Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

After a couple weeks of staff nonchalantly dropping ULink ridership numbers in meetings, this afternoon Sound Transit released its first official tally. And ULink is already breaking records. Opening day saw just shy of 70,000 boardings, and was eclipsed only 3 weeks later. April 8 saw a record 72,000 riders, with an assist from ComicCon, Mariners opening day, and our insanely unseasonable spring. That edges past the previous one-day record of 71,500 for the Seahawks Super Bowl parade.

Average weekday ridership is up a whopping 61%, from 36,000 in the weeks before ULink to 58,000 today. Saturday ridership has nearly doubled and is approaching weekday levels, with Opening Day (March 19) and the 520 Bridge Opening ceremonies (April 2) leading the way, but with the other two Saturdays near 50,000 as well. Sunday ridership looks to be settling near 30,000, growth of nearly 50%.

Data from Sound Transit
Data from Sound Transit

54 Replies to “Just a Month Old, ULink is Already Breaking Records”

  1. Would be cool to see the metro and sound transit bus ridership trends over the same time period. I assume those numbers are down but I wonder by how much.

    1. It seems like that would be pretty complicated. You would be looking for numbers of people who no longer ride route 49 and now take UWLink for sure; but the possibilities for where the route 71 “express to downtown” people went are a lot more complicated.

      I think it’s really early for Metro change evaluation. Trains already crowded make me really happy, others maybe never even pictured crowds a part of “train”..

    2. Metro and ST would have to account for transfers. If someone used to take the 71 to downtown, and now they take 65 –> Link, would they now be counted for both Link and Metro?

      Completely anecdotal, but very few people are transferring from the 372 to Link, at least when I ride it 8-10 am. Then again, Link to downtown might peak a few hours earlier than Metro to UW.

      1. I am one rider who has gone from Metro to Metro->Link, at least some of the time. In the mornings, I’m finding 277->Link or 540->Link a lot nicer than the 255. At night the schedule doesn’t work as well for me.

    3. It’s notable that the increase is this much. There have been Link riders that were transferring to/from UW and Capitol Hill that now no longer do that – so the ridership on U-Libk segments is up more than this 28,000 system weekday increase.

      1. It seems just about right to me. Some of this is folks just checking it out (myself included). But in general, I would expect ridership from the following:

        Riders from the 71, 72 and 73. This no longer goes downtown, which means a very proportion of the 16,000 that used to take it now have to take the train. Let’s say around 10,000.

        Much better service from northeast Seattle centered around Link. I know a guy who regularly commutes to downtown, and basically takes the first possible. The 76 is ideal, but the 65 (and the transfer are OK). I figure this is worth another 5,000.

        The Capitol Hill station is much tougher to predict, as I don’t have stop numbers. But 5,000 to 10,000 sounds about right, which puts you at pretty much what you would expect. It isn’t clear whether this has increase overall transit ridership, or how many riders are actually getting a better (e. g. faster) experience. The former requires a lot more data gathering, and the latter requires polling.

      2. ORCA tracks that kind of data, for division of revenue and statistical analysis. It will be interesting to look at the pre-post trends to see how many new riders the system is capturing.

  2. I would agree with this on a subjective basis. I bike commute by the UW station and the foot traffic has gone from manageable to insane!!!

    Also people need to learn how to walk. Keep right like when driving and leave some room for bikes.

    1. The pedestrian/bike bridge thing should be better marked. Are bikes generally using both of the smaller ramps that lead to the larger bridge section?

      1. As a Link/bike combo commuter, I’ve noticed and joined in the vaguely evolving convention of biking on the southwest bridge span (lefthand bridge when heading north from station to UW). There are fewer pedestrians, and then it lets me swing out on the lefthand path for a wider right turn toward Drumheller fountain, which is also usually a lot less crowded. Good for me and good for pedestrians.

        Generally I just take it all pretty slow and most other bikers seem to as well. Coming off the train at 8am, there’s always big crowds of pedestrians waiting to ride the elevators so I’m always on the final elevator load, meaning most pedestrians have already made it mostly across the bridge away from the station anyway. Approaching the station, flow of people is naturally less bunched, so it’s not a big deal.

    2. I feel like there should have been an underground speed walker from Rainier Vista & Stevens Way to the mezzanine level of the station. Not only would that make the supposed U-Link transfer bus stop much more usable as a transfer stop, but it gives an actual use to the mezzanine level, and would naturally distribute foot traffic to the platform (bridge and street via elevator, and mezzanine via escalator).

      1. Oh, please.

        The vast majority of cyclists stop at lights, stop signs, crosswalks, and intersections.

    3. I thoroughly enjoy cyclists weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic on crowded sidewalks, probably as much as they enjoy dealing with cars who pay no attention to them when they are in the street. (I’ve even seen this twice on the platforms at Westlake in the past month.) Pedestrians should have absolute and unfettered right-of-way on all sidewalks–we have no other place to go, we can’t hear you coming from behind, and the damn things aren’t freeways.

      1. Cyclists should be walking their bikes inside all stations.

        I was hit by a cyclist riding down the sidewalk on Stewart the other day. He was trying to squeeze between me and the building to my left. I was mostly startled but he ended up crashing into the building. He cursed me out for not “watching where I was going” and I told him he should warn pedestrians before passing them.

  3. May 7th should prove to be another stellar day. This will be the first major sports event at UW since U-Link has opened. May 7th is the opening day of boating season, with crew races and big boat parade happening just a couple hundred feet from the UW station. I used to go to this often, but haven’t in the last few years because traffic is so adversely affected by the Montlake bridge being up for such a long portion of the morning, and buses being on reroute due to that. Well, not this year! I expect record crowds on the sides of The Cut due to the ease of getting to and from the event.

    1. Ya, I was thinking the same thing: What a great way to access Opening Day of Boating Season. And no need to worry about the bridge being up or your bus being stuck in traffic waiting for it.

      For about the first time ever the pain will be out of attending Opening Day. I’m not sure how many people will clue into this new option if they haven’t used it before, but I know some will. And it will only get better as people learn the system.

    2. Does anyone know if ST monitors for such events, when more 3-car trains would be warranted? Their current pattern, with 4 – 5 two-car trains in between 3-car trains, that doesn’t cut it on busy event days.

    3. They also have their spring football game and picture day at Husky Stadium this Saturday. Won’t be huge crowds, but far more than normally would be in that area.

  4. I actually have reason to take link on an ordinary day now. Before it was special occasions – airport, Seward Park birthday parties, haircuts… Now it’s the weekly commute via grocery store routine.

    Also, by some miracle last night, I got through an entire escalator of people standing on the right and walking on the left. It was wonderful.

    1. Have to agree (and somewhat shocked) that the Seattle escalator ethic that has adapted so rapidly to where people stand on the right side.

      Seems ST also got the message on excessive train dwell times, as I’ve noticed train doors seems to stay open only as long as they need to.

      1. So are they going to adjust the schedules Westlake -> UW down from 8 min. to 6 or7?

      2. @Chris Cee (re: adjusting transit times)

        Probably not. The current transit times between UW and Westlake are set by considerations of Joint Ops. ST really needs to get the buses out of the DSTT before they can step up to 6 min transit times. But the buses should be out in 2017/18, so we don’t have long to wait.

        Progress is being made….

      3. Link train drivers are all former bus drivers. They are used to leaving doors open until every last potential rider, anywhere in the vicinity, is given a chance to board.

      4. Had a Link operator do this the other day at Westlake. Strangely enough the operator didn’t do this at any other station. (at least that I noticed)

      5. The removal of buses has *really* helped joint ops. It started to get better when the 76/316/216/218/219 all left and got even better when the 71/72/73 left. I’ve experienced one significant tunnel delay in the last month. Six months ago it was an every-other-day thing.

      6. @David L,

        Yes, that is what I’ve been hearing too. Things have gotten better.

        But it shouldn’t be any big surprise. You reduce the presence of your most problematic and least reliable mode and things are bound to get better. It’s a step in the right direction.

        But imagine what could be accomplished if all the buses came out of the DSTT. Not only would reliability go up, but ST could knock 25% off the trip time UW to DT. it would be the ultimate win-win.

      7. In the short run, ST and Metro should move every bus except the 550 out of the tunnel. Since the 550 is the future East Link, keep it in the tunnel for now. In the evenings (incoming), late buses should wait for the next slot — they can be fleeted in pairs and use both bays.

        The arrival of the vital segments of Link is going to change the voting patterns. This is a very good reason to throw the draft ST3 package in the garbage. If you go to the ballot in 2018, with people used to University Link, with South Sounder beefed up to have midday service and more contra-peak service, with Northgate Link and East Link under construction and the 550 “shadowing” East Link… even the suburban voters are going to be looking at things quite differently than they look at them now. You’ll get a much better package if you put it to the voters in 2018.

  5. Great news. It’s been refreshingly full when I’ve ridden, even well off peak (but not late at night).

    I wonder how much of the increase is trips between the new stations, how many are new stations and downtown, how many are new stations and rainier valley. What will be fascinating is how this changes with time, and whether RV becomes more integrated with the city

    1. This data is actually logged for people who correctly use an ORCA card, since you tap on and tap off. It would be interesting if ST released spreadsheets containing number of trips from every station to every other station.

  6. This is all fantastic news! However, that April 8 record was a horrible experience. Sound Transit was running only two car trains, a very poor decision when they knew the Mariners home opener was happening. Three or even four car trains really need to become the norm during peak and special events.

    In another odd quirk that day, I waited at Capitol Hill Station for a southbound train for 20 minutes while no less than four (4!) northbound trains went by. There were a lot of operational problems that day. Let’s not celebrate until Sound Transit gets its act together when it really matters.

    1. There was a track issue that afternoon at UW Station that resulted in a stuck train for about 45 minutes and caused all sorts of trouble down the line.

  7. I’m so glad to see these data!

    I would suggest not putting week 1 into the average. UW was on break and the Metro restructuring had not begun. Those latter two weeks show about 60,000 average for weekdays.

  8. What’s the deal with able bodied people not using the escalators? I had to wait for three elevators at ulink. I’d be happy to take my bike on the escalator…

    1. By far the fastest way from the bridge to the platform.
      Maybe they could’ve put in a fire-pole?

    2. It needs a good audio system to play music during the day — something like Philip Glass but slower. On game days, they could play marching band music!

      That would help reduce the perception of a long escalator ride and attract people from elevators.

    3. The first time I used the UW Station escalators they looked quite long and reminded me of Moscow. But now they don’t look that long anymore. Longer than the other escalators in the network but not that much different.

      In Moscow some of the escalators are longer than these and run at higher speeds. And advertisements chirp at you as you ascend.

      1. Unless you skateboard down the handrail. That shaves a full 2minutes off the trip.
        Skateboarders should use the left a courtesy to others.

    4. Yeah, the elevator is insanely faster and more convenient than escalators. That’s a deep station, especially relative to the bridge. The escalators would be faster and more tolerable if they were extremely long, like at Dupont Circle or Woodley Park in DC, but for some reason the station box had to be tiny (wouldn’t want to take another 10 spaces of the stadium’s precious parking!) so instead it’s like 15 escalators stacked one after another, not even with tops and bottoms aligned.

      I just wait with my bike for the last elevator, since it doesn’t seem fair to boot 3-4 people for my bike’s extra space. Or I just carry it on the escalator. No one’s yelled at me yet, and there’s no legitimate reason for it to be against the rules. Give it a try!

      1. Ok well 2:40 surprises me. That does seem kinda long. I agree I’ll wait till the end with my bike but the mom and stroller waiting with me shouldn’t have to…

      2. No legitimate reason to prohibit bicycles on escalators? You might change your mind if the guy “up” from you gets bumped and drops his, or loses his balance….

    5. There’s a small minority of folk who are “freaked out” by escalators, especially long/deep ones…

      While not one of those, if I see escalator bunching, may use the lift.

  9. stand right … walk left……. passengers boarding allow alighting passengers off do not block their exit…. if you where in NY you would be on your behind
    train crews could do a better job of internal pa’s to ask passenger to stand clear of the doors

  10. These numbers tell me that ST’s forecasts of 400,000 per day after ST3 are totally believable. With the amount of riders going the tiny distance from UW, imagine the numbers coming from Bellevue in a few years.

  11. People should pay attention to the use of Car2Go for Link last-mile connections. I noticed this for the first time last week but you look at the Car2Go map and can see it pretty much any weekday morning: cars hugged up to Link stations, especially at Othello, International District, Pioneer Square and Husky Stadium.

    It’s a pity the people in charge of Pronto don’t have Link last-mile connection as a priority. One afterthought placement of a station on Capitol Hill is nice but doesn’t demonstrate prioritization. Heck, I bet people would love to ride bikes from the Stadium station to where all the Car2Go cars are parked just the other side of 15th once the Burke Gilman gets finished.! Too bad there are no Pronto bikes at Stadium station.

  12. I’m a 550 rider, so I do a lot of waiting around in the tunnel. It’s been a huge change. Platforms are always full, trains are always full, and things seem to be far more reliable

    The only weird thing is that I’ve noticed a really high uptick in the amount of people taking the bus to go from station to station underground. It’s especially noticeable to and from international district. Not sure how to explain it, but it absolutely appears correlated with the new service

    It can cause some issues, and it seems ST is taking notice as I’ve had two separate drivers make bus announcements suggesting that people traveling between stations should take the train instead

    1. I take whichever one comes first. The uptick may simply be that they’re distributed among fewer buses now. Link hasn’t gotten more frequent off-peak, and a third car doesn’t make a difference if they arrive after the train has left. The bunch of new riders are going to Capitol Hill and UW so they’re not intra-tunnel riders. Intra-tunnel riders are the same number as before, and they have as much opportunity to take Link as before. The difference is that there are fewer buses between trains, so it may be that the same number of people are getting on fewer buses and thus crowding the buses more.

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