City, County, and the DSA Partner to Improve 3rd Avenue

3rd Avenue Looking South from Macy's Footbridge (photo by the author)

3rd Avenue Looking South from Macy’s Footbridge

Mike Lindblom reports that on Tuesday Mayor McGinn, Executive Constantine, and Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) President Kate Joncas signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to improve the safety, aesthetics, and transit performance of 3rd Avenue.  Per Lindblom’s report, highlights of the MOA include:

  • Extension of bus-only restrictions and signal priority north from Stewart to Denny.
  • Real-time arrival signs “at every major stop” (and of course, ORCA readers within 18 months).
  • A new afternoon (12-9pm) cleaning shift to address overflowing litter bins.
  • Installation of new litter bins, newspaper boxes, and other “street furniture”.
  • Relaxed permitting requirements to encourage the installation of surveillance cameras on adjacent properties.
  • A post-RFA transit performance report, produced by Metro, by Spring 2013.
  • A new partnership between the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID) and Union Gospel Mission to fund and manage a mental health professional to “provide direct outreach to individuals in need of mental health treatment”.

Here’s the full text of the agreement; you can also read the blog posts from Mayor McGinn and the DSA.

As someone who’s lived on the 3rd Ave transit spine between Stewart and Denny for a year and a half, and had plenty of opportunity to observe and experience the speed and reliability problems buses experience, the traffic restrictions and signal priority mentioned above seem like they could provide a noticeable travel time improvement for many thousands of riders daily. Between peak-period overcrowding, cash fumblers and the half-dozen traffic signals in this section, buses can spend a lot of time standing still. Riders to Queen Anne, and possibly Ballard and Magnolia, will benefit further from SDOT’s nearby improvements to the Uptown-Belltown transit interface.

The MOU also commits Metro to studying “methods to speed bus boardings” on 3rd Ave, including off-board payment and ticket vending machines. This presumably foreshadows a report about fare reforms which Metro is currently conducting, due to be delivered to the King County Council early next year, which will study ways to improve fare collection and ORCA usage rates systemwide. Crucially, this report will examine best practices from agencies around the world, including the possibility of creating a London- or Sydney-style “cashless zone” where prepayment is required and ticket machines are ubiquitous.

For a couple of STB’s previous ruminations on the problems facing 3rd Ave, and some good comment threads, see:




Comments

  1. Extension of bus-only restrictions and signal priority north from Stewart to Denny.

    Hallelujah! This should cut 2-3 minutes off the Belltown slog by itself for the routes that go all the way through. Getting rid of some parking up there would also help speed buses.

    A new partnership between the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID) and Union Gospel Mission to fund and manage a mental health professional to “provide direct outreach to individuals in need of mental health treatment”.

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the almost-constant presence of many people with chronic mental health issues at the biggest 3rd Ave. bus stops (Virginia/Pine/Pike/Union) dissuades lots of potential riders. It’s perhaps the single biggest complaint I hear about taking the bus. At the worst times (particularly in the mid-evening, after the commuters are all gone but when the streets are still busy) they are so numerous that they make those stops feel like an unpredictable, possibly dangerous zoo. But how is adding one professional going to accomplish anything? The fact that these individuals don’t have anywhere to go other than 3rd & Pike is a symptom of a huge, systemic failure. You’d have to revamp the state’s mental health and drug treatment systems (or, even worse, just start blindly throwing people in jail) to really have an effect.

    • Extension of bus-only restrictions…

      I’m actually surprised that you and Bruce both emphasize this and state it first.

      In my experience, 3rd between Denny and Stewart is almost completely absent private cars already, at pretty much all times.

      That’s the greatest frustration of traversing Belltown: you turn from Broad onto a nearly empty street — nothing but wide open pavement and a few other buses’ taillights before you — and then you proceed to miss every single light and the trip takes forever!

      Fixing the signal timing and excising the cash payment will do 100x more to speed the cross-Belltown trip… if SDOT and Metro get it right!

      • Yes, the TSP is the most important part of this, but there is enough traffic at rush hours in Belltown to make a significant difference. This is particularly true northbound where buses can get stuck behind a high volume of turning cars at Blanchard and Battery.

        Taking away one side of parking would actually do even more good. Lanes on 3rd in Belltown are currently so narrow that it’s difficult or impossible for buses to pass one another.

      • Bruce Nourish says:

        There can be congestion south of Battery in the peaks, which is mostly due to buses, but getting cars out of the way can’t hurt. North of that, yes, car restrictions do seem like they would be unnecessary, and I’d honestly be surprised if they actually implemented them up there.

  2. How often does the city enforce the transit-only hours? I bike third avenue fairly often in the evenings, and every time I see a half dozen drivers or so blatantly ignoring the lit-up “do not enter” signs. Is video enforcement an option?

    • From my office window I can see 3rd from University to Stewart. SPD is enforcing pretty much constantly during peak hours (using motorcycles and unmarked cars), but lots of drivers still slip through.

    • I see a lot of enforcement but as David L says, while they’re ticketing 1 driver, 4-5 drive past.
      The problem with video enforcement is that you are allowed to drive one block on 3rd, to pickup or drop off presumably. So you’d have to observe them passing two streets before you could ticket them, and I’m not sure there’s an off the shelf product that does that.
      If they really wanted to enforce it, they could set up a team, where 1 cop pulls the drivers over, and 3 or 4 are there to write the tickets. But I’m not sure SPD would want to use that many resources on what they probably consider a minor issue.

    • Bruce Nourish says:

      One bus lane that’s constantly abused to the point of being a joke is the outbound Battery St lane. I like the SF solution of putting cameras in buses. Paying cops to chase around stupid drivers is ultimately a losing proposition. Enforcement needs to be automatic, whether that’s fixed cameras or cameras on buses.

      • Mark – it was my understanding that every two blocks, where there’s a lit “do not enter” sign, it’s illegal for a car to travel straight through the intersection. If that’s correct, then all you’d need to do is get a photo of a driver entering the intersection and another of the driver exiting. If they go straight, then a ticket shows up in the mail.

      • They do this in England — automatic ticketing of violators by photo enforcement. It works very well, and would probably raise a fair amount of revenue too.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        [laz] We do that here too, for red light runners.

      • Same for Howell St.

      • Yes, and we do it here for speeders in certain school zones too.

        But in England they do it for transit lane violaters, which was the topic of the post I was responding to (Battery St).

        My personal favorite though is Germany — there they use cameras for automatic enforcement of min following distances.

      • Does current state law allow the kind of enforcement folks are talking about? I know the red light cameras can be used in school zones, for instance – but could they be used on buses?

  3. I’m not a fan of the potential advertising contract. Other than that it all sounds pretty good although I would also agree that one mental health professional might not make much of a dent.

    • Why? When you can get stops that look like this?

      http://news.cnet.com/8301-17912_3-10257192-72.html

      I’ll put up with ads anyday.

      • Or, what about somthing like this,
        http://senseable.mit.edu/eyestop/
        You do have to put up with video advertising (no audio), but you get real time map showing bus locations.

      • Both of those shelters do look cool – but in my opinion it’s not worth handing over the public right of way to giant corporations.

        Part of my concern is the larger trend of corporations having an incentive to starve public sector budgets so that selling advertising/sponsorship becomes something public sector managers feel forced into. I also think the advertising provides a visual intrusion into the streetscape (particularly since most of it is oriented perpendicular to the street) and it also seems like a lot of the advertising companies will be pushing video advertising more in the future (so you’ll have more moving as opposed to still images in the right of way).

        I recently got back from Boston where they have gone for the street advertising in a big way. There around Downtown Crossing you just see freestanding ads stuck in the sidewalk – some with maps on one side but most appeared to have advertising on both sides. They also had taller structures at corners with larger ads and something like a phone or city map on the other side. I thought it looked ridiculous.

      • Meh. I object to the increasing corporatization of public space in a larger sense (underwriting quid pro quos, etc.), but I’ve spent enough time in Paris and London to know that even rampant illuminated advertisements are hardly a death knell for pleasant and vibrant urban environments.

        You forgot to mention that Boston also has 20%-40% lower fares on subways and buses that come every 2-9 minutes all day, night, and weekend. And that advertising revenue makes up a pretty significant portion of the MBTA operating budget, whereas advertising on KC Metro is negligible.

        Listen, there’s a reason that high-end business periodicals and real estate developments advertise on the T, that viral product-launch campaigns are carried out on the New York subway, that smartphone and jewelry ads are ubiquitous on the London Underground. When everyone under the sun uses public transit, every kind of desired eyeball is present and captive.

        There’s also a reason KC Metro buses are plastered on the outside with ads for DUI lawyers and predatory for-profit “universities”, while the inside is nothing but reminders that fishing around in your wallet after boarding is slow and that peeing on the seats is antisocial.

        If only Seattle had transit good enough for advertisers to covet.

      • (p.s. There is such a thing as going too far. The T has thrice now attempted to sell naming rights to subway stations. Fortunately, corporations haven’t bit. I guess no board wants to hear news reports about the occasional major delay or police action at “Gillette Station”.)

      • If we lived in a place where there are strong restrictions on advertising, that would be one thing. But when Metro cannot advertise on their shelters, but the light pole next to the stop is covered in flyers, the temporary construction walls are covered in posters, etc, I think a restriction like this is ridiculous.

        I lived near Colonial Williamsburg for 25 years; I get how nice it is to have spaces devoid of advertisements, but that’s not Seattle.

      • SLUSC stations have corporate names. I don’t know if that’s also planned for FHSC.

        FWIW I doubt Metro inherently has a demographic problem capable of scaring high-end advertisers. I bet the advertisers have rail bias.

      • I disagree. If the desirable demographics were there in any reliable concentration, the advertisers would be all over it.

        Despite endless spin to the contrary, Metro’s services (as presently designed and operated) continue to have a low and firm “choice ridership” ceiling. City-proper-wide, fewer than 20% of commute trips and not even 9% of non-commute trips are taken by transit. Your interior ads would roll around being useless at reaching intended audiences nearly 100% of the time.

        Metro’s only pride-inspiring stst

      • Metro’s only pride-inspiring statistic involves the 40% of specifically CBD workers who work-commute on transit, which stands at 40% regardless of origin (city or suburb).

        That’s still only 40%. That still pales in comparison to cities where transit is the backbone of the urban core. The other 3/5 of downtown workers elect other modes. Guess which portion includes a whole lot of desirable demographics? Shopping trips and entertainment trips to the CBD fare even worse.

        And as discussed in a recent thread, the white-collar types who DO commute on Metro have largely been bribed with heavily-subsidized passes. None of which suggests a desirable environment in which to attract desire able eyeballs.

        Metro’s failure to provide a service that a rational actor would make his or her primary conveyance is why it fails to attract advertising dollars. Rail bias has nothing to do with it.

      • Way back when, 20-30 years ago, there used to be a lot of advertising inside the buses. If anything the demographic riding the bus would be an even better target demographic today. I can think of a couple of reasons it’s lost popularity. Number one is the host of options available today. It used to be, broadcast TV or radio, billboards, and newspapers. Now you’ve got the internet, local cable channels, smartphone, etc. People riding the bus today are more likely to be listening to their iPod, texting or playing with their smartphone than staring around lookng for anything to pass the time. Second, while the design of new buses with their tall windows is great for riders it moved the advertising space up out of sight almost onto the ceiling.

      • [Ot]

      • @d.p. – I’m not talking about money going to the T. I’m referring to stuff from the “Boston Street Furniture Program” – here’s a link: http://www.jcdecauxna.com/street-furniture/boston/advertising-boston. I’m assuming this is the sort of crap they’re thinking of for Third Avenue. The 17 foot kiosks were in when I was there – I thought they looked terrible and were a blight on the streetscape.

        The T, by the way, had another big fail with “T Radio” which they tried in a few stations back in 2007.

      • “And as discussed in a recent thread, the white-collar types who DO commute on Metro have largely been bribed with heavily-subsidized passes. None of which suggests a desirable environment in which to attract desire able eyeballs.”

        One of the more nonsensical arguments you’ve made in a long time.

      • “SLUSC stations have corporate names. I don’t know if that’s also planned for FHSC.”

        Probably not. The station sponsorships were part of the funding that helped build the stations. On the FHS, Sound Transit is paying for the stations, sponsored by you and me.

      • “Mike Orr Presents Yesler Terrace Station”!

        And yes, Zed, $100,000/year programmers paying zilch for their transportation, while minimum-wage employees pay 20%-40% more than they would in cities where the transit doesn’t suck… that’s just awesome!!

      • Right after I posted I realized I should have said, “Sponsored by you and me and D.P.”

  4. A new partnership between the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID) and Union Gospel Mission to fund and manage a mental health professional to “provide direct outreach to individuals in need of mental health treatment.

    While this is generally a good idea, I wish it wasn’t a partnership with a faith based organization.

    I know it wouldn’t be popular in Seattle, but 3rd ave really needs the Giuliani Times Square treatment.

  5. John Bailo says:

    I wish they were a little bolder.

    I would convert at least one lane width into bicycle only lanes and put some center lane transit stations there…make it a model for urban carfree travel all day long.

    Of course it needs to be cleaned up. The contrast is no where more evidence then when someone, such as myself, attends a concert at Benaroya, and has to look out upon Oxy dealers at the bus stop while enjoying Wolfgang Puck before the show. There has to be some happy medium…

    • There is no room for bike lanes. There is just barely enough room for buses to pass each other in each direction.

      • Plus there are already bike lanes on paralell streets to 3rd… I say 3rd should stay focused on transit. If you want to impove bike facilites then separate the bike lanes on 2nd and 4th from the main traffic (maybe cycle paths?)

      • And put signs on 3rd telling bicyclists where the lanes are.

      • John Bailo says:

        Then make 3rd Avenue a covered, enclosed and climate controlled linear shopping mall.

        Make it entirely pedestrian fed by the bus tunnel (who needs surface when we’ve got a tunnel!)

      • You mean like Fremont Street?

      • As long as we build a branch off the bus tunnel to Belltown – and perhaps another tunnel altogether, given traffic concerns – and no mezazzines – sure!

      • “Make it entirely pedestrian fed by the bus tunnel (who needs surface when we’ve got a tunnel!)”

        Ugh. You’d be turning the tunnel into a gridlocked nightmare and giving tunnel buses and trains a guarantee of lateness BEFORE starting U-Link. Once North Link and East Link come online, we’re gonna have to kick buses OUT of the tunnel as is, and probably should just with U-Link.

    • I dont know what good center lane stations would do. Busses only have doors on one side.

      • It works if you run it like Bellevue Transit Center. But that would make 3rd transit only which I don’t think would fly and I’m not sure what the advantage would be of center platform stops? With curb side stops half the people are on the correct side. With center platform everybody has to cross traffic to get to their stop.

      • It’s partly our auto-centric bias. In Toronto the streetcar (or at least the Queen Street streetcar) runs in the middle of the street, people wait on the sidewalk, when it stops the cars stop too, and people walk across the car lane to the streetcar. The San Francisco cable cars work the same way. But here people would scream bloody hell if you tried to do that.

  6. I think most “experienced” car drivers downtown know to avoid 3rd for traversing North/South through downtown – rush hour or not. The city is just ticketing Noobs who don’t understand the signs during the rush hours.

  7. Now we just need to redevelop that entire street with walk friendly businesses. The only street downtown that’s not very pedestrian friendly is 3rd.

  8. This brings up something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Why not add extremely frequent streetcars along third. Have the buses turn around on either end (not go through). Turning around is tricky, but I’m sure it could be done (three rights and a left). Maybe you could build bus transit centers on either end of downtown. That would improve reliability immensely. It would be a bit of a pain to get off the bus and get on the streetcar, but it shouldn’t take too long (if the streetcar is frequent).

    • Bruce Nourish says:

      Because it would make travel slower and more inconvenient for virtually all riders, and cost more than improving bus reliability.

      • Why do you say that? The buses are slow and unreliable because they go through downtown. They spend a huge amount of time downtown. This is expensive. The whole point of a streetcar is to replace buses. They make sense only when you have a place where there are frequent stops, with lots of people getting on and off and where frequent service makes sense. I would be really surprised if running full, frequent streetcars would be more expensive than running full frequent buses. If so, then why build streetcars at all? My guess is that it would save money and that money could then be used to improve reliability.

        Putting aside speed for a second, that is one the great things about the new RTA route to the UW. The 7x express buses don’t have to go downtown anymore. They can start and end at the UW station. This saves a lot of money, which could then be used to run those buses more frequently. It is less convenient for the rider, but the rest of the service improvements make up for it.

      • Bruce Nourish says:

        The 7x series are most unlikely to be truncated at UW station in 2016, for reasons which would lead us off-topic. But your comment contains your answer: University Link is dramatically faster than equivalent buses; streetcars in mixed traffic generally are generally not — especially in chronically congested areas like downtown.

        Streetcar operating costs are slightly cheaper than buses (in terms of passengers on board/cost per revenue hour) when absolutely full, but otherwise they probably cost the same or more, and you have to plunk down hundreds of millions to lay track.

        So we’d be spending millions to make transit trips slower, less convenient, and no cheaper to operate.

      • If true, that begs the question, why build streetcars anywhere? Why not just use buses?

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        To simplify the argument a bit: buses are slow downtown mostly because they have to stop and let people on and off. But having them do this at one end of downtown, then have passengers get on and off a streetcar, then have them get on and off again at their destination, won’t save any time even if it’s faster to get on and off a streetcar.

      • Because streetcars attract additional riders and are marginally cheaper to operate, all else equal.

        The scenario you’re suggesting is far from “all else equal.” It involves adding a transfer in an inconvenient location to nearly everyone’s ride, even those of people who have already transferred somewhere else, for very little benefit.

      • BigDonLives! says:

        [ot]

      • Bruce Nourish says:

        It’s not at all clear that streetcars are overall cheaper to operate. Seattle’s TMP, which could hardly be called an anti-streetcar document, showed that streetcars maximixed ridership, but did so at a higher cost per rider than various flavors of improved buses. They’re cheaper only when fully loaded, and most transit systems don’t operate their vehicles fully loaded all the time — nor should we expect them to.

        Regardless of cost, the travel-time advantage of at-grade rail over buses in a place like downtown is minimal — assuming they have the same payment arrangements and signal treatments, and the buses are low-floor with passive restraint (these things will/should happen as Metro’s older buses are retired). I’d rather spend money on either getting those features on buses, or building another tunnel through downtown, than building more short-line streetcars.

      • I think you are missing the main part of my argument. It will not make it faster to go through downtown (it will be the opposite). Streetcars are never faster than buses. OK, in some cases they are, since they are faster to board and exit. This would be especially true if riding them were free (I realize that this is unlikely since the time to do this was when we got rid of the free ride zone). But in general, the added time (which would hopefully be minimal) would be worth it.

        The main advantage is that they can simply handle more people per dollar spent. If this isn’t the case, then I really don’t see anyplace anywhere around the world where it makes sense to lay new track and build them (except, as mentioned, to attract tourists). Downtown is one of the few places where I see streetcars making sense. The buses back up behind each other. This means, essentially, two bus drivers (and buses) doing the work of one streetcar.

        The cost savings (in the long run) is what I am talking about. We simply use the cost savings to add more service elsewhere. Another benefit is reliability. Buses that start at one end or the other are far more likely to be on time than a bus that had to travel from one end of downtown to the other.

        Another side benefit is that drivers are more likely to understand that third avenue is basically off limits to regular cars. I’ve seen traffic snarls that are the results of folks trying to figure out whether they can turn on third or not. If there is a streetcar, it becomes obvious (“Oh yeah, third is the trolley street”). Experienced drivers never have this problem, but with the exception of cab drivers and other professionals, experienced drivers don’t drive downtown (they take transit).

        This doesn’t mean it pencils out. Having the buses turn around might be a real pain. Building north and south end transit stations could be really expensive. Adding street rail is dangerous for bikers. If the improvements mentioned make traveling on third (by bus) fast and easy, then this won’t be needed. But if more buses travel along this line (which is likely) I would imagine they will continue to backup and cause service problems on the other parts of the line.

      • Bruce nailed it. The SLU streetcar budget is hard to find as it’s buried in the City of Seattle budget. I extracted it once and it was slightly less per hour than Tacoma Link which is around $300/hr to operate. IIRC the latest figures were $280/hour. But figure roughly 2X the cost per platform hour meaning they are only cost effective carrying full loads throughout the day. Streetcars offer; better ride quality, quicker load/unload based on short haul where most riders remain standing, Permanence (?) and Panache. A streetcar certainly has the edge in peak capacity where two or more buses would have to be dispatched to handle the load since being able to carry a lot more people they can reduce or eliminate the “bus bunching” problem.

      • RossB, it seems obvious to me that the relatively minimal advantages you name for streetcars in this specific application do not justify making absolutely everyone coming into downtown transfer at wonderful places like 5th and Denny or 4th and Royal Brougham, at the cost of 3-5 minutes even if the transfer is the smoothest possible.

      • OK, given all that, I wonder why the city is looking at adding streetcars. They just don’t make sense to me. I assumed (incorrectly) that under certain circumstances (heavy usage, lots of boarding and unboarding) that they offered significant cost savings over buses. I guess that assumption is incorrect, and I go back to thinking (as I once did) that the South Lake Union Streetcar (and other Streetcars) are a waste of money which could be spent improving bus service (or building gondolas).

      • Under heavy useage they are more cost effective. Note that at roughly 2X the cost of running a bus you don’t need to pack the street car with two bus loads of people. You just need more than one bus can carry because at that point you have to add a second bus. They also tend to be set up with more doors for quicker load/unload and since the guide way is fixed they can pull up within a fraction of an inch of a platform eliminating the need to deploy a ramp or lift. Cost of Tacoma Link and the SLUT would go down if they could amortize the fixed costs over more vehicles and service hours but unfortunately there doesn’t see to be any urgency in connecting SLU with the First Hill line. In fact the new maintenance barn isn’t even designed to handle a combined fleet. Or the Benson streetcars but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

      • I could get along with the idea of truncating buses on the edge of downtown, with a streetcar transfers provided we did all of the following:

        1) Ran the streetcar really frequently, like every 3 minutes peak, every 5 minutes off-peak.

        2) The approach into and out of the transit center would need to be really fast. And it needs to be right on the way – no extra signals to wait for to get into and out of the transit center that you wouldn’t have to deal with if the bus continues on through downtown.

        3) There would need to be one transit center, not two at each end. This way, trips through downtown would be a quick two-seat ride without the 30-minute slog to get from one end of downtown to the other. Do it at each end and now, to travel through downtown, you have to do a three-seat ride.

        If all three of these things could happen, I’d say great. In practice, however, I find it very doubtful that any of these would happen. Metro is incapable of running any route more frequent than every 10 minutes peak, 15 minutes off-peak. Getting into and out of the transit centers would inevitably involve time-wasting detours. And trips through downtown would become even worse, as you have to wait for yet another connection.

        So, ideal answer – yes. Practical answer – no.

      • “Metro is incapable of running any route more frequent than every 10 minutes peak, 15 minutes off-peak.”

        Metro operates Link at 7.5 minute headways. It operates the 550 at 5 and 6 minute headways inbound in the morning peak. If they manage to acheive that reliably, they’re capabale of running more frequent service, at least in the DSTT.

      • There are two standards at play here – minimizing wait time and providing sufficient capacity so people don’t get left behind.

        Historically, wait time standards were such that a bus every 30 minutes (or 60 on evenings and Sundays) was considered good enough and only a compelling need for shear capacity could justify any service running more frequently than that. In recent years, Metro has improved this somewhat by deciding no one should have to wait more than 15 minutes for a core route, at least during day on weekdays, with a longer frequent span for RapidRide routes. In fact, this is why Metro believed RapidRide was so great. We were all so accustomed to routes running every 30 minutes at best that the idea of a bus route running every 15 minutes all day, even if capacity needs would have said every 30 minutes was plenty, was supposed to seem like an imaginable luxury. In other words, we’re supposed to think “who cares if it makes this or that crazy deviation or is super-slow – it runs every 15 minutes on a Sunday!”.

        So, while Metro’s standards of wait time has improved somewhat, Metro is still a long way away from justifying any route running every 10 minutes, let alone every 5, due to standards of how long people are expected to wait. The SLUT doesn’t run better than every 15 minutes off-peak and the First Hill Streetcar won’t either. Neither does the 44, 48, nor any of the RapidRide lines, present or future. The only Puget Sound transit service in existence that operates all-day headways better than 15 minutes is Link and a lot of that is probably due to the fact that Sound Transit, not Metro is operating it.

        There are a few bus routes that manage to do better than 10 minute headways peak, but the only reason these routes do that is because they’re insanely crowded and if Metro didn’t run them that frequently, people would be left behind. As soon as rush hour dies down, all of these routes go back to 15 minute headways (in many cases, every 30 on evenings and Sundays) just like every other route.

        So, if all the buses downtown were to be replaced by streetcars, how frequently would this streetcar actually run? Off-peak, the combined headway of all the buses downtown today probably averages out around every 2 minutes (*), but as buses start and end their routes downtown, there’s a lot of empty capacity on them. Considering that a streetcar can hold a lot more passengers than a bus, Metro would probably declare 10-15 minutes off peak good enough for capacity. Not everyone who rides it would get seats, but everyone who would want to ride it would pretty much be able to get on. And the way Metro operates, if 10-15 minutes is good enough to provide the needed capacity, that’s all we get because standards of wait time cannot be used to justify any additional frequency beyond this.

        (*) Metro’s standards do allow several converging routes to provide a combined headway that’s much better than 10-15 minutes, even if these buses each have a lot of empty seats, because they provide the additional benefit of providing one-seat rides to the most important destinations.

      • Why build streetcars? Because voters are dumb and are blinded by how amazing it must be just because it’s rail without realizing that when you strip away the fancy stops and street reconfigurations streetcars are just buses with some more capacity that can’t change lanes or be rerouted when travel patterns change.

        Just look at the First Hill Streetcar. The people on First Hill INSISTED~! on it when they learned they wouldn’t be getting their light rail station. Except the only part of First Hill it serves is Swedish and Seattle University, and THAT pissed off many of the interest groups who insisted on it in the first place, so they’re ultimately going to get a bus on Boren. If the solution in the first place had been to extend the 49 to the International District along the route buses to Atlantic Base already take and put buses on Boren and 12th, it would have had, when you take likelihood to ride out of the equation, the exact same intended effect at a lower cost without ripping up Broadway and turning the 14th/Boren/Jackson/Rainier intersection into a clusterbleep. But noooooo, then no one would have a new choo-choo toy to play with other than people near Cap Hill Station! They’d just have boring, practical BUSES, and no one wants that, right?

      • Part of the problem is the streetcar routes. Seattle keeps coming up with streetcar routes that replace part of a bus route but not all of it, so the bus has to remain. The SLUT is not long enough to replace the 70. The FHS is not long enough to replace the 7 or a Jackson-to-U-District route (the former 9 local), so the 7 and 49 have to remain. RossB’s route, if it were extended to Mercer Street, could be the King Street-to-Uptown trunk, which would be something sunstantial, but it would leave upper Queen Anne out. Transferring is generally better than one-seat rides to everywhere, but we mustn’t go overboard forcing people to transfer after only 1-2 miles, especially if they’ll have to transfer a second time in another 1-2 miles. The distance from downtown to Queen Anne is so short it’s not reasonable to transfer unless it were a subway station in Uptown or a very good streetcar.

      • The think that irks me the most about streetcar routes is that it tries to boost capacity my making the vehicles larger, rather than making service more frequent. If a bus every 15 minutes doesn’t provide enough capacity, run the bus every 10. If a bus every 5 minutes doesn’t provide enough capacity, then we can talk about switching to larger vehicles.

        And streetcars don’t really save all that much money over the more-frequent-bus alternative anyway, when you include the capitol cost to build it.

      • The FHS will be 10 minutes minimum, although I think it was watered down weekend evenings. But still it’s a better minimum than the SLUT, which was built ad hoc as a starter line so not all transit principles were adhered to. The purpose for building streetcars is that as ridership increases over the years we can fill out the 10-minute gaps and eventually go up to 5 minutes. With buses we’d have perpetual overcrowding and bus-bunching problems (as well as people not riding it because it’s not a train).

        “And streetcars don’t really save all that much money over the more-frequent-bus alternative anyway, when you include the capitol cost to build it.”

        That’s the fallacy, we shouldn’t include capital expenses in operating costs. Streetcars and light rail are a structural improvement to the city, and are worthwhile on that basis. The issue is not, how much does the streetcar’s cost per rider including capital costs compare to buses, it’s how much do streetcars improve the city’s quality of life and the convenience of getting around without a car. We don’t evaluate highways on the cost per driver. (“How much is that driver in blue’s share of the deep bore tunnel?”) So it’s unfair to apply a different more stringent standard to transit.

      • we shouldn’t include capital expenses in operating costs.

        How would you suggest evaluating the capital cost if not spread out over time and the number of people that use it? From what I’ve seen the vast majority of the opposition to the Deep Debt Tunnel is up front cost to build it. If it was a few million dollars nobody would question it’s worth as a viaduct replacement. But when you start using the B word; well, a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

      • The primary issue is the mobility needs of the city’s inhabitants. Some cities have a great transit network that allows people to get to almost all parts of it, waiting less than 10 minutes (or 30 night owl), travelling at a reasonable speed, and walking less than a mile. The result is that a large percentage of residents don’t even have cars. Some cities even have a rail network like that, so you don’t even have to get on a bus most of the time. So those are the ideals.

        The issue for the capital costs of any line then, is, how well does it address the mobility needs of the inhabitants (residents and visitors)? How well does it contribute to the overall transit network? How well does it (and projects like it) contribute to the goal of getting to every part of town conveniently without a car? The benefits accrue not just to existing passengers (cost-per-passenger), but to everybody who might go to that part of town someday. Having the ability to go there without a long wait or slowdown is a benefit, even if I don’t need it today. I may only go to Northgate or West Seattle a few times a year, but other people go there everyday, and someday I might have a job or house or sick friend there, and at that time I’ll be glad the system was already built.

    • Interesting that you bring this up now, because this is exactly what Metro wanted to do back in the 80′s, except with electric trolley buses. All commuter buses would have terminated at one end of the 3rd Avenue transit mall, and everyone would have had to transfer to a trolley bus to get to downtown destinations. This didn’t fly with suburban politicians, who wanted one-seat rides preserved, and hence the downtown transit tunnel was born.

      • Interesting. I think there is a love of the one-seat ride because transfers are typically slow. In other cities, transferring is commonplace and more easily accepted because it only costs a couple minutes, not fifteen to twenty.

        As I mention above, this type of system would have made sense instead of the “free ride” zone. If so, then I think it would still be around (although it might cost a quarter for those who aren’t transferring). A free ride streetcar, of course, is really fast to exit and board.

      • Even here, transfers can sometimes cost only a couple of minutes if you get lucky. The issue is that in deciding when to leave home in order to be somewhere at a certain time, you have to plan on every transfer costing 15-20 minutes minimum. If the bus actually comes faster than that, you arrive at your destination early.

      • Through-routing is cheaper because it means half the drivers and buses Metro has to pay for and operate. That’s why the 5 and RapidRide don’t go to Pioneer Square.

      • I was about to say what Zed did, but I thought the plan was to build the DSTT anyway and put a shuttle route in it. The suburbanites howled that they didn’t want to transfer at the edge of downtown, and that’s why we got the current DSTT.

      • “I think there is a love of the one-seat ride because transfers are typically slow. In other cities, transferring is commonplace and more easily accepted because it only costs a couple minutes, not fifteen to twenty.”

        It’s what asdf talked about above. Seattle was too small in 1945 to have the kind of large transit infrastructure and large dedicated riderbase that San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities had, to withstand its replacement by highways and parking. So we ended up with half-hourly service in the city and hourly in the suburbs, because the thinking was that anyone who wanted more than that would get a car. Then because of the half-hourly and hourly service, people became wedded to one-seat rides because they’d spent too many times waiting 25 or 55 minutes for a transfer or a missed bus. It’s really hard to convince them otherwise, especially with the horror stories coming out of Ballard and the halfhearted frequent service other places.

        One easy illustration is 23rd and John (Madison). It would make eminent sense to replace the 43 with more service on the 48 and an east-west route, but people have a hard time believing it would come every 5 minutes or even 10 minutes, even if Metro says it will.

      • The 43 is a great example of the difference that true HCT can make. Once University Link opens it will be completely pointless… because people will have faith in the HCT. People at the top of the hill will take the 8 to CHS. People at the bottom of the hill will take the 48 to Husky Stadium UW Station. In both cases it will work well because the connection will be from a very frequent bus (I assume those segments of the 48 and 8 will go to 10-minute service) to Link.

      • I wouldn’t be so sure about the 43 going quietly, David.

        Suggesting that people travel two full miles almost 100% counter-directionally, then deal with the Montlake clusterfuck, just to access the poorly-arranged train station… that’s definitely asking a lot.

        Asking those same people to deal with the 48 + the 8 to get to the train will not go over any better.

        #perilsofexpressitude #BARTlite #fail

      • Link will be so much faster than struggling through the Olive/Bellevue mess that I think people will make the change pretty quickly, especially if the 48 and 8 get the frequency they deserve.

        It takes 25 minutes to get from Montlake to downtown on the 43 at any busy time of day, and most of that is the struggle from Broadway inward. Even if you wait 10 minutes for a bus the bus + Link trip will be faster.

      • The main reason to keep the 43 is not for trips from Montlake to downtown, but for trips from Montlake to the main part of Capitol Hill. People going from Montlake north will transfer at UW station. People going from Montlake (say between 520 and Interlaken) to downtown or further south will likely transfer at Capitol Hill station once they see how much time it saves compared to traffic and stoplights. The two short segments of John and 23rd would not be worth preserving a one-seat ride except that it happens to be one of the highest-ridership areas in the city, and that’s what the oppsition will be. The other opposition will be that these are very short segments, and forcing a transfer in the middle, even with 5-minute buses, would lead to a situation where you’re waiting as long as you’re riding.

        Pie-in-the-sky idea: split the 8, delete the 43, and attach the 43′s 23rd segment to the 8N. This preserves a one-seat ride around the turn, but not a one-seat ride to downtown. It would also improve connectivity between Seattle Center and northeast Capitol Hill.

        DP will say, “But if Link had stations on 15th and 23rd, you wouldn’t need this route.” It would partly make up for this route, but nobody brought that up when Link’s routing was being debated. Everyone assumed people would use the 43 or its successor for intra-Capitol Hill trips. And nobody except DP is complaining, which indicates they’re satisfied with Link’s routing on Capitol Hill.

        “I assume those segments of the 48 and 8 will go to 10-minute service”

        You have more trust in Metro than I do. Metro is still working on 15-minute service on its core routes (which has been Metro’s goal for a decade or two). We can’t expect widespread 10-minute service until Metro fills in most of its 15-minute service. And that won’t happen until Metro gets more funding.

        To be clear, I’d support a 43 reorganization, and if Metro heavily supported the grid routes and a transfer station, it could make it work. But the 43 “turn” is one of the highest transit-using corridors in the city, and that means we should think twice about just eliminating it, like the 7. It’s not like the 4S whose 23rd turn is basically useless and is the long way to get to downtown.

      • One problem with Seattle is that we just don’t have destinations in places for a grid system to fully work. That may be due to the lack of grid routes in the past, but it’s also due to the heavily single-family nature of Seattle’s neighborhoods. There’s a reason the 60 goes, oddly, to Broadway, and it’s the same reason that the 8S turns and also goes to Broadway, and the 43 does too. It’s because that’s the largest commercial/shopping/entertainment district outside downtown, and the only district like that in the Beacon/Rainier/CD/Montlake area. (Not counting the U-District.) Beacon Hill’s commercial district is small and incomplate. Rainier’s is rather poor; it doesn’t have the affluent/middle class stuff Broadway has, or the jobs. If you live on 23rd, you have little reason to go to another part of 23rd because it’s mostly just houses and you don’t know anyone there.

        Grid routes work better in San Francisco, Vancouver, and Portland, but that’s partly because there’s non-residential destinations in all directions on the grid. Seattle is less like that. For instance, there’s a notional gap in the grid for a route on NW 65th (which has no bus service) and NE 65th (which could be connected to it in a 71 reorganization). But how many people on NE 65th want to go to NW 65th and vice-versa? Probably few. That’s why it doesn’t get done.

      • “Suggesting that people travel two full miles almost 100% counter-directionally…”

        Sometimes, when there’s such a huge difference in the speed and reliability of available service, backtracking becomes a no-brainer. Every day, my trip home from work begins with a half-mile backtrack along the 520 trail to catch the 545 or 542 going in the opposite direction. On the other hand, if I were to stick to the route that was geographically correct on the map, I would be taking the half-hourly 249 to South Kirkland P&R and transferring to the 255, which on most days, would be insane.

        It’s the same thing here. If you live in Montlake and want to get downtown, walking half a mile north to the UW station and taking Link will be the no-brainer thing to do, even if it superficially appears in the wrong direction.

      • Sometimes, when there’s such a huge difference in the speed and reliability of available service, backtracking becomes a no-brainer.

        True.

        But in this case, backtracking means waiting for the FUBAR 43 and then crossing the Montlake Clustercut. Your dramatic speed/reliability improvement is DOA.

        split the 8, delete the 43, and attach the 43′s 23rd segment to the 8N. This preserves a one-seat ride around the turn, but not a one-seat ride to downtown.

        This is a really excellent idea, actually.

        we just don’t have destinations in places for a grid system to fully work.

        Grid networks are about everywhere-to-everywhere. Even in dull Seattle, everywhere-to-everywhere is still a 91% unmet need (that’s the percentage that don’t touch the bus for in-city non-commute trips).

        Everywhere-to-everywhere, Mike. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

        But if you design in violation of everywhere-to-everywhere principles, you’ll never make everywhere-to-everywhere work. Lessons seemingly unlearned…

        And nobody except DP is complaining…

        Not remotely true. Every East Coast transplant scratches their head at the effort we’re expending on something that will be so difficult to access. They know what it’s like to get around on the subway effortlessly; it’s baffling that we’re designing for the exact opposite.

        Every Capital Hill resident I know (East Coast transplant or otherwise) beyond a 10-minute walk from the station wonders if they’ll ever have reason to use the thing!

      • split the 8, delete the 43, and attach the 43′s 23rd segment to the 8N. This preserves a one-seat ride around the turn, but not a one-seat ride to downtown.

        Actually, this is only an excellent idea if the 8 is eventually routed around the Denny mess (post-99 tunnel). And even then, only if it’s increased to very high frequencies day and night (so that even with delays through SLU, headways will remain relatively stable once it breaks free of the traffic).

      • I am feeling obtuse about this proposed rearrangement of the 8. If the 8 picks up the 43′s 23rd segment, how does it get to Denny? Or is the argument ‘split the 8 and have the current 8S end at Madison/MLK or Madison/23rd and then have the current 8N go from QA to the U District via Cap Hill and 23rd/24th’?

  9. This works pretty okay in denver. certain routes end at stations on one end or the other.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Street_Mall

    • Almost 100% of connections to the 16th Street Mall shuttle are being made from perpendicular routes, either from the light rail lines at the west* and middle, from a couple of bus routes that cross 16th around Larimer, or from the eastern bus depot under United Nations Park.

      And, for the record, transferring to and from buses in that depot is awful.

      *which they seem to have messed with since I was last there.

      • (second link should be “45° off” — platforms in the old location by Union Station, rather than across a yawning pile of dirt from the intercity hub — but apparently you can’t change Google Maps’ 45° default setting in a link.)

      • It appears that the plan in Denver is to move all the buses away from that bus depot under United Nations Park — “Market St. Station” — and demolish it.

        They’re moving them into the new underground bus depot behind Union Station. Not sure how much of an improvement it will be, but it should be more handicapped-accessible, and somewhat more spacious.

      • Actually, Nathanael, the bus depot I was referring to under United Nations Park — at the east end of downtown — is apparently known as Civic Center Station.

        I wasn’t even aware of a second underground bus station in the middle of the 16th strip, presumably because I’ve usually entered that part of downtown from the south (by light rail).

        Just looking at Google Maps, Market Street Station actually appears much newer and nicer than Civic Center Station, with more efficiently designed ramps as well. Presumably the crappier depot will remain, since it’s the terminus for all service from the east, which the Union Station hub would not be able to serve.

        Can’t say I’m optimistic about the Union Station redevelopment, either. It’s scale is absurd: the historic station lobby and commuter rail platform will be more than 1/4 of a mile from the new and peripheral light rail platforms, and the only direct route will be a cavernous subterranean passage.

        It’s Denver International Airport 2.0 — not a good thing.

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