Good Job Seattle Area Transit

As you might have heard, this Wednesday there was a bit of a parade in Downtown Seattle. Given that the crowd was larger than the population of Seattle, getting to and from the event was no small task. Martin H. Duke at Seattle Transit Blog has the early info on how the systems did: Mostly pretty well but he also suggests room for improvement.

In all, a memorable day for transit. All transportation modes were overwhelmed beyond their capacity. Things might have been much worse had it not been for crowds of riders in good cheer, orderly, and forgiving of systems well beyond their design limits. Moreover, agencies showed uncommon agility in mobilizing for Wednesday on short notice, and the efforts of foot soldiers controlling crowds at Westlake station and other places were nothing short of heroic.

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However well Wednesday made the point that Seattle’s transit capacity is valuable, there were certainly some suboptimal operations. In particular, joint tunnel operations are severely capacity-reducing when demand reaches these levels. Your humble correspondent arrived at Westlake a little before 5 pm; lines criscrossed the mezzanine as police limited access to the platform for safety reasons. These volumes compounded the usual bus friction, with restricted movement on the platform, Metro’ s insistence on adding congestion at the point of maximum stress, and the apparent breakdown of Metro’s sequencing system for southbound buses. It was clear that the surge of novice riders was largely waiting for the train, well in excess of the share of platform time granted Link.

Moreover, the consistent weakness of rider information arose once again. The tunnel message boards spouted useless platitudes. The crowd got restless as train headways widened, with no real-time information to satisfy them. Moreover, the instinct of a savvy rider, knowing that full trains will pass up riders further South, is to head to Westlake, which no doubt added to the overflow there. Sound Transit, in a brilliantly creative move, sent some trains “out of service” through Westlake to clear out the other crowds and ran some trains between Stadium and Seatac only. It might have relieved some of the pressure to let people know that taking relatively empty buses a few stops would not maroon them, and in fact might get them home sooner.

I don’t want to downplay the people who were stuck at stops but still and all, with only a couple days to prep the agencies — some that have faced severe budget cuts recently — got most people who wanted to be there downtown. It is a testament to the agencies and to the individuals who pulled it off.

Given some of the nightmares that came out of New Jersey after the game, it wasn’t a given that this would work. Of course people were able to come in slowly (the route was pretty well attended at 7:00 when I left for work) and were able to enjoy Seattle for a while rather than all going home at once. I don’t think there’s any way this could have run perfectly, but it did run pretty damn well.

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