Slack Action, via Flickr
Slack Action, via Flickr

On April 28, two King County Council committees combined to receive a report from Metro on proposed Southeast Seattle and Southwest King County service changes, followed by public comment from both the official citizen sounding boards as well as fully private citizens. The two-hour-plus video is archived here. A boatload of supporting documents is accessible from this page and this one.

We’ve covered these proposed changes extensively, but here’s what’s new from the meeting:

The only significant difference between the Sounding Board reports and the Metro Staff was the use an extended Route 8 to provide local service along MLK. The SE Seattle Sounding Board proposed using Route 48, with similar service levels, instead. Although 48 service is likely to be less reliable than the 8, the one-seat ride to the University and other locations along 23rd is highly prized.

Manager of Service Development Victor Obeso aptly summarized citizen comments gathered over the last 7 months as follows:

surveyNote that given a static or falling operating budget, items 1 and 4 are in fundamental conflict with each other.  Those transit planners earn every dime.

Although Metro did a decent job of tweaking things to improve station connectivity, I would say that preserving existing rides won out. It’s not hard to see why if you watch, on the video, the parade of representatives from the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) lamenting the idea that to get downtown they’d have to either transfer or walk three blocks to the Route 7 stop. The intriguing Route 50 (Seward Park-West Seattle) proposal died partly because of the VA Hospital’s need for a direct link to downtown, since the hospital’s entrance faces away from the 36 that goes right by on Beacon Ave.

That’s not to belittle the legitimate interests of clients and patients who might be elderly, disabled, or mentally ill, or to ignore the really unfortunate architectural decisions that have made these facilities poorly adapted to the transit that surrounds them.  Still, one wonders if the paratransit system might be a better alternative than allocating thousands of bus hours.

Aside from peak-only express routes, the most obvious routes to delete are the 194 and 42, in that order, and both mobilized a lot of negative commenters in this session. Public comments are a poor way to investigate the tradeoffs in service planning, but there were some other interesting themes:

  • Citizens, quite understandably, are really concerned about the safety of walking to and from the stations. In particular, Link passes through some high-crime areas, and there are several difficult street crossings implied by the positioning of rail stations and bus stops.
  • There was a lot of fear that light rail would be much more expensive than the bus, and this further hardened opposition to removing direct bus routes downtown. Sound Transit didn’t do anyone any favors by waiting until this year — well into the comment period — to announce even a set of options for Link fares. That kind of fear made it all the way to the final meeting, although in the end rail is only more expensive in off-peak hours and for certain discounted classes of rider.
  • There are numerous stretches that will be losing all-day service, or service altogether. Dearborn St. between Rainier and 4th Ave will only be served by the 7X; Seward Park Ave. between Othello and Henderson will only have the 34X; Renton Ave. between Othello and Henderson will have nothing at all; and Rainier Avenue south of Henderson St. (along the lake) will not be within easy walking distance of a bus at all.

Note: The author served on the Southeast Seattle Citizen Sounding Board.  The board report does not fully reflect his views, nor does this post represent the views of the Sounding Board.

21 Replies to “Metro Service Changes: Citizen Reaction”

  1. If Metro is forced to increase service to and from various points along the rail line so people don’t have to walk a few blocks, won’t that sort of defeat one of the purposes of having light rail in the first place?

    1. Maybe a tiny little temporary purpose. As the rail line ages, many people will pick walking to the train over taking the bus, and we’ll be able to make further changes (and maybe get all day service back in some of the places where it’s been lost).

  2. Public comments are a poor way to investigate the tradeoffs in service planning, but there were some other interesting themes Because the public just isn’t as smart as service planners and they just don’t get it. We all know that experts know more than the people so they should just shut up and let the EXPERTS do their thing.

    1. Experts in public policy and service become experts by listening to the public.

  3. That’s the problem I guess with combining a regional train system and a city metro. Stations are far apart to make the long trip quicker, but too far apart to really use it as a quick link between home and grocery, bar and dinner, etc. Obviously a full-on metro system is expensive and would take a long time to build though.

    As time goes on and more lines are built, I’d think rail would form a spine for north/south travel and busses would form a ‘rib cage’ to bring people from the east and west to the stations. Within Seattle, that’s really how the streetcar network should be designed. This push for one-seat rides are part of the reason why our bus system is so unintuitive and needlessly complex.

    1. Well, that was one of the arguments I used to use with people regarding the Monorail Project. A citywide transportation system and Link Light Rail should really be serving two different purposes.

      Sound Transit’s mission isn’t really to connect neighborhoods in Seattle, but to connect cities to each other. Other modes need to step in to move you ever more locally.

      1. I disagree. Light rail is every bit as important (and probably more important) for Seattle than for the surrounding cities. Seattle is much more dense and has much higher transit ridership than the suburbs, and any other mode that we have here is much slower than light rail, so for distances more than a mile or two, fast light rail is needed.

      2. Yes Seattle has some dense neighbourhoods, but that doesn’t matter if the stations are several miles apart. See this for example:

        Link’s station spacing resembles that of SF’s BART, which is used for intercity travel while the MUNI is used for moving about the city of SF itself. On a much grander scale, Paris has its RER network to connect the city with the suburbs and the metro for travelling within Paris. Link is a regional system, hence the name “Link” in the first place – its designed to Link the region’s cities together.

        We’ll either need feeder system of streetcars or better, a couple ‘Seattle only’ lines of grade separated transit with stations placed at walkable distances. I believe this will happen eventually, but the initial regional Link needs to be done first. We’re focusing on the commuters for right now and we’ll get to the life riders with much better service later.

  4. Experts know some things, but experts can’t predict how people will or won’t use the services provided.

    In terms of “walking a few blocks” for transit, I’d add this. Most people around the Puget Sound use public transportation for commuting to work or school. Those riders will happily walk a few blocks twice a day. They don’t have to drive on the freeways, pay for parking, etc. etc. They drive to their nearest bus stop or park and ride, get on a bus, and everything is fantastic. They might have a transfer along the way, but generally it’s a smooth process.

    In the Rainier Valley though, it doesn’t work this way. People here are making multiple round trips per day. It’s a lot of stop and go action all day long. Walking a few blocks. No big deal. Walking a few blocks each way, many times a day adds huge amounts of time to commuting. For a driver, a simple run to Safeway or QFC is a few minutes. For someone by bus, it’s significantly longer. Add to that, picking up the kids from day care, taking them to baseball practice, and then getting home? “A few blocks” over the course of the day becomes miles, and time lost in hours.

    Frequency needs to be based on community needs. It’s simply *not* a one size fits all.

    I remember meeting the guys who were in charge, “the experts”. They might have been experts, but it certainly wasn’t on commuting patterns of Rainier Valley bus riders.

    1. Are you saying that people outside of the Rainier Valley don’t go to the grocery store?

    2. I can’t follow you. Are you saying the bus usage of Rainer Valley is more like using a car? The speed or convenience of all the activities you list depend on how far you’re going. Is the Safeway within walking distance?

    3. What I take from that comment is that people who depend on transit for all their trips (or the vast majority), and don’t have the “I only take transit at peak times” pattern, use the transit system(s) very differently than folks who only use transit for commuting twice a day.

      It’s the difference between a transit system that’s planned for work trips, and a transit system that’s designed to really allow people to live car-free.

    4. I live on Capitol Hill and walk to the laundromat, Madison Market, the library, etc. It does take compound time to do several errands per day, and you can’t go to the grocery store if you only have 30 minutes for a wash and you’ve got as much as you can carry already.

      In the Rainier Valley things are more spread out, so places may be 2 or 3 miles away rather than 1 mile as they are on Capitol Hill. Thus people would need to take the bus more for daily errands. This may be where the pressure is coming from.

      1. This reminds me of a quote from Vancouver (BC) City Councilmember Gordon Price:

        People want to have access to things—services, locations, facilities. They want to stop at the health club, pick up some groceries, drop by a friend’s, and still get home from work at a reasonable hour. Most of North America has sought to provide this access through better mobility; the West End (of Vancouver) has provided it through greater proximity.

        He left a comment at Sightline: “Here’s an even more concise way to say it (credit to Richard Register): The shortest distance between two points is achieved by moving the points closer together.”

  5. My concern is that no one is really taking a look at interagency coordination for transit safety! I overheard an interesting conversation with a Metro rider and a person that is a Community Outreach Coordinator for “LightRailSafety”. This citizen was asking about the safety measures LightRail is going to have given the violent crime in and near the LightRail stations in the Rainier Valley and the Community Coordinator replied that they only looked after LightRailSafetySigns. Who is the group responsible for better lighting? security guards at the stations? watching out for characters on the lightrail? taking data and information to prevent or put information together to stop crime?

  6. Aside from the “experts versus the people” debate, I think there is another point here if you just look at the comments at the public meeting. A relatively small number of adversely affected riders show up to complain about eliminating the 42, and give the impression that “the people” are against it. But if you do a survey of people in the neighborhood, eliminating the 42 and redeploying those service hours into other neighborhood routes is pretty popular. So even assuming the experts don’t know what they’re talking about–as most commenters here seem to think–you’re still left with the question of what “the people” want. Do you listen to the vocal minority which is adversely affected? Or the less vocal majority which is positively affected?

  7. In my experience, a good chunk of the people that show up at these meetings are crackpots. I attended a few of the ST meetings at Beacon Hill, hoping to take part in the process, but they turned into circuses, with a few people making spectacles of themselves: Booing, hissing, acting like children, even before anything objectionable or controversial was raised. One woman stridently demanded to know what the ST rep was PERSONALLY going to do to “guarantee her personal safety when standing on the platform of the Beacon Hill Station at 3am”. How can anyone take crap like that seriously?

    Honestly, I’m all for totally ignoring public input. Build the damn thing, and people will adapt. That’s how great systems like the Chicago El and the NYC Subway system was built. Seattle’s not going to get any less dense, and people are going to use this thing, despite what the dingbats say.

  8. “Citizens, quite understandably, are really concerned about the safety of walking to and from the stations.”

    I admit that the distance between the Columbia City station and downtown Columbia City concerns me. It’s four blocks from the station to Rainier, and then another couple blocks to the main part of CC. I have heard that the street there has had the sidewalks improved, but it does not strike me as a friendly route in the evenings. We are hoping to be able to take Link to CC in the evenings to the Columbia City Cinema, or restaurants, but that route still is a problem, I think. Some added lighting along the route between the station and Rainier would probably help. More eyes and activity on the street would help too, but that’s a pretty low-density strip at the moment (I don’t know the current zoning, but it’s mostly single-family housing there if I recall correctly).

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