NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

ST Express 550 riders can’t wait for East Link

On occa­sion, when I make a cross-lake jour­ney using Sound Tran­sit’s ST Express, I step upon a bus that’s packed tighter than a can of sar­dines. Today end­ed up being one of those days — even though my trip took place before rush hour. My sus­pi­cion is that the Blue Angels’ prac­tice had some­thing to do with it, because the squadron’s per­for­mance over Lake Wash­ing­ton caused Inter­state 90 to be closed twice (once in the morn­ing and once in the after­noon). This forced the rerout­ing of the 550 Express, which nor­mal­ly goes over I‑90.

I chose to wait until after I‑90 was reopened to go back across Lake Wash­ing­ton. But appar­ent­ly many oth­er peo­ple had the same idea, because the 550 I walked onto had bare­ly any room. After the doors had closed, I turned to the per­son behind me (who had gra­cious­ly made room for me) and said, I wish we had light rail run­ning through this corridor.

“Oh, man,” he said. “That’s what we need!”

All the peo­ple around us nod­ded their agreement.

Anoth­er spoke up and lament­ed that East Link was still more than a decade away. “That might be true,” I replied, “but at least the project is mov­ing for­ward.” I explained that just last Thurs­day, the Sound Tran­sit Board had select­ed an align­ment for East Link which Belle­vue’s City Coun­cil could live with. Every­body who was fol­low­ing the con­ver­sa­tion seemed very pleased to hear this.

Tim Eyman and Kem­per Free­man can blus­ter all they want, but the real­i­ty is, the peo­ple of Puget Sound want this project. They vot­ed for this project. And they expect Sound Tran­sit to build what it promised.

The beau­ty of light rail is that it offers a faster, clean­er, more reli­able com­mute. Light rail is some­thing peo­ple know they can depend on. The ser­vice is fre­quent enough that you can ride with­out a sched­ule. Trains don’t have to dwell as long at stops as bus­es because peo­ple just walk on or off (no stand­ing at the door wait­ing to pay your fare!) And you don’t have to wor­ry about traf­fic, because light-rail runs in its own right-of-way.

Peo­ple who have to cross Lake Wash­ing­ton on a reg­u­lar basis (like me!) have been ready for East Link for a long time. We want it to come it online as soon as pos­si­ble… and we wish that it already had.

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  1. And the real­ly astound­ing part about East Link light rail is that accord­ing to Sound Tran­sit in the Final Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ment, this cross-Lake train will add dai­ly only about 10,000 new tran­sit rid­ers to the region­al tran­sit rid­er count in 2030, com­pared to not build­ing it and stick­ing with express bus­es in the Cen­ter roadway. 

    That 10k incre­ment cov­ers the whole future line from Red­mond Town Cen­ter to down­town Seat­tle, and takes into account the west­side light rail line from Lyn­nwood to High­line Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege as a feed­er to East Link. 

    10,000 new tran­sit rid­ers after bil­lions spend. Why so few? 

    # by John Niles :: August 4th, 2011 at 5:39 PM
  2. One “big” rea­son for only 10K addi­tion­al rid­ers, is the trains real­ly can’t car­ry more.
    If the sys­tem had been low­er cost mono­rail, it could car­ry twice as many riders.

    Light rail is actu­al­ly a 200 year old tech­nol­o­gy. It has a top speed of 55, and aver­ages about 35 mph on the Seat­tle to Air­port run. A pull out at Seat­tle, will get a rid­er to the air­port (14 miles) in about 25 minutes. 

    The light rail trains almost nev­er get to 55mph, but rather hit top speeds of about 48 in a few small straight, ele­vat­ed sec­tions. It’s most­ly a lim­i­ta­tion of steel wheels on steel rails and turn­ing radius. The train stays on the rails only from just gravity.

    Mono­rails have top speeds about 95 mph, and aver­age about 70 mph on most trips, whether that is Seat­tle, Tokyo, or Dis­ney­land. Plus mono­rails are twice as long as a typ­i­cal light rail car configurations. 

    Mono­rails use a bit more elec­tric­i­ty, as tires on the track have more rolling resis­tance. How­ev­er, elec­tric­i­ty is the least of Sound Tran­sits prob­lems. Mono­rails have much short­er stop­ping dis­tance in an emer­gency than light rail. Mono­rails almost nev­er kill peo­ple on the tracks. Light rail sys­tems kill peo­ple, with almost clock­work pre­ci­sion that can be planned as deaths per year for a system.

    Con­sid­er 10,000 peo­ple per day, round trip. That means 5000 peo­ple toward Seat­tle in the morn­ing, and 5000 leav­ing in the after­noon-evening. When bro­ken down more, about 3700 peo­ple need a ride in a 2 hour win­dow in the AM, and 3700 in a 2 hour win­dow in the PM. The dou­ble light rails car con­fig­u­ra­tion (two trains hooked togeth­er) is Sound Tran­sits biggest pos­si­ble con­fig­u­ra­tion. In that mode, it will hold about 80% of a typ­i­cal mono­rail train, or about 135 rid­ers. At about 1800 rid­ers per hour demand, and 7 minute min­i­mum safe­ty head­ways on the trains, the sys­tem can’t even move 1800 rid­ers per hour in a giv­en direction. 

    Look at this sys­tem. 13 third the time to build, and 15 the cost. And it moves more than twice the rid­ers, at twice the speed, and more than twice the safety.

    # by D'shams :: August 10th, 2011 at 5:03 PM
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