The 1/27/16 Seattle Times article “University Link light-rail service starts March 19” raises several questions regarding its expected ridership. The Times opined the Sound Transit claims for 45,000 added daily riders by 2021 as “arguably the biggest transportation advance in Seattle since 1989”. If true, why did they wait until 2016 to begin service? Particularly since they initially promised light rail to the area by 2006.
The more critical question is where does ST anticipate getting the additional 45,000 daily riders. Their 2016 budget projected the extensions would add more than 17,000 riders in 2016, what seemed to be an “optimistic” 46.7% increase over 2015 levels. Their claim the extensions will nearly triple that added ridership in 5 years gives a whole new meaning to “optimistic”.
There are no major P&Rs along the University Link so the only people with access will be those who live within walking distance or ride metro buses to the Capital Hill station. Currently Metro Route 49 provides 4 buses an hour during the peak commute between the UW and 5th and Pine in Seattle. Metro Routes 10 and 11 provide a total of 10 buses per hour during peak commute from the Capital Hill area at Broadway & Pine to 5th and Pine and 3rd and Pine.
The Metro routes presumably have stops near Capital Hill station that would allow riders to transfer to light rail. However, its unlikely they would provide the daily riders needed to those within walking distance to total the 17,000 this year, let alone 45,000 in 2021. Even those who do ride buses, may not be “enamored” with the hassle of transferring to light rail for a ride to the Westlake light rail station. Particularly since the Metro routes only take 7-8 minutes to reach their destinations from Capital Hill.
Typical of ST, the “improbability” of the University Link ever reaching 45,000 daily riders is the result of a “self-inflicted wound”; namely their failure to include a T/C at the University light rail station. The T/C could have provided thousands of commuters from both sides of the lake with connections between BRT on 520 and light rail on the University Link. They likely did so not only because of UW objections to the T/C but also because the UW T/C would detract from using East Link for transit to “Microsoft”.
Whatever the reason, thousands of eastside commuters won’t be able to use BRT on the new 520 Bridge for easy access not only to the UW, but also an “8 minute trip” on East Link to Seattle. Thousands of Seattleites won’t be able to use the return BRT routes from the station to Microsoft or Bellevue T/C. The combination of the two makes a mockery of any ST ridership projections.