September 23, 2006
Transportation Round-up

* The Seattle City Council yesterday voted 7-1 to replace the Viaduct with a tunnel which is too expensive to actually get built. In the same session, the Council determined that the voters are too rational to be given a vote on the matter.

* The Seattle City Council also determined that the voters are not rational enough to vote down yet another tax hike for projects that existing taxes are supposed to be paying for.

* Sound Transit sucks more dollars out of the productive economy, delivering an airport station (supposedly) by the end of 2009. In the meantime, the boondoggle delivers meaningless statistics:

Sound Transit estimates that in 2020 approximately 3,000 riders will use the airport station each day.
Whoop-de-do. Under what assumptions, and at what cost?

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at September 23, 2006 11:02 AM | Email This
Comments
1. No surprise on any of these. Time for an initiative perhaps? 3000 riders per day at the airport station that isn't even a drop in the bucket compared to how many traveler's pass through Sea-Tac on any given day.

Posted by: TrueSoldier on September 23, 2006 11:41 AM
2. An initiative won't help...voters who are foolish enough to vote and retain politicians such as the Seattle City Council and Nickels, will buy advertising campaigns such as the one we saw to retain the recent gas tax increase. Get a guy out there in a hardhat, talking about the imminent collapse of the Viaduct, so Seattle politicians can screw around for another five years on options.

How nifty that the Seattle City Council wants to play hardball with the state. If it's the state's highway, let them decide what to do and do it. If it's not the state that decides, then let Seattle pay for whatever they want.

As a local taxpayer, I'm tired of having them hold themselves hostage. Level the structure and plant daisies there, for all I care...it will hasten Seattle's regression to the 19th century.

Posted by: South County on September 23, 2006 11:55 AM
3. Sea-Tac 2005 Total Air Passengers: 29,289,026

3,000 train riders/day * 365 days = 1,095,000 riders/year, or 3.7% And that's 11 years after completion.

What a gigantic waste of money. But it makes the liberals feel good.

Posted by: Obi-Wan on September 23, 2006 11:56 AM
4. Obi-Wan -- the share of airport trips to be served by rail is even lower than that. Many of the train riders will be people who work at the airport. According to this study, there were in the ballpark of 19,000 jobs at the airport in 2003. That's another 4.8 million round-trips to the airport a year.


The

Posted by: Stefan Sharkansky on September 23, 2006 12:04 PM
5. The tunnel idea will prevail. We already see the handwriting in the concrete. Sen. Haugen's Transportation Committee will cave in as will Queen Christine. She will make noise about fiscal issues and the state cannot afford it, but that is just her proforma caveat. She will roll as will the dem lawmakers. Buffoon Nichols will win.

Posted by: bwana on September 23, 2006 01:10 PM
6. Stefan--your 2nd sentence says it all--locally and nationally--where are the pencil-necks when we need them? the auditors? the waste-busters? the accounting geeks?

like education, everyone is in love with new programs, new approaches and new spending--no one asks the basic questions of existing programs--do they work? why not? should we kill them?

this is our government's greatest weakness--inability to say "no" to spending; no one wants a personal gored ox for the greater good; maybe it's human nature;

Posted by: jimmie-howya-doin on September 23, 2006 01:21 PM
7. Odds are Gregoire and Nickels cut a deal long ago. Brace for Big Dig Redux.

And the moonbats wanted voters to believe during the latest election only conservatives are in the pockets of building and construction moguls. Heck, Greggy and Nickey get the best of both worlds - moguls and unions.

Posted by: Tyler Durden on September 23, 2006 02:12 PM
8. Sound Transit also likes to over charge kids to ride their buses....$1.75 compared to Metro's 50 cents. Money hungry through and through.

Posted by: MB on September 23, 2006 08:20 PM
9. Just another HOV lane where the few benefit at the expense of the vast majority. Seattle and it's City Council are an embarrassment to capitalism and the American Way.

Posted by: Jeff B. on September 23, 2006 10:00 PM
10. Just another HOV lane where the few benefit at the expense of the vast majority. Seattle and its City Council are an embarrassment to capitalism and the American Way.

Posted by: Jeff B. on September 23, 2006 10:01 PM
11. It will take a major financial catastrophe to wake up the Seattle ruling Liberal elites to reality/ they will continue living in their green/socialist utopia until then.

Posted by: KS on September 24, 2006 06:50 PM
12. ks--was that reference to the historical Orange Cty (?) CA fiasco?

either case--you are correct--we LOVE reactionary politics--not preventive politics; the former lets one "spring into action" (any action). the latter, only 1000's of boring audit findings of waste that could have been easily plugged, but persist like a cracked levy

Posted by: jimmie-howya-doin on September 24, 2006 07:56 PM
13. I checked the "3000 riders in 2020" with a source. Some comments:

1. the 3000 in 2020 is boardings, people actually getting on the train. I think this is just assuming the current line, not any extensions north or south.

2. the boardings could come from seveal different sources. One is passengers. Another could be people who live in Seatac and walk to the train. Another could be people who are dropped off at the "kiss and ride" lot. Another could be people who park and then take the train. There probably would not be very many of these because at this particular stop there's supposed to be very limited parking. Otherwise airport travelers would just park in this garage instead of the Port's onsite parking or private parking lots. A final source of riders could be people who are staying at hotels in the Seatac area and going to conventions downtown (this seems far fetched to me. There's usually plenty of space nearby the Convention Center).

3. the projection of 3000 in 2020 is based on mathematical models that look at several different numbers. However, the assumptions that drive this are not readily available for view, I think it would take some digging to get at them. For example, let's say the city of Seatac puts in 2,000 new residents nearby in high density developments. What impact would that have on ridership? We can't readily know.

4. We also can't readily know just where those 2000 people would be commuting to, if anywhere. Do they work at the airport and walk to work? Do they walk to a bus stop that has an express to Bellevue or Redmond? or are the people who live there retired? The model doesn't help us with these questions. The point is just because there are new residents nearby doesn't mean they will take the train.

5. My source estimated many of the 3000 people boarding would be going to downtown (not Rainier Valley). He thought some of the 3000 might be staying at Seatac area airports and going to the convention center.

6. I think I read light rail is supposed to operate every 6 to 10 minutes, depending on time of day. Let's assume 6 minutes is the standard between 6 am and 10 pm, or 16 hours. 3000 people boarding per day works out to about 200 per hour, or with trains every 6 minutes, it works out to 20 per train.

20 per train may seem plausible, especially if some of the riders are commuters. however, remember this has to happen for 16 straight hours in order to reach the numbers. Flight arrivals at Seatac vary widely during the day. Between 6 and 9 am, there are maybe 5 - 10 arrivals per hour. After this, the number picks up, but keep in mind about half of the landings are regional jets holding at most 70 people. If you have say 30 arrivals in an hour, and 15 are regional jets holding on average 50people, and the other half are bigger planes holding 100 people, then (15 * 50) + (15 * 100) = 2250. Getting 200 riders per day from these hours to go to light rail to downtown would be a pretty major marketing coup.

Are the numbers I outlined plausible? No, there are some problems. Over time, we can expect there to be more travelers in the air. Or will there be? What's going to happen to fuel prices? Some light rail proponents like to assert light rail is good because it provides a hedge against rising gas prices, but the rise in gas prices in turn would likely decrease air travel.

This can get complex quickly. The point is, the mathematical models used for giving ridership numbers don't allow us citizens to do what-if analysis to see what happens under various scenarios.

To close:

Some may ask - what's the point of critiquing math models. "Light rail is a done deal." Well, one wonders, are these the same models that have been used to project Sounder travel? Maybe we should ask why ridership is so far below projections from Everett and somewhat below for the route starting in Tacoma.

Also one wonders, will these models be the ones used for giving us numbers in the 2007 ballot measure adding more funding to Sound Transit?

And are these the models used at budget time for the forecasts of what the metro bus transit tax increase will provide? or perhaps there models are more realistic. It would be very interesting to compare these models.

A final closing comment: there are plenty of cities with rail going to the airport. BART recently got extended to SFO. One would think that BART would easily have full trains going to SFO. Its outstanding coverage, full grade separation (in contrast to light rail in Seattle, which will have 24 places in the Rainier Valley where roads cross the tracks, therefore slowing down the train considerably), and the very long time BART has had to get established and force land use patterns to adjust to its footprint, should all mean lots of riders, right? Not to mention the $ savings in parking and travel expense.

Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way. See these articles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_International_Airport_(BART_station)

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/08/BART.TMP

Note: this excerpt says "to and from the airport". The 3000 figure at Seatac is only from the airport. So, to give some perspective, if you double the 3000 boardings at Seatac and thus have both boardings and departures, you'd have about the same number as SFO Bart - yet Bart has a far wider coverage area from which to funnel people. Excerpt:

Three years after the extension opened, ridership is nowhere near what BART officials had hoped. The route is losing money, and BART is embroiled in a funding fight with another Peninsula transit agency.

Prior to construction, BART projected there would be 17,800 average daily boardings to and from the airport by the year 2010. During the first year of operation that began in 2003, there were 5,864 daily boardings, the second year 6,675, and the third year 7,116. While there has been ridership growth -- 14 percent after the first year and 7 percent after the second -- it's unlikely the 2010 projection will be met.

=======

My source had one other comment: the word of mouth about how long it really takes is going to be critical to how many people actually rider the train. The source and I agree though that lugging luggage up from the rail/ bus tunnel to a hotel in downtown is not going to be easy, and that going part way on the train and then transfering to a shuttle or taxi or whatever is not likely to happen, especially by business travelers late at night, or families traveling with car seats, strollers and screaming kids.

Posted by: Stuart Jenner on September 26, 2006 05:16 PM
14. There is one major point that no one is mentioning. That is what will happen when indian burial grounds are found during big dig-west?.....If I understand the law correctly, all work must stop and deffernce given to the local tribes to0 decide what to do with those remains. I can see the tribes asking for a huge recompense for disturbing those remains....or shutting down that project in its tracks...and that of replacing the viaduct as well...leaving NO I repeat NO transportation of any kind through that area. Also, that will mean no non-indian developement: and will kill all plans the socialist ssr of Seattle have for that area. It will be interesting to hear what the left wing/socialists loonies have to say.

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