When the Sound Transit board chose an MLK alignment for the Rainier Valley segment of Central Link — an alignment which comes tantalizingly close to serving the RV’s blockbuster ridership corridor on Rainier Ave — they unwittingly created a thriving ecosystem of bloggers and commenters trying to figure out better ways to connect transit riders with the train. The city is weighing in with its Transit Master Plan Corridor 5, which calls for electrifying Henderson and presumably extending Route 7 (or a successor route) to Rainier Beach Station.
After the jump, I’ll present a simple idea, one that I think is considerably superior both to current conditions and the city’s proposal.
Let’s start with an explanation of the current service pattern, shown in the left pane of the map below. Starting downtown, Route 7 operates via Jackson St and Rainier Ave to Henderson St, which is the cross street on which the Rainier Beach Link station resides. To Henderson, this route operates every 10 minutes in the weekday midday, every 15 minutes at most other times. The combination of high-floor buses, heavy ridership, long route length, and horrible traffic at the I-90 & Rainier intersection combine to make these buses very slow and unreliable.
Shortly after Henderson, the route splits, with two out of every three southbound trips looping back around via Seward Park Ave to lay over near Rainier Beach High School. Every third southbound trip continues down to Prentice St, via Waters Ave and a 62nd/64th couplet. These buses do not lay over at Prentice St, rather they traverse the entire loop outbound and inbound before returning to lay over near the high school. Inbound riders on the Prentice St loop must transfer to another bus to continue their trip.
Route 8 on MLK heads east from Rainier Beach Station to serve the same loop as Route 7 near the High School; it operates every 15 minutes Monday-Saturday daytime, every 30 minutes at other times. Route 9X to Capitol Hill, which operates every locally on Broadway and then with limited stops on Rainier, runs every 30 minutes during the weekday daytime only. Not shown on the map is Route 7X, which runs only a few trips in the peak, on a similar alignment to Route 7, but makes only a few stops after Graham St.
Now let’s look at the restructure idea on the right pane. Trolleybus wire would be installed on Othello St from a turnaround loop on the east side of Othello station, to the intersection of Rainier & Othello, with switches to go north or south. Route 7 from Downtown would maintain its current frequency, but turn west at that point, terminating and laying over near the station. A new route, dubbed “7S” for the sake of this discussion, would operate from Othello Station on the current alignment of the 7 south of Othello St, but all trips would continue to Prentice St. This route might operate every 15 or 20 minutes during the day and 20 or 30 minutes in the evening, depending on how the costs and cycle times pencil out.
Here are the reasons I believe this proposal is superior to both current conditions and the city’s proposed trolleybus wire extension down Henderson:
- More network connections*. Henderson St already has a frequent-service connection to Rainier Beach Station via Route 8; extending the 7 on Henderson would merely duplicate that. In addition, Rainier Beach Station offers transfers only to the infrequent 106 and 107. Othello has Route 36 (every 10 minutes) and the infrequent Route 39 to Seward Park.
- Serves a bigger ridership center. Othello is a bustling commercial center, and the site of the one of the first large market-rate multihousing developments since the recession; by contrast, Rainier Beach Station is positively sleepy. Moreover, future development in the Rainier Beach station area is extremely constrained by topography and the presence of a power line, which prevents anything but low rise development in the most valuable land adjacent to the Link station. We should put our highest-quality transit where the most people can benefit from it.
- Creates a simpler service pattern. If the 7 were extended along Henderson, the existing split service pattern of the 7 would have to continue, as the Prentice St loop alone does not connect enough destinations to form a viable route at sub-30-minute headways, unlike the proposed 7S.
- Creates a more useful service on the south end of Rainier. South of Othello St, most of the factors that make the existing 7 horribly unreliable are absent. Even though riders on the south end of Rainier would suffer a loss of nominal frequency, the proposed 7S would be extremely reliable, and thus the frequency experienced by riders would probably be about the same.
- Creates a vastly more useful service to Prentice St. Inbound trips to downtown would not be interrupted by a layover at the high school. Adding wire on Henderson would make things worse for Prentice St riders, as the bus would have to backtrack to and from RBS in order to reach its layover.
- Allows for the abolition of Route 7X. Riders south of Othello would get a faster and more reliable trip to downtown simply by using Route 7S and transferring; Riders south of Graham St could backtrack on the shortened 7;
as noted above, Riders north of Graham aren’t served by the 7X.
- Matches service levels to ridership. Route 7 experiences its highest loads between Jackson St and Columbia City; loads are relatively low south of Othello St, so less frequency is required; the proposed 7S could probably be served by 40′ trolleybuses. I have stop-level data for Route 7, and I will publish it later this week, with more detailed discussion of ridership patterns on the current 7.
- Is probably budget-neutral. A wire extension on Henderson will increase the run time of the 7 and thus increase costs. The proposal I’ve outlined here is almost certainly budget neutral, and may well save money, depending on the frequency and span of service chosen for the 7S.
- Drives ridership on Central Link. There is no shortage of passenger capacity on Link; a Henderson extension of the 7 is unlikely to add many new riders, unlike this proposal.
So, what do riders in the Rainier Valley think of this idea?
* Even more interestingly, in an unpublished earlier iteration of the Fall 2012 service change proposal, Route 40 (from Alaska Junction, Morgan Junction and Georgetown) extended to Othello Station; it was cut back to Georgetown due to budget constraints. In addition to the proposed Route 50, the RV would then have had two connections to West Seattle. This would have been an a better route, and is worth pursuing in future.