Souls Boarding & Deboarding at International District Station

Like many transit agencies, Sound Transit predicts a constrained financial future and has cut transit service. Under Sound Transit’s initial 2021 Service Plan, Link would have continued its current operational pattern of 8 minute peak frequencies—stepping down to 15 minute and 30 minute frequencies—through 2021. In that document, the agency blames reduced peak hour demand for this proposal. Sound Transit has since backed away from this plan after collecting feedback. Nevertheless, a sole focus on reduced demand ignores the other consequences of infrequent service on Link. These consequences are not abstract; they are quantifiable. Ignoring them significantly and disproportionately reduces the value of the Link in Seattle. We should expect more effort to analyze the consequences of these reductions in much greater detail.

While ridership-based measurements, like Sound Transit’s citation of peak hour demand, are pervasive, they are quite limited. They are subject to errors and bias from sampling. More concerning, they tightly couple observed demand for transit with actual desire for transit. In doing so, they assert that demand for a transit route is a consequence of the area the route serves. They fail to consider that the underlying quality of transit service also drives use. Ridership-based measurements are logical to use when adding service: a crowded bus is a clear sign that more capacity is warranted. When used in reverse, they create cycles where low ridership drives a reduction in frequencies, making transit less practical and dissuading potential riders further. In reality, adoption of transit depends on both the needs of people served by transit and the qualities of the transit network that serves them. Unfortunately Sound Transit’s explanation of its service reductions only guesses at the future of the former while saying nothing of the latter.

Spontaneous Accessibility assesses the underlying quality of the transit network in a way that is largely agnostic to the decisions of present or potential riders. It focuses on a fundamental goal of transit: connecting locations in a reasonable amount of time. To do this, it considers a bounded area, such as a city, divided into a grid. It also sets a journey time limit. Then, for every combination of origin, destination, and starting time, it counts how many of these combinations correspond to a trip that can be made with walking and transit under the time limit. This is divided by the potential number of combinations to form the Spontaneous Accessibility ratio. Furthermore, this ratio can be broken down by each destination sector in the grid to establish a reach probability for areas of the map, allowing locations in the city to be compared. (Spontaneous Accessibility is described further in my paper in the 2018 Transportation Research Record).

To assess the impact of reduced Link service, consider these Spontaneous Accessibility computations, from late 2019 (chosen for being prior to both the COVID-19 service adjustments and Connect 2020) and late 2020, for the bounding rectangle of Seattle and a 30-minute maximum trip time. These compute the measurements using the schedules of King County Metro-operated service and a consistent walking model. The Spontaneous Accessibility ratios of .0821 and .0787 show a 4% decline in service quality, but the practical meaning of that 4% change is difficult to assess. Looking comparatively helps reveal the extent of the decline. The end of 2020 ratio is similar to the 2013 ratio of .0783. This is a transit network that predates the Rapid Ride E Line, the University Link extension, and the subsequent bus restructures. Spontaneous Accessibility corroborates that the 2020 network is clearly a diminished one.

Route2019 Count in Best Paths
E Line957116832
D Line848212694
Most important routes for Spontaneous Accessibility,, 2019

The Spontaneous Accessibility calculations can be used reveal how special the Link is. While the aforementioned maps break the measurement down spatially, it is also possible to assess the impact of individual routes. Computing the measurement involves finding the best path of transit routes and walks for each of the reachable combinations of origin, destination, and starting time. It’s then possible to count up the appearances of each route across the best paths. Sorting the counts provides a rough ranking of which routes are most valuable to the network. In the 2019 data, of the nearly 150 billion combinations, just over 1 billion feature Link. It’s the top route, exceeding route 40 by a margin of just over 14 million. It’s impressive that the Link can hold this lofty position. In the area of the map it has 13 stops, compared to 54 for the northbound 40. Routes with a large number of stops have more opportunities to appear in the list of top routes, since more starting and ending locations will be near stops on the route. The Link’s combination of high frequency and relatively high speed overcome this, making it the most valuable transit resource in Seattle during 2019.

RouteCount in 2020 Best Paths
E Line992831936
D Line840289362
Most important routes for Spontaneous Accessibility, 2020

While King County Metro and Sound Transit have both reduced service, the Spontaneous Accessibility analysis highlights the disproportionate magnitude of the Link’s reduction. A member of around 768 million of 143 billion best paths, its losses exceed the combined reduction from the complete suspension of the routes 71, 22, 76, 29, 312, 355, and 9. Additionally it is no longer the top route. It has fallen out of the top three, trailing the E line, 40, and D Line. The E Line has a new stop at Harrison Street, which has caused its presence in the best paths to actually increase, muddling the comparison. The other two routes, however, have no confounding variables and have seen decreases. These decreases pale in comparison to the Link’s decrease of over 239 million paths. Link’s decrease in fact ranks second only to the route 65’s of nearly 257 million, which has lost all night service and stretched from 10 minutes to 15 all day. [1]

Aside from the Link and the route 65, no other route diminishes as much. The third greatest loss, that of the route 67, is over 77 million smaller. On the surface, there is not much to differentiateLink’s service reductions from those of King County Metro’s bus routes. Nevertheless, the same properties of the Link that make it a top contributor make its utility in the network sensitive to small adjustments in service.

Route2020 Count2019 CountDecrease
C Line53724173363065746393415730
Most affected routes by service changes, 2019-2020

A route moving down in the best trips ranking does not always indicate diminished transit quality in the areas that it serves. Perhaps the loss of Link service could be made up by combinations of other routes that also allow access to the same locations. While this would be lamentable given the infrastructural investment in the Link, it would mean that riders have alternatives.

Unfortunately for those riders, comparing the Spontaneous Accessibility measurements from 2019 and 2020 reveals that Link-adjacent locations have indeed suffered heavy losses in reachability. This map shows the difference in reach probability by sector of the grid. Clicking a sector or entering its number in the “Select Sector” control shows the exact reach probability and the shift in top routes serving the sector. While the map largely shows decreases across the board (with the increases mostly unrelated to frequency alterations) ranking these differences reveals the top diminished areas. The most diminished sector is 16012, located around 1st Avenue and King Street. This sector does not have a clear connection to the Link, or indeed to the service reductions at all. This sector’s change, and that of the sectors around it, is the result of an altered path for West Seattle buses that eliminated use of this stop.

While the top five reduced sectors are a part of this cluster, the next few are near Link stations or areas strongly connected to them. The sixth sector in the list, sector 22642, forms part of an area of reduction stretching from the University of Washington Link Station, along Pacific Street up to 15th Avenue. It is not until the 31st ranked reduction that there is a sector not in either of those two areas, but that sector, 17824, falls directly over the Capitol Hill Link Station. It isn’t until the 41st ranked sector, 28589, that reduction appears that is not a consequence of Link changes. The areas that see the largest reductions in service are indeed among the ones that the Link is intended to serve.

It’s understandable to reduce service to deal with financial constraints, and it is commendable that Sound Transit recognized the merit of feedback. Nevertheless, to solely cite a continued reduction in peak ridership as reasoning for reduced service is to fundamentally misunderstand what makes transit service valuable. A frequency reduction during a time of low ridership isn’t a matter of asking comparatively few people to wait a couple minutes longer. Reductions stack; a missed transfer can bring a trip length from reasonable to infeasible, reducing the size of the navigable world for those who are using transit. The Spontaneous Accessibility analysis reveals that Link’s position in the network makes it a critical resource to making trips within Seattle, and especially sensitive to reductions. While its present frequency reductions are consistent with those made to bus service, they have an outsized impact. That’s not to say its frequency must never change, but it is Seattle’s transit crown jewel, and decisions surrounding it consider its role int he network as a whole.

Matt Laquidara is a software developer by day who moonlights as an independent public transit planning researcher. His research paper, “Measuring Spontaneous Accessibility for Iterative Transit Planning”, was published in the 2018 Transportation Research Record, selected as best paper by the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Committee, and awarded the Fred Burggraf Award for excellence in transportation research by researchers under 35.

[1] Even though the 65’s overnight service was infrequent, it’s likely a disproportionate contributor to the route’s presence in the best paths list. During the day when many routes are running, those routes might siphon best paths away from the 65. At night, the best path may involve a longer walk to a route 65 stop. Link, which often operates in the vicinity of many other routes, particularly through downtown, and has never had overnight service, still manages to approach the route 65’s reduction.

102 Replies to “How important is Link to the network?”

  1. Link isn’t important to anything. That is because employers no longer will require daily commutes to a computer near existing or planned Link stations by hundreds of thousands of people.

    1. I work for a large downtown employer. In addition to working from home until June 2020, they are requesting that commuters not take transit afterwards to work. We will be moving to a hybrid remote model and will only have to commute into the office two days a week. Those two days , we will be given discounted parking – and are asked to drive,bike,or walk to work.

      1. I did read it. The premise is that increased service levels on Link would make the Link stations more accessible to more residents who might choose to use it. The glaring fault with that analysis is it presumes demand for that service (e.g., ridership) that would increase if service levels increased.

      2. The glaring fault with that analysis is it presumes demand for that service (e.g., ridership) that would increase if service levels increased.

        There are numerous studies that show this to be true. These studies are not focused on commuting, let alone a subset of commuting that can be done at home. You are arguing against all the research without a shred of evidence.


        1) Write down the number of trips that were commuter based and not commuter based.
        2) Now figure out the ones the commuter based trips that could be replaced by working at home.
        3) Now calculate the number that will actually be replaced by working from home.
        4) Take the remainder (those trips not replaced by working from home) and explain why those wouldn’t be effected by increased frequency.


    2. I hear you, but that’s really an argument against transportation at large. Should we just give up on highways as well? Should we not rebuild the WS Bridge?

    3. Cities are not all about commuting, Q. They are also about access to pizza parlors and other forms of “recreation”, if you get my drift.

      As a more serious matter, where are you going to park all the climate refugees that your oil- and greed-soaked party is going to be foisting on the Northwest? With the exception of coastal Californians, their current houses are already worth much less than a 4BR McMansion in Sammamish. How they gonna pay for even a rental roof over their heads when nobody wants to buy their former digs in a place in which a human can’t survive for thirty minutes outside because of the 120 degree heat index?

      There simply isn’t room along Puget Sound to replace the LA Basin, Houston, and Phoenix unless people live much closer together. To some degree they’ll bring their jobs with them — the bosses will move too when they can’t get any more talented people. But to a degree that I guarantee you will find disorienting they will be poorer than they are now. So high density clusters around every Link station — much higher than current around Roosevelt certainly — will arise within the next decade.

      Thanks a lot for not listening to the scientists for the past 40 years.

  2. Anon, show us some proof that a lot of people whose wages are as low as their work is ESSENTIAL will NOT lose their jobs if Link goes away.

    But STB, for the readers I’d most like this blog to attract, and the votes I most want Link to get, I think it’s critically important that this message be presented in what’s known as “layman’s language.”

    At the date of this writing, Sound Transit Blog is critically important to what could be our region’s most important endeavor. And the man obviously knows a lot else that we also need to. Could we please have an interview with him?

    Also, sheer irrational prejudice, I admit, but what inclines me to agree with him is that at least he joins me in signing his name.

    Mark Dublin

  3. Great article. It is nice to have some data supporting ideas we could only support anecdotally or intuitively. Link is the transit backbone for the region, and that role will only increase in the future.

    Another important consideration is how Link frequency plays into future restructures. Consider the 106. Metro’s Long Range plan basically splits up the 106. Service in Renton is extended to the Renton Highlands, but that route ends at the Othello Station. This means that folks on Renton Avenue would have to transfer to get downtown. The obvious choice is Link. If Link runs every 15 minutes during the day, this represents a huge degradation. If it runs every 6 minutes, it will often be faster.

    This has ripple effects through the whole system. If Link runs frequently, it is easier, politically, to make the change. More people come out ahead. Some people have to transfer, but others (traveling within Renton) avoid a transfer. The buses are more reliable, and more frequent, which means that trips that don’t involve Link — or even trips in a different part of town — are better.

    I realize that the pandemic clouds everything. We don’t know when it will be over. Until then, it is reasonable to assume that general rules about transit ridership are suspended (e. g. better frequency does not significantly increase ridership). When the pandemic is done, however, the old rules are as valid as ever. During boom times or a recession, studies show that they apply. The more frequently you run a train (or bus) the more riders you will get. In a system that is highly dependent on the train, this increase will be substantial.

    After the pandemic, it makes sense for both the southern and eastern line to run every 6 minutes all day. That may seem radical, but we have corridors where buses combine for much better frequency. Eventually the RapidRide G (on Madison) will run every 6 minutes, all day long. Given the importance of Link to transit mobility in the region, running every 6 minutes would not only increase ridership, but it would allow for a much better network.

  4. Tell me something, Alex. If I worked for your employer, could I take them to court for firing me because, one, I think it’s easiest on both my car’s budget and my car to leave it home, and two, I think it’s my duty as a citizen and a neighbor to leave the roads open to those who absolutely need to use them?

    Meantime, ’til I can get STB to change my tag to “Anti-Anon”…will it get you fired to tell your readers your employer’s name? Back In Chicago Transit Authority Land we don’t like snitches, so your literary ID’s safe with me.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Hi Mark, they are encouraging people not to take transit – but will not punish those that do. It’s a carrots approach by limiting the number of days in the office and offering discounted parking. Those that take the bus can continue to do so. There is a discussion on eliminating the orca card program for us, though – employees will need to pay their own fare.

      1. Wrong vegetable in the Produce Department, Alex. It’s not a carrot, but a stick that’s been rubbed in something kind of orange that smells really really bad.

        Indicative of management whose community spirit is teetering on the edge of being a richly-deserved embarrassment. The transit system that’s for so long given it the business-climate in which it’s prospered, deserves better thanks.

        I’m worried for you, having your income held hostage to a mentality like this, so I’ll ask you. Is it all right if I’m the one who asks reporter Mike Lindblom to publicly ask them if they won’t reconsider?

        Mark Dublin

    2. I’d like to know which companies are discouraging employees from taking transit to work. Individual commentators may not want to reveal where they work in a public forum, but is the information available another way?

      In New York, Wall Street companies have prohibited traders from taking transit to work. That’s even worse.

      1. Did any ever take transit to work? I mean, the real traders in the pits, not just some associate assistant intern to a desk jockey in a high-rise.

  5. “In doing so, they assert that demand for a transit route is a consequence of the area the route serves. They fail to consider that the underlying quality of transit service also drives use. Ridership-based measurements are logical to use when adding service: a crowded bus is a clear sign that more capacity is warranted. When used in reverse, they create cycles where low ridership drives a reduction in frequencies, making transit less practical and dissuading potential riders further. ”

    Demand for transit is a consequence of the land use in the area the route serves; it is a consequence of both that and service quality. No public transit agency of consequence in this country actually transit plans service purely as a mathematical function of ridership of ridership, because this fact is well established.

    I don’t have access to your paper, but if you are actually arguing against purely ridership-based planning, you are arguing against a straw man. Similarly, if your model simply has a binary notion of “inside the service area” and “outside the service area”, and weighs everything inside as equal, that is similarly not actually how transit works, or how almost anyone would want transit to work, in real life.

    1. I read that paragraph differently. I felt like the author was saying that Sound Transit is *only* looking at ridership based on the area they serve. They were ignoring the increase that comes from increased frequency.

      This may be unfair to Sound Transit, but I have seen nothing in their approach to frequency that shows otherwise. Consider that running the trains every 6 minutes during rush hour was not the original plan. That happened because of crowding — not because they felt they could increase ridership. Likewise, when discussing running the trains every 15 minutes, they said they would respond due to crowding — not as a way to increase ridership. To be fair, the latter happened during the pandemic, and normal patterns (where ridership is heavily dependent on frequency) may no longer apply. But there is nothing in the long term plans of Sound Transit that suggests that they want to focus on frequency in the future in order to increase ridership. At no point have I ever read anything from Sound Transit that suggests frequency is important — other than to reduce crowding. (If I missed that, my apologies). It would be reasonable for them to release a report showing that increased frequency would increase ridership and thus fare revenue, but that it would cost a bit more than they budgeted. But I have seen nothing like that.

      Given the general ignorance of the board (no transit expertise other than Millar, who works in Olympia) this is understandable. The mayor isn’t too worried about whether the trains run every 10 minutes or not right now — she has far more important things to worry about. I doubt she is brushing up on transit issues in the evening. My guess is other than Millar, not a single member has read Human Transit (a pretty quick read) or gained those fundamentals some other way. It is understandable, therefore, that Sound Transit is made up of folks who either don’t care, or don’t know about the relationship between frequency and ridership.

    2. The analysis isn’t faulty, it’s just incomplete. Matt correctly identifies the factors of route paths (location) and frequency (waiting time). You identify land use (allowed destinations and existing buildings). But there’s also the actual variety of businesses around stations. Zoning tells you how many businesses are permitted, but individual companies decide what to offer and where to locate, and building owners affect it too by accepting/recruiting some business plans and independent/chain companies and not others.

      In Vancouver and San Francisco you see a wide variety of everyday services along grid arterials like Davie Street, Denman Ave, and I’m not as familiar with San Francisco streets (maybe Filmore, Divisadero, Masonic, Stockton Streets). Seattle has counterparts to major retail streets like Mission Street and Geary Blvd (Aurora Ave and Rainier Ave), but not as many small mixed-use arterials (like 45th and University Way). But it’s not just the number of businesses; it’s the variety of what they offer. In Vancouver on Davie Street you can find full-sized supermarkets and drugstores as well as cafes, bars, and pizza slices. And it’s all in a pedestrian-friendly no-setback layout. Unique businesses — like the best chef or yoga instructor or MMA school or independent bookstore, that people come for miles to — are distributed along these streets and generate a lot of ridership. That’s two-way ridership: not just residents leaving the neighborhood in the morning and returning in the afternoon, but clients coming in the late morning and afternoon and evening.

      Seattle in contrast has small islands like that in a sea of single-family houses, and even when there are apartments in between they’re residential-only. And the businesses don’t prioritize transit as much so they’re often in harder-to-reach areas with parking lots in front. The paucity of mixed-use grid streets and transit frequency are what depresses ridership and makes companies less interested in transit.

      The destinations that make the most difference are the ones people go to every week or every month, and have ordinary things that everybody buys and can afford. Supermarkets, natural-food stores, drugstores, gyms, hardware stores, a variety of moderately-priced restaurants, etc. And non-commercial destinations like libraries, community centers, user groups and gaming events, parks, etc. Seattle’s distribution of these gets around a C+ to B grade. Some urban villages and outlying mixed-use nodes have few choices. For instance, Broadway is full of clothing boutiques that may people never shop at, and is missing things they do go to. 10th Ave E has a tiny cluster with a dry-cleaning shop and pizza restaurant. I never go to dry-cleaning shops, and if I want to dry-clean my two items once a year I’ll go to wherever the shop is. So a dry-cleaning shop in my building is useless to me and to many people. It would be OK if there are more useful shops within walking distance, but there aren’t. Conversely, laundromats are needed by people who don’t have their own washer/dryer, but they’ve long been few in Seattle and are now much scarcer than they were twenty years ago.

      All these affect transit ridership: if things that people go to frequently are available on transit at a certain level of convenience, people will take transit to them. If they aren’t, they won’t.

      But this is much harder to quantify than route paths, frequency, and even land use. And it’s not transit’s fault or responsibility per se, it’s city policies and thousands of companies’ decisions. And Matt’s analysis of route paths and frequency is valuable and a major step forward, even if it’s incomplete. It would take a much larger staff and time to make it complete, more than is realistic to expect.

      1. Divisadero/Masonic? Not really IMO. I would say Chesnut St in the Marina, San Bruno St in the Portola District, Clement st in the Richmond District, Ocean Ave in Ingleside, and the one I used to live on: Taraval St in the Sunset are probably the kind of retail strips you’re referring to. Note, most of them are in the outer parts of the city, along former or surviving Streetcar lines. The Northeastern part of the city is so thoroughly mixed-use that there aren’t much distinct “strips” of retail.

        I would say that the East Bay resembles Seattle more in this.

      2. Most of my time in San Francisco has been around Misson, Haight, Stockton, and Van Ness, and those are maybe not representative, so I was trying to think of others I’d seen from the bus but my memory is hazy. I haven’t seen the streets you mentioned.

      3. I wouldn’t get hung up on comparing San Francisco and Seattle shopping streets too much. Pretty much most of the City of San Francisco was developed with mixed-use blocks and parking almost anywhere is difficult — even sometimes in the most suburban areas in the southwest part of the City. Most areas have neighborhood parking permits required as well as costly on-street meters. Even our “urban” streets like Aurora Avenue and MLK would be considered way too suburban for most of San Francisco.

    3. Bruce: Thanks for your comments. I’m hoping you’re seeing this since it’s been several days, but I’d be happy to provide access to the paper if you’d like that. If I correctly understand the publication arrangement I have, I can’t provide the final published paper, but I can provide the last pre-publication draft if asked for it. Feel to shoot me an email ( and ask.

      My hope was that the sentence after the passage that you quoted would emphasize that I do believe that ridership is a combination of service quality and aspects of the service area. I think you, I, and hopefully every transit agency out there are, in theory, on the same page about this. But then I see Sound Transit trying to explain a substantial service change by solely making a reference to decreased peak ridership in the publicly facing documents, and, oof, that sure doesn’t give me a good feeling. Even looking through Metro’s service planning documents for the last couple of years, there’s so much emphasis on matching frequency to the observed ridership on routes, but I can recall very little in terms of a network-wide assessment of how much of the service area is easy to access and how much is hard to access. I know that these agencies are looking at more than just the ridership, but when it’s the core component of so much of their public output, and seemingly the only thing that gets quantified, I feel the need to point out an alternative path.

      To your point on weighting, this of an area of particular passion for me. I’m not averse to the idea of weighting. There’s a lot of research similar to mine, but it will do something like weight origin areas by population and destinations by number of jobs. That’s great if you’re doing some specialized study of what a transit network enabled, but the more I chew on it, the less I like any weighting for transit network planning generally. My contention is that constructing a generally useful weighting for the value of land is difficult and inherently biased and normative. That’s not a job that I’d want, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with anyone doing it either.

      I like the unweighted model also because I do think it reflects how people would like to get around. When I used to own a car, I did not worry that my car would refuse to transport me because it’s 4 AM or the destination was Laurelhurst. A personal car and a transit network are very different things, and yes their costs scale in different ways. But for an individual that’s the choice that they make: buy a car or rely on transit. I think it’s useful to have a measurement of “how much is this transit network like something that basically doesn’t make any implicit assumptions about what I’d like to access and when”. Barring a drastic change to transit funding, we’ll never max out that measurement. But the point isn’t to reach the maximum, it’s to move in the right direction; it’s something to have amidst a dashboard of other measurements and be guardedly happy about a change when it increases and dubious when it decreases.

      It’s possible to do stupid stuff with an unweighted model. If someone was planning service by blindly maximizing a network’s reach probability measurement by concentrating service in relatively small area, that person would be bad at planning. My hope is that a good planner would look at a reach probability measurement both in aggregate and spread over the map. They would make changes that harmonized a drive to increase (or minimally decrease in the case of a funding cut) the overall reach probability and responded to the needs that other data sources called out. And I think ultimately that would produce transit that would work in ways people would like.

  6. It’s a good thing Covid-19 wasn’t Covid-24, when more Link lines will be open, and more bus lines are truncated to it.

    “What kind of gibberish are you spewing today, Sam? What do you mean Covid-24?!?” Covid-19 is named after the year 2019. I’m saying it’s a good thing the virus didn’t come on the scene in 2024, when we’ll have a number of more light rail lines open, and so many more routes truncated to them.

    1. This article is the same argument this blog regularly has: does increased frequency and routes create more demand? Probably, with a diminishing return. Will it change housing demands or wealth disparity, or solve global warming. No.

      What is never discussed, however, is money. Maybe if transit were not so heavily subsidized by general fund tax revenue money would be a higher priority on this blog. Remove the general fund subsidies, count the fare revenue, and let that determine what transit can be provided, at what cost (even though transit does not contribute to the very infrastructure it runs on). It isn’t just a reduction in fares that is driving current cuts by ST and Metro, but sales tax, vehicle taxes, and so on. A long recession won’t help.

      The other two dichotomies on this blog are rail vs. buses, and peak vs. non-peak transit ridership.

      It is very hard to know how working from home and the other impacts that will become permanent after Covid-19. Based on the state’s priorities for the vaccine, healthy work commuters will likely be last in line, and the FDA has set the original efficacy rate at 50% which will hardly convince commuters to race back to the office, let alone on transit . Right now working from home has been extended by many large companies to June 2021, and any kind of normalcy is unlikely until Jan. 2022, which will likely include a deep and long recession.

      Right now peak transit use has declined because offices are closed because employees are afraid of the risk, and businesses are afraid of the liability. Things might open a bit in 2021, but it will be the same problem as transit: social distancing will allow fewer workers to return to the same sf as before Covid-19 just like commuters will not take a packed bus (or any bus), and that will likely become the permanent paradigm: 40% office work, or 2 days/week spread out over the workforce.

      At the same time for eastsiders downtown Seattle is seen as an unsafe and unpleasant place to commute by transit to as the 550 and 554 now use surface streets, and the streets are unpatrolled. As commercial leases begin to expire companies, during a recession, will be hesitant to sign up for expensive 5 or 10 year leases — especially in Seattle — if future growth is unknown, and WFH saves businesses a lot in overhead.

      Even then those employees who do return to the office part or full time will not risk taking a bus or train, and other employees will object to a co-worker taking a bus or train and then coming to the office, so employers will prohibit transit use and provide alternatives, which probably will be WFH and subsidized parking, maybe Uber/Lyft.

      Different demographics and different areas have different ideas about transit, and some on this blog who love transit for transit, or think it is a great social leveler, don’t understand this. For example most work commuters, and most of the eastside, are agnostic about transit, and see transit primarily for work commuting due to congestion. They don’t like transit; it is a necessary evil. Same with TOD. If they can avoid it — especially with employer subsidized parking and less peak hour congestion — they will drive over transit every time, even without the risk of Covid-19. My guess is the number one demand by residents of West Seattle for any new or repaired bridge will be no reduction in car capacity.

      Transit and ST have been very arrogant over the years, but have had little competition, so the product suffers. Every type of competition like parking at work or using Uber/Lyft has been taxed or regulated to remove the better convenience, and cost. When someone on this blog tells Issaquah “tough luck” about making their commute a three seat commute to Seattle after spending $5.5 billion on East Link, when Issaquah sits on the ST board and is a major player on the eastside, I know that person does not understand the politics of transit, and ST.

      Until transit truly admits its fatal flaw — less convenience and safety than just about every other form of transportation — it will never truly understand how it must compete. Right now Metro and ST need visionaries who don’t love transit for transit, but are realistic about transit’s fundamental flaws and its competition in the future.

      Transit use by commuters will permanently decline post Covid-19. That is just the reality, and Metro and ST understand that. That means peak hours, and especially on light rail.

      At the same time many areas that voted for ST 3 thought they were voting for rail, not buses. After all, who votes for tens of billions of dollars for buses. But light rail will feel the greatest impact from a decline of work commuters, and that will be reflected in frequency because funding is finite.

      Right now ST is terrified. They are in the middle of a massive building program of light rail, which has all the disadvantages of other forms of transit including poorly thought out first/last mile access, and likely not be nearly as much congestion in the future which is rail’s prime selling point, so the need and funding and desire for rail may forever be diminished by Covid-19. At the same time ST promised just about everyone from Ballard to West Seattle to Everett to Tacoma to Issaquah to Kirkland light rail for Christmas, not buses.

      IMO I think the real issue in 2022 and after is how to fund non-peak transit with declining revenue, fewer commuters, and declining general tax revenue. That will require a complete review of routes, fares, frequency and mode (rail or buses) because non-peak transit is generally for those who need transit for mobility and have no other option. Metro and the Seattle ST subarea will be hurt by a reduction in working from downtown Seattle (working from home will likely benefit the eastside subarea even if Bellevue sees fewer downtown commuters). At the same time the loss of the peak hour commuter will disinterest a large portion of the tax paying public to transit, or any kind of taxes for non-peak transit.

      I don’t think folks who raise these fundamental issues are trolls, and certainly understand why some on this blog use initials or wish to remain anonymous due to some of the hostility of the replies by those who see transit as a kind of religion. They are just asking the same fundamental questions about the future of transit many of us have, without any great love for transit, and with electric cars and driverless car technology right around the corner, wondering how transit will fit in when it so much less convenient, and may not have a cost advantage over shared ride shares or driverless technology (although eliminated drivers would save Metro a fortune).

      1. Brevity is the soul of wit, Dan. Incredible how in another one of your 1000+ word comments there isn’t a single constructive (or novel) thought.

        Care to explain the difference between a transit-oriented “religion” on a transit blog versus your preference for SOVs for all?

        I’m going to file your “Commuting is Dead” in the same folder as “Driverless Cars are Just Around the Corner” and the 40-year-old reports that “Cold Fusion is 20 years away”.

      2. @Nathan,

        I once had an engineering professor who stated it differently: “The skill of an engineer is inversely proportional to how much paper he uses.”

        And that was his statement, not mine, so I take no blame for his use of the sexist use of the term “he”.

      3. “At the same time for eastsiders downtown Seattle is seen as an unsafe and unpleasant place to commute by transit to as the 550 and 554 now use surface streets, and the streets are unpatrolled.”

        What evidence do you have that suggests eastsiders see Seattle as unsafe?

      4. Incredible how in another one of your 1000+ word comments there isn’t a single constructive (or novel) thought.

        Oh, I don’t know. Calling transit arrogant is a rather novel idea. I don’t think he (or anyone else) has ever done that before. It is a bit like calling electricity arrogant. Extra points for creativity, that’s for sure.

  7. In both 2019 and 2020 “count in best paths”, three of the top ten routes are major Ballard workhorses, including holding the #3 and #2 spots in 2020. Any three of those routes be excellent alignments for light rail.

    Yet, we’re very likely to have light rail to Everett, Tacoma and Issaquah before Ballard, if ever. That’s depressing.

    1. Even if Seattle could get its TBD funded well enough to pay for undergrounding the 44, I’m sure we’d hear no end of it from the south end.

      1. Luckily there’s a countermeasure, Nathan D. The Route 44 has definitely earned its place on The Historic Register. And the breathtaking climb to, or descent from Phinney Ridge, no one would dare deny those views to passengers.

        Though the coming years do seriously demand a mandate to either rename the whole wire “The 43” or otherwise re-unify what was always a masterpiece both to ride and drive.

        As a vital partner to University Link, 23rd Avenue also creates a beautiful pre-installed “Bus Bridge” when stranded Link passengers need it most!

        Ugly “sign of the times”, though. Twitter at its FAKEST is screaming claims that EVERYTHING on wheels is headed underground! And even worse, that Link’s every foot of subway is now being ELEVATED!

        You know who’s responsible? BORAT!

        Mark Dublin

    2. I am sorry you feel that way Nathan, or you feel the need to personally insult people who don’t ascribe to your view of transit or the future. I guess your post is the definition of transit as a religion, and why many wish to remain anonymous on this blog from the trolls. If a post is too long stop reading.

      I never said commuting was dead. I said it will decline post Covid-19, one due to working from home, and two in Seattle due to the business and street environment which will impact tax revenue for just about everything. In any case we won’t know until 2022, and that alone creates a very large budget hole.

      Did you really expect a novel thought on this blog? The long term cuts by Metro and ST should tell you what you need to know. And lease negotiations for commercial space in Seattle right now. The same themes are repeated over and over and over in these posts. Can you identify a single “novel” idea you have had on this blog? What could there be novel about transit? Is route frequency on the 7 novel to you?

      I don’t know about cold fusion, but driverless cars without human back up are starting in San Francisco by GM and Tesla this year. The two fundamental disadvantages of transit (other than health) are lack of first/last mile access (or door to door service) and longer travel times. Many expect driverless car technology to be the next transit, with fleets of cars leased by users, not unlike Seattle’s car share program, except the car comes to you and leaves when you get out. Wouldn’t that be better transit than a bus for poor people?

      My guess is the residents of West Seattle will make their number one demand no loss of car capacity for any bridge alternative, because until transit does a better job on access and travel times while cost differences are narrowing with ride share apps transit will lose ridership no matter how many trains and bus routes are built, and jurisdictions will have to revisit the amount of general fund tax revenue devoted to transit. It is time for transit to compete, because yes the future is coming.

      Transit — especially rail — has one huge advantage, and that is grade separation from traffic congestion (along with costs if travelling alone). That is it. Lose that and what is the point of spending billions on transit?

      1. “driverless cars without human back up are starting in San Francisco by GM and Tesla this year”

        One pilot in one city is a long way from half of Pugetopolis’ cars being driverless and serving half of everybody’s car trips.

      2. “Did you really expect a novel thought on this blog?”

        This article is a novel thought. It may be old hat to professional transit planners, and the individual concepts have been discussed on STB many times, but nobody has articulated it in such an integrated and quantified way. There are many other articles and comments which are novel to me at least; at least once a month I see an idea I hadn’t thought of or I hadn’t seen how the parts relate as a whole.

      3. “at least once a month I see an idea I hadn’t thought of”

        And that’s only major revelations. I probably see smaller things once or more a week.

      4. Daniel, just as you, I enjoy this blog because I see interesting discussion in posts and comments on how transit is best implemented in our city, region, and occasionally further abroad. Yes, discussions about the frequency of Route 7 and schedule re-alignments are interesting to me – there are novel things to be said about routing, schedules, capacity and priorities based on our local needs. However, I don’t have the background to contribute much to these discussions, so I like to think I have the good sense and respect to leave space on the page for those who do.

        Such as this post, which is about prioritizing Link frequency (since the route can’t easily be changed) over other ST routes, because Link is treated a trunk line for our transit network and ST doesn’t seem to have a consistent/good methodology for determining Link frequency.

        To answer your question, transit of the sort discussed here most often (buses and trains) is about density – moving more people per square foot than possible by automobile. The point is to allow people to get around to more of the city with less effort – explicitly without the effort of car ownership. Call me when driverless cars figure out how to drive in the rain.

        Frankly, if you really can’t tell the difference between your replies and others (even within this very thread), then I don’t know what to tell you. All I know is that up to a couple months ago, a long comment could usually be expected to contain at least a few interesting nuggets. Now it seems that isn’t the case.

      5. “Poor people” will not be able to afford driverless car technology other than for emergencies and the occasional celebration. Five peak-period 30 minute Uber rides can pay for a month transit pass.

        Not to mention that driving everywhere, everywhen simply doesn’t “scale” in a city.

        And there is the problem of the climate refugees noted above in my reply to Q. Paving the Puget Sound lowland would be a crime, and even then everyone who would like to live here won’t be able to do so.

      6. Many expect driverless car technology to be the next transit.

        Yes, absolutely, buses without drivers is the future of transit. Oh, and trains without drivers as well (some cities have that now). It would be a huge breakthrough, and gradually lead to massive savings, while retaining the economies of scale found in conventional transit. Frequency would increase dramatically, even if the vehicles (in some areas) shrink (to the size of a van). As the savings lead to much better service (both coverage and frequency), you would see much higher ridership. It would be ridiculous for Link to be a laggard in that regard, and operate infrequently, since — as this post so clearly shows — it is the most important part of our network. [Yes, I still remember what this post is about].

      7. Transit — especially rail — has one huge advantage, and that is grade separation from traffic congestion (along with costs if traveling alone). That is it.

        Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Maybe if you stopped typing a bit, and started reading, you would pick up a few things.

        The primary advantage of rail is capacity. It is cheaper to run one train than a dozen buses. Both can be grade separated. Both can be stuck in traffic (or stuck at a traffic light).

        Come on man, you must know this. Before our downtown transit tunnel had trains, it had buses. Only buses. We have a streetcar that is stuck in traffic. Our light rail sometimes (although not often) gets stuck at a traffic light. You don’t even have to leave the confines of our city to realize the two ideas are independent.

        If I make a suggestion: Please focus on one thought. Feel free to use as many words as you need to clarify your thoughts on the subject (I’m certainly not one to argue for being terse). But this scattershot comment style is annoying. In this one comment alone, you have:

        1) A defense of your style.
        2) A claim that commuting will go down in the future (a subject covered ad nauseam by Anon).
        3) Something about driverless cars.
        4) This idea that the primary advantage of rail is its grade separation.

        Every one of those should be in its own comment. It really isn’t that hard to just write a comment about one idea. Holy cow, Anon started item number 2 once again. That is where that argument belongs, if it even belongs on this post at all (last I checked, this is not an open thread).

        But every idea should be in its own comment, so that we don’t have to waste our time trying to figure out where you make a good point, or your idea is ridiculously ignorant.

    3. A Joy, I read the eastside blogs and Nextdoors. Plus the difficulty we and other downtown employers are having hiring eastside staff, before Covid-19, and the feedback we get from recruiting agencies. I live on the eastside and work in downtown Seattle, and have for over 30 years. Two weeks ago a young women was thrown out a seven story window in the alley behind the Smith Tower. That does not happen on the eastside. It makes it hard to hire staff. Of course I work in one of the 10 riskier Seattle neighborhoods.

      Or how about CHOP. Or the boarded up retail businesses. Or third and Pine. Or national stories about Seattle Is Dying.

      Today there was a post on eastside Nextdoors that Seattle council person Lisa Herbold is serious about formally ending prosecution of misdemeanor crimes (basically codifying Seattle’s current practice), including prostitution (which 99% of the time is forced) and drug dealing. What kind of message does that send to the eastside? What kind of message does it send when a long time Seattle resident and Seattle Times columnist writes a column that for the first time he is afraid to walk Westlake Center — the heart of Seattle’s retail — at night.

      Maybe eastside citizens are more worried about crime, or accept a lower crime threshold, or risk to themselves, or are more sensitive to it. Or maybe we are suburban pansies. Who knows, but that is their prerogative. It isn’t like Seattle is the only option. If they feel Seattle is more dangerous why go there to shop or dine or work when there are better alternatives?

      But there is a reason my teenage daughter has never gone shopping in downtown Seattle, and my wife stopped several years ago, and we are moving our firm to the eastside in 2022 when our lease is up. Not that I think I will get robbed in Seattle, just less likely in Bellevue. If people perceive a place to be unsafe they generally don’t want to test their hypothesis, or look for evidence or proof with their own safety, especially if it looks unsafe.

      If you think Seattle is safe that is your prerogative and I would never tell you to think otherwise. But I can’t tell someone who would be a good hire but doesn’t want to work in Seattle and commute to Seattle their perception is false, especially if they are standing on 2nd and Jackson in the dark waiting for the 550 east. And quite frankly I don’t want my daughter or wife coming to downtown Seattle, and I work here five days/week. That is my prerogative. They don’t miss anything by going to Bellevue or Issaquah or Eastgate or Redmond or Kirkland to shop.

      1. Pioneer Square is the worst part of Seattle, along with a one-block radius of 3rd & Pike. Only a small fraction of people commute to Pioneer Square. Only a small fraction of that come from Issaquah, Mercer Island, or other Eastside cities not named Bellevue or Redmond. People have differing thresholds for what kinds of environments they can tolerate, and different attitudes on why the problems in Pioneer Square exist and what the city/county should do about them. You’re projecting from a small subset of riders and trip patterns. Eastsiders have clout because they’re wealthier on average and have a higher expectation that the political system should meet their middle-and-upper-class desires, but that doesn’t mean they alone are the majority. Issaquah built its own bed by having D+ land use and being in an isolated location. Both of those are factors in why its transit isn’t as good as the eastern Central District, and why it’s not directly on East Link. You’re also blowing some of the problems out of proportion. CHOP ended four months ago, and only lasted a few weeks.

      2. Any non-anecdotal evidence?

        Your Housely link includes non Seattle neighborhoods to skew its point.

        The CHOP was safer than Broadway is now or was before it.

        There are no ‘national stories about Seattle Is Dying”. There’s one KOMO reporter with an axe to grind, and that hit piece wasn’t his first.

        Westlake, dangerous? Pre-Covid I could walk alone from Broadway to the 4 am Night Owls unaccosted. I’ve lived in Lake City, bought groceries at the Fred Meyer at 10:45 pm and walked home with them just fine. Rainier Valley, Burien, Aurora? Old stomping grounds. I realize this is my anecdotal evidence and I just criticized you for the same, but I’ve lived in this region for over twenty-five years, and aside from a few people assuming I’m a prostitute, I’ve never had an issue of the type described by people who spread horror stories.

      3. OK, but what the fuck does any of that have to do with the importance of Link to the transit network? Seriously man, we’ve read it before. We can tune into Fox News or right wing radio and hear all about how “Seattle is dying” (even though, strangely enough, housing prices keep going up). That has nothing to do with this subject. This subject is about the importance of Link in the transit network. If you have something to say about *that*, be my guest. Otherwise, leave your Rudy Giuliani style prognostications for an open thread.

      4. Two weeks ago a young women was thrown out a seven story window in the alley behind the Smith Tower. That does not happen on the eastside. It makes it hard to hire staff.

        To be fair, that doesn’t happen anywhere, let alone being a problem endemic to Seattle. People don’t make decisions on whether or not to apply to a job in a specific city based on a one off bizarre crime. They don’t even make decisions based on crime rates in a city, case in point is every major city in the US.

        Or national stories about Seattle Is Dying.

        Not even Sinclair touts that pathetic snuff piece anymore. The only people that do are the ones gullible enough to fall for it in the first place.

        I read the eastside blogs and Nextdoors.

        There’s a direct correlation between people that read Nextdoor and people who have a delusional grasp on reality. It seems like the solution to all your stated issues might be to stop reading Nextdoor?

  8. Now, Bruce, are you still sore about the outcome of Hastings?

    Where, by the map shown here, there could’ve been some serious contention in Wallingford if an invading Link force had contested the hegemony of the brave Route 44!

    But whether you fought for William or Harold, you’d certainly have stood fast against arrogant mercantile domination of any stripe dictating the horse you were allowed to ride into battle!

    So special thanks to you, Alex, for bringing this discussion to the real Topic at hand: not rail/bus mode choice but concerted pro-road politics. A “Gentleman’s Agreement” out of the Covenant days that certain ways of getting to work are “Just Not Done.”

    Jennie Durkan and the whole Seattle City Council, if you all just quit fighting and make this kind of threat illegal, at least people who aren’t right wing will maybe start voting for you again.

    Mark (well at least the Texas Birth Certificate Department still calls me that!) Dublin

    1. Fair enough A Joy, everyone has their perceptions and prerogatives. You asked me about eastside residents where I have lived for 30 years and I tried to respond as best I could based on my living there, reading the various eastside blogs, public articles or videos you may discount but others might believe, and our firm’s issues with hiring eastside staff.

      It could be you are just braver and more self-reliant than most others. I doubt many eastside women would walk alone from Broadway to the “4 am Night Owls” alone (I don’t even know what the 4 am Night Owls is). But since the issue was difficulty hiring eastside female staff to commute into Seattle, it is their perceptions and prerogatives, not yours, that are important to our ability to hire them. If you are a licensed and experienced paralegal let me know.

      1. Why are you obsessed with hiring women from the Eastside? Are you not offering jobs attractive to Seattleites? Yes, stop reading Nextdoor. It’s the Fox News of blogs. I used to read the Belltown Magnolia edition and it was scary, made me not want to go outside.
        Yes, maybe people on the Eastside are snowflakes, that’s what your blogs read like.
        As for driverless cars, give me a break. Forty people riding behind each other in their individual driverless cars versus forty people on a bus, no brainer for space, conservation of resources, etc.,
        Holt tight everyone, only a few more days of this nightmare scenario. Here’s to 2021 and a new administration.

      2. Having worked in companies in Seattle for decades through the present, I’ve known many female co-workers who commute downtown from not just the Eastside, but Snohomish County as well. I find it very surprising that it’s problematic drawing female applicants to good positions in the downtown area.

      3. It’s concern trolling over the safety of a perceived-vulnerable demographic—an old reactionary tactic which is basically never used in good faith.

  9. With the opening of Northgate Link in less than a year and East Link in just over 2.5 years, Link will be more important than now. It’s still growing in importance.

    1. Yes, we’re living in a 12-year-long period when many of Link’s high-ridership pairs aren’t open yet and those neighborhoods are underserved by transit. The Northgate, Lynnwood, and Belleve-Redmond extensions will be like two or three times the number of Beacon/Rainier riders.

      Currently if you’re going to the U-District, 65th or northeast Seattle there’s a time-consuming transfer at UW Station, longer than most train+bus transfers. If you’re coming from Northgate, the 41 gets caught in I-5 traffic all afternoon, and the 67 is a slowpoke north of 65th. If you’re going to Bellevue, the 550 drops to half-hourly evenings and Sundays. If you’re going to Lynnwood, the 512 is variously 15-20-30 minutes and gets caught in I-5 traffic. If you’re going between Lynnwood and Northgate/Roosevelt transfers, forget it, there’s no express bus you can take. Enjoy the E or 347 or 346 plus their CT counterparts.

  10. Link also typically carries longer trips and does so at a higher speed than local bus routes on Seattle streets do. In that way, it’s also more important as well as more productive per driver.

    Maybe a metric of riders per train/ bus driver and rider miles per train/bus driver would make the case for more frequent Link even more vivid.

    1. The model looks at time, so the faster speed of Link incorporates that (and likely is a major reason why it performs so well).

  11. If Link and the network were people, wouldn’t we say they have an unhealthy, codependent relationship?

    1. Well, Sam, since experience makes me think so highly of the generation who, when it gets done creating both its own education and the necessary rebuild of what’s left of the US Federal Government…

      The way they’ll look at Link and its network is same as some of them unfortunately see the relationship of relatives or parents. Pity for the hardships that caused the breakdown. Which, fortunately, they were born to heal and fix.

      Meaning that, for them if nobody else, possession of that ORCA card had damned well better be Proof of Payment Zero Questions Asked!

      Mark Dublin

    2. Yes. One of the big problems with the area’s transit network, which is only minorly addressed by ST3, is redundancy. This problem will be much much worse once East Link opens, too. There will be desperate need for a high-capacity alternative for crossing Lake Washington and until that becomes a reality, the I-90 bridge will be a glaring single point of failure in the entire region’s transit network.

      The most comparable north-south bottleneck is the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, to which I-5 and Third Ave/SODO Busway already exist as alternatives. And even so, a second north-south cross-downtown Link tunnel is already part of ST3.

      Outside Seattle proper, the main north-south pathways of I-5, I-405, and WA-99 already have some redundancy from Link and Sounder, are will be given additional redundancy by Link in ST2/3. (The gaps in that are glaring: I-405 north of Redmond and south of I-90).

      From this perspective, then, the ST4 Link priorities should be obvious:
      1) alternative Lake Washington crossing, either across the lake or around it;
      2) highly constrained high-density routes such as the 44 and 40 (I’m less familiar with similar routes outside Seattle, sorry);
      3) Eastside outside of Bellevue;
      4) White Center/Burien, which currently don’t have any major transit pathway.

      1. Oh I think there are many more priorities floating around. That should probably be a separate post discussion.

      2. OK, where will the money come from? You expect Metro — which runs a very weak level of transit on the East Side — to suddenly come up with the money to run express buses to downtown AND everything else? Get real, dude.

        Look, we aren’t that big. In major cities it is common to run redundant service, because they spend so much money on everything, they can afford to pamper some riders who want an express. But in King County (especially outside Seattle) we are nowhere near that. Running express buses over I-90 would be a huge waste.

        Let Link do what Link does extremely well, which is carry massive numbers of people. It is far more cost effective if they do that, and the buses cover the other areas.

      3. I-90 will not be the only transit option to cross the lake. You’ll get redundancy from buses that take the 520 bridge. You may have to transfer to Link at UW Station to get to downtown, but it still gets you there.

    3. “If Link and the network were people, wouldn’t we say they have an unhealthy, codependent relationship?”

      I have no idea what that means. And Link is a subset of the network. So would it be analogous to say “Americans and the world population have an unhealthy, codependent relationship?” Or “Hispanics and the world population have an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship?” Humans are social creatures, so they naturally form healthy attachments both within and from the subset. Likewise, the transit network is most beneficial as a whole, like the telephone network.

    4. Nah, it just means they are on the same team. We need better synergy. Remember, there is no “i”, in team. Now go out there and win one for the Gipper!

  12. Excellent analysis which if I’m reading correctly further supports the idea of planning frequent transit service around off-peak demand, not peak demand. If you get the off-peak demand correct, you can then scale to peak more effeciently.

    The common misconception about most light rail systems is that they primariy serve home based work trips when it’s exactly the opposite. Oftentimes 2/3 of ridership is NOT from home based work trips. This is why cutting service to your core/spine/trunk lines (regardless of mode) should be avoided at all costs.

    1. Can come one find a hyperlink to a rider survey report from ST on Link after 2016 that include trip purposes or types of destinations ? It would have surely helped describe the reason why riders are on the system. Even a survey now could yield some useful information on the essential role of Link.

      1. Perhaps the long-overdue, required Before-and-After Study for U-Link would give some insight into this? IIRC, the study published for Central Link pointed out that the significantly overestimated ridership forecasts were tied to big misses on employment projections for downtown Seattle (from PSRC).

    2. “The common misconception about most light rail systems is that they primariy serve home based work trips when it’s exactly the opposite.”

      Exactly. Three-quarters of trips are non-work commutes. The transit network often doesn’t serve them well, so people drive to them. Post-1945 transportation/land-use planning has been an epidemic of transit underservice and car-dependent land uses, so multiple generations have spent their whole lives without robust transit alternatives so they’ve forgotten they’re possible or don’t believe they can work. Only a few older people remember the streetcars and corner stores and ubiquidous intercity buses/trains, and it’s a 90-year-old memory that has become dim.

      What’s missing in Sound Transit is an articulated set of principles of what Link is supposed to do, and published criteria for increasing/reducing frequency. ST’s de facto practice has been a combination of peak capacity and all-day frequency, so it has been addressing both goals in a moderate but not superlative way. ST launched Link with 10-minute minimum frequency until 10pm every day, and kept that level for 10 years. That’s better than most American light rails that have a 15-minute minimum on each line (or worse evenings/Sundays), and it gave the appearance that ST was committed to the transit-best practice of an always-frequent trunk. But that was never in writing, and now ST has scuttled that expectation. Its new draft promises to restore it in March, but will it remain an absolute minimum long-term, and why can’t it start earlier than March? (It may take two months to rewrite the schedule and rehire drivers and do logistics, but January 2nd is better than March 20th.)

      “Link isn’t important to anything. That is because employers no longer will require daily commutes to a computer near existing or planned Link stations by hundreds of thousands of people.”

      That’s a values statement. What is Link’s goal? To bring 9-5 commuters to large institutions and downtowns? Or for more effective all-day circulation for all trips? Cities that have multi-line subways and ubiquidous always-frequent grid buses have better transportation circulation and lower car-ownership/use rates than cities that don’t have them. Link is not a grid like New York or London, and the buses aren’t always-frequent like Chicago, and Seattle’s density is limited to small islands, so that limits what we can expect. But a robust all-day Link network at its ST2 extent, with surge capacity for peak hours and ballgames, is a major improvement over not having it.

      If Link ran only peak hours (if 9-5 commutes were really its only goal), we would lose many of its benefits and usefulness. This is not a theoretical counterfactual. Sounder runs only peak hours plus a few midday runs. That makes it less useful than Caltrain, which runs at least hourly all day and evening every day and has plans for 15-minute service eventually. Hourly or half-hourly Sounder South would be a major improvement. (Sounder North is a lost cause, because its track is along the shore away from the population contentrations.) The same principle applies to Link. Peak-hour service is important, but off-peak service is important too in different ways.

      Covid has reduced peak trips, most essential jobs are off-peak, and part-time teleworking will shift commutes to off-peak times and probably increase non-work trips. And some people are driving because transit doesn’t serve their off-peak trips very well. All these factors point to the large and increasing importance of off-peak transit, including off-peak Link.

      I say “increase non-work trips” because many businesses and activities are 9-5. People who work 9-5 in offices can’t get to them, so they squeeze it all into Saturday or the 5-7pm shoulder — if those destinations are even open those times. Or they forego the trip. With people teleworking, and assuming they have flexible hours to do midday errands, that translates to more non-work trips weekday midday. Hopefully the transit network will serve those trips well.

      1. What’s missing in Sound Transit is an articulated set of principles of what Link is supposed to do

        I think the principles are pretty clear: Build stuff. Specifically a “spine”, or light rail line from Everett to Tacoma.

        If that seems ridiculously naive and simplistic, you pretty much nailed it. There was no attempt to consult with transit experts as to whether that even made sense. Everything that followed was just seat of the pants (and this is where some transit experts got involved). At various points light rail was going to skip Capitol Hill — thus skipping one the biggest sections of density in the United States without rail.

        I’m on a sports analogy kick, so I’m reminded of this famous bit of a press conference: For those who don’t know (and don’t care about sports), that is a coach of a team that lost in a humiliating fashion. The reporter asked him whether he thought the team was going to make the playoffs. He wasn’t sure if they would win another game. In other words — you are setting your sights way too high — we suck.

        I feel that way about what you are suggesting Mike. Of course we should have “an articulated set of principles of what Link is supposed to do”. Instead, there is only the goal of what it will be, in a broad sense (light rail from Tacoma to Everett). A set of principles would, of course, include goals for mobility, with frequency as part of that. But as of now, someone defending ST would say:

        “Frequency? Frequency? I just hope we build a decent station!”

      2. @RossB

        And yet somehow the whole metropolitan area transit network (in the tri counties, at least) is centered around this apparently super incompetent agency, and the people who are transit skeptics have to bury their skepticism and agree to spend thousands of dollars a year on incompetent agency-selected projects.

        This is the contradiction in the whole thing. If even we, transit enthusiasts (like me) or advocates (like many others here) can’t find a way to influence this agency except around the margins of their decisions, how can we have any hope to convince others they should? And, more importantly, should we even do so, or should we stop throwing good money after the bad?

        I admit that so far Link has not done to serve _my_ purposes, but even despite that I live in a location that might at least enable me to do in the future in a number of ways. So I am hedging my bets a little, in some ways. But if the whole thing shut down tomorrow and we were back to running the 71-72-73s as the spine, and quickly set up a RR-style route 7 through Rainier Valley, I would not shed a single tear. And I say this as someone who spent many days and weeks on at least the former routes.

        It seems like something has to give. If Link is so important to the network, then ST needs to be fixed. If ST cannot be fixed, then maybe some of the things advocated by people here and elsewhere should be allowed to be done. Let Pierce and Snohomish county pull out of the district. Let the Eastside spend its apparently-copious amounts of money however they see fit – if it’s on express routes to downtown that get stuck in traffic on I-90 and bypass the island stops altogether, so be it. If Seattle wants to build a streetcar-like line to West Seattle or to Ballard, or a buried streetcar Ballard-to-UW, so be it also. But it feels like it might make a lot more people a lot happier, and it seems like a more likely outcome than actually fixing ST.

      3. I don’t miss the old 71/72/73 spine one bit.

        For starters, they only really worked on weekdays going to downtown in the morning or away from downtown in the afternoon. At all other times, either the I-5 express lanes would be closed in the desired direction, or the 71/72/73 would be stuck on their “local” route because Metro was too cheap to run the 70 alongside them. Either way, it was a 20-minute slog down Eastlake between Campus Parkway and Westlake Station. On Saturdays, the 71/72/73 did run express, but only after the I-5 express lanes closed for the morning, so not one single Saturday trip (except for northbound in the afternoon) actually got to use the express lanes.

        On top of that, the slog down the Ave to get between 45th St. and Campus Parkway was excruciatingly slow, in fact, substantially slow than the #70 is today. The reason is that, back then, every single person in the U-district who wanted a ride downtown had to take the 71/72/73, so every bus stop had long dwell times to board lots of people. After U-linked opened, the total number of people taking transit between downtown and the U-district is as high as ever, but the way people do it is more dispersed, reducing the number of ons and offs at any particular bus stop for any particular trip. For instance, lots of trips that used to involve the 71/72/73 now consist of just walking to Link, without riding a bus at all. This includes trips originating from the UW campus as well as transfers from the 65 or 372. As before, some ride the 70. Those that do choose to take a bus down the Ave to Link now have the combined options of numerous bus routes (31, 32, 44, 45, 48, 49, 65, 67, 70, 71, 73, 75, 271, 372, 542). This not only reduces the pressure on any single bus route, it also keeps wait time to a minimum by allowing the option to just walk to the bus stop and grab whatever shows up first.

        On top of all this, the old 71/72/73 routes suffered from frequent bus bunching, resulting from a combination of heavy crowds, unpredictable traffic, and the effects of three different routes merging into one trunk from three difference places. By contrast, Link’s entire pre-COVID headway was 10 minutes, which means, even if you just miss a train, that’s still no worse of a delay than a 71/72/73 bus being 10 minutes late, something that happened quite often.

        Some other annoyances about the old 71/72/73:
        – The buses were very crowded and, even during off-peak hours, you would often be standing all the way to downtown. The Link trains have much more capacity and during off-peak hours, you can usually get a seat.
        – If you needed to travel beyond 15th/65th, you’d have to rely on a single branch of the 71/72/73, which typically ran every 30 minutes during the daytime Monday-Saturday and hourly on evenings and Sundays. Today, such trips involve a transfer between Link and a bus, such as the 45, 65, 67, 73, 75, or 372. But, in return for the transfer, you get a bus that runs much more often, throughout the day, than you had under the old bus. Worse, if your #72 happened to be full coming out of downtown (which it sometimes was), you couldn’t just hop on a 71 or 73 coming next; instead, you’d be stuck waiting the full 30 minutes or 1 hour for another 72. Even during so-called off-peak hours, such full buses were a routine occurrence if there was anything going on downtown that day, for example, a Mariners game.
        – Taking the 71/72/73 to Link to go to the airport with luggage was next to impossible due to the crowds. As a result, when I did have luggage, I went out of my way to avoid those buses, including taking the 66 (which ran every 30 minutes instead of every 10-15, but was much less crowded) or taking a Car2Go past downtown to a Link Station in the Rainier Valley.

        Overall, the only good reason for missing the old buses is Link’s frequency cuts making the bus->Link connections long and arduous, the effects of which this post attempts to quantify. When Link is running as frequently as it should be, the transfers are pretty painless.

      4. A few counterpoints:

        1. It was a 20 minute slog through Eastlake, vs. 8 minute or so ride from Westlake to U Link station + 7-10 minute wait for your bus + 2-8 minute transfer (depending on whether you need to walk up to Stevens Way or just wait at Pacific). It feels like a wash, and I would actually prefer the single seat ride.

        2. Bunching seemed to be a problem at rush hour, yes – I do not remember it being as big a problem outside of rush hour, but perhaps I have forgotten. There is bunching on 372 even today during rush hour, and I have seen it on the 44 and 45 as well, quite a lot, at those times. Less so leaving U District because the breaks between trips are long enough.

        3. Most of the routes you listed as connections existed before, plus a few others that went away, like the 68. I’ve done the 72/73 –> 68 quite a lot actually when I couldn’t catch the 71 from downtown.

        4. Admittedly I did not do the airport thing that often, but I did it a couple of times, again as a 194-71/2/3-68. It was tedious because of the 3 seat ride and changing to the 194, to me, more than anything else.

        5. I grant the difficulty of carrying luggage on the buses. I wonder how Link will do once Northgate opens and Link has to accommodate the 41 traffic as well, though – and then when the SnoCo expresses also get truncated. In general, I travel very light, so as long as I can get a seat, luggage is not an issue. But that’s just me, I know not everyone is the same here.

      5. 1. I don’t think is that bad. Westlake->UW Station is 6 minutes, plus 2 to walk up the escalators. If you’re just going down the Ave., there’s so many buses, the wait is 2-3 minutes, tops, most of the day. A bit faster than the slog down Eastlake, but more reliable, even with the transfer, since Link always shows up on time.

        Of course, if you prefer the slog down Eastlake, you still have the option to ride the 70. This summer when weekend Link was reduced to every 30 minutes, I ended up riding the 70 quite a bit.

        3. The 68 only ran every 30 minutes, so any trip that involves transferring to it from a delay-prone 72/73 would have featured long and highly unpredictable wait times at the transfer point. The 68 also didn’t run at all evenings or Sundays.

        4. I remember taking the old 194 back in the day before Link opened. In theory, it was faster than Link, since it took the freeway. In practice, Link made up the time through a combination of better frequency, faster travel time through downtown, faster loading and unloading of passengers at the airport, and not getting stuck in a long line of cars getting into and out of the airport.

        Since Link opened, I also started booking flights that arrived in Seattle after 10 PM on a Sunday, when the old 194 wouldn’t have been running at all (the alternative would have been the slower 174, which took 50+ minutes to get to downtown). I like those flights because they give you most of Sunday to do stuff in the other city before heading to the airport, while still getting you home in time for a full day’s work on Monday.

        5. “I wonder how Link will do once Northgate opens and Link has to accommodate the 41 traffic as well, though – and then when the SnoCo expresses also get truncated.”

        I think Link will do just fine. 4-car trains running every 10 minutes can carry a lot of people. Plus, in 2 more years, the Bellevue trains are also supposed to continue north all the way to Lynnwood, so Northgate to downtown will have 4-car trains running every 5 minutes for all-day service. This is starting to approach New York Subway-level frequency, and will be great for encouraging spontaneous trips.

      6. Yes, if you’re just going up the Ave, it doesn’t matter that much. I did not, and if you were just going up the Ave, the old 71/2/3 spine already did that too with a one-seat ride, as we both know. The point was beyond that, hence mentioning buses like the 372, old 68, 65, 75, 31, 32 etc. Of those I am most familiar with the first two. Yes, the 68 was infrequent, but fairly predictable except around the time when Fremont bridge was prone to opening randomly, since it was thru-routed with the 31. The 372 was not bad as an alternate, but I always preferred the 68.

        I admit that my perspective of Eastlake was colored by most of my travel on the old spine being prior to Amazon really taking over SLU. I have ridden through it on the 70 more recently than that and it is more of a slog now, I agree. But with the 70, you could run the old spine on the freeway for longer, too. Note that the 70 existed even prior to the old spine being deleted; I don’t remember its routing, but I had a friend who lived in North Eastlake (right near the I-5 bridge) one summer and he would ride it to downtown quite often.

        Anyway, I am not saying that Link doesn’t have advantages over the old spine, just that the old spine was also workable, too. It was as popular as it was for a reason, after all – it actually did work. I do think that Link works as a subway precisely in that region very well. My beef with Link is more in the tail ends of the Spine, where I wish it were more of an intercity train instead of a local subway/streetcar, especially in the North end where the density and ridership just seems unlikely to manifest (or, say, the Kirkland to Issaquah future branch).

        One more point regarding the old spine vs. Link, I also think that it is hard to separate the effect of the population growth from the demographics change from the Spine mode change, but I would love to see a study that teased apart the various effects and assigned “blame” (or credit) to each aspect. Do you know of such a thing?

      7. @AM —
        This is the contradiction in the whole thing. If even we, transit enthusiasts (like me) or advocates (like many others here) can’t find a way to influence this agency except around the margins of their decisions, how can we have any hope to convince others they should? And, more importantly, should we even do so, or should we stop throwing good money after the bad?

        I don’t think we have any choice at this point. We don’t control how ST spends its money. We don’t elect the board. All we can do is push for improvements, and live with the results.

      8. Thank you, Ross.

        I think that what I would advocate for is a slow, gradual build-up of the realization (in, say, the political class) that tweaks to the setup could lead to good improvements in outcome, and the pressure to do so. I am not at all familiar with the legal setup of ST, but presumably the governing board (which is primarily formed of elected officials, if I understand it correctly) has the ability to change small things like reporting information in certain ways or performing outreach earlier, etc. So if those are the tweaks that can be made, I would try to advocate for them, firmly and repeatedly but without anger. It won’t work on all elected officials but it might eventually work on enough. I would look at it as a multi-year advocacy project that will need volunteers and dedication, and a plan with milestones and “deliverables” – no different from any business plan, in some sense. But this is just my take as a transit enthusiast, rather than an advocate – I really know nothing about advocacy :)

        Thank you again for your comments, as always.

      9. We should continue with ST’s plans at least until ST2 is finished. That includes downtown Redmond and Federal Way, which are technically ST3 but are reasonable compromises. Then there will be ongoing operational costs and the bonds to pay off. After that I’m more ambivalent.

        Our representative democracy produced ST, and we are not kings who can change it unilaterally. We’d have to get a majority of supporters in the legislature, counties, and cities to make pro-transit changes. The easiest thing would be to people on the board who will follow transit best practices. That requires getting a sufficient pool of candidates in the mayorships and city councils, and county executives who will appoint them.

        That raises an interesting question about Dow Constantine. He has been praised for getting King County’s transit as far as it has, but criticized for not making ST better. If there are enough people in city governments who pay attention to Human Transit and international examples, would he appoint them? Or would he choose others based on other considerations? Ten good King County boardmembers would be the majority of the board.

        What characteristics would top-quality boardmembers have? They would read Human Transit and heed international examples like Vancouver, Toronto, and many German and Scandinavian cities. They would prioritize riders’ experience higher, and pedestrians’ experience getting to the stations, especially from bus transfers. They’d instruct Rogoff and the staff to prioritize these. At minimum they’d have a rider quality ombudsman or whatever that’s called, and a riders’ advisory group alongside the stakeholders’ adviaory group and electeds’ advisory group.

      10. I think the board should be made up of transit experts, or at the very least, people focused on transit. They could be elected or appointed. In that sense, they would be like school boards. I would pay them though (unlike the school board).

        The money involved and the long term ramifications are too large to make it a side gig for our elected officials.

      11. I miss the 72 for one reason. It provided transit service along a corridor that is not served by the 522 or 372, even now. Yes, it was a bit of an annoying slog down tight two lane roads, but that really didn’t justify creating a transit desert between Ravenna and 15th.

      12. All of this kinda begs the question: Would we be better off with an extended bus tunnel, all the way to the U-District? This would work as a spine, with the various 70 series buses all converging and traveling very quickly to downtown (via Capitol Hill) all day long. Would this be better?

        Not really. It is nice to avoid transfers, but Link *should* be so frequent it doesn’t matter. Furthermore, the core ridership is UW-Capitol Hill-Downtown. Everything else (even Lake City) is tiny in comparison. Furthermore, the main transfer point — the termination point of so many buses — is a major destination in its own right. If Seattle was to build one section of subway, this was it.

        No, the problem is simply the stations. This would have happened with or without trains. If they built a bus tunnel with only three stations (Capitol Hill, Husky Stadium and 45th) it would be just as weak. Like so many things in this town, the problem isn’t the mode. Nor is there any problem with the general idea. The problem is that they screwed up the details, and now we are left with a flawed, but essential part of our transit network.

      13. I lived on the 71/72/73 from 1985 to 2003 and reverse-commuted on it from 2004 to 2016. It was slow enough to wish for something faster. I spent decades wishing Seattle had a subway like other cities had, specifically for my many trips from the U-District to downtown, Northgate, and Capitol Hill.

        In the morning peak, southbound was the express lanes and northbound was the regular freeway. After around 10am, northbound was the express lanes and southbound was probably Eastlake. In the afternoon peak, northbound was the express lanes and southbound was Eastlake.

        In the 90s I commuted from the U-District to Harborview at 7:30am in the express lanes, and I remember still getting slowed down alongside South Lake Union.

        In the 00s and 10s I reverse-commuted for a decade until U-Link started, and by then they were melting down with overcrowding and bus bunching, even though they ran every seven minutes. When there was no traffic they could get from Campus Parkway to Convention Place in 20-25 minutes, but at least once a week it would be ten minutes longer, and one or twice a month it would stretch out to 45 minutes or an hour. Eastlake bogs down peak hours, and it could take ten minutes to get from Denny Way to the Convention Place entrance, and sometimes ten more minutes to get to Westlake.

        Northbound in the morning I would try to leave before 7:15am or after 8:30pm, because between that time at least once a week it would be so crowded I couldn’t get on and I’d have to wait for the second bus. The buses were regularly up to ten minutes late, so you not only didn’t know when it would come but whether it would be full. Then at Campus Parkway, half the bus got off, spending five minutes squeezing by other people to get to the doors. When it was still pay as you leave, the driver at that stop opened the back door and had people hold up their pass outside the bus because it would have taken way to long to funnel everybody through the front door.

        So the 71/72/73 took 20-25 minutes from Campus Parkway to Convention Place on a good day, 30-35 minutes on a bad day, and 45-60 minutes at least once a month. Link from Westlake to U-District will take 8 minutes, with no traffic problems, a longer distance, and stop at Broadway and UW Medical Center along the way, and with high speed both directions all day and evening.

        The 41 southbound gets bogged down all afternoon, between 2pm and 7pm. It goes down to Banner Way at 75th to avoid the congestion getting to the Northgate traffic. The 522 and 512 also get caught in slowdowns, mostly around the Ship Canal Bridge and again at SLU.

        To fix this without Link you’d need a new right of way, a bus tunnel from downtown to the U-District and Northgate. That would cost as much as a Link tunnel. There’s no space for two new surface lanes in that narrow area next to a cliff.

        So yes, Seattle needs Link to have a good circulation system.

    3. Our region has supported multiple destinations on light rail beyond a Downtown office district. The ability to get to UW, Seatac, the Stadiums, Pike Place, some medical or dental offices and Downtown/Capitol Hill restaurants and events help to create a system that brings all-day trips. Had Link merely hugged I-5, it would be lots more work-trip focused. The multi-destination Link feature is a good thing that our region promoted since the plans from the 1960’s — and we never seemed to deviate from having rail serve all sorts of trips. It’s not perfect (cough…. First Hill) but it’s pretty good.

  13. Thanks for the very useful analysis. One request, can you please add commas to the very large “count” numbers in your tables (or change the units to millions+decimals, or something else)? It is very difficult to parse them and compare the numbers right now.

    1. Another thing that would help is relative percentages. So take the top row as 100% and compare to the others to it. These numbers happen to implicitly do this because the first row is at 100 or 99, but explicit percentages would help to show how the routes relate to each other.

  14. Ok, AM. Super-incompetent compared to what? What Link in its present form, which like any other healthy entity will change over its lifetime, represents is a stage in the development of a regional electric rail system.

    Which, after the taxpayers twice voted down complete Federal funding for trains, some skilled and practical people decided to get started with dual-power buses.

    Carrying many thousand passengers over years when ordinary course of events would’ve confined the system to an eternity of flip charts full of 2D lines and dots. Early on, we got airport service.

    We’re at UW. Next year, Northgate. Line to Bellevue, similarly in progress. But quite a stretch to think that any failings in ST’s level of competence would deliver us a major Depression caused by an incurable disease.

    My own take on what Link is for is to set right a real National scandal. “Orignal Intent” for the Interstate Highway system- sorry, Justice Barrett, as in “Dwight D. Eisenhower”, not “Antonin Scalia”- was so we could at least hold a beach-head when the Japanese hit the West Coast. Their planes’ glove compartments likely had maps.

    Being a military man with the heart of an interstate trucker, there’s no way the General would’ve stood for that endeavor’s funding being diverted to let better-off people destroy American cities that the Axis Airforce couldn’t touch.

    To rid themselves of Americans that THEY couldn’t stand to touch. Have we got any aerial maps of “The I-5 Corridor” through Seattle before the bombing-path grew an I- in front of it? Admiral Yamamoto would’ve committed Har-Kiri in shame at his comparative impotence.

    So for me, what Link-and honestly, could we do like Charlotte and name it after a cat instead of a sausage? is really for is to restore that carrying capacity aboard weather- and traffic-proof fast-moving trains.

    Have always regretted the thought of how many times General Eisenhower must have ended up flinching at an airborne shadow that so easily have had wings with red circles. At least at Pearl Harbor, targets could swim for their lives.

    Fill in the chasms with tree-lined linear parks along alongside those electric express tracks. Leaving automobiles to quarters that’ll make their value A-ppreciate! And give our Defense highways some protection of their own!

    Mark Dublin

    1. I was replying to RossB, so my comment was in the context of that comment, and I hope it was clear. If it was not, it should be now. But let me quote a specific passage from his line, in case it really is not clear to anyone else:

      But as of now, someone defending ST would say:

      “Frequency? Frequency? I just hope we build a decent station!”

      As a side comment, I feel like too often you (Mark) take criticism of ST as criticism of rail, and that is not (always) warranted. I might advise you to separate the two in the future if possible, as it really are quite different things. I explicitly noted that there is likely value in some of the rail projects ST is planning, and there might even be more value in some that they are not. The problem (as I understand it) is ST, not rail. If you really feel that the only game in town for rail is ST, and so no criticism of ST is allowed because any rail is more important than anything else, then fine, but I might suggest you make this point clearly in the future, because it is not clear (to me) that that is what you mean.

      1. The problem (as I understand it) is ST, not rail.

        I agree with that. There are those who say that we shouldn’t have built any rail in this city (given its density). I disagree. I think the problem is ST, not rail.

        I also think the core problem with the agency is how it is organized. You have a set of representatives who are supposed to govern things. Yet they know nothing about transit, and all have more important jobs. Then you have the people who work for them. These are folks who have no direct contact with the public, but come up with analysis with little evidence to support it. These range from “Oops, those stations will cost a lot more, we didn’t realize the hillside sloped as much as it did” to “we can’t build an station to 20th NW in Ballard, it would be too expensive … but we can build an underground station to 14th or 15th”. I don’t want to point fingers. Maybe the people behind the scenes are providing the folks running things with worthwhile information, which is being ignored. All I know is that the process is terrible — there is no transparency. Even with something as simple as frequency.

        Consider that for a second. Why isn’t ST coming up with reports, saying “If we run train every 10 minutes it costs us this, but we get this many riders, so it actually only costs us this. If we run trains every 8 minutes …”. There is none of that. Frequency is one of the more basic trade-offs an agency makes, and there is no real discussion. There has been more of an outreach to decide the colors at the 130th station than there has over frequency — arguably the most important feature for any transit system.

      2. If I’ve gotten this bad on my clarity, AM, I really need to start a lot of really serious re-editing before I hit “Post Comment.”

        Sound Transit and I go back to the days when a fellow driver told me to my face that I was a company flunky for trying to take her bus-driving job away and give it to a (snarl) motorman! But for for me, the issue was that the living, working, and schooling pattern for modern life is for sure a REGION.

        But I will also tell you that my Solid-Gold test for a professional superior is that I’ll sooner take a written reprimand from them than a commendation from anybody else in the whole world of Management.

        Anything negative I say to Sound Transit, which I really hate being currently unable to say to their faces in front of cameras at Board meetings. Because there have been instances where their handling of things such as both trains and fare-card rules is doing damage to a whole region full of people and things I consider MINE.

        I see less than no problem with the fact that Issaquah has a streetcar line. I could even feature giving the future hiking/biking trail along the existing roadbed from Fremont (or maybe even UW) through Ballard, and past the Nordic Museum to Shilshole.

        I frequently tease Claudia Balducci about doing the same thing for the similar trail between Totem Lake and South Kirkland Park and Ride. Where a cliffside railcar-elevator can imitate the old one at Ross Dam to let a Southbound streetcar continue its run in its own signal-pre-empted lane to Bellevue Transit Center.

        Also Zero-kidding about making my lines into worker-owned cooperatives, and also ongoing course-work for Lake Washington Tech and the rest of our region’s community colleges.

        With voting age and legislative age being 18, first graduation could start to “Bring About” a drifting ST Board like a clipper answering her helm.

        Is it ok if I say call Sound Transit a kit, with a sign on it saying “To Every Tool Its Use?”

        Mark Dublin

  15. Not having access to the actual paper, or the peer review comments (if there are any), I’m a bit skeptical of the value of this work. Any academic work you need to pay to see should be automatically suspect, and what is presented here reads more like an exercise in mathematical self flagellation than something that can be used for policy guidance.

    First, the basic premise that transit/trip choice is agnostic is fundamentally false. People organize their life’s around their commute and transit choices. At this very moment my sister-in-laws are looking to buy a house near a future Link station precisely because of the transit benefit it provides. This is not agnosticism.

    Second, the value of any transit commodity depends fundamentally on the number of people using it. Simply doing a combinational analysis of geographic destination pairs ignores the fact that the city is not homogenous. Mathews Beach to Magnuson Park, and Husky Station to Cap Hill Station are both very similar commutes in terms of elapsed time, but the first trip might occur only a few times a day, whereas the second trip on Link occurs thousands of times per day. Yet an analysis like this would appear to weight them as equal valued.

    Stated another way, the data needs to be corrected for population density, job density, etc. Link goes through 3 of the highest transit use areas in the city (DT, UW, RV), the number 75 does not. So at the very least the data needs to be weighted accordingly.

    Third, at least half of all transit trips are not spontaneous. If more than half of the trips are daily commute trips, then those trips need to be accounted for in transit policy. Analyzing only spontaneous (and therefore more random) trips ignores the importance of planned and routine trips which are fundamentally not random.

    Forth, the analysis ignores the importance of transit quality. The KC emps and alums on this board might not like it, but rail bias is a real thing. In cases where there is a bus only commute that might be slightly faster, many people will still select the Link based one. Why? Because schedule reliability matters. Knowing your train will always be there on time is comforting, not knowing if your bus will be there on time isn’t.

    However, fundamentally the analysis doesn’t provide any useful insight because it ignores the fact that come March Link frequencies change again, and come summer/fall Link gets extended again. A more useful presentation would make some effort to show the effect of these things.

    1. “at least half of all transit trips are not spontaneous. If more than half of the trips are daily commute trip”

      Three-quarters of trips are non-commute trips. Children, retired people, and tourists never commute to work. Commuters also go to the store, library, drugstore, evening activities, church, and relatives’ and friends’ houses. I don’t know what percent of non-work trips are spontaneous. But the point is that subways and core bus routes should always be frequent so it doesn’t matter whether a trip is spontaneous or not: there’s always a train/bus coming in a few minutes. That’s what transit is like in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Only a few coverage routes and commuter rail are infrequent and require you to time your trip around them.

      1. Absolutely correct. One of the reasons 3/4 of trips are not home based worked trips is because most trips using high capacity transit are not traditional roundtrips. Instead they are combinations of linked/unlinked trips that do not follow the same pattern to and from. These mix and match trips are the foundation of any high capacity transit system.

        I wish the ST board (and ST staff for that matter) could think in these terms and recognize that most Link ridership is not your peak hour peak direction home-work-home roundtrip. It’s the polar opposite.

      2. Also worth mentioning is that “spontaneous” is just a catch-all term for an untimed trip. It includes trips that are truly spontaneous (e. g. someone decides at the last minute to go to a club). But it also includes trips that are planned well in advance. Let’s say I work as a nurse, and have to be at work at 8:00 AM. I can’t be late, nor is there any value in getting their early. The trip certainly isn’t spontaneous. But frequency is essential. If the train runs every 5 minutes, I’m in great shape. If the train runs every 15 minutes, it is quite possible I will show up 10 minutes early, and just sit around. The same thing happens in the evening. Throw in a transfer, and things get really ugly. It can be the difference between leaving your house a half hour before the shift, or an hour. Suddenly driving looks very appealing.

        There are trips that are the opposite. The employer doesn’t care what time you show up. You don’t care when you get home. You time the trips and everything works out. But my guess is those trips represent a small subset of trips.

      3. I think the issue is the use of the term “spontaneous”. It could mean a generally impulsive decision to travel — or a general decision to planned travel inside a particular time window. The latter is the way I think most people make transit trips. That includes those that even work with flex time around core hours, frankly. I’ll also add that there are many non-work trips with fixed arrival times like schools and medical appointments.

        Only when there is a service infrequent enough to require catching a specific vehicle does the choice need to be carefully planned beforehand.

        It’s difficult to find a more appropriate term. Random-arrival? Spontaneous-departure? Variable-departure? Unscheduled? Flexible-arrival-time? I think a better term could be found but I’m not sure what that would be.

      4. I think the issue is the use of the term “spontaneous”.

        I agree. I think there are two categories of trips:

        1) You can arrive anytime, you are comfortable basing your life around the schedule, and there is no transfer involved.

        2) Everything else.

        I can’t come up with a good term for either of these, but I do know the first group has got to be pretty small. Even if you can arrive anytime, and even if your trip is direct, there may be times when you want to leave later, or get there earlier.

      5. The way people plan trips in cities with ubiquidous frequent transit is: you add up all the travel time segments and waiting segments. You subtract that from the time you want to arrive at your destination, and that’s when you leave. There’s no need to consult a schedule because no matter when you leave it will always take about the same amount of time, with maybe a five-minute wait for each segment, a small percent of the total time. The worst-case scenario is ten or fifteen minutes longer than the best-case scenario.

        Contrast that with a route every 30 minutes, or a two-seat ride where each segment is every 15 minutes. Now it makes a big difference whether you leave at the pulse or in between. And you have no control over the timing of the second vehicle; it might leave at a minute after or a minute before the first vehicle arrives. You have to piece together the time with the shortest internal wait time, or use a trip planner that does this. And you may find that in all cases the second bus leaves a minute before the first bus arrives, so you’re always waiting 15 minutes for it. Or one or both buses may not be reliable so you have no idea when they’ll show up, you just know that they’re nominally 15 minutes apart, but they’re often five or ten minutes late, or sometimes even twenty minutes late. You add up all the wait times for a two- or three-seat ride, and in a worst-case scenario it might reach 30 minutes total, and you’re spending more time waiting and walking than riding.

    2. You are missing the point. The author did not claim this is the be-all-end-all of transit analysis. It is simply one tool, measuring things we know are important. There are other things worth considering, but this tool is important for measuring things that are routinely considered when considering a transit system: spontaneous, anywhere-to-anywhere travel. It is the basis for a lot of literature, with studies showing a strong correlation between frequency and ridership. Jarrett Walker has an entire chapter on the idea that “Frequency is Freedom”, where he explains the importance of frequency. There is a transit pattern — called a grid — that is primarily designed to improve anywhere-to-anywhere travel, along with frequency. It is often touted for its value. Vancouver punches well above its weight (up there with much bigger, more densely populated cities that have invested a lot more in their transit system) in terms of transit modal share as a result of the grid.

      Then there are transfers. This is clearly a major part of our transit network, especially as it relates to Link. You even touched on that. While the 65 and 75 do not go downtown, it connects to Link, that does. Northeast Seattle riders (folks from Sand Point, Wedgwood, Ravenna, U-Village, etc.) who want to go downtown have no choice but to take a bus, and transfer to Link. Likewise in much of Kirkland.

      Your argument is bizarre. You are saying that Link serves vital areas — areas more important than your average bus — and yet it isn’t important to the network? That makes no sense, and contradicts the data. As the author wrote:

      “The areas that see the largest reductions in service are indeed among the ones that the Link is intended to serve.”

      That means that getting to downtown or the UW is much harder. If you are lucky enough to live close to a station, things haven’t changed that much. But for everyone else it is significantly worse.

      This is just confirming what a lot of us have been saying: Link is essential for lots and lots of trips. Its speed allows people to get to places quickly. If it runs infrequently, that advantage starts to disappear, and you can’t get to as many places in less than a half hour. To argue that those places — served by Link — are *more* important is quite reasonable, which means that if you did apply a weighting system like you suggest, Link would be even *more* important.

    3. I’d happily provide the paper and the review comments that I received. I don’t love having the paper behind a paywall, but I don’t control the Transportation Research Record’s policies on access to their journal. But I can provide the most recent pre-publication draft to anyone who asks. So if you’d like to follow this up with 15 more pages of mathematical self-flagellation, shoot me an email and I will provide:

      The way I like to frame the measurement is that it is aspirational. Yes, people currently select where they lived based on being near present or future Link stations (I’m guilty of this), but what if they didn’t have to? Yes, for many people transit is just something for everyday commuting trips, but what if it made any desired trip easy? Yes, a planner is probably going to make judgement calls on what locations are important to serve, but what if they had the service hours to be freed from making value judgements inevitably based on biased assessment of what important even means. These are lofty things that will never be perfectly achieved. To have a measurement that takes a stab at how far off the network is from that ideal feels like a useful piece of data to have and compare when making changes to the network. It’s not an end-all be-all.

      Finally, I don’t see how the fact that the future will bring change means that making an assessment of the present provides no value. Running an analysis like this is not a one time thing, and my hope is that this post isn’t either. I’ll be here failing to provide any useful insight until as long as they let me.

    1. Because winter is almost here, you might want to show some care about the temperature of the metal-work. Good reason, though, for voting positive on Washington Initiative 90.

      Mark Dublin

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