Photo by Atomic Taco

A perfectly natural reaction to a service map like Oran’s is to see the gaps — “there really should be more buses here” or “this proves that service to my neighborhood is lousy.” I think that’s the wrong takeaway from a project like that.

No matter the level at which the region funds transit, there will always be areas that get something less than frequent service on multiple routes — even areas that are walkable and have a bit of density. A lot of us would like to live car-free lifestyles, but if so we have to find a neighborhood with the necessary characteristics, not expect Metro to come to us.

That’s not to say there aren’t inefficiencies in the system, or that the marginal transit dollar can’t be well spent making a new high-quality connection. Indeed, one theme of the blog is to create more of these routes at the expense of more dispersed service. Ultimately, however, less dispersion means more areas with infrequent service. Resistance to this move actually creates fewer well-connected neighborhoods, not more.

A service map like Oran’s has two great purposes: first, to allow ad hoc navigation of the system without long transfers; and second, to allow people to make intelligent decisions about where to live and work.

24 Replies to “Service Gaps”

  1. I think it depends how you define ‘gaps’.

    In terms of underserved neighborhoods, I agree. For the most part, this map overlays pretty well with regional density, and that’s completely appropriate. If people want to live in more spread-out areas, that’s fine, but they can’t expect the same level of bus service as Capitol Hill or the U-District.

    The gaps that bother me are the holes in the grid. I’ve long been advocating for having the 49 run straight up and down Broadway, but looking at this map, it becomes even more clear that we’re missing an important N-S connection (one so important that we’re building a streetcar for it…) in one of the densest neighborhoods in the PNW. And in Fremont, you see a long, almost-continuous corridor, except for a weird gap between 34th and 39th. That area is just as dense as the parts around… and yet there’s a gap.

    I don’t think you’ve made a case for why this is an inappropriate reaction — though, I guess, I don’t know that you’re trying to. :)

    1. Wouldn’t moving to a grid system basically require a complete ‘do over’? I mean, if you do it incrementally, won’t that make even bigger gaps in the mean time? And is this even possible with our ETBs? How much would an entire system redo cost?

      And that’s just some system problems. What about the political?

      1. Well, you could easily do it incrementally as more sections of Link open. For instance, when North Link opens I think they should get rid of the 71 and 76 and truncate the 48, (along with many other routes) and have one route that goes at frequent service from Magnuson all the way up 65th then past Green Lake and along 85th to Loyal Heights.

      2. And a “complete ‘do over’” of Metro’s route structure would be a bad thing because why?

      3. DP, I’m not saying it is.

        I guess it just boils down to my frustration. People here at STB have a lot of great ideas for improving our transit system, but after reading them I often think ‘Okay, great, so now what…?’ What has to happen for these changes to take place and how do we go about getting them done?

      4. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be the one to offer encouragement about the efficacy of collective action. From the whopping fare increases to the ORCA disincentives to ScrapitRide, I have zero faith that the current Metro administration cares about corrective action.

        A “complete do over” isn’t just ideal; it’s absolutely necessary. It would require hiring experts from outside the region and shielding them from parochial loudmouths. The prerequisite for that is a mass-purging of those currently responsible, taking their inertial inclinations with them.

        And that would require more than just us. It would require a vociferous and unified demand from the public at large.

        I’ve had my encounters, on this subject, with Seattle’s public-at-large. 40% have some weird notion that the system is adequate (a sub-set of them insist there’s not a better transit system on earth). The rest throw up their hands and speak of incremental change (even though 80% fare increases and TransitWhen initiatives have failed to yield any noticeable improvements whatsoever).

      5. “And that would require more than just us. It would require a vociferous and unified demand from the public at large.”

        Okay so what do we need to do to do that?

        I’m a Psychological Operations Sergeant. Manipulating people to do what I (or the government more accurately) want is what I do for a living. This has taught me two things, 1) It can be done. Figure out why people are doing/not doing something, figure out HOW to communicate to them that doing/not doing this action is in their benefit, and ultimately you CAN change their behavior. 2) This takes TIME and EFFORT.

        Yes it is a huge endeavor but it has to start somewhere. The longest journey begins with a single step. Lets break down what we want, figure out the steps necessary, and start hitting them one at a time.

      6. Metro has already done a study of how the ETB system could be restructured on more of a grid. See Rapid Trolley Network.

        I feel realigning Metro to as close of a grid as our geography allows, combined with the opportunities to shift service hours that streetcars and Link provides, would allow frequent service with increased service span along high-demand corridors without a net increase in service hours. A grid would feed Link better and provide better service to a majority of Metro’s customers. Sure some people would lose their one-seat rides or have to walk further to the bus, but most people will see better service.

    2. Overhead wire already exists to complete the Broadway gap. The 9 Rainier Beach-Broadway-U District was an all-day ETB route running articulated buses. Then they spilt the 7’s northern half into the 49 and changed the 9 to a diesel express, about 5 years ago.

      1. The 8 could be electrified too quite easily. At least the original part from LQA to Capitol Hill.

      2. At $1 million a mile to install trolley wire, “easily” is relative.

        I would certainly hate to lose the high-frequency connection between RBS and RBHS just to electrify the 8 and 9.

        Moreover, for a high-frequency trolley route to be dependable, redundant wires are needed, so that if one trolley gets stuck, others can pass it by. Again, not cheap.

      3. In terms of RBS to RBHS, they should get rid of the Prentice Loop and have 7s turn on Henderson and end at RBS.

      4. Moreover, for a high-frequency trolley route to be dependable, redundant wires are needed, so that if one trolley gets stuck, others can pass it by. Again, not cheap.

        Or we finally start buying trolleys with off-wire capability.

    3. Oran’s map does make one wonder why this isn’t a proper grid system with east-west and north-south routes. All those L-turns are confusing to one reading the map…

  2. The map represents frequency during Mayberry hours. But if one lives more than walking distance from work, and has a shift that starts or ends in the middle of the night, living walking distance from work is often the only option for living car-free. If that job is not in a walkable/livable neighborhood, then I don’t think it is useful to say, “You bear some responsibility for finding a different job in a TOD neighborhood with a 9-5 shift.” We can’t all live in TOD neighborhoods and work Mayberry shifts (especially if one works in the transit industry).

    As part of the Transit Master Plan, I hope the Transit Advisory Board realizes that Seattle is a city that never sleeps. A lot of graveyard-shift jobs are far beyond the 85th St barrier reef and far away from the West Seattle and Rainier Ave night owl routes.

    Related to the Mayberry-hours conundrum, peak-hour service is a vicious cycle. Employers may make an effort to schedule shifts to start and end around rush hour, adding to the crush load and the traffic jam. Metro needs to make it possible for businesses to start earlier or later, and end earlier or later, and still have decent transit frequency for its employees.

    To that end, one specific wish I have is to have earlier runs on the 60 and 132 in the outbound direction. Even if buses aren’t in a position to do the full route, I’d rather see them in service to take people from downtown to jobs in the SODO than dead-heading from downtown to the starting point furthest from downtown.

    1. The very early hours at which Seattle transit goes minimal, and the extremely limited night-owl service, are notable, indeed, even to an outsider.

      Perhaps there needs to be an actual campaign: “Seattle never sleeps. Why do its buses?”

      1. I think it’s a bit silly to expect that a transit system with sub-optimal mid-day function and grossly inadequate evening service would be able to provide a comprehensive overnight option. Frankly, it shouldn’t be encourage to expand its overnights when it’s core, urban daytime/evenings remain so lousy.

      2. I realized belatedly that your first clause refers to the service slump beginning at 6:30 and getting progressively worse in the hours that most would consider “evening” rather than night.”

        In that case, I second. Non-excruciating evening service and reasonable functionality through regular service hours are far more important than an expanded owl.

  3. You know, its funny, but even though I hear night and day about Seattle and Density, really the type of density that I live in here, on Kent East Hill…is far, far more amenable to “transit” than the mostly SFH model of most Seattle neighborhoods.

    Where I live is a sea of townhouse apartments. The 168 bus stop at the end of my street is available not to tens of people — but to hundreds, maybe a few thousand, just around where I live. And we use it! I actually see adults on bikes here all the time. The buses are crowded even when they doubled the frequencies.

    One thing that I know is a must for effective transit is nearly all day availability. It irks me that if I go to a concert at Benaroya in Seattle I cannot take a Sounder train back to Kent Station,take an express bus (there are none, at any time). And to add insult to injury, the 169, the last remaining late night bus, has its last run somewhere around 11pm, meaning I could get stranded (not the worse, as I often walk up East Hill in rain, snow, what not).

    1. Referring to “most” Seattle neighborhoods is somewhat of a misnomer. It’s true that most Seattle neighborhoods are chock-full of single-family homes. But you won’t find many people here arguing in favor of blanketing Northwest Seattle with buses. As Martin said, “Indeed, one theme of the blog is to create more of these routes at the expense of more dispersed service.”

      For my part, I agree with you that it makes more sense to provide service connecting dense areas than to provide extensive geographical coverage, even if those dense areas are outside of the city of Seattle.

      That said, I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. The 164, Metro’s best-performing south route, has 84 rides per revenue hour at peak (81 off-peak). For the 169, it’s 67 peak, 69 off-peak. For the 168, it’s 50 peak, 52 off-peak. (Yes, the latter two both have more riders off-peak…) On the other hand, the south part of the 3 has 124 rides per revenue hour off-peak. By Seattle city standards, all of these buses are worth keeping, but the 168 and 169 are by no means standout performers.

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