County Council Proposes Metro Transit Task Force

Timetables - from Oran

Although King County Metro has found short-term fixes to their ongoing shortfall, come 2012 they’re still going to have to either find significant new revenue or cut service.

With that in mind, in a proposal from Larry Phillips and Jane Hague, the county council plans to put together a transit task force (.doc) to make policy recommendations that could change the high-level design of Metro. These would not only include particulars such as how Metro grows or shrinks with available revenue, but goes as far as how they weight land use, environmental and social justice, and efficiency when determining where and how to provide transit, and even what Metro’s role in our transportation system should be.

I think this sounds like the kind of overhaul Metro needs. This year’s discussion of service cuts seems like it was just a window into a larger problem. As we’ve seen, Metro has routes that serve a few dozen people a day, and routes that serve eight thousand. Is it really Metro’s place to provide minimal service everywhere to the detriment of really usable core routes? How can we make Metro’s operations help serve our long term land use goals, but keep serving transit dependent communities? How can we stabilize Metro’s revenue so we don’t keep having to argue over it?

This task force could answer these questions. It will consist of a broad group of stakeholders – elected officials, representatives of social services, transit agencies, environmental, business, and educational groups, and others. Their timeline starts in February, with policy recommendations ready for implementation in September.




Comments

  1. Mike says

    Geographer David Hodge did analysis in the 80s about Metro and it’s spatial justice. It’s in The Geography of Urban Transportation 1st ed. Guilford Press.

  2. Adam B. Parast says

    I think that Dow will be very supportive of this as well. Metro’s actions from my perspective always seam piecemeal with few links to long term goals and objectives. Everything is done in a one off manner.

    Taking a high level look at Metro can only improve the organization, either showing a better way forward or validating current choices.

    • Mike Skehan says

      Plus when you need political cover to make unpopular choices, there’s nothing better than a “blue ribbon panel”.

      • Kevin says

        +1

        This seems like a great way to give the council and Dow some political cover on a tax increase. Seems like the way to go to me.

      • Adam B. Parast says

        Maybe so but to me this seams like a good faith effort to have a more consistent and clear goal for Metro.

      • Anc says

        What does that have to do with anything? I am asking Adam what he thinks the priorities should be, not what city will necessarily do.

      • Adam B. Parast says

        Well I think major objectives largely won’t change. Mobility and congestion mitigation, environment, and equity. It’s mostly how each of those factors are balanced with might change. For example because of the economic climate and greater concerns of using transit to fight global warming I would expect a greater emphasis on the first three and less on equity. The Muni League did a good report on Metro about a year back.

        http://www.munileague.org/news-events/municipal-league-releases-review-of-metro-transit/?searchterm=king%20county%20metro

        Along the same lines, and this is what I personally think should happen, Metro needs to stop focusing mostly on just putting the largest number of buses on the road, and rather should have a more balanced approach by investments in core routes (aka Rapidride and some kind of quality local “brand”), improving reliability and a system wide review of route structures and stop spacing. These both improve the attractiveness of transit while reducing cots.

  3. Blue Swan says

    Metro has to accede to Sound Transit.

    Long haul and express trips will be handled by Sound Transit’s LINK train.

    Buses will be increasingly less important except as feeders to the “places” and “nodes” that LINK goes to.

    Metro will essentially be a kind of jitney system for the LINK stations.

    In fact, I might wonder if Metro is really just a completely redundant bureaucracy that SoundTransit could subsume. The “bus” system would become the “LINK feeder” system of SoundTransit.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      I’ll bite.

      Eventually, yes, I think Metro, CT, PT, ET will all become part of Sound Transit.

      That said, the weight of ST needs to stay in capital projects, or it will itself become a Metro. So for now, they need to stay separate, and we need to shrink Metro’s responsibilities slowly to be that feeder service. ST will slowly take over the core routes.

  4. Anandakos says

    Blue Swan,

    You live in the suburbs, and apparently know nothing of the close in areas of Seattle (Capitol Hill, the Central District, Beacon Hill, and Queen Anne in particular. There are other dense neighborhoods a little farther from the urban core, particularly Fremont, West Seattle, and Ballard, which will never have Link levels of demand or service, mostly because they’re not “on the way” to somewhere else.

    Queen Anne and Beacon Hill simply can’t have light rail service (the Beacon Hill Link station serves only a small longitudinal slice of what is a long narrow hill) because of topography. Besides, they’re too crowded to do anything but a subway.

    So buses will most definitely be a necessity for urban Seattle.

    Now if you want the suburban part of Metro to be subsumed into Sound Transit to become pure feeders for Link and Sounder, that might not be a terrible idea. I think Seattle got a lousy deal when Seattle Transit was folded into Metro in 1973. Seattle Transit had already been awarded the Blue Streak demonstration project and I believe would have flourished better than it has under the combined management with the suburban routes. About the only suburban buses that give any benefit at all to Seattle residents are the 358 and a few south end routes that pass through White Center. So losing the ability to transfer to and from them would impact a few people, but not a large number.

    Of course, [deleted, off-topic] once you succeed in reducing the bus service to an auxiliary status, you’ll start trying to pull up the tracks. You people are too predictable for words.

    • Blue Swan says

      Where I live on Kent East Hill there are multiple bus lines that essential do one of two things: get people to Seattle, or get people to Renton.

      These bus lines are inadequate because they only run during restricted hours and they use traffic jammed routes that make the 16 miles (yes, its that close) from Kent to Seattle take an hour instead of the expected 23 minutes that it takes Sounder.

      To implement, we need a few things to happen.

      (1) All day Sounder service.
      (2) Extend LINK at least to Renton and then further down Benson to East Hill and up Kent-Kangley to Covington.
      (3) From Renton extend LINK up to Bellevue.
      (4) Enliminate ‘express buses’ and implement single car bus or van bus ‘feeders’ to the ‘nodes’ of LINK/Sounder.

      Queen Anne and Beacon Hill simply can’t have light rail service (the Beacon Hill Link station serves only a small longitudinal slice of what is a long narrow hill) because of topography. Besides, they’re too crowded to do anything but a subway.

      That doesn’t sound right…I don’t think they would have chosen a rail technology that couldn’t serve the most dense parts of town?

      BTW — did you know that Lower Queen Anne is the densest neighborhood in Puget Sound. Do you know what the second densest is? It’s where I live — Kent East Hill (many apartment complexes).

      So, it’s not unreasonable that I see many, many people here using public transit and that at the same time, it should be a draw for LINK rail. A ‘place’ if you will…

      • Joe says

        Do you have a link to the statistic about Kent East Hill being the 2nd-densest neighborhood in Puget Sound? Because I’m skeptical of that claim.

      • Blue Swan says

        I verified it myself with a program called ArcView…it’s a standard mapping program that marketeers use to measure demographic groups by zip code and neighborhood.

        http://www.esri.com/software/arcview/index.html

        When I did an overview map, the only two areas that stood out as “High Density” were Lower Queen Anne and Kent East Hill. I believe that Queen Anne was twice as dense as Kent East Hill (here I’m talking specifically about my neighborhood, the intersections of Kent-Kangley, Benson, Canyon Drive and 256th) If you want to repeat my analysis, I believe they have a 90 day free trial that you could download…or maybe you could ask the online Librarians at KCLS.

        http://www.kcls.org/research/askalibrarian/index.cfm

        My own experience living here verifies that it is certainly a high density area.

      • Tony the Economist says

        How are you defining “neighborhood?” Zip code? Half mile radius around a certain point? Census Tract? The conclusions are entirely based on what you measure, but I don’t think there is any way to gerrymander the definition of neighborhood to make any part of Kent more dense that Capitol Hill or Belltown.

      • Blue Swan says

        I’ve defined my methodology.

        You can now challenge my findings.

        However, so far you’ve only made an assertion.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Blue Swan, by any standard measure, Capitol Hill and the U-district are by far the densest neighborhoods. I don’t think you’ve really defined your methodology at all.

      • Crazy Man says

        I said:

        1. I used ArcView
        2. I offered a link for downloading to verify

        This is a repeatable procedure anyone can use to verify my statements.

        I can’t make it any simpler.

      • Zed says

        ArcView is just a program for interpreting and displaying geographic/demographic data in a graphical way. What data did you use to come to the conclusion that Kent East Hill is the second densest neighborhood in the Puget Sound area?

      • alexjonlin says

        I actually agree with you here, except that right now we can’t do any of those things because we don’t have the money.
        Anandakos is wrong, someday we will have grade-separated Link to all of the places that he mentioned. When car use goes dramatically down, we’ll have to. I hate the argument that just because an grade-separated Link line to Queen Anne, Fremont and Wallingford or to Ballard and West Seattle can’t happen right now, it will never happen.

      • alexjonlin says

        Although I don’t at all agree with your earlier comment about buses being only feeders to Link, because you can’t have Link lines stop everywhere, especially in lower-density areas, so you need buses (and streetcars) to serve those functions.

      • Chetan says

        There is not way that Lower Queen Anne or East Hill is denser than Downtown, Belltown, Capitol Hill, or the U-District.

      • alexjonlin says

        I can see LQA being about the same density as Capitol Hill or the U District, but Kent East Hill is nowhere near any of those.

  5. Chetan says

    Metro could save so much money by simply simplifying it routing, and having less duplicate service to Link and Sounder. Rail is supposed to be an arterial system, but Metro does not seem to understand that.

      • Chetan says

        101 (terminate it at Link’s rainier beach station. )
        106 (terminate at SODO instead of Downtown. )
        190 (terminate at SODO instead of Downtown. )
        102 (Rainier Beach or SODO)
        150 (Rainier Beach)
        Possibly some buses from West Seattle (SODO)
        158, 159, 162 (Sounder Kent Station)

        Not all these changes would help with travel times to Downtown, but will save bus hours without compromising service too much. Not to mention they will actually increase service and convenience for some trips outside Downtown. (SE Seattle to Renton is an example)

      • Blue Swan says

        I agree with all of this so long as Sounder is scheduled to run daily like LINK — that means trains on the half hour from 6am to 1am.

        At that point you could get rid of all the ‘express buses’ to downtown and have single local loop like the 169 serve East and West Hill as a feeder.

      • Chetan says

        The only bus route I have listed there is a morning/evening express bus route that already touches the Sounder station, and then takes the freeway downtown.

      • says

        So is your solution basically to force all riders of all buses that pass a Link or Sounder station to get off the bus at that station and transfer to the train?

      • Blue Swan says

        Not pass by a LINK station.

        End at a link station.

        Get rid of the milk runs and express buses entirely.

      • Chetan says

        If the only thing that bus does after passing the link station is go to a destination that the train also goes, then yes.

        Also, don’t get rid of all express bus routes, only those that run along rail. (there is no need to get rid of the 312)

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Yes, Jeff. That’s the only way we can afford our transit system, and the only way we can achieve the land use we need.

      • alexjonlin says

        This would horribly depress ridership. For the high ridership lines, you have to have them go all the way to Downtown, until they can be replaced by light rail. There are other routes that I think should be terminated at Link stations that serve more as neighborhood shuttles, but long-haul, high-ridership suburban routes shouldn’t be.

      • Adam B. Parast says

        Generally yes, but it depends on how many service hours can be saved and how they can be re-invested. You would need to do some modeling to venture a guess.

      • Chetan says

        When you get rid of these bus hours and put the passengers on trains (that can handle the high ridership) you can put those bus hours somewhere else. That doesn’t depress ridership.

        Also, that actually helps when it comes to mobility across the region (not just to/from downtown) because someone can make a trip from anywhere on the light rail line to the destination of the bus route, rather than simply downtown, much more easily. That also doesn’t depress ridership.

      • Z says

        Having coaches from the south end terminate at International dist. (Connections with the DSTT, plus Amtrak/Sounder) would save some time spend normally going through town, however i odnt think it would be a popular option. Anyone remember the old 570 route?

        Also, for such a scheme to work, you would really have to revert the cash transfer policy back to a pre-2010 state. Because you would be forcing a transfer from one agency to another (metro to ST), and you wouldent want to disenfranchise anyone who had paid for a cash fare.

        It will be intresitng to see how routes “shake out” with the new transfer policies. Even though many use ORCA, will you still see some duplicative service to serve the non ORCA/cash fare crowd? Especally in areas where bus>rail transfers are logical?

      • Chetan says

        Ideally, we now want one fare structure with one set of zoning boundaries and one price per zone.

      • mari says

        Great idea, if all your doing is commuting to and from work. But a large part of the ridership also does their errands by bus. As a metro rider for the last forty years I have had routes split, changed to once an hour, or discontinued completely. I don’t have a drivers liscense, but make me have to do two or more transfers when I’m hauling two or more bags of groceries, or after nine hours of work, I’m not going to be happy, and it would actually encourage me to get a drivers liscense. And then I would be one more car on the road slowing down your bus ride.

  6. Mike Orr says

    Metro and Sound Transit understand what needs to be done. A trunk system to go between the neighborhood centers, a local system feeding into it, and a higher-level system for longer distances. That is what they’ve been building the past twenty years, even if it has been slower than we’d like. All-day express buses were rare until ST Express came along. The 41 and 522 replaced a ho-hum 307 route which went to Northgate, then to Lake City and Bothell, once or twice an hour. The 550 replaced and sped up the common portion of three routes (226/235/253) that went Seattle-Bellevue and then split different directions. The 36 and 48 have gained more and more frequency.

    The main problems are money and politics. Metro has plans to increase all the main routes (2/5/7/10/11/12/36/43/48/49 etc) to 10-15 minute frequency (like Link) but it doesn’t have money. So it increases them a bit at a time as funds appear. The other main problem is neighborhood activists who insist on keeping their “one-seat rides”. This sucks money away that could go into making the core routes more frequent and adding feeder routes. The 42 fiasco was an example of that. King County wants to improve bus service so people can drive less, but it also has to appear responsive to neighborhood concerns.

    McGinn is already planning Link from Ballard (either south or east). If you really want to get the majority of people out of their cars, you have to have transit service like NYC and London. Not just for convenience, but to fit the sheer number of people. The full 5-line monorail plan would have done it, and can be replicated with Link. Then the in-between bus routes and feeder routes must be increased to 10-15 minutes until midnight. Chicago has 24-hour routes about every mile, with 10-15 minute service in the daytime and evening, and they are well used.

    I never saw Seattle Transit; I don’t know whether a separate county system would have been better. I do wish the Seattle and King County libraries were merged.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Look for Kaleci to comment on that – I don’t think they’ve made that kind of decision so far out yet, but perhaps!

      • Chris Stefan says

        I’d guess the 522 would probably turn at Roosevelt Station if it becomes a feed into Link. Same thing for the 312. The congestion around Northgate would kill any travel time savings by connecting with Link there. The milk run between Lake City and Northgate was part of why the old 307 was so slow.

      • John says

        Ah, but the 307X was a great bus if you lived in Lake Forest Park :) Having said that, yes, you are absolutely right that the local slogged on the cross-town portion headed east.

      • Kaleci says

        I think it’s a little ways out – but with an exit and entrance from Lake City Way to the Roosevelt/12th Couplet. Combined with King County Metro 306, 312 and 372, I think you could see the beginnings of another bus rapid transit route on SR-522. Get some off-board fare payment system going…

        For Lake City to Northgate, perhaps the 67 could be extended to Lake City along 5th Ave NE and NE 125th St.

      • Blue Swan says

        It’s brilliant.

        But we need this now…not in 2030.

        I advocate a massive program to implement all of LINK in five years.

      • Blue Swan says

        With the 5 billion from not building the Viaduct tunnel, the 2 Billion from shutting down Brightwater, the 5 billion from not rebuilding 520, the …

      • alexjonlin says

        Take out 3 billion from that viaduct number, you’ll need that much to do the surface-transit plan. Although Brightwater is becoming kind of a boondoggle, we need it, so we don’t have much of a choice. And we have to rebuild 520, if just so that transit can get across. Having just the 6 lanes+light rail between Seattle and the Eastside would be terrible for the economy, and for general mobility.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Some things can only be sped up so much. For example I don’t think that even if Sound Transit had access to an unlimited pile of money that U Link would open any sooner than 2016 or that North Link would open much sooner than 2018.

        Design work takes time as does digging tunnels and building underground stations.

        Similarly even if the East Link timeline was compressed as much as possible the EIS process needs to run its course, the design work needs to be finished and converting the bridge will take time. If cash flow isn’t a problem a couple years might be able to be shaved off of East Links opening but there is no way it would be finished by 2015.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Yes.

        Here’s what we can speed up.

        Instead of waiting for 2016 to go to ballot for more lines, we could study them now and go to ballot in 2012.

    • Chetan says

      Yeah, the one seat ride thing is a real problem. People don’t realize that the less routes you have, the more frequency you can have on each route.

      • Kevin says

        I think a lot of folks have had bad experiences trying to make connections on Metro – particularly outside of peak hours. It seems like it might be a chicken and egg thing where you might have to increase the major route capacity so folks are confident that the connection will be there prior to decreasing feeder routes. I know for myself as a long-time rider the only connection that I don’t have any concerns about making is on one of the 70s south of NE 65th.

      • Blue Swan says

        When I worked in Kent, I had to take two buses, one down the Hill and one from Kent Station. Because of the schedules it would some times take me an hour to go 6 miles!!!

        And the buses here are packed! These are people who use and want to use mass transit for work, shopping and school.

      • Chris Stefan says

        In addition to the 70′s in the U-District, connections at Northgate aren’t too bad as long as you are going from or to the 41 or the 66/67.

      • Adam B. Parast says

        I completely agree. Seattle riders aren’t used to transferring because most routes simply are frequent enough to make it worth it. Now some are starting to get to that point and it would be nice to see an emphasis on building up the core routes so that this becomes common.

      • Kaleci says

        I would agree that increasing the frequency of the connecting service is key in creating a successful system. For example, as Skytrain was built out, suburban routes that were not very productive were redesigned to connect with the train and had their frequency improved. It was successful.

        On a similar vein, the Route 140 changes I think will be one of the best moves that Metro will make this February. I only wish they could have done something similar to Route 39 (or some equivalent routing the provided a frequent east-west service across Genessee and Alaska.

  7. says

    This is the kind of process you might want to pay attention to and take part in, because for the next 5-10 years you will repeatedly hear “Oh, that was all decided by a task force in 2010″.

    There are a couple of points where the history and technical form of transit need to be considered. The first, of course, would be funding- and how great would it be if every bus rider paid enough to keep the bus running, as they would have to do to drive a car? Well, not much chance of that, for bus or train, so the next question is, what extra value does transit offer to people taxed in general to support it? And what is the role of the agency in delivering that value?

    Then there is the question of how the route and stations get chosen. Link has ‘cherry-picked’ with initial routing that hits the high-ridership choices, like the U of W, and uses the high-cost solutions, like tunneling under the ship canal, and building some serious curvature into the route. Keeping the cost down for the next route should include mild grades, tangent track, and the use of land the public already owns, oka the streets.

    This should be linked to a problem that is becoming a disaster- affordable housing. Retiring Boomers don’t need big houses to raise families in (if their kids can find jobs and leave home), and they would be likely to move back into the city if they can get affordable housing on transit lines. Not all of them, to be sure, but if the price of gas went up, and county property taxes were raised to pay for the real costs of maintaining sprawl, a lot would. Considering how radically your view can be improved by going up ten stories, others might move to towers in Des Moines etc.

    Maybe this is like WW II, where FDR and the Navy realized we would fight Japan several years before the public did, and had 15 battleships and 11 carriers building when the Japanese attacked in 1941. You certainly want to be there when the plans are drawn up for this transit ship that will be launched over the next decade.

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