Yesterday afternoon, King County Metro made public the legislative package which, after formal consideration (and possible amendment) by the King County Council, will turn the Fall 2012 restructure into a reality. To get to this point has taken about six months, during which Metro has presented two comprehensive restructure proposals, hosted several open houses and made numerous presentations to neighborhood groups. The process is now in the home stretch, but nothing is final until the full council votes.
As noted on the Metro Matters blog, the next opportunity for public input is on April 16th, from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM, at Union Station, where there will be an open house followed by public testimony to the Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee. Helpfully, with this latest revision, Metro has spared me the necessity of digesting all the changes for each area before I can discuss them: for a custom pamphlet describing the changes for you neighborhood, go the the System Restructure page on the Have a Say site, and click on the map in the “Neighborhood information sheets” box.
From the perspective of building a better transit system — one that serves more people and serves them faster, more frequently and more reliably, with the same amount of money — the primary effect of the public process so far has been to water down the original proposal, removing unpopular components and keeping popular ones, seemingly without respect to their merits, which sometimes results in strange routes that are almost certain to perform terribly. This pattern continues with yesterday’s revision.
After the jump, I’ll get into the details on the major changes since February.
- West Seattle has come out pretty well overall. The current all-day network is a cat’s cradle of partially-overlapping infrequent downtown routes, virtually-unused neighborhood circulators and the well-used 128. This proposal improves the night-Sunday frequency of the 128, provides a new crosstown route (the 50, discussed below) and turns the rest into two full-time radial routes, both of which get big boosts in frequency. The sacrifices required are the proposed all-day hourly Route 22 (Arbor Heights to Alaska Junction), which will, I’m sure, perform terribly; and the retention of eight trips per day on Route 37.
- Delridge gets the northern crosstown connection they’ve fought for (I mentioned this in a previous post). This revision of the proposal moves the proposed Route 50 from Admiral Way south to run through Alaska Junction and then east through North Delridge. Kudos to Metro, SDOT and the neighborhood for making it happen.
- New Route 18, connecting Downtown, Fremont, Ballard, Crown Hill and Northgate, has survived, and has actually gained* 15 minute Saturday headways. This route will be a great asset to Metro’s riders, finally providing a good connection between the hearts of two vibrant and growing urban centers. On the downside, it looks from the map like the continuation to First Hill via Yesler has gone away — I’m not sure why.
- The Crazy New Routes 2X and 17. In what can only be an effort to head off complaints from Seattle Pacific University riders about the loss of Route 17, the 2X and the remnants of the 17 are stitched together to provide a peak-only connection from SPU to the Ballard business district; and from SPU to Downtown via Westlake. I understand what Metro is trying to do here, and I can understand the plight of SPU students who would otherwise be stuck with nothing but the (unimproved) 13, but these two routes, combined with the 17X that will continue to serve 32nd Ave NW (which the 17 will not) are going to look amazingly confusing on Metro’s system map. It may make sense to renumber at least the 17.
- Routes 50 and 60 will detour into the VA Hospital parking lot. Martin wrote about the high cost of this little-used deviation years ago; it seems like it should have been removed as originally proposed.
Routes 11 and 125 through-routes restored; in previous proposals, they had been split, which would have improved the reliability of both routes. I suspect this was due to complaints from students travelling between South Seattle and Seattle Central community colleges. Once University Link opens, it would be interesting to explore the possibility of truncating Route 125 at SODO (similar to what was proposed in November). U-Link will provide excellent service to the doorstep of SCCC, and cutting back the 125 to SODO would save a lot of time from the 125, probably enough to boost the frequency of the remainder of the route; riders might be much more willing to take that transfer than a bus-to-bus transfer downtown that will increase their journey times.UPDATE: According to Metro, the 11 and 125 will both live-loop downtown. I thought otherwise because the 125 map in the legislative package appears to show the 125 proceeding to Capitol Hill via Pike and Pine. Apologies for this error.
- Almost All Changes to the Trolleybus Network Abandoned. We covered Metro’s announcement abandoning changes to Routes 2 and 4 last month; as I noted at the time, in doing so, Metro chose to walk away from one of the most significant improvements it could have made to the Seattle bus network, in order to avoid controversy. That seems to have extended to all the trolleybus network, and the only changes now proposed is to split Route 14 and tweak the schedules on the separate parts, and to consolidate the terminals of Routes 3 and 4, a simple change that will affect a tiny number of riders, and which probably should have happened decades ago.
- Magnolia Changes Abandoned. I’m not quite sure who could have taken offense at the proposed changes to service in Magnolia, as the only areas that would have lost service are West Viewmont Way and Texas Way/34th Ave W. West Viewmont is an extremely upscale area full of million-dollar houses, a most unlikely place for any significant transit ridership, especially since route 24 gets there via an absurdly long milk run across almost the entirety of Magnolia (much faster peak-only service would have been retained on Route 19). Texas Way (Route 33) is literally a road through a park, with almost no walkshed. I believe the ridership in both areas is practically nonexistent, and coverage of both areas only exists as a vestige of when Fort Lawton existed as an active military installation. Whereas in the previous proposal, Magnolia residents would have had a connection to Ballard, now Magnolia will remain a transit dead end. If abandoning the change was due to local opposition (and it’s hard to imagine what else it could be), the neighborhood has cut off its nose to spite its face. Or, perhaps more likely, a handful of people vociferously opposed to any change have scuttled a change that would have benefitted many more of their unwitting neighbors.
- The New Route 61. Due to the abandonment of the Magnolia changes, and the necessity of providing some service to riders on 32nd Ave NW, a new shuttle route has been created, connecting North Beach, Sunset Hill, central Ballard, and Fremont at 30-minute frequency. Other than the Fremont-Ballard section, which will mostly poach riders from the frequent Route 18, this route doesn’t have much to offer anyone except a transfer to RapidRide D, and then not at a frequency that will make the transfer convenient. I predict this will perform terribly.
- Route 50 is too infrequent. As a route that serves several dense residential neighborhoods, but doesn’t serve a major urban center, the 50 would benefit greatly from high-quality connections to radial downtown trunk lines such as Link, RapidRide C, and the 120. Unfortunately, at 30 minute headways, not many choice riders will go for that transfer; this will be particularly pronounced in the Seward Park area, where riders are trading the 39 and 34X for the 50. The 20-minute proposed peak frequencies, at least, should be upgraded to 15-minute to provide connections that match up with Link’s schedule.
To be completely frank, given how Metro had already walked away from the best part of the Fall restructure, and the way the Council handled the deletion of Route 42 earlier this year, I was surprised this latest revision didn’t turn out far worse. Beyond that, it seems to me that most of the “ugly” aspects of this proposal arise not from any disagreement over the merits of anything in the previous proposals, but from a value judgement that the right path for the agency and the County is to minimize controversy and criticism, rather than to maximize the benefits for the larger transit-riding and tax-paying public; and that’s not something that anything I could write would fix.
* At least going by the text of the restructure proposals, which have sometimes been wrong in details like this.