by VICTOR OBESO
Bruce Nourish recently voiced his opinion about Metro Transit’s Route 16 – a long-time Metro route that has been serving Fifth Avenue North by the Seattle Center for many years.
Despite his claims to the contrary, we care deeply about our customers. Readers and riders know there are always trade-offs when designing a transit route and schedule. We work hard to balance riders’ interests and carefully constructed guidelines as we evaluate potential changes – and key among them is customer feedback. We also must respond to changing real-world conditions, including massive multi-year construction projects that affect service and travel times.
Route 16 has been providing excellent access to events and activities at the Seattle Center for many decades. However, Metro recognizes times have changed. Traffic has grown worse in the area and ongoing construction projects have further increased the time it takes for Route 16 to serve the area. At the same time, major increases in employment in the South Lake Union area are creating more demand for this route to shift toward the east to provide more convenient access to South Lake Union. But there are still many riders each day that enjoy the very convenient access to the Seattle Center that Route 16 provides.
The route serves thousands of riders each day. Based on analysis, the indirect path fails Metro’s route directness guideline in one direction (outbound +7 minutes for through customers) but meets the guideline (inbound +3 minutes for through customers). This illustrates the tradeoffs associated with making a decision to change the route or not. One might suggest that the inbound routing serve Fifth Avenue North while the outbound routing use Aurora Avenue North. But this would violate another Metro Service Guideline that calls for easy to understand services that have predictable routings. By splitting the route to travel on Fifth Avenue North in one direction and Aurora Avenue North in the other direction would make it difficult to understand for riders and might impact overall ridership negatively.
Metro, in the past, has considered moving Route 16 off of Fifth Avenue North in order to remove the route from the severe traffic and delays but public feedback was mixed and no changes were made. When riders of the route were asked about a change to Aurora routing via on-board surveys in 2002, over half of the respondents indicated a preference for the Seattle Center routing. This is likely because many riders who use this route most often to get to or from work downtown might also benefit from the direct Seattle Center routing for events.
However, we do recognize that the upcoming Mercer Street project and Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement construction will continue to impact the area and perhaps further delay service. Additionally, long-term the east-west street network between Denny Way and Harrison Street is slated to be rebuilt allowing customers to more easily access bus routes on Aurora Avenue North.
Due to the planned Mercer project, Metro intends to change the existing routing on Fifth Avenue North to Aurora Avenue North in order to avoid street and lane closures and to provide more reliable service to the large number of riders traveling between North Seattle and downtown Seattle. We understand that this would negatively impact the riders who travel between North Seattle and Fifth Avenue North so this change is not taken lightly.
Victor Obeso is Director of Service Development at King County Metro.