Long discussed by transit wonks, and prominently included in the recent $20 CRC deal, the elimination of the ride-free area is now just a matter of time—about 13 or 14 months. There are pros and cons to to the elimination of the RFA, but perhaps the biggest concern to many in the transit community is the effect on on travel times and reliability at the extremely busy stops on 2nd, 3rd and 4th Avenues and in the DSTT. Over the last year, Metro has simulated the increased boarding times due to RFA elimination in those locations, and the results of that study presumably fed into Metro’s decision to acquiesce to that demand. Earlier this week on STB:
“We tested this at several locations in downtown, including Third Avenue and it didn’t really create a serious problem,” Jim Jacobson, Deputy General Manager of Metro, said in an interview. “There are times when it creates problems, but that usually goes away after one signal cycle.” There will certainly be an increase in dwell times, Jacobson said, but there wasn’t much reason for alarm.
I have obtained an internal document from Metro that lays out the methodology and results of the study for 4th Ave and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), and includes a summary of the results for 2nd and 3rd Avenues, along with staff suggestions for mitigation of the increased congestion that will result.
According to the report, if the RFA were abolished tomorrow—without mitigation or service changes—bus operations on 2nd Ave, 4th Ave and 3rd Ave northbound would be slower but still acceptable; 3rd Ave southbound operations would be borderline acceptable, with no additional capacity for new service (such as the RapidRide C/D slated to start next year) and liable to tip over into failure in the event of DSTT closure or a traffic disruption downtown; and the transit tunnel would be hosed. From what the report says, Metro will have to deploy a suite of mitigation measures (suggestions include TVMs, better scheduling, lengthening bus zones, more traffic restrictions and enforcement on 3rd) on the surface streets and move some peak routes from the tunnel to 2nd/4th in order to make this work.
More after the jump.Here are some other points that stand out to me:
- Abolishing the RFA hits hardest in the tunnel — a 10-15% reduction in peak bus capacity. None of the operational improvements suggested can fully close the gap between the current peak usage and the reduced peak capacity.
- I predict awkward discussions between the leadership of ST and Metro. Debt service on the tunnel is allocated based on the number of trips each agency runs in the tunnel, so either ST will have to let Metro pay for a smaller fraction of the debt service, or force cash-strapped Metro to pay for slots it can’t use.
- It’s vital that Metro gets 2nd & Columbia right. That stop, discussed previously on STB, is perhaps the main operational problem with southbound 3rd Ave, and RapidRide C/D is slated to use it. The increased service and traffic at that stop will compound the existing problems.
For wonks, I recommend reading the Executive Summary on pages 2 and 3, and the longer summary on pages 23 through 29; the rest is probably more detail than most readers will want to bother with. Keep in mind that the suggested mitigation measures in this document are staff suggestions, and the inclusion (or exclusion) of a particular measure does not guarantee that it will (or won’t) happen; and moreover, the leadership at Metro and the county executive have evidently decided that they can make this work on-time and on-budget, and are entitled to a reasonable presumption of competence in this choice.
Feel free to add your take in the comments. We’ll surely have some followup posts to get into detail about specific results and recommendations.