Link Morning Commuters at Westlake. Image by Oran.
Link Morning Commuters at Westlake. Image by Oran.

The completion of the Sound Transit 2 plan will more than double Sound Transit’s ridership from about 150 thousand today to 350 thousand, and ST3 will nearly double that again to between 561 and 695 thousand daily riders.

The ST3 plan would result in 657 to 797 thousand daily transit riders in the region in 2040. Bench-marked against a ‘no-build’ alternative, however, only 9% of those would be new to transit. Opponents of the measure repeat this factoid to argue ST3 will be ineffective in increasing transit mode share in the region, that it’s a poor value for money, and that it will not relieve congestion. Torture the data point enough, and it seems to yield a ludicrously high cost per added transit rider. But it’s a misleading number in several ways.

‘Cost per new rider’ is recognized as a terrible measure of value. The FTA discarded the measure in 2003 for a more comprehensive measure of system user benefits that includes travel time saved by all users. ‘Cost per new rider’ devalues the experience of existing riders and the time-saving and other benefits that accrue to them. Hundreds of thousands of riders will have a faster, more comfortable and more reliable journey.

Would anybody assess the value of a new highway only by counting new drivers? No. Any analysis of highway benefits would include time and money savings for all users, and so it is with transit. A focus on new riders also penalizes investments in core transit corridors (exactly where high-capacity transit needs to be). Providing alternatives to driving are important, but getting some people out of cars is not the only benefit of ST3.

Less obviously, the ‘no-build’ alternative is not the status quo. It is a highly optimistic 2040 scenario that incorporates all the long range plans of other transportation agencies and regional planners. The PSRC, WSDOT, Metro, and other transit provider plans are all completed whether currently funded or not. In this alternative world, bus service is far more ubiquitous and faster than today, and traffic is better managed to keep those buses moving reliably.

Why construct the ‘no-build’ this way? It maintains consistency between Sound Transit planning assumptions and the plans of all other agencies. But the assumptions underlying the ‘no-build’ scenario set a high benchmark that make rail benefits look smaller:

  • In the ‘no-build’ alternative, drivers face per-mile fees across the region to manage traffic levels. With better-managed traffic levels, buses move faster.
  • Travel times in HOV lanes are well-managed by raising HOV requirements as high as necessary for reliable transit speeds, or converting HOV lanes to bus only lanes. The political will to make these changes is uncertain, and not currently in evidence.
  • The ‘no-build’ alternative also assumes the complete build-out of WSDOT plans, many of which are currently unfunded.
  • Other transit agencies are assumed to complete their long range plans. Concurrent with the PSRC’s Transportation 2040 plan, the ‘no-build’ includes a doubling of local transit service. Those are only partly funded. The funding gap grows if ST3 is not completed and local agencies have to pick up the workload of the ST3 rail network.

In short, the no-build alternative isn’t free. It assumes large unfunded investments by other agencies, and those costs will grow if Sound Transit cannot build out the rail network after 2023.

Play out, if you will, an alternative where ST3 does not pass. Suppose other transit agencies are incompletely funded, or the political will for tolling and per-mile driver fees falters. In this very plausible scenario, failure to pass ST3 will reduce transit ridership by much more than 9%. In a world where buses are not faster or more reliable than today, the advantages of grade-separated rail are greater, and ridership gains are correspondingly larger.

97 Replies to “New Riders in ST3”

  1. > Play out, if you will, an alternative where ST3 does not pass. Suppose other transit agencies are
    > incompletely funded, or the political will for tolling and per-mile driver fees falters.

    Your scenario is acceptable to Kemper Freeman, John Niles, and Bryan Mistele.

    Helicopters for some, uber, driverless cars, and traffic congestion for everyone else.

  2. Now that communications have reached the stage where pictures (worth a thousand words or more) can be transmitted well beyond Mars at the speed of light, why bother to argue using words at all? Just show real-time of I-5 right now, including a in Interstate sign with the number on it.

    And then, real-time through car windshield from the driver’s seat, challenge (about ten words will work) challenge the opposition to no-build their way out of this one. Same with following distance between buses on most-reserved bus right of way. Like the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.

    Then special-effect images of passengers aboard empty coach space between buses. You’ll also be able to broadcast a word-count as it clears the opposition’s lips. And funniest bus videos of enraged trapped passengers who are all Kim Kardashian. And to assure max audience, dub in cat-count instead.

    And from there on, just ignore the opposition. Defend yourself, John! I’ll visit the pound this morning and get you your cat.

    Mark Dublin

  3. ” ‘Cost per new rider’ devalues the experience of existing riders and the time-saving and other benefits that accrue to them.”

    Okay, which existing riders, and which benefits? I can think of exactly three substantial groups:

    * Those going between SLU and points south or east.
    * Those going between 15th and Market (but no other parts of Ballard) and points south.
    * Those going between the West Seattle Junction (but no other parts of West Seattle) and points north or east.

    Everyone else will be much better served by existing transit service or BRT lines that could be built much cheaper. Yes, you have a great argument – but it’s not applicable here, because ST3 does such a horrible job of serving existing travel patterns! Even the Ballard line is handicapped by having just one single station north of the ship canal!

    1. I keep hearing about these “BRT lines that could be built much cheaper”. Where would they go? What features would they have?

      Will those proclaiming these “BRT lines that could be built much cheaper” support the funding for them, and the right-of-way features needed for them to resemble real BRT?

      There is no history of the main group opposing ST3 having ever supported funding for a single BRT line, much less any transit right-of-way priority, either at the ballot box, or in public hearings. STB has been there for both, often fighting against people who have been caught engaging in BRT insincerity (supporting BRT only when rail is on the ballot, and then going back to opposing any and all transit funding).

      In particular, where was the No on ST3 campaign back in March when the I-405 HOT lanes were being eviscerated?

      1. Right here on this blog, Brent. Take a look at the old articles here about a West Seattle busway, the CKC busway, or any number of other Eastside busways.

        I fully agree BRT is hardly a first choice of most people off this blog, but that’s a political question that can be dealt with once the ST3 boondogle is sent to its rightful grave.

      2. I know there was argumentation of busways as an alternative to a couple rail lines. What has anyone from the No campaign done to support a real on-the-table busway or BRT proposal that didn’t involve merely preferring it to rail?

      3. We never did hear about that BRT alternative for ULink, the one that would’ve been “just as effective and much cheaper.” Wonder why…

      4. There are some places where trains are needed, places with robust all-day demand that overflows buses. U-Link is one; North Link, East Link, and Ballard Link are others.

        Everett Link and Issaquah Link are not.

      5. “Right here on this blog, Brent. Take a look at the old articles here about a West Seattle busway,”

        That’s a different set of people. They’re more Rail-BRT supporters than BRT supporters, because they do support rail lines in urban corridors that meet their standards, and have advocated for them in Seattle, most prominently the “Metro 8” line and the 45th line. Most of them also support ST2 Link to Lynnwood and Redmond, which although it missed an opportunity for “urban stop spacing” in Seattle, will clearly be a strategic asset for the tens of thousands of Lynnwood-Seattle, Bellevue-Seattle, and Microsoft-Seattle riders. The BRT fans Dan is writing about don’t support any of these. Subways may be necessary in Manhattan and London and DC but that’s it. Cities like Seattle just need more highway lanes and buses. And when it gets time to actually build a BRT line or strengthen HOV restrictions, suddenly they don’t want to spend the money or they worry about SOV thoroughput and the BRT gets lost.

      6. The No on ST3 campaign is the same people who brought down BRT on the CKC and are anti-ETL on 405 (just because they don’t want to pay “again”). These people are simply anti-transit and don’t see any transit as being beneficial.

        The problem is that it’s very easy to pick apart ST3 because a lot of the projects look like they’re there simply to spend the money. Issaquah, Everett, etc… would be better served with buses. The Eastside in general would be better served with buses (at least for now).

        I live on the Eastside and I’d be much happier if half of my contributions were re-directed to Seattle where they’re actually needed rather than be spent on useless projects here on the Eastside. Instead, I’m planning to vote against ST3 because half the projects are a waste of money, even if I like the other ones.

      7. Keep in mind, also, that ST3 IS investing in BRT. 405 BRT is the most obvious place to put a BRT line, and I think this line, especially north of Bellevue TC, will actually be quite successful. This is also 522 BRT, investment in Madison BRT, and investment in Route 1 and various Rapid Ride lines, which are basically BRT-light.

        Toss in ST Express and all the different ways other transit agencies will truncate service on ST lines, and ST3 builds a network that is still very bus dependent to move people around.

        Some routes – Paine Field, Issaquah – political leaders demanded rail over BRT. In Kirkland, they city wanted BRT but ST insisted on Rail. Maybe those leaders like shinny new rail? Or maybe they legitimately fear BRT creep or anything that depends on WSDOT maintaining bus speeds? I lean towards the latter.

      8. @AJ: The project for 405 is not BRT. It is a cosmetic upgrade to the 532/535 which cuts out stops and still has to use the shoulder (at best) for most of its trip north of 522. Most of the money is being spent on the 85th St stop (the usability of which is not clear due to the lack of a walkshed), parking, and fancy signs/stations. The biggest problem with 405 ridership is not the lack of pretty signs but the fact that they’re highly dependent on park and rides.

        And 405 “BRT” is highly dependent on the ETL’s performing. I see them get backed up more and more, particularly since the changes were made to lengthen the areas where you can enter/exit. The exit to 160th St is particularly bad – any substantial traffic on 405 can cause backups to Totem Lake even in the express lanes.The only way for the ETL’s to really support BRT is to completely block them off from the GP lanes and provide ETL-only entrances/exits at all the normal 405 exits.

        522 BRT is actually a good project and is cheap for what it does. But it doesn’t go far enough (no signal prioritization for example) and is probably one of the areas on the Eastside that should have been invested in.

      9. I-405 “BRT” could suddenly become a lot more attractive once driverless Uber exists for last-mile travel. If a 2-mile shuttle trip costs $2, rather than $8, the bus suddenly becomes accessible for people riding in either direction, or people who don’t have a car to sit at a P&R all day. The incentive to ride the bus vs. ride the driverless car all the way would be about saving money ($1/mile still adds up fast) and using the HOV lanes to bypass traffic congestion.

      10. David,

        If you vote no on subway expansion because you don’t like some parts of it, parts which are a result of politics – as all of its parts are – then you will never vote yes on subway expansion in Seattle. The alternative measure you wish existed doesn’t, the alternative agency you wish existed doesn’t, and the alternative political situation you wish existed doesn’t. To tell you the truth, you and I probably agree on a lot, and I wish things were different too. But they aren’t.


    2. You forgot some existing riders:

      * Those going to downtown Redmond
      * Those going to Everett who actually know anything about what I-5 is like, even for HOV & buses
      * Those going to Tacoma (ditto above)
      * West Tacoma (everyone seems to forget Tacoma Link)
      * Dupont, Tillicum, Lakewood, South Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner, Kent, Auburn and Tukwila with new and faster Sounder service (most of these, BTW, are stations in urban cores)
      * Amtrak riders from all over the state who will benefit from South Sounder improvements
      * Express bus riders who get more buses now that the buses no longer have to serve all the places mentioned above

      1. Can you show me some data on I-5 travel times to Tacoma and Everett? If those bear out your claims, I’ll need to do some serious thinking.

        Downtown Redmond, on the other hand… meh. I live near there; except at the height of evening commute, it’s a short traffic-free bus transfer away. Plus, the bus stops at 51st St, near numerous office buildings, which the train won’t.

        Although I see why ST can’t promise anything at the moment, I’ll believe the new Sounder service when I see it. I’d gladly have voted money for unspecified Sounder improvements (okay, I live in East King, but you know what I mean), but that’s nowhere near enough to reconcile me to the rest of this package.

        And as for those reclaimed bus service hours… how much will really be reclaimed from them when train service hours will need to be funded? I remember the ST Express long-term plan, but which funding pots are they relying on for that?

      2. I once regularly drove between Tacoma and South Federal Way in the morning. Seeing a 120 on the Seattle drive time sign was not at all unusual. It almost always hits 60 by about 7:30 in the morning. HOV does no good since it just ain’t there downtown, just where it’s needed the most.

        I understand that from Everett is a lot worse, since there’s no HOV on the mainlines in most of North Seattle. To ensure getting from Everett to Seattle on-time requires allowing yourself almost 90 minutes, and that ain’t gonna get better, and there is no way light rail will be worse than that.

      3. “HOV does no good since it just ain’t there downtown, just where it’s needed the most.”

        What? From the south, the HOV continues up to Seneca St.

        From the north, the HOV continues till Northgate, which is well past ST2 Link. Nobody’s arguing we keep running Everett buses downtown; we’re arguing for running them to Lynnwood instead of continuing to expand Link outward from there. That’ll be a lot less than 90 minutes.

      4. Actually ST2 link goes up to Lynnwood, beyond Northgate. And that sidesteps the question of ST3 going all the way up to Everett, far beyond where the HOV lanes end. And regardless, just ask anyone who uses I-5 HOV lanes on a regular basis and they’ll tell you that during rush hour they’re hardly better than GP lanes.

      5. William, the light rail travel times to Tacoma and Everett may sound long, but they are much faster than driving or taking the bus during rush hour. My co worker used to bus from Tacoma, and supposedly that was a 2 hour trek each way. He ended up quitting his job in Seattle as traffic got worse.

        Seattle isn’t the only part of I-5 with bad traffic. The segments of Tacoma and Lynnwood that pass near I-5 have terrible traffic. If the light rail terminated at lynnwood and people took the bus to lynnwood, the bus is going to get stuck in traffic during rush hour well before it gets to the light rail station.

        By the time this stuff actually gets built, given current trends I-5 will be more or less useless for a daily commute. That’s the reason I think they are so gung ho on the “spine.”

      6. If the problem is that HOV lanes aren’t working, why not make them 3+? If the situation is really that HOV lanes travel at the same speed as GP lanes, this shouldn’t change anything for most people but will allow buses to get through faster.

      7. I routinely take the 586, 590, and 594 between Tacoma and Seattle during rush-hour, off-peak, and weekends. The travel time between TDS and Sodo has always been between 10 and 35 minutes faster than the expected Link travel time. I still support ST3 because by the time Link reaches Tacoma, continued traffic growth and continued refusal by the state to properly manage the freeway will likely lead to the bus being even slower than the train.

        However, it is not strictly speaking correct to say that Tacoma-Seattle riders will be better off with full ST3 buildout than we are now; we will be better off than the most likely alternative to ST3 at that point in time, but it is a matter of minimizing the loss, rather than maximizing a gain.

      8. @David, as Dan mentions in the main post, the political will to increase HOV requirements does not appear to currently exist. The I-405 ETLs went up to 3+ only because federal law basically requires it as a condition of allowing the ETLs in the first place (see 23 U.S.C. 166).

      9. “If the problem is that HOV lanes aren’t working, why not make them 3+?”

        Great idea, ask the legislature to do so. We’ve been trying to get them to do so for years but they won’t. They even went the opposite way and opened the 405 HOT lanes to all cars evenings and weekends, so if there’s a spontaneous traffic jam then buses are stuck.

    3. To add to Donde’s list,

      * those going to downtown Bellevue and Factoria.

      * those living anywhere along the two BRT lines

      * those going to downtown Seattle, or anywhere else in the core system, who will benefit from extra capacity of a 2nd tunnel

      * those who want to get ANYWHERE on the existing system who live near one of the ST3 stations

      1. Okay, people going to downtown Bellevue or Factoria from Issaquah, sure. (How many of them are there? More than the existing 555/556 can hold?) People coming from elsewhere will be quite fine with the ST2 system plus a quick Factoria shuttle that doesn’t detour via East Main.

        Okay, the 522 BRT line is good, but the BAT lanes already exist.

        But your last point is just plainly false. Express buses (say, 574 or 512) will get people to a lot of the ST2 termini faster than the ST3 trains. Even the existing 44 is almost as good as going around through Westlake to connect north on ST2 rail.

      2. Have you ridden the 512 or 574? Fast, they are not. And, BTW, they are limited-stop lines, not actual expresses.

        That said, they are faster than the line that comes closest to being BRT: SWIFT.

        There may be a handful of examples around the world where BRT can compete with rail vis-a-vis speed, but there really aren’t any here that anyone has pointed out to me.

        Express buses skip all those intermediate stops. But even most of the current express buses will end up being slower than taking the train. Routes 577 and 590/594 are the only true express buses that might beat Link, but that’ll require the sort of lane priority that politicians just chickened out on in March.

        I do recall heavy overlap between the loudest voices against Metro’s last county proposition that went down, resulting in cutting several express routes, and the loudest voices opposing ST3 and claiming to be pro-transit, while belittling the role of transit trips among all trips. The No campaign has never supported any of the BRT or BRT elements they are talking about. It would be the definition of insanity to expect that they ever will.

      3. William C – yes, people can get there via transit, but the point is people’s transit will be clearly superior to the existing system. Speed is not the only criteria, frequency and reliability matter too. Sure we could run the 555 every 15 minutes all day, and that would be an improvement over the existing 555, but I argue light rail is even better.

        Would it be a good idea to spend more money on buses and invest in some BRT lines? Sure, and that’s what Seattle is doing with Prop 1 and Community Transit is doing with their sales tax. But ST3 is an even better idea. We should do both.

      4. I do conceed some people’s commute will be slower with ST3 than without. Two things – first, as the road cogenstion continues to get worse, the time competitiveness of light rail will continue to improve. Second, I see no reason why non-ST agencies wouldn’t continue to run express buses as a supplement to ST service.

        For example, during rush hour Metro might run buses that go from Snoqualmie all the way to Mercer Island, giving commuters a quick in & out of Seattle. However, off peak that routes would terminate in Issaquah TC b/c there isn’t at much demand and Metro would rather spend all those service hours elsewhere. Same story with Community Transit running peak only expresses to Northgate post-Lynwood link, and several other examples. The most prominent may be South King or Pierce Transit routes that aim to bypass the RV.

        The result is a better network than one without Link. If Metro had to run buses between Snoqualmie and Mercer Island all day, that’s expensive and not a good use of service hours. Metro misses out on the cost savings of Link. If Metro runs peak only buses, then less people will take those buses because of the limited span of service. Maybe I need to get to work at an odd hour and take the express only one-way, or sometimes I have to work late and therefore I drive because I don’t want to miss the last bus.

        In summary, ST3 does create service patterns that are slower than existing bus routes, but that is 1) not necessarily a problem, and 2) can be mitigated by express bus service where reasonable.

      5. “Same story with Community Transit running peak only expresses to Northgate post-Lynwood link”

        CT has no buses to Northgate. That has been a perennial problem for people who work in other parts of north Seatle. CT has already said it will truncate all routes at Lynnwood. Metro’s long-range plan has Express routes from Federal Way to downtown, Mercer Island to Sammamish, and Mercer Island to North Bend. “Express” is defined as half-hourly minimum but some of them might be peak-only.

      6. I would argue that for the interim 2021-2023 period, that CT should truncate the commuter buses in Northgate. Riding the 71/72/73 downtown in the days before Link, I would look out the window and see a huge line of cars and buses queuing up for the Stewart St. exit ramp. And, even before that point, the I-5 express lanes are no longer nearly as free-flowing as they were 10 years ago. The Northgate exit ramp, by contrast, gets you reliably from freeway to transit center in no more than about 5 minutes, and Link to downtown from there would be 14 minutes to Westlake Station, with rush-hour trains running every 6 minutes. Besides improving reliability for downtown trips, the truncation would also attract new riders commuting between Lynnwood and north Seattle for whom transit was never a viable option before.

        And, it would allow for much more frequent buses, with the U-district lines and the downtown lines consolidated into one single route, and the huge service hour sink of slogging from one end of downtown to the other end eliminated.

    4. Curious about the travel patterns and destinations ST-3 doesn’t serve, William, because idea begs some other circulatory questions:

      Which travel patterns does your arterial system serve? Especially the big one right down the middle of you?

      True, the smallest capillary can be life-and-death too. Gangrene is a deadly poison. But you’ve got enough time to live to save your finger, or at least your life.

      Some arteries, you’re alive long enough to leave a large red puddle ’til the medics get there. If nearest Interstate isn’t blocked I-5 at rush hour. But block or slash through the descending aorta and you’re dead before you hit the ground.

      A lot, or at least most of us with Seattle Transit Blog, would never oppose bus transit at 70 miles an hour. Meaning with absolutely no chance for anything to get in the buses’ way. Like automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, snow, ice, or other buses. With the whole route clear, including approaches to stations.

      Along with a dozen fellow union members, I helped design, and spent years driving, the only 1.3 miles of honestly-named bus rapid transit in the entire Pacific Northwest. Graded and curved for rail, we could probably hit at least forty without even feeling cramped.

      Could’ve been designed to allow faster- if we weren’t publicly constrained by passenger demand to three closely spaced underground station stops. Though with tight space of the Seattle Central Business District, could have been legit argument that for regional rail,buses and streetcars could have fed the portals.

      And maybe one more station around Madison Street. Fed by surface streetcars and buses on lanes reserved by enforced law. Same with theoretical Ballard US line. But like any system using separate vehicles, regardless of wheel-covering, the empty safety space between vehicles, which widens as speed increases, eventually needs to either slow down or start carrying passengers.

      Theoretically buses can be coupled. But standard coach body for the whole world would literally get pulled in half by the strain. And absolutely need guided steering. So, pretty much like monorails, the reason the industry has so few coupled buses is that for the extra expense, the same or greater passenger loads can be carried cheaper by trains on rails.

      Of course, like smaller blood vessels, buses in their own lanes have their place. But I’ve left out abbreviations here is to make a point. The “R” between the “B” and the “T” generally includes so many “Obstacles” it should really read “BORT”. Since cartoonist Don Martin is dead…suggestions open for what sound that represents.

      Mark Dublin

    5. One thing I San Francisco MUNI Metro used used to couple N, M, K, and L-line service- light rail size articulated cars same size as LINK, though being Breda’s much worse, and run them as trains through the Market Street Subway.

      With PA announcements announcing not only the train and the number of cars, but also their order. So through the heaviest-hauling parts of the system, spacing problem never occurred. But when the trains reached the tunnel’s West Portal the cars uncoupled and rolled off as streetcars on their separate routes.

      And re-coupled at West Portal inbound. Being from Breda, the oversized overweight dumpsters did the same thing to this terrific system that they did to the rails. Though unless they demolished things above them as well as underneath, future cars can be specked out to once again let trains form and separate without interrupting service.

      I think this is a method we should keep in mind. In case we have to operate rail through a similar situation. Seriously, this is one thing busway advocates can also be working on. Though problem to be overcome is how buses can be manufactured so they can form coupled trains.


    6. Thanks to Dan Ryan for opening up this topic. All calculations cost per new rider are from ST after a request by the ST3 Expert Review Panel. Does everybody understand that “cost per new rider” means cost for each and every one-way BOARDING by a new rider? That’s what the FTA methodology formerly made a transit agency calculate, and what the Expert Review Panel made ST calculate. The examples of the calculations I have reviewed in earlier years are very arcane. There is an example an FTA cost per new rider boarding in the U Link documentation pages obtained via Public Disclosure Ace request in 2007 that I posted at!AqjgUKKgcrkogZtpD8_M585Yqh05ZQ The forecast published in 2007 of cost per new rider boarding of U-Link in 2030 is $16.84.

      At this very moment, late on August 9th, the overall cost per new rider numbers from ST published in Table 11 of Appendix C of the basic ST3 documentation is mislabeled. See this table in Where it says “Annual Cost per ST3 System Rider” it should say “Cost per boarding of ST3 System Rider.” I have reported this error to ST3 management.

      1. Why are you so concerned about a clearly flawed metric? Its a bad way to plan the system, and doesn’t give people information they care about.

  4. Ironically, by giving high importance to this cost-per-new-rider metric, they are explicitly saying that transit use is a social good.

  5. The ST presentation is very confusing – because it isn’t clear who are new ST boardings, and who are making entirely new transit trips. The presentation talks about ST and not the rest of the region’s transit systems – except indirectly through the new transit riders data.

    That said, the panel is merely calculating some measures that ST should have been studying from the start. This presentation is the only place where I’ve seen new Link riders and it appears that over half of them come from Ballard-SLU- Downtown and to West Seattle to Doentown adding another big portion. It really illustrates how the non-North King projects have lower impact (noting that they also have lower per mile costs).

    1. How do you define “new link riders”? Do bus riders that switch to link count? Or only people who didn’t previously take any kind of transit? I ask because a lot of the riders on Link’s suburban extensions will likely be bus riders that found that link was faster, more reliable, and more comfortable and switched over.

      1. I think that the big change with ST3 on several extensions is that no-build transit riders on other systems will still be on both Link and feeder buses – just that they will board Link for more of their trip and that will mostly save them time. Sure, the faster travel time will attract more riders – but as Zach mentions, new riders is not a great measure to consider by itself.

        One missing metric is the aggregate daily transit travel time saved with ST3. I suspect this is actually the performance measure that would most clearly illustrate the benefit of ST3. ST should really calculate and highlight this measure.

  6. Fair enough that the “no build” alternative actually requires funding. How much? If it’s still a lot less than ST3 (on a per-user basis) that’s a useful thing to know.

    1. The point there is that the “no build” alternative isn’t free and no one really knows the monetary cost or the political cost. The “no build” alternative is more of a future prediction/hypothetical than ST3 is.

    2. Everything in the no build alternative should be funded with or without ST3. It is not something to be build in lieu of ST3.

      If we don’t build ST3, no build becomes more difficult and less efficient because local transit agencies and WSDOT won’t be able leverage ST3 – both capital infrastructure and operating service.

      If we do build ST3, Metro and other agencies can re-deploy service to secondary needs while letting ST3 handle trunk service. WSDOT doesn’t need to worry about, say, expanding I90 between 405 and Issaquah and building HOV direct access ramps on the 90-405 interchange, and can spend those $1B elsewhere in the region.

    3. Dan’s explanation of “No-Build” is a major revelation. I thought it was only funded projects or those close to a deal. If it’s really every agency’s wishlist, then it’s bogus. It makes the incredible assumption that while this project is uncertain or may be downscaled to the low option, all the others will be implemented at their maximum option. That’s like Lake Wobegon where everyone is above average. It’s like what my dad told me about my lack of confidence, that I was comparing my inside to other people’s outside. It’s like people who support transit because other people will ride it and make more room for their car. Metro’s long-range plan is not a for-sure: it’s basically a first pre-proposal for public discussion.

      1. Not to mention, say, adding a kajilion (slightly less than zillions) of lanes to the I-90 bridge and a few other things that are probably on WSDOT’s wish list.

      2. Metro’s long-range plan is based on several optimistic assumptions, starting with the passage of ST3 itself. There is no way that Metro could switch to a network without Ballard->downtown buses without Ballard->downtown rail, and the hours to fund those buses would inevitably mean less service on other routes.

        The long-range plan also assumes an idealized world of ever-increasing revenue, no recessions, and no politics meddling in bus routes, like we saw recently with the 106 (according to a source I shall not name, the one-seat bus ride between MLK and downtown was a direct order from Dow Constantine himself as a political ploy to earn re-election votes).

    4. “Everything in the no build alternative should be funded with or without ST3. It is not something to be build in lieu of ST3. If we don’t build ST3, no build becomes more difficult and less efficient because local transit agencies and WSDOT won’t be able leverage ST3 – both capital infrastructure and operating service.”

      Not exactly. “No Build” is the status quo as it’s assumed to evolve. It assumes no ST3, except a the few plans like Metro’s 2040 that were designed around an ST3 draft. If ST3 goes through, then we’ll need the level of service in those other plans that ST3 doesn’t duplicate, but the plans will have to be redesigned to complement ST3 rather than being redundant with it. In some cases the erstwhile alternative may be impossible because of intersection or transit center changes, so it would have to be redesigned.

      1. Agree, what’s needed is the level of service, not necessarily the specific capital projects and routes that may be in a current long term plan that assumes (or doesn’t assume) ST2&3.

        Good clarification, thanks Mike.

  7. It appears that the forecasts do not consider train overcrowding. The no-build ridership approaches or exceeds today’s BART system boardings (440K). 480K is already 6 times higher than an 80K weekday today and that’s at the low end of the no-build boarding range.

    Going from 2 cars to 4 cars increases the capacity by 2. Going from 6 to 3 minutes with the second line increases the capacity by 2. That’s only 4 times higher than today.

    Simplistically, a train car would appear to be 50 percent ((6/4) -1) more crowded in no- build.

    Since ST3 will encourage more riding between Westlake and Capitol Hill, the overcrowding would even increase with ST3.

    We need to reflect on system overcrowding if these numbers are to be believed. It doesn’t make sense to extend lines when the core system is so crowded that people can not board trains.

    1. I’m confident that if ST3 passes we can use the 10 years until overcrowding really becomes a problem to pressure ST to fix it.

      1. There are operational fixes like more standees or train doors or even smart technology to allow for closer trains – but a true systems fix is as expensive or more expensive than the original system is. In this case, an extension of the Downtown – SLU – Ballard line (such as to U-District or Northgate) to connect back to the main North Seattle Link line is one eventual likely solution. Otherwise, ST would have to lengthen platforms at tunnel stations and that would be quite costly.

      2. ST’s draft list of ST3 projects included upgrading the DSTT for sub 3-minute frequencies. It didn’t get into the final because of the second tunnel and split spine. But ST could pursue it in the future. It would cost money of course, and presumably require shutting down the tunnel for some period of time.

    2. Not all of these riders are going to Seattle. Seattle is still the point where the trains will be crowded, but it isn’t the only CBD on Link. Tacoma becomes a second destination at the south end, and Redmond and Bellevue will be a destination too.

      1. Today’s non-Downtown destinations include SeaTac and UW. Also, many will have to travel through Diwntown Seattle on Link to get to these new outer destinations. While this is a generalized observation that needs more data, I don’t see how these other destinations could significantly shift the likely forecasted overcrowding problem.

      2. Agree. I would imagine a train running from Lynwood to Redmond might turn over in full twice during peak hours, with big turnover around UW, downtown, and Bellevue, with only a small fraction of the riders trying to get from Lynwood to Microsoft.

        I think Sound Sounder shows this logic currently, with nearly as many people embarking and disembarking at Tukwilla.

        And if UW to Seattle becomes a huge bottleneck, a way around this is get people to disembark at UW and take a bus over 520 to Bellevue or Redmond? Or get SDOT to actually fix Roosevelt BRT?

        But really, if your concern is that too many people are going to ride the system, that seems like an odd way to object to ST3. If ST is struggling to move people between Westlake and UW with 4-car trains at 3-minutes headways, then I would consider the system at roaring success.

      3. It’s not necessarily a shift in the overcrowding problem, but it does mean that, as an example, 7,000 or so of those riders are between Federal Way and Tacoma. Not 100% of them wind up on Capitol Hill to Westlake.

        You list Capitol Hill and Westlake as the most crowded section.

        The current plan (and certainly this could change) shifts the Ballard line to connect to the line to SeaTac and Tacoma. This may decrease the crowding a bit on that particular section as the through traffic pattern might shift a bit more passengers to a different north-south corridor.

      4. Guys, I’m simply make a simplistic observation about forecasts and overcrowding. ST has not released a segment analysis so they haven’t revealed details. Still, it’s worth noting that future planning cannot ignore overcrowding.

        I would also add that the section loads between Westlake and Capitol Hill will be higher rather than lower because of ST3. SLU riders and LQA riders will head to Westlake and transfer there to go to and from the north.

      5. Agreed. Capacity designs have to take into account what they need to move.

        On its most frequent segment with stations, MAX manages 30 trains an hour per direction on surface running with not so great (tied in with traffic lights) signaling. With four car trains and maybe 170 per car Link should get over 20,000 per hour per direction at that frequency.

        Once you get to that level of traffic, you’ve got more than line capacity. Things like the ability of station escalators and elevators to deal with passenger volumes also become an issue.

        So, if things ever get that crowded on Link, they probably need to build the Metro 8 Subway or some similar downtown bypass route anyway.

      6. Assuming current levels of service on the 541/542 continue, disembarking at the UW Station and switch to a bus to go to Redmond would be 20-30 minutes faster than staying on the train, while Bellevue would be something of a wash. That’s for eastbound travel. Westbound, traffic is worse, and the time savings less, but once the HOV Montlake exit ramp is operational (estimated around the time that Overlake Link Station opens), things should improve considerably.

  8. Too bad Sound Transit hasn’t actually released passenger travel time saving data which you allude to. This has become a pretty standard performance measure because as you said it measures the benefits for both existing and new riders. IMO it’s the best measure because it helps put different projects on equal footing. For example a project with a big travel time savings for a small number of riders (existing and new) and project with a small travel time savings for a large number of riders can be compared in an unbiased way assuming you think everyone has an equal value of time…

      1. Those are inputs to a travel demand model which would be reflected in the total travel time saving results. Improve one of these factors and you should see an improvement in the travel time savings.

    1. The travel time isn’t a difficult measure to figure out your self. Assume an average speed of around 45 MPH, count miles, and after that it’s just simple math. The only exception is MLK in south Seattle.

      1. Actually it’s a fairly complicated calculation. What you’re describing is the travel time difference between two transit routes, such as the 550 and East Link. What I’m describing is the aggregated travel time difference for the passengers. This is different because few passengers travel the whole length of the project and since faster transit travel time attract new riders you have to account for changes in passenger demand.

  9. I think of it this way. Sure most of those riders going to light rail already ride buses, but then those buses may not be needed anymore which frees up road space, or they free up spots on those buses for new users that don’t have the advantages of a commute that light rail covers. I think adding the most capacity possible even at a higher cost that isn’t cannibalizing existing capacity on the surface from existing modes, is the best option for everyone. I think the opposition knows this as well and aren’t that ignorant, they just don’t intend to use it themselves so they are thinking with blinders on.

    1. Jon, I think that underestimates the power of induced demand. As much as people complain about ST’s station placements, the fact is that ST sticks stations in PSRC Growth Centers, and that’s where, officially, growth is going to go. In neighborhoods like Totem Lake or Issaquah, with ST3 there will be a green light for dense TOD development, and people will choose to move those areas – and pay a premium – to live where they can take rail to/from work every day.

      But I still very much agree with “will free spots on those buses for new users that don’t have the advantages of a commute that light rail covers,” b/c of the vast restructuring benefits for Metro and other Transit agencies to push more service into other routes not served by ST

      1. Not to mention, those buses can now provide different service.

        With TriMet’s Orange Line people lost their one seat ride on the 33 to downtown Portland, but gained a one seat ride to the King Road corridor. TriMet’s 99 stopped going directly downtown, but now goes through Sellwood, which is another one seat ride that was not possible before. Service on the 34 got a boost to nearly double, plus now serves Johnson Creek Road, which is an area that previously had no service.

        Possibilities like this should open up with fewer bus hours invested in buses stuck in traffic.

      2. Yep! The “but I lose my 1-seat ride” objection is very closely related to the “but Link is slower than my express bus” objection. Yes, that is a valid objection at an individual level, but it’s a trade-off made to create a better network for all. It’s just tricky people people to see because people know what service they currently have but may be unaware of the potential new service that does not yet exist.

      3. The part that unfortunately couldn’t happen as part of the ULink restructure was the replacement of some one seat rides with certain other one seat rides.

        It’s hard to find a parallel, but say the 71/72/73 were instead of terminated at Link insead turned to backwards L shaped routes going into Fremont and maybe connecting with the express stop at I-5 and 45th? Or maybe fold them into the cross lake services on 520 so one seat rides are now available to Refmond or Bellevue?

        I’m not saying those should have happened in this case. In some of the upcoming changes, however, old one seat rides could go away in favor of one seat rides that previously never existed. Route truncation is one way to reorganize around Link, and you get one seat ride pitchforks. Replace those one seat rides with some equally attractive one seat rides for someone else, and public reaction could change a bit.

      4. Route 62 was intended to do exactly that. Unfortunately, what happens in practice is that the people who would lose one-seat rides still put up the pitchforks, while the people who would gain from the change are unaware that the change is even happening.

      5. 62 runs east-west and then north-south, but it still goes into downtown Seattle and it doesn’t hit the Link station at UW. It doen’st serve the 71, 72, 73 routes.

        TriMet’s 31 – 33 and Orange Line restructure meant that the same exact routes were served by today’s 33 as were previously served by last year’s 31 and 33. Those that used to have to transfer between the 31 and 33 no longer have to do so.

        The problem with Metro’s 71/72/73 etc is that I’m not sure what else people would have transferred to at the UW station.

        Maybe the best analogy would have been had the 71/72/73 been through routed on the 48 or the 48 extended northward onto the 71 or 73 or something. Yes, that would have meant doing something different or extending the trolley wire.

        Because of the rather isolated nature of the station this type of reorganization is much more difficult at the UW station. A Link station at the Campus Parkway transit mall area could have been much more interesting.

    2. When you shorten the bus routes, you can run more buses with the same drivers. You can take these commute buses, add some mid-day trip, and make them two-way routes instead of commute-direction routes.

  10. One thing I’ve realized about BRT lately. All of the articles about successful dedicated-lane BRT systems seem to have a cover photo where something like a 12-lane boulevard got refitted into a 10-lane road with BRT in the middle. That kind of low-hanging fruit just doesn’t exist in Seattle.

    That said, it was great to see ULink capacity redeployed as more service hours for frequent local and RapidRide routes. I use both more often now (vs. bike) than I used to when the local buses were unreliable and RapidRide served neither my home nor workplace. I did have a maybe 10 minute best/average travel time reduction (actually on a non-Link route), but the big win was the near elimination of worst-case (deal-breaker) delays because I now have three reliable routes to choose from. Also whole new neighborhoods opened up to me for combining errands with my commute. Here’s to seeing (for example) all of the #41 express buses turn into dedicated-lane BRT to Ballard from Northgate and UW when the Northgate Link expansion happens and more expansion through ST3 for a more reliable, resilient and wider network.

    1. All of the articles about successful dedicated-lane BRT systems seem to have a cover photo where something like a 12-lane boulevard got refitted into a 10-lane road with BRT in the middle. That kind of low-hanging fruit just doesn’t exist in Seattle.

      EmX in Eugene, Oregon:

      Street View: former 4 lane street converted to 2+1 + BRT.

      former 4 lane street converted to 2+ one way lanes + BRT + station, and turning the other way 2 lanes + turn lane + BRT.

      1. Zooming out on that link just a tiny bit, Franklin Boulevard in Eugene looks relatively spacious, compared to say Eastlake, or 45th or the routes to Ballard. It looks more comparable to the future 522-BRT route, especially since there aren’t a lot of storefronts on it and most of the businesses have large off-street parking lots.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for converting traffic lanes on I-5 and 99, 405 etc. to dedicated-lane BRT and more transit streets or bus-only lanes downtown. I’m looking forward to the 372 route being eventually converted to RapidRide, which should have enough room to be uncontroversial. But in Seattle, I don’t see an easy way to knit that into a coherent system through all of the choke points without grade-separated Link doing the heavy lifting.

      2. Eastlake could look that way, if they were willing to sacrifice some general traffic lanes and parking. The bus lane you see there runs both directions, so at narrow sections EmX only uses a single dedicated bus lane for buses going in both directions.

        They also have an advantage of a really good bike path a couple of blocks further north, so it isn’t trying to be a catch-all boulevard for everyone.

      3. Oh, and if you think snything in Eugene is spacious (other than the damned parking lots that have replaced almost all of downtown), try comparing it with anywhere along Highway 99. Imagine what the A or C line could have been!

    2. Madison is BRT in the middle on a smaller scale, but 405 BRT is basically what you describe. 405 is a 10 lane “boulevard” with 4 lanes in the middle taken for “transit” with legit in-line stations. Other freeway stations, like Eastgate TC, are also inline stations served by HOV lanes. So we can do this in our freeway system, if there was a political will to kick out HOV drivers from the HOV lanes.

      And we could definitely turn the E-line into a center running BRT.

      1. Oh, and the Center City Streetcar will have stations in the middle of the streets & dedicated lanes on 1st Ave.

      2. The 405 ETLs have two in-line stations. Another will be built if ST3 passes. The rest of 405 BRT will run in GP lanes or shoulders. And even if they could run in the ETLs, the ETLs north of 522 are rarely all green during rush hour (look at the 405 ETL flowmaps WSDOT provides). Even the ETLs south of 522 get backed up if traffic is bad in the GP lanes. So no, 405 BRT is not real BRT. It’s BRT-lite at best.

      3. @David – fair, but as the 405 Master Plan gets completed (ETLs between Bellevue and Renton, 2nd ETL all the way to I5 in Lynwood) some of these choke-points should be alleviated. I am hopeful that over time 405 BRT will migrate to be running with more in-line stations over time as the 2 lane toll lanes expand and BRT stations get upgraded.

    3. “a 12-lane boulevard.” I-5 typically has 10 lanes in the relevant sections, which comes pretty close to meeting your 12 lane standard.

      1. There is ~0% chance of Bus Only lanes on I-5. I mean, this state can barely get the nerve to alter HOV requirements…

  11. Maybe I can be cynically relaxed about the farthest extensions of our LINK system since even my long-lived family isn’t guaranteed age 95. At least with the medicine of 2016. Meds and events from now tof 2040? Equal chance either way.

    Same with whatever our regional system calls LINK, which I hope will be SOMETHING ELSE. Not literally! No way anybody’s going to ride from Everett to Tacoma, let alone Bellingham to Centralia, on LINK seats. And only scenic Old Sounder rides will run the shore.

    Very likely we’ll have midl-scale hundred electric bullet trains with toilets like in Southern Sweden, straight down the I-5 corridor. With one stop under Seattle and nobody complaining. Because station will have ten story elevator up to today’s LRT.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens with present freeways. Here in seismic country, plate tectonics could decide how fast I-5 will be brought to design speed. Mass casualty incidents focus attention, especially when they go through a major city and past a fort.

    Not kidding that it’s likely the Army will clear the dead and demolished, and then turn a Federal defense highway back to its original intent, which didn’t include being a long linear death trap. Maybe we’ll have some tracks and lanes to get medics and machinery in and depressing things out.

    No doubt next quarter century will have us digging and elevating a lot faster. So I think best approach effectiveness and morale-wise is to keep moving machinery, construction and passenger, ahead of us as we go.

    When we get to Lynnwood, we’ll know a lot more about Everett routing than we do now. And the more passengers we’re already carrying on something, the more votes for whatever we’ve decided is best, according to events and discoveries of the time.

    Since 2016 is a little over half way between DSTT opening in 1990, events of last quarter century might give us some idea of events, problems, and possibilities same time distance ahead. Since I think we missed the halfway party, we owe ourselves something special next month.

    SR520 probably not best venue right now. But since last musical event was really great, maybe four-car train could either have seats in all four cars removed for dancing space, Or the last car (trappings would have to be moved to other end of the train at each terminal) for one of those great old railroad lounge cars.

    Where some pertinent dignitary presides- do pertinent governments have any of those, or reps who can play them on TV? Since Jeff Bezos is already a tycoon (no, they don’t have striped tails!) he can at least wear a tight 1890’s collar and a gold watch and chain over his T-shirt.

    But since cigars are now as weirdly out of place as those new Steam Punk Zeppelin Captain looking electric things, maybe, since this is halfway to the future, maybe we could get him some oil that smells like an expensive cigar instead of patchouli.

    At the very least, based on last time, we could clean the pigeons out of the roof at Tukwila International for a week.


  12. One trip I take at least a few times a year that will be slower with ST is U-district->SeaTac airport. ST2 is 45 minutes, but ST 3 adds 1 minute for Graham St. Station, 1 minute for BAR Station, 1-2 minutes to walk between the platforms at Westlake Station, plus an additional 0-10 minutes to wait for the other train. In total, I would need to leave home a good 15 minutes earlier to be assured to catching a plane with ST3 vs. without ST 3.

    That said, I still plan on voting for ST3 anyway, for the greater good. The total man-hours saved in Ballard->downtown or Ballard->airport trips will far exceed the total man-hours lost in U-district->airport trips.

    1. I seem to remember a factoid that I-5 trips are going to be 1 minute slower every 3 months. It could be that 4 years of congestion is going to wipe out that 15 minute advantage.

      1. The 15-minute advantage is based on ST 2 travel time, which is already train all the way, and completely bypasses I-5.

  13. ST will also try to downplay the 9% metric (which is a big deal!) and, even more cynically, lie to voters that ST3 will reduce congestion. Obviously, given the nature of induced demand, congestion pricing is the only sensible way to reduce congestion on freeways. My main point here: don’t think that millions of voters will approve ST3 to benefit transit riders out of the goodness of their hearts. They need to be convincingly lied to in order for it to pass.

    Also, based on existing research, suburban TOD’s (i.e. PSRC’s urban growth centers) only marginally increase mode share in non-SOV modes. If one wants to make significant impact in transit mode share, one focuses on the real urban growth centers: Ballard, West Seattle, Fremont, SLU, etc.

    1. If the money can be found to extend Ballard-DT east to UW, all of the places you mention receive subway quality service. Also, people don’t need to be lied to. Transportation is a huge concern, and people want to see serious investment in it. Seattle has been looking for a silver bullet for a long time, and people know that has been just making it worse. Its not a question of “does ST3 fix everything?”, its a question of “holycrapthingsareaweful! does ST3 help it get better?!”

  14. Wait a minute. Today there are about 600,000 transit boardings in the tri-county region. So far, Link hasn@t even dented Metro, so the 65,000/day on link + 65,000/day on ST bus, + 400,000/day on Metro, + 30,000 on PT + 45,000? on CT, + a few on KT, ferries, and ET and we’re already at a shitload of people taking transit. Are the planners seriously suggesting that link will basically cannibalize the entire bus network, even as we look to massively expand it with the trains (RR+, Madison BRT, Center City Streetcar, etc. etc.)?

    To me it looks as if we’ll have somewhere in the order of 1.3 million transit boarding by the time ST3 is done, maybe 1.6 at our growth rate….. how did they come up with .7million?

    1. Unlinked trips are in the neighborhood you describe in 2040 (I can’t find the reference right now, but I’m recalling 1.3m). But linked trips are far more likely than today to have a Sound Transit component. Many also have a Metro or other local agency component. Relatively few are local agency only. Mathematically, the total number of trips that are partly Sound Transit begins to approach total transit trips. But it’s not really cannibalization, more a complementary relationship between ST and Metro.

  15. But we could also play out a scenario in which ST3 passes but where King County Metro’s Long Range Plan or other transit agencies funding get gutted or per-mile driver fees don’t get implemented and we’d presumably see ST3’s ridership projections would fall as well. I suspect the no-build scenario would look relatively worse if those assumptions (namely no free-flowing HOV lanes) didn’t come through, but it’s clearly not a fair comparison to compare a no-build plan with ungenerous assumptions to a build plan with generous assumptions.

    I also don’t see much evidence that local transit agencies would have to “pick up the workload of the ST3 rail network” in the event ST3 fails. The funding source for ST express already exists and will grow once ST2 bonds are paid off. Excluding the Seattle corridors, ST should be able to maintain plenty of express service in the relevant corridors for the foreseeable future.

    1. ST has promised to roll back the taxes to maintenance level if no more expansions are authorized.

  16. The no-build alternative is not free, but it still saves $54 billion.

    That some of the estimates of cost per rider are unreasonable distortions of the numbers also does not change the fact that even distributing the costs only of ST3 over the total ridership projections for 2040 (and ignoring that as far as I’ve been able to find, Sound Transit has never come close to meeting a long term ridership projection), still results in a ludicrous number:

    $67,754 per projected rider, not counting operations and maintenance costs. It doesn’t matter that the O&M costs are lower for rail than for buses. The initial cost is high enough that by NPV, the savings never come anywhere close to paying down that initial cost.

    Two things that seldom get discussed with relation to Sound Transit:

    1.) Bus Rapid Transit (far lower construction costs, far more flexibility)

    2.) The fact that Sound Transit light rail construction costs full multiples as much as in metro areas with comparable congestion, land use, and topographic challenges, such as Portland.

    1. Your point 2 doesn’t hold, because seattle is not similar to Portland in any of those ways.

      And thinking of it as “daily rider” makes it seem like the trips cost more. That 67k is an initial capital cost of creating that permanent mobility capacity, not a subsidy per ride. I-5 has roughly 250k daily users in Seattle. I’m having trouble finding the initial construction costs, but they were certainly substantial for the time. Could Seattle be the city it is without I-5? I don’t think so. And I think the addition of a subway system will allow a similar increase in the usefulness of the city and be a worthwhile long term investment.

      1. The anti-rail crowd does the ssme thing here: divide by the number of riders per year and come up with an insane “price per passenger” that basically assumes the entire project lasts only a year.

        The date cast into the sidewalk near where I live is 1910. At the time there were two houses on the street. You could probably do similar inflation adjusted math that would show that sidewalk cost $1 million per user in 1910 or some such.

        Except the sidewalk has been there unchanged for 105 years and today there are a dozen or so houses on the street.

        Trying to convince the anti-rail crowd that light rail infrastructure lasts more than one year is an uphill battle.

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