Sound Transit’s ridership data shows early COVID impacts

Alert commenter Tlsgwm noted that Sound Transit has once again started publishing quarterly ridership reports, which had been MIA since last November. In July, the agency released the 2019 Q4 and 2020 Q1 reports simultaneously.

Sounder ridership was mostly flat (North Sounder was down by nearly 6% but overall Sounder dropped by 0.3%, a testament to how much South Sounder drives the numbers).

With the Downtown Transit Tunnel closing to buses last year, ST Express Bus ridership suffered, with Route 550 leading the decline. Operating costs per rider increased as well.

2019 ended with Link boardings overall 2.5% higher than 2018. Diving into the station-by-station numbers, though, shows the impact of the tunnel closure as well: UW and Westlake were up 12% versus the year-ago quarter and Chinatown / ID was up 20%, suggesting both more North end riders transferring from buses and more people exiting the system at the beginning and end of the tunnel.

2020 Q1 brought the two-fer of Connect 2020 and COVID-19, which hammered ridership across the agency, resulting in double-digit declines for ST Express, Link, and Sounder. Q1 ended in March, which means it was barely a few weeks of lockdown. 2020 Q2 numbers will not be pretty.

A way to restore Link frequency and save money

UW Station, 8 LRVs, 0 passengers (during Connect 2020) / photo by wings777

Link Light Rail has become little more than an exercise in keeping a transit line running during the pandemic. Although it is one of the safest transit options in town due to social distancing, because of dramatically low ridership and the ability to choose different cars, it has nevertheless become nearly useless for getting its passengers somewhere in a decent amount of time. Frequency matters.

An obvious part of the problem is that even while Link ridership has dropped 90%, SeaTac Airport ridership plummeted 95%. The climate activist in me says that is a good problem to have, just not for the reasons I hoped.

Currently, Link runs every 20 minutes each direction during the day on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. If you want to know when to be there to catch it, you have to have a smart phone, have looked up online or printed out or memorized the schedule, or have printed out Alex’s table. The schedules showing at the stations are what would have been if not for COVID-19.

Sound Transit has published its preliminary planned schedule (or at least weekday frequencies) for the service change that takes effect and runs from September 19, 2020 to March 19, 2021. Link is slated to run every 8 minutes during peak, every 15 minutes mid-day, and every 30 minutes in the evening. Planned weekend infrequency has not yet been published.

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News roundup: happy birthday

Northbound Morning Amtrak Cascades Passing Through Marysville
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

Hard to believe we haven’t had normal light rail service since early January…

This is an open thread.

Metro draws up service scenarios for West Seattle

Aerial view of West Seattle (2016)

The double crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and the West Seattle Bridge’s closure has left tens of thousands of people stuck in commuting limbo. As demand for commuter capacity begins rising again, Metro is preparing several scenarios based on bridge availability, bus capacity, and funding impacts related to the pandemic. The West Seattle Bridge Closure Transit Action Plan lays out two scenarios for transit service to the peninsula beyond September 2020, when the first set of service changes can take place.

Scenario 1 would be used in the event that the Spokane Street Bridge (also known as the “low bridge”) remains open to transit. Scenario 2 would be used if the low bridge is closed, with two sub-options based on whether the bridge is closed for short-term maintenance or malfunctions (Tier 1) or for long-term evacuation in case the “high bridge” becomes critically unstable (Tier 2). The presented scenarios would cover a “horizon period” until the September 2021 service change, when service would need to be re-evaluated to fit different commuting trends.

With the high bridge closed until at least 2022 (and likely for longer if a full replacement is deemed necessary), some 900 weekday bus trips carrying 19,000 daily passengers have been displaced. A large portion of these trips were oriented towards downtown workers, a demographic with a slower rise in demand, leaving essential workers working through the pandemic as the main users of transit through these near-term changes.

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Bremerton contemplates BRT

Kitsap Transit

Bremerton is finishing up a plan to upgrade the pedestrian, bike, and transit facilities along the State Route 303 corridor, which connects Central Bremerton with its northern reaches.

Today, SR 303 is a “commute corridor”, in the words of Mayor Greg Wheeler, but he wants to “give our city priority” by giving “walkers, bicycles, and public transit equal access.”

This process has produced a “preliminary preferred alternative” that has several features:

  • Transit signal priority at seven intersections, including two downtown
  • Roundabouts replacing a few intersections
  • 10 foot sidewalks north of the bridge
  • Bike improvements
  • A business access and transit (BAT) lane northbound from Callahan to Hollis St. This lane replaces a left-turn lane in the center roadway.

There are four Kitsap Transit routes in this corridor now. The 215, 217, and 301 start at the ferry, and run to roughly the city limit, Silverdale, and Poulsbo respectively. The 219 runs from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to the city line.

PSRC’s Vision 2050 document suggests BRT operating between Silverdale and Bremerton, and the preferred alternative is largely driven by advice from Kitsap Transit on what would make BRT in Bremerton successful.

Steffani Lillie of Kitsap Transit says that rolling out BRT “requires population increases in our area to truly support it.” In the preliminary, unfunded concept, a single route would serve SR303 between Silverdale and Bremerton, with other legs including Silverdale-Poulsbo and Tremont St. in Port Orchard. Given sufficient density, KT would target 20 minute headways. Span of service and branding are not yet determined. KT recently completed two transit centers (North Viking and Wheaton Way) that support level boarding and have the conduits in place for off board payment. The Silverdale Transit Center may begin construction as early as next year.

When the city finalizes the plan in October, it will start to look for funding to make it a reality. Project Manager Katie Ketterer says the city will “pull out all the stops” to pursue grants and partnerships with Kitsap Transit, and probably execute in phases. You can comment this project here.

Seattle presents potential improvements around light rail stations at 130th and 145th

Map of candidate projects (Seattle Office of Planning & Community Development)

Vertical construction has reached the northernmost of Seattle’s Link stations, bringing with it plans to improve surrounding streets for all modes. While both stations at NE 130th Street and NE 145th Street will be at freeway exits that bookend the Jackson Golf Course, there is room for better access, especially from the east and west.

The Office of Planning & Community Development has been drafting a multimodal access plan for the two stations over the past year and has reached the next step in their planning process. A new online survey, open until August 19, presents a slate of 18 potential projects for public feedback before they are whittled down to recommended options. Each project on the website has a separate survey, allowing for the public to pick and choose those that matter most to them without having to rank them like a traditional survey.

Some of these projects are also being planned in tandem with improvements to the north side of North 145th Street that are under the purview of Shoreline. Their corridor plan includes left turn lanes, a shared-use path, and a separate crossing of I-5 for pedestrians and bicyclists at North 148th Street. These projects also tie into a proposed “Trail Along the Rail” that would follow I-5 from 145th to the existing 195th Street pedestrian bridge. The cities and WSDOT are also designing a potential double-roundabout (or dumbbell) interchange to replace the existing ramps at NE 145th Street, which would improve traffic flow but at the cost of additional crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.

Each of the candidate projects are described below the jump. Click through the survey links on the project page to see maps and a fuller description.

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Give operators more tools to enforce mask-wearing

Since my last fit-throwing over passengers not wearing face coverings on buses, I’ve seen noticeable improvement in passengers having masks. Now, we need to figure out how to get them to put the masks on, over their mouth and nose, before they board the bus, and how to get them to keep the masks on.

Bus operators have some power over the ship they captain. One is the power of the voice, as in, to play PSAs, which is mostly done inside the bus, but can also be done over the exterior loudspeaker.

Another power is the power of the door. Operators control them, at least since Metro abandoned the experiment of allowing riders to open rear doors by pushing on them, while the bus is stopped.

A third power is the power of the gas pedal and the brake. Operators decide whether to stop when someone is waiting to board.

Used in combination, these tools could save many riders’ (and maybe a few operators’) lives.

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Send the Woodinville bus to UW, not Bellevue

Sound Transit’s preferred option to serve Woodinville

We recently wrote about Sound Transit’s updated plans for SR 522 Stride. In this update, Sound Transit revealed that it wants to drop plans to run its Stride line to Woodinville at half frequency (and without any BRT infrastructure east of Bothell). Instead, Sound Transit intends to run an ST Express peak-only bus from Woodinville to Bellevue Transit Center every 20 minutes, with a shorter Woodinville to I-405 & SR 522 bus during off-peak hours (also every 20 minutes). While the desire to preserve reliability for the rest of the BRT line is sensible, the proposed solutions here are both expensive and narrowly focused. While excellent for people heading to Bellevue and Bothell, Seattle-bound passengers are faced with a long and circuitous ride on East Link, where they will detour to the farther I-90 bridge. It’s even worse for UW-bound passengers, who have to decide between a long J-shaped trip on I-405 and I-90, or a 3-seat ride on SR 522. Because of this, I propose that Sound Transit and King Country Metro should study a route to UW Station rather than Bellevue.

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