One of Metro’s most thankless efforts to preserve neighborhood service on low-ridership corridors in the fall restructure proposal is the proposed route 50. The new 50 would replace route 56 between SODO and Alki, and route 39 between SODO and Othello Station. The downtown portion of the 39 would go away, with the savings reinvested in increased off-peak frequency on the 50, or elsewhere.
Route 34, which shadows the 39 from S Othello St and Seward Park Ave S to Rainier Ave S and S Genessee St, but then expresses downtown with stops by the Mount Baker Transfer Center and the I-90/Rainier freeway stop, is also scheduled to be eliminated in favor of the new 50. The 34 has three northbound runs in the morning and three southbound runs in the evening. It has a unique tail continuing down Seward Park Ave S to S Henderson St, turning west at Rainier Beach High School, and terminating at Rainier Ave S and S Henderson St. Due to being one-way only, it is of no use for anyone commuting to or from Rainier Beach High. It is about 200-300 feet away from Rainier Ave S for most of it’s tail’s length, but access to Rainier Ave is limited by hills and dead-ends.
One of the proponents of the 34 recently laid down the challenge to Metro at the final open house for the restructure: She didn’t need a one-seat ride downtown, necessarily, and didn’t mind transferring to Link. However, she did mind having to make the long walk to Rainier Ave S, and did not feel safe waiting on Rainier Ave S for the 7.
Proponents of the 39 laid out similar concerns: They didn’t mind transferring to Link, but did mind waiting a long time in the dark and rain at Columbia City Station, and that, furthermore, they never knew when the bus would finally show up.
The proposed route 50 is an opportunity for Metro to gain the confidence of one-seat commuters that a smoothe train-to-bus transfer can happen, without an excessively long wait at a bus stop, so that future efficiencies involving transfers to Link can become politically viable.
Three steps would help facilitate the success of the 50, should the county council decide to create it:
- List the departure times from each Link station. Currently, Columbia City Station and SODO Station are not mentioned in the printed 34/39 schedule.
- Make “Connection Protection” a policy at Columbia City Station and Othello Station. Metro’s new On-Board System will let operators know the estimated time of arrival for key connecting buses at timed-transfer bus stops. Adding southbound Link trips to that list should eliminate the painful miss of having an eastbound 50 take off from Columbia City Station a minute before a slow southbound Link train arrives.
- Time train-to-bus connections so that the eastbound bus departures are spread out among the southbound Link runs. This is where scheduling math comes in.
I’ll leave it to the pros to determine whether the third and fourth steps are truly viable, but for purposes of this post, let me offer some fun armchair math, below the jump:
20-minute headway does not mesh with Link’s 7.5-minute peak headway. Riders might prefer clock-face schedules, but a 22.5-minute headway may be the best fit for minimizing average wait time for an eastbound 50.
30-minute headway and 15-minute headway during peak hours may run into the “both/neither” problem, where some southbound Link runs may have two eastbound connecting 50s, and other southbound Link runs in between have none.
I’ll throw the challenge out to my fellow math heads to dissect the math of how best to serve riders of the 39/50 who live east of MLK. I’d also like to see any clever ideas for cheaply providing continued peak service on Seward Park Ave S.
I’m optimistic that the proposed route 50 can be done right. I hope the County Council will back up their professional planning staff, and give route 50 a chance.