Sound Transit has a passenger experience survey open until November 22. I’m sure readers will have plenty to say, and all of it will be positive. Respondents can participate in a raffle for a gift card, or apply to a sounding board. There’s a text box at the end for free-form comments. Beware that you can’t go backward to a previous question. If you choose a specific aspect from the list like safety, it asks a lot of safety-related questions, so I assume it does the same for the other aspects. It also goes on to ask about reliability, cleanliness, escalators, disability features, etc. My main feedback was: “Fix the escalators!” and “When an outage occurs, tell passengers on the platform. They’re the last ones to find out.”

Other feedback opportunities:

Why are so many Amtrak trains late? ($)


This is an open thread.

94 Replies to “Open Thread 21”

  1. “My main feedback was: “Fix the escalators!” and “When an outage occurs, tell passengers on the platform. They’re the last ones to find out.””

    On the same page as you, Mr. Orr.
    Those were my primary messages as well.

    Some of the follow-up questions have faulty logic based on your previous reply. For instance, if you reply right in the middle, i.e., not having a favorable nor unfavorable opinion on the matter, the follow-up question still assumes otherwise.

    It needs work.

    1. I found some things like that. I think I said safety or cleanliness for an unusual issue, and then all the options after that were things that didn’t apply to me. The choices were places it didn’t occur, or Link when I meant buses. Then it wouldn’t let me continue without choosing one, so I had to choose something that didn’t apply to me but a few people here have complained about. Still, I’m glad it tries to ask in-depth questions about a topic you’ve indicated. Previous surveys haven’t gotten that detailed.

      The biggest thing it needs is a back button. Inevitably people will answer something wrong and want to correct it, or the next screen makes it clearer what the previous question was. And on one screen I didn’t look closely enough to see it had started asking about Line 1 rather than all ST services.

    2. Yeah, ST definitely needs to hire a survey researcher. Definitely will work more cheaply than the software engineer who I suspect designed these. Or just have someone send them a link to redcap. The Sounder south survey is riddled with similar issues. No need to reinvent the wheel, ST.

    3. Unless an agency sincerely tries to design a survey deliberately designed to generate substantive feedback, it’s merely completing an administrative check box and usually uninteresting. It’s so pervasive in citizen participation that elected officials and staff aren’t even aware of its uselessness.

      I’m ST’s case, the entire decision making expansion program is designed for backroom secret meetings with a handful of powerful interests lobbying for preferential treatment, presented as sanitized “Stakeholders” that are given direct access to lobby and “bribe” (election donations) elected officials.

      The sad thing is that ST still won’t ask about things like how important improving vertical circulation is relative to other things. That leads to too few escalators for deep stations, forced pedestrian crossings that could have been grade separated and mediocre places for buses and cars to pick up or drop off passengers.

  2. Seattle Transportation plan has updated with list of priority projects they have identified in addition to just moving the deadline. And notably is asking the public for what to prioritize first, it sounds like they can only afford around 3~5 projects per subarea.

    Was wondering what y’all thoughts are on the projects.

    > After a multi-year community visioning and planning process, we have identified a list of candidate transportation projects and potential program activities for the public to review and provide feedback. These proposed projects and programs support the STP’s 20-year vision for Seattle’s transportation network (Share your feedback by November 20, 2023) (Scroll down to see the map of projects)

    Skimming through the projects for interesting ones.
    * Project 22 “Denny Way” interesting they are discussing “bus and freight” lanes this time. Maybe that’s more politically feasible? Perhaps Late 8 might get their wish after all.
    * Project 2, it seems like they are implying dedicated bike lanes on phinney and greenwood further north?
    * Project 43 “Eastlake to Rainier Beach” talks about a new rapidride merging route 60 and 36 and maybe parts of 49.
    * Project 76 Elliot Bay Trail and project 24, they propose building a new north/south trail on the ‘east’ side of the interbay rail yard (right west of the armory). Using google maps seems it’d make going from Downtown Seattle to Ballard biking time decrease from 35 minutes (if one avoided 15th ave and used 20th ave W) down to 27 minutes.
    * Project 57 discusses redirecting the RapidRide H Line to Admiral and Alki neighborhoods after West Seattle Link opens.

    (Reposted to the newer open thread since 21 just opened up)

    1. Anyone know what this means in project 60 (Rainier, Southeast)?

      “Implementing Intelligent Transportation System improvements to make traveling along this busy street more efficient, safe, and predictable “

      1. It’s generally a euphemism for retiming traffic signals to improve car throughput (and occasionally buses), usually at the expense of pedestrians.

      2. It’s the same traffic signaling they installed on Mercer Street, semi infamous for never giving the pedestrian signal for 10 minutes lol.

        But in general it allows them control and sense multiple traffic lights at a time. It’s not exactly cheap to install though probably not that much more overhead if you’re digging up the street already for other improvements

      3. Mercer between 99 and I-5 is a huge fail of a design. The powers that be won’t admit it but it’s truly horrible. It’s only gotten worse over time.

        The reason it’s horrible is that it’s just too dang big. That creates long waits for anyone who uses it and gets stopped at a traffic signal. It’s particularly bad for pedestrians who must wait and wait, and when they can finally cross it feels pretty scary and long.

        I find it ironic that there is all this interest to put a lid on I-5 which already has a grade separated highway a level apart from sidewalks, and Mercer was not conceived to create something similar: A pleasant, safe, calm and narrower pedestrian environment a level higher than the car sewer below. For a city that did something as innovative and bold as to raise the sidewalk profile of Pioneer Square and to blast hills to reduce grades 100 years ago, the willingness to build the rapid-flow car sewer at the same level as pedestrians (complete with car sewer noise and smells) in an intentionally high density area shows that that creativity no longer exists in the public and elected official consciousness.

      4. @ Al

        An underpass was pretty unlikely for Mercer Street. Though it does sound like what the Seattle commons originally proposed where mercer street would be a trenched freeway interchange. Aka same as the Bay Freeway proposal just trenched instead of elevated.

        > That creates long waits for anyone who uses it and gets stopped at a traffic signal

        One easy thing I wish they implemented was two-stage/midblock pedestrian signals. Many times only half of mercer street gets the green light.

        For example when northbound fairview turns left onto westbound mercer street and southbound fairview turns left onto i5 it could allow pedestrians to cross halfway (crossing the eastbound portion of mercer street)

      5. “ An underpass was pretty unlikely for Mercer Street.”

        I’m not recommending an underpass.

        A century ago, the City was smart enough to give Pioneer Square property ownership several years to move building entrances to second floors. If Seattle was thinking about their history, they would have done the same for Mercer Street and the approaches. Then they could have built an amazing boulevard lid for pedestrians and bicyclists and even a lawn for people and maybe local traffic while the through traffic could have stayed on the current street level under the lid.

        Alternatively, the City could have created one way streets rather than a mega street. It would have required rethinking ramps, but the result would have been fewer signal phases and less crossing time needed for pedestrians.

        It’s making changes that would take up to 20 or 30 years to accomplish. But the vision has to start sometime or we are stuck with this horrible design.

      6. > I’m not recommending an underpass. A century ago, the City was smart enough to give Pioneer Square property ownership several years to move building entrances to second floors

        It’s effectively the same thing whether trenched the boulevard down or moving the buildings up.

        > Alternatively, the City could have created one way streets rather than a mega street. It would have required rethinking ramps, but the result would have been fewer signal phases and less crossing time needed for pedestrians.

        Uhhh… wasn’t that the previous configuration? With valley street being the west bound one for freeway traffic and Mercer street being the east bound street. Mercer street was just changed to the two way boulevard configration in 2013

    2. @Mike

      Fyi There’s an interactive map that shows the route of the projects (works on mobile too),47.4968,-122.103,47.6779&home=true&zoom=true&previewImage=false&scale=false&search=true&searchextent=true&legendlayers=true&disable_scroll=false&theme=dark

      It doesn’t quite follow the 60 outside of Capitol Hill. More accurate would be to call it from udistrict to Capitol Hill via route 49 then from Capitol Hill to Othello station via route 36.

      Also the project is very poorly named, the route is neither on Eastlake Ave nor does it go to Rainier Beach station. Probably calling it like Broadway Ave/Beacon Ave rapidride would have been a tad more accurate

    3. I started a new article for this. WL, could you copy the most important parts of your comments there? Sorry, I didn’t know about the new projects, and this will generate a lot of comments.

    4. I think that ST wants that Project 76/24 right of way. At least, it’s the current “Preferred Alternative” for BLE.

      Yes, we know that you want to put it on the inside lanes of 15th West, Ross, and I guess that would work, but with a horrid, noisy station at Dravus. I’m skeptical it would be “cheaper”, though, when the cost of digging the street up for renewing the utilities in preparation for burying them permanently,

      1. > I think that ST wants that Project 76/24 right of way. At least, it’s the current “Preferred Alternative” for BLE.

        Ohhhh thanks for the call out. I was wondering why/how SDOT was suddenly so ambitious there. That makes sense they will build a bike lane after the ballard link construction if it goes on that alignment.

      2. Yeah, definitely cancel lengthening the platforms. Definitely cancel all the garages. Definitely cancel service to Dupont. That will save something like a billion right there. And sure, if you provide 7 day, all day and evening Sounder service, cancel TDLE. Cancel the 594. There another bunch of billions.

        You can only look at ridership numbers if the transit you are looking at has been adequate and usable. KENT valley and Pierce service has always been horrible, for the most part.

        Nobody rides bad transit. You can’t use that as evidence that they won’t ride good transit.

      3. “Definitely cancel service to Dupont. ”
        Extending to South Lakewood & JBLM/Madigan and Dupont is fine in my opinion. ST already owns the rail ROW for that section of track between TDS and Hawks Prarie.

        JBLM leadership itself actually has lended high support of the extension because Madigan Army Medical Center is one of the largest employers and destination for many in the South Sound. MAMC is basically one of the largest training hospitals within the US Military Health System and also cares for both active and VA military members.

        Extensions like this also make a stronger case for more round trip runs on Sounder. I know plenty of retired or veteran people who complain about going to Madigan and how long the commute is if you aren’t in Tacoma.

        Would also be a good case for a possible P Sounder Line within Pierce County in the long term to provide a better and faster connection in the urban area of Pierce County.

      4. “What is “BLE”?”

        Ballard Link Extension. ST has new acronyms: BLE and WSLE (West Seattle Link Extension). Is there a third one for downtown?

      5. BLE is Ballard to CID – WSLE is West Seattle to SODO. I don’t remember off the top of my head where the exact meeting point between SODO and CID is, but I think BLE includes the crossover track so South-of-SODO gets shifted into DSTT2, and North-of-SODO heads to West Seattle.

  3. Just watched Alex Davis’s video and found it very well done. The next time, a commenter I shall not name talks about how fixed route buses are obsolete and Uber is the solution, I can simply link to the video rather than rehashing the same rebuttal over and over and over again.

    1. I read the urbanist’s article, and my initial thoughts on this is as follows. If ST were to add weekend service on Sounder South, cost reasons would likely limit it to 1-2 round trips per day.

      So, the question becomes, would people be willing to plan their day around a train schedule in order to get a faster/more comfortable trip. Or, will they end up ignoring the train and just riding the bus that leaves runs within 30 minutes of when they want to travel, no matter what time of day it is?

      For people that have jobs to commute to, I think it is very unlikely that a limited weekend train schedule would just happen to line up with the job schedule, so such people would almost certainly still be on buses. Will there be enough riders left to make it cost-effective to operate such a large train? I guess we’ll have to see.

      This is a problem with commuter rain in general. It works great when thousands of people all want to travel from the same place to the same place at the same time. But, when demand drops, it is something that is impossible to scale downward without vastly increased per-passenger operating cost, at least not without not running it at all, which shunts passengers onto much slower bus routes.

      1. I agree. For people at south center or Kent they’d just use the route 150. From Seattle any speed improvements of sounder (20ish minutes) compared to the bus (40ish minutes) will be swamped by the extremely low frequency

      2. Which is disappointing, as the 150 is a painfully slow bus to ride all the way from Kent to downtown Seattle.

        If Sound Transit wants to improve non-rush-hour transit options on the Sounder corridor, simply adding an Auburn->Kent->downtown Seattle ST Express bus that runs every 30 minutes, all day, 7 days/week is probably much more useful than adding one or two additional daily Sounder trips.

      3. Infrequent service with any mode is near useless. Sure, if you handcuff the service and make it barely usable, few people will use it. This isn’t a particularly novel insight. See exhibit A: Pierce Transit.

        Obviously you need to make it frequent and all day. Hourly would do for the distance.

      4. Unlike weekday peak times, there isn’t predictable traffic congestion on weekends. Most of the South Sounder market are riders who drive to stations as well. Finally, we are just two years away from Federal Way Link opening.

        So for those wanting to come into Seattle on weekends, I expect them to naturally choose to park at Federal Way or KDM and ride Link after 2025. The stations are less than 3 miles from Kent and Auburn stations. The 10 or 16 minute frequencies mean that the trip can begin or end without concern of schedule. (Using Sounder on weekends would seemingly require that a rider arrive 10-15 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival to ensure that they don’t miss a train.)

        The systems gap to me is instead the lack of a frequent east-west RapidRide or ST Express route. I would prefer that the payment to BNSF simply go to much more frequent bus connections to Link from the Sounder corridor cities.

      5. How long do you think it would take someone to get to Westlake who is getting on a bus at Kent or Auburn, and transferring to Link? Less than an hour and a half?

      6. “an Auburn->Kent->downtown Seattle ST Express bus that runs every 30 minutes,”

        That was in Metro Connects. It’s just never been funded.

      7. > Infrequent service with any mode is near useless. Sure, if you handcuff the service and make it barely usable, few people will use it. This isn’t a particularly novel insight. See exhibit A: Pierce Transit. Obviously you need to make it frequent and all day. Hourly would do for the distance.

        … as previously discussed Sounder doesn’t own the tracks. If we could run hourly on those tracks we wouldn’t be building Ballard Link nor the extension to Tacoma and just run trains on the BNSF tracks instead.

        The entire reason why we are building a separate rail line for link is because we cannot run more frequently on the BNSF line, I’m not sure why that keeps being forgotten whenever increasing Sounder frequency comes up. It’s not just simply run more trains, its give a couple billion to BNSF or spend a lot to build a third/fourth track.

        That is why the service is “handcuffed”.

      8. “How long do you think it would take someone to get to Westlake who is getting on a bus at Kent or Auburn, and transferring to Link? Less than an hour and a half?”

        Well first, an hour and a half is unacceptable. Kent-Seattle should take 30-45 minutes. Here are are the existing options and a future Link estimate:

        1. Sounder (King Street-Kent): 20 minutes. (Northbound is longer for some reason, up to 25-27 minutes.)

        2. 150 (Union Street-Kent): 51 minutes Sunday at 7am. 63 minutes weekdays at noon. 68 minutes weekdays at 5pm.

        3. 162 (Pike St-Kent peak express): 57 minutes at 5pm.

        4. Link (Westlake-SeaTac) + 161 (SeaTac-Kent): 39 minutes + transfer (up to 30 minutes, assume 15) + 21-24 minutes = 60-63 minutes + transfer.

        5. Future Link (Westlake-KDM) + future RapidRide on KDM Road. The 161 is the closest approximation to the RapidRide. 45 minutes? + transfer (up to 15 minutes, assume 7) + 17-24 minutes: 69-76 minutes. Maybe slightly faster; I don’t know how Veterans’ Drive compares to KDM Road, or the Link station vs the college.

        6. Future Seattle-Kent-Auburn express: 57 minutes. How can it be faster than the 162?

        So nothing except Sounder beats the 150 or 162, not even Link to SeaTac or KDM. And even those stretch the limit of tolerability. An hour’s travel time between Seattle and Kent is unacceptable when Sounder takes less than 30 minutes and driving takes 15 minutes without traffic. That’s part of the reason why South King County’s ridership isn’t higher. Kent is not the same corridor as Link on 99, and neither is Renton (re route 101).

      9. Sunday route 150 leaves Kent at 8:37 am and gets to 4th and Union at 9:26 am. 49 minutes. Not bad.

        People around the world want to know what I think of the S Line operating on the weekend. 1, there isn’t enough demand to warrant weekend service. 2, it would be too expensive.

        BTW, Trip Planner is currently telling me it will take either 1 hr 8 min, or 1 hr 13 min to go from Kirkland to Seattle. (Rt 250+rt 550, or rt 250+255+1 Line). So for me, someone who lives just six miles away from Seattle, 49 minutes on transit isn’t that long.

      10. Exactly. Link simply doesn’t serve the towns in the Kent Valley. Period. It’s a completely different ridership catchment.

        A couple billion sounds cheap for hourly service to serve almost a million people, when we are talking about spending 11 billion to serve 27K in Ballard. I have no idea where that 2 billion comes from though. Timms claims to be negotiating that number.

      11. Half-hourly Sounder South would transform the south end and make it more transit-oriented, like Caltrain and Metra and New Jersey Transit. The problem is BNSF’s monopolistic prices and the need for freight movement/jobs. The state could solve the problem by taking on the capital costs of building additional track and negotiating with BNSF for Cascades+Sounder. It keeps saying it will do so for Cascades but hasn’t for twenty-five years, and now it’s distracted by pie-in-the-sky high-speed rail. But that’s what a state that prioritizes transit would do.

      12. A couple billion sounds cheap for hourly service to serve almost a million people, when we are talking about spending 11 billion to serve 27K in Ballard.

        I don’t know where you are getting your numbers, but there aren’t a million people close to the Sounder stations. That is one of the fundamental problems with Sounder that folks ignore. This ain’t Europe. Kent has a fair number of people, but they are spread out over a city that is over 30 square miles! This is why folks emphasize density. Stations don’t actually serve cities — they serve neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods served by Sounder are not particularly dense.

        Of course like all mass transit you can have feeder buses. But the less often you run the train, the worse the transfer. It becomes difficult to time the bus. It has to arrive with enough time for riders to transfer, which means that you have to have plenty of “float”. Thus the transfer will typically be time consuming. Furthermore, as folks have pointed out, running hourly trains is very expensive. You might as well run express buses. These avoid the transfer problem, and would very likely be cheaper than extra service.

        Then there is ridership on the train. It is way down. But even before the pandemic, reverse-commute and midday trips had very few riders. I can’t emphasize that enough. We’ve already tried this little experiment — it failed. There simply aren’t that many people who will take the train outside of peak direction.

        You can look at the numbers*:

        1518 (midday from Lakewood) — 125 riders
        1520 (reverse-peak from Tacoma Dome) — 140 riders
        1522 (reverse-peak from Tacoma Dome) — 80 riders
        1524 (reverse-peak from Tacoma Dome) — 101 riders

        These are for October of 2019 — when Sounder had its best month ever. Ridership is way down now (on all those trains). Also worth mentioning is that while total ridership would go up if you add more trips, ridership on each train would go down. Multiple trains that carry only a hundred people are often not worth running (even if you own the tracks). We would be way better off with express bus service.


      13. There is a world of difference between regular hourly or better service and a few ad hoc trains.

        You don’t change habits, development and investment decisions with a random train here or there.. That’s a recipe for failure, and the opposite of what we are discussing.

      14. The big problem with Sounder, besides being at the mercy of BNSF, is that every single trip costs so much to run that each individual trip requires hundreds of riders in order to justify running at all, and any time of day where you can’t get hundreds of riders all willing to ride the same train at the same time, Sounder offers utterly nothing.

        The minimum number of riders per vehicle needed to justify running a bus, or even a Link train is vastly lower than for a Sounder train *even if you ignore the fact that every single daily run requires negotiating another huge payout to BNSF*.

        Choosing commuter rail as the mode to invest in back in the 1990’s had its advantages. It was the quickest and cheapest way to go from no passenger rail service at all to at least something. But, it comes with big downsides and we are now paying the price.

      15. I was going to post a reply but Ross’s post says everything I was going to say, plus with statistics.

        Conflating population figures for an area as large and undense as SE King Co. and East Pierce Co. with transit ridership is a mistake. Focus on ridership. Lots of people in any area don’t rider transit, and those who do do so for a reason, so understand that reason. Even Peak ridership on Sounder S. is down dramatically.

        Maybe if the S. King Co. and Pierce Co. subareas were told that if Sound Transit goes ahead with the billions in station and platform upgrades for Sounder S., plus the already approved parking garages, and adds in off-peak service, it will mean TDLE is no longer affordable, and Link will end at Federal Way, it might drive home what Ross is saying.

        Except I am not seeing a lot of demand from S. King Co. and Pierce Co. for more Sounder S. service such as off-peak service. Mostly it seems to be transit advocates from N. King Co. Instead, Pierce is wrestling whether to maintain current Sounder S. service despite the terrible ridership and farebox recovery numbers. Part of this is the fact TDLE and Federal Way Link have been delayed, TDLE until 2035 I think, so local politicians want something to show voters for their taxes while they are still in office.

        I think some of this is being driven by transit people thinking all transit revolves around downtown Seattle, because what is Sounder S. but rail transit to downtown Seattle. How many people who actually live there will take Sounder S. from Lakewood to Puyallup to Sumner to Auburn to Kent? Will Mike every take Sounder S. to those cities? No.

        Very, very few from this area will use Sounder S. for intra-subarea transit, which is why post pandemic with WFH peak ridership on Sounder S. has cratered. Sounder S. is all about getting from the south sound area to a job in downtown Seattle, and even pre-pandemic there were not a lot of workers in this area who work in downtown Seattle and can commute by transit, and those are exactly the workers today who can work from home.

        If peak Sounder S. service today has something like an 11% farebox recovery rate, and Pierce politicians are wrestling with whether to spend money on Sounder S. when the subarea budget is already very tight, can Pierce of S. King Co. afford to run mid-day Sounder S. at 3%, or 5%, or even 7% farebox recovery? Where does the money come from in these subareas for such expensive transit?

      16. “Will Mike every take Sounder S. to those cities?”

        I have taken Sounder to Tacoma and Kent. I would take it more but it’s not running then. Sometimes I take Sounder one way and ST Express back, because the Sounder schedule doesn’t make round trips from Seattle feasible.

      17. @Cam Solomon

        > when we are talking about spending 11 billion to serve 27K in Ballard. I have no idea where that 2 billion comes from though. Timms claims to be negotiating that number.

        ~11 billion is for the total Ballard link. The segment from interbay to Ballard is ~1.5 billion. Also that population comparison is pretty misleading. The catchment area of South Sounder is moderate with apartments but I wouldn’t include the entire cities’ population that have a train station to compare.

        > A couple billion sounds cheap for hourly service to serve almost a million people,

        All day hourly service cannot be achieved from just negotiation with BNSF, the current tracks cannot handle that much freight trains and passenger trains at the same time. At a minimum we’d have to construct at least one additional track along most of the length from Seattle to Auburn around 21 miles.

        If you want to advocate for hourly trains that’s fine, but it is not just run more trains or negotiate with BNSF. It is actually build more train tracks then — just like we’re doing with Link. Sure it’ll be a bit cheaper since I imagine any expansion would be at grade but then advocate for that rather than just saying ‘hourly trains’. Like the Late8 bus campaign doesn’t just say ‘faster busses’ they say ‘extend the bus lane’.

        You’re actually asking to build new rail line or at least much more passenger train separation with more triple tracking and sidings not just more frequency.

      18. Mike, while it’s true that Sounder beats them all in time on the journey, the lack of being able to not leave when desired is a big deterrent. Plus, with only a few trips the rider has to arrive early to not miss a train so that adds 10 additional minutes to the Sounder travel times.

        Add to that that Kent to Seattle buses perform better than Auburn to Seattle buses do. The best time advantage is from Kent.

        A final possible pair could be 2 Line to South Bellevue connecting with a 405/167 express bus. I sometimes wonder if a Stride line from Bellevue to Auburn could be a worthwhile investment.

    2. One problem with Sounder in general is that it operates from Lakewood to Everett, when the actual regional travel pattern is Chehalis to Bellingham.

      That’s why I suggest the state needs to be partially invoked.

      Suppose the South King and Pierce subarea continued to pay their share of Lakewood to Seattle service, but the state kicked in the incremental cost of starting one or two of the trains in Centralia, several hours before the first Amtrak train from Portland gets there?

      This gets to be cheaper per passenger as the crews (which are already paid for) operate for longer distances.

      1. The state has studied commuter rail from Everett to Bellingham, and Auburn to Maple Valley. It never went anywhere because the cities weren’t interested in paying for it.

      2. But if instead this train is called Amtrak Cascades the state is willing to pay for it?

    3. “If you want to advocate for hourly trains that’s fine, but it is not just run more trains or negotiate with BNSF. It is actually build more train tracks then — just like we’re doing with Link. Sure it’ll be a bit cheaper since I imagine any expansion would be at grade but then advocate for that rather than just saying ‘hourly trains’.”

      That is good advice, WL.

      But are we certain it’s even true? I watch the trains go by on the mainline through Tacoma, and I don’t really feel that is obviously true. Do we have data to confirm that making BNSF and/or UP a bit of motivation to force them to change their practices (length, schedule) wouldn’t do the trick?

      They have been notoriously bad stewards of the tracks lately.

      1. Cam, let’s say you have the power to decide how often South Sounder runs. The freight railroads said Sounder can run as often as it wants. How many trips per weekday would you schedule? Same for the weekend. How many trips on Saturday and Sunday would you schedule?

      2. > But are we certain it’s even true? I watch the trains go by on the mainline through Tacoma, and I don’t really feel that is obviously true. Do we have data to confirm that making BNSF and/or UP a bit of motivation to force them to change their practices (length, schedule) wouldn’t do the trick? They have been notoriously bad stewards of the tracks lately.

        It does not matter whether it is true or not. BNSF owns the tracks. (Though generally it is probably true when I glanced at the most recent documents about freight+passenger train traffic). Also you do realize BNSF gets like tens of million per additional Sounder South train for the trackage rights?

        The most recent Amtrak Cascades study lists some proposed improvements (though whether BNSF accepts it is a separate thing). For example:

        > Controlled Siding 3.3 miles in Georgetown, Controlled Siding Puyallup 1.7 miles, Extend triple track 2.8 miles (kent-Auburn) extend triple track (Puyallup-Tacoma) etc…

        And yes you’ll probably need to improve it from Seattle to Tacoma unless the trains are turning back at some other station. Also more importantly Amtrak/Sounder needs to actually own some tracks or some kind of better deal for the improvements. Rather than just always leasing trackage.

      3. “ How many trips per weekday would you schedule?”

        The extremely popular Berlin RE1 (similar to Amtrak Cascades or Sounder) operates a minimum of half-hourly. I’d aim for that.

      4. Glenn, so if were up to you, Sounder South would operate from 4:25 AM to 11:24 PM, and run ever 8 minutes, just like the RE1?

      5. “It does not matter whether it is true or not. BNSF owns the tracks. (Though generally it is probably true when I glanced at the most recent documents about freight+passenger train traffic). Also you do realize BNSF gets like tens of million per additional Sounder South train for the trackage rights?”

        There are plenty of ways to pressure BNSF and UP to play ball. I’m not a lawyer, but the threat taking some or all of the granted franchise via imminent domain might get them to play ball. Providing access vital to our region’s and our nation’s ability to provide transportation that doesn’t destroy our budgets and has a marked impact on the deceleration of the effects of climate change is a reasonable consideration, at this late date. We need to start providing real, competitive solutions that get cars off our choked highways, destroying our environment and burning up the earth.

      6. Railroads have special protection under federal law, so Sound Transit cannot eminent domain them. Even removing railroad tracks that are de-facto abandoned to prevent cyclists from going to the hospital isn’t allowed if the private railroad company that legally owns the tracks wants to be a jerk about it.

        Nor is building new tracks alongside the existing ones something that Sound Transit can do unilaterally because BNSF still owns the land. Short of acquiring land for a whole new rail corridor (e.g. like Sound Transit is doing for Link) it is not possible to add new tracks.

        And, as I said before, even if Sound Transit did somehow own the tracks, the marginal cost to operate each train is too high, causing the minimum ridership level for each trip to make financial sense to also be too high. For example, each Sounder North train, I believe carries about 50 people. For a bus, this would a full load, and the route would be considered productive. For commuter rail, those same 50 people per trip makes for a near-empty train that operates at huge per-passenger subsidies.

        That is the achilles heal of commuter rail. It works great when you have 1,000+ people all wanting to travel from the same place to the same place at the same time on the same vehicle. But, if you want to run any service at all during an hour where only 100 people want to ride rather than 1000, you just can’t. Buses and even late rail can work during hours where passenger demand is 100 people per hour. Commuter rail can’t because the cost structure is too high.

      7. I think transit supporters and environmentalists just don”t “get” BNSF and the reason using existing heavy rail for transit is a general loser all the way around.

        Let’s say Puget Sound expands commuter trains in the BNSF owned tracks. What does that do to the thousands of “cans” (shipping containers) offloaded at the ports and loaded on to trains? Right now BNSF is moving freight by rail at close to maximum capacity … moving people by rail would only push thousands of semi trucks onto I-5 (hauling freight). The biggest problems with dense urban planning are figuring out ways to fund it and finding ways to move freight in and out of it.

        Shipping adds a lot of cost to anything shipped to places like NYC…. prices for everything are cheaper in places in upstate NY or Iowa because transit and land prices are lower. This fuels the crazy income disparity and housing shortages seen in poplar cities like NYC and Seattle. Mostly Liberal cities, but now the same patterns are starting in more conservative places like Bosie ID. Warehouse space in Boise has been expensive and hard to find.

        It might be possible to upgrade heavy rail all the way to Portland instead of trying to build another airport in Puget Sound. Either choice is expensive and had repercussions for the next 100 years.

        There’s an old saying… “Lead, fallow or get the Hell out of the way.” At this point, Sound Transit needs to the Hell out of the way. The legacy dead-end ST projects out in East King and Pierce County just drain off funds that are needed for more logical and pressing transportation projects.

      8. Going to half-hourly Sounder or having significant Sunday service to Dupont would require implementing that third track concept. So it would be best to start the debate there. How much would that cost? How could Sound Transit, the state, or some other entity raise that? The state now has it in its Cascades plan draft, but that could take decades if ever at the state’s pace. And the state now has the distraction of high-speed rail which may cause it to take its eye off the ball even further. Absent the state acting promptly, is there a realistic case that ST could do it?

        There’s also the fact that even some former ST1 supporters have soured on ST3’s cost increases and counterproductive design changes. And that ST will be financially preoccupied with ST3 until the 2040s, unless it scales that back.

        All indications are that BNSF would demand a high price for a land lease for the track, but would not otherwise stand in the way. If a public entity builds the track, it sounds like time-slot leases on that track for passenger trains would not be an issue. And it would benefit BNSF by freeing up space on the existing tracks for more freight runs, and reducing timing conflicts between higher-speed passenger trains and lower-speed freight trains.

      9. Mike Orr,

        If public money was used to upgrade/build tack on the BNSF line, it’s quite possible some of that time slots could be leased back to the railroad. There are 4-5 hours of dead time for transit that freight to run– making expanding the port of Tacoma easier.

        High speed for not, getting constant train service to Portland, local service for all the towns on the line and improving rail freight might be worth spending billions on. Otherwise there’s the cost/political food fight over a new airport… the train might be a better investment.

      10. tacomee, so we agree on building up the mainline rail infrastructure for regional trains (currently called “Cascades”), metropolitan trains (currently called “Sounder), and more freight? That sounds like a win-win.

        It may not be financially or politically feasible, but we need to start with the ideal and then figure out how to get to it or whether we can, rather than being self-defeating and assuming the current situation can’t be changed.

      11. Cam, you clearly aren’t a lawyer. Nor are you a Constitutional scholar. The Federal Government has taken responsibility for oversight of railroads under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Even shortlines entirely within the boundaries of a single state are subject to Federal Railroad Adminstration control and largely insulated from State interference.

        The Federal Government has even given railroads themselves limited forms of eminent domain to guarantee that they can build the most efficient route between different points. That power has been curtailed since they almost never build extensions these days, but if a railroad wants to build a spur across your property to an important new customer, they get to build it. They will, like the State who exercises its own eminent domain, have to pay “just compensation”, but they will build that spur.

        Your only potential defense is if you have an important wetland that their route must cross the spur might be denied entirely. But it would be one huge court fight that you could not afford.

        So, No, Washington State can’t “condemn” the BNSF main from Argo Junction to East Tacoma.

      12. But U.S. Congress granted that power, and it can also take it away. It wouldn’t happen in it’s current configuration, but if the Republican Party continues to burn itself to the ground, maybe there would be hope for the future.

  4. After reading asdf2’s post I watched Alex Davis’s video “Why Not Just Buy Everyone A Car Or Subsidize Uber”. I think Alex misses the point on two issues.

    1. “Why Not Just Buy Everyone [TRANSIT RIDER] A Car”.

    Alex shows clips of several people who look like local politicians or business leaders asking why not just buy everyone [actually every projected transit rider, a big difference] a car rather than build a certain transit project that will cost the same. Alex then assumes these folks, who don’t look like your regular shaggy transit progressive vloggers, are serious when asking this question, and analyzes whether a car would really cost the same.

    The point these folks were making is not government or transit agencies should just buy every rider a car (and many may own a car already). They agree that is economically foolish. What they are really arguing is we shouldn’t build transit systems or modes that cost the same or more than buying every projected rider a car because that is just as economically foolish.

    [I should also point out Alex spends a lot of time analyzing the operating costs of owning a car, but never compares that to the future operating costs and maintenance of the transit system].

    About a year ago there was an article on STB by a transit writer from Vancouver who sounded like he knew what he was talking about. I think his name began with a “Y”. Based on just the estimated capital costs of West Seattle, and ST’s own ridership estimates, this writer estimated ST could just buy each rider a $60,000 car every ten years, which the writer admitted was possibly low (the cars could cost up to $180,000 each).

    I don’t think the writer, or the people quoted in Alex’s video blog, really think we should buy every West Seattle Link rider three $60,000 cars instead of building West Seattle Link; I think their point is we should not build West Seattle Link, and should look for transit routes and modes whose costs are more proportional to the number of riders they will serve, certainly less than the cost of buying each rider a new car every ten years.

    2. Uber.

    I don’t understand why transit vloggers like Alex or Walker get so worked up about Uber. Although there are not a lot of good studies, my experience is Uber takes riders from walking and driving your own car, not transit, in large part because transit riders can’t afford Uber based on their routes.

    In 2017 Uber accounted for 94 million miles in Seattle. Uber drivers accounted for 7.6 billion trips in 2022, but that is only 7% of all trips, or around 13% for more urban areas like San Francisco or Seattle (probably due to tourism and urbanism). A growing share is from food deliveries and from partnering with local transit agencies for paratransit (Alex gets this backwards in his video). But nothing suggests these miles or trips come from public transit, which usually accounts for around 10% of all trips.

    As I noted, there are not a lot of good studies about why folks use Uber or Lyft. Food deliveries and paratransit are pretty obvious. The fact Uber ridership is around double in urban areas popular with tourists suggests to me parking, forgoing a rental car, and lower costs to get from A to B are big reasons. For example, I live in outer Kirkland and Uber is too expensive unless I know I will be drinking or I share a ride. But parking at a hotel in San Francisco recently would have been $40/night, plus rental car, plus rental car hassle, plus finding parking in downtown San Francisco. If someone has been drinking I would much rather have them in an Uber than driving on the same road I am.

    Alex’s vlog suggests to me transit fears of Uber have more to do with transit moving more toward micro-transit. But just like Uber that only works for short trips, feeder trips, or in areas with few riders, and doesn’t appear economical at this point.

    If transit vloggers like Alex compare the costs of certain mass transit projects to buying each projected rider a new car(s) maybe the true test should be which costs more: 1. the new transit system including future operations, maintenance and replacement; 2. buying each projected rider a new car(s); or 3. subsidizing Uber on the same route. There are many other reasons mass transit makes more sense, but if mass transit does not win that comparison by a mile something is not right with the planned mass transit route or mode.

    The one thing I would also add is I don’t think these are interconnected trips or customers. People who use Uber don’t use it instead of transit, and buying each rider a new car in lieu of a new transit system probably does not address why that person needs or wants to take transit. All we can say for sure is the cost of any transit system or mode should not be the same or more than buying each projected rider a new car every ten years or subsidizing Uber.

      1. 80% of Seattle households already own a car…. that number is even higher in surround communities… and the majority of those who don’t own a car, wish they did. There’s the hardcore transit folks in D3, D7 who are well served by transit and don’t need a car for their chosen lifestyle… but other than that small area, you really want/need a car in Greater Seattle. Believe me, I’ve worked with lower income families in Federal Way and Tacoma who really, really need a car. Transit completely fails these folks.

        There’s also the good old double standard where transit advocates already own houses and cars but promote development to stop others from having them. The whole environmental movement (from John Muir on down) has always had privilege for White, college educated people and the rest of get roped into “taking the bus” for the “general good” to “save the planet”.

        Alex Davis is really a smart and talented guy…. who wastes a lot of energy making transit videos that only “true believers” watch.

      2. Still doesn’t answer the question – [When you give everyone transit dependent a vehicle,] where do you fit all the cars requiring space on the roadway?

      3. Jim Cusick

        LOL! you’re acting let there’s this massive amount of people who are car free. In reality, Greater Seattle is less than 10% car free. Go to NYC. Those extra cars would fit.

        Where do we fit cars isn’t really a legit question for 99% of America. If there’s one thing we do well, it’s roads and parking. Looking at Greater Seattle, parking or driving on Capitol Hill is sometimes a challenge, but every Saturday and Friday night cars full of people pour in from the ‘burbs for a fun night on the town. That’s what makes Capitol Hill such a vibrant neighborhood. I’ve been around the USA and parking at any Gay Mecca is never easy. It’s the same for many other crowded transit rich neighborhoods in Seattle. There seems to be room enough for outsiders to drive there and spend money, so there’s room for cars.

        In Tacoma…. you either have a car or you’re up a creek without a paddle. Slightly easier to not drive and use transit on the KC Eastside, but still cars rule. South King County? car centered. If you map out the areas that are very friendly to living car free in Puget Sound, you’ll end up with a very small area with the absolute highest housing costs. The difference in rent between Queen Anne and Spanaway pays for a car. And there’s no way to live in Spanaway without a car. In Puget Sound, the less money you have, the less housing choices you have and more car dependent you’re likely to be. This is the knockout blow to transit. The people who need transit the most… are the least likely to be served by it.

        It’s possible to live in one of the transit rich 5% parts of America and think there are too many cars. But the other 95% will disagree with you. The biggest problem that transit is America is always going to have is any place with enough population density to support a healthy transit ecosystem also has high housing prices that lock out average people from living their long term. When I was young, living (and partying) in Wallingford was fun. But when it got time to marry and buy a house, I moved straight to Tacoma. Not because I wouldn’t have wanted a house in Wallingford!

        Let me finish with that back in the 1980s there were less cars per household in Seattle than there is now. Because back then, Seattle had more families, and more children and less income. Let’s look a spilt level house in Edgewood in the 1970s. Mom. dad, a couple of kids. One car. Maybe two? Let’s say 1.5 on average? Now let’s look at the re-zoning, pack-and-stack housing many on this blog advocate for. Tear down that house and build a 4-plex. Now we have 4 sets of renters, with more income. Maybe 6 new residents? At least 4 cars, maybe 5? All those Extra cars! Oh, that’s not going to mess up a perfectly good neighborhood! This type of development isn’t going to clear the roads, or help the environment one bit.

        We don’t have room for cars? Lefty weak sauce! You’ll to come up with something a lot stronger than that to get people to take transit. As a pro-transit person, I want a system where people want to use it because it adds something to their life. Telling people all the terrible bad things that will happen if they don’t take transit is just silly.

      4. So either No One is riding transit at all now, and our highway infrastructure is already sized to handle what is needed. (ergo – no need to add lanes anywhere, especially that money-suck project I-405 which I pay for even though I don’t use)


        We dump the remaining ‘transit dependent – now car drivers’ into the highway system and we see what happens. Which would be a great experiment to see just how valuable transit is.

      5. “you’re acting let there’s this massive amount of people who are car free. In reality, Greater Seattle is less than 10% car free. Go to NYC. Those extra cars would fit.”

        It’s not the carfree residents’ cars that would have to fit, it’s the current bus riders’ cars. If you turn all current bus passengers into car drivers, that’s tens of thousands of more cars on the road simultaneously. At a time when many of our core roads are almost at capacity. Ten or twenty or thirty people on a bus take up one bus’s worth of space. In cars they’d take up 5-15 times the space. Full bus runs with 50-100 passengers would take up 25-50 times as much space as the bus. The political debates revolve around whether to add or delete one or two routes or a handlful of runs at a time. That’s nothing compared to if all current bus riders suddenly didn’t have that option any more and had to drive.

      6. We don’t have to wonder. Several years ago, the Denver transit system abruptly shut down for a few days due to a labor strike. Lots of people that would normally ride transit drove instead and, indeed, the extra cars on the road caused by the transit strike produced a measurable impact in traffic volumes. And this is Denver, which is quite a bit more car-centric than Seattle.

      7. asdf2,

        But when transit stopped in Denver…. the world didn’t end. It wouldn’t end in Seattle either, most people already have access to a car and could figure out a work around without transit. Seattle would be a mess in the more populated core, but Bellevue? Federal Way? Transit only really works in about 5% of Greater Seattle. If the buses and trains kept running in inner Seattle, (Capitol Hill, U District, Ballard, Columbia City) and transit was discontinued out in the ‘burbs…. traffic levels wouldn’t rise much. Life would go on.

        Nobody would miss Pierce Transit one bit if it bit the dust and gave out free cars or even Uber rides. PT is universally hated more than even the Tacoma police, for the same reasons. Decades of lousy service has pretty much made the population of Tacoma anti-transit or at least ambivalent about transit. And let’s be honest about Sound Transit’s negative impact on Tacoma. As the Tacoma Link (the train to nowhere) has taken more and more time to complete and the cost overruns have gotten bigger and bigger….. the chances of another transit levy for Pierce Transit have bottomed out to zero. Help is absolutely not coming for poor PT. Not a single elected official will spend any political capital supporting transit. Councilwomen Walker might talk the talk, but she’s not going to walk the walk. I feel bad for Cam Solomon because he’s not figured out how little Tacoma cares about mass transit and how talking with elected officials on the subject goes nowhere.

      8. “how little Tacoma cares about mass transit”

        My dad grew up in Lakewood and I used to visit my grandmother there during elementary school, so I have some ties to Tacoma although I’ve never been there much. My grandmother’s cottage was where the Clover Park High School parking lot is now. I spent a summer in college in the Hilltop neighborhood as part of a religious project. And since I’ve been on STB I’ve gone to Tacoma to see the “good bones” people say it has (i.e., remnants of a walkable streetcar suburb), and to evaluate its potential to play that role again.

        In the early 1970s my dad inherited some land in Lakewood across from the school, and he was going to build “cluster housing”, a combination of apartments, close-together houses, and contiguous open space. A precursor to what’s now called “New Urbanism”. The blueprints were on our dining table when I was in elementary school. But he couldn’t get a zoning variance for it. My grandmother said it’s because the Tacoma city council demanded a bribe to make a zoning exception and she wouldn’t pay it (Lakewood wasn’t incorporated yet), but I don’t know if that’s true. In the end my dad sold the land to a conventional developer, and it now has a cul-de-sac street with ten regular single-family houses on it. What a loss.

        Regarding Tacoma itself, whenever I go there it just makes me cry, the lost opportunity in the inner neighborhoods around downtown. Like most American cities, “the streetcar suburbs silently became automobile suburbs”. Walking north from Wright Park, the streets seem excessively wide, and the single-family houses begin very quickly after downtown. Both that area and Hilltop (like the part around 19th & Cushman) seem to have too much residential-only construction and not enough non-residential destinations scattered around. And local transit is poor, with a bus every 30-60 minutes. Even in the late 1980s Pierce Transit seemed to be predominantly low-income non-choice riders, in contrast to Metro which was more even.

        So Tacoma has thrown away its potential more than Seattle or central King County have. It’s harder to regain it, and Tacoma is less willing to do so. The lack of improvement in Pierce Transit over thirty years shows how little Tacoma/Pierce care about transit. I don’t want to say no improvement. In the 80s routes 1/2/3/4 didn’t exist, the 594 didn’t exist, Pacific Avenue was lucky to have half-hourly service, and S 19th Street had two routes that combined for half-hourly service, except in my part one of the routes detoured to 23rd, so I effectively had hourly service. Tacoma transit is better than that now, but not a lot better.

        A lot of the problem was southeast Pierce (Spanaway, Sumner, Puyallup, Bonney Lake, Orting, Buckley). They kept bringing Pierce Transit levies down. Finally in the 2010s there was a vote to contract the Pierce Transit district and exclude most of those areas. (Puyallup and Spanaway are still in.) Tacoma and Lakewood have been voting yes to PT levies, so theoretically one would have more chance of success now. But there has never been one in the smaller district, so no expansion has been funded. So Pierce Transit just languishes on. Pierce County transit riders suffer because of it, and people who highly value walkability and frequent transit avoid living in Pierce County if they can. Some people can’t, due to high housing prices in King County, so they have to live in Pierce County and suffer its poor transit and walkability.

      9. I’ve started asking friends and coworkers who live in Pierce County what their opinion on transit use is. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that most have responded that they would love to use transit, and used it regularly before in places before they lived in Pierce County, and they would do so again.

        I, feel sorry for Tacomee for his cynicism and inability to see a better future.

        I also feel the Pierce County officials are more ambivalent about transit than against it. I feel like there are opportunities, and I’m thankful to be in a place where I feel like there is a change to effect change for the better.

      10. The world in Denver didn’t end, but traffic did get noticeably worse. Once roads are saturated with cars, even just a few percent of additional cars can have outsized impacts on traffic delays. This has been well studied.

        Also, while Denver has less transit use than Seattle, it does have considerably more transit use than Pierce county, so I’m not sure the analog of Denver/Tacoma is quite comparable. But, even in Tacoma if Sound Transit were to abruptly shut down for a few days, I think the impact in traffic along I-5 would be noticeable, at least during rush hour.

      11. Mike Orr,

        Oh, I wouldn’t feel too bad for Tacoma, or think it “missed” the opportunity to more like Seattle. Those old houses around Wright Park are loved by the people who live in them, who own them. The hundreds of shitty modern apartments built all over Seattle? Nobody loves them, even the hapless renters who live there. Hapless renters… that right. 55% of Seattle residents just feed the rent monster. No equity, no future, just getting endlessly jacked for more and more money. I’d rather buy the worst house on Tacoma’s Eastside or Spanaway than rent some overpriced Seattle apartment (for decades). Anyone who who disagrees with this needs to check back after paying 20 years of rent…. with nothing to show for it. Honestly Mike, if it wasn’t for owning real estate, I might be “retiring” to a tent down on 3rd Ave. Anyone who’s lower income absolutely needs to try to buy a house… because the world can be a cold, cruel place and nobody is going to a damn when you can’t afford rent any longer. There’s a lot of reasons the down-and-out live in tents in Seattle, but I truly doubt many of them ever owned a home.


        When Denver ‘s mass transit shut down, it was a mess, but the world didn’t end. Life would go on without transit in Seattle, we’d all adjust, especially if the transit in the Seattle core kept running. Bellevue? They could do without transit pretty easily . And Denver is pretty much exactly like Seattle. Denver has a downtown core surrounded by less dense suburbs… the farther you get away from the downtown, the worse transit is. Same footprint, same funding problems, same political struggle.

      12. “Those old houses around Wright Park are loved by the people who live in them, who own them.”

        I didn’t mean immediately around Wright Park; I meant between Wright Park (Division Ave) and N Alder Street (about twenty blocks north of it). The houses started almost immediately. I’m sure the people who live in them love them, but it blocks more people from living within walking distance of downtown Tacoma. And since Tacoma/Pierce has fewer walkable areas than Seattle/King does — much less areas with more than 30-60 minute transit — that’s a loss for everybody who wants to live in a walkable neighborhood in Pierce.

      13. “I’d rather buy the worst house on Tacoma’s Eastside or Spanaway than rent some overpriced Seattle apartment (for decades).”

        Yes, I know you prefer a yard and setbacks and home equity, and you may have children to leave it to. But I really want the experience of walking and having transit options and seeing other pedestrians on the sidewalk, and I have nobody to leave my house to, and marrying a woman is incompatible with my sexuality, and I’m not sure I’d make a good father in any case. So I’d rather have a happy pedestrian life, and worrying about being homeless in old age just comes with it. Everything has risks. I’ve known too many people who’ve lost their house, or have lost money when real-estate prices went down, and then that equity just vanishes. And I’m really adverse to long-term debt. So yes, you’re right that house ownership is one of the most effective ways to pass down intergenerational wealth. But the fact that prices rise so fast and people can speculate on a necessity of life and deny it to a significant fraction of the population, is a societal problem in itself.

      14. “I meant between Wright Park (Division Ave) and N Alder Street (about twenty blocks north of it). The houses started almost immediately. I’m sure the people who live in them love them, but it blocks more people from living within walking distance of downtown Tacoma.”


        I live in this area. There are actually a fair number of apartments, but they are almost all built before the 1960s, or they are old mansions cut up into a half-dozen apartments. Almost every block has some sort of multifamily housing, and it actually adds to the character of the neighborhood, rather than subtracts. The fact that a dozen people live in a mansion rather than some rich, dying couple pushing 100, makes the neighborhood much more vital. Unfortunately, a huge portion (almost a 1000 houses) was designated historic, so no more cool apartments allowed. I’m considering starting an unzoning campaign called “Old is not Historic.” I’m only partly kidding.

        I chose the neighborhood, because it’s incredibly walkable for Tacoma. 6th Ave to the west. Stadium District to the East. Downtown to the south. Dozens of restaurants. A couple grocery stores. Pharmacies. Post Offices. High quality schools. The best transit in Pierce County with T-Link and Route 1 (I know, not saying much).

        I absolutely would love to share my high-resource neighborhood with more families. I’d love to have my property unzoned so I could split our large lot into 2, or build a 6-plex. Or both. Or at least have the flexibility to do so. I love the house and plan on staying there long-term. But, if my foundation shifts, or I open a wall full of black mold or some other 200K expense, I’d like the option to raze and build up.

        But I can’t. I would be forced to sink massive amounts of money to prop up an admittedly beautiful house that at some point will be beyond it’s useful lifespan. That’s the opposite of freedom.

      15. “… they are old mansions cut up into a half-dozen apartments.”

        The idea that a huge single family house can be divided into multiple units is common in older cities around the world. I’m mystified why so many local zone codes think it’s terrible and needs to be banned.

    1. Alex makes very good points about the problems with microtransit. Arrival times are too unpredictable, travel time is too unpredictable, average wait time is worse than planning around the schedule of a half- hourly bus.

      Microtransit may sound great when you’re the only one using it, but once others starts using it too, each additional rider degrades the quality of service much more than with a conventional bus. The only way to prevent this is to add more cars and drivers. But, the number that can be added without breaking the budget is severely limited.

      I once attempted to use Bainbridge Island’s microtransit van, but abandoned the idea when the app said it would be an hour’s wait. If microtransit can’t even scale well enough for Bainbridge Island, it certainly won’t scale well for a big city like Seattle.

    2. As I noted, there are not a lot of good studies about why folks use Uber or Lyft.

      I have a hard time believing there isn’t a good understanding of why people would hire a driver rather than drive themselves – jitneys, taxis, and now “rideshare” have existed in some form for a very long time. I guess if folks think there’s a significant functional difference between a gig-economy “rideshare” and a medallion’d taxicab, then maybe you’d have trouble cross-referencing the results. But functionally, they are the same.

      As for the whole “why not buy every potential transit rider a car” idea, I’ll just add that it’s a simple extension of the externalization of cost associated with car ownership. Few people really account for the full cost of ownership, including non-monetary costs like the mental stress of driving, the physical space of parking, the contribution to traffic, etc., when considering car ownership. I’ve noticed that municipalities like to say “we’re building transit to move more people” or “we’re building transit to reduce traffic”, but these things do not stand alone. In reality, we build transit to move more people without increasing traffic, but maybe all that is too much to fit on a billboard or a campaign slogan.

      1. Nathan D, perhaps I should have written I couldn’t find a good study on why people use Uber instead of public transit, although there are plenty of articles why they SHOULD use Uber over a taxi, or why Uber is bad, and what other mode they would/should have used, which seems pointless to me if 7.7 billion trips are by Uber alone.

        I did some online research but I am no scholar. I imagine Uber and Lyft have lots of internal research. So I just used my own experience, and some data like the number of Uber trips is around double in urban areas and speculated. It doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.

        I did find these articles however. Most are about why someone should use Uber over a taxi (which is pretty easy) but very few articles even consider public transit as an option. The next to last articles are just about why Uber is bad, which isn’t very helpful. The last article is from 2020 and is why Uber is a bad stock investment (oops):

        There are lots more, but not very scholarly in my opinion. In fact, one article argued Uber and Lyft should have to share their internal data with cities so cities can better plan for Uber and Lyft.

        To make clear, the folks in Alex’s video blog and I are not arguing that a transit agency should just buy every projected rider a car (or two/three) instead of transit, and that is the mistake Alex makes, taking these arguments literally, or we go to a subsidized Uber model although I think that would be the most expensive. As you and others note there are many other valid reasons for transit.

        The point is IF a transit project/mode is going to cost the same or more than buying every projected rider a new car the agency should reevaluate the mode at least, or maybe whether it needs to be underground. For example, West Seattle could use buses instead of light rail. If buses can carry the same number of projected riders someone should question the costs of light rail along the same corridor. I think that was the point the writer was making on this blog last year.

        I also didn’t find a study on which modes Uber takes riders from. Considering the cost of Uber, I don’t think most transit riders who are going any length of distance would use Uber (say instead of Link), at least not regularly, and Uber’s 7% share of miles proves that. It could be Uber does take some urban riders from buses or Link because it is door to door, but I don’t know and am speculating. I rarely use Uber except when on vacation in an Uber area, but I also don’t get to downtown Seattle via the awful 255 much these days where an Uber trip within the city would not cost an arm and leg.

      2. I think the distinction between “Uber” (which seems to be used a catch-all for rideshare companies, although I guess they’ve basically consolidated to a duopoly between Uber and Lyft) and other taxicab companies is false, from a transportation perspective.

        When I think of taxis and transit, my first thought is NYC, and I quickly found this 2019 mobility report that has some interesting pre-pandemic statistics on mode split:

        I think there are some interesting takeaways in that report, even if it seems somewhat outdated.

        But to the point about subsidizing on-call “micro transit” versus building out new fixed-route transit, I think many here agree that WSLE doesn’t have nearly enough inherent benefit to balance its costs (and never did), and the billions being allocated towards it would be much better spent on major increases in bus service and bus-priority infrastructure. Maybe if the West Seattle Bridge had to be fully replaced in 2020, new high-density transit ROW would have been a worthwhile expenditure as part of a replacement bridge serving all vehicles. But we don’t live in that timeline.

    3. I listened to the video again to confirm his argument. He’s talking about buying cars for riders who don’t have cars and shutting down the bus network. Or replacing the bus network with subsidized demand-response taxis. The guy he quoted saying you could buy everybody a Tesla — I think he meant non-car owners, not the entire population. He probably didn’t realize that many bus riders already have cars. For instance, everybody who parks at a P&R.

      I’ve heard a similar argument about Amtrak, that we could buy plane tickets for all passengers for less than the cost of running the long-distance network. And the airlines have plenty of empty seats. Well, that argument was 5+ years ago when there were more empty seats. People who say that have no idea who all rides Amtrak and where. Amtrak serves many small towns that have lost their commercial airlines or never had any — like the ones that fill up the Empire Builder in North Dakota.

      When I’ve taken the Builder to Chicago, it left Seattle only a quarter full, but by Bismarck ND it was 100% full, and remained full until Minot or Fargo. Towns in far northern Montana and North Dakota have no other east-west transit. They’d have to take a bus south 90 miles to each an east-west bus. And those bus routes run only once a day, like Amtrak.

      Those who advocate for replacing local buses with subsidized Uber or universal cars have a similar blind spot. They have no idea who all rides the buses, where, and for what. Their stereotype covers only a small fraction of bus riders and trip types. And it doesn’t take into account multi-person households (who don’t always travel together), people under 16 who can’t get a driver’s license, the annual cost of car fuel/maintenance, the need to have a parking space for it (and an electric outlet to charge a Tesla), etc. They don’t add up the total cost to both cities and individuals of owning/renting cars vs fixed-route bus service, or the need to scale up rental cars so that nobody has to wait more than 10 minutes. Or in medium-sized metros like Pugetopolis, how all those additional cars would fit on the existing streets and parking spaces.

      Alex was not looking at expensive exurban rail construction projects like ST3 Link. I didn’t hear one word about that. That’s really a separate issue. And the region made a collective decision that ST3 Link was worth it in 2016. There’s no need to relitigate that endlessly now. The issue now is the cost increases beyond that.

    4. The Uber example is capped at 30 rides per month. That may be OK for the rural county it’s in where there’s little to go to, but it would be extremely low in a metro like Pugetopolis where people make a lot of trips for a lot of reasons. Before covid I had 80 transfer-periods per month ($1.25 effective fare with a $99 pass). That doesn’t even include chain trips within a transfer period, like stopping for groceries on the way home, or dropping off library books on the way to the store, or picking up a prescription on the way.

      A 5-day work commute is 22 round trips a month (44 total trips). If you go to church on Sunday that’s 4 round trips (8 total trips). If you go to the store twice a week that’s 8 round trips (16 total trips). If you go out Friday nights that’s 4 round trips (8 total trips). That adds up to 38 round trips (72 total trips) right there. And that’s just a moderate amount of transit usage for somebody who travels primarily by transit.

      1. Mike, your experience is why I don’t think Uber and Lyft are taking riders from public transit. They are taking them from driving, rental cars, food delivery, some paratransit, parking garages, and walking. So I don’t understand the animosity or even interest of transit writers towards Uber. It is like apples and oranges.

        Jim Cusick, I think you are making the same mistake Alex makes. No one is seriously suggesting we buy each transit rider a car, or even each “transit dependent” rider a car (because riders can be transit dependent for many reasons, including congestion, and still own a car). My guess is 70–80% of transit riders own a car, at least when commuting pre-pandemic was higher.

        Transit has many key attributes, with reducing traffic congestion a big one. When some comment that a transit project costs the same as buying each rider a car or two or three, they are talking figuratively, not literally.

        What they are saying is question the mode –usually rail, or whether the new transit is underground, or needs a second tunnel, or whatever until it doesn’t cost the same or more than buying each rider a new car. If it is cheaper to buy each rider a new car the riders are just not there to support the transit project in its current form or mode, which is why ST’s future ridership estimates are often inflated. Because even ST estimates West Seattle Link will remove only 600 cars from the road.

        This whole argument has NOTHING to do with cars which was my whole point you and Alex miss, so forget that. No government agency is ever going to buy every projected transit rider a new car instead of transit, even if it could identify the riders.

        It has to do with the costs for a transit project vs. the number of projected riders, and really comparing modes of transit rather than comparing the costs of a car to transit.

      2. “Mike, your experience is why I don’t think Uber and Lyft are taking riders from public transit.”

        But they are. Reports in many cities are saying that the largest percent of riders are coming from transit, at least in cities that have transit. And most trips aren’t in obscure low-density neighborhoods that transit has the hardest time serving; they’re from places like Capitol Hill to Fremont or downtown Bellevue to Crossroads. San Francisco was the first Uber city and one of the largest users, and its citywide transit is better than most of Seattle or King County. Some of these trips are just people being lazy, others are because transit service has been reduced. Neither of these are reasons to subsidize Uber further; they’re reasons to improve the transit network.


        Mike, I don’t know what reports you are referencing. This study looks scholarly and determined Uber’s effect on public transit is ” theoretically ambiguous”. “[W]hile Uber is an alternative mode of travel, it can also increase the reach and flexibility of transit’s fixed-route, fixed-schedule service”.

        But I don’t think it matters. Uber and Lyft are not subsidized today anymore than driving is subsidized (and in many cities Uber charges extra taxes and fees). Transit ridership in this area increased pre-pandemic as Uber ridership increased at the same time. I am no scholar, but I don’t think Uber is quite the threat some transit writers think it is to public transit, and even if it is there isn’t much anyone can do about it.

      4. If I have a car at my fingertips, I would almost never use Uber.

        I use it when I’m taking some other transit mode, and transit has failed in it’s basic mission. If it looks like it will take me 2 hours to get to my destination by transit, but 30 minutes by Uber, that is just about the only time I’ll ever consider using it.

        It’s replacing transit failures.

  5. “Sound Transit has a passenger experience survey open until November 22. ”

    #1: Real Time Information – Every trip – 24x7x365. No, I don’t expect 5 9’s service level, but 3 would be nice.

    #2: Improve customer transfer experience – Everywhere… As much as reasonably possible. Then go back and do it again.

  6. Big news.

    Saw my first LRV on the new Lynnwood Link extension about 2 hours ago. It was depowered, and being towed really slowly, but it was underway and heading north.

    This is good news as it means that at least some of the geometry and fit checks are underway. Hopefully Balducci’s ELSL experiment doesn’t delay Lynnwood Link too much. Because Lynnwood Link clearly is the more important and will have the higher ridership.

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