers — and this is exactly what we want. the fact that people are using Link as a way to avoid the congestion and cost of sporting event attendance is a good sign. There is nothing worse than a suburban sports stadium in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but a sea of parking.

      If the M’s are good this year (whee have I heard that before?) you can expect more strong ridership increases in Link. Ditto if ST can figure out how to deliver either 3-car trains or 6 minute headways sooner rather than later.

      And, of course, after U-Link opens all these numbers will seem like peanuts…

      But good job Link! Where are all those loud-mouthed critics now?

      1. I meant the serious critics — the ones who tried to use data to make cases against LR that we were all somehow supposed to take seriously. They have become increasingly quiet in the face of ever improving Link ridership numbers.

        The above statement doesn’t fit into this category — it’s just a statement of discontent by someone who has suddenly been faced with data that contradicts their ideological beliefs. It’s a LR related example of cognitive dissonance that is best explained by psychology and is not supported by transit data..

      2. You mean the handful of folks that thought that we could solve all of our problems with buses? Most of those people have been quiet for years.

        Or do you mean people like me, who are extremely critical of the various ways that Sound Transit has managed to waste opportunity after opportunity? Is so, this report changes nothing. I am thrilled that these numbers are going up. But let’s not too excited when Sam Bowie has a good game — we all know the Blazers should have drafted Jordan. Overall transit ridership is up, but it isn’t up nearly as high as it should be, given the investment.

        I would say that while the mistakes made by Link for the current line are bad (like the Mount Baker station) they aren’t horrible (assuming you need to run a train to the airport). I certainly miss the headway limitations, but that saved a lot of money over tunneling (the only political alternative). Frankly, most of those decisions were made based on politics, and I don’t blame them at all for making them.

        But UW/North Link is a different story. The lack of a First Hill station was political, but truly gutless political fear. In all likelihood the station probably would have been built by now. But worse yet is everything after that. No station at SR 520; no station at NE 55th, no station at 130th (although that could happen). All of that could have been easily achieved with a little bit of planning. Its not like we saved a huge amount of money by avoiding those stops, either — the decision to move the station from 65th (under the freeway) to Roosevelt cost us all that and more. There are just a huge number of mistakes made by Sound Transit when it comes to Link. None of them are fatal, but they are missed opportunities that will dampen transit ridership for years to come.

      3. Oh, and arguing that Link’s great numbers prove that it was worth it discounts the fact that ST Express has similar numbers (they are rising at about the same rate). So unless you think that ST ridership is increasing because of Link (which seems a stretch to me) I don’t think you can applaud Link management too much. On the other hand, everything we are about to build will see much better bus to rail interaction (especially if Metro responds) and it wouldn’t surprise me if Metro ridership booms (as folks realize that it no longer sucks to go anywhere but downtown).

        Again, just to be clear, I think grade separated light rail is essential (especially from the UW to downtown) but those who argue that we could have spent the money just on buses aren’t going to be swayed by these numbers.

      4. Not having a first hill station was a huge opportunity cost, by far the largest with Link so far.

        On the other hand there was also some very substantial risk. By far the biggest one was losing Federal New Starts grants for U-Link.

        I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the decision with both people who were on staff and on the board at the time. Unfortunately the agency was between a rock and a hard place. Any course of action that might have resulted in having a First Hill station might very well have led to no U-Link being built at all, particularly from the perspective of the time.

        Additionally I would have liked to see stations at 15th E, near the Montlake Library, 75th, and somewhere between 75th and Northgate.

        The ship hasn’t fully sailed on 130th so I wouldn’t put that in the ‘fail’ column just yet. Just like Graham street I’m sure if someone else puts up the money, Sound Transit will build it.

      5. I agree, Chris. I think there was good logic behind not building the First Hill station. But I’m not sure the logic behind not even considering a 520 station. All they needed to do was make a flat spot so that it could be added later. We would already be talking about spending the money on building it now. Speaking of which, money isn’t holding up the NE 130th station. It is peanuts, really. It is merely politics. I think eventually it will be built (after folks realize that the alternative sucks). But by then we may have run the line in such a way as to add to the cost of a station, thus not only wasting time, but wasting money, too.

      6. RossB,

        Remember the first round of alignments between the UW and Capitol Hill didn’t go anywhere near the Montlake interchange. It was only when Sound Transit decided the cost and risk of its preferred alternative was too much that it re opened the question in an expedited process, the station count was kept the same with just the ship canal crossing and lower U-District station moved to the East.

        Also at the time much less was known about what WSDOT’s final plans for the west end of the 520 replacement project were going to be. Back then the alternatives with the Montlake exit redirected to the Pacific/Montlake intersection looked like they had a good chance of being adopted.

        I can understand ST not wanting to build a station that would be in the way of construction or obsoleted by a new interchange.

    2. Good point. The weekend is the only time that Link numbers exceed ST Express numbers. I’m guessing they run fewer weekend express buses. Meanwhile, the train runs all the time, in both directions.

      This is also a good indication that folks take transit for more than just getting to work downtown on a weekday. People take transit for all sorts of reasons. This is something to keep in mind as we expand the system.

    3. It is also important to consider that the weekend numbers include the weekend in November when Link was closed for maintenance and carried zero riders. So the actual weekend ridership is higher than this.

    4. This happened on MAX as well.

      When MAX first opened they expected to only need single car every 45 minutes to meet the demand on Saturdays. After all, who uses transit on Saturdays anyway? Certainly nobody in Portland pre-1986.

      This operating plan was quickly thrown out the window with the huge number of complaints about overcrowding on the weekends.

      It’s too bad the Oregonian doesn’t have an online archive of the letters to the editor during that period. For us foamers (ask d.p. for a definition) it was quite entertaining to watch the near overnight shift in letters complaining about how huge a waste in money it was to built something supposedly nobody was going to use into letters exasperated with how crowded things were. Even today, and even for people in Seattle, I think these letters would make some entertaining reading.

      Though, it also illustrates that underestimating ridership numbers can be more troublesome to an agency than overestimating ridership numbers.

      1. Well of course. If your out past 9pm in Clackamas County you’re under suspicion of doing immoral acts by the county holier than thou committee. As the green line terminates there you can’t expect much. That’s why I wind up on the 14 most of the time.

        The line that opened in 1986, and experienced unexpected weekend ridership, was the blue line between downtown Portland and Gresham:

        Hey, it’s better than the 11:30 pm cutoff they used to have on the red line at the airport.

      2. No, it isn’t just the Green Line. In your own link above, the Blue Line starts to wither in the 9:00 hour, and is useless by 10. Ditto the Yellow Line. The Red is like the Green, and the Orange will likely be the worst of all.

        Oh, and the last train to the airport is at 10:29pm in the present. Thank god I never made the mistake of booking a near-PDX hotel and planning to rely on MAX on the same trip (which I almost did once).

        I don’t understand why you, Mr. PDX Examples Über Alles, haven’t bothered to ask yourself what has been the point of building dozens and dozens of miles of high-capacity, from-scratch rail lines to (and routed via) places so uniformly underwhelming that to this day, no one expects more than a dozen or two riders per hour for significant portions of the service span!

        Especially because, five lines in, transit access to/from/between any parts of the city that remotely pass for non-auto-oriented in land use — or remotely feign the spark of urban activity interplay — is basically unchanged since before the first inch of MAX was laid.

      3. Yes, I was referring to red line trains departing from the airport. That part of service stops at 11:49 pm, which is still terrible but also reflects the typical end of flight traffic at our airport.

        Those examples I choose to use here are examples that I feel are relevant experience that has happened where I live. If the blog administration feels these comments are off topic they are marked as such, the same as for anyone else. If you want what I write removed I’m sure the administration would be happy to do so if they agree.

        As far as “ask yourself what has been the point of building dozens and dozens of miles of high-capacity, from-scratch rail lines to (and routed via) places so uniformly underwhelming that to this day, no one expects more than a dozen or two riders per hour for significant portions of the service span!”:

        1. What makes you think I haven’t?

        2. The planning process used where I live most certainly is off topic on this blog and therefore not something I bring up on this blog. Seattle has its own process, and much as you don’t like it maybe it will produce different results than the process we have here. MAX is a result of this process.

        3. For 30 years I have participated in the public process involving transit planning in my area. So far, my some years of effort has led to all of one extremely dangerous grade crossing design being eliminated from Westside MAX before it got built. So, they listened to me once, and then only partially (there were better solutions than what they did). I can assure you that being stuck riding the results of this process are probably more frustrating for me than they are for you.

        But, Puget Sound has the chance to build a system that really does serve the needs of its residents. That’s the exciting part of what is going on up there.

  4. Why no love for the buses? This is Seattle Transit Blog, not Seattle Light Rail Blog. ST Express is kicking ass. Their numbers are increasing at about the same rate as Links or Sounders. Increasing frequency for Link would be great, and sooner or later we’ll get more cars, but maybe its time to consider adding more bus service. Average passengers per trip is about 40, which means I’m guessing that some buses are packed (although maybe they manage to spread them out really well, since the routes are cherry picked). I think it would be nice to have a little more focus and analysis of the buses that still carry a lot more people than the trains (combined).

    Oh, and anyone else notice that the streetcar in Tacoma only carries 20 people per trip. That is less than half of the average ridership of the buses. What is striking is the really poor farebox recovery. Zero. Yes, that’s right, the folks in Tacoma have a streetcar that is completely free, but they can’t manage to reach their goal of getting half the ridership of an average bus. Wow.

    1. Tacoma Link suffers the problem that in the time it takes to wait for it, a Pierce Transit or Sound Transit bus is likely to arrive first going to the same destination in the same amount of time. When this happens, anyone with a pass or transfer has absolutely no reason not to just hop on the bus.

    2. Busses? There has been plenty of coverage for them. LINK on the other hand, has not been covered much lately. And this is the SEATTLE TRANSIT BLOG, not the Seattle bus log.
      I myself love hearing about LINK.

      1. Link is the reason I follow this blog. Buses suck and will never get any better; with rail we at least have a chance of building a city one can live in comfortably without needing a car.

      2. Enjoy your permanently feeble mobility range, commensurate with your painfully myopic worldview, Mars.

      3. How is it myopic to observe that Seattle’s current transit goal seems to be “the bare minimum necessary to get around, as long as your time is worthless and your comfort unimportant”, and to advocate for a higher standard? We would have a happier, healthier society if the majority of Seattleites used public transit services for the majority of their transportation, but the system we have now is only good enough for people who are ideologically committed to transit for its own sake and for people who have no other practical choice. We *can* do better, and if we want to convince most people to stop driving and use transit, we *must* do better.

        I have lived in cities with good transit before, and I really enjoyed being able to get around without a car. I would love to have that kind of lightweight freedom again, without having to move away from Seattle. I actually tried living without a car in Seattle for a year, once – it was survivable, but I was surprised to find out how much of a hassle it was, and how much uncertainty it added to my life. All we had back then were buses. We still have the same buses now and they still have all the same problems. All progress we have made toward public transit as mainstream transportation has come from Link, streetcars, and the auxiliary benefits of car-sharing services like Lyft, Uber, and Car2go.

        I don’t actually suffer from limited mobility, because I don’t rely on the bus to get around. I drive, or I ride my motorcycle.

        I’ve been commuting to work by bus for the last two and a half months, since I started working downtown. It is every bit as frustrating and unpredictable as it was last time I commuted to work by bus, in 2011/2012. I am actually looking into renting a parking space downtown now; $300/month is starting to seem like a good deal compared to the unpredictable discomfort of a bus commute.

        But I’m fortunate in having a job that pays well enough that I can consider a luxury like that. What about all the people who *don’t* have cushy tech jobs and simply can’t afford to drive downtown every day? Why is it acceptable to make them put up with the hassle? Why can’t we have nice things? Why don’t we spend the money and build ourselves a *nice* transit system so that people who can’t afford better don’t have to suffer and so that people who *can* afford better choose transit anyway because it’s good enough?

        We can do better. Other cities do better. We should do better too.

        I don’t expect we will actually have a good transit system in Seattle while I am young enough to be using it, but I still want to push for it and do my part to pay for it so the next generation can go happily car-free without having to sacrifice mobility.

      4. As anyone who has hung around STB for a while knows, I do not think KC Metro provides anything resembling a robust transit system designed to scale into a workable life- and freedom-enabler for the general (i.e. choice-enabled) population of a growing city.

        While things have begun to head in the right direction — the City of Seattle-purchased frequency improvements coming this summer will, in many cases, offer the first semblance of an interconnected, easy-to-rely-on, high-frequency day-and-night network that this city has ever had — it still infuriates me that Metro retains many drivers, planners, and administrators who can’t see beyond “commuters + poor people”, and who seem unwilling to understand that a functioning city needs services that are more frequent, more trustworthy, more pleasant, and all-around better. Which can be achieved by embracing efficient network structures and fare policies and driver education, by employing vision as much as by adding funding.

        But here’s what isn’t going to happen: The New York Subway will not fall from the sky onto a city — much less a bunch of exurbs — orders of magnitude too diffuse for such a thing.

        That is never going to happen. And wishing, hoping, praying, and stomping your feet about how much you hate buses will never change that. It makes you part of the problem, because it means that you will never advocate for solutions that are genuinely achievable. You prefer your fantasy to your freedom.

        Link is coming. It doesn’t go everywhere. It doesn’t even let you get to places right along its route. It is grossly imperfect, in ways that may only be obvious to the public once it is there. We all hope Link expands within the city, and that the next proposals do not make the same mistakes.

        But it will never get you everywhere. So if you refuse to go places that aren’t on a train, you won’t be going very many places in your lifetime.

        The streetcar, meanwhile, has failed. Piddling ridership, and falling. Traffic in SLU at an all-time, disastrous high. Our second boondoggle has yet to even open, but we already know it will barely be able to move. It’s nice if being on rails charms you, but this is not making your life easier, and you are deluding yourself to think otherwise.

        In short, if you want a car-free lifestyle in this town, work to improve multi-modality. Learn about applying the right tools to the appropriate situations. But don’t throw a toddler’s temper tantrum because Seattle isn’t New York. It is never going to be.

      5. “what isn’t going to happen: The New York Subway will not fall from the sky onto a city — much less a bunch of exurbs — orders of magnitude too diffuse for such a thing”

        Of course not. Which is why this is as much about overcoming Seattle’s anti-density policies and getting some reasonable, sustainable development patterns going so that we *can* build something like the New York subway in the parts of the city people will want to live car-free lives in.

        What, do you think I’m expecting this to happen tomorrow? Like I said, I don’t expect Seattle to have a good transit system while I’m young enough to use it. These things take decades to build. We’ve gotten started; let’s keep going. Let’s build a citywide subway system now, and maybe in 40 years Seattle will be a place with transit worth bragging about.

        I want a car-free lifestyle in this town but I can’t have one. So what’s to be done about it? Build one for the next generation, obviously. I’m not going to make myself suffer along with buses just to prove a point; I’m just going to keep driving until there’s a better option.

        “And wishing, hoping, praying, and stomping your feet about how much you hate buses will never change that. It makes you part of the problem, because it means that you will never advocate for solutions that are genuinely achievable. You prefer your fantasy to your freedom.”

        I have my freedom precisely because I don’t depend on the bus system. I wish everyone had this kind of freedom. I wish everyone could have this kind of freedom without destroying our planetary environment. We won’t get there by selling more cars and building bigger highways; we won’t get there by running more buses. We’ll get there by building a real rapid transit system. A better bus system would be better for people who ride the bus, and it’s worth doing, but it *does not solve* the problem I care about, which is *transit for non-bus-riders*.

        There is a weird cultural blindness that seems to come up among many transit advocates, who seem to see transit systems in terms of nothing more than routes and timetables and frequencies. All times and numbers and dollars. Does the quality of the experience mean nothing to you? Don’t you realize that people avoid uncomfortable experiences, and that a slow ride is only one of the many ways a transit experience can be uncomfortable? Sure, it’ll be great if the metro grid proposal happens, and the bus system becomes less unreliable – but that will do *nothing at all* to improve most of the ways bus riding is unpleasant, and it will do very little to convince people who don’t have to ride the bus that it is good enough to be worth a shot.

        I’m plenty interested in multimodality. Let’s build monorails, subways, streetcars, gondolas, ferries, whatever it takes. Let’s just not pretend that buses are anything more than a bottom-of-the-barrel cheapskate solution.

      6. It’s really simple, Mars. If you advocate that everyone should default to driving until you can reach every nook and cranny of Seattle with” monorails, subways, streetcars, gondolas, ferries, whatever”, then you are advocating auto-dependency forever. With every externality you claim to hate: the terrible urban design; the parking everywhere; and the continued political hostility toward density and improvement.

        Your “gradual subway and hyper-density” dreams won’t happen either.

        Even if the anti-density crowd did a complete 180 tomorrow, and torched their own houses in favor of well-built density like this country hasn’t seen in decades, we still couldn’t support your rail-to-everywhere fantasy. We are simply to few, and too sparse, with neighborhoods and existing activity centers to scant to draw the critical masses into the myriad concentrated demand corridors that your dream would require.

        20 million people aren’t about to move to the Seattle area. Not now, not ever. Nor are the literal hundreds of billions of dollars, the cost of ensuring “Mars Saxman” never again has to experience the pain of seeing a bus go by, going to fall from the sky.

        Our analogue to the north, Vancouver, is a similar city to us in population, yet it is pervasively denser. Vancouver’s most-dense nodes have five times the urban gravity of Capitol Hill. The majority of the city possesses a medium-high density that our miles and miles of in-city bungalow sprawl would never match even if we doubled in population.

        And Vancouver, you might have noticed, has exactly 3 subway lines. The vast, vast majority of the riders who access those lines do so… via the bus! And thus the buses are designed to integrate well with their rail connections and their transfers to perpendicular buses, and the city is phenomenally easy to get around!

        Vancouver’s model is possible here. But you’d have to get the fuck over your seething, nonsensical “bus hate” in order to function within it and to take advantage of the miraculous car-free lifestyle it provides.

        The thing is, that doesn’t mean that anyone has to “suffer”. We can make buses faster, more comfortable, cleaner, easier to board and move around in, and all-around better. Because indeed, no one should have to suffer just to get around. But we can’t do that by pretending they’re all going to be replaced with rail as soon as “Mars Saxman” waves a wand and every inch of this city metamorphosizes into something fundamentally different than what it is. Your untenable position makes you anti-transit, anti-mobility, anti-progress, and anti-progress.

        Living in the real world requires understanding that, no matter how romantic rail-based transit is to you, it cannot be the answer to all of life’s problems. No butter romanticizes the bus, but they can use them when they work. No discomforts, regrets, or suffering required.

      7. Dude, are you listening to anything I’m saying? You can’t seem to distinguish between the choices I’m making for my own life, and what I’m advocating that we should do as a city. I am more fortunate than average in terms of the resources I have and the transportation choices available to me. We couldn’t have everyone in Seattle live the way I do and I’m not suggesting that we should. Rather, I’m suggesting that we should improve public transit to the point that even people like me will want to ride public transit rather than driving. I’m ragging on buses because we will never get there as long as transit policy decisions keep on pretending that the bus-riding experience doesn’t intrinsically suck. It does suck, and people only ride the bus because they have to. Why should we call that “good enough”?

        You are pessimistic as hell, I understand that. I’ve read plenty of your grumpy rants on this site and I don’t expect you to agree with me, but if everyone adopted your negative attitude we’d never get anything done. We have to have a vision of what “better” could be, something to shoot for, and that’s what I’m putting out here.

        We will have reached ultimate awesomeness when everyone can get where they want to go and nobody has to ride the bus or feel obligated to own a car anymore. You can gripe all you want about how that will never happen but I do not care: that’s not the point. Of course we will never get there. This is not utopia. But we have to head there or we will be mired forever in all the same crap we are dealing with today.

      8. Mars –

        Again, for all his grumbling, d.p. is gripping on to a fact: We can’t afford to build rail everywhere. Even in the ideal case, we won’t have it in Magnolia, or Madison Valley, or Medina, or Wedgewood, or many other places. So, we need to improve the bus experience so even people like you will want to ride the bus.

      9. I appreciate what you’re saying, William C. – and I own a house in Madison Valley, so I am keenly aware that the best I can ever hope for when it comes to transit is that maybe it won’t always suck quite so hard as it does now. But the one point I really want to make here is that there is no way to improve the bus experience enough that people with other options will prefer it. Maybe d.p. isn’t the only pessimist here; I just don’t believe that buses can ever be a preferred mode of transit, because they are too unpleasant.

      10. I’m surprised you feel that way; I legitimately enjoy the freeway express buses when they’re not jammed. Have you been on buses in other cities, to get other ideas of what they could be?

        But I hope you realize that, if buses are legitimately hopeless, a large part of the city – geographically, most of it – will be eternally condemned to cars by your own reasoning?

      11. I’m glad to know that this city’s economy is robust enough to so handsomely reward an adult too daft to perceive even his most blatant tautologies.

      12. William: when are they ever not jammed? I gave up trying to commute by bus while I worked at Microsoft after one memorable day when three packed-full 545s zoomed past the bus stop, accepting no passengers, before one finally stopped and let three of us on. Then it was half an hour of hanging on o the rail, trying not to bang into my fellow passengers, while lurching and shaking across the lake before getting off to walk another mile home. NOT FUN. I went out and bought a fun little BMW 325 after that, figuring that if I were going to waste half my day commuting anyway I might as well do it in style. I tried again with the 271, when I worked for a startup in downtown Bellevue; then I realized it took easily twice to three times as long as just riding my motorcycle in over I-90, which was easily 10x more fun, and that was the end of that.

        I rode the buses in Sacramento, where I spent my teen years, but they were just buses, and the good part of the trip was light rail. (How is it that Sacramento, a way more sprawled out pointless suburban city in the middle of nowhere, has had better transit than Seattle, for 20 years now? You want to talk about density? Sacramento has none, and it *still* has a better train system than we do.) I had no choice then so I didn’t really think about it. I took various long-distance Greyhound-style buses for trips in my early 20s, and those sucked but I had no choice so I just dealt with it.

      13. Sacramento’s 3 lines (plus a couple of stupid stubs), decades after opening, boast a whopping 48,000 boardings per weekday — almost entirely single-purpose commute traffic, which nevertheless amounts to a commuter modeshare too paltry to register as even the tiniest blip on the most distorted chart.

        If that’s your version of a transportation success story, then I wouldn’t want to see your summer reading list.

      14. Funny thing is Seattle is a town where people with other choices ride the bus. Those people jamming the 545 aren’t all transit ideologes and those too poor to be able to afford to drive.

        For all the faults of Seattle’s transit system we’ve managed to acheive a transit mode share better than all but 6 other US cities. We’ve done so largely with buses.

      15. “there is no way to improve the bus experience enough that people with other options will prefer it”

        I find this statement incredibly hard to believe when there are counter examples from all over the world and right here in Seattle that disproves it. 89% of Metro riders have access to a car. The median income of a Metro bus rider is nearly on par with the area’s median income, something that many US cities don’t even come close.

        Every great rail city has a great bus system behind it. Take London for example where bus ridership, notably in off-peak and weekend periods, has grown rapidly after they have invested in more and better services.

        I believe we can improve mobility for the vast majority of people by investing in an integrated transit network with better frequency, span, speed, reliability, and comfort. There will always be a tiny minority who would never step foot on a bus no matter what and that’s alright so long as everyone else does.

        Wealthy cities, large and small, like London and Zurich know that buses are a vital component of their transit system and have endeavored to make them the best it can be. These cities know it would be unwise for them to ignore one mode simply because a few think that mode “sucks”.

      16. Everyone else has answered the larger point very well, so let me chime in with my personal experiences on the 545: Throughout rush hour, yes, it’s crammed. Though in the last two years, I’ve never seen a bus refuse to let anyone on. Typically, the seats fill up at the OTC, and the aisle fills at the 40th St freeway station. Outside rush hour, though, it’s very free. A Saturday morning ride – with somewhat-empty seats on a free-flowing 520 with a golden view of the new bridge to one side and Mount Rainier to the other – is wonderful.

        Though what I was actually speaking of was when the highway isn’t jammed; I’m don’t mind the bus itself being packed as long as I get a seat. (I’m fine with standing, too; I just don’t enjoy it so much.) And speaking of congestion, your cycle ride down I-90 would be far worse today; I’d estimate 45 minutes across the lake.

        Have a very good Friday.

    3. Tacoma Link also suffers from its Tacoma Dome station being a block and a half away from the bus center. You need to choose to wait for either it or a bus… and the buses are far more frequent.

      The only time I ever rode Link there was when I was with my family from out-of-town who didn’t have passes.

      1. Going to a few more useful places would also help, as would having a lot more employment in downtown Tacoma.

        Right now It seems to me more like a shuttle for tourists and students at the UW extension campus.

        Maybe ridership will go up more when the Amtrak station joins the Sounder at Freighthouse square. At least at that point transfers for tourists will be a lot easier.

    4. And it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s about as long as the monorail. If you’re on the 59x, you have to make an effort to take Link rather than stay on the bus for a 1-seat ride. At Tacoma Dome you have to walk 1 1/2 blocks to the Link station, wait 10-20 minutes for it, and then have it wait for several traffic lights downtown. In other words, it’s not much better than the SLUT, although it does have its own right of way for a few blocks.

    5. Buses? With all the Metro emps and alums on this blog it more often reads like the Seattle Bus Blog and not the Seattle Transit Blog.

      Buses just aren’t going to get us there. We passed that threshold something like 30 (or 40?) years ago. We need a higher functioning, better performing transit system going forward, and the success of Link is showing us that we are on the right track (no pun intended…).

      1. We need more of both. Link needs to be focused in places where no more surface improvements will help (and we have plenty of those). There are certainly things we can do while link is being built to squeeze more usefulness out of the existing street grid though.

        People are tired of waiting decades for fixes. They want the big fixes (like Link) but in the mean time they want an improved bus system that they can use today.

      2. I’m not arguing that buses “will get us there”. I’m just saying what Charles said. We need both. There is no way that we will become New York, where most people travel by train. Like most cities, we will have way more people riding buses than trains. I want the trains to operate as well as possible — there are things they can do that just don’t make sense to do with buses. But let’s not forget that the buses carry huge numbers of people, and that number is growing. If nothing else we shouldn’t assume that everyone in the suburbs is dying for more light rail, and not better bus service (past votes suggest otherwise).

      3. Part of the reason Seattle is so far behind is that historically we have focused too much on buses. We really should have started building rail in key corridors 30 years ago. Instead we made the penny wise/pound foolish decision to continue down the bus only path and we steadily fell behind as our roadways congealed to concrete.

        If this region is ever going to have fast, reliable transit it needs to accelerate the construction of rail where it makes sense. Buses will always have a role, but that role needs to be supplemental to high capacity, high reliability transit and not a substitute for it.

      4. In many cities trains handle the heaviest corridors and serve the bulk of many people’s trips, and buses fill in around them, for smaller destinations or crosstown trips. In Seattle there are major areas where trains don’t go at all so you have to use buses, and everyone crowds onto the 71X or D or 550 or 44 or 48 or 522.

    6. @Joey — Almost all the bus coverage has been for Metro, not ST Express. One would assume, by reading headlines like this (which are by no means unique) that the Sound Transit buses are a small thing. In other words, you have, by ridership:

      1) Metro
      2) Link
      3) Sounder
      4) ST Express
      5) Monorail
      6) Seattle Streetcar
      7) Tacoma Link (Streetcar)

      Except that isn’t the case. It is this:

      1) Metro
      2) ST Express
      3) Link
      4) Sounder
      5) Monorail
      6) Seattle Streetcar
      7) Tacoma Link (Streetcar)

      ST Express is second (not fourth). It carries more people than all the train systems combined (Link, Sounder, Tacoma Link, Seattle Streetcar). It is growing really fast. If Link wasn’t extended, I don’t think it would ever catch it.

      I’m not saying that buses are always a good substitute for rail (UW Link will be a huge improvement in mobility for the region) but it helps to keep perspective. Sound Transit buses are extremely popular and the numbers are growing. I think this is important to keep in mind as folks consider options for Sound Transit 3 (should it ever happen). It is easy to focus on rail (I know I do) but I wonder what additional bus routes, or what additional frequency could do to improve mobility and compliment the light rail.

      1. In 2008, the prospect of getting more ST express buses now, rather than needing to wait 10-15 years to see any benefit, played a big part in me voting “yes” on ST 2. Hopefully, ST 3 can increase bus service even more – especially for the East King subarea, where the high-dollar rail projects look the most questionable.

      2. @RossB,

        10 years ago if we looked at the numbers it would show that buses were doing ALL the work. If we are ever to do more in this region than perpetuate a status quo that has failed us we need to look forward instead of back.

        What is amazing about the numbers is how fast the rail component is catching up with the other modes. Considering we started so late with rail it is amazing that it is even close to the non-Metro bus modes. And ridership on the LR mode continues to grow at twice the rate of ridership on the buses.

        Additionally, when U-Link opens Link will carry more passengers over its approx 20 mile length than the entire ST Express bus system does.

        That is an amazing feat and really indicates both where the demand is and where the big transpo gains can be made.

      3. “ST Express” covers a wide variety of service. Some are all-day trunks that are packed (550, 512), some are infrequent because they can barely get enough riders to stay in service (560, 567, 540), and some are peak expresses. Comparing the totality of ST Express is misleading; one should compare similar levels of service. Most all-day routes are stopgaps until Link comes in the mid-term (550, 512 to Lynnwood) or might theoretically come in the long term (522, 554, 540). So the fact that they’re ST Express at the moment is coincidental. It’s simply that some corridors have Link or Sounder now and some don’t.

      4. At some point, someone needs to explain to me how Light Rail is superior to Express Buses in dedicated lanes / tunnels. I’m not trying to start a flame war, I’m genuinely curious given how expensive light rail is, how long the lead time on it is, and how inflexible it is once deployed.

      5. First, most of the expense and lead time would be the same for express buses. Take U-Link, for example: where are you going to acquire dedicated right-of-way to allow six-minute service from downtown to the UW via Capitol Hill? You’d need to bore the tunnels anyway, and they’d need to be even bigger to allow for buses. Once you get above ground, Lynnwood Link is going to be a lot faster and cheaper to build.

        Second, train cars have higher capacity, because they can be coupled together. At anything approaching highway speeds, two express buses need a lot of space in-between them, while two train cars can follow each other to within one or two feet when coupled. And that’s ignoring how, in practice, a single train car will give a smoother ride, allow for more standees, and therefore have higher capacity within a given space.

        I don’t have the numbers, but that’s the big advantage of trains. When you can get the right-of-way cheap and don’t need the capacity – most places on the Eastside, for instance – then express buses are fine (except for people who really want a smooth ride.) When you can get it cheap (or have to) on part of the route – West Seattle, for instance – then you should definitely look into express buses. But when it’s expensive throughout the route, then why not allow for higher capacity with trains?

      6. @ Steve

        The onot substantial advantage of trains is capacity. I don’t know the numbers relative to buses, but one train has the capacity of about 6 lanes of freeway, and I’d guess (but this is a guess) 1.5-2x lanes of buses. They also have lower operating costs (electric vs diesel, fewer drivers)

        Of course, link isn’t at capacity for the tracks, not even close. Why did we build it as a train?

        The answer is that if you are going above ground, it’s cheaper to do cars and buses, and trains are a bunch of extra money for lost flexibility. But when a city gets dense enough that it makes sense to go underground, the cost of creating a mile of tunnel is vastly higher than the premium that you pay to lay track. You put trains in it because they’re the highest capacity, and so make the best use of your very expensive tunnel (eventually, when they’re full).

        The challenge, of course, is that a pair of train tracks has the capacity of a freeway six lanes wide in each direction; it’s a lot to add all at once. We get really worried about train ridership because we can’t build a lane at a time, can’t buy one bus at a time, so we have to throw down huge quantities of money and hope the city, which was built for vastly less transportation capacity along that corridor, changes quickly enough that we don’t look like idiots.

        (The other problem with the all-or-nothing nature of trains is that if it underperforms, the fares won’t come close to paying for the service, and you can get caught in a catch-22: reduce service, making this massive investment worthless, or run trains as if they were full, and spend piles of money on something nobody is using.)

      7. At some point, someone needs to explain to me how Light Rail is superior to Express Buses in dedicated lanes / tunnels.

        In addition to the above:

        In general steel wheels and steel track mean less maintenance for frequent service over the equivalent pavement.

        There can be a speed advantage too, though currently Link does not use this. Efforts in other countries are aimed at producing transit systems that are competitive with driving. Buses on surface streets will always be slower than driving on those same streets, so in order to be competitive with driving you need to have the longer distances handled by something that is faster than parallel roads. This is so when a passenger winds up using a slower bus at each end of their trip using transit can still be competitive with driving due to the faster speeds on the regional rail system.

        You’ve heard about high speed rail in Europe, but what about regional trains that operate in the 80 mph range? Something like that can have a station stop every mile or so and still be competitive with auto traffic because of the higher maximum speeds. The slowest maximum speed available on the Stadler GTW regional car (it would be considered a light rail car in the USA) is 71 mph, and is available with maximum speeds to 87 mph.
        This is not something to compete with the likes of express buses or Amtrak or Sounder (in other words operate it at 87 mph for mile after mile without stopping like BART does) but instead to provide auto competitive service over shorter distances with relatively fast acceleration and braking, and short station stops due to good door and floor plan design.

        You have to adapt the service to meet the needs of the community being served of course. Currently, SoundTransit doesn’t want anything that goes faster than 55 mph. However, the fact is the more competitive the service is to driving the more people will ride, so at some point they may decide for faster than highway speeds. You won’t get that with a bus.

        Technically, I suppose you could build such a bus, only maybe with rubber tires on a guideway similar to some of the rubber tired airport people movers. However, now you basically have a rail system that requires a bunch of special one of a kind parts to maintain.

      8. William and EHS explain this context-based distinction in needs about as well as one can do in response to such a generalized query.

        Glenn’s addendum comes across as an unbelievable pile of bullshit, of course, because it is.

        There are no trains speeding to 80mph and then stopping a mile or two later. Not in Paris, not anywhere.

        Subways can be faster than driving in cities, because a dense web of streets and destinations are not inherently quick to traverse even on a functional street network. Thus, grade-separated transit is faster, because even if its stops every 2/3 mile to receive and discharge passengers, it is still stopping less frequently and moving more quickly on average than a car navigating the surface grid above.

        That is the reason subways may be faster in urban situations. The only reason.

        Basically, if you have space to get up to freeway speeds between your stops, you’re doing transit wrong. Because you are obviously running through the middle of nowhere, so the few stops you do have are near-useless anyway. And you’re probably competing against cars on a freeway, which don’t have to stop at all. Outside of the worst of rush hour, your sprawl train loses every race.

        Make the HOV lane move, then run express buses on it. There is no “intermediate demand” in unwalkable places, so stop kidding yourselves that such a thing will materialize.

      9. @steve,

        Rail is cheaper, faster, higher capacity and higher reliability. All this also results in higher ridership.

        The cheaper cost comes from the fact that rail has lower O&M costs. If you run dedicated lanes for express buses the infrastructure costs are very similar, but the lower O&M costs gives rail a significant cost advantage. Normally after 15 or 20 years of operation rail is cheaper.

        And if you build dedicated lanes or tunnels for buses then buses are just as inflexible as rail.

      10. d.p.:

        SoundTransit has been operating express buses in the HOV lanes for what? 16 years now?

        It seems to me that express buses in the HOV lanes is how you get what you’ve got now.

      11. Glenn, ST also did a bunch of capital improvements to the freeways in East King and Snohomish to provide access to the HOV lanes for buses, or in the case of the R8A project on I-90, actually building the HOV lanes. And when d.p. referred to getting the HOV lanes moving, maybe he was talking about WSDOT actually doing something to allow HOV lanes to move at 45mph or better.

      12. @Glenn,

        Ya, why would you expect more of the same old approach to yield different results this time? Particularly since 8 of 10 carpool lanes are failing their Federal speed criteria as it s?

        But i think this has already been covered by a wiser man than either of us:

        “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein.

      13. @steve, d.p. –

        One additional benefit not mentioned in the other replies is the huge advantage trains have over buses in load times. A packed train can roll into a station, unload all passengers, and load to capacity again in a fraction of the time it would take a bus. If you ever doubt this head down to the transit tunnel during the evening commute. There will be hundreds of people standing around waiting for the train, that they can see waiting in the tunnel, as a handful of people slowly load a bus one at a time.

      14. As I understand it, most of that delay is because of on-board payment, and the rest is because of the paucity of doors on Seattle buses. If we went to full off-board payment and better circulation, dwell times would hugely decrease. In other words, it’s not an inherent advantage of rail, but of the things that usually come with rail.

      15. With the exception of 520 WSDOT allows 2+ carpools in the HOV lanes. This has led to congestion in HOV lanes and HOV lanes not meeting the level of service promised by WSDOT.

        A simple change to 3+ HOV lanes would speed them up through some of the worst congestion. If you want to be even more aggressive make them 4+ or restrict them to transit-only (that said I don’t believe non-transit vans and buses are really a problem currently in HOV lanes).

        While rail can have a cost advantage it only really kicks in if you are using their capacity advantage. In other words if it would take more buses than trains to move the same number of riders during the same time period. If your rail line has to drop to less than 12 minute headways midday to make the operating cost numbers work, you’re doing it wrong and should have done frequent bus service instead.

        There are clearly surface lines that handle way more passengers than buses could in the same corridor. Boston’s green line, SF Muni, SEPTA, or LA’s Blue line for a more modern example.

        Surface rail isn’t ‘bad’ as long as there is sufficient demand to justify it.

        Buses and trains both can have a speed advantage over SOVs if they have paths around or through congestion that aren’t available to cars. At the low end paint on the road making a transit lane, at the high end complete grade separation.

        On the one hand rail can make sense even in lower demand corridors if it includes tunneled or elevated sections, is a logical extension of an existing rail line, or uses existing ROW better suited to rail than buses.

        Conversely even if you have enough demand through a chokepoint to justify rail it can make more sense to use busses if the travel demand is widely dispersed on one side of the chokepoint.

      16. I yes, the Einstein quote.

        Presented to you buy the guy who advocates building exactly what has failed in the sprawling Bay Area, in Denver, in Dallas…

        Also, what William and AW said.

      17. TL;DR: trains are not magic.

        HOV capacity and speed can be restored with a simple policy change.

        Buckets of paint can do much to improve the speed of bus service.

        Trains really shine when you have high demand in a single corridor. Say Northgate/UW/Capitol Hill/Downtown.

        Suburban travel demand patterns are generally served better by buses.

      18. I post from my iPad so even though I try to proof everything before I hit ‘post’ sometimes the crazy autocorrects manage to slip through.

        STB powers that be: can we please get a comment editing feature? Other wordpress based blogs have managed to do this.

      19. The thing is that I do agree with d.p. when it comes to stuff like BART.

        Acceleration on modern light rail cars is actually pretty good, and with a maximum speed of 55 mph it isn’t that difficult to get to that speed and hold it there for a fair amount of time, even when the stations are only 1 mile apart. There’s systems out there where the trains are moving at nearly that speed by the time the end of the last car leaves the platform.

        Give Link a car with 65 mph maximum speed (say, Ottawa’s car) and 100% low floor (say, Ottawa’s car) so that the station stop time is very low. Now, you’ve got something that could have stations every mile north of Northgate and still move along pretty well.

        The mandate seems to be to construct “the spine” and unfortunately that means trying to figure out how to actually make the thing work.

        d.p. goes on a bit about how MAX was built through the middle of nowhere. Sure, there isn’t too much along much of the MAX lines, but there are still stations pretty frequently.

        2013 MAX ridership: 39,174,406
        2013 SoundTransit express bus ridership: 11,554,328

        For service through the middle of nowhere, there certainly are a lot of riders on MAX, in a city a fraction the size of the Puget Sound region.

        I certainly do not want to see Link try to replicate BART through the middle of nowhere. North of Northgate, however, the density is really more like the sprawl along MAX. It’s not set up to be truly transit hostile (like, say, parts of Lacy or Bainbridge Island). Provide the fastest operating speed possible with stops every mile, and you should get fairly decent ridership.

      20. Wow, I didn’t mean to start a whole “trains versus buses” discussion. I only wanted to point out that articles like this, which focus only on the increased use of Link, seem to miss the fact that ST express (a tiny part of our overall bus network) is growing along with it (and roughly at the same rate). As has been pointed out, it is apples to oranges. But it is an important — I would say very important — part of our transit system. There are three reasons for this:

        1) Politics. Seattle has failed many times over the years to build a light rail network. But when it passed, those in charge said (just to paraphrase) that the proposal had just enough rail to please the voters in Seattle, and just enough bus service to please the voters in the suburbs. Given the cost/benefit options available to their area, and the fact that people often vote their self interest, this is not the least bit surprising. We should keep this in mind with ST3, for example, and not just assume that everyone wants more rail.

        2) As William and others described, buses and trains are appropriate for certain areas. UW to Capitol Hill or Capitol Hill to downtown is extremely difficult by bus (midday, single digit MPH type terrible) and both are in huge demand. Likewise, the Ballard to UW corridor is absolutely terrible by bus. There are no cheap substitutes either. No freeway right of way to access, no HOV lanes, nothing. These are areas where grade separated light rail makes a lot of sense. The investment is huge, but the payoff is too. On the other hand, West Seattle is the opposite. It already has some HOV lanes, and a freeway to leverage. There is also an enormous gap (over two miles) between the first possible station (Delridge) and the next station (SoDo). The geography (river crossing and very steep hills) also adds to this cost. Thus creating a new grade separated line to West Seattle is enormous, just to add one stop. Then you have the fact that West Seattle is spread out, with no high density areas, and even the moderately dense areas are not lined up in linear manner. Saying you will have light rail serve West Seattle is a bit like saying U-Link serves Ballard. For much of West Seattle, it makes sense to just get on the freeway instead of backtracking to a station (especially when you consider the transfer penalty). Thus BRT (or something close) with various improvements (like the WSTT) make the most sense for West Seattle.

        3) In most cities, more people ride the bus than ride the train. I could be wrong, but I think New York is the only city in North America where this isn’t the case (although D. C. might be this way now). This doesn’t surprise me at all, and shouldn’t be seen as a failure of a train system. Quite the opposite. It means the buses travel through at a relatively fast clip, and connect up with the trains. So someone might take a bus, then a train, then another train, then a bus. Or maybe they live in the suburbs, and they take a bus that moves at a very high speed (55 MPH at times) for a few miles, then get on the train. Or maybe they aren’t going that far, and just take a bus. This is why, for example, the NE 130th station is critical. It means that folks form Lake City and the Aurora corridor can get places, even if it means they don’t ride the train (for that trip). Metro can justify spending money on a line from Lake City to Bitter Lake with that station. It is also why Ballard to the UW would be such a huge improvement in our system. Buses travel just fine down 8th, or along Phinney Ridge, but anyone who transfers to get to the UW, or stays on the bus to get downtown has to spend huge amounts of time doing so. Good grade separated rail helps alleviate this problem. We can’t afford to assume that we will be like New York (or even like Washington D. C.) and assume that most of the transit riders will ride a train or that every moderately dense neighborhood will have light rail.* We just aren’t built that way, nor do we have that much money. For our transit system to be successful, the buses and trains have to work together really well.

        * This probably isn’t the case even in New York. There are probably areas in New York that are as densely populated as ones in West Seattle that don’t have subway lines nearby.

      21. Ross,

        Forget West Seattle… Queens has entire swaths as dense as any part of Capitol Hill, plus dozens of contiguous miles denser than the average Seattle neighborhood, with zero trains.

        MTA’s bus ridership is indeed far higher than the average Manhattan professional, inner-Brooklyn gentrifier, or tourist who has rarely had need for buses is likely to comprehend. But I’m still pretty sure subway usage dwarfs total bus usage, only because the aggregate demand where the rail does go is so incredibly massive.

        The MBTA is another system where subway ridership dwarfs bus ridership by about 2:1. Though a smaller city and smaller system, this phenomenon is once again all about density. Boston and about 6 adjacent municipalities are simply so damned compact that hundreds of thousands of people are able to accomplish a shockingly high percentage of journeys using just four trunk lines and a couple of branches.

        If Seattle gets accidentally sucked into a giant cosmic trash compactor, then maybe we can talk about such a phenomenon being recreated here. But until then, we are always going to have more people needing buses, no matter how many trains with diminishing returns we built.

        Transit geometry = facts.

        Of course, the percentages can be shifted — and the ease of many trips adjusted, and total transit usage and transit-lifestyle amenability expanded — by building the lines that we do built smartly.

      22. And Glenn, the unfortunate fact is that MAX and BART have more in common than you might like to admit. The bee-lines that bypass all vital urban areas that aren’t explicitly downtown. The distant exurban fringes with so little off-peak demand that frequent service isn’t even considered and the trains run perpetually empty. The infuriating “near misses”, wherein the train might be useful to your trip if only it ran somewhere slightly more convenient to where you were headed, but screwitI’lljusthavetodrive. The depressingly paltry non-commute modeshare resulting from all of the above mistakes.

        Stop spacing is a crucial metric, but route placement is equally important. I’m sorry to say that MAX appears to be as permanently hobbled in that regard as its more famous and sprawlier Bay Area cousin, or as Sound Transit may find itself in chasing “regionalism” over usefulness.

        MAX’s downtown surface errors compound its other problems by ensuring that no sane person will ever transit through that bottleneck, but the primary errors are in failing to provide non-laborious access to the places that anyone might start or end a transit trip in the first place.

        I know that you understand MAX’s faults, so I’m not trying to shame you or preach to you. You have amply proven that you’re not as out to lunch as some of the ÜberSchäumern around here, so despite your sometimes warped Portland-centricity, I prefer to give you the benefit of the doubt.

        But that’s why it’s really frustrating to see you jump down the web-foamer rabbit hole of claiming that advances in acceleration will have urban-scaled trains running 85mph or 55mph or even 40mph for fractions of a mile. That isn’t reality, it doesn’t happen, it won’t happen, and it doesn’t matter. Acceleration out of the station might save you time. “Top speed” will not. Unless you have 10-mile gaps in your stations, in which case you’re running some bullshit Austin MetroRail service that doesn’t matter to real people.

        Real advocacy often requires reality checks.

      23. Steve: rail is more comfortable to ride; rail allows for more people per vehicle and per driver (and hence is cheaper to operate per person if there are lots of people); and rail can accelerate and decelerate faster if properly designed.

        Of these, the second is by far the most important: rail should be used on the *highest volume* routes. This is a pretty simple principle; amazingly, a lot of transit network designs fail to repsect this, largely because suburbanites at the end of uncrowded roads want their trains too.

    7. I would love to have a better express bus network where I live, and the ST express bus network is a wonderful example of how well these can work.

      However, in the detailed statistics
      the cost per boarding for the ST Express buses is $6.26

      Granted, its not the $11.63 of each Sounder passenger.

      Yes, I agree that the $6.26 per boarding on the ST expresses isn’t that different from the $5.36 per trip reported for Link.

      However, if you look at TriMet’s statistics:
      the cost per boarding is only $2.54 per passenger for MAX. Link is only one line still, and so the full financial impact of its operation hasn’t hit. As more people ride, the cost per passenger for Link will go down. As the costs per passenger go down, money should become available for improved service elsewhere.

      The ST expresses offer a really nice service, but I just don’t see how you will ever get the price per boarding much lower than it already is. What you really need is to convert some of the busiest bus routes to 90 foot long vehicles, but those aren’t legal in the USA. The double talls used by Community Transit might work, but then you have the problem of the upper level not being that popular a place for riders to go, and they won’t fit in the tunnel.

      I’m not saying that I disagree with the concept of the express buses, as it would be wonderful if we had something like that here. However, the reality is that very limited stops operating for many hours over long distances makes them expensive, and the options for making them cheaper are limited.

      1. I wish Sound Transit would provide a per-route breakdown of boarding costs for the express bus network. (As well as break out the sounder south costs vs. sounder north)

        I suspect there are express bus routes that do vey well on a cost/boarding basis and others that are big losers (560 anyone?).

        Sure link costs per boarding will drop like a stone when U-link opens due to the huge number of passengers the two new stations will provide.

        But remember most of these numbers are averaged over the entire system. In most cases like MAX there are likely segments that would be cheaper if they were buses instead. Especially once you consider the opportunity cost of the capital investment.

      2. I think to do a real cost analysis, you would have to factor in the capitol cost, which means the interest on the bonds, etc. I think the buses come out way ahead, then. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have built the light rail line, but I think to ignore capitol costs is about as dissentious as ignoring operating costs.

        But as I said above, it is easy to oversimplify the cost effectiveness of a particular route (whether a bus or train). Part of the reason that ST buses are popular is they don’t have to do the dirty work. They don’t have to worry about coverage. They could be even higher performing (like only operating at rush hour) but that would really upset people. A tougher hit to evaluate is if they gave up on some lines that compliment others. I’m not sure if that is true of Sound Transit’s bus routes (since they tend to be fairly isolated) but if a local bus route gets eliminated, then ridership on the bigger (more popular) line would get hurt. The interaction with ST buses and Metro buses probably play a bigger role in this, just as the interaction between Metro and Link will play a huge part in the popularity of Link.

      3. RossB,

        Be careful because going down that path lands you in the same territory as the anti-transit types who are always shouting “buses can do the same thing cheaper” when rail transit is being proposed.

        This can be taken to absurd level such as those who would have spent money for the 2nd Avenue subway on buses instead.

        One reason to ignore capital costs for bus vs. rail is often the bus depends on infrastructure paid for by other entities while rail has to do it all by itself.

      4. Aw,

        Thanks that was exactly what I was looking for.

        Some suprises in there for costs and ridership as well as some things we already knew.

        I had no idea the 574 had the ridership it did for instance.

  5. Any breakdown of station by station data on Link? I am curious as to which stations have seen the biggest increase.

    1. +1. I remember some data on this in one of these reports last year, so I expect it’s in there or it’s coming in an update/new post.

  6. Great news, thanks for the summary. I predict a lot of shoulder to shoulder trains this summer, especially if the M’s do as well as expected (as lazarus mentioned above.) I bet we hit 40k weekday boardings by June.

    Running longer trains sooner than later would be great but I am a lot more willing to deal with the crowding knowing that things will improve starting this fall. So excited about 6 minute headways, makes a big difference when you are walking down the station stairs and see the light rail just pulling out.

    1. If the trains are as crowded as you say for the M’s games, they can run 4 car trains for the south end as they have in the past. Everyone going north of Westlake should hop a bus as soon as they can anyway (41 and any of the 70-series buses should switch at ID/Chinatown station — buses will be full by Westlake).

      We should be able to tolerate the crowding for one more summer with the boosted bus service this year, though if we want to avoid more of the stuck buses like we had last Tuesday, SDot may want to accelerate some of the bus lane conversion on Westlake Ave and in other places where they have it planned.

  7. Phenomenal, yes.

    But the Seattle times reports that The City is number 5 for gridlock.


  8. I agree with @John Bailo. That’s why I think we need a combination of things. For instance, it would cost a bunch, but the weaves from 45th to Mercer result in a lot of congestion…and wouldn’t that cost less than adding another lane? Also, I’m glad that they’re looking at adding a lane underneath the convention center, though I’d be open to it being general purpose given that most transit buses wouldn’t be using it, for they tend to enter at 5th & Columbia (express lanes entrance). The other “things” we could use, for instance, are completing the direct access ramp on the north side of Ash Way (164th) and installing a full set at Mariner/128th.

    Nonetheless, I’ve always predicted that U-Link will be phenomenally popular, and especially when N-Link is completed, with both Brooklyn/43rd and Northgate being huge transit winners. But, whether many new transit users emerge from these will depend on how Metro redeploys the ton of service hours they will have available to them: perhaps a fleet of alternative service vehicles “roaming” a 5-mile radius of the stations?

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