Making Better West Seattle Connections

560 Proposed Service Change, near Westwood Village

Last week, Sound Transit staff were kind enough to sit down with me and fill in some details on their recently released 2013 Draft Service Implementation Plan. Between the DSIP itself, which is a pretty substantial document, and the additional information from staff, I have quite a lot to write up, so I’ll cover the DSIP in three separate posts: this one on West Seattle, one on the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Everett (including discussion of a possible Olive Way freeway stop), and one on the rest of South King and the Eastside.

I’m starting with the West Seattle change, because its a simple change that serves to highlight both the strengths of Metro’s new West Seattle network, and some (easily fixable) problems in its implementation. The West Seattle component of the final Fall restructure was the component that was least watered-down from its original concept. The benefits are pretty obvious from looking at Oran’s frequent service maps from before and after the change: the tangle of infrequent and overlapping downtown routes has been replaced by simple frequent service patterns on the three primary corridors, all of which touch together at Westwood Village.

Maddeningly, the roll-out of this new network design was plagued by mostly-transient problems which were coincident, but unrelated: downtown operations were (inevitably) a mess due to the elimination of the Ride Free Area; many of the features which are supposed to make RapidRide an improvement over “ordinary” bus service — e.g. platform ORCA readers and real-time arrival signs — were (and in many cases still are) non-functional; peak-period overcrowding on the C Line caused tremendous inconvenience to riders, which took Metro some time to address through additional C Line and Route 55 trips. The legitimate public outrage from these problems overshadowed the mostly excellent work done by Metro in this area.

Finally, though, Sound Transit came along with this proposal in the DSIP, to provide a great illustration of how it’s possible to leverage connection-oriented networks such as this one, to provide significantly improved mobility at minimal cost. The DSIP describes the history of the 560 at length (p.p. 71), but the recent history is a follows. Until June of 2010, the 560 served Alaska Junction, Fauntleroy, White Center and Burien before heading to SeaTac airport, and points east, every 30 minutes through the day. Due to significant under-utilization, off-peak service north of Burien was first cut to hourly, then eliminated altogether. 

Sound Transit now proposes to restore all-day service as far as Westwood Village, providing all three primary transit corridors in West Seattle a two-seat ride to the airport, with frequent connecting service, six days a week during the daytime on the 21 and 120, and seven days a week into the evening on the C Line. It provides this improved mobility at minimal additional cost over the current peak-only service; similarly, Metro’s West Seattle restructure was almost budget-neutral, with only a small injection of Transit Now money added to the C Line. Improvements such as this are impossible with a downtown-oriented, infrequent radial network. The word synergy is horribly overused, but it really does apply here — Sound Transit and Metro have created value for riders, as if from nothing.

There is a trade-off, of course — riders have to transfer; and here’s where Metro needs to improve. The 21 and 120 have published schedules which allow a rider to plan a fairly timely transfer to the 560, which will run every half-hour during most of the off-peak period. RapidRide doesn’t provide such a schedule, except late at night, when it drops below 15 minute headways; Metro claims that every 15 minutes is “so frequent you don’t need a schedule”. In reality, the headway where riders stop paying attention to schedules is about ten minutes, a level of service RapidRide provides only in the peaks.

Metro’s stated rationale for not publishing a schedule is operational ease of adding buses to address overcrowding or anticipated high demand, and the potential for (in future) using headway maintenance to keep even spacing between buses. In peak periods, where buses are operating near capacity, in moderate-to-severe traffic congestion downtown, at sub-ten minute headways, these reasons holds water (and Metro correctly exploited this flexibility last week, to add trips in the morning peak); but at 15 minute headways buses should be trying to stick to a fixed schedule, and the odds are nil that Metro will have to frequently adjust headways in West Seattle to address capacity problems off-peak.

There’s a very easy solution that provides both the flexibility Metro desires, and the off-peak predictability riders need. As with so many things, we can look to our Canadian neighbors to the north to see how transit should be done. Here’s an excerpt from the first bus schedule on the Translink website I happened to click on:Except from Translink 6 Davie

A format like this could provide:

  • Specific, published time-points for all times when the service operates at ten-minute headway or greater, allowing riders to plan trips reliably.
  • The flexibility to add or subtract buses at will in the “peak of the peak”, when crowding is likely to be a problem. This example shows “every 5-6 minutes”, which isn’t the greatest example (again, first one I clicked on), but “every 5-8 minutes” would give enough detail for riders and significant flexibility for Metro.
  • During the periods where explicit time-points for every trip are not provided, nearby similar trips allow a rider to infer how long it should take between time points at different times of day. Unlike Central Link, where it’s possible to construct a matrix of travel times that works fairly accurately throughout the day, a service without a fully exclusive right of way will always have some travel-time variation.

It’s also compact and simple to understand. There’s no good reason I can think of why Metro can’t publish schedules like this, not just for RapidRide, but for every route in the frequent-service network. Doing so would require an investment of staff time, but wouldn’t otherwise cost any significant amount of money, and it would allow riders to fully utilize the service they’re paying for, and make these valuable and important regional connections.

Returning to the DSIP itself, there are several opportunities to provide feedback for Sound Transit. Notably, there will be an open house on a bus tomorrow evening, in Westwood Village, in the zone where the 560 will lay over, if this change is adopted. You can also send in comments by emailing them to fastride@soundtransit.org.




Comments

    • FWIW says

      I don’t see anything ‘blaring’.
      Did you read the link you included in your post?
      It’s got Sound Transit’s own Executive Summary, and links to all of
      Sound Transits places for input, and pointed out the presentation bus meeting Thursday @ Westwood.
      Did you want Mom to cut the crusts off your sandwich too?

      • David L says

        I think putting it in the headline counts as “blaring,” and it’s also in the blog author’s text. Meanwhile, there was no mention of the improvement to all-day except in the blockquote containing ST’s text, which fewer readers will bother to read.

        I expect a lot of readers came away with the impression that this is just another cut to transit service with no redeeming value.

      • Brent says

        I agree that WSB exercised poor journalism is hiding the full nature of the proposal. Some reacted in the predictable ascerbic manner, indicating they hadn’t read the full proposal either.

        Still, I’m glad any time a neighborhood blod covers transit so persistently.

        But in this case, I strongly disagree with the blog’s position (keeping peak service on the 560 at the expense of all-day service to Westwood).

  1. BJ says

    I think it’s legit to have the headline read the way it is. The 560 used to be very useful for airport trips when there was all day service. Now they have cut the service to stop at Westwood makes no sense whatsoever. Most trips to the airport aren’t really between 8pm and 5pm. This has been a particularly useful route because it is a rare one that does not force all users to go to downtown Seattle prior to heading back south again.

    Metro’s incompetence is absolutely staggering in terms of the latest service degradation that has been implemented. Adding another agency’s incompetence on top is outrageous. How many transit agencies do we need anyhow?

    • David L says

      The whole point is to let more people avoid having to go downtown more of the time.

      Now, if you 1) live at the Junction or Fauntleroy and 2) were lucky enough to be traveling at rush hour, you have a one-seat ride. Otherwise you have to backtrack to downtown (or at least to Sodo) and transfer to Link.

      With the change, almost anyone in any part of West Seattle, not just the Junction or Fauntleroy, will be able to go to the airport with a single transfer at Westwood, all day, seven days a week. The 560 will connect with the C, 21, 22, 60, 120, and 125, all day, every day.

      To me that seems like a huge improvement.

      • asdf says

        “were lucky enough to be traveling at rush hour”

        It’s not always luck. Travelers get to choose when to schedule their plane trips and it is not at all uncommon, especially when you’re traveling to a major hub like LAX or San Francisco, to have several times of day to choose from with virtually no difference in airfare.

        When flying into Houston, I have several times, intentionally planned trips to land just before the afternoon rush hour so I could get the best possible frequency of service for my trip home from the airport (it’s a 3-seat ride, so the frequency of all three pieces makes a big difference in total travel time). Of course, if the plane is late, everything gets messed up, but that’s another story.

      • asdf says

        That being said, though, I found myself planning taking a lot more evening flights into Seattle once Link replaced the 174 and 194. The all-day frequency of Link is extremely convenient.

    • alexjonlin says

      If it was so useful, why did it have such incredibly low ridership? This provides West Seattle residents with a much better all-day connection to the airport, as long as they make one transfer just like every person in the rest of the city who doesn’t live directly on one of the few transit lines serving the airport.

      • Lack Thereof says

        It was much less useful when Link and RRA transfers weren’t a thing. The 560 is the only route that continues through BTC and hits a Link/RRA stop. The infrequent and zig-zagging 128 is the only other way to avoid 2 transfers from West Seattle to Link/RRA, and it doesn’t serve the new Westwood Village hub.

      • asdf says

        The “infrequent” 128 is still every 30 minutes all day. I don’t see the 560 ever being more frequent than that.

      • Mike Orr says

        The 128 is more frequent as of three weeks ago. The hourly service evenings and Sundays has been upgraded to half-hourly.

      • Lack Thereof says

        The 50 does hit Link stations, but I was talking about specifically TIB or Airport station, the stations closest to Westwood Village.

        The 128′s evening/weekend frequency boost pleases me, but it still 1)Misses Westwood Village, which is apparently our new Highline/White Center area transit hub, and 2) only hits two of our 6 just-south-of-Seattle transit hubs. The 560 hits Westwood, BTC and RTC (covering 2 more of our 6 hubs, leaving only Tukwila Sounder and Renton P&R disconnected from SW Seattle, 2 stops that don’t concern me nearly as much as the others).

      • David L says

        Just looked at the 128 schedule… holy crap.

        Upgrading the 128 schedule: Very good.
        Having the 128 run half-hourly late nights while the 11, 16, 40, and 66–all extremely high-ridership core routes–run hourly: Completely absurd.

        Apparently we are still in 40-40-20 world.

    • asdf says

      I think Sound Transit used to use the partial-schedule format for Link, but they then changed their mind and decided to not post a schedule at all instead.

    • Nathanael says

      It’s extremely common; I found the Los Angeles Metro version of it to be the most readable, personally.

  2. Brent says

    While I support the proposed 560 restructure, especially when compared to the status quo that doesn’t even serve Westwood, I remain pained that we’re going to continue to overlay infrequent, marginally-used ST Express service on top of heavily-used 120 service. One of the “pre-proposals”, as one ST staffer decribed it, considered using ST service hours to extend the 120 to the airport. He couldn’t answer whether they also counted service hours from the 180 between the airport and Burien to determine the possible span of service in that pre-proposal.

    I still think that, in the long run, adding more frequency on the 120, and extending it to the airport, would be a better use of those service hours.

    If we could imagine, for a moment, that ST and Metro were part of the same agency, then it would come down to whether western West Seattle wants a 38-minute ride from Westwood to the airport at least every 15 minutes, or a 25-minute ride every half hour. I realize that the wait+travel time favors the status quo, but for Delridge riders (who are more likely to be daily job commuters to the airport area) the math favor the 120, even before adding frequency (which ought to be happening, regardless).

    • asdf says

      A popular route like the 120 with stops all over the place has tons of opportunities for change fumblers or wheelchair users to hold up the bus. When combined with increased frequency, this would cause the 120 to become bunched. When a paper schedule of a bus every 15 minutes turns into a de-facto schedule of two buses back-to-back every 30 minutes, the 120 doesn’t look so good.

      By contrast, the 560, with much fewer people on board, is likely to be much more reliable (in that area, I would expect buses to be delayed much more at bus stops than in traffic). All in all, you would probably have to leave for the airport about 30 minutes earlier via the extended 120 than via the 560.

      Between the 560 stop in Westwood Village and the SODO Link station, almost anyone in West Seattle can take a taxi to a 560 or Link stop for significantly less than what long-term parking at the airport would cost.

      For return trips from the airport, though, things are a bit different, since you can’t time your plane to arrive in a way that aligns with the schedule of an infrequent bus, and you’re in no hurry, since there’s no plane to catch.

      • Brent says

        If the 560 becomes productive, then great. If it doesn’t, ST will be back at the drawing board in a couple years looking at another restructure for the 560.

  3. Carl says

    It’s not even any significant staff time to publish schedules. Metro already publishes schedule for every bus route other than RR, and they publish schedules for operators. All the data is there.

    It’s just an insult to riders not to publish the Rapid Ride schedules. Even the argument that they aren’t doing it so that they can add service doesn’t hold water, since they have just shown they can add service to routes 55 and 120, which have published schedules. If anything, it’s so that there is little accountability and ability to measure Rapid Ride. You don’t know how rapid Metro says it is, you don’t easily know its timekeeping, etc.

    Most transit agencies worldwide publish schedules for all their service, with the possible exception when it is more frequent than every 7-8 minutes. Metro and Sound Transit should do the same.

    • Bruce Nourish says

      That staff time comment referred to my suggestion to do it for the entire frequent transit network.

      • says

        I suspect the real reason Metro would be reticent to do it for the entire frequent network is because they’d be left with next to nothing separating RapidRide from the rest of the frequent network. :)

    • Brent says

      Given that the 55 has five peak runs each way, and will add its new runs next Monday, we’ll see how the schedule shifts, and whether the 55 and 120 schedules get reprinted.

      But wow, if every neighborhood had a blog for people to d.p. on Metro, and Metro hadn’t already used up its entire contingency budget just on West Seattle, all our overcrowding problems (except on ST) would be solved.

      Lacking that, we need to squeak more for all our neighborhoods to get more wheels. Just don’t make the eight-month pregnant ladies stand, and then blame Metro for that bad behavior. Does Metro need to explicity add 8-month pregnant ladies to the list of people who get seating priority?

  4. MrZ says

    While the 560 improvements go a long way in connecting Tukwilla-Burien-Westwood/W. Seattle i still think the 560 and 574 should have their routes modified to serve Tukwilla International Blvd Station. The “Sea-Tac Airport” station’s bus facilities are about as user unfriendly as you can get and not suitable for a major interface inbetween modes (especally Southbound in Intl Blvd coming from link, where you cross the street on the arial structure, than cross it again at street level to a waiting platform that is short narrow and overall unfriendly. And finally on this issue of connectivity, There needs to be a dedicated Sea-Tac Airport-Tukwilla Station connection for Sounder and Amtrak. RR “F” will go a long way, but it will not serve the airport proper to allow connections inbetween the modes.

    • asdf says

      I disagree. If you want to get from West Seattle to Amtrak, it makes much more sense to do it in downtown Seattle than in Tukwila, even if you’re going south. The bus connections are so much better to King St. station and any investment in connections to Tukwila would cost far more than they would be worth in terms of actual riders it would bring. It also takes Amtrak only 10-15 minutes to get from King St. station to Tukwila, so even if it’s a little out of the way, it doesn’t matter that much in the scheme of things.

      As to Sounder, the Sounder gets from Tukwila Station to King St. Station in 10-15 minutes, just like Amtrak. Again, unless we spent a ton of money to serve very few riders, you would find bus connections much better downtown than in Tukwila.

      By contrast, having the 560 serve the airport provides a one-seat ride to somewhere people in West Seattle might actually be interested in taking transit to.

  5. Mike Orr says

    One problem in Westwood Village is that different routes have different stops rather far apart. The D is on one side, the 120 is around the corner on a perpendicular street, and the 60 is on the other side of the shopping center. I had occasion to use any one of them today. I left the open house at 6:45, and I wanted to get to the Capitol Hill library before 8 when it closes. So my choices were the slow but direct 60, the faster D, or the fastest 120. I walked almost to the 120 stop but I was afraid it might not come for half an hour or an hour, and it was no use walking another block to the 60 stop because it might not come for half an hour either, so I ran back to the D which was right there. I transferred to the 49 and got to the library at 7:55, with just 5 minutes to spare.

    (DP doubts Link with its stop spacing is that useful. It would have helped me immensely with this trip, even if I’d started at SeaTac. As it was, I couldn’t transfer to the DSTT at University Street, because it would have just dumped me off at Convention Place, even further away from the 49 stop. There are so many ways ST2 Link would make my various trips shorter, six or seven days a week.)

    I hope the various Westwood Village stops get moved together at some point. Otherwise, if the 560 comes, transfers between it and some of the other routes will be problematic.

    • Brent says

      Riders on the 60 will still be able to transfer to the 560 in White Center. The intra-Metro connections obviously need some work. Still, this missing connectivity is not as annoying as not having a southbound stop for the 21 at Sodo Station, which ought to be doubled up with the 50 stop.

    • Mickymse says

      There is a similar type of problem with the 560. The 560 needs to connect at the Link Station, instead of at the airport stop.

      I almost never take the 560 home from the Airport area. even though 560+120 will usually get me home faster, I know how long LINK+120 will take to get home, and that LINK’s frequency is more often.

      • Brent says

        The 560 stops at both, in both directions. The only other bus that still stops at the south terminal stop — the 574 — also stops at the station in both directions.

  6. Mike Orr says

    One bright note with the C, it seems to have wide stop spacing that I’d associate with limited-stop service. Or at least, it seemed to pass one or two Metro stops in between the RapidRide stops. I couldn’t tell if the stops were abandoned or were for another route (the 22?). So Ballard, Pac Highway, and Aurora don’t seem to have had much luck on stop diets, but West Seattle seems to have done better.

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