Photo by Rob Ketcherside

In two previous posts on STB, I’ve discussed the possibility of improving Route 16 based on timepoint data showing unreliability on one problematic segment, and presented detailed stop-level data showing ridership patterns on Route 36. In this post I’m going to meld the two and suggest improvements to the Route 10/12 pair that would improve reliability and more closely match service with ridership, introducing savings by limiting service to 1st and 19th Avenues.

1st Ave

Routes 10 and 12 stand out immediately on a map of downtown’s bus service as they possess a unique through-routing arrangement: trips from the 10 come into downtown on Pine St, turn into 12s, head down 1st and turn left on Marion; similarly, 12s come in on Madison, turn in to 10s, and head out on Pike. (Two late-night trips on the 10 turn back on Pike St and head back to Capitol Hill; service on the 12 ends before service on the 10). Unlike typical through-route patterns, such as from Ballard to West Seattle, this does not have the effect of reducing bus travel time through downtown, or providing one-seat rides between popular destinations: surely no-one is going to ride from Capitol Hill to First Hill via 1st Ave. The main benefit is that it saves a short walk for some riders going to or from stops on 1st Ave.

As part of the regular pattern, Routes 10 and 12 serve four stops on 1st Ave: northbound just south of Seneca, and just north of University; and southbound mid-block between Union and University, and between Seneca and Spring. The Seneca/Spring stops are two blocks north of the nearest stops on Madison and Marion; the Union/University stops are about four blocks walk to 4th & Pike, which all service from Downtown to Capitol Hill passes through. If these stops were closed, it seems likely that virtually all current riders would simply switch to the nearest open stop, which for most people would probably be two to six minutes walk away.

Much more below the jump.

This chart, in the same format as my post on Route 36, presents a lot of data*, and I suggest taking some time to examine it in depth and understand all the patterns it shows. One thing stands out immediately: a vaguely camel-like “double hump” where buses carry heavy loads and stops are busy on the east-west portion of the routes, but 1st Ave is comparatively quiet and lightly loaded. Given that, and the fact that closing them would probably lose almost no riders while reducing bus travel times through downtown, there already seems to be a case for splitting the through-route and switching to a “live loop” configuration where each trip heads straight back out from 1st Ave.

In fact, there’s a better reason to favor a live-loop configuration. Travel times southbound on 1st Ave are quite variable and often quite slow, and have become more so since construction for the Alaskan Way Viaduct project began, a situation likely to persist until the Deep Bore Tunnel opens. Uncertainty in travel time is the bane of reliability and on-time performance, arguably more important than travel time itself. Unlike the situation with Route 16, there is no apples-to-apples comparison to be made between the through-route and live-loop alternatives. What we can do instead is compare 1st Ave’s variation in travel times to another busy downtown transit street, 3rd Ave:

The timepoint data here are from 3rd & Union to 5th & Jackson and from 1st & Union to Madison or Marion. Because these route sections are different lengths and have a different numbers of stops, comparisons of travel time or of absolute variation in travel time are meaningless. Instead we compare the relative variation in travel time. The data confirm that 1st Ave southbound is significantly less reliable than comparable streets. A live-loop configuration will be much more reliable than the current through-route, because there is much less exposure to traffic on 1st.

19th Ave

Previous discussions of potential bus network restructures on Capitol Hill have often lead to a vigorous and lengthy debate on the merits of bus service on 19th Ave. I’m unpersuaded by any argument based on land use or zoning that  service is warranted on 19th Ave. Most of the growing residential density I see on 19th is between John and Madison, within walking distance of the 10, the 11, the 12 turnback wire and the 43. North of John, land use patterns seem comparable to Ballard, where a half-mile grid transit seems to work just fine; deleting the 19th Ave segment of the 12 would align North Capitol Hill more closely with the level of service that other areas of the city receive. As Martin put it, we cannot build a sensible transit network where everyone is within a block of a one-seat ride downtown, and that applies to Capitol Hill as well as the Rainier Valley.

To this discussion we can now add ridership data showing how 19th Ave service is used. I think the answer is “not much, most of the time”. Nighttime ridership is practically nonexistent, evening ridership is very weak, and only the peaks show moderate ridership. Even if you believe that the gentle slope between 15th and 19th is a barrier to mobility (which I don’t), the very highest level of service that could be justified here is hourly lifeline service mid-day, no service after 7 PM and scheduled peak trips as needed to meet demand. Personally, I’d terminate all trips on First Hill and add peak trips as-needed to the 10.

My very rough estimate is that my proposals in this post — deleting the through-route, terminating all 12s at First Hill — would reduce run-times on the 12 from about 25 minutes to 19, a 24% savings (offset slightly by the possibility of having to add more peak trips to the 10) with minimal loss of ridership, while improving reliability and maintaining mobility. As an aside, Route 10 does not suffer the limitation of only running 40′ coaches that the 12 does due to the hill breaks on Madison. If Metro buys a higher percentage of 60′ trolleys when they replace the current fleet, it would be possible to nearly double the capacity of the 10 without significantly increasing operating costs.

*The chart omits the stops on the turnback wire at 13th and 15th as an alternative terminus can’t really be represented well in with this visualization. Of course, omitting them introduces some other artifacts, for example the load in the PM peak appears to jump between 15th and 17th. This isn’t because lots of people get on there, but because, east of Broadway, the many buses that terminate on First Hill are more lightly-loaded on average than those few that continue to Interlaken. The chart also omits the little-used stops on S Jackson and 1st Ave south of Madison that are served only a few times a day.

38 Replies to “Improving Routes 10 and 12”

  1. Interesting – I do think the schools in the area on 19th do demand the bus service (ever tried to get on the bus at 3 on 19th?) but those couple of afternoon runs downtown are the only times I’ve ever seen it full.

    1. I love the double wide chaise lounge’s on both ends of the car. Will FHSC be that comfy?

  2. The 19th Avenue tail requires 5-7 minutes of running time beyond the 15th Avenue turnback. It also appears to have greater ridership (before 18:15) than the 10 tail (beyond 15th & Harrison). It’s not a huge investment: 30 minute headways middays and hourly 7pm – 9 pm.

    I also see some people pointing to the 43 as a redundant and wasteful route that should be deleted. But if the 12 tail is deleted along with the 43, then the whole Miller neighborhood loses its bus service. Clearly that area is over-served, but we need to be careful how much service is reduced.

    1. “The 19th Avenue tail requires 5-7 minutes of running time beyond the 15th Avenue turn back.”

      It’s roughly 16 minutes vs 20 from 2nd & Marion, nearly a quarter of the run time.

      ” It also appears to have greater ridership (before 18:15) than the 10 tail (beyond 15th & Harrison).”

      I don’t see that in the graph. Ridership on both tails are weak, but we need at least one to maintain mobility for the neighborhood, and the 10 is stronger.

      “It’s not a huge investment: 30 minute headways middays and hourly 7pm – 9 pm.”

      Huh? Except for peak trips turning back at 15th, it’s every 15 minutes during the weekday and 30 mins in the evening. Sat/Sun it’s 30 minutes in the daytime.

      “I also see some people pointing to the 43 as a redundant and wasteful route that should be deleted.”

      You won’t hear me saying that — the 43 is one of Metro’s highest-ridership routes. After U-Link enters service, it may be somewhat redundant, but no-one who knows what they’re talking about is taking about abolishing it now.

      1. I agree on the 43. Montlake/23rd Ave. will need a bus to and from Link. I’ve heard people say the route is just redundant because the 48 and 8 cover much of it, but neither of those go downtown.

      2. Clarification: the 12 tail to 19th Ave should be scheduled for 30 minute headways during middays, which I’m defining as 9am-3pm, not during rush hours. Between downtown and the 15th Ave turnback there should be 10/12/15 minute headways all day.

      3. If the 48 going north from Montlake had an easier time accessing the new UW station, maybe the 43 would be unnecessary, but given the realities of the Montlake/520 area and the Montlake bridge, it is important to have the 43 in service.

      4. The 43 and the 49 are the most popular downtown routes in Capitol Hill, but they’re also the most grid-incorrect. Nevertheless, it would be easier to reorganize the 49 than the 43. Replacing the 49 with a north-south route would cause a transfer right on Broadway at the future Link/FH Streetcar station. Eliminating the 43 would cause a transfer on 23rd, which has few commercial destinations and some would consider unsafe. That would only be feasable if the 8, 11, and 48 ran at 5-minute intervals and a nice transfer station were built. And you’d have to choose between the 8 which doesn’t go downtown and the 11 which bypasses the center of Capitol Hill.

        From an idealistic perspective it might make sense to move all buses away from Pine to John and Madison, then you could have two frequent corridors a bit further apart, and the John routes (8, 10, 43) would stop right at Link’s front door. But that would probably be too many changes for people to accept.

      5. Eliminating the 43 would cause a transfer on 23rd, which has few commercial destinations and some would consider unsafe.

        It’s got the Safeway, and a number of other developments are going in. I’d guess that, by the time U-Link is completed, the 11’s route from Pine/Broadway to 23rd/Madison will feel like a continuous stretch of safe, dense urban fabric.

        From an idealistic perspective it might make sense to move all buses away from Pine to John and Madison, then you could have two frequent corridors a bit further apart, and the John routes (8, 10, 43) would stop right at Link’s front door. But that would probably be too many changes for people to accept.

        East of Broadway, that sounds reasonable, but west, I’m not so sure. Consider southwest Capitol Hill, i.e. the area bounded by Olive/Denny at the north, Union at the south, Broadway at the east, and I-5 at the west. What are you supposed to do if you live at Pine and Melrose and want to get downtown? Walk up a steep hill (Boren) to Madison? Walk up another steep hill (Olive) to CHS? Just walk the whole way?

        Honestly, what might make more sense is to have a bus go from downtown via Pike/Pine to Broadway, then turn left onto Broadway, then right onto John. From there, it could either turn up 15th, replacing the current 10 tail, or turn up 23rd, replacing the 43.

        It completely violates Newton’s First Law of Bus Routes, but I can’t think of any other way to provide service to southwest Capitol Hill without completely missing the Link station.

        (FWIW, I would ride that route on a regular basis once U-Link is built. It would pretty much be the most convenient way to get to anywhere in Capitol Hill from the U-District.)

    2. Extend the 10 4 blocks to Interlaken Park and people living on the north end of 19th won’t even have to walk uphill. (The hill is steeper at the north end.)

      1. That might actually work. The 10 has to turn around anyway and the nice thing about the end of 19th is the big turnaround circle. There is a private school right there by Interlaken that probably has political influence enough to keep service to their door.

  3. I’m curious, before writing your post did you talk to any route 10 and 12 passengers to see if they think their routes need improvement?

    1. I’m a route 10 rider and I think that there are probably changes to the routes that will help the whole bus system function more efficiently that have nothing to do with my personal opinion about how to fix my route. Running buses mostly empty most of the time is generally not a good thing, even if I happen to benefit (by, say, being the only rider on 15th or 19th).

    2. That’s kind of beside the point in this context. The point is that saving unproductive bus hours anywhere in the system can be reinvested elsewhere in a more productive way. It’s a “greatest good for greatest number” idea, rather than trying to benefit the particular people who live along this line. That said, cutting the routes at 1st Ave would certainly improve reliability, although it probably comes with added costs in layover time on the operations side. I assume that’s why they were combined in the first place.

    3. What about potential riders who would use these lines if they were improved but don’t use them as they run now? Important point typically forgotten by transit agencies. “But our riders say they’re satisfied” is a frequent defense from transit agencies when you suggest improvements. Rarely can they say they’ve surveyed those who don’t use the service about what would entice them to do so. This is also reflected in Metro’s bureaucratically practical slogan, “We’ll get you there”. Minimal focus on building transit ridership, just serving, often as minimally as possible, existing riders.

  4. You did a good job of evaluating ridership and travel time patterns but the one thing that also needs to be considered is the cost/savings that would result from implementing these changes. It all comes down to availability of resources and how those resources are allocated. If you could put forth a proposal that would preserve or even grow ridership, improve travel time and save resources in the process, I woulld like to think that would get staff’s attention.

    BTW, I am not from the Seattle area [although I’ve been trying for years to get a job in transit in Seattle] and I enjoy reading your blog. How do you get these proposals presented to staff for them to consider? Have you actually had any proposals that you have posted on this blog actually considered and implemented by Metro staff?

    1. Right — the next step would be to look at the scheduling and see if the nominal reduction in run times could result in the service being provided with fewer coaches “in flight” at once. I don’t know offhand how to do that and anyone is more than welcome to have a go at it in the comments here.

      Lots of local transit professionals read this blog, and many of us who write have personal contacts at Metro, the city, ST etc., but there’s no formal process for getting ideas from the blog to Metro. For myself, I just do this because it’s fun an it interests me. Perhaps the good ideas will percolate up.

  5. There was a 2008 report called something like East-West Trolley Analysis that looked in depth at how to speed transit and improve reliability between 1st & Madison downtown and Broadway & Madison on First Hill. Well worth the read. Takeaway: there are significant if not mind-blowing improvements to be had for fairly modest cost.

    I’m sure part of why the 12 still runs up 19th Ave. E. is a legacy of the wire being there; you risk losing the capital investment if you don’t use it. But I would note that the Madison St. corridor identified in the draft Transit Master Plan has to be bus anyway, because we’re not paying to put light rail there and the grade is too steep for modern streetcars, so it would seem to make a lot of sense to wire 4 more blocks of Madison from 19th to 23rd Ave. and try electric BRT service. Just thinking back of the envelope, I assume this would require the 10 and 12 to be split anyway. With the 15 and 18 on 3rd Ave. downtown, the 10/12 is the only frequent service and the only southbound transit on 1st. We’re going to need the Central Streetcar on 1st to restore north-south mobility there.

    I’d worked on improving the 16 a while ago and never got around to posting and explaining my modified route. One problem I see with it is that it the route has far too many turns in it, which cost time. There’s also a trade-off between entering/exiting Aurora at 38th St. versus 46th. The Northgate loop of course begs to be eliminated, not just from seeing it on a map but from sitting through all the congestion and traffic lights. Nice work.

  6. Live looping this route does make sense. Drivers often joke that they could coast down the hill from the 10 terminal to the 12 terminal, hook up their wires and head back to town as the 12. It would take only a few blocks of new wire to complete the loop.

    1. on my daily walk from First Hill to Volunteer Park and back … I pass the 12 terminal on 19th and walk up Galer (well up Galer to 17th to Garfield Pl to 15th) … nobody EVER seems to be on the 12 (either way when they pass) … but lots of people seem to use the 10 which goes to Volunteer Park … would make sense running the 10 down Galer to 19th though.

      Maybe if they electrify the 11, the 11 could turn into the 10 and then they could drop the 12 completely

      1. The 11 should be electrified, but Madison Park hates the wires and got them taken down.

        Thus my proposal to electrify to 23rd, and then have half or 2/3 of 11s turn back there.

  7. during the summer … it can take the bus sometimes 6 light cycles before it can turn left on 1st from Pine st.

  8. Another idea out there for a long time is splitting the buses and running the 12 down to the ferry terminal on the waterfront. What do you think about that idea?

    There seems to be some confusion about what you mean by “live-loop.” I took it to mean that the 10 and 12 would be completely separate routes, and each would turn around at 1st. Would they just loop around a single block? Some commenters seem to also think it means connecting the wire at the other end to make a complete loop.

    1. “I took it to mean that the 10 and 12 would be completely separate routes, and each would turn around at 1st.”

      You are correct. And I should have clarified the meaning of “live-loop” in the post.

      “Would they just loop around a single block?”

      Yup. They’d take two left turns in a row at Pine/Pike and Madison/Marion. All the wire and switches that are needed for this already exist.

      “running the 12 down to the ferry terminal”

      Don’t really see the need. There’s a very well used, ADA accessible ped bridge from the terminal to the west side of 1st on the south side of Marion that takes you straight to the stop there. (It will be torn down and rebuilt as part of the AWV replacement project).

      Traffic on the surface Alaskan way is terrible at times due to ferry traffic. If we ran the bus down there, it would probably have to lay over at the terminal to ensure reliability, adding even more to the run time.

      The only concern I have is about the slope up Marion to that stop — I could see that being hard for some riders. On the other hand, it’s no worse than every other stop on Marion or other steep slopes around the city.

      1. Are you envisioning the 10 still making its turn-around loop on 1st? The reliability numbers could be further improved by having it turn around on 2nd or 3rd, saving the long waits associated with a left turn on 1st.

      2. I’d be very opposed to another left turn on 3rd — lefts on 3rd block passing buses, something that’ll be even more of an issue once the RFA goes away. Turns on 2nd would be great — I’d happily lose the 2nd & Pine stop in favor of that improved reliability. I contemplated discussing this in the post but it ran long and pretty dense already.

  9. I also have an idea for stop consolidation on the 12–why does it stop both at 1st & 2nd on Marion on the way up the hill? And why does it stop at both 3rd and 2nd on the way down the hill? Seems silly to me. I know it’s a steep hill and it’s not fun to walk up, but a lot of the buildings around there offer public hill climb routes with escalators and elevators.

      1. Or hell, even the mere existence of the public hill climb routes. A common symbol at their entrances or at the corners would help. This would also help inform those who already use them what’s NOT a hillclimb route.

        (Not all of the hillclimb routes are open beyond when their buildings are, however.)

  10. Bruce –

    Great work.

    Please note that it is within the last two years that all midday trips on the 12 go to Interlaken Park. For many years before, it was alternating trips short turn at First Hill (as the Saturday schedule currently is). I’m not sure why those trips were extended.

    1. Thank you! The midday scheduling puzzles me even more now. God knows it can’t have been overloads that caused that service to be increased.

  11. A followup for posterity:

    Talking to staff at Metro today I found out why the midday 12 trips were extended recently. Apparently, with two termini separated only by a few minutes, given the weekday service-level requirements, it penciled out cheaper to have all buses terminate at Interlaken rather alternating as had been done previously. This would not be the case if all buses terminated at First Hill.

  12. I think eliminating the 12 gives an opportunity to revamp service along its corridor and maybe even strengthen service. I like the idea of having the 10 tail end at Interlaken so that at least service continues there. I would also revise the 43 to interline with the 49 and move the 10 to John St so that you preserve the frequency of service (7-8 minute frequency) and have better capacity to serve SCCC students. Montlake now gets a direct connection to the school. I don’t think Link connectivity is as important for this route since it still connects at Husky Stadium and no one is likely to backpedal from Montlake just to get on at Capitol Hill. The 10 still keeps its service to Group Health and benefits from its neighborhood now having a direct connection to Link.

    The 43 could run up Pine to Madison to 23rd and continue its existing routing. The 8 will remain to serve John and Capitol Hill Station. I would run the 11 fully through the Madison corridor and increase its frequency to every 15 minutes between 23rd and downtown livelooping via 3rd Ave Northbound and 2nd Ave Southbound. This would have the added effect of increasing service frequency and reliability through interlining between 23rd and 16th. I don’t support the ferry or 1st ave because I think the effects would have negative impact on service.

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