Regional View Newsletter
June 2005  [pdf version]
Table of Contents

Seattle, 1971 Historic Forecasts for Region's Population Fairly Accurate, Employment Less Predictable

What Were They Thinking in 1959?
Among the assumptions used to prepare the 1959 population forecast were:
  • The greatest intensity of industrial development will continue to take place in the Duwamish Valley and Tacoma Tide flats area.
  • Since Tacoma is constrained in the south by government land holdings, Tacoma's industrial growth will drive population growth in South King County and across the Narrows Bridge once tolls are removed in the mid-1960s.
  • Residential growth in Kitsap County will intensify after the mid-1980s, the earliest date that a cross-Sound bridge could be made toll-free.
  • Snohomish County's industrial growth will be primarily in oil refining and the wood and pulp industries.
  • Snohomish County's high rate of residential growth south and west of the Snohomish River will accelerate with the opening of the Tacoma-Everett freeway, but will be limited by increased congestion through the physically constricted Seattle and Eastside areas after 1980.

The Puget Sound Regional Council and its predecessors have been preparing forecasts of population for the central Puget Sound region since 1959, and forecasts of employment since 1964. Historic forecasts have been fairly accurate in predicting the amount of population, but less accurate in determining where the population would cluster, and even less accurate for employment levels. This article compares the forecasts for 1990 and 2000 with the actual data for parts of the region: Seattle/Shoreline (separating out employment in the Seattle CBD), East King County, South King County, Kitsap County, Pierce County, and Snohomish County.

The earliest population forecast in the archives of the Puget Sound Regional Council was prepared in 1959. The prediction of a regional population of 3.314 million by 2000 was remarkably close to the 2000 Census value of 3.275 million. That forecast gave Kitsap and Pierce counties their correct shares, but gave King County too much population at the expense of Snohomish County (see Table 1).

TABLE 1: Forecasts for 1990 Population (values in italics are extrapolated from forecast for 1985)
Year of
Regional Pop.
East King
South King

1959 2,792.0 n/a n/a n/a 60.49% 6.20% 21.70% 11.60%
1963 3,076.2 n/a n/a n/a 60.40% 5.80% 18.30% 15.50%
1964A 2,898.1 22.32% 21.17% 20.37% 63.86% 4.70% 16.93% 14.51%
1964B 2,909.4 21.88% 22.77% 18.87% 63.52% 5.02% 17.01% 14.44%
1967 2,883.0 22.26% 21.33% 20.53% 64.11% 4.74% 16.53% 14.62%
1969 2,857.3 22.72% 20.15% 20.14% 63.01% 5.79% 18.51% 12.68%
1972 2,337.0 23.39% 16.40% 20.00% 59.78% 5.49% 19.74% 14.99%
1973 2,591.6 23.37% 13.20% 20.86% 57.43% 5.21% 21.19% 16.18%
1977 2,405.1 24.85% 13.18% 19.40% 57.43% 5.61% 21.16% 15.80%
1982 2,658.1 20.79% 13.74% 20.42% 54.94% 7.34% 21.53% 16.19%
1984 2,523.0 21.46% 14.63% 18.89% 54.99% 7.58% 21.55% 15.89%
1988 2,640.8 21.22% 14.43% 19.67% 55.32% 7.01% 21.42% 16.25%
Actual 1990 2,748.9 21.17% 14.66% 19.01% 54.83% 6.90% 21.33% 16.94%

Table 1 shows the various forecasts for 1990 population, both the regional total and the percentage distributions by sub-region. In 1964 and 1967, the forecasts went out only to 1985, so the forecasts were extrapolated to 1990 and appear in the table in italics. The forecasts for 1990 population were much lower in the 1970s, a period when the Puget Sound region experienced negative employment growth and flat population growth.

The sub-regional distributions of the population forecasts for 1990 and 2000 have been quite close to the eventual outcome since 1973. Snohomish County has grown a bit faster than expected, and Seattle a little slower, but the forecasts have been quite close.

Forecasting 1990 and 2000 employment has been much more difficult. Both regionally and nationally, no one anticipated the dramatic increase in the proportion of two-worker households and the significant increases in service and retail employment which occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Because of these increases, from the first published forecasts in 1964 through the 1980s, regional employment for 1990 and 2000 were under-forecasted by 35% and 15% respectively, until each approaching decade.

The sub-regional distributions of the employment forecasts for 1990 and 2000 have also shown much more volatility than the population forecasts. The first employment forecasts were prepared in 1964 by a consultant working for the Puget Sound Regional Transportation Study (PSRTS). Two years later, the Study Director, John K. Mladinov, explained in a response to Harvard economics professor John F. Kain that "I do not believe the forecast for the Seattle and Tacoma central business districts." Mr. Mladinov quoted facts showing that the Central Business Districts (CBDs) had been losing both employers and jobs. But the consultant had just completed a CBD plan for the Seattle Planning Department, and "any forecast which did not support the plan, which had been developed cooperatively with a powerful association of downtown interests, would have been unacceptable." The PSRTS staff prepared a second forecast, which the staff believed did not go far enough to correct the problem. The distributions in the second forecast, however, proved to be quite accurate. Better forecasts were not made until 1982.

Employment forecasts for 2000 were not made until 1982. By the mid1990s both the total employment and the sub-regional distributions were becoming quite accurate. The forecasts for 2000 employment made in 1992 and 1995 show the tendency to bias the forecast according to the trend of the previous five years. When the previous five years showed strong growth, the forecast was higher (1992) than when the previous five years had little growth (1995).

Looking forward in an attempt to understand likely accuracy of the current population and employment forecasts, one may build on the experience of the last 45 years to say that:

  • Population and employment will continue to grow steadily throughout the region, with more intensive growth continuing to spread outward on the urban edges.
  • The long-term population forecasts have been quite accurate, especially in 1959!
  • Forecasts, especially of employment, are usually too reactive to short-term variations.
  • Forecasts do not anticipate unique large-scale demographic and economic shifts.

John Mladinov wrote, "the forecasts were meant to represent simply a range of values, which were established for analysis purposes and should not be interpreted as forecasts of what would actually be achieved were any particular policies with respect to the downtown or the suburban areas to be established." This continues to be good advice to those who use the latest available forecasts.

For more information please contact Larry Blain at 206-464-5402 or

Ferry Ridership Declines Slightly in 2004 Aqua Express Foot Ferry

Ridership on Washington State Ferries in the Puget Sound region decreased again in 2004. This continues a five-year trend of declining ferry ridership. Cumulatively, all Puget Sound ferry ridership in 2004 was down by over 290,000 from 2003, a decrease of 1.4%. This marks the smallest decrease in four years, however, following previous losses of 3.1% in 2003, 4.0% in 2002 and 2.4% in 2001 -- the initial year of the recent set of fare increases that have raised ticket prices by almost 50%.

The decrease in ridership can be attributed to the continued increases in fares, rising gas prices and a reduction of service on some routes.

Privately operated passenger-only commuter service began in January of 2005 between Kingston and Seattle. With the advent of Aqua Express, commuters living in North Kitsap now have another alternative for connecting to Seattle.

The Bremerton-Seattle passenger-only ferry service, which was discontinued in September of 2003, was replaced by similar service from the Kitsap Ferry Company in August of 2004. Those ridership figures aren't represented here.

Table 1: Ferry Ridership Comparison by Route, 2003 to 2004
       Ferry Ridership  
Ferry Route 2003 2004 2004-2003

Mukilteo-Clinton 3,985,515 4,046,441 60,926 1.5%
Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth (combined) 3,356,537 3,402,632 46,095 1.4%
  Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth (Auto) 3,140,558 3,209,682 69,124 2.2%
  Vashon-Seattle (Passenger Only) 215,979 192,950 -23,029 -10.7%
Edmonds-Kingston 4,424,327 4,411,887 -12,440 -0.3%
Pt. Defiance-Tahlequah 719,594 705,994 -13,600 -1.9%
Bainbridge Island-Seattle 6,513,475 6,419,217 -94,258 -1.4%
Bremerton-Seattle (combined)* 2,649,767 2,370,148 -279,619 -11.8%
  Bremerton-Seattle (Auto) 2,206,011 2,370,148 164,137 7.4%
  Bremerton-Seattle (Passenger Only)* 443,756 0 -443,756 -100.0%
Puget Sound Ferries 21,649,215 21,356,319 -292,896 -1.4%

*Data does not include Kitsap Ferry Company passenger-only service which began in 8/04 between Bremerton and Seattle.

FIGURE 1: Annual Ferry Ridership Increase, Puget Sound Region

With the exception of the Bremerton-Seattle route, all routes remained fairly stable over the past year -- see Table 1. WSF ridership between Bremerton and Seattle decreased 11.8% from 2003 to 2004 with some of that decline offset by the Kitsap Ferry Company service. The Mukilteo-Clinton route gained almost 61,000 riders, a 1.5% increase, while the combined Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route gained 1.4%. Edmonds-Kingston remained almost even
(-0.3%) while Pt. Defiance-Tahlequah and Bainbridge-Seattle each lost less than 2%.

For more information, please contact Kris Overby at 206-464-6661 or

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