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.
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.