In a Carpocalypse update yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other officials said again that the traffic crunch has gone as well as they could have hoped. They again encouraged commuters to continue using transit and avoid driving during the viaduct closure, and warned drivers to stay off the road.
“While we’ve survived the first week and a half, the marathon is not over,” said Metro’s Terry White. “Marathons are quite long and have their ups and downs. It’s a little too early for us to celebrate and say we have won.”
White again declined to say definitively whether Metro’s systemwide ridership has gone up. However, there are a few indications that it has. All of the below figures were current through yesterday morning
Most importantly, there seem to be fewer drivers on the road. WSDOT’s Dave Sowers says that “a lot of the major arterials through the city, and on [I-405], have seen reductions up to about 5% in total traffic volume.”
There’s anecdotal evidence that more commuters are riding: operator Darryl Butler, a 22 year Metro veteran, says “it’s busier, with more new riders.”
Meanwhile, Metro reports say that the 20 standby buses Metro is operating during the standby tallied 27,067 boardings since the viaduct closed. The standby buses have made 792 trips since they began running on January 14, the first weekday of the closure, and ran on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday on Monday.
According to Switzer, “the number of [standby] trips ranged as high as over 100 and as low as 42 on Day 1 Jan. 12.” The standby figures could reflect increased demand.
Pedestrian ferry ridership has demonstrably increased. Metro says Vashon Water Taxi service increased 17% from the same time last year, and the West Seattle Water Taxi has carried 14,800 passengers since the closure. Constantine said the West Seattle route tripled the amount of riders during the same part of last year.
WSDOT reports that Seattle-Bainbridge and Seattle-Bremerton routes both had more pedestrian boardings and fewer car boardings last Thursday, compared to the same day last year.
According to SDOT’s Heather Marks, bike trips increased 124% on the Spokane Street Bridge, compared to the same period in 2018.
Altogether, the statistics the agencies presented suggest that driving trips into downtown Seattle have probably gone down. However each official warned commuters against returning to cars prematurely—something that might already be happening. Constantine said that traffic volumes on the West Seattle Bridge on Monday seemed to be higher than the week before.
Metro won’t have system-wide ridership numbers for the viaduct closure ready for at least a few days, though White said that officials are working to expedite the data preparation process. Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer cited automated processes, and the sheer size of the systemwide Orca reader data set, as examples of obstacles slowing the release of system-wide ridership figures. Switzer said that, because of the small sample, the standby bus figures and Water Taxi figures are more simply monitored and collected.
Buter and other operators deserve thanks for the work they’ve put in during the closure. Since the start of the Carpocalypse, Butler has pulled 13 hour days and filled in on a variety of routes. Still, he’s been buoyed by riders’ positive attitudes, and seemed reassuringly calm and energetic.
“People have been patient,” Butler says, adding that rider morale “is actually very good. They’re cooperating by riding earlier, and being a little understanding of what it is we have to negotiate.”
Buter said that enhanced bus mobility programs—signal changes, expanded bus lanes, and SPD officers posted at key intersections—have been a big help.
Drivers cutting into bus lanes have not.
“They are in my way,” Butler says. “That’s a regular thing, and there’s certain points where it happens more often than other points—like on Battery Street, approaching the [E Line] Denny stop.”
Butler said that SPD officers have proactively move drivers out of bus lanes. However, operators can’t call the cops on violators directly—they need to radio to their dispatchers, who can in turn get in touch with police dispatchers.
His boss took a more scolding tone.
“We have avoided the worst end of the spectrum, in terms of predictions, because people have made good choices,” Constantine said. “Do everything you can to avoid driving alone.”
This post has been updated with the correct spelling of Darryl Butler’s name.