Originally Posted by J. Will
Many of the newer LRT lines do absolutely pitiful ridership numbers. One of the newer ones out west for example is only doing 19,000-20,000 boardings on a 14-mile line. You can talk about it "not serving dense areas outside downtown blah blah blah", but that is an anemic number even for a system that were to serve NO dense areas at all (ie., not even serve the downtown).
I'm all for LRT, but it needs to be part and parcel of an overall development/transportation plan, so you don't end up with 14 mile lines carrying 19,000 people. It was known several years before the line opened where the line and it's stops were going to be. The powers-that-be should have rezoned for and encouraged high density development around every station, and re-routed the non-freeway bus routes to serve LRT stations instead of continuing to run downtown. They then could have had high frequency service right from the start instead of 5+ years down the line.
When massive amounts of money are spent on systems that do anemic per mile ridership numbers, it just gives the anti-transit folks ammunition to further their argument.
Portland's Eastside MAX line (15-miles) had ridership of 19,000-20,000 when it opened, too. Now the system is one of the most well-used LRT systems in the US.
I assume you're talking about Seattle, where the starter line is, in fact, part of an overall transportation plan. Higher density takes time to build up around stations like those south of Seattle's downtown. The fact that "it was known for several years where the line would be" was likely of little comfort to potential TOD developers, at least those who knew anything of the history of Seattle's monorail project
(not talking about the tourist one from the Space Needle to downtown). The fact that the line opened in the middle of the recession didn't help spur TOD either. Not saying Seattle doesn't have some work to do, I'm just saying give it time.
When the U-link opens in 2016, connecting the University of Washington and the already dense Capitol Hill neighborhood to downtown Seattle, ridership should take off (an additional 70,000 projected from that segment alone - just 2 new stations - by 2030). North Link after that, and East to Redmond and Bellevue and Seattle will be approaching 200,000 daily boardings by 2030.
The point is - the 14-mile line (ditto starter LRT segments everywhere) is not meant to be a stand-alone thing. It's something to build from. LRT is pretty much the only option available for high capacity transit in US cities with US densities and US federal funding rules.