On May 7th, the King County Council passed the legislative package approving the result of Metro’s fall restructure process, which signalled the end of major routing or service level changes for September. Since then, Metro has been hard at work implementing those changes, and as part of that, making further small changes to the bus network. These “minor administrative changes” are defined to be those that change bus stop locations by less than half a mile, and result in a change of less than 25% in the cost to provide the route; Metro can make them without public input, and without legislative approval from the King County Council.
Much of the administrative change package is focused on downtown Seattle. Generally, those changes seem excellent: they fix many operational issues I’ve been complaining about for ages, and will make the downtown network much more rational and comprehensible, although it’s hard to illustrate how much so without having a map (you can see the current map here); it will also make a number of routes significantly more reliable through downtown. Outside of downtown, there are some unfortunate changes to service in Magnolia, and some mixed news about Routes 3 and 4 in Queen Anne, both of which I’ll have more to say about in other posts later this week. Other changes outside of downtown seem pretty innocuous.
Downtown highlights and discussion after the jump.
- Routes 10 and 12 split; no longer through-routed on 1st Ave. Inbound Route 10s on Pine St will turn around on the 2nd Ave turnback wire (where the 43 now turns) and head back out on Pike St without a layover (“live-loop”); similarly, Route 12 will live-loop on Madison and Marion at 1st Ave.
- Routes 11 and 125 split. The 11 will live-loop on Pine/Pike, just like the 10; this should make it more reliable. It’s not clear whether the vestigial 11 trips on 1st Ave and Jackson St (symbol D on theses timetables) will go away, but I hope they do. The 125 will live-loop downtown just as the 121 does now.
- Route 14 split; Route 14-South through-routed with Route 1. The 14 split was also specified in the legislative package, but the new through-route was not, although Route 1 was the obvious choice. The current through-route between Route 36 and Route 1 is very awkward, with divergent demand requiring different frequency on the two linked routes. Currently, about half the northbound 36s lay over in Belltown and half continue as Route 1, a pattern that’s confusing for riders while still over-serving Route 1 in the off-peak; the 14-South and 1 marry up much better. The north part of the 14 will become Route 47, and live-loop on Pine/Pike just like the 10 and 11.
- Northbound Routes 306, 308, 312 and 522 moved from 3rd Ave to 4th Ave. Most suburban routes run southbound on 2nd Ave or 5th Ave and northbound on 4th Ave; these three routes, uniquely, run northbound on 3rd Ave. Shifting them over consolidates them with similar routes, and eliminates a time-wasting turn on Pike St (more on that below).
- Southbound Routes 113, 121, 122 moved to 2nd Ave. Shifting these viaduct-running expresses to Shorewood and Burien over from 3rd allows them to skip the difficult and slow turn from 3rd Ave onto Columbia, making them more reliable and reducing southbound congestion on 3rd Ave.
- The other changes in downtown seem minor, mostly moving three commuter routes (212, 217, 301) from the tunnel up to the surface, presumably to mitigate the reduction in tunnel station peak capacity due to the elimination of the Ride Free Area.
Here’s why these changes are great:
- Right turns (almost) eliminated at 3rd & Pike. One of the current problems for transit northbound on 3rd ave is the Pike St intersection, where buses often have to wait more than one light cycle to make that right turn safely, blocking a lane on 3rd Ave. With these changes, those turns will cease during Monday-Saturday daytimes; in the evenings and Sundays, when the 7 is through-routed with the 49), those turns will continue, but it’s less problematic at those times.
- All north-south Seattle service consolidated onto 3rd Ave; virtually all suburban service on 2nd, 4th or 5th. After September, every route* on 3rd Ave will be either an all-day service that primarily serves neighborhoods in the city, or an express variant that serves those same neighborhoods while skipping intermediate stops. Consolidating north-south service like this makes it possibile to devise simpler maps and wayfinding directions for tourists and other casual system riders. The failed attempt to split Route 2 and put it on Madison and Marion with the 12 would, among many other benefits, have done the same for First Hill.
- Buses will be more reliable, particularly outbound Route 12s, which are almost always late on the weekday due to terrible traffic on southbound 1st Ave. I’m going to take this opportunity to plug my really cheap suggestion to improve the pedestrian connection between the Ferry Terminal Walkway and Route 12, which would work very well with Route 12 live-looping on Madison and Marion.
Since the initial Fall 2012 restructure concept was put forward, I haven’t had many nice things to say about Metro’s handling of the process, as both good and less-good parts of the original proposal have been removed without much regard for merit, but lots of regard for narrowly-focused neighborhood groups who’ve vigorously opposed any changes, often on rather dubious factual bases. Finally, with this administrative package, I have something nice to say: Well done, Metro, for these improvements to downtown! They’re a small step in the right direction.
* There’s a tiny exception — six trips a day on Routes 118X and 119X to or from Vashon Island. Metro has another process in the works for Vashon, and these trips could go away in favor of a contract shuttle service providing Water Taxi connections. Perhaps coincidentally, the King County Ferry district hopes to add enough crew to the Melissa Ann to raise its capacity by September.