Photo of Metro Director of Service Development Victor Obeso
Metro Director of Service Development Victor Obeso


Bruce Nourish recently voiced his opinion about Metro Transit’s Route 16 – a long-time Metro route that has been serving Fifth Avenue North by the Seattle Center for many years.

Despite his claims to the contrary, we care deeply about our customers. Readers and riders know there are always trade-offs when designing a transit route and schedule. We work hard to balance riders’ interests and carefully constructed guidelines as we evaluate potential changes – and key among them is customer feedback. We also must respond to changing real-world conditions, including massive multi-year construction projects that affect service and travel times.

Route 16 has been providing excellent access to events and activities at the Seattle Center for many decades. However, Metro recognizes times have changed. Traffic has grown worse in the area and ongoing construction projects have further increased the time it takes for Route 16 to serve the area. At the same time, major increases in employment in the South Lake Union area are creating more demand for this route to shift toward the east to provide more convenient access to South Lake Union. But there are still many riders each day that enjoy the very convenient access to the Seattle Center that Route 16 provides.

The route serves thousands of riders each day. Based on analysis, the indirect path fails Metro’s route directness guideline in one direction (outbound +7 minutes for through customers) but meets the guideline (inbound +3 minutes for through customers). This illustrates the tradeoffs associated with making a decision to change the route or not. One might suggest that the inbound routing serve Fifth Avenue North while the outbound routing use Aurora Avenue North. But this would violate another Metro Service Guideline that calls for easy to understand services that have predictable routings. By splitting the route to travel on Fifth Avenue North in one direction and Aurora Avenue North in the other direction would make it difficult to understand for riders and might impact overall ridership negatively.

Metro, in the past, has considered moving Route 16 off of Fifth Avenue North in order to remove the route from the severe traffic and delays but public feedback was mixed and no changes were made. When riders of the route were asked about a change to Aurora routing via on-board surveys in 2002, over half of the respondents indicated a preference for the Seattle Center routing. This is likely because many riders who use this route most often to get to or from work downtown might also benefit from the direct Seattle Center routing for events.

However, we do recognize that the upcoming Mercer Street project and Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement construction will continue to impact the area and perhaps further delay service. Additionally, long-term the east-west street network between Denny Way and Harrison Street is slated to be rebuilt allowing customers to more easily access bus routes on Aurora Avenue North.

Due to the planned Mercer project, Metro intends to change the existing routing on Fifth Avenue North to Aurora Avenue North in order to avoid street and lane closures and to provide more reliable service to the large number of riders traveling between North Seattle and downtown Seattle. We understand that this would negatively impact the riders who travel between North Seattle and Fifth Avenue North so this change is not taken lightly.

Victor Obeso is Director of Service Development at King County Metro.

66 Replies to “Metro Responds: Route 16 and the Seattle Center”

  1. Is schedule reliability ever a consideration for changing a route’s design? The 16’s Seattle Center routing adds a theoretical 4 minutes to the route. But what if, in reality, the routing frequently takes much longer to cover and the 4 extra minutes frequently become 10 minutes because of traffic bottlenecks? Is schedule reliability one of Metro’s guidelines that can trigger a change proposal?

    1. The impression I generally get is that changes for reliability only becomes a significant concern when it starts to impact the return trip. If it gets bad enough that the layover time is eaten up, and the buses next trip starts getting delayed or cancelled, that seems to trigger adjustments.

  2. Thank you Mr. Obeso, as we mostly understand the limitations on doing the perfect solution (if something like that ever exists), given the fact that squeaky wheels still require lots of grease. Balancing those interests of the constituents of council members, riders, Exec, staff, business/institutions and transit junkies must be played like a violin.
    Political cover, such as a major construction project is the ideal time to make the changes, as you are doing. In a year, all will be forgotten and the route can remain.

  3. Existing customers (at least some of them) may prefer the indirect, delay-prone Seattle Center routing. But, at a time when it’s very much to Metro’s advantage to grow ridership and therefore its political constituency, Metro should also be considering potential customers.

    I think it could be beneficial to survey Wallingford, East Green Lake, and Licton Springs residents who don’t currently ride to see what changes might entice them to ride. I have a feeling “faster service” would be very high on the list. There are also a lot of proposals to consolidate and simplify Wallingford-area service, for example by deleting or truncating the 26 and investing the saved service hours into additional frequency on the 16, something that would fit very well with Metro’s goal to provide easy-to-understand, frequent service. Part of the reason Metro customers have been resistant to these plans is that the 16 is considered slow and unreliable.

    My opinion is that the Aurora routing would be a major benefit to the bulk of current and potential 16 riders, and should be implemented as soon as reasonably possible.

    1. I agree. I’m really glad to see this change. My biggest issue as a regular rider is that the +7 north bound is wildly variable based on Center events and/or Mercer traffic – it could be as little at +3 but I’ve been there where it was +20 (or +60 one night it snowed but I know that’s beyond Metro’s capacity to help with).

      This also points to the challenges associated with onboard surveys. That approach is certainly helpful as one data point but any information you receive from onboard surveys are skewed towards folks for whom the routing works and against folks who are avoiding the route due to the delays but would take it if it were faster, more direct, and most importantly more reliable.

      1. On board surveys, really?? Not a market demand analysis? The obvious shortcoming of this method from a sampling approach has to be obvious.

        The biggest challenge is that, practically speaking, Metro has little incentive to grow ridership, other than filling existing buses. Every new rider is a “cost” – unless it improves the populace’s willingness to tax themselves for service. Most “revenue” is not farebox reovery, but taxbase, and Seattle will vote 70% for transit no matter the service snaffus. An enterprising approach would be for Metro to raise the level of awareness of its role in economic development. Buses are packed – which is a good thing – and this needs to be broadcast far and wide to raise awareness that more resources are needed. We also need better reporting mechanisms to interact with riders and non-riders (employers, pols, media, etc.).

      2. On-board surveys aren’t completely useless. If callers on a committee that has been having conference calls on Wednesdays does a survey on the call for the best night to meet, the result being Wednesday is not a useful defense to keep meeting on Wednesdays. (I’m sure Mr. Obeso understands that principle, even if he didn’t waste ink acknowledging it.)

        But if the result turns out to be that Thursdays are more convenient for everyone on the Wednesday call, then the poll has some utility, albeit stil not as much as doing an email or phone survey of the committee members.

        Consider the absurd case of doing an on-board survey of 42 riders. Guess what both of them will say? Keep the route!

      3. No because one of those two is Martin, and he will say ditch the route even though it’s convenient for him.

      4. FC, what do you mean when you say that every new rider is a cost? I could see this as being the case for routes/times when certain buses are already running at 100% (or technically above 100%, I think) capacity, but if you have a bus with half its seats open and you add another rider, that’s not extra cost. That’s extra money at effectively zero cost.

    2. Bingo.

      To make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs.

      There is alternative service to the destinations served by the 16’s circuitous routing. It is offensive for Metro to come to the County Council hat in hand begging for the CRC money and then refuse to make dead-simple changes like this, when at the exact same time they’re willing to drastically alter service to other urban villages like Ballard.

      Mr. Obeso, your words ring hollow.

    3. Precisely. In this case, it’s not enough to care about your existing riders — you also need to think about future potential riders.

      Almost by definition, the existing service is clearly not sufficient for those non-riders. And yet, if Metro wants to grow, some of these non-riders must be attracted. How else can this be done, except by making services more frequent, more reliable, and faster?

    4. “future potential riders”

      Yes, Metro, please consider this more. Those who prefer the status quo speak up, while those who would benefit from a consolidation often don’t realize it until they see it on the ground. Or they don’t follow Metro’s planning and don’t know it’s being considered, or they don’t live in the neighborhood because of its bad bus service. I have sometimes ridden the 358 or 71/72/73 to get to/from Wallingford to avoid the slow 16. If it’s not even serving its primary market (downtown-Wallingford) well, something is wrong. I had a friend who lived in the Wallingford Center, then moved to NE 65th St. Part of the reason was the slow 16: he commented that it took the 76 the same amount of time to reach 65th east of 15th, as it took for the 16 to reach 45th.

      So yes, keep the 16 on Aurora permanently, and consider David L’s idea to consolidate the 16 and 26. Anything to expand 15-minute frequency further into the evenings and weekends would be welcome.

      1. I’m a proponent of an intelligent 16/26 consolidation, but can’t take credit for the idea — Metro’s been talking about it in some form since before I was even a bus driver.

        I think all it would need to work would be the Aurora routing, 10-15 minute frequency, and a couple of minor changes to the 16 routing in Wallingford to make the route more central.

  4. But there are still many riders each day that enjoy the very convenient access to the Seattle Center that Route 16 provides.

    Then tell them to take the 3 or the 4.

    I don’t see, at least northbound, why anyone would take the 16 to the center. It stops at the opposite stop of all of the other Seattle Center routes while downtown.

    1. I think it’s mostly southbound riders. And the walk from Aurora/Broad to the Center is pretty lousy, so I can understand why so many people prefer the deviation to walking a couple blocks. The removal of Broad Street should make a big difference here.

      1. Southbound isn’t the problem though. There’s no loop southbound. I don’t see why they couldn’t keep the southbound route but change the northbound one to get rid of the loop.

      2. These are riders that would take the 16 north *from* Seattle Center, that use it as a connection between Seattle Center and north Seattle.

        It’s actually riders going north from the north part of the Center that have the worst walk. The walk from the southbound Aurora/Mercer stop to the Center is bad, but the walk from the Center to the northbound Aurora/Mercer stop is a crime against humanity. I usually try to be understanding about this kind of thing, but whoever designed the pedestrian facilities on the Mercer and Broad underpasses of Aurora deserves a pension fund managed by Rod Blagojevich. So unfortunately the hard decision is northbound: the worse half of the walk or the worse half of the deviation? (It’s a similar situation to the Linden deviation on RR E — both the deviation and the walk are easier SB).

        And what makes the decision easy is growth in SLU. It’s now as important to access destinations east of Aurora as west of it. This calls for keeping the bus on a straight path in both directions and fixing the broken pedestrian connections.

      1. I disagree. The monorail has one stop, and it’s unreasonable to expect anyone who’s closer to the Westlake Center stop than Seattle Center to walk to Westlake. But, like Schuyler said, there are other bus options.

  5. If this were true, Metro would have extended the tail of one of the 30s. This comes off as very whiny when Bruce nailed it on the head. I’ll believe Mr. Obeso when Metro starts doing stop consolidation on the Metro 5 and nixes half of the other stops on the 48. Until then, I call BS. Concern for customers…hah!

    1. BTW, this also comes incredibly suspect when the 3 and 4 already serve that side of Seattle Center to Downtown.

    2. I, for one, appreciate when Metro communicates with this blog, and I hope they continue to do so.

      Note that it isn’t just 16 riders going from downtown to the east side of the Seattle Center, but also riders going from the east side of the Seattle Center to North Seattle that are of concern to Metro. (This is not to say that I agree with their decision to originally keep the Seattle Center knot, but I just wanted to point out the ridership group being ignored here.)

      I do hope the elimination of the Seattle Center knot becomes permanent, FWIW.

      1. I get that. But, it’s an awful decision to leave it attached. Well, until now. No other North Seattle mainline like that to Downtown winds its way through Seattle Center. It’s a complete anomaly.

        I appreciate that Metro is willing to have representatives contribute to the blog. And, I encourage this for the future. But, putting out a flimsy defence of prior poor policy and service is pretty pathetic.

      2. The policy is just fine. The implementation and politics surrounding it got in the way.

        The service itself was just fine. The routing left a lot to be desired, making it an undesirable service.

        Sorry to get nit-picky about words.

      3. JR, the D Line is an artefact of the 15 which served the area and does not do a circuitous 10-blk+ deviation through a nightmare. It’s interlined with a ton of routes in Lower QA and links three urban centres together, something the 16 does not do. That’s equating apples to oranges. You can complain about the merits of terrible infrastructure for the route, but it serves a direct purpose whereas the 16 does not at all. That is a separate failure of SDOT and Metro and customers should be advocating for lane restrictions, queue jumps, and further TSP regardless of SDOTs purported excuses.

      4. Stephen – I’m sorry, but I am going to disagree. If the 3 and 4 is adequate for the east side of Seattle Center, then the 1, 2 and 13 should be adequate for the west side of the Seattle Center. And to add salt to the wound, the 32 follows the same path as the D Line from 15th Ave W to the west side of Seattle Center. And now that it appears the arena will be getting some improvements and a basketball team for the next few years, I consider the D Line deviation just as onerous as the 16 serving the east side of the Seattle Center.

        As for the 16’s current route revision, I place the primary blame on SDOT for not maintaining traffic standards so Metro could have kept the old routing.

      5. If the 3 and 4 is adequate for the east side of Seattle Center, then the 1, 2 and 13 should be adequate for the west side of the Seattle Center.

        I have to disagree. The west side of the Seattle Center has a larger, denser, and more active walkshed than the east side. This may change at some point in the future when the street grid is reconnected over Aurora, but right now 5th is pretty meh.

      6. The walkshed will never vastly improve in any measurable to make the need for the 16 route viable. The Gates Foundation’s offices assured this by killing mixed-use development opportunities and street connectivity. I have no idea what SDOT was thinking when they approved the ROW vacations there and masterplan. DPD also failed miserably on that front. Of course, there are some developable wedges. But, the 3 and 4 provide plenty of service as it is.

        JR, as I pointed out, the D Line serves 3 urban centres. That cannot be underscored enough. The development capacity of the west side of the Seattle Center is immense. 1000s of units and 1000s of jobs could be located there. Even the Seattle Subway would connect all dots. Having one of the most productive and enhanced routes skip an urban centre would be incredibly stupid. That said, like I mentioned before, SDOT and Metro need to give RR-D priority always. The left turn onto Mercer needs improvement regardless of SDOTs supposed standards for SOVs. Screw them, bus first.

      7. I think we all appreciate when officials communicate with this blog, but you can’t come here and treat us like we don’t already know what the issues are, both pro and con. This sounds like the same type of speech Metro would make at a public meeting of (generally) lower-information constituents to ensure some basic level of understanding, not a response to the specific concerns of a group of highly-informed activists/advocates.

        His response doesn’t really do much other than demonstrate that Metro, or at least Mr. Obeso, doesn’t take us very seriously.

  6. Thanks for your response, Mr. Obeso. This will be a welcome change for a lot of people (even if I thought the idea of a rush hour 16 express was a little more elegant of a solution that would keep everyone happy).

    1. I’ve been stuck on Mercer on Saturdays and Sundays. Needs to be changed at all times.

      1. Definitely. Saturday afternoons can be horrible when the matinees are getting out at the Center.

  7. Thank you for coming on the blog and sharing your perspective Mr. Obeso. Many people are frustrated with Metro’s glacial pace of making improvements so it helps to have a dialogue about WHY these common sense changes have to be seemingly forced on the organization.

    One thing that jumps out at me is the use of current rider surveys to justify the status quo. From where I stand that seems a text book example of sample bias. How much weight is given to such surveys?

    1. I’m sure his answer will be more elegant than mine, but it probably depends on how loud the shrill is from the freshly gored ox – hence, what do the oxen think.

    2. A little perspective here, please! Saying Metro’s changes are glacial is like saying the Obama administration was a failure 50 days into his administration.

      If we want Metro to do more bold things like the restructure last November (and, yes, I know it could have been a lot bolder), shifting the payment system dramatically toward fast ORCA boardings, and moving forward with more stop consolidations and other route speed-ups, then acknowledge and thank Metro for these big steps forward. Condemnations from those they listened to when deciding to do those big changes the past couple years is precisely why they may be tired of listening to us, and hence why they don’t want to do any more “Big Bang” service changes. If those who want those changes refuse to help them with political cover, why would they want to listen to us?

      If I were treated the way this blog has treated Metro since November’s “Big Bang” service change, I would cease listening to this blog.

      1. Brent, see Route 42 and the 2 Restructure. Or for a more topical example look at Bruce’s post on the 16, which this thread is about.

        mic, I think Link’s ridership has been doing a good enough job of controlling the message for a while now (to the point where apparently John Niles has stopped keeping track of it). No need for staff intervention.

      2. Yes, there exist some things Metro hasn’t done that this blog thinks it should do. But the existential is not the universal. There are plenty of things Metro has done that we have asked of them, and the trend has been for them to listen to us more and more, at least until they got all the pushback after the Big Bang restructure, and all we offered them was a piling on on the pushback.

      3. Also, the 42 will be gone with the February pick. Metro never wanted to keep it. The county council voted to force its continued existence for another 8 months.

      4. ‘If I were treated the way this blog has treated Metro since November’s “Big Bang” service change, I would cease listening to this blog.’

        That’d be a pretty poor way to run a public organization. Of course everyone likes validation, but the real validation is results. Is ridership up? Are costs per boarding down? Are there fewer customer complaints? Has reliability improved?

        Complaining is what groups like this do–STB is great because they tend to offer constructive solutions along with their criticisms. If many of those Big Bang service changes were the result of–or supported by–STB, the question is whether Metro is pleased with the results of that service change, not whether we stopped criticizing their shortcomings.

        (Not to say that this has to be an adversarial relationship–working as partners is a great place to start, and criticisms obviously shouldn’t get nasty or devolve to insults. But this isn’t a political party, we don’t have to make nice in public all the time just to keep up appearances.)

  8. If Mr. Obeso is reading this, I would love to know what the process for getting a bus stop added is.

    Route 21 is still lacking a southbound bus stop within reasonable walking distance of SODO Station. Is it Metro’s or SDOT’s responsibility to instigate getting that stop added?

    Thanks ahead of time for any response.

    1. Brent (1/22 10:13 a.m.) – Metro has been working with SDOT to establish a bus stop southbound in the vicinity of the SODO station. Requests to date by Metro have not been approved due to concerns with impacts to driveway access/egress and setback distances from intersections. We continue to work with SDOT to establish a stop that serves our riders (we’ve had several requests for this route to stop at this location) and that meet SDOT’s criteria. Metro’s Service Development section manages planning for bus stops, layovers and bus stop facilities. We regularly receive requests for establishment or changes to bus stops throughout the system, and you’re welcome to email me at should you have a request. Thanks, Victor Obeso

      1. When the 21 was initially routed off of First Ave, there was a temporary zone set up by Seattle Schools admin building. It disappeared after a couple of weeks. Not sure why.

  9. Mr. Obeso said, “Based on analysis, the indirect path fails Metro’s route directness guideline …”

    I’d like to read that directness guideline. Can some please give me a link to it? I can think of plenty of examples where bus routes go out of their way to service businesses and attractions in heavy traffic areas of far less size and importance than the Seattle Center.

      1. Thank you for the link. Their directness guideline has a lot of gray area, doesn’t it? The guideline is so imprecise that Metro could say either the 16 does or doesn’t fit the directness guideline, and it would be hard to argue with them. It seems written in such a way that they can use it to justify just about anything.

  10. I agree that the Seattle Center bottleneck sucks, but the 16 connects Northgate, and other Northend neighborhoods to Seattle Center. So many buses are oriented to downtown rather than connecting neighborhoods and popular destinations. This issue isn’t really the fault of Metro, but rather the city of Seattle. So often on this blog we put the fault with the transit agency rather than look at how the city could eliminate bottlenecks for bus routes, which by design connect neighborhoods nicely.

    1. Aurora and Denny is 0.3 miles from Seattle Center. Aurora and Mercer is even closer. Both are as close to the geographic epicenter of Seattle Center as the southbound bus stops on Queen Anne Ave.

      The problem is not distance, but that Mercer is hellish to walk, and Denny only marginally better.

      Unfortunately, Seattle is no stranger to important walking routes marginalized by bad infrastructure or botched streetscapes. These are neither the furthest not the worst. Fortunately, these are being slowly but surely improved.

      In the meantime, suck it up and walk to and from the bus via Denny.

      1. Looking forward to the completion(in my lifetime??) of the restored street grid between Seattle Center and South Lake Union. Then, debates such as the #16 routing would be moot.

    2. Valley Guy, that’s just what I was thinking…there’s already enough routes that come from up North to downtown Seattle. Why not have ONE route that deviates to Seattle Center? There’s been so much kvetching on STB about downtown-oriented service that when there is ONE route that is different, people are jumping on it to change it. If someone wants to get from downtown to Wallingford without going past Seattle Center, there’s at least two bus routes that will do it. When I was younger, I loved taking #16 to Seattle Center because it was the only bus in Wallingford that went DIRECTLY to Seattle Center without having to transfer downtown. And, like you said, if the bottlenecks are making people crazy, then the City of Seattle needs to fix it.

      1. Cinesea if you’re a current 16 rider it would likely be clear to you why the current north bound routing is dysfunctional. It’s not possible for Metro to provide reliable service in this corridor. I wouldn’t wish the 16 routing on any other north end bus.

        Plus, there is a direct bus from Wallingford to the Center already – the 32. You do have to get it on N 40th.

      2. Why not have ONE route that deviates to Seattle Center?

        Because the deviation, while serving only a few people, absolutely destroys both speed and reliability for all the other users of the route. Afternoons, evenings, and weekends, it can add 15-20 minutes to a northbound trip, which also has the effect of unpredictably making buses up to 15-20 minutes late for anyone in Fremont or Wallingford headed north.

      3. The issue is whether Wallingford is a large enough urban center to deserve its own route to downtown. Everybody agrees it is.

        We could truncate the 16 or 26 at Seattle Center so that people don’t mistake them for downtown routes. That would address Cinesa’s concern. It would leave a hole in Wallingford-downtown service, however.

      4. The Seattle Center deviation wastes the time of everybody who uses the bus, even those who aren’t even on it at that time. Even people who just want to go from Wallingford to Northgate still have to wait out the Seattle Center deviation – they just do it standing at the bus stop, rather than on board the bus.

        When you drive from Wallingford to Northgate, traffic around the Seattle Center has absolutely no effect on you. If we want a bus system that competes with driving, the same needs to be true with transit.

    3. Is there some reason why people in Wallingford, Greenlake, and Northgate are more likely to go to Seattle Center than people in Greenwood or Aurora? Are people in other parts of north Seattle likely to walk or transfer to the 16 to get to Seattle Center? No and no.

      1. Will the frequency increase to every 15 minutes due to the time saved on the trip or will service remain at every 20 minutes which is difficult to schedule connections with other routes.

      2. Any service hours this frees up are not guaranteed to be reinvested on this route. If they can find a way to keep 20-minute headways with one fewer bus, they will do it.

        But that bus may be redeployed on an existing overcrowded route.

      3. It’s not likely they would increase frequency based on time savings from what is, at this point, a construction reroute.

        But it would be a heck of a carrot to dangle when it’s time to make the switch permanent.

        There appears to be sufficient time in the schedule to allow it at most times of day, assuming 5 minutes of saved time per outbound trip, but that conclusion is based on paper and doesn’t take real-world reliability into account. As of right now there is a reason the 16 gets fairly generous recovery time. In addition to Seattle Center, it faces delay issues on 45th, at Woodlawn/Ravenna, and on Northgate Way.

  11. Congratulations to Metro for NOT working very hard and botching the C line in West Seattle and abandoning the Admiral District service, They took care of Magnolia and Queen Ann, but not Admiral and Alki.

  12. It’s no wonder that folks want bus service around the Seattle Center. Transit riders what to go to destinations! Understandably, it’s difficult to keep on time if one uses 5th. On the other hand, for those with difficulties walking, or in wheelchairs, it’s difficult to get from Aurora to the Seattle Center. Too often, the latter are ignored by those of us who are able-bodied. Metro, in conjunction with city planners, needs to find a solution, which perhaps might be one-way traffic for general-purpose traffic going northbound on 5th, a single bus lane going southbound. Or, visa-versa.
    While we’re speaking of destinations, Metro needs to serve the Woodland Park Zoo, which it needlessly “overlooks” on the southbound direction. People are told to deboard at 45th, but then there’s a difficult walk on sidewalks in poor condition to a transfer that’s mostly not made. The answer, a stop at 50th, where a gently-sloping ramp goes towards the south entrance to the zoo, is obvious.

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