Oran's Draft Seattle Frequent Transit Map

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit makes the case for bus system maps that clearly indicate route frequency, and uses King County Metro as an example of how not to do that. It’s an argument I made in May, but treated with Jarrett’s usual eloquence and depth. As usual, go read the whole thing.

If a street map for a city drew every road with the same kind of line and label, so that Interstate 5 looked no different from the smallest gravel cul-de-sac, we’d say it was a bad map.  But it’s not wrong, the mapmaker would say!  No, it’s not, but it’s misleading. If we can’t identify the major streets, we can’t see the basic shape of the city, and without that, we can’t really make use of the map’s information.

The only thing I’d add comes from a conversation I had after I wrote that piece.  Given the politics of city/suburb relations, a 15-minute frequency map is explosive simply because it illustrates how much better service is in the city. After all, only 11 of 35 high-frequency segments even leave the city, and none but Link on Sundays. That’s for good reason, but it’s also not what a lot of people want to see.

66 Replies to “High-Frequency Route Maps”

    1. I knew this kinda of comment was coming. Even if Anc is joking I can definitely I can see someone from the suburbs making that comment for real. But they fail to see why Seattle has so much more service. That being because they have so many more riders. I think the west subarea has 5 times the riders of the east subarea and 3 times that of the south subarea.

      I think that if more people in the suburbs rode the bus more it might make an actual case for adding service in the suburbs. Instead we ended up with the 40/40/20 because of lack of knowledge from the suburbs.

      1. I think we all understand pretty well why Seattle gets more riders and more frequent service than the suburbs.

        You misapprehend the resentment in the suburbs–the question is not “why don’t we have as much service as Seattle,” it is “why do we pay the same tax rate as Seattle for Metro when Metro provides a tremendously higher level of service to Seattle”?

        Of course, there are valid public policy reasons for the suburbs to subsidize transit service in the city. But you aren’t going to win any suburbanites over to your point of view by saying things like “we ended up with the 40/40/20 because of lack of knowledge from the suburbs.” We got 40/40/20 because the suburbs were discontented with the disparity in service while taxes are at the same rate.

      2. Revenues may still be split equitably despite a disparity in service hours. Each service hour in Seattle is more efficient to provide and brings in higher farebox revenues.

      3. Certainly it’s true that the average service hour in Seattle is more efficient. And while it’s conceivable to imagine a scenario in which revenue is split equitably despite the service disparity, that’s not the case in King County today. Despite a decade of 40/40/20, the suburbs still heavily subsidize transit service in Seattle. (Rightly, in my opinion. But it still should be acknowledged.)

      4. Joe, I’m sure lack of knowledge plays a part. Any suburbanite who thinks that b/c their less populous less dense less… eh… griddy suburb can and should be equally served as Seattle is displaying a lack of knowledge either of demographics, geography, or just basic common sense.

      5. I think you’re unlikely to hear many informed suburbanites claim that they deserve bus service as frequent as Seattle’s. But you may hear them wonder why they pay the same tax rate for Metro as Seattle when their service (in frequency, in total number of service hours, and in per capita service hours) is far less.

      6. Suburbanites should be very wary of the tax argument, because it invites discussion of the myriad ways the centre city subsidises the suburbs. The net result amounts to a huge subsidy for sprawl, coming from the city at the centre.

      7. Certainly that’s true with regard to the distant exurbs, but I suspect there is not a large disparity in taxes paid v. services received for most transportation and infrastructure between Seattle and its close-in, established suburbs. I’d be interested to see an analysis of it, though.

      8. Isn’t a significant part of the reason why it seems that are so few high frequency routes outsde the city limits that Metro has transferred many of the potential high frequency routes to be operated as Sound Transit routes?

        For example, on the Eastside routes 545, 550 and potentially 554 if combined with some of the Metro Eastgate-Issaquah service are all former Metro routes (545 replaced 263, 550 replaced 226/235, 554 replaced many of the 210-family). Similarly 522 largely replaced a former Metro route.

        There are also some additional high frequency routes that can be created if some Jarrett Walker-style route rationalization-simplification were created, though it might require more transfers. For example, consolidating ST 555-556 with MT 271. Or making MT 255 a high frequency route by consolidating it with ST 540 and having U-District riders to transfer at Montlake. The Rapid Ride route which will consolidate some 230 & 253 service is another example. There may be more opportunities.

        Perhaps a high-frequency network route map will be less incendiary if it shows both ST and MT services, after some such consolidation and in the same color. After all for most riders, a bus is a bus. And we can hope for fare consolidation, too, since there’s really little reason that a fare from Bellevue to Seattle should differ based on which color bus you ride.

      9. Ouch.

        Well maybe then both the political impression and regional connectivity can be improved by creating core high frequency routes on main corridors like Seattle – Eastgate – Issaquah, Seattle – Bellevue, Seattle – Redmond, Bellevue – Redmond and Seattle – Kirkland, by shifting low-frequency low-ridership resources. (There are probably additional core routes to Renton and Kent and Federal Way that should be added – I think North County may already have coverage like 5, 41, 358.)

        And maybe we can remove Sundays from the definition if that helps and limit the time window to say 8pm Mon-Sat.

      10. Carl,

        That should be done on its own terms, not because of what the map looks like. And in fact, that’s already happening. ST is busily filling in the few holes that prevent the Eastgate-Seattle corridor from being “frequent.” And of course, there’s RapidRide, and the whole Metro effort to shift service towards high-demand corridors.

        As for counting Sundays, Oran’s decision was to map all the routes at high frequency weekdays during the day, and indicate at the bottom the additional times which the frequent service moniker applies. I believe that’s the correct way to do this.

      11. Actually, the map exercise provides interesting diagnostic information for the quality of the bus service. When the map is too complicated, or the map of frequent service is too sparse, doesn’t that inform us of some of the things that need to be done to improve the system?

        When I looked at Oran’s map, I did not see any cross-lake services, and both ST 545 and ST 550 are 15 minute services weekday daytime, so I believed that his criteria for what was included in the mape were 7 day/week.

        In any event, I believe it ought to be possible to create a regional network of high frequency service which when mapped would not be so politcally incendiary. It is reasonable that the density of high frequency lines would be much greater in Seattle proper, but that it would reach most of urban growth boundary areas at least along main trunks.

        I hope the Metro task force is thinking along these lines – which clearly requires coordination/cooperation between Metro & Sound Transit to design a rational and efficient network.

        (It may also require bus stop rationalization along local roads that are common to both, or perhaps somewhat more fequent stops than ST generally provides, when ST is the surviving service on a given route segment (and maybe some Metro stop eliminations.) I’m veering onto another topic – but does it make sense that ST 540 skips some of the MT 255 stops between S. Kirkland P&R and downtown Kirkland? It’s a common route segment on local streets, so does a differing stop pattern realy impact travel time and productivity, or is it done for principle while creating rider complexity? Can there be a common standard for stop spacing and/or required rider levels on common segments? They have worked it out in downtown Seattle where ST and MT services make the same number of stops on common segments.

      12. My minimum criteria to be on the map is provide frequent service during the weekdays (15 min, morning to 6 pm). The 545 and 550 should be on there. I focused on mapping transit within Seattle and left out the question of whether or how to map cross lake frequent service, to be answered later.

        It is an interesting exercise that forced me to think about how the system works to create the map.

      13. I definitely agree re the 540. It’s interesting to note that the 540 makes all local stops on 15th Ave NE, a corridor so congested that some people have advocated using skip-stops.

      14. “Well maybe then both the political impression and regional connectivity can be improved by creating core high frequency routes on main corridors like Seattle – Eastgate – Issaquah, Seattle – Bellevue, Seattle – Redmond, Bellevue – Redmond and Seattle – Kirkland,”

        Aren’t three of those five East Link?

    2. Your misapprehension may be because you think all regions have the same needs.

      For example, having a bus that stops every two blocks in all areas doesn’t make sense in Kent, like it might in Beacon Hill.

      But having long distance — yet local — bus and train transport may. For example, I always see people waiting at the bus stops for the 168 and 164 lines because they go to several key destinations like Kent Station, Highlight and Green River College. But it’s not unthinkable that these people might “get a lift” from parents so the stations can be fairly spaced apart and even the routes can be limited.

      So, a design of a few highly available routes that go to a few select centers, such as South Center mall, could make more sense than the all pervasive transit model of the more archaic urban rectilinear grid.

  1. Having the 60 marker on U-Link there on capitol hill is a little confusing. :)

  2. I designed a frequency-based map for another major transit agency, and it was killed early on in our negotiations for exactly such political reasons… the agency (and politicians) didn’t want to suffer the wrath of those that get less frequent service! I think the service disparity is even more pronounced for KC Metro, so I think that alone will keep a more useful map from ever being printed (by KC Metro, at least).

    1. What if Metro did a zoomed in map that just shows Seattle. This way you kind of get around that issue.

      1. I worked on McGinn’s transportation platform during the campaign. This issue was talked about as a policy goal for his transportation policy, but I don’t think it made it into the final document.

      2. Even just within the city of Seattle you’d run into issues, as those neighborhoods that have infrequent service but relatively decent coverage would quickly see the disparity and start to complain.

        For example, West Seattle, Magnolia, and some other relatively close-in neighborhoods become quite obvious on Oran’s map, where on the current KC Metro map they look well taken care of. Granted, we all know why that is- less density to justify that sort of frequency, but that won’t stop the complaints!

        Still, I’d really like to see a frequency-based map printed- I just hope we can get past the political hurdles.

      3. I’m ok with seeing a bit of debate about this. It seems that the higher density areas have better bus service (as it should be), but the county can’t be perfect. If Magnolia sees a map like this and feels the county is shorting them, it’s healthy to have that discussion (even if the answer is “if you want more bus service, upzone”).

      4. Or it begs for Metro to stop being stuck in the same old ways of doing things… and open their minds up to re-evaluating routes and really creating tiered level bus service, neighborhood circulators, and the like.

        West Seattle has great bus coverage… but Oran’s map shows how terrible the frequency is. It can also be extremely difficult to get around the area, and actually faster to go Downtown and come back, which is utterly ridiculous.

  3. Jarret makes a good point.
    Rather than try to color code all the lines, or require two or three separate maps, the fix is quite simple.
    Keep the Metro map ‘as-is’, but color the route number symbol a different color for frequency of service.
    Core – high frequency (less than X minutes)= one color.
    All Day – more than X minutes(remember: peak and off-peak headways vary dramatically)
    Express routes – another color.
    The color of the number bulb is not that important, except to keep it consistent by the type of service.
    Trying to color code the lines, all on one map gets really busy, like on Oran’s map of just the high frequency routes.
    The standard might vary for suburbs (X=30), and less for Seattle(X=15), as a frequent bus from Harborview is different than a frequent bus to GRCC.

      1. Each number bulb would change to the appropriate color where the routes diverge at 15th/65th, indicating the 30 min frequency. Where they run as a group, like on Eastlake, put them on the same line, indicating their a family, and give them the higher frequency color, for 10 min headways.

    1. TriMet does something like that on their system map and I find it hard to read where the frequent lines go, start and end, because the bulbs are so small. I’d have to scan and try to follow the route and read each bulb.

      Metro’s current system map colors the bulbs by system, that is Metro = blue, ST = black, CT = purple, Pierce = yellow.

      An even simpler fix than changing all the colors would be to do what Minneapolis did: overlay a yellow highlight on the frequent service lines.

      Metro gave Central Link its own line of different color and thickness. We’ll soon find out how they’ll treat RapidRide.

      If I did my map differently I would give all the frequent service just one color, core routes another color and other routes a different color.

      1. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I think it’s ridiculous that we’re using one of the most important visual cues (color) to highlight one of the *least* important distinctions (service operator)…

      2. How do you define the difference between “frequent”, “core” and “other”? Is it the same as Mike’s “core”/”all day”/”express” respectively?

      3. Not quite. My definitions:

        Frequent = 15 min or less during the day until 6 pm or 10 pm (see chart for more details)
        Core = 20 min-30 min all day with less frequent service later in the evening (because Metro doesn’t have that many frequent routes to begin with, also includes less frequent portions of frequent routes)
        Express = peak-only routes
        Other = routes with hourly service, OWL routes

  4. Another great Oran map. I missed it last time. It seems polished enough for KC Metro to use on their web site.

    1. Just one thing, though: the 44 doesn’t go downtown; the purple line needs to be labeled 43 further in. Otherwise, I like this map!

  5. Since many of us access the maps on computers (well, probably all of us, but many of the riders), why not a dynamic map with layers that could show things like:

    – the high frequency network
    – high frequency routes with variable scales of frequency and service span
    – the high frequency routes running right now
    – highlight a specific route (with stops, timepoints and transfer points)
    – highlight all routes between two points

    There will always be a need for printed information and the frequent service network map would be good to have to supplement the system map. You could put kiosks at some stops that gave dynamic information like I suggested above, but there’s no way you could get funds for this in the current economy.

  6. Oran’s map is a lot more useful than Metro’s, but Metro’s low standard for “frequent” routes makes it too complex. Saying a route has frequent service until 6 PM and that some routes are only frequent during the week is too confusing. I like the UVTN definition of “15 minutes or less, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week” better, though I don’t think there are many routes that meet it. Some are awfully close, though.

      1. If we were to work from the assumption that any route that has all four time periods marked as frequent on Oran’s map qualifies, you’re already down to Link, the 2/13 to Queen Anne, the 3/4 to 23rd, the 7, the 15/18, the 26/28, the 36, the 70-73 (sometimes just the 70, sometimes just 71-73) on Eastlake, and the SLUT.

        However, on Sundays the 2/13 frequent service goes from 9:30 AM to 10 PM. It doesn’t qualify. Ditto for the 3/4. The 7 stops being frequent as early as 7 on Sundays. The 15/18 maybe starts being frequent when its service day begins at 6:30 until it ends at 1, inbound, or midnight, outbound, so maybe it just barely qualifies if you allow for some fudging of the delay from a bus leaving 1st and Jackson at 11:50 not followed by another one until 12:25. The 26 and 28 only go 10-10:30, beyond which the schedule is just out of whack. The 36 goes 5 AM-10:30 PM before dropping in frequency outbound, but only 6-11 inbound. The 70-series maintains good frequency from 6 AM-1 AM in both directions. The SLUT only runs for nine hours on Sundays.

        So the only routes that run 15 minutes or less 18 hours a day 7 days a week are Link (6 AM-Midnight on Sunday), the 70-series on Eastlake, the 15/18 (with a little fudging), and the 36 (with a lot of fudging). That’s it, that’s the list.

  7. Wow, that map is almost useful!

    The eastside and south King need to pick some routes that at least aspire to be frequent routes given sufficient budget. I’d say the 545, 550, 271, 255, 245, 230, 233, and 101 are good candidates.

    1. The 545 and 550 are already on 15 minute headways (except for Sunday).

      In addition, there are several corridors, made up of multiple routes, where headways are at the 15 minute level. Examples include the 271 during rush hour between the UW and Eastgate, the 253/230 from BTC to Crossroads, and the 222/240 from BTC to Factoria.

  8. Seattle could also have transit maps that show all bus routes, and then simply highlight frequent corridors. Kind of like the Minneapolis system map but with each bus route in a different color so you can tell them apart.

  9. Nice map! I think I’ll map a couple of these and see if they’re useful in practice.

    1. I’ve printed one yesterday (well two, I did a blowup of downtown for readability) for my cubicle wall and it’s helped already. I have to get to Green Lake today, and now I know at a glance to aim for the 358.

  10. Awesome. This map also does a great job of showing “competing routes” (as Jarret would say) that run parallel but pretty close together. For example, maybe the 8 should turn onto 23rd at Madison, Union, or Cherry and share frequency with the 48 all the way to Mt Baker station. (or have the 48 go to MLK at Jackson or something)

    1. Agreed. Fremont looks weird, too… you have to ask, why is there the gap between the 26/28 and the 5?

      Also, I never realized the 8 detours to 23rd between Yesler and Jackson. Do you have any idea why it does that?

      1. My best guess is because 23rd and Jackson is a pretty major commercial/shopping corner. And actually, considering how significant a road 23rd is, I’d say the 8 should mirror the 48 all the way between Mt Baker transit center and 23rd and Yesler. And maybe even as far as Madison.

  11. This map doesn’t appear to show Kent-Seattle. I would love to have that data to make my case again to ST and Metro for expanded express service (although I know Sounder expects to expand, that won’t be until several years and will only encompass a few more trains — no talk of night or weekend service).

      1. I made it very clear that the map is unfinished. Some of those graphics are placeholders. There is a lot of missing and sometimes incorrect information. Let me know what you think of listing all the bus routes in Seattle like that. Perhaps I could color code that list by type of service as Mike suggested above?

  12. Oran — I love the map! I found the light grey lines for the infrequent routes to be a little too subdued… maybe something more like light blue?

    1. Oran is either:
      A. Extremely fast at what he produces, or
      B. an insomniac, or
      C. a twin who also likes transit.

  13. Great map. I would say that this is not only useful for trip planning purposes, but invaluable for actual urban planning purposes. Metro’s reliance on planners and individual route schedules gets in the way of understanding how the network actually *works*.

    I’ve tried making similar maps going from ArcGIS and untangling the overlapping lines in illustrator. Oran, have you found a good way of getting route lines to “rainbow out” in GIS so that the illustrator work is less difficult?

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