Testimony from John Niles and David Lange to the

Sound Transit Board System Expansion Committee, January 10, 2019

John opened: Good afternoon, my name is John Niles and I live in Seattle. My friend Dave Lange lives in Kenmore.  We are independent professional analysts not representing any organizations. We request our two minutes each be combined to four.

 We are commenting on the new Link Light Rail infill station at 130th, in today’s Motion 2019-04.  Sound Transit may eventually realize that it’s not an IN-fill station, but more accurately an OVER-fill-the-trains station. We are referencing the passenger capacity of the Link trains compared to the likely passenger demand in the mid to late 2020s.  We urge you make sure there is enough flexibility in the station design to reduce and repurpose any planned pickup and drop off areas for customers in road vehicles in case this train is as successful attracting customers as the hopes of rail-focused urbanists have manifested.

I’ve been one who complains about light rail trains not carrying enough passengers to be cost effective, as in the forecast and early displays of insufficient demand in the early years of the Initial Segment,  documented in the “Before and After Report” required by the U.S. DOT.  Recently, it was quite a startling revelation for me to grasp with Dave’s help that this problem of too much cost for too little ridership could remain insolvable at the other end of the spectrum because of geometric and technological upper limits on train capacity.

I’ve learned new things over the past few years.  Based on the research behind the Grush-Niles 2018 text book, The End of Driving, and also picking up on a suggestion by CEO Rogoff in his presentation at the 2016 Transportation Tech conference in Bellevue, a singular cost-effective application of driver-less road vehicles would be low-fare robotic shuttles taking travelers in or out of high-capacity transit stations like 130th and other new ones coming in the future with Northgate Link and the pending Lynnwood Link.

However, feeding ever more passengers into transit stations from catchment zones that are expanded by many square miles through future robotaxi service, never mind the vast numbers of commuters on the buses of today hoping for a seat on a future train, is trouble with a capital T.  It just won’t be a feasible people-moving strategy if Link trains at three minute intervals get jammed to the walls with peak crush loads.

Dave presented the rest: 

As you now know, John and I wrote an essay for New Geography online focused on the light rail extension to Snohomish County over-crowding the trains in Seattle.  We asked our question: in response to demand from population and employment growth, won’t light rail get filled up in peak period just like urban highways?  Trains at minimum headways with a fixed four-car length are even less expandable than I-5 lanes that still have hope with road automation.  

The response of Sound Transit staff to our essay has been, “don’t worry, the train platforms are as long as football fields, and plus, there is going to be a second tunnel in downtown Seattle.”  John and I do not understand how these features mitigate the new potential for trains being too small and not capable of coming by often enough to meet customer demand in the north corridor spine. Our concern is especially true if the region is as successful as with the PSRC award-winning regional walk-to-the-train-station program of densification called “Growing Transit Communities.”

So at first the Link Light Rail lacked ridership and now it has plenty, and a major TOD push by all groups involved may very well overfill the trains to a point of discomfort which  turns away ridership.  Contrary to multi-modal thinking, you on the Sound Transit Board may find that.you don’t want ever more buses dropping off morning loads of southbound commuters in northern train stations like at 130th. Why not? Because in the morning peak there just isn’t any more room on the peak trains headed south.

I again repeat the ask in our essay that construction be halted at Northgate until authorities have collected real ridership data to Northgate and the addition of Eastgate Link to determine if Sound Transit’s plan is still valid. John and I both claim that the Board should be very concerned with the sum of train loading impact in peak between Westlake and the U-District, seemingly headed to blowing past the high Sound Move forecasts from the 1990s.

The trees at 145th scheduled to be chipped in two months will not be replaced in our lifetimes, an environmental insult if we learn that following billions in construction, the Lynnwood extension bumps riders in stations closer to Seattle and are already filled to overflowing.

Contact point:  Email jointly to Dave and John at Link@bettertransport.info