Route 16 in Mercer traffic
An item in my extensive collection of 16-stuck-in-traffic photos

Are you a Wallingford rider who commutes to downtown Seattle? If so, I have great news for you: thanks to the Mercer West Project, you’re about to get ten to twenty minutes of your life back, almost every weekday afternoon. Starting in February, SDOT will reduce the Mercer underpass to two westbound lanes, as part of the widening of the underpass, and construction of the new 6th Ave N, which will serve as an access road to the future SR99 Deep Bore Tunnel. After reasoning, pleading, and public flogging have failed, this will finally force Metro to do the right thing, and put the 16 on the same downtown pathway as Route 5.

The initial reroute will be a temporary construction detour; but with the completion of the Aurora Street Grid project shortly after SDOT is finished hacking up Mercer, the street grid east of the Seattle Center will be reconnected, obviating the last (flimsy) rationale for a deviation that requires the bus to drive in circles. Therefore, Metro plans to begin public outreach soon thereafter, to ask riders about making the Aurora alignment permanent.

Frankly, it’s pathetic that this change is being forced upon Metro by construction. It is impossible that the problems I have outlined on this subject were not widely known at the agency. I realize Metro is swamped and overstretched, and exists in a institutional incentive structure that is tailor-made to promote waffling, stasis, and inoffensive mediocrity, but the agency is obviously capable of responding to speed and reliability problems when it feels so inclined. That it has failed — and so egregiously — makes its actions in this case externally indistinguishable from an agency that does not care about service quality on core routes; and to the extent that Metro is such an agency, I have no interest in advocating for it, or further subsidizing it.

81 Replies to “Hope for Route 16 Riders”

  1. About time!

    In fairness, Bruce, given that Metro obviously has known of the issues for so long, could stand to gain so much (possibly 15-minute service on the 16 with no other changes!) from fixing them, and yet hasn’t… don’t you think it’s possible that the refusal to change is coming directly from one or more members of the council (possibly listening to a relative or buddy who rides to Seattle Center)?

    If that is the case, Metro’s strategy here is shrewd. Reroute the bus during a time when it’s patently impossible to keep it on regular route, expose the bulk of the customers to a fast trip, and then immediately encourage them to speak out about it.

    1. Metro used a similar strategy to get the 132 onto 4th Ave S: a temporary reroute that became popular and then permanent, and then lengthened, shortening the travel time to get to a Link Station from the 1st Ave Bridge from 20 minutes down to about 8 minutes. Thanks again, Metro!

      Of course, they forgot to add the southbound bus stop at SODO Station, and passengers on the 21 are still waiting for that stop. Let’s hope the new stops on the 16 don’t get lost in the shuffle.

      1. I don’t think there are any new stops to add here — the reroute is on the exact route of the 5, and AFAIK the 5 isn’t missing any stops.

  2. Picking some numbers out of the air, let’s guess this affects 1,000 riders and costs them 10 minutes per weekday. That’s 43,000 hours of life wasted per year.

  3. Okay, okay, Metro, we get the message, you will never change unless forced to by outside circumstances… You can stop beating us over the head with it any day now.

    1. Keeping the 42 was the Council’s will, not Metro’s. Putting RapidRide on the circuitous 54 route, instead of the straigher and more warranted 120 route, was the will of the council, not Metro. (And the neighborhoods that benefitted from this political decision sure don’t seem to be in a thankful mood.) Keeping paper transfers was the result of political pressure from the council as well.

      Meanwhile, the ST Board is taking its time acting on common-sense route restructures, probably because some who live along the unproductive northwest tail of the 560 want to hog the tail, instead of letting riders from all over West Seattle be able to connect to the 560 all day at Westwood Village. The agencies want to do the right thing. Rich neighborhoods intervene and politicize.

      1. Metro didn’t offer excuses in those cases. They did what they were told, which involved changing the wise staff recommendations to suit the directives from the council. They followed orders.

      2. I. Don’t. Care.

        Seriously, I don’t care why they can’t do the right thing unless forced to by outside circumstances, I just recognize they are and treat them accordingly.

      3. Matthew Johnson, how does blind anger directed at Metro solve a problem with the Council?

        Seriously, it’s not going to help solve the problem, which is that Metro is not structured to be able to resist political pressure.

      4. It’s not blind. I am fully cognizant of why they are failing and recognizing that am doing what I can to help them change.

        Since they’ve taught us that they will only change when their back is in the corner, obviously we have to back them into a corner if we want change.

        That isn’t blind anger, it is cold calculation. On the other hand, continuing to throw money and support at an organization that has demonstrated again, and again, and again that it will only waste that money IS blind loyalty/stupidity though.

      5. This thread it interesting; it seems we went from a vague speculation about a possible motive from David L. to a bunch of people assuming that speculation is definitively accurate. Is there reason to do this? David L’s speculation seems plausible to me, but not in such a way that it makes sense to assume it’s true without further evidence.

      6. To be perfectly clear, my speculation on the motives for this reroute is very much speculation, and it could also be a strategy to overcome resistance within the agency, not just from the council.

        But the general point my speculation illustrates is confirmed by many previous examples. That is that Metro is institutionally designed to respond first to, and fear above all, political pressure from the council. As a district-based body, the council itself is subject to manipulation by non-representative squeaky wheels. Thus all of our redundant, frequency-killing parallel routes and wasteful one-seat rides.

      7. I doubt there’s a huge conspiracy around the current 16 routing. It does make sense theoretically to have the route both provide service between Downtown and the Center and the Center and points north and I bet this is appreciated by the Center and the folks at the Gates Foundation. The challenge is that this routing just doesn’t work. It destroys reliability for everyone along the line and creates opposition to potential service shifts in North Seattle. I live in Wallingford and I wasn”t willing to lose the 26 if my primary connection to Downtown became the 16. If it can stay on the proposed reroute and potentially use the time savings to increase to 15 minute frequencies I wouldn’t have a problem with the 26 going away.

      8. @Kevin: People around here have said the reason the 16 goes to Seattle Center is essentially that there used to be a bus base there.

        What’s concerning is that it’s stayed there despite the penalty in speed and reliability — that inertia is so massively powerful as a force in our transit planning.

        In this particular case, though, the inertia is made stronger by the quality of the walk west from Aurora to Seattle Center. The pedestrian conditions in that area are an utter disgrace. The Mercer East project should make it better, but it’s not always easy to tell from the renderings — from an overhead image you’d never guess how bad the walk is from the Aurora/Broad bus stop to, say, the Gates Foundation. Every major stakeholder in that area should be embarrassed how bad that walk is.

      9. David: so if the problem is that the way the Council is elected generates trouble, try advocating for single transferrable vote on a countywide basis at the Council. :-) That’s what they have in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it’s one of the best systems theoretically.

  4. This is great! I hope they also align the schedule of the 16 and the 5 in the evenings and on Sundays so that there is 15 minute service between 38th and Downtown at those times.

      1. I’m not sure the cynicism on this point is warranted — KCM operates a number of combined-frequent corridors and definitely understands their importance.

      2. While Benjamin’s comment is sarcastic and obviously not the real reason, I think it speaks a truth. It seems like every time Metro has released a proposed service revision, only about a third of the fantastic reroutes, new routes and deleted routes live to see the light of day.

      3. I don’t know what obstacles there might be to coordinating schedules of the 16 and 5 — they’re different-shaped routes, the 5 being quite long in both directions from downtown.

        The benefit would be in increased effective frequency at all the local stops along Aurora that the 358 doesn’t serve, and at 38th/Aurora. 38th/Aurora is pretty popular; the rest not as much, but there will be soon be more non-358 stops due to RR E stop consolidation.

  5. Now if we can just keep the re-route of the 71/72/73 off of Fairview and on Eastlake nights and weekends.

    1. I wish – but at the pace that Metro operates, Link will likely make this debate obsolete. Speed between downtown and the U-district on Eastlake matters a lot less if you can bypass this route via Link.

      1. I wonder if, when U-link opens, will we still need both peak-only “Suburb to U-District via EXPRESS” and “Suburb to Downtown via EXPRESS” pairs? Or will they be made redundant?

      2. I think that will be a route-by-route determination.

        The 76 certainly won’t gain much, if anything, from continuing downtown… it directly passes Roosevelt Station.

        The 64 is similar except that right now it serves First Hill as well as downtown. I could see a reduction in frequency to 3-4 trips each way coupled with a change in the route to directly serve First Hill without the downtown detour.

        77 riders north of Northgate will find it faster to take the 347/348 instead.

        The 77 south of Northgate, 306, and 312 are closer to borderline cases. If those routes were truncated at Roosevelt, their riders would lose a few minutes in the rush-hour mess leading to the 65th/Roosevelt interchange. But the possible benefits from redeployment of those hours might be worth it.

      3. I would like to see an analysis of the 64 taking the routing of the 309, though keeping the extension to Cherry Hill. The 64 mostly duplicates the faster 76 , and it wastes First Hill riders’ time by detouring into downtown first. Post U-Link, the unique segment of the 64 for downtown commuters (35th Ave NE between 65th and 145th) would be better off deleted. In its place, more trips on the 65 with a transfer at UW Station, with the 76 and 522 providing express bus trips for those near 65th or 125th?

      4. Two routes I would like to see killed in 2016 the instant U-link opens are the 25 and the 74. Both of these buses are redundant with other routes, so nobody would be missing much and the service hours saved could buy a lot of shuttle trips between northeast Seattle and the UW Link station.

        Trying to kill the 64 or 76 would lead to too much whining from people who drive to Green Lake P&R to go downtown, so it’s probably not going to happen until at least Roosevelt Station opens, although even then some people will likely scream about having to walk 3 blocks between where they park their car and the train station.

  6. Referring to the photo, why are the walls and columns only painted half way up?
    1. Ran short of paint – Budget issue to be resolved this year
    2. Ran short of ladders – Probably waiting for a ladder grant
    3. SDOT/WSDOT planned to paint them all, till the council nixed the idea.
    4. Metro screwed up again.

    1. That’s not supposed to be a paint job of the entire underpass. It’s just patches covering graffiti, one piled on top of another.

    2. 5. Graffiti abatement – the graffiti stopped half-way up, so that’s as far as they painted to cover it.

  7. It’s too late now, but sometimes I wonder if the proper solution, instead of having Mercer become a wider underpass under Aurora would have been to run Mercer at street level and make Aurora go underneath Mercer. Essentially, the deep bore tunnel would transition into a retained cut through SLU, then move to grade level as the street goes up Queen Anne.

    I realize that doing it this way it would be engineering-wise very difficult to avoid shutting down Mercer entirely for years during the construction, which is probably why this approach was never considered. Still, though, I think the final result would have been a more connected neighborhood.

  8. Bruce, your last paragraph is the real subject of this posting- and one which is long overdue for some serious discussion. What the voters created going on twenty years ago, the voters can change by the same process.

    Mark Dublin

      1. We could create a PTBA under RCW 36.57A.

        Or my favorite, we could create a City Transportation Authority under RCW 35.95A (having gotten the Legislature to allow it to do things other than monorails). This is a good one because such an authority is able to levy a regular property tax as well as issue General Obligation bonds to finance capital expenditures. Moving to a property tax would make our transit funding source less regressive and less volatile.

    1. Really? You’re so set on this change that those of us who do occasionally go to Seattle Center can’t even discuss alternative means to get there?


  9. “I have no interest in advocating for it, or further subsidizing it.”

    Are you thus advocating for “starving the beast” and letting the CRC expire? Tough medicine indeed, considering how crowded the buses are these days.

    1. If Metro shows a commitment to improving service quality, improving service structure, and prioritizing core routes, I’m all for more money. I’m not in favor of more money if it’s for the same old tangled miss of infrequent, unreliable, often half-empty routes. Metro has done lots of good work, but stuff like this really shakes my faith in the organization.

      1. The problem is politically it won’t be interpreted as a vote against Metro, it’ll be interpreted as a vote against public transit in general. You know as well as I do that that’s exactly how the Tim Eymans of the world will spin it.

      2. As others have pointed out it’s not the staff at Metro but their overlords on the County Council and to a great extent pressure from the Seattle City Council that is responsible for being irresponsible. Politicians will by nature hand out all the free candy they can. Next step is often to cut services that are used the most to create “the sky is falling” atmosphere that gets them more tax dollars to dole out. Only after you cut the fat down to the bone can the true nature of the beast be revealed. The best thing that can happen would be to remove social services from the Metro Transit budget. People are much more likely to approve a new charge, tax, fee when it’s clearly understood what that money provides.

      3. Orv is exactly right. I feel we are still in a “circle the wagons” mode where the most pressing threat is forces that want to eliminate transit no matter how effectively it’s run. I mean, way back in 2000, I-745 got over 40 percent of the vote. And I think the atmosphere has just gotten more hostile since then. We should push Metro hard for service improvement, and loudly complain every time either Metro or the council does something dunderheaded. But I won’t vote against any funding of any nature until the atmosphere changes a bit.

        Bernie, what spending of Metro’s do you think constitutes “social services?” Metro is not paying for most of the free tickets that get distributed; the city and other parts of the county budget are.

      4. The problem is politically it won’t be interpreted as a vote against Metro, it’ll be interpreted as a vote against public transit in general.

        Exactly right. Metro needs serious changes in its approach, and it needs the resources to do the job. If you actually had a plan for how your proposed de facto alliance with anti-transit forces to defund Metro would produce better leadership for the organization, you probably wouldn’t keep it a secret, so I’m going to assume you don’t. Frustration isn’t a good foundation for a political strategy.

      5. What was I-745? Was this an Eyman initiative to declare “There shall be no public transit whatsoever in the state of Washington?”.

      6. asdf, not far off. It was to write a requirement into the RCW that 90% of all state and local transportation dollars be spent on roads.

        At the time the prediction was that it would roughly halve Metro’s budget, assuming a constant level of transportation funding.

    2. While not directed at me, unless I see some real change in the way Metro uses the money we give it, I really don’t see a reason to give them more money.

      Especially since any cuts have to be on the low performance routes. Oh teh noes.

      1. What is “low performance” in the city network at this point? Metro has cut almost all the low-hanging fruit from before the recession.

        You have two daytime buses on the 25, two on the 22, and one on the 42 that could be considered “low-performance.” In the peak, you might be able to nibble at a few trips here and there. Outside the city, there is a fair amount of slack in the Eastside network, but not much anywhere else. You could save a few hours without huge pain, but certainly not enough to compensate for the CRC expiring without a replacement, and you’d lose all hope of adding enough hours to address chronic overload situations (which, in my opinion, should be regional priority #1).

      2. The 26 is crap on Latona; the 12 should be deleted from 19th Ave; the Greenwood corridor has five separate overlapping service patterns, some of them quite unspectacular; the whole of northeast Seattle is just a basket case of overlapping infrequent routes with horrifyingly inefficient and confusing service patterns. The 61 virtually unused, and requires two buses to maintain 30-minute headways. The 7X should be truncated at a light rail station or abolished. The tail of the 4 to Judkins park is insane. Metro almost totally failed to overhaul Queen Anne service this time; the 13 is inadequate for the growing demand that comes from increasing density at the top of the hill, and SPU riders who lost the 17 this time around. Magnolia service is a joke.

        There is plenty of stupid stuff left in the city.

      3. Fair enough, but I didn’t ask about “stupid” — I asked about low performance. And of the items you mentioned, only the 61 and the 12 tail truly have low performance, and the 12 tail is so short it doesn’t matter much. (I forgot the 61 because it didn’t appear on the last RPR.)

        I assume it will take about the same funds to build smart service patterns meeting demand as we currently expend on the patterns that are stupid but perform decently anyway, so I don’t see those as a source of easy cuts.

      4. Oh, come on, Magnolia service is geographically prevented from being sensible in the first place. Y’all missed low-income Magnolians accusing Metro of class warfare tonight too – the meeting got pretty heated at times.

      5. The problem with getting rid of the 26 is that, even though there are other routes nearby, there are just too many origin-destination pairs that, without the 26, would take at least 20 minutes longer than the trip takes today. Why? 10 minutes to walk to nearest #16 stop. Then, because the 16 is much less reliable than the 26, you would need to expect to spend an additional 10 minutes waiting at the bus stop for the 16, beyond what you’d spend waiting for the 26 – even if you use OneBusAway to time the precise moment to leave your house. An extra 20 minutes each way, 40 minutes round trip is a big deal.

        And, for me – even though the 26 was meant to be a coverage route and even though I live a good mile east of the 26, I still find myself sometimes walking to it. Why? Because even though the route map makes it seem a slow meandering milk run, when not that many people ride it, it means short dwell times at bus stops, with lots of bus stops skipped altogether. Ironically, the 26 local actually behaves as kind of a hidden express, although you’d never believe it from looking at the Metro website. The 26 is also extremely reliable, especially if you’re getting on in Wallingford in the southbound direction. Because of this, I’ve found trips between Fremont and the north part of the U-district faster on the 26 than on the 31 and 32, even with the additional walking. And if I need to get to Queen Anne or Belltown, the 26 works out well too.

        Yes, I realize that transit planners hate these “hidden express” routes, that they do terrible in productivity metrics. But that doesn’t meant he people who ride them don’t find them useful.

        I recall a very similar argument being made when Metro proposed to drop the 27 to peak-only – that the 27 was a “hidden express” to bypass other routes which were slower and less reliable.

      6. But that doesn’t meant the people who ride them don’t find them useful.

        Yes, it does.

        Because by definition there’s hardly anyone riding your “hidden express”. If “the people” were riding it, it wouldn’t be express anymore.

        The 27 is faster because Yesler is easier to access from 3rd and there are essentially zero major traffic conflicts between 3rd and 12th. This is a streetscape matter, not a ridership-volume matter.

      7. @asdf – Your perception of the 26 is bizarre to me as a regular rider. How often are you actually using it and what days/times? I’ve heard it called a lot of things but “Hidden Express” is not one of them.

      8. asdf, as I’ve mentioned before, the solution to the problem you are talking about is to unsuck the 16 and make it more frequent, not to run redundant parallel service. Another thing that would help the 26 users furthest from the 16 would be better scheduling of buses that stop at I-5/45th — those are a good escape valve for people along Latona.

      9. So what could we do to the 26 to make it a more useful crosstown route? Perhaps truncate it at Fremont and extend it to the northeast or east. It could replace the 71 on NE 65th Street as part of a 71/72/73 reorganization. (I doubt think the 48N will be broken up into a NW 85th – NE 65th route, since it’s one of the most popular routes.)

      10. Mike, when SDOT has the budget for a major capital project, I’d like to see those hours disappear from Latona and go instead into creating a crosstown route from Roosevelt to Ballard, mostly along 65th Street. The route would go around the south end of Green Lake and use 24th NW to get into central Ballard.

        To accomplish this there would need to be major renovation of 65th between Linden and 3rd NW. The current roadway is too narrow and has too acute approach and breakover angles to be serviceable for buses. But the missing connection is huge and is part of the reason the 44 and 48 are overstressed. Taking away a sidewalk on one side (I know, but there are buildings encroaching) and rebuilding several intersections would allow buses to use this right-of-way and create this connection.

      11. I think a cross town route on 65th would make a ton of sense when the Roosevelt Station opens. That is a big missing link on the North Seattle grid.

      12. Another thought: with a functioning crosstown route on 65th in place, you could pull the 16 a bit farther away from the lake, by running it on Latona between 56th and 65th. There is no really good way from 65th and Latona to Woodlawn and Ravenna, but… the current routing along Kirkwood sucks too, so no great loss.

      13. I have mostly used the 26 on Sunday afternoons. When I am one of 5 people on the bus, it makes it an extremely reliable way to get home from Fremont, and not bad at speed either. At any rate, the 26 is good enough for me to choose to take the 26th to 50th and walk to the north end U-district from there vs. take the 31 or 32 to Campus Parkway and walk north from there.

        Southbound, I had one occasion where I had just missed a 70-series bus. OBA said the next one was 15 minutes away and I was trying to figure out how to get to Queen Anne in anything less than hour. I went through all the downtown-bound routes I could think of – the 510, 511, 66, but the timings were all off. Finally, I explored the Wallingford side of I-5 with OneBusAway and suddenly remembered not only that there was a 26, but that if I walked fast, I could be on the bus, moving, in as little as 10 minutes. Furthermore, I could get off at Dexter and Galer and hike up the hill, avoiding the need for the downtown connection I was expecting to have to make. At the end of the day, I actually got where I was going faster having missed the 70-series bus than had I made it, and it was all because of the 26!

        Nevertheless, I realize that things are changing to make the importance of the 26 being available as a bypass of other routes less. For one things, the 510 and 511 will start functioning like a real corridor, going between I-5 and down every 15 minutes, rather than back-to-back buses every 30. And Car2Go is another great option if you just missed a bus and don’t feel like waiting for the next one. And if the 16 really becomes more reliable, that would help too.

        Although, as long as Metro is in the budget situation it’s in, I wouldn’t count on any savings going towards making the route more frequent. It will instead go towards pushing the looming 20% service cut a tiny bit further into the future.

      14. @asdf – Thanks for clarifying. I don’t think Sunday afternoons are a good indicator for overall activity on any route in Seattle.

      15. “a crosstown route from Roosevelt to Ballard, mostly along 65th Street.”

        You’re the first other person I’ve seen recommending this route. I’ve long noticed it’s a hole in the grid, especially when one friend lived on NW 70th and later when another friend worked at a restaurant on NW 65th. In the first case, I walked from the 44 or 48. In the second case, I never made it over there and I wondered how much the lack of bus services impacts businesses on 65th.

        My impression until now has been that it’s a hole, but it probably wouldn’t necessarily be a high-ridership route (i.e., like the 26), which I assume is why Metro never pursued it even in better economic times. I had imagined it going around the north side of Greenlake, but yeah, it can go around the south side which currently has no east-west bus service.

        So if you think it could be a popular route, then maybe others will start advocating for it too.

        “with a functioning crosstown route on 65th in place, you could pull the 16 a bit farther away from the lake, by running it on Latona between 56th and 65th”

        I was going to write about the irony of the 16, the main downtown route in the area, going so close to Greenlake but not close enough to get a view or the faster curved path and higher speed limit of Green Lake Way. While the 48, which is “just” a crosstown route, has all these advantages. But that’s all north of 65th so it wouldn’t be affected by a shift to Latona.

        The ironic thing about the 16 is it runs so close to Greenlake, but not close enough to have a view. So the main downtown route doesn’t go around Greenlake, but a crosstown route does (48). That has always seemed silly to me. Not only does it miss out on the view, but it’s slowed down by its right-angle route and lower speed limit, and then it goes on 80th instead of 85th.

      16. “a crosstown route from Roosevelt to Ballard, mostly along 65th Street.”

        “You’re the first other person I’ve seen recommending this route”

        Oh, I didn’t notice you said “from Roosevelt” rather than “from Magnuson Park”. My idea was to reroute the 71 into a 65th route.

      17. I would love to see the 71 replaced with a 65th St crosstown, and with frequent service on the 65. Once you have North Link to bring people downtown fast, that seems like a much more useful way to deploy the hours. And until then, the 65th St crosstown could continue south to UW Station, thus providing a connection to U-Link without going through U-District/UW traffic.

      18. This all ties into larger North Seattle restructure ideas.

        From a geographic standpoint, the through-route of the 71 and my hypothetical crosstown route couldn’t be more logical.

        But they don’t match up from a performance standpoint, at all. Once we have North Link, the Ravenna/Bryant portion of the 71 is a great candidate to be made frequent. But I agree with Greg that the Roosevelt-Ballard portion will only have moderate ridership, and should probably be a 30-minute route to start.

        Thus my current idea is to through-route the 71 with the 48N (splitting the 48 at Roosevelt), and through-route my new crosstown route with my revised 72 concept, serving 75th and 35th to connect Roosevelt with Wedgwood and Lake City and running every half-hour for now.

      19. Did I just say Greg? I meant Mike.

        My apologies. I thought of “Orr” and I then thought of Greg Orr, a longtime Atlantic Base transit operator legendary for forming good relationships with all the riders that the rest of us viewed as crazy.

      20. +1 David L. There may be other valid options to decrease Metro’s expenses, but cutting Seattle hours is getting pretty close to not worth doing. If anything, I’d echo David’s comment that we need to work on overcrowding, which would mean *increasing* service hours, and thus cost more money.

    3. Velo, and Bruce, both your comments are fair ones. Remembering the events leading up to the end of the agency I drove for, I wouldn’t go into a replay lightly.

      I’ve always thought that a lot of the ongoing problems with the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel stem directly from the huge amount of administrative and political attention diverted from the critical work of designing and building a very demanding new system at the time that attention was needed most.

      I’ve hated the word “governance” ever since.

      But even the healthiest working animal reaches the end of its lifespan. Both of you guys represent the generation about to take over public life at all levels, including transit.

      You’re well within your rights to ask for a new set of tools. But don’t kid yourselves that they’ll be easy either to obtain or operate once you’ve got them.

      Mark Dublin

      1. I’m not after a different set of tools. I’d prefer that Metro would (or would be allowed) to trim blatant inefficiencies out of the system, especially in light of the fact that we are heading towards YABC (Yet Another Budget Crisis) brought on by the looming expiration of the CRC.

      2. If you want a different set of tools, start by getting the *election system right*.

        This means proportional representation for councils. Not at-large. Not district. Proportional. Single Transferrable Vote or Party List or Reweighted Range Voting.

        As noted above, Cambridge MA uses STV.

      3. For single-winner elections, the best systems I’ve seen are approval voting and range voting. Everything else screws up in one way or another if there are three or more candidates.

      4. What does proportional representation for council mean? Proportional to what? To which parties are the most popular?

      5. Mike: In this case, “proportional” refers to political groups (which are not necessarily parties in the formal sense). If 70% of people prefer Group A, and 30% of people prefer Group B, then proportional representation should ensure that 70% of the legislature is part of Group A, and so on.

        As Nathanael says, there are a few common ways to do this. The simplest is to allow candidates to run as “ranked slates” rather than single people. A slate must have at least one candidate, but can have as many candidates as there are seats. You elect representatives based on the vote share received by each slate. Some math is involved to handle the rounding and corner cases (and small slates which get big votes), but for the most part, the results are intuitive — if the Alice Party gets 2/3 of the vote, then they get about 2/3 of the seats.

        Another system is “single transferable vote”. Wikipedia has a great example. As you can see, it’s a complex system for voters to understand. However, it does also achieve the goal of ensuring that different constituencies will be represented.

        The at-large system we have now is pretty terrible. If political group A has 51% of the popular support, it will get 100% of the seats.

        Geographical districts, while intended to solve this problem, actually make it worse. In an at-large election, it’s possible for a charismatic candidate with a broad but shallow base of support to win, by running for an empty seat or against an unpopular incumbent. With districts, such a candidate needs to win the support of the people in a single district, which is a less favorable numbers game.

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