Capitol Hill Escalator Queue (July 19)
Capitol Hill Escalator Queue (July 19)

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat was out with a piece yesterday – “At Last, Seattle Loves Its Light Rail” – ($) that describes Link’s 83% ridership jump as a tipping point from our “recalcitrant” Lesser Seattle instincts to our inevitable Big City future. It’s a good piece, and I encourage to read the whole thing, but here are a couple key passages:

But there’s something deep-seated going on, too. Back in the early days when we were debating this system, I wrote a story about Seattle’s cussed resistance to rail, unique among all big American cities.

A tipping point has been reached, it seems to me. The train is no longer an academic urbanist talking point, or something like broccoli that we know is supposed to be good for us. The recalcitrant city now is embracing rail with a zeal that seems to have startled even Sound Transit. It took damn near 50 years of arguing about it. But we finally love it.

Is Westneat right that a major cultural shift is happening, or have we simply unleashed demand that was there all along from our dense neighborhoods and major institutions? Or maybe a bit of both?

I resist the idea of Seattle as a recalcitrant “bus city”, as our failure to build rapid transit over the last 3 generations seems more procedural than principled. Forward Thrust earned a majority ‘Yes’ vote, but stupidly required a 60% supermajority.  Citizens were so desperate for rapid transit that we spent nearly a decade trying and failing to build it ourselves. Then we created an agency (Sound Transit) that nearly imploded from mismanagement, but that has since recovered to do damn good work.

So I’d argue that Link isn’t necessarily converting principled holdouts that had been holding us back all along, but rather simply that we’re finally reaping the inevitable dividend that comes with serving dense areas with fast, reliable transit.

Yes, we’re slow. We have always required quality for our systems, to the clear detriment of quantity. We built a bus-only subway in the late 1980s when no one else was doing so. And we rightly resisted the temptation to lay down low-quality, low-frequency light rail that would have won us unearned and misguided praise as a ‘rail city’. So are we seeing unprecedented excitement? Sure. Are the naysayers wrong? Mostly, yes. But a massive cultural shift? I’m not sure that gives previous generations of advocates enough credit.

119 Replies to “Westneat: Link’s Growth a ‘Tipping Point’”

  1. That escalator queue is a nagging problem, and unfortunately, there’s no stair from the platform level up to the mezzanine. Pretty poor station design, but maybe designers and Sound Transit were not anticipating the light rail’s popularity.

    1. I agree the escalator queue has quickly become a problem at the station. There’s now a rush to get to the escalators as soon as the train doors open during rush hours. In addition to no stairway to the Mez, the lack of a direct elevator on the north end of the station to street level doesn’t help the situation. Hopefully there’s something they can do to fix it.

      1. Despite the statement that ST does damn good work, the escalator issue seems to be a prime example of extreme shortsightedness. I have a hard time believing that any mature agency in the world would design like this.

      2. I’ve found myself basing which train door to enter in Downtown by which one will place me closest to the escalator when I step off in Capitol Hill. It depends on if I’m catching the 8 home (in which I want the door closest to the north escalator) or whether I want to grab dinner at Dick’s (in which I want the door closest to the south escalator).

      3. @Dave0 – I do the same, although for the south escalator as I normally walk to the 11 on Pine. I’m seeing others do that more frequently as well. (The 8 gets me to within a mile of home and if the 11 is running really really late, instead of just the normal really late, I’ll often catch it instead. The problem with that is that there is no way at platform level to know which bus I should catch, so I have to wait until I reach the surface and can check OBA. This often means I went the wrong way out of the station!)

        I’ve noticed that a far higher percentage of people walk up the escalators here than in other cities I’ve visited, and the “stand right” convention caught on pretty quickly as well for a city that didn’t have that ingrained from birth.

      4. “I’ve noticed that a far higher percentage of people walk up the escalators here than in other cities I’ve visited, and the “stand right” convention caught on pretty quickly as well for a city that didn’t have that ingrained from birth.”

        I dislike that convention. You can see from the photo there is wasted space.

      5. @Rob Cupples

        Standing only saves space when people stand in twos and fill in the space between, and only really matters with crush loads.

        I my experience here, standing on the escalators means one person per stair, often taking two with their luggage.

        Passing on the left is a significant space improvement.

      6. With the following distance thing it’s sort of similar to how lower highway speeds can lead to greater road capacity.

        Imagine that, in congested traffic conditions, the left lane of the freeway were reserved for people driving 70 MPH. In fact some motorheads get bent out of shape about slow left-lane driving, and some even argue that eliminating slow left-lane driving could actually keep the left lane moving for speeders like them even in congestion. Of course, once it got congested almost everyone would want to drive 70 to avoid the congestion, and would move left until following distance collapsed, causing speeds to inevitably drop. The wise response is to impose lower speed limits when the road is congested, uniformly across all general-purpose lanes; if the lowered speed limit is applied in time and mostly followed by drivers this maximizes road capacity and safety. Similarly on a truly congested bike trail or sidewalk you maximize raw capacity with slow, uniform speeds, not with passing lanes (bike trails and especially sidewalks, however, are very space efficient, so often congestion can be avoided by making more room).

        On escalators it’s a little different, because walking up takes more effort. If almost everyone was willing to put in that effort, then the same thing would happen as happens on freeways: people would move left until following distance and walking speeds broke down on the left. But they aren’t. At some range of rider volumes the walking lane keeps moving while the standing lane is backed up. The TfL folks think this is a bad situation, because the escalator’s overall capacity is reduced. I think it’s a fine situation because it gives people a meaningful choice. The bypass is available to most people capable of using an escalator in the first place, just as driving 70 is available to most people capable of using a freeway, but because there’s a cost in the effort of walking most people freely choose to wait around in the congested standing lane instead.

        The highway analog, then, is that of an HOV or HOT lane. In fact, these lanes are only really effective when their restricted status reduces the vehicle capacity of the road. People can freely choose to bypass the congestion by taking the bus, forming a carpool, or maybe paying a toll. The key is that few enough vehicles use the lanes that they can continue to flow freely… so in order to actually keep them working, we have to ratchet up the restriction as traffic gets worse. We may claim that this is justified because transit users, followed carpoolers with descending numbers of passengers, are “most virtuous” and “deserve” the space more. We might also claim this of toll-payers, who are (in some cases indirectly) funding infrastructure… but really the key is that we’re giving people a choice that involves a cost in order to limit vehicle-usage. People’s behavior will vary depending on where they’re going and how urgently they need to get there. With transit or carpools, maybe the time required to access the freeway-running transit or to form a carpool overwhelms the HOV-lane time advantage. With tolls it’s a pure money-vs.-time problem, and maybe it raises social justice concerns: richer people would be willing to pay the toll more often than poorer people — should travel time be a pay-for-play thing, and is it right that it’ll be more expensive to drive through rich parts of town?

        These HOT questions aside, I’d rather keep and maintain the performance of HOV lanes, giving people a meaningful option to incur other access costs to bypass congestion, than to maximize vehicle capacity by converting all lanes to GP. Similarly, I’d rather keep walking lanes on escalators, giving people that care about getting somewhere quickly a free choice to pass the majority that could, but doesn’t. We have all these people beautifully demonstrating their preferences and acting in concert to maintain fast travel for people that care about it most! We shouldn’t intervene to slow everyone down to the same speed unless standing-capacity is causing a safety problem at the bottom.

      7. Maybe Shannon can have a daily ‘Jam Factor’ for the cherry picked escalator photo shown for CapHill. Based on the article above, the worst one escalator did was 212 riders per minute. So if an entire 4 car train emptied at CapHill, trying to use the only remaining escalator in service, it would still empty the platform in under 3 minutes.
        Try gaining sympathy from motorists when your Jam Factor increases by 1 or 2 on rare occasions.

    2. There has to be a stairway for fire code compliance I would think. Shame they did not incorporate it into the regular egress strategy. Just wait until the escalator breaks down. It will happen soon enough – transit escalators have very troubled lives.

      Escalator lines are an intractable problem, however when you’re working with trains unloading large groups of people. Sea-Tac Airport has this problem with the satellite trains. DC Metro (when the escalators work) and New York (the few escalators that exist) also suffer the same issue. Not an easy thing to engineer away.

      1. IIRC, there are emergency stairwells at all the non-at-grade stations. Passengers, please take the card out and familiarize yourself with the emergency exits.

      2. Three of the escalators at UW Station repeatedly. It happened just yesderday: I went in the north entrance from the surface, and the long down escalator was closed. So I had to go around to the south escalator and it was three minutes to a train. Fortunately it only takes two minutes to go up or down the escalators without walking so I was able to make the train. But still, these escalators are only two months old and already they’ve had some six days of outages, so I think they need some warranty repair.

      3. Already has at Sea-Tac. One of he escalators has been out of commission for most of the last few months. And the decision-makers won’t even let people use it to walk down. Stupid design, stupid to block it off just becasue it’s not working. [ah]

      4. I have a friend who works at SeaTac Airport in customer service and the reason that they don’t let you walk on an escalator when it is not working is safety and particularly for people who are trying to drag their luggage or other bags up and down a stopped escalator. If someone were to loose control of their luggage that suitcase could fall back and hit the passenger and possible the person(s) behind them. The same situation can and has occurred when an escalator is working. People think they can carry multiple bags up and down escalators safely and they can’t.

        If someone falls on an escalator and there is an injury then the escalator cannot be restarted until it is inspected by the state so that they can check that the injury did not occur because of a mechanical problem and because the state does not have that many inspectors it can be days or longer before the inspection can be done and the escalator can be restarted.

        Also the reason escalators at the airport and probable at the light rail stations are down so often is that they are used almost around the clock with very little downtime so like any piece of equipment it will break down after a lot of use.

      5. Gravity doesn’t care if you’re on a staircase or an escalator. If the person above you falls or drops their suitcase it’s going to bowl you over. So by that logic, ban people from carrying suitcases on stairs next to escalators. I personally think not letting people use a stopped escalator as an additional staircase is silly as long as the closure isn’t due to dislocated treads or something like that.

      6. A stopped escalator–effectively a staircase–also does not meet code requirements for stair riser dimensions (typically 8″ as compared to a maximum 7″ allowed for stairs), nosing projections etc. They are less “comfortable” to walk up as they have much deeper tread depths than normal stairs (16″ as opposed to a typical 10-11″), and they are much narrower than stairs are (40″ maximum as opposed to a code-required 44″ minimum for egress stairs). All of these factors would explain why it is more difficult to manage them with luggage and why a location that would have a lot of people wrangling their luggage may well decide it’s not a great idea to leave them open.

        As escalators are not by definition part of the code-required means of egress, they can technically still be used when stopped despite this. Places where predominantly foot traffic only is normal (no bags, etc.) may be more likely to allow it. It’s a risk tolerance situation and public agencies probably have a higher aversion to it.

      7. Escalators do have deeper steps that make them less convenient to walk on (and harder on my knees). However, the argument that escalators are more prone to luggage falling or people falling doesn’t make sense. Or that this is a significant enough concern to warrant preventing people from walking on a stopped escalator. UW Station usually closes its escalators when they’re stopped but sometimes it doesn’t.

      8. “Also the reason escalators at the airport and probable at the light rail stations are down so often is that they are used almost around the clock with very little downtime so like any piece of equipment it will break down after a lot of use.”

        These escalators have been in use for two months. Surely they were supposed to work for several years before failing.

      9. Mike, they are substantially narrower than the narrowest allowable staircase and with higher than maximum allowable risers (tread depth greater than the minimum 11″ is a comfort, not a safety, factor). If the owner/operator of the escalator feels that this causes an additional risk based on who is likely to be using the escalator, they shouldn’t have to allow them to be used. Being narrow isn’t an issue for someone walking but might be for someone with a large suitcase–whether or not it is for you or for me is not relevant.

        The code requirements for stairs are there specifically due to safety issues (i.e. people being more likely to fall if they are not met). For life safety purposes escalators are not assumed to be used as stairs and hence cannot be used as a required means of egress–and so they do not have to meet those safety codes. By definition, yes–you are considered to be more likely to fall on a stopped escalator than you would on a code-compliant stair.

    3. At least the escalators at Capitol Hill station work reliably. Escalators and elevators at Husky Stadium are broken constantly. I hope ST picked up the extended warranty.

      1. Escalator and elevator failures are something Sound Transit has to get onto and stay onto, real fast and real hard. From the beginning of Central LINK, we’ve had repeated trouble from Day One.

        Repair, replacement, or a court judgement high enough to put a bad company or two out of business, it would be worth long term benefit to our system to spend whatever ST3 money it takes to see to it that a life and death problem doesn’t end up the second way.

        A climb that steep out of our two newest stations could mean fatalities by itself. Let alone whatever made it necessary. So would appreciate that on this one, while agencies are in a listening mood leading up to November…like people who are professionally “ill to cross” say: “Get ugly early.”

        Mark Dublin

      1. I didn’t find the staircase to the south hard to find. People who are frequently in a hurry will find out where they are.

    4. I have to wonder how long that queue will get when there’s a 4-car train every 3 minutes instead of a 2-car train every six, in each direction.Potentially twice as many people, with half the time to clear out before the next batch arrives.

      1. I haven’t seen these long queues. Do you have to go southbound AM peak, northbound PM peak to see it? Even before ballgames, there’s a crowd at UW Station and Capitol Hill Station, but I’ve never had to wait to get on the escalator or couldn’t get on a train. The UW elevators have a 2- or 3-level queues but that’s because they’re elevators and a lot of the space is taken by bicycles.

      2. You normally have to wait a bit, at least at Capitol Hill, at rush hour even if it’s a two car train. That photo is a bit more than I usually see though.

      3. @MikeOrr – the pic is pretty representative of what the line I see at about 5pm, Northbound, evening rush. Also, bike movement during rush hour can be problematic.

      4. David, while I think that as people get familiar with the system they’ll be able to arrange and move themselves better, the system needs to start a training program for passengers, and also add permanent “Station Agents” to assist.

        From what I can see by way of “Clear and Present Danger” from a scared or uncertain crowd, very large change of job description- along Sounder, people wear orange vests saying “Station Agent”- will best Guard passenger Security.


    5. Sidebar: Since when do people in Seattle use the word queue to refer to a line?

      1. Maybe Dave is British. But in this context it avoids the confusion of whether you’re talking about a line of people or a train line or bus line, so I sometimes say queue for disambiguation.

      2. I think it has become more common word to use since the invention of The Printer Queue.

      3. Sam probably has an STB language policy somewhere that says articles and comments must use the word queue.

  2. The naysayers have always relied on the “too expensive, cheaper options are available” argument to slow the growth of rail transport. Unfortunately for the naysayers, the 12 minute light rail trip from stadium to stadium that replaces the 30-40 minute bus trip shows that people value their time and are willing to pay for a faster rail trip in exchange for more time freed from sitting (or standing) on a bus stuck in traffic.

    1. Actually, the train ride from UW to Stadium Station costs the same ($2.50) as a bus ride, with a transfer. Shorter trips on the train cost less ($2.25). During peak, the bus ride costs an extra 25 cents ($2.75).

      As for what taxpayers overall are willing to pay, this is the first ST election where light rail is open and a real thing that lots of people are riding. The naysayers have the uphill job of arguing against thousands of riders’ direct experiences. There are no buses that can compete with the speed, frequency, reliability, and comfort of these train trips.

    2. To quote the article:

      “The transportation planning answer is that Capitol Hill and UW were considered the two most desirable mass-transit markets in the nation that weren’t already served by subway or rail. So putting train stops there was a no-brainer. (This makes it even more of a head-banger that it took us so long to do it!).”

      My guess is those same transportation planners don’t believe that light rail from Federal Way TC to Fife will be as popular. It isn’t that complicated. Of course this line is popular. Everyone said it was going to be popular. You ask any planning expert in the country to look at the region, and they would come to the same conclusion that Westneat did — we should have done this first.

      But that doesn’t mean that spending money on rail always makes sense. What is appropriate for some areas is not appropriate for others. Even the claim that “nothing but a train” can deliver the kind of speed, frequency and reliability of light rail is absurd. It goes against the direct experience in this very city! When the Ride Free area rules were in place, riding a bus in the tunnel was just as fast, more frequent and more reliable than the train. It had other problems (I wouldn’t want to go back to pay as you exit) but it is crazy to think that such a system can’t be built that incorporates the best of both worlds. It would be trivial, really. Build a tunnel, and then run buses with level boarding and lots of doors. Then have off board payment, just like the train. In fact, we have all that with the Madison BRT (it just doesn’t have a tunnel). It wouldn’t make sense for this corridor — a train makes sense — but it would make sense for other ones.

      Arguing that trains are always a better value than buses is just as absurd as arguing the opposite. Each make sense when used in the appropriate area. There are really only two types of transit systems that are really successful. By successful I mean they enable reasonably fast trips all over the region, allowing most of the people to get where they want to go. There are very expensive subway systems that go everywhere in the city. There are also smaller systems that cover only the core, but integrate really well with reasonably fast, frequent bus service. We will never be able to afford to build the former, and ST3 doesn’t move us closer to building the latter.

      Of course UW to downtown (via Capitol Hill) is essential for both. But even it is flawed. Since it lacks a stop at First Hill, as well as a connection to Madison or 23rd, it leaves out a significant part of the population. This means the Metro 8 subway is not only needed in its own right, but as a means to “back fill” omissions made with this route. You also need a Ballard to UW subway.

      Along with all of that, you also need improved bus service. For example, look at a couple areas that happen to be very close to where the train actually goes: The V. A. and South Seattle College Georgetown. Bus service is so infrequent to those areas as to make driving the better choice, even during rush hour, and even from areas that will be well served by rail (e. g. Northgate). As much as we need big investments in addressing our core, we also need much better bus service in areas that are still pretty popular. I really can’t blame folks for focusing on the latter, when Sound Transit is spending billions, yet failing to properly build the former.

      1. You have covered most of what I would have said. I second you. I would like to add:

        Bus connections are critical to success of light rail. The design of the UW station conflicts with efficient connections. It takes a long time to get in and out of the station and then the bus connections are a block or two further away than they need to be. The result is that I have only used the UW station 3 times even though it could have been better theoretically for many trips.

        In some ways the changes for light rail have made the bus system worse. The route 48 has been broken and the 43 almost killed, so now a trip from the north U district to the top of capital hill averages 10 minutes longer than before.

        Light rail is hugely expensive and takes a long time to build. It is not agile; plans are likely to be overtaken by change. Bus based systems are more agile. Because of the emphasis on light rail and the vast long term commitment of money, I will likely vote against the latest transit bill even though I am a strong transit supporter.

    3. Finally the northern half of the Light Rail system is starting. It should not be a surprise that adding a second direction nearly doubles ridership. I am looking forward to a station opening within walking distance of where I live. I hope rent increases will not have forced me out years before it opens in 5 years.

      I am disappointed that the UW station has not been more useful to me. Transferring there costs 10-15 minutes so I still use whats left of the bus system and avoid UW to go from north to Sodo.

  3. Does anyone know why Foreard Thrust required a 60% supermajority? I’ve never seen an explanation for why this was the case. Is it because it involved a tax increase? (But I think other bonds and levies are just majorities.)

    1. School levies also require 60%, last I checked — which seems bizarre, when the state’s Constitution prescribes funding public education as the state’s paramount duty, and less paramount duties are generally simple majority, but I digress.

    2. I haven’t done any research, but I suspect they were planning to use excess property taxes.. Remember that until November 1972, the state constitution limited aggregate regular property tax to 0.4% of assessed value (which was itself limited to 50% of true and fair value).

      In 1972, the 55th and 59th amendments allowed the aggregate regular property tax to be as much as 1%, and raised the assessed value limitation to 100% of true and fair value.

      Since the passage of the 17th amendment in 1944 which established the 4 mil limit, there has always been a provision that allows taxing authorities to also levy 1 year excess taxes, or long term excess property taxes to repay bonds issued to fund capital improvements. The taxes are essentially unlimited (although, in the latter case, in practice, debt limits set an upper bound). Such taxes require a 3/5 supermajority and require a minimum number of voters to participate in the election (40% of the turnout at the previous general election). [Article VII, Section 2]

    3. School levies are what the McCleary decision is about. The state was supposed to pay for basic education, and the levies were for extra stuff. But the state hasn’t been funding enough so much of the levies fund basic things to fill in the gap. Because levies can only be for five years they have to be repeatedly renewed. This condition has caused the situation that kids in wealthy school districts get a complete education via the levies (Bellevue, Lake Washington, Northshore, and Shoreline have some of the best schools in the country), Seattle is average, and poor districts (mostly in eastern Washington) get an incomplete education because they can’t afford levies. (Or maybe they just won’t tax for them, but given that these counties have few non-agricultural jobs it’s likely that they really can’t afford levies.) So look for your state taxes to be raised to replace some of the leviesa, with the money going to poor school districts. That’s currently going through state politics as they try to swallow a tax increase and some legislators refuse to.

  4. I think there is a cultural shift: more and more Seattle residents are transplants from places where rail transit is common. They use it out of habit.

    1. I think this is somewhat true. The primary appeal is undoubtedly grade separation, though. As someone who grew up in Minneapolis and has lived in Denver, supposedly peer cities (admittedly without any Amazon-esque employers driving insane growth and without the same geographical challenges), Seattle’s traffic feels third world and it’s only getting worse. I can’t believe that people have put up with this here for so long without any alternatives.

      1. @ Grants, been here on and off for 25 years and the traffic although bad has gotten much much worse in the last 5 years. I as well always wondered why Seattle didn’t have a system like SF, until I started following this blog, then it all became crystal clear…

    2. I was under the impression there are a lot of refugees from Texas here. I see more Longhorn sportwear than Husky sportswear.

      We moved away from the culture of transit-bashing and sprawl, and don’t want to see it here. The rail here is clearly better than any local rail system in Texas, except perhaps Dallas’, though I have never been on DART.

      1. Anecdotally, that seems to be the case. Two or three times a day I see northbound cars with Texas license plates.

        Usually about 5 times that in California plates though.

    3. I disagree. I’m a native, I’ve always used buses when it actually worked for my needs. At one point I was actually planning on ditching my car entirely. This predates the existing of light rail opening to the airport. I still use the bus although less since I work on the eastside and a bus commute would exceed 2 hours each way.

      Remember people voted for a monorail before as that was the first option presented. It passed but nothing came of it. So I think a lot of the hesitation for more mass transit funding comes from whether or not the agencies will execute. We’re seeing this shift more because ST actually executes versus the past attempts that did not.

      I also lived in the bay area for a little while after college and I have to say that I used the bus the whole time I was there because it was the best option and only option given where I lived in the city (no LR or BART that far west in the city). So the idea that Seattelites prefer buses or prefer being stuck in traffic is silly. All of the data suggests we’ve just been waiting for it, not that we are scared of it.

      Another example is how all of my friends from Seattle went up to Vancouver BC with me and we took Skytrain and they were just shocked at how fast, easy, and convenient it was. They then went, man we really need this at home. My friends are natives as well and we’ve tried taking the bus before to SODO for events only to see that a car is actually faster due to terrible transit priority.

      Just more proof that we just don’t have the transit people want, not that we are scared. It has nothing to do with natives being scared of transit and transplants loving it.

      1. Why in the world were you and your friends “shocked” by the SkyTrain? Had you never been on a train before?

      2. Perhaps they’ve never been in a city with a metro. Maybe they’ve only been in cities with surface light rail that is not “fast, easy, and convenient”. Skytrain also stands out over almost any system in the world by its frequency. In the early 90s I went to Vancouver driving with a friend. We went downtown one early evening and walked around and came upon a sign saying “Granville”. I went in the doorway to see what it was and couldn’t tell. My friend said, “It looks like a subway station.” I was a transit fan so I immediately wanted to ride it; before that my only metro had been BART on a visit in the late 80s. There was a customer service phone; I called and asked how frequently it ran and how late because I was used to transit that’s infrequent in the evenings and ends early. I was “shocked” when the rep said it runs every five minutes until midnight or so. So we took the train east into the unknown. After a while we saw a large cluster of buildings. I asked somebody next to me what it was and he said “Metrotown”. I said “What’s that?” and he said “It’s a mall.” My friend wanted to get a Canadian gift for his sister so we got off and went into the mall. So that was my first experience with Skytrain, and of course I immediately wanted one here.

      3. Only problem with Skytrain is that their base operating costs are high so they don’t operate at times that low frequency would be required. The 7 am start time on Sundays/ Holidays seems to always leave a pile of people with luggage standing outside Waterfront Station.

  5. Not sure basis for saying sound transit does good work. They certainly have deep funding and use that, but I don’t see anything unique about them as an entity. They certainly have their share of blunders.

    1. Does the lack of adequate stairwells and escalators, the failure to build platforms on both sides of the train, and the poor choice to fill up the LRV space with way too many seats constitute sufficient reason not to have built U-Link?

      Nobody’s perfect, but I trust them more than I trust anyone else (including the naysayers who are mostly opposed to the existence of public transit) to build high-capacity transit. Perfection eludes us all. I’ll settle for a job well done.

      1. Nice jump to conclusions mat you have. Ask sound transit why their parking costs 80k a space and what criteria they used to decide to build and manage it.

      2. The parking costs are the political costs ST needs to spend to get suburban voters to vote for ST3. I honestly don’t care if ST wastes money on parking as long as I get my grade separated Seattle projects. Plus, commentators on the parking article seemed to agree that ST could re-purpose that money in the future in the name of better station access. Let’s focus on getting ST3 passed – if it passes we’ll have over two decades to push ST to better spend parking dollars.

      3. Escalators, platforms on both sides or seat configurations wouldn’t scratch the top ten of Sound Transit big blunders like:

        1) Lack of a First Hill station.
        2) Lack of a station on 23rd or Madison.
        3) Failure to address the connection between SR 520 and Link. A station could have been built, or it could have been addressed as part of the work being done (right now) on 520.
        4) The awfulness that is Mount Baker station. The second most popular bus route (and the most popular non-RapidRide route) connects with Link at a station that is so bad that only a handful of riders make the transfer.
        5) Lack of station at NE 130th. This should have been part of the original plans.
        6) Failure to seriously consider the BRT plans for Kirkland on the Cross Kirkland Corridor.
        7) Failure to seriously consider the WSTT.
        8) Failure to consider a Metro 8 subway.
        9) Prioritizing minor improvements for a handful of West Seattle riders over Ballard to UW rail.
        10) Prioritizing those same improvements over a Metro 8 subway.

        All of these have a theme. ST is more considered with simply getting there, than doing it right. It shows a profound ignorance (or worse yet, disregard) for effective transit and what is required to build it.

      4. RossB,
        Commenting a bit late here as I’ve been busy with life and watching dumpster fires elsewhere in the news.

        I know you are harsh in your critique of Sound Transit however consider the evolution of the system we built:

        We were incredibly lucky Metro had the foresight to build the DSTT otherwise rail transit very likely would be on a surface alignment through downtown like it is in Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Denver, and Portland.

        Initial plans for light rail had it exiting the city via the Duwamish Valley to the south and via the I-5 ROW to the north. If these plans had been followed we would have had an even more purely suburban system and would have ignored (a stop over a mile from campus does not count) the largest transit destination in the state other than downtown Seattle itself.

        Building south first seems strange until you look closely at the history of Sound Transit itself. The initial plan was to build from Lander to 45th first. However the bids came in much higher than expected. Sound Transit was forced to go back to the drawing board North of downtown. Rather than simply wait until those plans were ready to start concruction it decided to build the South half of the line first. Building north first would only have sped the university link opening by about 3 years at most. The politics. Consequences might have threatened the survival of Sound Transit and might have prevented ST2 from going to the ballot or passing.

        To address your specific points above:
        1. Technical risk and Federal funding formulas conspired against the First Hill station. Keeping the station would have meant significant delay to the project as Sound Transit would have lost Federal funding.
        2. Moving the alignment East happened late in the game. There wasn’t room in the budget for additional stations nor was the change in alignment designed to add service to additional neighborhoods.
        3. First there was not the budget for an additional station, second considering at the time Sound Transit was working on the plans for University Link WSDOT still was working on exactly what the West end of 520 would look like,it likely would have strongly objected to having a rail station plopped down into the middle of the mess. Second WSDOT has had various proposals of what to do for the Montlake crossing. All except a second Montlake bridge have been eliminated either due to cost or objections by stakeholder groups. Even the second bridge faces signifigant neighborhood opposition.
        4. I have no idea. One known part of the problem is the UW not wanting any of its property used for a transfer center. But how this turned into such a turkey of a station I don’t know. Perhaps someone who followed the process more closely can provide some insight?
        5 through 10 are most easily summarized as “politics”. Watching sausage being made is seldom pretty.

  6. While I’m stoked to see “standing room only” in the near-term, has anyone seen anything from Sound Transit on how they plan to address the HUGE capacity surge that is inevitable when U-district proper, Roosevelt and Northgate come online? I get we should celebrate progress right in front of us, but don’t see how a single line will be able to hold all the people that will want to use it.

    1. The plan of record for 2023 is for central Link and East Link to combine into a single corridor from the International District to Lynnwood with 4-car trains running every 3 minutes (peak) and every 5 minutes (off peak). That will be a lot more capacity than what we have today.

    2. ST is preparing for the inevitable capacity challenge by building a second downtown light rail tunnel, as part of ST3.

      1. The ST3 tunnel doesn’t fix the problem for the heaviest load segment, but makes it worse. The most crowded segment is predicted to be between Westlake and Capitol Hill in ST2. ST3 will actually make it more crowded, as riders will come in from Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union, then transfer at Westlake to go north.

      2. My observation is that the peakload is between Pioneer Square and the International District. Having two tunnels will at least help cross-downtown trips.

        But let’s keep our eyes on the long-term, with UW-Ballard and high-capacity transit on/along Aurora as options.

        Build for the seventh generation.

      3. Wouldn’t more people leaving Ballard be trying to go to Downtown than U District? The transfer crowds (Ballard-UW trip pairs) should be smaller under ST3 than if we built Ballard-UW (forcing Ballard-downtown trips pairs through the Westlake-Cap Hill tunnel)? And a bunch of people will also be transferring in the opposite direction at Westgate (i.e. emptying the train) to get to SLU from the south & east.

        Yes, Westlake to UW will be a capacity choke point, but I don’t think you want to fix that w/ capital investments. You simply have to push more trains through the existing tunnel … maybe running Pioneer Square to Northgate turn-back trains during peak of peak? But if we are building a 2nd tunnel, it makes 100% sense to branch at Westgate because SLU & Uptown are huge growth centers & are just as big as UW & U-District … it doesn’t make sense to double down on U-District before serving SLU, so unfortunately Ballard-UW has to wait until the next round.

      4. Peak load, peak direction in 2035 occurs between Westlake and CapHill with 24,400 passengers in the 3 hour PM commute. That’s 101 riders per car (4 car trains on 3 min headways), mostly going to Northgate and points beyond for all the buses that no longer travel to/from Seattle. [ST Ridership 2035, 2012]
        Seems like the idea of having escalators backed up for hours, or even minutes,on end is an urban myth.

    3. When Northgate Link opens, ST will be able to run 4 car link trains, giving a 1.33x capacity increase.

      When the buses are kicked out of the tunnel, ST could turnback some trains at Sodo, boosting frequencies on the Sodo-UW segment.

      Like asdf2 said, when East Link opens in 2023, the ID-Lynnwood segment should have 3 minute peak headways, double what we have now, combined with running 4 car trains gives a 2.66x increase in capacity above what we have now.

      Increasing Link capacity south of Downtown would require separating the train from car traffic at cross streets, which doesn’t seem to be on ST or SDOT’s radars.

      I would imagine things could get tight at least in the 2030-2035 time frame, after the West Seattle segment opens, but before the second Downtown Light Rail Tunnel opens- ST will potentially have to handle an additional 30,000+ boardings to/from West Seattle transferring on and off Central Link at Sodo every day.

    4. Yes, but has ST said anything about 2021-2023 operations from Northgate to Angle Lake?

      A capacity boost will be needed. Will 4 car trains all day with the current schedule be enough?

      If they increase frequency for Northgate Link, per current plans the Stadium-Angle Lake segment would see reduced service after East Link opens in 2023.

      1. AFAIK, the plan is to run 4 car trains at 6 minute peak headways between Northgate and Angle Lake. At least that’s what the Service Implementation Plan shows for 2021. (see Table 19). Anything else is speculation at this point. It could always be amended- ST is running 3 car trains a couple of years earlier than they planned on, but other than turning back trains at Sodo to boost frequency between Northgate and Sodo, I’m not sure what their options could be.

        It will be interesting to see if if Link continues to have 10% or great year-over-year ridership increases. If it does, that works out to about a 60% increase in ridership even before Northgate Link opens.

    5. Troy, I doubt that there will be a “HUGE” surge when Northgate comes on line. The buses south and east of 125 th and 15th NE have already been diverted to HSS, except the peak expresses. So Northgatw will basically get the 41’s and 316’s risers. That’s certainly not nothing, but it’s more like a 25% increase than a deluge.

      1. There will be a huge improvement in the system. Whether that goes along with a huge increase in ridership is anyone’s guess. Funneling everyone south to Husky Stadium works, but it doesn’t work well. The station in the U-District will save a lot of people a lot of time.

        Even without new riders, you have those who used to ride the 41, which is about 10,000. When it comes to ridership, the 76 and 316 are tiny. The 522 is only about 5,000, so even if a huge percentage of those riders switch, that isn’t that many. Likewise with buses coming from Snohomish County. Even if Metro, ST and Community Transit restructure aggressively (pushing folks onto stations that aren’t necessarily that convenient) that wouldn’t pick up that many riders (less than 20,000 is my guess).

        Unless, as mentioned, the improvement in service leads to a big increase in ridership. I could see this happening. Especially in the afternoon and evening. The 41 is horrible then, and I simply avoid going downtown (or to Capitol Hill or the south end). Northgate Link would change all that. The areas close to the stations, as well as the areas near the stations (e. g. Lake City) are all very urban. These are the folks that take transit more often, and are more likely to take advantage of improved transit.

        Of course, many of these people will get off at Roosevelt or the U-District. So my guess is around 25,000 or so (give or take 10,000) additional riders will be heading towards Capitol Hill in five years. That is a decent surge, but not as big as this one.

    6. I think Al is right, and I hadn’t thought of it before. I mentioned this on another post as well. It isn’t obvious, but here is how I see it:

      It is the evening rush hour, and folks are headed home. The North Link train is headed towards Northgate. At every stop, folks have gotten on and off. While the tunnel is great for stops within downtown, there are alternatives. Just getting to the station and back to the surface takes some time. On the other hand, even a very crowded, packed train is still worth taking if you live close to the Capitol Hill Station (and lots of people do). As the train gets to Westlake, like all the stations, some people get off. They are headed towards that end of town, or to the other train. Prior to the other train line being built, I think they did the same thing. It never made sense to ride the train to the UW, and take the 44 (or find some other way to head that direction). So, like Al, I don’t see the new train taking any pressure off of this section. Meanwhile, you have people who work close to the other stations (Denny, Expedia, etc.) that are headed to Capitol Hill or the UW. Again, this is by far the best way to go (going around the other way would be very difficult and slow). Meanwhile, since it is the evening, folks are headed out to town. There are some interesting clubs to check out in Capitol Hill, and the Husky men’s basketball team happens to be hosting UCLA. There is a great modern dance performance at Meany Hall, and next thing you know, we have a very crowded set of trains.

      The good news is, as mic said, we really don’t have to worry about it. The trains can handle it. But just as it is a myth to think that we are destined for crush loaded trains that can’t handle the load, it is equally mythical to think that ST3 will help things.

  7. I think that Seattle is definitely over the tipping point on light rail. I’m not sure about the rest of Puget Sound. I don’t think we will be there until we extend to Bellevue, Lynnwood and Fed Way. The South Sounder towns are using heavy rail but they won’t be in love with Sound Transit until there is more frequency and we get night and weekend service.

    1. Actually getting service where you can use it for existing trip-pairs is a game changer. With or without ST3 passing, Sound Transit may want to strike when the iron is hot and prepare a package to go to the voters ~2024, right after East Link and Northgate open.

  8. No one seems to be saying the obvious on this issue–that until the UW and CapHill links were open, the LInk didn’t connect people with $ to places they actually wanted to go to.

    1. “The transportation planning answer is that Capitol Hill and UW were considered the two most desirable mass-transit markets in the nation that weren’t already served by subway or rail. So putting train stops there was a no-brainer. (This makes it even more of a head-banger that it took us so long to do it!).”

      Sorta the same thing?

  9. Seattle seems to be making mostly good choices. One only needs to look at San Jose’s VTA to see the problem with just throwing down rail transit for the sake of coverage. A sprawling system that theoretically goes to a lot of places, but is relevant to almost no one’s needs.

      1. Ross, I don’t now you, I know that I agree wholeheartedly about the FUBAR of not putting a 1st hill station in, but I must disagree with you on ST3. I will be voting in favor.

      2. I don’t think very many people know me or anyone on here. I’ve met Mike Orr, and that is about it. No worries there.

        Anyway, when I read about a system “throwing down rail transit for the sake of coverage. A sprawling system that theoretically goes to a lot of places, but is relevant to almost no one’s needs.” it reminds me of ST3. Issaquah to Kirkland. Tacoma to Federal Way. Everett to Lynnwood. All places we’ve heard of; all places that suffer from inadequate transit and too much traffic congestion; all places that deserve a substantial investment in transit to improve their mobility and all places that won’t get it with ST3. My opposition to ST3 has little to do with previous failures, it has everything to do with the fact that systems like ST3 have failed (and failed miserably) to be relevant to a significant number of people.

  10. “But the station itself was suffering from a severe parking shortage.

    I don’t mean car parking, but bike parking. Near the station entrance, 170 bikes were piled up in bike racks, mostly by commuters who rode the rail downtown.”

    Bike valet, come on guys! the UW stadium parking lot makes perfect sense for this, b/c you can remove the valet on game days, the few times a year UW actually needs those parking spaces.

    1. Who would build a bike station?
      UW? doubtful.

      Sound Transit? They are a transit agency and shouldn’t be building parking but…..they are building car parking elsewhere… and it isn’t included in ST3 so it would be a while.

      City of Seattle? maybe. Not in a budget yet but maybe it could it be part of Move Seattle. Maybe a part of the agenda for the next mayor or city council elections…

      Private business? Business case probably wouldn’t pan out even if the city or UW gave them a free land lease. People aren’t used to paying for bike parking.

      1. You could probably cover it under ST’s station access budget? This location would require a partnership with UW, I’d assume.

  11. Given that the two new stations are serving areas with lots of young adults and shorter-term residents, I’m not surprised by the sudden demand surge. People without riding habits practiced for many years are much quicker to change.

    As far as a cultural shift, I think that it’s because there are more families and /or workers who knows a Link commuter or user – and has heard about the significant improvrment in transit rider experience.

  12. Some perspective. I don’t think Seattle’s people have been as “rail averse” as the terrain and the stingy inheritance of existing tracks, right of way, and street space. Proportionate to the tax-paying population.

    Meaning that from the start, railroad building inevitably costs more money and time than in wider, flatter, and better-tracked places. Meaning everyplace in the world except for some hill towns in Portugal.

    I think history shows that a rail system on the scale we’ve wanted all these years hardly ever gets built by foresight. Seem to remember from a documentary on the New York City subways that the first modern subway line got dug in four years.

    Prompted by the fact that Broadway at rush hour was as crush-loaded as any subway car, except moving a lot slower. So reason rail development was so slow here was that we’ve only recently finally developed the tax base motivated to demand and pay for it.

    Considering short street space and block-length through Seattle CBD, while a bus mall- seriously considered- might have worked, regional rail absolutely required a subway.

    The DSTT was designed and built to carry light rail from the get-go, and by the results, very well. Standard bus or city streetcar tunnel could have been flatter, cheaper, and much slower.

    Since both Seattle and the suburbanites understood that, for reasons above, light rail was going to take some time to build out, single-ride suburban service would need articulated buses.

    And since hybrids didn’t exist in 1983, city or suburban, nobody was going to tolerate non-electric ride underground. Longer rail introduction than planned resulted from major benefit: development of low-floor trains and buses that could do 60 mph saved us from having to either keep bus stairs and lifts or raise platforms.

    No one ever expected LINK line to the Airport to carry very many people. It was the easiest segment to build, that’s all. And as fully expected, as soon as we were under the Ship Canal, ridership began to pour with the flow.

    Best argument that DSTT was light rail from the get-go is not just that the suburbs took the bargain- remember, Kemper was in top fighting weight- but that, though Train #1 hasn’t reached them, none of them have bailed from the Agency.

    What Danny does prove, though, is that transit’s information to the general public about its very existence is worse than with its own passengers about delays and train arrivals.

    Mark Dublin

  13. Pro Tip: Use the south elevator at Capitol Hill station which goes directly to the surface in the amount of time most people get to the Mezzanine.

    1. Although strollers, bikes and people with disabilities should have priority for elevators.

      1. The elevator is literally never at capacity (It is my sole means of accessing the station ;-).

        Also, it takes 24 seconds to turn around (+ maybe 10 seconds to open and close), so it’s not exactly a long wait.

    2. If I get off the train next to the south escalator (typical), I normally reach the top just as the elevator does (+/- 33 “stairs” on the escalator and 50 stairs in the stairwell). Steady walk rate.

  14. Yeah – the tipping point is not in demand, but in the system’s utility to people’s lives.

  15. There is a cultural shift but it has been more gradual and less dramatic than Westneat might have meant. The U-Link surge was surprisingly high but I don’t think it was a tipping point, just a confirmation. When I talk with people on the Eastside, many of them don’t know that U-Link is open. We’re also not headed toward a New York level of transit infrastructure or use. But signs of a gradual tipping go back to 2008, when people voted for ST2 just after the second-worst economic crash in a century. When the initial segment opened in 2009, people from around the region went to look at it and try it out, and over the next few years that generated interest by people who had been indifferent or leaning against it. When McGinn was in office he said the one think he kept hearing was, “When will it come to my neighborhood?”, and the suburban cities have been the same. When ST proposed a 15-year phase this year, the almost-unanimous response was, “More, larger, more places, more grade separation.” Yes, people want a baseline effective level of transit and will ride it, and many of them only realize this when they see it.

    The surprising thing is how little knowledge or acknowledgement there is about transit in other cities. People don’t know what’s running in other countries or in the northeast or Los Angeles, or if they do they think it’s unsuitable for here or not politically possible. So when a Link line opens and succeeds against their expectations, it starts to chink away at that opposition. The fact that people are moving here from more transit-oriented cities and countries is also probably playing a part, but I hesitate to say how much until it’s quantified. The urban village strategy is also putting a greater percentage of the population close to trunk transit, so that’s a factor too.

    1. While I don’t think it’s healthy to encourage too many drivers to spend as many vacations looking at the world’s other transit systems, I really do think ATU Local 587 might develop contacts with locals literally all over the world.

      Because one serious inducement is that when someone in a skilled trade, like transit operations, visits another system, a recommend to its own operating personnel immediately assures that the visitor will see parts of the system off-de-facto- limits to professional consultants.

      It will also guarantee a welcome into the whole service area. I think that whatever local conditions, it can be night and day- if not more serious- difference to have acquaintances, who will likely become long-time friends, waiting for you.

      Mark Dublin

  16. I suspect (without data) that what has changed culturally is that Link has become far more useful to occasional riders.

    Most riders on Link are regular riders, but most people who have ever been on Link are occasional. For them, Link was mostly a way to get to the airport, and they used it about as often as they went to the airport. Now it’s a way to get to UW and Capitol Hill. On the Eastside, and no doubt Westneat’s North Seattle neighborhood too, one hears a lot of conversations about how “last weekend, we went on the light rail to [X]”.

    That’s politically important (even as it unfairly discounts the experience of the SE Seattle riders who have used Link daily for years). Seeing the construction signs going up in North Seattle and Bellevue is helping too. It’s not just for other people, or at least it won’t be.

    But as Sophia Katt points out above, there’s an unappealing class dimension to this too.

    1. Utility for the occasional rider is hugely important from a political standpoint, even if it’s the daily riders who use far more of the actual service. This is why connecting to stadiums, entertainment districts, and airports is considered important, and why suburban voters want parking garages.

    2. Light rail and heavy rail is not just for everyday getting around but also for the surges of pedestrians at sports events, mall sales, parades, etc. So a good rail network should connect not only the urban villages and downtown but also the stadiums, malls, and airports.

    3. Dan, and Sophia- to whom, by the way, welcome- I think that while I don’t think my Face belongs in anybody’s Book, social media might be one good means among many to start using transit to bring people from different backgrounds together.

      They’re often going to be at close quarters to each other anyway, and sort of compressed into a mutual interest. Starting with enough real-time experience with the same repairable deficiencies to form the kind of determined fury, I mean strong interest in improvement, do get things fixed that could kill ST3 if they’re not.

      Like electronic communications, which were supposed to only benefit the oppressor, more and faster transit can swiftly help form strong political force in every direction.

      Maybe in addition to the N-Bunny, and the seat-stealing Octopus, and the adorable little Seat-Hog (I always hold their luggage so they don’t get squashed) ST can create a intensely motivated furry little creature advocating Passenger Enthusiasm for Sound Transit.

      With strong encouragement go join a pack of your fellow fanged furballs ,introduce yourself to your elected officials, show them your pin, and start Making One Out of Yourself.


    4. There’s also the Penguins painted on one of the doors saying, “Don’t huddle together near the door.”

    5. I would like to look at a different social justice angle to which neighborhoods get at-grade and which get tunnel stations (though, to be clear, I wish it could have been possible to do the whole system grade-separated).

      The entry and exit penalty for below-grade and above-grade stations is additional minutes on each trip for everyone alighting at or boarding at those stations. For the riders in those neighborhood, at-grade is a utility bonus, at the expense of travel patterns for car drivers, pedestrian and bike safety to some extent, speed for through-riders, reliability for all riders due to much-increased blocking accidents, and operating costs in perpetuity. In short, there are more losers than winders in that trade-off.

      There are social justice and safety reasons to make all the new light-rail segments grade-separated that go far beyond whether the surrounding neighborhood is rich or poor.

    6. Every rider entering at one station is a through rider through more than one station, except the few who make only one- or two-station trips. All those riders are slowed by a surface alignment. A typical trip is three to five stations and a sizeable percent are ten stations. And before you say, “But Westlake to UW is only two stations and has a huge percent of trips”, we can lean on the argument that by distance and density it’s the equivalent of four stations, even if the other two don’t exist so people have to funnel through the ones that do exist.

    7. The time difference between surface running and underground running is minimal for most subway systems. Even for ours — which has some unusually long gaps between stations — the difference is tiny. The section that does run on the surface does not have ideal spacing, but it is still close enough to make the top speed between the stations largely meaningless.

      The big drawback to running on the surface on Rainier Valley is that it limits headways. The trains can’t run any more than every six minutes. This is not terrible, but running every three minutes is much better. This likely negates the times savings that Brent mentioned (in getting to or from the station). But that also assumes that Link would run it more often if it could. Running trains is expensive, and running trains that often on that section might never make financial sense.

      Speaking of which, i doubt burying it would have ever made financial sense. That is hugely expensive, with very little gained. We are lucky in having a section of the city that is flat and largely works for this sort of thing. It made sense to save the money, and spend it on more important things.

  17. Is it a cultural shift or has traffic just gotten so gawd awful that people are ready to spend oodles of cash on anything that might give them an alternative to being stuck on the bus/car in gridlock?

      1. I assume he means paying for light rail construction (which is lots and lots of oodles).

  18. Once again, the Times is late to the party and gets it wrong.

    WRONG, that suddenly Seattle has “woken up” and is embracing light rail. No, Daniel, the train is finally coming to neighborhoods primarily populate by whites. Give me a break. This town embraced light rail in 2009.

    The Times is simply not a relevant source for objective news reporting or meaningful op-ed. It’s a mouthpiece for a shrinking population, and is out of touch with this city.

  19. I strongly believe in the value of light rail, and think the LINK extension is a very good thing indeed.

    That said, though, I have to wonder how much of the growth in ridership is organic, and how much is simply the result of bus routes and schedules being tweaked to funnel riders into LINK. If LINK is the only option available because bus routes have been taken away, well, yeah, there is indeed something “deep-seated” going on.

    1. Some of the switching is forced. But the reason we’re building Link is that the buses can’t keep up with demand, and to have a baseline level of quality in our transit network. So replacing buses with Link is the intended and proper outcome, just as you replace an old and worn-out 3-speed bike with a new 21-speed bike that can climb Seattle’s hills better.

      1. I get that. As I said, I’m a rail supporter. What I’m saying is, if someone’s going to praise the ridership numbers, they should at least mention that a substantial proportion of those new riders are coming from a different means of transit *because they had little choice*. (Well, other than giving up on transit altogether.)

        If the aggregate ridership of old bus routes + old LINK ridership equals the new bus routes + new LINK ridership, you haven’t increased ridership at all. You’ve only moved existing riders from one venue to another.

        I think the justifications for rail are real. I think the benefits are real. But I think praising numbers that are easily the result of planning decisions beyond the riders’ control **as if they’re making them spontaneously on their own** is dishonest.

      2. I agree Hal. Ridership numbers only tell half the story. At a minimum we should look at overall transit ridership to see if there is a bump. If there isn’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a bad thing (it may mean, as Mike said, everyone who rides transit may be getting a much better experience). But not necessarily. You would need to dig into the data a lot more (which is much tougher).

        About the only thing that ridership numbers can do is alert you to the possibility that you screwed up. For example, the streetcars cut through a very urban area, yet ridership is very low. Another example is Mount Baker station, which on paper should have very high ridership. It sits in a fairly densely populated area, with very high volume buses intersecting the area. But the particulars with all of these are so poor that ridership isn’t that high.

        In this case, it is very hard to discern anything from the numbers, because so much of it has to do with what Metro decides to do. Metro truncated all of the express UW to downtown buses. This means there are no alternatives. I don’t believe they have done that with buses along 520, which means that we can see if high numbers of people are getting off at Montlake, and then walking over to the train station (instead of riding it all the way to downtown). My guess is that not that many people do that because it takes so long (which means that unless they somehow improve the connection, they screwed up).

      3. I would add that ST has not been forthcoming about how many of the ST3 riders are already a rider after ST2 is finished. Wouldn’t many Everett riders be boarding at Lynnwood without the extension? Wouldn’t many Downtown Redmond Riders be boarding at the Redmond Tech Center/ Overlake stop? Wouldn’t many Federal Way riders be boarding at Angle Lake?

  20. I often wonder what would have happened if the Seattle Sonics had stuck around. Here is my prediction. After years and years of very poor attendance, there would have been sell out after sell out. At that point, some sports writer named Danny might have written something like this:

    The sports planning answer is that it is due to the team’s sudden improvement — going from a basement dweller to competing for a championship. So attendance increasing is a no-brainer. (This makes it even more of a head-banger that it took us so long to do it!).

    But there’s something deep-seated going on, too. Back in the early days when we were debating this team, I wrote a story about Seattle just not being a basketball town, and that we were unique amongs big cities in having such low attendance.

    But now we’ve reached a tipping point …

    What utter bullshit. Sorry for the profanity, but how many times must we point this out. We aren’t a special snowflake! If your sports team is really good, people attend the games. If you build good transit, they ride it. It’s really not that complicated.

    This is the one section that anyone with half a brain could tell was going to succeed, no matter how many mistakes (big or small) you made. Just what did people really expect was going to happen, especially after Metro killed the 71/72/73 buses? Everyone was going to drive? Nonsense.

    Hell, even Mr. Westneat admits as much. Just look at what he wrote:

    The transportation planning answer is that Capitol Hill and UW were considered the two most desirable mass-transit markets in the nation that weren’t already served by subway or rail.

    Yes, that’s it! That is why it is popular! Holy cow, you’ve hit upon the obvious Danny, Stop trying to divine some special aspect of our nature that was once missing but has now been found.

    Zach is right. People always wanted good transit. They have voted for it many times. They ride what works for them and ignore what doesn’t. None of this should be surprising, because every other city works exactly the same way. What a silly column. Westneat should go back to writing about Ron Sims getting pulled over for driving while black. That was really a great couple of columns that showed that — you guessed it — we aren’t that special of a snowflake (both in the behavior of the cops and the response to the first column).

  21. I still cannot fathom all the station signage directing riders “to Seattle” when the stations are already *in* Seattle. I used to work there; I know ST people are not stupid, but occasionally they do things that suggest maybe they are. At least a little bit.

    Isn’t it time to fix this?

    1. An entire post and comment thread could be written about signage issues. On Wednesday I was in Westlake station walking around clueless about which exit would be closest to the 590, and someone asked me where the train to the airport was. He added just passed the escalator for it. I had to look down to the platform level from the mezzanine since I had just come up from Link, but had gone through a maze of staircases to go up and had no idea which direction I was pointed at that point.

      1. That post might not be a bad idea. I have found signage and wayfinding to be one of the most frustrating things about our system (I’m sure Oran has some great ideas about what to fix here!). The signage designers should put themselves in the shoes of someone with at best a cursory knowledge of the area and perhaps a minimal grasp of English, then see how they might get to major destinations (including directions to major connecting services). Other systems in less-wealthy cities have managed to do this, and to make it easy for me as a primarily English speaker to get around their cities.

        Rio de Janeiro, as an example, has two major tourist destinations that are not directly on the Metro. However, when you get to the closest station there are lots of signs directing you to what buses you should take to get there, what their route numbers are, and what exit will take you to that bus stop. (Their problems are more with their Byzantine fare system and transfers.) Certainly the airport here would be a destination that should be clearly and often indicated. Every sign to every platform in the correct direction should have “Airport” on it as one of its destination points. Other major transportation connections, stadia and other destinations where you might expect a large number of passengers, many who are only occasional transit users, should also be indicated and clearly announced. Is there a single sign at ID Station indicating the direction to Century Link–or even that you can alight there for the cLink (I honestly don’t recall, but don’t remember any)? It’s a much closer station to it than “Stadium” station is–if you take the correct exit from the platform.

        Things like the scrolling message on the front of the train and inside the cars give redundant information that you have to wait to read, when a simple “Angle Lake (airplane symbol)” or “UW/Husky Stadium” would suffice on the outside, and a “Mount Baker” or whatever as the next station indicator on the inside. We KNOW it’s a station! Once the system expands and we get a second line, or turnback trains, indicating which ones go to the airport becomes extremely important. Why not start with it now?

        Don’t even get me started on the stupid “next train–northbound–in 2 minutes,” which are rarely even accurate any more due to the vagaries of sharing the tunnel with buses. I know they’re “working on” real-time signage like real systems have. Someday we may even get it.

        It’s also often difficult to find station entrances, particularly downtown. These should be indicated by something, preferably lit, that looks like more than a bus schedule kiosk. It’s good design to tuck entrances into existing buildings–but not if then they become invisible to occasional users. It isn’t all that uncommon to see people standing directly outside the entrances to Westlake at Macy’s or Nordstrom asking where the station is.

        Make it easy for the casual user and you’ve made it easy for everyone.

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