Matthew grew up in rural South Alabama and has lived in the Seattle area since 2007, settling down in Columbia City in 2012. Active in transportation issues, he is a cofounder of Seattle Subway. Since December 2013 he works at Sound Transit. All opinions are solely those of the author.
Sound Transit’s summary then some analysis and my charts after the fold.
Total Sound Transit boardings increased by 7% during the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Boardings increased on all modes except Paratransit. System growth is trending about 6% over the annual budget and SIP forecasts. Aside from 56 slide-related train cancellations on Sounder North Line, there were no major service disruptions during the quarter.
ST Express buses had 6% more boardings in Q1 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Average weekday boardings reached 62,285 for a 7% increase. No major changes in service took place during the quarter.
Sounder commuter rail boardings were up an impressive 17%, with an 18% increase in average weekday boardings. Ridership increased significantly on both Sounder lines. Mudslide conditions resulted in 56 cancelled North Line trains, compared to 91 annulments in the first quarter of 2014.
Tacoma Link Link light rail ridership also showed impressive growth with total boardings up 11%, and a 12% increase in average weekday boardings. This stands in sharp contrast with 2014, when ridership declined during each quarter.
Link light rail boardings were up 5%, with a 7% increase in average weekday boardings. A planned service closure related to University Link preparations and a drop in the number of major sports events this year contributed to lower growth compared to escalation rates seen in 2014.
Full report here. My charts and more below the fold.
On Thursday, the Seattle Times’ Gene Balk broke the news that Seattle was no longer number one. Our time as fastest growing city in the nation lasted only a year. While it’s sad to no longer have those bragging rights I think a bit more context is in order.
[T]he new census population data shows that the fastest-growing large cities tend to be more suburban. Among the 10 fastest-growing cities with more than 500,000 people, five — Austin, Fort Worth, Charlotte, San Antonio and Phoenix — are majority suburban, and a sixth, Las Vegas, is only 50 percent urban. Only one of the 10 fastest-growing, Seattle, is at least 90 percent urban.
Wait, when did Seattle become 90% urban? Apparently the bar for ‘urbanity’ is pretty low. Just goes to show how suburban the other cities in the top 10 are. More after the jump.
It looks like Link’s ridership growth is pulling out of last winter’s slowdown. Throw out last February’s Superbowl parade and so far this year Link is growing at around 9%. Last year’s ridership gains were so high (high teens!), I don’t think it possible to match them this year, but a return to low double digits (what it was averaging before last year) would be nice. It would also be enough to comfortably get us back to pre-launch (and pre-recession) estimates.
March’s Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 32,893 / 21,898 / 17,452, growth of 9.9%, -2.2%, and 3.2% respectively over March 2014. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 10.4% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership increased 6.9%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 3.0%. System wide weekday boardings were up 5.9%, and all boardings were up 8.0%. The complete March Ridership Summary is here.
Sounder is doing great, 25% growth in Jan, 10% in both Feb and March. ST Express is marching along. How much more can it grow before overcrowding becomes an issue? Tacoma Link seems to have finally turned around. New employer down there?
Maybe I just hang out with the wrong kind of riffraff, but it seems every couple of months I find myself in a conversation about whether or not automobiles should be allowed on Pike Place. Once and (likely not) for all I’ll respond.
Cars belong on Pike Place.
Yes, I said it. I don’t think we should ban automobiles from Pike Place.
Saturday my family and I joined some friends downtown for an aquarium visit. Walking through the market with my stroller, I of course used the street, the sidewalks being too crowded. Hundreds of people were doing the same. Cars, bikes, strollers, people, all jumbled together but surprisingly no mass casualty situation emerged.
Judging by the ‘WTF?!? How the hell do I get out of here!?!’ expression of most drivers I made eye contact with, many did not mean to be there and wished they were anywhere else. However, there are legitimate reasons for driving on Pike Place. Maybe you are dropping off someone with mobility issues, or you’ve got a dinner party and don’t want to haul 2 cases of wine from Pike and Western Wine Shop up the hill and back home on Link, or maybe you even work for a business in the market (yes it’s not just a tourist photo op, but an actual market) that needs a delivery.
As long as automobile drivers recognize the priority of non-motorized users (which they obviously do in Pike Place), what is gained by banning automobiles? The only change I would make to Pike Place would be to either lower the sidewalks or raise the street. In Seattle’s only real woonerf* it would be nice if the street engineering matched the usage. Aside from that, leave it alone, why fix what isn’t broken?
*when people ask me what a woonerf is, I say ‘Pike Place’ and they instantly get it. Seriously. Not an exaggeration. How else would you describe the concept to a Seattleite?
In response PSRC reached out to us and wanted to go over their methodology. When we sat down they agreed that their numbers for Ballard were low. When we dug into the why, it turned out that the designation of Regional Growth Center is pretty significant. It signifies that the local jurisdiction is going to put in the infrastructure and land use policies necessary for growth. The converse of that is the assumption that areas that are not designated as Regional Growth Centers will not be slated for that kind of intensive infrastructure investments and land use policies. Thus in PSRC’s modeling those areas are not projected to grow very quickly.
PSRC’s numbers are important because as our regions Metropolitan Planning Organization they allocate 100s of millions of dollars of federal transportation money (that isn’t an exaggeration, click the link, the last grant was for $440 million). Currently, suburban and exurban locals are more than willing to label themselves growth centers (Silverdale, Bothell Canyon Park and Totem Lake are all Regional Growth Centers) while due to NIMBYS urban areas are afraid to. Combined with outdated models of urban v suburban growth patterns that means this huge pot of money is being incorrectly allocated. The numbers are also important as they are the basis for Sound Transit’s ridership projections.
Right now Seattle only has 6 of the region’s 28 Regional Growth Centers. Four of those six are in the Central Business District (CBD). Only Northgate and the University District are outside of that core. However, rapid growth is happening all over the city. It’s just not recognized by the modeling and thus is missing out in the infrastructure improvements that should come with said growth.
In the comments of my post last week it came out that Metro had actually adopted a new stroller policy about a week earlier, it just hadn’t made it’s way down to all employees or their website. Later that day we obtained the new operator bulletin confirming the change and outlining the policy. This weekend a spokesperson from the agency got back to us with some good background info.
Here’s the new policy:
• Once on board the coach, a child may remain seated in the stroller as long as the child is strapped in the stroller and the stroller is secured in the securement area. If the securement area is not available, the child must be removed from the stroller and held in the lap of the adult customer or in a seat alongside the adult customer. Customers with disabilities using mobility devices have priority in the securement area. (This rule does not apply to ADA Accessible strollers.)
• Folding strollers must be folded and placed under or between seats, unless the stroller is too full to do so or if the stroller is occupied and secured per above.
• Non-folding strollers:
Must not block the aisle or doorways.
Must be under the control of the owner at all times.
May be parked with the brake set in the priority seating area if space is available. Note that customers with disabilities and seniors have priority use of this area.
This is similar to progressive stroller policies adopted by Chicago’s CTA and L.A. Metro, and is a good common sense solution. Thank you Metro!
Below the fold, background info from Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer:
[UPDATE: Metro changed their policy about a week ago, it just hasn’t made it’s way down to all employees or their website. Read the new operator bulletin here. Thanks to STB reader Kimberly for this tip.]
“[O]ne audience member complained that buses weren’t user friendly for moms with strollers: ‘Your boss [the woman had identified herself as working for King County Metro] buys a lot of buses. Part of the problem is on Metro.'”
The topic is nothing new to the area. Seattle Transit Blog covered it here and here. What is new is that I’m now the father of a young child so have some personal experience with it.
I’ll be blunt. Any long outing with a small child involving buses in this city sucks. The current official policy is:
Baby buggies and strollers must be emptied and collapsed, while on the bus. If a customer requests the lift or ramp, the drivers are instructed to deploy the lift as long as the zone is accessible. An adult must ride the lift to control the stroller. Once the child and stroller have boarded, the child must be removed from the stroller and the stroller collapsed and stowed.
Metro Customer Service email – Friday March 27, 2015
The reality is that many Metro drivers take pity on us poor souls and use common sense. If it’s not in use they’ll let you park a stroller in the wheelchair area and ask you to lock the wheels. But you never know until he or she waves you on or holds you up. I call it Metro roulette.
A parent has two options. One, you risk it. There is a 50/50 shot the only disruption will be the use of the ramp or lift, and you hope no one who can’t or won’t move is sitting in the wheelchair space so you can park out of the way. Or if you don’t want to risk disrupting everyone you prep at the stop. This means unhooking your diaper bag and any other bags, removing the child, and then holding on the child while you break the stroller down and wait. So you not only have a folded up stroller and a couple bags (hopefully you didn’t pick up much of anything at City Target while downtown) you’re trying to hold on to, but a small child that is NOT tied down (and is upset at not getting to explore now that they are ‘free’). Lots of fun waiting on 3rd like that.
It sucks either way and is why I cut back on taking Isaac on any long outing that involves Metro. If we can’t get there by Link or Link + Streetcar, we don’t go by transit. Now that he can walk at a decent pace and doesn’t require 30 lbs of gear, we’ll jump on a 7 or 8 for quick trips within the valley but that is about it.
Not everyone has the benefit of living on a rail line or a spouse that drives. For their sake (and my convenience) it’d be nice if Metro had a more family friendly policy when it came to strollers.
Five years strong, the MLK Business Association is holding it’s Plate of Nations promotion from March 27 through April 12. Similar to last year’s event all participating restaurants will offer $15 and $25 shareable entrees, but new this year every location will also have a vegetarian option. Grab a passport, get your stamps, and qualify for fun drawings.
This year’s restaurants:
Café Ibex (Ethiopian), Bananas Grill (Mediterranean and Middle Eastern), Huarachitos Cocina Mexicana (Mexico City), Huong Duong (South Vietnamese), Joy Palace (Cantonese), Momona (Eritrean), Olympic Express (Southeast Asian/Cham Vietnamese Halal), The Original Philly’s (American East Coast), Othello Wok & Teriyaki (Pan Asian), Rainier Restaurant (Vietnamese), and Thai Savon (Laotian/ Thai).
As can be seen on the map most are located within the immediate vicinity of a Link station.
Not all of these restaurants are as exotic as the theme suggests, but they’re all relatively inexpensive and quite tasty. Sometime in the next couple of weeks jump on Link and check them out!
While the year didn’t finish as strong as it began, 2014 was a year of explosive growth for link. Fourteen percent growth for a mature five year old line. While I don’t think Link can maintain that kind of growth rate until U-Link opens (simple math) it will be interesting to see how high ridership can get. Will summer ridership this year be enough to require Sound Transit to move to 3 car trains earlier than currently projected? Keep in mind that 2014 Link ridership was 22% higher than the 2011 projections. Link continues to overshoot revised projections, so it very likely that peak ridership will necessitate expanding capacity before currently slated. The only question is when. If only there were money for the cars.
December’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 31,671 / 22,469 / 18,592, growth of 6.8%, 7.4%, and 2.7% respectively compared to December 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 13.9% with ridership increasing on both lines. Sounder finished up the year with 10% weekday ridership growth. Tacoma Link’s ridership increased 0.3% with strong Sunday ridership making up for a weekday decrease. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.2%. System wide weekday boardings were up 7.4%, and all boardings were up 9.6%. The complete December Ridership Summary is here.
Talk to anyone who has spent any time around Mount Baker station about the situation down here and one word crops up a lot, awful. The place is a car sewer. A few years back DPD proposed an improvement that went no where (the bowtie), but now SDOT is taking a look at the problem. Preliminary work on the Accessible Mt. Baker project started late last year, but tomorrow will be the first public meeting where concrete proposals will be put out. Both immediate and long term proposals will be presented. I’ve heard that the long term proposal would be quite transformative for the area. While project manager Michael James couldn’t give many any specific details, his response is extremely encouraging:
It eliminates the MLK/Rainier bottleneck…
Eliminating the bottleneck allows:
More time and space assigned to people
More room for livability features such as wider sidewalks and landscaping
Predictable traffic movement
Simplified traffic signal operations
Distributes traffic to the broader street network
Combined with the work SDOT is doing to Rainier south of Mount Baker station, this is very exciting times for the Rainier Valley. We could be looking at the biggest non-Link infrastructure upgrade in decades, on the street that most would agree is the heart of the Valley.
SDOT is proposing that two lanes of Westlake be transit only. This would speed up not only the Streetcar, but also Route 40 and the soon to be decoupled Rapid Ride C. All the details are in The Seattle Times ($):
“These improvements, along with the streetcar, will mean a bus or a train will go by every three minutes,” Mayor Ed Murray said. “That’s like New York in Seattle.”
The Westlake proposal builds on principles that already succeed on Third Avenue, where buses run mostly free from car interference, said Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit, who will speak March 31 at the Seattle Central Library
Walker said the city has become a leader in North America, by designing streets to respect transit users. “This is really an important breakthrough, and it makes Seattle more like Paris,” he said.
“There is no room in Seattle for any more car traffic.”
The ball is now in House Dems court. However going off history and considering where the Senate is starting from it looks like Sen. Liias was correct, this is not the transportation bill that will significantly move the state forward. It looks like the best path for systemic change is to focus on getting WSDOT’s Strategic Plan to reflect our values. That way WSDOT is collecting the right data and studying the right tools to make the next transportation package forward thinking.
More from WSDOT’s Stan Suchan:
WSDOT’s strategic plan, Results WSDOT, guides our work within our legal and budgetary boundaries and in alignment with Governor Inslee’s Results Washington. We are currently developing implementation work plans. Now would be great time to hear from people who want to share their ideas about the strategies listed in the strategic plan brochure, found at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Secretary/ResultsWSDOT.htm, and steps we should take to achieve our goals. Your comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You heard it folks. You might not be able to change the vote a Senator from Yakima, but you can help influence the direction of our state’s transportation department.
A few weeks ago I attended the TCC organized Transit Talk. Along with transit champions Marko Liias and Jessyn Farrell, WSDOT Public Transit Division’s Stan Suchan rounded out the panel. During the Q&A I brought up the failure of our HOV system and asked what could be done, specifically mentioning HOV 3+ as a possibility in those stretches where even WSDOT admits the HOV lanes aren’t meeting reliability standards.
In my opinion, the answers were underwhelming. Senator Liias stated that it was very hard for a politician to take away something from a constituent without giving back something in return. Representative Farrell seemed to agree.
WSDOT’s Stan Suchan basically said the agency needed more time to study the situation. The agency has questions on whether moving to HOV 3+ would result in breaking down some current 2 person carpools into 2 SOVs, thus increasing congestion. To my mind the obvious question is if WSDOT’s definition of congestion is looking at person throughput or only vehicular.
Multiple times both Mr. Suchan and Senator Liias stated that we need to wait for the I-405 widening project to finish up and the results studied before anything could be done on other corridors. Considering that in many places our HOV lanes are worthless right now during peak hours, being no faster than the general purpose lanes, I found the need to wait years to fix the situation disappointing.
That was just my impression from an on the spot answer so I wrote Mr. Suchen in order to make sure I got the whole story. He was gracious enough to write back with substantive responses. Below are my questions and his full responses.
Most importantly, the two legislative champions on the panel, Marko Liias and Jessyn Farrell, were pretty upbeat about transportation package passage. Senator Liias said he was much more optimistic now than he was even a few months ago. Ironically, Governors Inslee’s strong support for a VMT/carbon tax has forced Republican’s to come out strongly in support for a “large” gas tax increase instead, something they have not done historically.
Senator Liias spent a lot of time explaining what it meant being in the minority. He went so far as to say that the initial bill he will likely vote out of the Senate will only be 70% acceptable. It will be up to the House to get it to something palatable. He made this point a couple times a couple different ways. This actually makes me pretty optimistic as I picked up a definite ‘Please don’t crucify me for my vote’ vibe, which he wouldn’t be worried about if he didn’t think a vote would happen.
On the House side, Representative Farrell assured the crowd that no package will make it out that doesn’t get the Puget Sound what it needs (more transit). She said she would not vote for a package that doesn’t help her district, where pedestrian safety in particular is a high-priority issue. Representative Farrell also stressed that she would like WSDOT to continue to evolve its practices, including a reexamination of traffic forecasting. She also believe that the State has a clear interest in transit, including capital and operating funds, especially along corridors like I-5 where transit improvements improve the efficiency of state facilities.
Overall, the sentiment seemed to be that a package will get done, it will have funding authority for Sound Transit and Community Transit, but it will not be the package that changes the trajectory of the state’s transportation spending.
Just as the region and transportation system has grown, so has this blog. Since those early days we’ve not only grown into the platform for transit activism in the state, but we are probably the first organization out there to be recognized as Government News Reporting of the Year by mainstream civic organization the Municipal League and Blog of the Year by the alternative press Seattle Weekly.
As we move forward, we’ed like to know what you want from Seattle Transit Blog. In order to do that we’re conducting our second (semi)annual reader survey. We want to know what you want and how you want to receive it and interact with it.
Last month King County Metro launched a new transparency/ridership campaign. The page is located here, it’s worth checking out.
While they provide their own bar charts showing the last year of growth, I took their provided data from the last 4 years and plugged it into the charts I regularly produce based on Sound Transit’s ridership reports. The results are startling. Seriously, wow. I don’t want to pat myself on the back too hard, but in terms of visualizing success, I haven’t seen stronger.
First a bit of refresher. In September 2012 KC Metro undertook a aggressive restructuring in Ballard and West Seattle around the introduction of Rapid Ride. These restructures were based on the County Council’s new service guidelines. And Metro’s restructures freakin’ produced. Yes, they were contentious. Highly contentious. Taking away transit, even lowly utilized transit, is a highly politicized action. However the results show that if you put those hours into high demand corridors you get amazing results. Assuming your goal is to provide the most amount of people the best possible transit options it works. It really, really, works. After looking at the below charts everyone reading this should write their KC councilmember and thank them for their courage and leadership.
To me, this seems to argue for more aggressive reorganizations. Fast, frequent, all day routes bring in riders. Who would have ever guessed? Hopefully now that Metro is in the position to be adding service they will put those hours where it will do the most good, the routes, corridors and services that people have voted for with their feet.
The bad news: October saw the lowest percentage growth in Link ridership in the past year and half. The good news is that still translates to 6.8% growth with an additional 2,079 weekday boardings compared to October 2013.
Octobers’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 32,502 / 22,138 / 19,761, growth of 6.8%, 5.1%, and -11.0% respectively compared to October 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 15.9% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased 0.6%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.4%. System wide weekday boardings were up 7.9%, and all boardings were up 7.0%. The complete October Ridership Summary is here.
These Quarterly Reports aren’t as special now that Sound Transit has beefed up their monthly reports, but in past pieces there were some graphs I don’t post in monthly report posts. Do people still want me to do these quarterly summaries? Is there any additional information in the reports you’d like me to track and display?
Total Sound Transit boardings increased nearly 10% during Q3 2014, compared to the same period of 2013. Year-to-date boardings totaled almost 24.8 million, on pace to exceed the SIP forecast of 31.1 million Sound Transit boardings for calendar year 2014. Ridership was up on all modes except Tacoma Link and Paratransit.
ST Express bus boardings were up 6.5%, with all but two routes showing increases. Growth in commuter ridership was evident with an 8% increase in average weekday boardings, from 57,934 to 62,549. ST Express service levels have remained consistent with 2013 service levels throughout 2014.
Sounder commuter rail experienced an impressive 13.5% increase in total boardings. Average weekday ridership exceeded 13,000 boardings, a new record, and both lines experienced growth. High ridership on weekend event trains also contributed towards the overall increase.
Tacoma Link light rail boardings declined during the quarter, continuing a trend that started during the fourth quarter of 2012. However, the decline was very small (-0.2%), indicating that the trend may be bottoming out.
Central Link light rail boardings were up 15.3% for the quarter, with weekday ridership averaging 37,242 boardings, an 18% increase compared to Q3 2013.
Q3 2014 route-level and corridor ridership information can be found on page 2; along with Q3 2014 and YTD 2014 service performance on pages 3 and 4, respectively.
Following the pattern of the last 5 years, Link ridership began it’s winter lull in September, however weekday ridership still grew an amazing 15.2% over September 2013.
September’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 35,157 / 28,778 / 25,580, growth of 15.2%, 14.2%, and 13.3% respectively over September 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 15.0% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership increased 0.4%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.2%. System wide weekday boardings were up 10.2%, and all boardings were up 13.6%. The complete September Ridership Summary is here.