Route 4 laying over on Nob Hill Ave
Route 4 laying over on Nob Hill Ave

One the most promising parts of the Fall restructure to be thrown overboard was that which dealt with the top of Queen Anne Hill. Metro’s all-day route structure in this area is almost unchanged from the streetcar network of the 1890s, with only Route 13 to Seattle Pacific University added since then. I’ve written extensively about why the current spaghetti-like network inflates the cost of providing the service, and how it over-serves lower-density residential areas while underserving Queen Anne’s rapidly-growing main street. The story of why these changes didn’t happen is an interesting case study in the reality of operating and restructuring a transit system.

Let’s recap. Metro’s original proposal deleted Route 2 (leaving Route 2X in place), deleted Route 4, extended Route 3 the terminus of the 13, and doubled the frequency on Routes 3 and 13. (You’ll want to look at Oran’s great map to wrap your head around this). Vigorous opposition from residents near 6th Ave N & Galer, especially seniors who wanted access to the Queen Anne Community Center, prompted Metro’s second proposal to include an awkward fix that provided some service on the 2 alignment at all times. This was done by extending Route 1 to the terminus of Route 3 — but only during the times when the 2X wasn’t running.

More after the jump.

How popular this idea might have proved in Queen Anne I don’t know, but it was overtaken by events elsewhere. A well-organized effort to pressure Metro and the King County Council not to modify the south parts of Routes 2 & 4 caused Metro to state publicly that it would postpone changes to those routes, a broad statement which, even though I doubt the people opposed to the 2S/4S changes gave a fig about what happened in Queen Anne, effectively ruled out any changes to anything except Route 3. The final package approved by King County Council specified only one change to this part of the network:

Combine service on routes 3 and 4 into an enhanced Route 4, and delete Route 3 between Downtown Seattle and North Queen Anne (1st Avenue West / West Raye Street). Route 4 will provide alternative service between Downtown Seattle and North Queen Anne (Queen Anne Avenue North / Boston Street).

This proposed service change is contingent on City of Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) approval to increase transit volumes on Blaine Street between Queen Anne Avenue North and 2nd Avenue North, and 2nd Avenue North between Blaine Street and Galer Street to 16 trips per hour. Both segments are currently classified as “Minor Transit Streets.” Seattle’s Transit Plan generally limits bus volumes on Minor Transit Streets to 1 to 5 trips per hour, but bus volumes on such streets can reach up to 20 trips per hour upon SDOT’s approval. Bus volumes are counted in each direction of travel.

If SDOT does not approve the requisite increase in bus volumes on the segments described above by June 1, 2012, Route 3 will not be restructured as proposed and will continue to operate in its current configuration with no additional council action required.

Pavement damage on Garfield St
Nob Hill & Garfield

The legislation touches on an issue that Metro has to deal with regularly, although we in the peanut gallery don’t. By law, Metro cannot simply start driving buses on any street it feels like: SDOT must agree, through the mechanism of transit classification (map*), to permit a certain quantity of buses per hour on a given street. In considering a request to upgrade a street’s transit classification, SDOT will consider, among other factors, the quality of the pavement and subgrade, and its ability to take the punishment that buses dish out (a conventional 40′ bus weighs upwards of 13 tons, versus about 1.5 tons for a small car, and hybrids are much heavier still).

Most of Metro’s close-in Seattle routes, however, predate the current transit classification system, and are thus grandfathered in at their current service levels, even though some of the streets are really not up to the job, and SDOT would never agree to that classification level today. Route 4’s tail is one such case; another that comes to mind is the turnaround loop of Route 10, on the extremely narrow Grandview Place. The photo at the top of this piece hints at the problem: you can see cracks and patches all over the pavement. From the photo to the right, also near the 4 terminal, you can tell which side of the street the bus runs on just by looking; and frankly, I can’t blame SDOT for subsequently declining Metro’s request to double the number of buses on that street.

But this leaves a question: why not extend the 3 to the terminus of the 13? I couldn’t figure that out myself, so I got an answer from Metro’s head planner, David Hull:

Operating cost is the biggest issue — doing so adds a bus to the schedule.  The other issue is passing wire at the SPU terminal.  Although the capital budget includes the project, given continued budget concerns and the time it takes to design, permit and construct the passing wire, we are looking at September 2014 to have the passing wire in place.

This brings us back to the status quo — almost. In a previous post, I described another bizzarre artifact of Metro’s service on Queen Anne: the night-Sunday routing of Routes 3 and 4:

All day Sunday, after 7:15 PM Saturday, after 10:30 PM Monday-Friday and for a handful of early morning trips each day, service to East and North Queen Anne is provided by driving buses in a giant “dog bone” path on the top of the hill. […] Having spent many nights and Sundays on Queen Anne Ave, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of riders I’ve seen who sit through this little jaunt all the way to the turn for Nob Hill at Blaine St (they get off on Boston St and walk — it’s quicker).

Nobody at Metro seems to be able to recollect when this started, why it ever considered a good idea, or why nobody has noticed and changed it. I would not be surprised at all if I were to find that this service pattern was in place in the 1940s when the streetcars were ripped out and nobody has bothered to try and fix it in the intervening 70 years. Finally, Metro has put the night-Sunday routing out of its misery with a single line in the administrative change package that I discussed on Monday: “Revise weekend/early morning/evening service to not serve Raye Street loop”.

I’m cautiously optimistic that Metro will have another try at restructuring Queen Anne. Multiple sources at Metro tell me that the agency will struggle to find the cash to pay for the service level increases required for the opening of RapidRide E. There is too much fat in the current Queen Anne network for Metro, in its parlous financial state, to pass up the opportunity to make Queen Anne more efficient. Queen Anne is changing: two major new lowrise developments will put hundreds of riders right next to the 13. After September, Metro will be underserving SPU, having taken away all-day service on the 17 but made no improvements to the 13. Moreover, these problems could all be addressed in ways that would not enrage riders in the Central District, and I hope to write about how that could work sometime soon.

* In case you’re wondering, the “transit way” you see to Ballard and West Seattle on that map was supposed to be a placeholder for the Seattle Monorail.

27 Replies to “A Very Minor Improvement for Queen Anne”

  1. Metro’s original QA restructure plan was harebrained, at best. And now we find out that Metro doesn’t have money to install a passing wire at the SPU terminal. How were they planning to turnback 8-12 buses an hour, coming from 2 different routes, without a passing wire?

    Does extending the 3 to SPU really add another bus to the schedule? The distance from QA & Boston to SPU isn’t much further than the distance to the 4 terminal and factoring in traffic hassles, the run times are likely close to equal.

    Currently there is deservedly good transit service to the Counterbalance area, but during off-peak hours the 1 is almost empty north of the Seattle Center and the 3/4 do not have strong ridership either. If Metro wants to add frequencies to the 13 they should look at reducing service on 3/4 rather than the 2.

    QA needs to decide what type of land use patterns they want to embrace and accept the consequences to transit service those choices bring. The phrase “two major new lowrise developments” almost seems oxymoronic, but I’d love to see the QA hilltop evolve into a denser corridor and get more efficient service.

    1. The QA Community Council and QA Transportation Committee haven’t been known as models of progressive planning. They joined the Magnolia Community Club in going after the 15th Ave W bus lanes. They’ve been fighting the bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements on Nickerson. How the bike lanes on Dexter got installed, if it involved going through the QACC, I do not know.

      Those in Queen Anne who want to see better land use and transportation need to start attending their neighborhood meetings and changing the conversation there.

    2. “QA needs to decide what type of land use patterns they want to embrace and accept the consequences to transit service those choices bring.”

      Basically, Queen Anne has. Queen Anne Ave from Highland to McGraw, along with a few blocks of Galer St west of Queen Anne is an urban village, zoned continuously NC2-40 or more. 40′ is not Paris, of course, but it’s a whole lot denser than what’s currently there, and denser than a lot of what else is at the top of Queen Anne. The UVTN reflects this:

      “‘two major new lowrise developments’ almost seems oxymoronic

      It does sound a little that way, but they’re actually pretty big. The huge Metro Market property will soon be redeveloped as apartments (sadly, knocking down the lovely little brick apartment building next to the market), and there’s a new building next to the Walgreeens that’s just about finished.

      “If Metro wants to add frequencies to the 13 they should look at reducing service on 3/4 rather than the 2.”

      There are other possibilities. I’ll try to write about them soon.

      1. Losing that apartment building kills me, as does the fact the developer priced Metropolitan Market out of the new building.

      2. It seems to me that zoning isn’t the issue here. It’s that practically all the SFH on QA are extremely expensive, making the cost of developing an apartment or condo complex up there pretty high. Plus you’ve got the neighbors upset about you tearing down that probably-historic home next door and blocking their view of the water/city/mountains/whatever. Just not worth the headaches. I don’t think we’ll see a radical change to QA’s level of density anytime soon, at least not at the top of the hill.

      3. I was under the impression Met Market was leaving because they have another one at the bottom of the hill in the old Larry’s space.

      4. @Bruce, yeah it was a surprise, as that development had been on hold since around the start of the recession and MM had continually said they planned on returning to the new space. I imagine the loss generates more car trips to either the LQA store, the Fremont PCC, or even the Interbay Whole Foods.

        As to those zoning maps, it’s a shame there’s no light commercial on 6th Ave. outside of 6th/McGraw and the Targy’s intersection (Crockett). Lots of the corner buildings from Galer to McGraw look like they were mom-&-pops back in the day.

        @Tim, they wanted to keep both stores, but as the article Bruce linked to mentions, couldn’t come to an agreement on the rent.

      5. @Jason I’ve often thought we should upzone a full loop on top of QA, from QA Ave to 6th on Galer, up 6th, than back to QA Ave on McGraw. This would allow for a bit of density, but importantly it would extend the QA Ave retail strip. They have a big problem of being out of storefront space, which drives up rents and leaves us with banks, high-end boutiques, and expensive restaurants. Quadrupling storefront space (eventually, this wouldn’t all happen at once) would drop prices.

      6. Exactly, Matt. A nigh impossible task politically, of course. Can’t imagine the ruckus even just mentioning a couple more nodes on 6th might cause.

      7. True. We’d need a really big carrot. What if we were trying to compete for a station from the Seattle Subway project? I’ll bet there are a whole lot more that want their own subway station than those that don’t want tall buildings.

      8. Escalator, funicular, elevator, gondola to the Interbay station. Whatever. It can be done.

        Actually, Seattle is using some pretty awesome new TBM-style boring machines to dig straight down (first VSM in North America!). It might not be as expensive and difficult to build deep stations as it used to be.

      9. ST had the opportunity for escalators at Beacon Hill station but declined. So I doubt they’d change their mind for Queen Anne.

    3. “Although the capital budget includes the project, given continued budget concerns and the time it takes to design, permit and construct the passing wire, we are looking at September 2014 to have the passing wire in place.”

      THIS is what people mean when they say that regulations are excessive. “The time it takes to design, permit and construct the passing wire”? The private streetcar companies would have had it done in a month in the 19th century!

      But if you elect someone who promises to “cut regulations”, what they do is to allow strip-mining and dumping of toxic waste.

      So. Who the heck do you vote for if you actually want to cut red tape, while keeping useful regulations?

  2. Yep, I wondered the same why KC Metro did not extend the 3N to SPU, since the 17 local will be going away and a reverse peak replacement (route 62X) will help slightly during peak hours. Weekday midday will be the biggest problem, don’t be surprised if Route 13 start running overloads. Those living on the counterbalance should be aiming for the 2 local instead for space.

    Also, the Route 2X will be renumbered to Route 29X for September. That is a good move, if the 2 west queen anne route is someday eliminated, leaving the 2 number just for the Madrona end (and not worry about having a 2 express serving queen anne, while the 2 local doing Madrona, and not making sense).

  3. I’m not too keen about cutting back/deleting service on trolley routes. The wires remain hanging for years after service has been discontinued, and that’s like adding insult to injury.

    If they’re going to discontinue service on ANY trolley route they might as well take down the wires, because once it’s gone, it will most likely never come back.

  4. So let’s think about where the service is needed on upper QA.

    The highest-ridership corridors are, in this order:

    Taylor Ave – Downtown (3N/4N)
    Queen Anne Ave – Downtown + Counterbalance (13)
    10th Ave W – Downtown (1)

    Other connections that need service but don’t have the same ridership:

    Galer – Downtown (2N)
    Queen Anne Ave – SPU (13)
    Taylor Ave – Queen Anne Ave (3N/4N)
    Queen Anne Ave – Galer (2N)
    Taylor Ave – SPU (Currently served only through connection)
    10th Ave W – Queen Anne Ave (Currently served only through connection)

    We should aim for frequent service on the first list, and some kind of service for the second.

    Here’s my suggestion, which hits everything on the list.

    – Increase 13 to 15-minute service, 10-minute peak (God knows how many buses).
    – Send 3N to SPU (1 extra bus).
    – Cancel 2N (accounts for many of the extra 13 buses).
    – Here’s the fun part…
    • Build passing wire both directions on QA Ave. at Crockett.
    • Extend the 1N as previously contemplated.
    • Kill the neighborhood 4N loop.
    • Lay over outbound 1 buses on NB QA at Crockett… where they turn into inbound 4N buses after the layover.
    • Likewise, lay over outbound 4N buses on SB QA at Crockett… where they turn into inbound 1 buses after the layover.
    • If laying over buses on QA is too complicated, which it might well be (OMGZ loss of parking), you could do the same thing with slightly less passenger effectiveness at the Boston/QA stop, where there is lots of room.
    • This would require a bit, but only a bit, of extra service. You’d gain 1 bus from getting the 4N out of the loop, and probably need two to extend the 1.

  5. Since in this discussion you continue to push for the 2s turning around at Madison/Marion, I feel it necessary to comment. Bruce continues to complain about the #2 ridership and the route as though we are the enemy. We are not. While you advocate for good and wonderful solutions for all other well-used routes, you treat us as though we can just be dumped anywhere and that our direct access to any destination is not important. Warren, I am not sure if you care or not. In the meantime I am wondering when the 2011 ridership stats will be published. They are usually ready in the spring, and we are well into the summer. I have known a number of University professors who lived in Laurelhurst and used transit. Many years ago someone told me the route was oringinally developed to the maids and domestic help could get to their jobs in Laurelhurst. I am waiting for the most current stats before agreeing or disagreeing with the idea that Laurelhurst does not deserve service. I am sure that there are high school students there that use the service.

    1. I drove the 25 regularly during the day for two shakeups in 2004 and 2005. I remember two regular peak-hour riders inside the Laurelhurst loop. (They were masochists and rode all the way downtown rather than transferring at Campus Parkway.) Other than those two, I don’t believe I ever picked up more than one person in the loop per trip. There was substantial ridership from Children’s Hospital into town during the peak hours. Off-peak, there was only one place on the entire route with meaningful ridership: the ride up and down the 45th viaduct. This is the one part of the 25 that I think actually warrants replacement service; Stevens Way doesn’t serve the north U-district at all.

      1. David L.,thnx. I have wondered if the Seattle School District use of the bus for middle and high school transportation has affected the ridership numbers.

  6. Would love to see the extension of the #1 come back. Ideally, as far East as Queen Anne Avenue, via McGraw. This would link the dense residential corridor on Olympic and 10th West to the top of the hill, lessening the gross and growing congestion at LQA/Mercer.

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