Alki Beach
Alki Beach. By Flikr user alison_

Perched at the northwestern-most tip of West Seattle, the Alki neighborhood is blessed with clean air, beautiful views of the Sound, and one of Seattle’s few beach parks; it’s a nice, transit accessible getaway from the city, although it’s usually crowded in the summer. I’m told that decades ago, West Seattle, and Alki in particular, were considered weekend getaways for Seattle residents, West Seattle then being only sparsely populated and weakly connected to the city.

The center of the neighborhood is a dense, low-rise commercial and residential district immediately to the south of Alki Beach, which tapers off into mostly single-family homes to the south; up to the western shore, there is mix of single- and multi-family housing. The neighborhood also includes a small strip just inland of Alki Ave, to the northernmost point of West Seattle, this area being mostly mid-rise apartments of recent construction, with a few vintage beach houses still remaining.

West Seattle and Alki were served by streetcars in the 1940s, with many of the alignments used then still recognizable today. Route 37 appears to be almost unchanged (even in number) since then. Streetcar #18 ran from Ballard to Downtown on the current alignment of Route 18, then continued to Fauntleroy just like today’s Route 54. Streetcar #8 ran almost the same alignment as today’s Route 56 to Alki. Unfortunately, some of these alignments have stood the test of time better than others, and Route 37 is one that has not done so well. Ridership chart after the jump.

Ridership Chart for King County Metro 37
Ridership Chart for King County Metro 37

Now a peak-only express service, Route 37 falls in the bottom 25% of comparable routes, according to Metro’s performance reports. Looking at the stop-level data, we can see why:

  • Unspectacular maximum passenger loads. For a service to be averaging no more than about 15 passengers on-board in the peak is poor performance.
  • The overwhelming majority of riders come from the Alki Commercial District. About two-thirds of the riders board or deboard on Alki Ave between 63st St and 53rd St, or on 63rd St. This won’t surprise anyone who’s walked around this area, as most of the residential and commercial density of the neighborhood is concentrated there.
  • Most riders on Route 37 are served by other routes. The only able-bodied riders who will completely lose access to transit under the proposed restructure are those on Beach Drive south of Caroll St, who comprise at most two or three riders per trip on average. Riders on Alki Drive will have access to Route 775, providing connections to the grocery stores in Admiral and the Water Taxi to Downtown.

I also obtained data for Route 53, the neighborhood shuttle that serves the much of the same area. Ridership on this route is so vanishingly small as to not be worth charting, with the bus essentially empty at almost all times, the only stops having noticeable ridership being those on Avalon Way up to Alaska Junction, with a handful of riders on board at most; almost all of them could probably have taken any number of the other buses that serve this corridor.

This post should make clear the reasons that Metro has proposed cutting service on these two routes. The tiny number of riders who will lose service are dwarfed by the number of people who could use these service hours elsewhere. While the Alki Commercial District will lose off-peak one-seat-rides to downtown, it will gain dramatically better crosstown service and connections to other neighborhoods in West Seattle, and keep the Water Taxi connection to Downtown.

49 Replies to “Ridership Patterns on Route 37”

  1. Metro is talking directly with passengers on the 42 to work with them on alternatives (even though the alternatives are painfully obvious and involve willingness to sit a few minutes at a transit center or walk three blocks).

    Though what is being done to service on Beach Dr SW as a low-performing tail is not a whole lot different than what is being done on some other residential/park tails, we’ve already heard from several people who will be directly affected, and will lose connection to the bus network without a long hike, drive, or getting on a bike (which is an act for the young and brave).

    The best way to find out their needs and wants doesn’t come from graphs of performance on current service, which, as Bruce retells, has been dictated by Newton’s First Law of Bus Routes. It comes from direct communication, which Metro is getting really good at.

    1. I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t put words in my mouth. I have never suggested anything other than that in-person outreach was the best way to find out the needs of riders. I actually managed to track down and talk to some 37 riders myself, several months ago; most of them rode it to commute between the U-District and Alki, because it was a one-seat ride connected to the 25.

      What data such as this allow us do to quantify the problem, showing roughly how many people will be affected by a change in service. In this case, it’s not many at all. Presumably Metro will work with those riders to arrange alternative services.

  2. Deleting most or all of the routes in the bottom 25% seems to make sense. Those resources can be re-deployed elsewhere to high demand routes.
    Hmmm! Next year there will be a whole new set of routes in the bottom 25% bracket, making them easy targets for further cuts and beefing up arterial runs.
    Keep this up and we can get down to a handful of routes PDQ.

  3. The area of my concern is the whole length of Beach Drive. The proposal is that strech will go from one peak only route (37) and a local feeder route (53) to NO service whatsoever. Throw in the loss of route 51 in the Genesee neighborhood, which is geographically on the bluff above much of Beach Drive, and there is a further loss of choices for that entire swath of West Seattle. I hasten to add that, unless one lives on the southern or northern end points of Beach Drive, one is out of luck, so to speak. A compounding factor is the very few access roads from Beach Drive to the hills above it. And I am talking STEEP hills. From Beach Drive to my house on Genesee Hill the gain in altitude is approximately 380 feet in a walking distance of one mile. That is roughly equivalent to a 30 plus story building.

    As I have stated previously, I can understand the loss of low ridership buses. But when EVERY route is eliminated for a large swath of West Seattle, I believe a better solution can and should be found.

    Honestly, this does not personally affect me. I am happy to walk one mile to the Alaska Junction for numerous routes, or one mile downhill (300 plus feet altitude drop) to the Alki area to catch the 56 or future 50. There are many people who cannot or will not.

    Bottom line: To remove 2 bus routes from Beach Drive and leave none is unacceptable.

    1. Even when no one (OK, 2)is riding them?

      That to me is even more unacceptable, and it is the message the council sent Metro when they voted for the $20 Car Tab fee to stave off deep cuts in service.

      1. I believe the demand is adequate but the routes 37, 51, and 53 must be re-configured, or combined into one route that can meet ridership requirements. It is not like this area is comprised of small houses on 5 acre lots out in the boondocks. I suggest if you haven’t walked the area try it. There are actually a fair amount of apartments, condos, and houses on small lots on Beach Drive.

        Three routes 51, 53, and 37 are slated for complete removal. Nothing is planned in that general geographic area to replace the removed routes. I believe there is an alternative to this total lack of service.

      2. I’m with Mike on this. South of Carroll St, it’s mostly streetcar-suburb small lots with a few apartments, but the walkshed is minimal precisely because it’s cut off by the bluff. This is no different to Shilshole Drive, McGilvra or Lake Washington Boulevard. None of this is cheap, low-income housing; driving is not likely to be a hardship for anyone not eligible for Access. If there was strong latent demand for service, you’d see at least some evidence of that on Routes 37 and 53 but we don’t.

        These folks should be hooked up with vanpools or Access, as appropriate. Or heck, just do the hide’n’ride thing up near RapidRide or at Alki. There’ll be plenty of places without RPZs near frequent commuter service.

      3. Yes, Bruce, I honestly realize that. Route 51 does serve people with no Ferarri GTBs in the heated garage however. And the potential exists to combine the three routes into one because of their close proximity.

        That is all I will say on this matter because overall I am very happy with Metro service in West Seattle and consider the proposed Fall, 2012 service an improvement for me personally. Plus, I won’t have to listen to the 51 roar by my house every half hour.

        Now, if we could just but electric trolley buses on my street…LOL

      4. I think Brent’s question is a very valid one. How would you combine Routes 51 and 53 in a way that would make them both inexpensive and useful?

      5. Not to rub it in Rod, but you voted against having more trolley wire. ;)

        But I’m glad to hear your general support for the restructure, and contentedness with peak service on the 57.

      6. Brent, that is funny. I almost knew someone would bring up my vote against Prop. 1 and the trolley wire when I wrote that. LOL. I am happy that you don’t SEEM to be super angry at me regarding my vote. Rest assured, all, I will gladly spend much, much more on a transit plan I believe in. And, historically, I have believed in darn near every one of them. And I assure you all there will be many, many more “Yes, on Transit votes” in my future.

        I am in a particularly good mood today because the Eyman/Kemper initiative is going down in flames…

      7. Rod, are there other routes you’d be willing to give up in order to get the route you described?

      8. I’m not sure how you do improve service to Genessee Hill; the only neighboring place the 57 and 31 don’t go to is the Alki commercial district. Which I guess does suggest an east-west route. Maybe Beach Dr-63rd-Admiral Way-60th-Spokane-Hillcrest-Orleans-current 57/31 route to Admiral District or the Junction, and maybe somewhere else beyond that?

    2. Brent,

      I am a happy camper.

      I never thought that I would see the day when the Seattle area would have light rail. I am happy with our bus service. I am happy that Metro plans to replace the trolley buses. I am happy that we have more and faster trains to Portland than when I moved to the Seattle area in 1964. I am happy that we have commuter rail to and from Tacoma and Everett.

      I am not happy that my favorite railroad, the Milwaukee Road no longer exists. I am not happy that I can no longer take The Northern Pacific ‘North Coast Limited’ through Yakima, Pasco, Butte to Bismarck.

      I am not happy that I have a dishonest mayor. Mayor McGinn.

      I am happy the piece of filth, Alaska Way Viaduct is well on its way to coming down. And will not be replaced by another filthy eyesore.

      But, in general, I am happy with the progress made.

      There is no Metro route I would trade to save the now existing service on Beach Drive. Let the affected figure that out. I have offered MY solution. And, friends, that is all.

  4. Perhaps start the route at the south end of Beach Drive or maybe better, perhaps near the ferry terminal/Lincoln Park (good to have strong anchors at both ends of a route), travel on Beach Drive north to Admiral (passengers could then switch to 56, 50, 775 there), continue East up Admiral and turn right on (I believe it is) 49th. And then follow the present 57 peak route to Charlestown, thence to 55th, thence to Genesee to the Alaska Junction, where there are also great connections to other destinations including downtown, of course. Turn the bus around and head back to the south end of Beach Drive/Lincoln Park/ferry terminal via the same route.

  5. As one who does not live in West Seattle but who enjoys Alki beach knows how frustrating it is to just go to one of Seattle’s most enjoyable recreation areas. We have a bunch of buses that go there but none go when I want. I’m not a commuter so I need reverse commute hours. I’ve tried this several times and each time just said screw it and went somewhere else. The 56 doesn’t look like too bad of a route but only drops me off on one end. I don’t always want to walk the length of Alki then walk all the way back to get the bus again (especially with picnic supplies and a handicapped daughter).

    According to the schedules for both the 59 and the 53/37 it takes the same amount of time to go from Alki point to the Bridge via Admiral as it does to follow the water. It seems like the best compromise would be to have a bus that connects West Seattle to Seattle then a circulator that services all of West Seattle. This would mean a two seat ride but if the frequency was enough it may not an issue.

    The idea though that there would be people getting off a peak hour bus at the beach one the way into the city is a bit silly. Maybe there would be a possibility of people getting off at the beach on a peak hour bus leaving the city but then those folks would be stuck or have to walk the length of the beach to catch the 59 back home.

    1. In general, I loathe peak-hour one-way routes, because they don’t allow people from other parts of town to get to jobs along such routes.

      If Metro is merely trying to fill up buses that are in service in order to improve its passengers-per-service-hour, then I can understand all the deadheading.

      Perhaps a better measurement would be passengers per operating hour. Is there really a cost to having buses in service coming out of the base, or coming back from downtown?

      1. The metric you want is rides/platfrom hour, and along with rides/plat mile, it is now one of the two metrics used by Metro. Rides/revenue hour was the old metric.

      2. Rides/plat hr penalizes some routes based on their scheduling. A deadhead is assigned to its next run, so if all routes 358 (for example) began in South Base, its productivity would be lower in rides/plat than if they all started at Atlantc.

      3. IMHO, there are two legitimate justifications for peak-hour routes:

        – True profitability (duh)
        – Increasing mobility on congested peak corridors

        Peak buses, especially ones that use separate facilities (like the express lanes or HOV/transit lanes), can often save real time for their riders. Thus, someone who lives in Kirkland might decide that working in Seattle is okay. This increases our region’s prosperity, by making it easier for people to find better employment and housing.

        But peak routes that are hemmorhaging money, and which mostly travel in general traffic? Kill ’em. I don’t care how “productive” they are, especially not on a per-mile basis. The money for those routes would be far better spent on pretty much anything else.

    2. Won’t the water taxi + a short walk down the trail get you to Alki beach? That sounds much more relaxing than any of the bus options.

      1. I wouldn’t call it short — it’s two miles from the dock to the happening part of Alki — but it is very, very pleasant, if the weather is agreeable.

  6. The 18 lasted until the late 80s or early 90s, when it was split from the Ballard segment and renumbered to 54. At the same time, the 15 was split and renumbered to 56.

  7. What bothers me the most about Metro starting to eliminate service to some areas, even if they are low-performing, is that there are other routes that could be truncated at Rainier Beach Station, with only a few minutes’ slow-down for bus-dependant riders. Bruce could do a snazzy chart showing *nobody* getting on or off the bus in the stretch along I-5.

    Park&riders would not be happy, but more neighborhoods in Renton and Kent could get one-seat rides to Link, and those neighborhoods are generally more organized than the park&riders are.

    Yes, ridership may go down slightly in the short term, but the bus dependant will be better served. If some of the saved service hours are used for more frequency and fewer riders have to stand on the bus, safety will be improved, and I bet the park&riders will be happy for the trade-off. (Yes, SRO buses are a liability risk.)

    One-seat rides should go before service areas are cut off entirely.

    Various areas could also argue that they are losing service because Metro is squeamish about instituting a cash fare surcharge. Same thing with HOV lanes. Same with installing rear-door ORCA readers. These are all better ways to reduce service hours than to reduce service.

    (To be clear, I don’t consider eliminating the 38, 42, etc as reducing service, just reducing duplication.)

    If the 37 has to go, so be it. But other conveniences should go first.

    1. If West Seattleites are willing to give up parking in the RapidRide lanes, for example, the saved service hours might be close to enough to save service on Beach Dr, if West Seattleites really want to save that service badly enough.

    2. I would support truncated the 101 and possibly 150 at Ranier Beach station if the saved service hours could be reinvested to provide a significant increase in frequency, for example, a connecting bus available for every train. A large portion of the 150’s service hours are south of Ranier Beach, which limits the frequency boost you could get by a truncation. But a quick glance at the schedule suggests you could double the frequency on the 101 if you truncated the route.

      However, if the idea is to truncate the 101 while keeping it at 30 minute headways, that’s going to be difficult to swallow. For northbound trips, It’s a little extra time, but nothing too bad. For southbound trips, however, a risk of being stuck at Ranier Beach station for up to 30 minutes waiting for a bus, I consider unacceptable.

      1. Eric,

        Take a look at the 153 and 169. Imagine them being through-routed with the 101 (or, more simply, being extended to Henderson Station).

      2. Oh, and the 148.

        Imagine the 148, 153, and 169 taking turns starting at Henderson Station, and heading first down to Renton TC, then S. Renton P&R. There would be a bus waiting at Henderson Station to head down to Renton via the Sunset Express for each southbound Link train off-peak.

        This wouldn’t increase frequency on any of these routes south of S. Renton P&R, but it would move their transfer point to Henderson Station.

        About three fewer buses would be needed to do this than to run the 101 downtown.

    3. As uncharacteristic as it may seem, I agree with Brent and Rod on this one.

      There’s no argument that service on Beach Drive SW is underused. But in this case, there is truly no alternative.

      We often assume that “rich” is a proxy for “drives”, but there are lots of ways that isn’t true. Yes, Metro can talk to the current, tiny number of riders, and figure out an alternative. But what about the family with two kids who are a few years away from riding the bus on their own, but many more years away from being able to drive? Or the elderly couple, where the wife doesn’t have a license and the husband will soon lose his due to poor eyesight?

      We need to remember that transit is a social service too. And that means that preserving *some* level of coverage is worth it, even at the expense of more productive service.

      Anyway, as Brent says, it’s unfathomable to me that we would cut off service to city neighborhoods when we’re running so much service, like the 101, that completely duplicates Link.

      How much would it cost to run a circulator van through all the areas of West Seattle that will have no other service? Ignore clock-face schedules and frequency; just have one van, going back and forth along its circuitous route, as often as it can.

      1. “Useless”?

        Mostly nonpruductive, obviously. Useless, no.

        The several imaginary riders on Beach Dr SW have shown up in force at public meetings, and rightfully pointed out that there are *no* alternatives to Metro service on Beach Dr SW, unlike other areas being cut.

        Access is not a service for those who simply are too far from the nearest bus stop. Indeed, the county would be in its rights, under ADA, to cut off Access service to anyone who lives too far from the nearest fixed-route bus stop.

        I don’t think any of us on this blog have called for saving the 37. Everyone who commented here has simply pointed out that without some sort of alternative bus service, soon-to-be former riders on a several-mile stretch of Beach Dr SW will now be forced to get a car, pay for lots of cabs, bike if they can, or give up their jobs.

        Transit has a human element, and not stranding our fellow riders is part of that.

  8. The north end of West Seattle is also losing the route 55 an all day route serving the Admiral District north of Admiral Way at Atlantic St.SW to the Alaska Junction where we are expected to transfer to the Rapid line. This will require two bus trips to make this transfer. ( board the 775 shuttle north of Admiral Way and transfer to the 128 at Admiral Way and ride to Alaska to transfer to the Rapid line. ) Admiral riders using the current 55 go all the way to downtown with one boarding. Metro identifies this change as efficiency. This will also cause Admiral riders to take three buses to get to Lincoln Park. Metro has completely lost their way.

    1. The extra transfers are only really necessary if you work from the assumption that each trip has to start by catching the bus at the closest bus stop to where you are going from. The entire 55 service area looks to be within a 10-15 minute bike ride of Alaska Junction. With today’s schedule, even if the 55 were running, I’d probably bike it anyway to take advantage of the combined frequency of the 54. So, I wouldn’t consider the loss of the 55 much of a loss.

      Beach drive/Alki Ave. is a quick bike ride to the water taxi, however, the limited schedule of the boat makes this option not nearly as convenient as it could be. If we could somehow find a way to pay for running the boat every 30 minutes all day, year round, that would provide a significant improvement for the area, much more than a #37 shuttle that was never available outside the peak period anyway.

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