A dispatcher at Metro’s Transit Control Center. Credit: Peter Johnson

King County officials, including Executive Dow Constantine, were cautiously optimistic on the first day of the Squeeze.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon at Metro’s Operations Center, Constantine and Metro officials said that Monday morning’s commute had gone as well as they’d hoped, but reiterated that commuters should pad their schedules by 30 to 60 minutes if possible.

“This morning was our first true test of these commute conditions,” said Metro’s deputy manager for operations, Terry White. “As we expected—or hoped—it went fairly smoothly.”

According to White, southbound Aurora Avenue was the most extreme bottleneck. Near Denny, Highway 99 now narrows to one lane, trapping high-ridership bus routes like the E Line and 5 in a long queue.

White said that the agency was prepared to adjust operations as needed—and quickly, if need be:

“The control center is adept at adjusting and calling the audibles that make the service actually work, and become as reliable as we expect.”

Metro has arranged to place 20 coaches on standby for the duration of the Highway 99 closure. According to White, Metro used those coaches for 23 trips, mainly on the E Line and 120, and carried about 350 riders.

White said that Metro can add or move stops “fairly quickly,” but added that “how we get that information out and communicated to customers is equally important. That’s the piece where we’ve got to make sure we’ve informed our customers of where we are. It doesn’t do us any good if we move a bus and nobody’s there.”

Constantine repeatedly encouraged West Seattle commuters to take advantage of expanded Water Taxi service. Constantine said that the Water Taxi carried more than 1,300 passengers this morning, three times more people than on January 13, 2018. Constantine also said that most taxi sailings were about half full; he spent the morning at the West Seattle dock.

“It was cold, and it was dark, but I’m here to report people were upbeat,” Constantine said. “They were eager after all the months and years of talk to get on with this. There’s no doubt that commute times will have lengthened today, and people’s patience will be stretched.”

Metro officials said that systemwide bus ridership figures for the morning were not available. In a separate conversation about ridership, Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer explained that a more detailed view of Carpocalpyse Metro ridership will only be available in retrospect. Switzer said that, given Metro’s already-strong ridership growth and the unusual circumstances of the Squeeze, making meaningful comparisons to past ridership was difficult.

White and Constantine seemed pleased with the morning’s results, but they were worried about backsliding.

“Monday, Tuesday, we anticipated that there would be a lot of folks who held back,” White said. “Going forward, we think that can flip. We’re gonna be here for some weeks. So we need to be diligent and careful that we don’t react too quickly to what we think is happening in the moment.”

Constantine was blunter.

“People plan, or they get up really early, or they work from home, and then after a couple days they don’t see things being too bad, and they all pile back in their cars,” Constantine said. “Please don’t do that.”

14 Replies to “Metro: Monday morning’s commute “fairly smooth””

  1. The next 3 weeks are an interesting test case–could Seattle have survived without SR-99? No viaduct and no tunnel? Should the billions of dollars have been spent on a permanent doubling of the water taxi service, expanded bus routes, more bus-only lanes, etc? So far the answer is a strong YES–thousands of additional people in West Seattle have switched to the expanded transit options and there have been few complaints.

    Unfortunately thousands of people will return to driving when the tunnel opens and the transit options are scaled back. The West Seattle buses will go back to their old 99 route which appears to be SLOWER than the temporary option that includes a bus-only exit on 4th to avoid merging with general traffic to get on 99.

    1. It is a fortunate test of the concept. It should have been done before making a decision on the Viaduct’s replacement. The politicians also failed to predict the volume of cars on the Viaduct went down between 2012 and 2019. But they’re also thinking of the 509 extension from Des Moines to I-5 which may divert more cars from I-5 (because their goal is to improve car travel times, or at least slow down their deterioration).

      Hoiwever, this short-term event is not a complete comparison because the surface+transit proposal included improvements to I-5, other transit improvements, and a completed Alaskan Way boulevard. You’d have to compare the project list to the current temporary additions. The current improvements are seen as mitigation funding for construction, and are different from what the permanent improvements might have been. I don’t know what the long-term improvements would have been but it might have included the state investing in RapidRide E and C and maybe even D, both capital improvements and permanent operational funding. (And no hand-waving about gas tax prohibitions. The state could have designed a complete solution around those restrictions. Or been pro-active in having the courts clarify the limit of those restrictions in light of 21st-century transit and travel expectations, or passed transit-friendly laws. When the amendment was passed the population and travel profile was very different, and the opponents were partly motivated by the fear that the pre-BNSF robber barons and private streetcar companies would get some of the money, ) It might have included other capital funding for other routes (e.g., queue jumps). And I don’t know what the I-5 redesign would have been, but the current downtown design is especially bad, with through traffic given only one lane.

  2. Dow says don’t pile into our cars and drive downtown when we see things aren’t too bad. Should we then wait until we see things aren’t too good before we drive downtown?

    Sam. Chief Carmageddon Correspondent.

    1. I wonder if we can draw a parallel between Sam’s multiple hats in the comments and Martin’s multiple hats in the podcasts. Maybe Sam’s wide-ranging career experience inspired Martin’s?

  3. Dow, I hope you didn’t really say that. Because here’s the answer those words beg from your every listener to their every elected official with transit responsibilities:

    “Run our transit agencies with as much responsibly and foresight as we’re handling our travel plans and everything will be just fine.” And Peter and everybody else, what’s the word on LINK’s passenger situation this morning?


  4. It will be interesting to see the link ridership reports for January February and March to see if anybody changed there commuting habits permanently.

    1. For something like this, backsliding feels fairly inevitable. Once people read that the traffic wasn’t that bad, enough will get back into their cars, until traffic is that bad again.

      It also helped that Monday was warm and sunny, making the whole process of walking to the bus and waiting for the bus easier than a typical January day.

    2. We were just talking last night, that we would go up to Seattle for dinner or events more often if we had a real transit system like real big cities have. As it is, driving, parking, the bus, and traffic are all such a hassle that we stay home or spend time around Tacoma. If we could catch a subway or train from Auburn and get there and back with certainty, we probably would go out to eat up there regularly. But we have to drive all the way to Tukwila for Link, or rely on the bus, since Sounder stops running ridiculously early. The buses don’t connect directly to Capitol Hill as Link does, making the trip home a multi-bus journey. Plus, the buses are slow and dumpy. Getting to any other neighborhood is difficult, with lots of transfers and sitting on buses through repeated stoplights. Seattle, you’ve made your bed and disenfranchised a lot of working class (and in many cases, well-off upper middle class professionals) by explosive growth that’s made housing unaffordable and traffic nightmarish. Funny how that city has changed so drastically in one decade. I want 2006 back. Car centric, but the state’s top dining, top sights, and top arts scenes were reserved exclusively for weathy Amazombies.

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