Sound Transit May Ridership: Link Up 82%, Sounder Up 17%

Ben Brooks (Flickr)
Ben Brooks (Flickr)

May was another impressive month for Sound Transit ridership, with the latest ridership report showing weekday Link ridership at 65,000 daily boardings, up 83% over May 2015 (36k), and up even 8% over April 2016 (60k). Link set records for total boardings, at 1.8m, and will likely continue to set records through October, when seasonal patterns usually bring a slight drop-off.

Link now has 12% more monthly boardings (1.8m) than all ST Express routes combined (1.6m). ST Express managed to hang on for another month in terms of average weekday boardings, besting Link by 1%, with 66k compared to Link’s 65k

Sounder continued its impressive growth, up 17% over May 2015 with 16,500 daily boardings. With event service included, Sounder ridership was up 22% over May 2015.

Tacoma Link continued its slow decline, losing 5% of total boardings compared to last May (from 86k to 81k), and down 4% in weekday boardings (from 3,600 to 3,400).

June may have a hard time topping these growth records, as UW ended its spring quarter on June 19. Link’s seasonal summer ridership surge may counteract UW’s summer break to keep ridership growing at this record pace, but we’ll have to see.

Since the opening of UW Station and Capitol Hill Station, Link has gotten several micro improvements. First, the schedules were reset to show a more accurate 6 minutes from Westlake-UW Station and 44 minutes SeaTac Airport Station-UW Station. Second, Sound Transit recently announced that all six peak-only trains would be three cars. Third, Sound Transit has recently made 3-car trains the weekend norm. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the all-day 3-car train treatment on other days, such as the entire Labor Day/Bumbershoot weekend. But the real test will come on Friday, September 30, with a UW-Stanford football game overlapping with the Mariners’ third-to-last game of the season.

Will September 30 be Link’s first 100,000 rider day, and can the agency handle it with its limited fleet? File under #goodproblems.

Sound Transit 3: The Main Body (2030-2036)


After studies, drafts, public comment, more drafts, amendments, and so on, you might be a little confused about what exactly is in Sound Transit 3 (ST3). This is the second in a brief ST3 reference series (2019-2024 here) about what’s in the package that we’ll vote on in November. Today: the second wave of openings (2030-36), where the bulk of the light rail arrives.

Once again, all figures are in 2014 dollars.

In 2030, two Link segments will open. The first will connect West Seattle to the Link spine in Sodo, with three (elevated) stations at Alaska Junction, Avalon, and Delridge; and intersections with the spine at Sodo (elevated) and Stadium (at-grade). The 4.7-mile, $1.5 billion line would have no park-and-rides and attract 32,000-37,000 riders in 2040, when the rest of the Seattle projects will be complete. Peak headways will be 6 minutes.


Continue reading “Sound Transit 3: The Main Body (2030-2036)”

Call for Endorsements

The STB Editorial Board is gearing up for primary endorsements. We’re only going to look at races with more than two candidates, and as always only consider positions on transit and land use. Anyhow, if you have any recommendations, particularly on state legislative candidates, that we should take a careful look at for the August Primary, please say so in the comments. Links are much appreciated.

News Roundup: Doing it Right

Sounder 1509 Arriving at Lakewood Station

This is an open thread.

Sound Transit 3: The First Five Years (2019-2024)

i405brt[UPDATED with additional information and corrections. – MHD]

After studies, drafts, public comment, more drafts, amendments, and so on, you might be a little confused about what exactly is in Sound Transit 3 (ST3). This is the first in a brief ST3 reference series about what’s in the package that we’ll vote on in November. Today: the first five years (2019-2024).

Though much has been made of the lengthy timelines for Sound Transit 3 (ST3) projects, our collective impatience can be partially tempered by looking at the continuous series of project openings between now and 2041. The first years after a successful ST3 vote wouldn’t be vacant years of sitting on our hands, but rather a very busy overlap of completing Sound Transit 2 (ST2) projects while getting ST3 underway in earnest.

All costs below are in 2014 dollars.

Sometime between 2019 and 2024, Sound Transit will implement the bus on shoulder program, where it will work with other agencies to allow shoulder running on parts of I-5, I-405, SR 518, and SR 167 via capital projects worth $102m.

Over that time period, ST will also complete bus capital improvements near Sumner Station, a $30m project that will add transit signal priority (TSP) at 11 intersections, queue jumps at 2 intersections, and 125 parking spaces in McMillin, WA. This would improve ST Route 596, and presumably a new ST Express route as well.

A similar $60m project to upgrade Pierce Transit Route 1 to BRT will add  some queue jumps and TSP intersections. There will be stop improvements, including nicer facililties, real-time arrival info and off-board payment options.  Most importantly, it also envisions Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes for about 50% of the 14-mile scope. The south end of the route will get a park-and-ride, size unspecified.

Finally, ST3 funds $65m for capital imrovements for RapidRide C, D, and Madison BRT by 2024. If ST3 were to fail, Seattle would have to find some other source to open Madison BRT on time in 2019.

This period will also see completion of the ST2 package, with 17 Link stations opening between 2021-2023.


Several projects open in 2024. In addition to Kent/Des Moines from ST2, ST3 would deliver 4 new Link Stations. At South 272nd and Federal Way Stations, a $1 billion, 5.3-mile extension would add two stations. The former would be in a trench and include 1,240 parking spaces, added to the 549 already at the Star Lake Park and Ride. The latter would be elevated and include a 400-stall parking garage at the current Federal Way Transit Center to go with the 1,190 already there. The track will mix elevated and at-grade.

Continue reading “Sound Transit 3: The First Five Years (2019-2024)”

Driverless Cars Won’t Make Transit Obsolete

Crowded Train

Moving all these light rail riders into autonomous cars will help solve traffic congestion, per automobile technology investor. (Photo by Oran).

Just when you thought silly season was over for transit opponents (We should vote down ST3 because Sound Transit threw a large opening day party for U-Link!), Bryan Mistele, CEO of INRIX, a traffic-information and connected-car company based in Kirkland, has penned a ludicrous non-sequitur in the Seattle Times, arguing that the driverless car of the future will make transit obsolete ($), and, oh yeah, eliminate traffic congestion.

It was timely that the Times ran Mistele’s piece so soon after the first road fatality involving a car running on auto-pilot was announced. Live Science recently poked holes in the claims of the relative safety of auto-pilot technology:

In fact, a study published in October 2015 found that self-driving cars are more likely to be in an accident. The study, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, found that per million miles traveled, self-driving cars had a higher crash rate than traditional cars. At the time of the study, no self-driving cars had been found at fault for the crashes they were involved in.

The technology will improve. Cars will learn to optimize their following distance (but that means that they will be 4 seconds apart, which drivers today are too impatient to do, so that means less road space available). Car computers will learn to talk to each other (hopefully better than Microsoft and Apple), and software bugs will be worked out so that computers don’t “crash” while they are in the driver seat. Everyone will want one, and be able to afford them. If you believe all that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

But even if all those improvements are possible, the broader claims about congestion reduction and transit replacement are real whoppers, a one-two punch of Deus ex Machina that fails to show its math. CleanTechnica offers a more sanguine, and partially data-driven, analysis.

Continue reading “Driverless Cars Won’t Make Transit Obsolete”

ReachNow Expands to More of Seattle

Rachel Lerman, The Seattle Times ($):

BMW’s car-sharing service is expanding into the Seattle areas it promised to serve when the service launched two months ago.

ReachNow said Tuesday it is now live in West Seattle, Magnolia and parts of Southeast Seattle. The company has also added 150 Mini Clubmans to its fleet, now 520 cars strong.

ReachNow’s service area was limited when it first launched back in April. It’s been good to see more neighborhoods (and the possibility of airport access!) coming along.

I’ve been going back and forth between Car2Go and ReachNow for the past few months. I find the electric BMWs much more fun to drive than the Car2Go Smart cars, though the overall experience of a Smart car is much simpler and more straighforward.  I feel like I have to learn to drive all over again when I get in an i3 or Mini — none of the controls are where I expect them to be.

I’ll probably continue to use whichever service is closer. Hopefully we’ll get some electric Smart cars in the near future.

Expensive Cars Help Sound Transit Revise ST3’s Household Cost Estimates

2050club (Reddit)
2050club (Reddit)

In recent testimony before the Sound Transit board (and in its ST3 comment letter), the agency’s Expert Review Panel (ERP) asked the agency to take a finer look at expected household costs for Sound Transit 3 (ST3), this November’s major transit expansion measure. The published estimates of $203 annually per adult included a calculation of Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) based on average vehicle values, and also had based its calculations on averages for the entire 3-county area. Using mean values isn’t best practice, as disproportionately high or low values can distort its representative value.

Last week Sound Transit released new figures based on median vehicle values, and also revised estimates for all 3 tax sources for those within the Sound Transit district, as opposed to the previous estimate based on the entirety of the 3-county area.

Coincidentally, it turned out that revising the calculations for property tax and sales tax didn’t change the output much, with the median home remaining at $360k, and the additional sales tax tab remaining at roughly $80 per person per year. But the new MVET figures changed the calculation drastically, reducing the overall estimated tax burden by 17%, from $203 annually to $169 for a typical adult. Basically, Sound Transit found that a few of us own really expensive cars, dragging the mean value up to $10,000, whereas the median value is just $5,333:

The 1 percent of vehicles in the district with values over $52,000 and 10 percent with values over $27,000 are dramatically higher than the median value of $5,333.

An adult owning the median value motor vehicle would pay an additional $43 per year in MVET if ST3 were passed. The updated calculation reflects an annual median value $5,333 of vehicles in the Sound Transit District. MVET taxes are determined by a state of Washington depreciation schedule for a specific vehicle’s model and production year. The previous calculation relied on a less representative average vehicle value of $10,135 for the more expansive tri-county area, for a significantly higher annual cost of $78 per adult.

Full Sound Transit News Release below the jump… Continue reading “Expensive Cars Help Sound Transit Revise ST3’s Household Cost Estimates”

Transit “Hike” July 24th

king county metro 2015 New Flyer XDE60 8027  in Rt.62

Metro Planner Ted Day and Heather McAuliffe are planning a family-friendly transit “hike” on Sunday, July 24th. I will use routes 62 and 75, and involve a stroll through Magnuson Park. Heather explains:

Meet up location: Eastbound stop on Stevens Way at Rainier Vista for Routes 75 and 372 (UW Station)

Board Route 75 departing Stevens Way/Rainier Vista at 9:51 a.m.

Arrive Magnuson Park at 10:09 a.m.

Walk around Magnuson Park for about an hour

Board Route 62 departing NE 65th St/Sand Point Wy NE at 11:13 a.m.

Arrive Woodlawn Av N/N Ravenna Blvd at 11:32 a.m.

Lunch at Turnpike Pizza

Board Route 62 departing Woodlawn Av N/N Ravenna Blvd at 12:47 p.m.

Arrive S Washington St/4th Av S at 1:40 p.m.

Board Route 62 departing S Jackson St/Occidental Av S at 1:53 p.m.

Arrive Fremont Av N/N 34th St at 2:20 p.m.

Dessert at Simply Desserts & Fainting Goat Gelato, Fremont


If you haven’t had a chance to check out U-Link or the Northeast Seattle restructure, this might be a good opportunity to do so while meeting some other transit-minded people.

Podcast Listener Mailbag #3

It’s that time again. If there’s a question you’d like Frank and me to answer on our next podcast, put it in the comments and we’ll get to as many as we can.

The podcast should air sometime next week.

SDOT’s Good Emergency Instincts

I’m fond of criicizing local agencies (usually WSDOT) when events, planned and unplanned, bring pleas to take transit while those agencies take away any incentive to take that transit. So it’s only fair that, better late than never, I commend SDOT for their response to last September’s horrific Duck crash on the Aurora Bridge.

I finally got around to asking SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan a few questions about it:

How did the emergency bus lane happen?

The day of the Ride the Ducks incident (September 24, 2015) is the only time recently that SDOT set up a temporary bus lane in response to an emergency. Recognizing that the loss of Aurora Avenue North would have significant traffic impacts, especially for transit, SDOT established a temporary, bus-only lane to aid transit’s movement to the Fremont Bridge.

What other times has SDOT implemented this since then?

We have not created any other emergency bus-only lanes since that incident.

Are there any data that measure how well this works?

Given its short term nature, we did not have the opportunity to measure how well the lane worked. Based on our traffic engineers’ observations and the response of the public, we believe its deployment was successful.

What do you anticipate going forward in terms of conditions where SDOT would choose to do this? Any formal policy, or continued improvisation?

SDOT does not anticipate creating a formal policy for emergency bus lanes. We will keep them in mind as a potential option should a future emergency situation warrant it.


Let’s applaud the instincts of whatever operatives made this happen in an emergency. Here’s hoping we see more of this agility in the future, both on dark days like September 24th and during more banal construction activities.

Feds Award $45 Million to Lander Street Overpass

Filling in another 32% of the funding puzzle, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced yesterday that the Lander Street Overpass project has been awarded $45m from the $800m pool of “FASTLANE” grants intended to improve freight mobility, highways, and bridges. Because everything we fund around here is piecemeal, the project has now cobbled together $100m of the $140m it needs to begin construction in 2018, with the feds’ $40m joining $10m from the Move Seattle levy and various contributions from BNSF, the Port, PSRC, etc. Assuming the remaining funding materializes, the overpass would open in 2020. Though the award falls short of the $55m requested, it’s still a huge step forward for the long-delayed Bridging the Gap era project. Just 18 of 300 projects received funding, and our Senate delegation of Cantwell and Murray continued their longstanding success at securing funding for local projects.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 11.43.32 AM

Though the basketball/hockey stadium proposal is on ice and the nearby Holgate crossing is more complicated (7 tracks instead of 4), Lander Street is the still the primary point of enormous conflict between rail, freight, cars, buses, and bikes, with up to 4 hours per day of road closures for trains. Bus routes 21, 37, 50, 116, 118, and 119 are also at the mercy of the crossing, which is often closed more often during peak because of Sounder added on top of normal freight and Amtrak traffic. And if shenanigans around the waterfront transit lanes succeed in cancelling them, we’ve heard that Lander and 4th are a likely backup plan, making it an even more critical corridor for transit going forward.

The overpass would be 2 lanes in each direction, plus a walk/bike lane, spanning from 1st Avenue and 4th Avenue. See SDOT’s page here for more info.

Amtrak Cascades Looks Toward 2017

WSDOT Photo – Flickr

Next year is a big year for Amtrak Cascades. The 2009-era stimulus projects will complete, Seattle and Portland will get two additional trips, and those trips will be faster and much more reliable. Since it’d been a while since we’d done an update on heavy rail projects, last month I sat down with Janet Matkin (Rail Communications Manager), David Smelser (Cascades HSR Program Manager), and Jason Biggs (Rail Operations Project Manager) to discuss the next year and a half for the Cascades program. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

What is the Rail Division working on for Amtrak Cascades over the next 6-12 months?

On the capital side, our federal program had 20 different projects in it. 12 are complete and 8 are still in construction. The Point Defiance Bypass is obviously one of them, and other well known ones are Freighthouse Square, all the track and signal improvements, and the Tacoma Trestle project that’s being administered by Sound Transit. There are 3 projects in Kelso that are all under construction with BNSF. Those 3 projects involve a bypass track to the Port of Longview and essentially a third main line to the east of existing tracks near Kelso, freeing up a lot of capacity there. There’s a new bridge across the Coweeman River, and there’s a lot things that go along with it. All Kelso projects will be done late next spring.

What’s your statutory deadline for all these stimulus funded projects? September 2017?

September is when the money disappears, but you’ve got to back off that a ways. Functionally, we need all the bills in by the first of June 2017. We need to get those paid and invoiced to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), so the work needs to be wrapped up by April/May 2017.

Beyond Point Defiance, Tacoma Trestle, the Kelso projects, etc, what are the remaining projects?

Continue reading “Amtrak Cascades Looks Toward 2017”

News Roundup: Opening

This is an open thread.

Zipcar Updates Bring More Flexibility, Airport Access

SDOT Photo (Flickr)
SDOT Photo (Flickr)

When it launched in Seattle in 2000, Flexcar (later purchased by Zipcar) was a godsend for enabling car-free or car-light living.  Hourly car rental, on demand, conveniently located near your home or office.

Then came smartphones and GPS, followed by on-demand car sharing services like Car2Go and ReachNow, which did away with the dedicated parking spots in favor of one-way rentals that could be picked up or dropped off on nearly any street in the city, within a bounded geographic area.

Now Zipcar is looking to leapfrog its younger competitors with a couple of new features.  The first of these is one-way rentals, which have existed in several cities for some time and is now available in Seattle.   Having a guaranteed parking spot for a one-way rental is a compelling feature. The last few times I’ve used ReachNow to go somewhere popular (say Downtown or Capitol Hill) I often circle for parking, wondering, “how many minutes of circling before it would have been cheaper to take Uber?”

The second is something that neither Car2Go nor ReachNow offer: airport rental locations.  Zipcars are available at the WallyPark garage across the street from SeaTac, accessible using the free WallyPark shuttle.   It will be interesting to see how demand for these fluctuates, but in theory it should be possible to combine these two features and take a Zipcar to or from the airport.

I asked Zipcar about moving the cars into the main SeaTac garage, thereby avoiding the need for the (albeit frequent) WallyPark shuttle.  They replied that Zipcar “continue[s] to have conversations with the Port.”

Do you use a car sharing or short term rental service? Are these new features interesting? Let us know in the comments.

Could Link Survive the Big One?

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)
Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

A month after the largest earthquake preparedness drills in Northwest history – “Cascade Rising” – I began wondering about the seismic preparedness of our transit systems, both current and proposed. I’ve written about transportation and natural disasters before, and though life-or-death situations rightfully make subway health the least of our worries, I do believe we have a moral duty not to assume that private vehicle access is a universal option in a crisis.

I asked Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray about their assets, mostly Link guideway (both elevated and tunneled). He responded in two parts, discussing the damage the system can take while still being operable, and the damage threshold that would cause the infrastructure to collapse or be fundamentally unsafe.

Gray said that the operational threshold is “a 150-year return period seismic event. If an earthquake like Nisqually happened again, Link could remain operational with minimal disruption as long as the tracks were clear and we were able to maintain power to the system.” In terms of structural safety, the design standard is a “2,500 year” standard, meaning that the systems are engineered to withstand the “Big One” that would destroy so much of our other infrastructure (including I-5)

It’s designed to avoid major failure and maintain life safety after the worst earthquake that experts can predict will happen every 2,500 years or so. Is this scenario Link would likely not be operational because of track blockages or power disruptions but the infrastructure would be standing. Backup systems would be able to power fire/life/safety systems in our underground stations but they would not be able to power the line.

In the news coverage of the drills, much focused on supply airlifts and strategies for rebuilding roads quickly to reopen access. Though these are critical of course, Link’s robustness should factor into disaster preparedness scenarios, too. If priority were given to restoring power to the line, freight and supplies could have a safe north-south artery on which to travel. Patients and officials unable to reach hospitals could reach temporary emergency facilities at UW. In any case, it’s good to know that what we’re building is resilient, even if we still have a long way to go as a broader community. Though feet and bicycles are the most resilient of all, we should think long and hard about the proper role for transit in natural disasters.

Metro on 75/372 Routing

A couple weeks ago, I asked for reactions to the possibility of altering King County Metro routes 75 and 372 to mirror the couplet path of routes 65/67 and 78 through the University of Washington campus.

New Metro Route 78
New Metro Route 78

Jeff Switzer from the King County Department of Transportation got back to me within a couple days with a response from Metro planners, but I was headed off to vacation. So, here it is, posted belatedly:

Route performance is part of our ongoing monitoring since making so many changes this spring. Thanks for raising this question as part of the discussion on reviewing and improving bus service.

As we discussed the restructure, we worked to balance the need to provide transit service to the campus and maximize the access to UW Station. There are an estimated nearly 3,000 riders using Stevens Way stops on these routes today, and there continue to be pluses and minuses to going with a one-way couplet of having westbound service on Stevens Way and eastbound service on Pacific/Montlake.

Continue reading “Metro on 75/372 Routing”