[Update: To be clear, Metro would have to add at least a few stops on the 9. I don’t think the impact is big enough to alter the math.]
Although Metro executed a pretty major service revision in Southeast Seattle in response to Link’s opening, that change manifestly failed to provide frequent, efficient worthwhile Link connections to the great mass of people east of the line, particularly in the Rainier Avenue corridor. The, 7 one of the system’s workhorses, was left essentially unchanged and does not provide a transfer opportunity until it reaches Mt. Baker, by which time the transfer is essentially a wash time-wise. If that weren’t bad enough, the transfer from transit center to Link station there is a difficult one.
Aside from the core mission of serving the stations, connectivity within the Southeast hasn’t improved. Unlike more radical plans like my double-loop circulator proposal, trips between the dense, linear corridors along Beacon and Rainier Avenues can still involve three bus trips, with headways as long as 45 minutes.
Oran’s frequent service map (detail at right) illustrates the problem very well. Frequent service is siloed into three parallel corridors along Beacon, MLK, and Rainier. There is no frequent east/west connectivity at Columbia City, to the west only at Othello, and to the east only at Rainier Beach. If you live near, say, the Group Health on Rainier, forget it.
However, there is another alternative that roughly maintains the operating costs in this part of the city while improving the situation for most commuters. I have neither the ability nor the inclination to do a full service-hour analysis, but I will estimate the number of simultaneous buses necessary to operate each route during midday operations to show that the changes roughly pencil out.
More after the jump.
- Eliminate the 7 (-13 buses). This would cause a riot, but it will become evident that all of the 7’s many purposes can be better met with other solutions.
- Eliminate the 38 and 42 (-2 buses total). These relics of the old system have no real purpose and are among Seattle’s worst performing routes. In the peak, the 42 is third worst and the 38 is dead last in the West subarea (excluding shuttle routing); off-peak, 8th and 5th worst, respectively.
- Upgrade the 9 from 30 minute to 15 minute headways (+3 buses).
- Turn the 34 into an all-day, local route with 15 minute headways as far as Rainier and Genesee and 30-minute headways through Seward Park (+4 buses).
- Extend the 36 on Othello St, then turning South on Rainier to serve Rainier Beach at 10 minute headways and the Prentice Loop at the 7’s current levels (+4 buses)
- Shorten the 39 by turning South on Rainier from Alaska St, then West on Othello St. Improve headways from 45 to 15 minutes (+4 buses, including some time savings by truncating the route).
My back-of-the-envelope analysis suggests that this incurs roughly zero additional operating costs. Benefits include:
- All residents on Rainier South of Alaska St. have a faster trip downtown thanks to an easy transfer at the nearest Link Station.
- Improved headways to First Hill and Capitol Hill on the 9.
- Improved headways along the entire 39 corridor, from 45 minutes to 15-30. Route 34 provides a more direct route to downtown than the old 39.
- All residents on Rainier also retain the option of a one-seat bus ride to downtown (via 34, 36, or 39) if they desire it. The one-seat ride to the I-90 overpass and Little Saigon also remains.
- Vastly improved connectivity between Beacon and Rainier.
You always have to give up something to get something. Disadvantages include:
- Approximately $500,000 must be spent to extend trolley wire 1/2 mile along Othello St. It would also make sense, incidentally, to make the 9 a trolley; otherwise, the wire on Rainier north of Othello St. is pointless.
- Headways on long-haul Rainier trips increase from 10 to 15 minutes (route 9 instead of 7). However, north of Genessee St. headways actually decrease to 7.5 minutes thanks to interlining with the 34.
Figuring out what to do with peak express buses is an exercise left to the reader. Evenings and weekends, there are fewer existing service hours to be reallocated. I would place the emphasis on maintaining 15-minute headways on the 9, which provides mobility along Rainier and a two-seat ride to downtown with a transfer at Mt. Baker, and maintaining lower frequencies on the new 34, 39, and 36 extension.