An Ideal Transfer
An Ideal Transfer

Here’s a stat that’s making the rounds, thanks to the good folks over at Commute Seattle: Seattle has the lowest percentage of commuters who drive alone of all cities without a “robust subway system.”

Seattle’s been successful in luring commuters out of their cars for several reasons: our highways are packed, downtown parking is expensive, the Flex Pass program has been really successful, and we’ve built a lot of HOV lanes. Add to that the now-abandoned 40-40-20 rule, which ensured that a lot of commuter service got built out in the ‘burbs, and you have the situation we’re in now: commuter service is amazing. Really top notch. We have one-seat rides into downtown from as far away as North Bend.  Getting downtown by bus from Northgate (8.2 miles) is often faster than coming in from Madrona (2.5 miles).  It’s what you’d expect given a transit agency whose political support base extends from Puget Sound to Snoqualmie Pass, compounded by the land use patterns of the greater Seattle area.

One one hand, that’s great! Getting workers to their jobs in the region’s employment centers by bus is fantastic. It takes cars off the roads during rush hour and reduces the need for parking. But providing John Q. Office Worker with a one-seat ride to downtown during rush hour is just one of many use cases for a transit system. Many people rely on the bus for all-day transportation to doctor’s appointments, school, and entertainment.  These types of trips don’t happen during rush hour and they don’t happen between the ‘burbs and downtown.

In a world of unlimited resources, we’d improve these all-day trips by amping up the number of one-seat rides between various neighborhoods. Delridge to Kirkland every 10 minutes!  In the real world, the world where Metro on the brink of another huge service reduction, we have to make choices. One choice that Metro is starting to make – wisely, in my view – is to expand all-day service by relying more on transfers.  If we move to a grid system, we can greatly expand the frequency and reach of the network without increasing costs. The downside is that you’ll have to transfer more often.

The challenge is that most bus transfers currently suck. When you’re riding a subway in a city like New York or London, it’s like entering the warp zone from Super Mario Brothers: you enter the system, and then you bounce around from line to line until you get to your destination. You don’t give much thought to the transfer. Follow the signs, walk through the tunnels, and you’ll get to the next train.  The system puts the rider at ease. Bus transfers, on the other hand, cause anxiety. Get off at a random intersection, walk across the street and stand next to the pole, where it’s probably raining and there may not be a shelter. Wait some indeterminate time, all by yourself, for the next bus to arrive.

In fact, one of the more common themes I heard among opponents of restructuring Route 2 last fall was that they were afraid to transfer on 3rd Avenue to get to Queen Anne. It’s hard to blame them.  This is the Catch-22: a better bus network will necessitate better transfers, but many riders won’t support a better bus network until the transfers are better.

In the meantime, there are a couple of things that the city and SDOT can do to improve the transfer experience.  The first and most basic is to ensure that transfer points are dry, well-lit, safe, and with good signage. The second is to increase frequency. If both the line you’re on and the line you’re transferring to have 10-minute headways or better, the transfer will be relatively painless. As Adam has pointed out in the past, you don’t even need both lines to have short headways for a more pleasant transfer experience.

Getting to a world where transfers are decent and there are grids and we can warp zone around the region will be tough. But that’s the world we have to get to if we want a bus network that can support all-day ridership on high demand corridors. We may lose some one-seat rides into downtown, but the result will be a more useful system that gets more people to more places more often.

97 Replies to “In Praise of Transfers”

  1. It’s worse than that.

    It’s more like: get off at some random intersection, with no clear idea if it’s the right intersection, and then try to find a bus stop “nearby”, not across the street where you can see it but a block or two away — but which direction? Try walking a block this way; no that’s not it. Find a stop — your bus isn’t listed on it. Go back the way you came and a block beyond, or carry on towards your destination hoping to find it. There’s no system map because you’re not in a station, you’re just on some random street. You know the 16 goes where you want to go but you don’t know even what neighborhood it goes through to get there. Walk for a mile down some dubious-looking industrial streets. Encounter an uncrossable arterial; the nearest crossing appears to be a pedestrian bridge a thousand yards to the north — but you can’t be sure until you get there. Get used to walking the wrong way. When you do find the correct stop (are you SURE this is the right direction?) prepare to wait a long, long time.

    Oh, wait, you have One Bus Away? Excellent! Here comes one now — three minutes, two, one, zero, zero, -1, -2, hmm, there was no bus. Now what?

    This describes the transfer process even in downtown-adjacent areas; if you’re trying to get to Kent or Shoreline, forget it. The buses that go there don’t go anywhere near the part you want, and if they do they come once an hour, and you could see the last one leaving as you were exiting yours.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken journeys that took five times as long as the theoretical minimum on the fastest bus because I didn’t make the connections. Essentially walking speed, for distances of three or four miles.

    1. You’ve nailed it as usual. Transfers really truly only work well at “transit centres” like Northgate, and even then a late/early bus ruins everything.

      1. At “transit centers” like Northgate, the only reason transfers can sort of well is by designing routes that favor people transferring at the expense of people who simply want to travel in a straight line.

        Northgate is perfect example of this, it is impossible to travel through Northgate without making a giant deviation to the transit and having at least a layover of several minutes once you get there, if not an outright transfer from one bus to another one.

        On the surface, it looks like the system is merely reacting to demand, as not many people ride the 345->348 or 346->347 thru-routes past Northgate and, before last fall, not many people rode the 75 through Northgate either.

        However, if you walk along Northgate Way and observe the numerous cars passing through, you can quickly conclude the obvious – riding the bus east/west through Northgate takes an excruciatingly long time, so everyone making this trip is instead doing it in their cars.

        Metro’s attempts to jiggle the routes in ways to make transfers at the transit center easier have created a system where a 3-4 mile hop, in a straight line, that with a true gridded system shouldn’t even involve a transfer at all, takes far, far longer than it needs to take.

        This trip, for example, is scheduled at 42 minutes on the bus vs. just 11 minutes driving. And that is under the very optimistic assumption that your origin and destination in Lake City and Greenwood are right next to an east/west bus stop. Add in a 10 minute walk to/from the bus stop on each end, plus an additional 5-10 minutes of waiting for the first bus, and you’re looking at over an hour of travel time each way! All because of the burning need that facilitate transfers happening at the transit center!

      2. Here’s a more realistic example of a cross-town trip through Northgate. 2.6 miles in length, just under an hour to walk. Transit, on the other hand, by the time you walk to and from the bus stops and wait for both connections, turns out to be no faster than simply walking.

        It is trips like these that make splurging on Car2Go worth every penny.

      3. This is the most completely in concurrence that I’ve ever been with a comment of yours.

        Suburban-node-style transit centers have absolutely no place in an urban route system.

    2. while I do share some of your critiques, google actually does a pretty decnt job of showing but stop locations. when you drive you also need to know where to park, etc. some investment of time in locating the required information is the onus of the user…

      1. So, if I’m out and about, and I’m one of the half of the population that doesn’t have a smart phone, can I use yours to do all this googling with?

        When I drive, I have to find parking, yes, but I don’t have to stop halfway through and locate a different car.

    3. Oh, come on. It’s not that bad if you plan your trip and know the routes. Well, as long as you are in King County.

      In Pierce County, it could be worse than you described. The bus you are trying to connect to could be running at 90min-2hr frequency, or could even be finished for the day. If you didn’t know better, you could be waiting throughout the night for your bus, or even 2.5 days if your bus only runs on weekdays. If you do know better, you had better get back on the us you just got off of before it stops running too!

      Trip planning probably won’t go over well either. It’s unlikely that there is a bus that will take you anywhere near where you want to go unless you are going to Tacoma or Puyallup (NE Tacoma doesn’t count; you’ll get stranded for the night).

      Darn Reject Prop 1.

  2. Like libertarianism and communism, a bus network reliant on people being willing to transfer is a great idea on paper, but unworkable in practice. People won’t do it, don’t want it, and will resist being made to transfer. Rail lines are different because their schedules are predictable. Not so with buses.

    Our bus routes are good ones and the Commute Seattle stats you led with show that the current system is working fine. There’s no need to blow it up out of an ideological commitment to a theory.

    Let’s instead work to get the funding we need to expand on the existing system, adding frequency to the busiest routes and adding coverage to new areas as needed. That’s actually more doable politically and practically than imposing a totally new system that nobody wants and expecting people to suddenly change their behavior to match your ideological proposals.

    1. Yeah because Vancouver and Portland’s transit systems don’t work in practice.

      1. Notice the stat that opened this article. If their systems are doing so well why is Seattle leading in lowest number of people driving alone to work?

      2. Lowest percentage of cities without a robust subway system. I think Vancouver, at least, has one.

      3. Will, Vancouver has a proper rail system and fewer people drive there relative to here.

      4. Commute Seattle’s data is only for U.S. cities and is based on overall citywide drive-alone rate using American Community Survey 2011 1-year estimates. We are 7th in overall citywide drive alone rate at 54% (while Downtown’s drive alone rate is only 34%). The only cities ahead of us are subway cities: NYC (22%), DC (33%), SF (38%), Boston (39%), Chicago (50%), and Philadelphia (50%).

      5. Gas in Vancouver B.C. is also approaching the equivalent of US$5/gal in Vancouver. When gas prices spike here we see a corresponding spike in transit use.

      6. So unless I am reading Zach’s comment incorrectly, Seattle’s existing system is doing better than every other city in the country except those with subways. That includes Portland, which has a more robust rail network than we do here in Seattle.

        If that reading is accurate, and I know folks here will tell me if it isn’t, then I do not see the need for blowing up a system that works really well right now and forcing people to transfer. Studies also show that introducing transfers reduces the number of people who use transit. The theories may work on paper but they do not work in practice.

      7. You made an absolute statement and I pointed out that there are examples to the contrary.

        First, note that we’re only talking about percent of *commute* trips which are usually only about 1/3 of the total number of trips a person makes in a day and the type most favorable to a one-seat commuter bus based system. Those other 2/3 of trips are what a frequent, non-radial transit system does better at.

        Second you don’t have to “blow up” the system to get a better transfer base network, particularly in areas further out that can be restructured around Link. It means prioritizing core routes over wondering routes. Connecting local routes to Link and having peak routes feed Link.

      8. Will,

        I think you’re missing all the subtlety in Frank’s argument. If your metric is reduction in car commutes we’re doing great. The point is that we can have better goals than that.

      9. Hey Will, did you actually bother to click on the link. It turns out that Seattle does really well for people who don’t drive … (wait for it) DOWNTOWN!. Exciting, huh. A city that built its transit system around getting people downtown actually does a good job at it. Wonderful. As a kid who grew up taking the buses, my first response is, well, DUH!. No one in their right mind would bother driving to work if they work downtown. Everyone knows that even if you don’t want to go downtown, your first step is usually to go downtown. Live on Queen Anne and want to go to Ballard? First go downtown. Yippee. Of course, if you want to go from Queen Anne to Ballard fast, you drive. Likewise if you want to go from Lake City to Fremont. Or Wallingford to West Seattle. That is why so many people drive, unless they work downtown. I really don’t know what your point is, unless you simply failed to do your research and proclaimed everything hunky-dory. In the real world, people are extremely frustrated with our slow transit system, and simply drive as an alternative (unless they work downtown).

    2. when I read the article I was thinking to myself, how sad that in Seattle the obvious still needs to be argued for. Then reading these comments I again am wondering how many of you are actually using the bus on a daily basis, and how many of you have been to places that have bus systems with frequent service.

      Of course people will use transfers. I am counter proof to your claim, so bam your statement is wrong.

      I used to commute with the one seat 243 from NE Seattle to Bellevue.
      Since the 271 started running every 10 minutes, I use that and transfer.
      And on the way back transferring still sucks, precisely for the reasons Frank pointed out.
      I theoretically have 10 or so different transfer options, all 30 minute headways, requiring different routing, so I have to use OBA to find out what stop to get off at, which stop to walk to, and still potentially wait 30 minutes.
      You might say, I am lucky that I have so many options. I can assure you it still sucks. I am thinking of writing a fucking app to provide real time transfer guidance. You should not need the help of a computer to figure out how to take the bus, or an internet connection for that matter.

      I’d much rather have 1 option, that runs every 5 minutes.

      And by the way, the point of the post was, yes Metro works for commuters, but here is what needs to happen to make it work for non commute trips to a variety of destinations. And he is spot on. Come on this is elementary generally accepted network design stuff.

      1. “You should not need the help of a computer to figure out how to take the bus.”

        Gold star!

        I literally had to buy an iPhone to not have to buy a car. How messed up is that?

      2. It’s not that bad – an iPhone is far cheaper than car, and a data plan significantly cheaper than car insurance, depending on how much coverage you have.

    3. People won’t do it, don’t want it, and will resist being made to transfer.

      Why? Because transfers suck. The whole point of Frank’s article is to explain why that needs to change.

      Let’s instead work to get the funding we need to expand on the existing system

      Have you actually looked at the options for that lately? Do you seriously think the legislature (complete with Republican-controlled Senate) is going to give us more than a small amount of local-option funding, or start providing state support for transit?

      We need to do more with what we have. We just can’t get huge amounts of new resources at the moment, and telling us to focus there is telling us to tilt at windmills. The best place to start doing more with what we have is to reduce duplication. The duplication, in a lot of places, is what prevents people from having to transfer. And if we had fewer, but much more frequent, routes, transfers would be a lot less painful, and everyone would be better served.

      There are other things we need to do to make transfers better, too.

      First, make sure that every transfer point expected to have a meaningful number of riders has shelters, good lighting, and regular maintenance for each stop.

      Second, put in some signage at significant transfer points, directing people from one stop to another. The signage should be simple and conspicuous, just like it is in good subway systems: “120 to Downtown 50 Feet This Way [arrow].”

      Third, make sure that pedestrian infrastructure to get between stops is adequate.

      Finally, try to ensure that major transfers are not taking place anywhere scary or threatening. I wouldn’t want to transfer if my transfer point was Rainier & Henderson, no matter how frequent the routes were.

      1. Frank’s proposals won’t make more people want to make bus transfers. The only way people will do so is if their next bus will be waiting for them, or be less than 5 minutes away, at the transfer point. That requires a totally different on-street infrastructure. It’s not that the transfer points are scary or threatening, most aren’t, it’s that people don’t want to have to wait twice. You cannot force people to conform their behaviors to your theories.

        If you believe that Republican control of the State Senate is permanent, then we should all just quit now because transit will never get better. We cannot “do more with what we have,” we need more and there is political opportunity to get more if we are willing to do it rather than come up with theories that will not work in practice.

      2. The disconnect in what you’re saying is really kind of startling. On the one hand, you’re telling me to just give up on ever making transfers tolerable, no matter what. On the other hand, you’re blithely asserting without any evidence that getting more funding would be no problem if only I’d stop being such a pessimist. One of those is much harder than the other, and it’s not the one I’m advocating.

        I’ve spent time in plenty of places where plenty of people transfer. If you make the transfers not suck, people will use them. Making transfers not suck really means just one thing: less waiting time, i.e., reduced headways. (Better infrastructure would also help, but it’s far less important.) Vastly reduced headways are achievable with our current level of funding if only we would stop trying to connect every minor arterial in the city with downtown, no matter how redundant.

      3. “Having to wait twice” is very much the issue. By the time you wait 15 minutes for the first bus (because you have to be there 5 minutes early, and it’s 10 minutes late) and 30 minutes for the second one, you could have been there already by driving or taking a one-seat ride. And I’ve waited *far* longer than 30 minutes at transfers. On a few occasions a scheduled bus was simply missing from the route (on the schedule, on One Bus Away, never appeared, presumably due to mechanical problems.)

        For a while my normal commute had two transfers. People looked at me like I was some kind of masochist when I rattled off the route numbers involved.

        Better wayfinding and lit shelters are nice, but finding my way to a lit shelter in order to wait for 30 minutes still means I’m wasting 30 minutes of my time.

    4. Like libertarianism and communism, a bus network reliant on people being willing to transfer is a great idea on paper, but unworkable in practice.

      This reminds me of people who say something like “a well armed populace is necessary to prevent tyranny” and cite the US as their only data point. It’s as if those countries that have few guns/no tyranny (or lots of guns and lots of tyranny) don’t exist. This guy writes as if Portland and Vancouver don’t exist.

    5. FWIW, the only city where I’ve seen people do bus-to-bus transfers routinely was London, England.

      You should see their bus stops downtown. They are *informative* in a way I have *never* seen elsewhere.

      1. Yes – London’s bus system makes transfers relatively painless, based on a few important facts. (And it isn’t just “downtown” [City of?] London; it’s the entirety of central London, a far greater area.)

        1. Wayfinding. London makes extensive use of close-range area maps that classify stops in a particular area by letter. Those maps are at every shelter. And every stop has a shelter. I got off at stop B; map says I need stop F to pick up next route in proper direction: use the map.

        2. ETA signs. Electronic next-bus signs are fairly common throughout London. Not so here, although OBA has largely blunted the need for that. However, while I could sing the praises of OBA extensively, there are things about it that leave something to be desired (although it may not necessarily be OBA’s fault…)

        3. Frequency. Well, duh. Most bus routes run at 8-10x an hour (5 to 7.5 minute headways) for much of the day.

      2. adam — I was having trouble coming up with a name for the portion of London which I was trying to describe. There may be a consistent usage within the area, but I haven’t heard it. “Central London” is as good as any.

    6. ya because Chicago’s CTA has excellent connections at frequent intervals many at places away from transit centers and rail stations.

  3. It’s hard to imagine an effective grid system for buses in Seattle. There is a street grid (or rather, there are two), but there is not much consistency, especially along major streets, because of the major elevation changes in the city. Not to mention all the water getting in the way.

    On the other hand it is easy to imagine more route consolidation, with relatively less frequent routes feeding into more frequent trunk routes. There could be, for example, just one route going between Capital Hill and Downtown, with many fewer stops, and then have other routes feed into it. If the trunk route had, say, 5-minute headways and could take you from Broadway and Pine to 3rd and Pine with only 1 or 2 stops in between, a transfer might be worth it.

    1. If you think hard enough about it, it’s possible to design a pretty consistent gridded route network in the city. There are certainly deviations, irregularities, and trouble spots, but our topography doesn’t at all interfere with the larger vision of a more gridded, more frequent system.

    2. The North End in particular lends itself to a frequent gridded network. (I’m not as familiar with the nuances of the South End, but it seems as though there’s a few more topographical issues there.)

    3. Can anyone think of a city the size of Seattle–with similar geographic challenges–that has a better transit system?

      Seattle wasn’t built to facilitate grid-based transit routes. In fact, it’s hard to think of a worse geographic location for a major city’s central business district. Because only a finite number of vehicles can fit through the throat of Seattle’s hourglass geography, a mass transit system should have been built about 100 years ago. But Seattle suffers from the effect of decades of head-up-the-ass reluctance to build a strong mass transit system. Until there is a reliable, grade separated, easy-to-access light rail system running between Tacoma and Everett many people will still prefer to drive their own cars.

      1. It’s a bit tricky to make straightforward comparisons because there is no other city Seattle’s size with a remotely similar layout. But there are tons of mid-sized cities around the world with better transit systems. We can do better, and for the most part we can do it with a grid. Some routes on the grid just end up being longer to get around obstacles.

      2. How specific is that challenge? I can think of cities larger than Seattle with similar geographic challenges and better transit systems. I’m not sure I can think of any cities exactly the same size as Seattle.

        “In fact, it’s hard to think of a worse geographic location for a major city’s central business district.”

        San Francisco, on the tip of a peninsula with a giant hill? Manhattan, on a freaking island? Boston, on *another* peninsula?

        Galveston, Texas, basically on a *sandbar*?

        “But Seattle suffers from the effect of decades of head-up-the-ass reluctance to build a strong mass transit system.”

        Well, I can’t argue with that.

      3. The issue is barriers inside Seattle, not around it. Jarrett Walker: “No North American city has more chokepoints than Seattle. The city itself consists of three peninsulas with narrow water barriers between them. Further barriers are created by steep hills in most parts of the city. Nowhere in Seattle can you travel in a straight line for more than a few miles without going into the water or over a cliff.”

        It took me a while to accept this because they don’t meet my definition of “penninsulas” like the Kitsap Penninsula. But you can see them if you look at the approaches to the city center from the land borders: the “barriers” are the Ship Canal and the Duwamish Waterway. The “further barriers” are Beacon Ridge and the several ridges in West Seattle (35th, Delridge).

        At first glance San Francisco and Vancouver seem to have similar barriers. But the only real comparable barrier in San Francisco is Twin Peaks. The lesser barriers (Bernal Heights and Nob Hill) were all small enough to successfully impose the grid on. Vancouver has False Creek, but again that’s only one barrier. New York has the East River and Harlem Riger, but to make its barriers comparable to Seattle in terms of how often residents typically have to cross them, you’d have to add them within Manhattan; e.g., between downtown and midtown.

      4. Yes, we have chokepoints . Many chokepoints. This makes driving terrible. But it should make transit way more productive. For example, let’s assume that downtown Seattle was our only chokepoint. It is a big one (and a big destination to boot). Suddenly, our transit system is pretty close to perfect. All buses go to the chokepoint, and all buses flow from the chokepoint. Taking a bus is pretty much as fast as driving. This is true today for someone who wants to get from Lynnwood to West Seattle during rush hour. You might as well take an express bus downtown, then hop on a bus that gets you to West Seattle. Depending on traffic, riding the bus might actually be faster.

        We should embrace our chokepoints as transit centers. To do so, we need to do several things:

        1) Increase frequency
        2) Increase the speed in which we can travel through the checkpoints. The bus tunnel does a pretty good job of this. In my example, you would travel through the tunnel, and transfer to a bus that traveled quickly at the other end.
        3) Add more transit support for these chokepoints. We know where they are. Forty years ago, downtown was pretty much it. Now, there is another big one at 520/UW. Both of these are actually pretty long, as opposed to actual points (more like choke-lines).

        The way we handle these last two points is critical. It is easy to assume that because our topography is so challenging, we will have to spend oodles of money solving the problem. I think it is the other way around. If we want to build a pretty good half-ass system, we only need to handle the choke points really well. Right now, we aren’t doing a very good job.

        So many of our buses travel through downtown on surface streets. This is nuts. If the tunnel has met capacity, build another one. It doesn’t go that far. It wouldn’t be that expensive to build a west side tunnel (oops, we are building one — we are just using it for through traffic).

        Likewise, so many buses spend a lot of time traveling from the outskirts of downtown to their destination. Consider a trip to Fremont from, say, Lake City Way. You can take an express bus downtown, but then what? It will take you a long time just to get to Fremont. Much of this time is spent just leaving downtown (not crossing the bridge). Here is an idea: Build a tunnel from the northernmost station to Aurora. Don’t like that idea? How about Westlake, or Dexter. No matter how you cut it, you would greatly increase the speed in which you can travel that area by simply avoiding the most congested area.

        The visionaries who built the tunnel had it right. They just didn’t assume that we would end it there. The best thing to do is build grade separated rail for the entire area. The second best thing to do is confront the slowest spots and eliminate them. Branch the tunnel to the west so that it avoid the slowest areas. This would be a pretty cheap way to greatly increase the speed of the system.

      5. RossB, nothing involving a tunnel — even a short one — is cheap or easy. If it were, we’d have three parallel tunnels under downtown, a tunnel under Queen Anne, and at least two tunnels under Capitol and First Hills.

        The DSTT was a huge political lift and tore up a significant chunk of downtown for about three years during construction. The Beacon Hill, Capitol Hill, and North Seattle tunnels are the majority of the Central Link budget. More tunnels are a great idea, but they are neither cheap nor easy — they would be the central expenditure of any future plans involving them.

      6. Depends how short. ;-)

        I’ve made the case, and I fully believe, that a one-block tunnel to put the SLUT into Westlake’s mezzanine would be a whole lot cheaper and more effective than the “Downtown Connector” silliness.

        Of course, that’s just a single block.

      7. “New York has the East River and Harlem River, but to make its barriers comparable to Seattle in terms of how often residents typically have to cross them,”

        (And if you’re talking about the NY Metro Area, the “Hudson Ocean” is a humungous barrier.)

        That’s a matter of how housing evolved. You could have exactly the same situation in Seattle if you’d zoned differently.

        The number of people who have to cross between Brooklyn and Manhattan is *massive*. Furthermore, it always has been. There’s a reason the Brooklyn Bridge was a big deal.

        “you’d have to add them within Manhattan; e.g., between downtown and midtown.”

        Ever actually looked at Manhattan topography? It’s not flat. Portions of it have been *flattened* over the decades, but two rail lines jump out of the ground onto bridges over the Manhattan Valley before going underground again.

        Early on, development was divided by the canal. It was filled in.

        Manhattan, and greater New York City, had humungous natural challenges. Don’t imagine that it didn’t. These challenges were overcome largely by throwing humungous amounts of money at them, during a period when it was the leading city in the US and often the leading city in the world. There are *ten* crossings from Manhattan to Brooklyn alone.

        I don’t think Seattle can take the path New York City did. (Flatten hills! Fill in valleys! Move people into skyscrapers! Build a gazillion tunnels and bridges! Money is no object!) But don’t underestimate how difficult the problems of New York topography actually were.

      8. RossB does have a point. Chokepoints are actually good for building dense cities (uh, see Manhattan) and for heavy public transit usage (uh, see New York City). You have to have the sense to use them properly.

        Someone has claimed that it would be impossible to retrofit the Aurora Avenue bridge with light rail. I would love to see hard evidence of this — because that is what I would call a perfect “chokepoint-crossing” rail route of the sort which would be extremely well patronized. Imagine it is impossible. How about bus lanes then?

      9. Seattle flattened its share of hills and filled its share of valleys, too. I don’t think you could do that kind of massive project today, even with New York money. I think just the list of environmental regulations it violates would be as long as my arm.

        That’s one thing about comparing Seattle to cities like New York and Paris. They built their subway systems in an era when political and environmental opposition meant nothing, and when there were no work safety laws. Back then, it was considered acceptable to lose a life for every mile of tunnel you dug. Today we have laws about those things, and we’re better off for it, but it means building infrastructure on that scale today is nearly impossible.

  4. Transfers are a lot nicer in small systems with cute transit centers (Olympia) with pulse schedules. Transferring in downtown Seattle means being surrounded by trash, diesel exhaust, and 95 decibels of noise, and maybe waiting half an hour. If you’re going to make transfers work you’ll need a hell of a lot of placemaking (something STB is never interested in).

      1. Pulse schedules and “cute transit centers” should stay in small cities, where they belong.

        They represent the exact opposite of spontaneous-usage frequency and anywhere-to-anywhere mobility freedom that a gridded system with painless transfers in a big city should hope to achieve.

    1. As Link grows many transfers will actually occur outside of downtown at Link stations if a transfer based system is developed. And as far as place making at Link stations I think that is something we have shown we care about very much.

  5. I love riding the bus.

    My only rule is – if I have to transfer, I won’t do it.

    We simply don’t have the density of population or ridership to support the headways needed to make Seattle decent for transfers.

    Talk to me in 50 years and we will see of the population projections come about.

    For now, I ain’t transferring if I can possibly avoid it. Right now that means bringing my bike along with me.

    1. We simply don’t have the density of population or ridership to support the headways needed to make Seattle decent for transfers.

      Again, someone assumes Vancouver and Portland don’t exist.

      Metro is the 8th largest transit agency in the United States, and by far the largest bus only agency in the country.

      1. If you are trying to be insulting, that’s fine.

        If you are trying to make an actual argument, you are going to have to be a lot less cryptic.

      2. In other words, you need to explain why the size of our transit agency somehow negates the fact that we simply don’t have the critical mass of ridership needed to support < 10 minute headways on all but a few select routes.

        Also, I am currently in Portland. I won't be transferring here either. Please tell me what you are inferring, beyond tittering snark.

      3. He is telling you that in Vancouver and I think Portland the bus network is largely gridded and realies extensively on transfers. Vancouver has a smaller population than Seattle but it works in Vancouver….therefore it should work in Seattle. A caveate to the above is that it transfers do not work well in the burbs where you transfer from infrequent to infrequent service. It does work in most of Vancouver though.

      4. What Rico said. Portland has the kind of thing you’re saying we don’t have the ridership or density to support, despite the fact that we have more ridership and density than Portland. See here:

        When Portland improved their bus network, but decreased one seat rides, a lot of people like you whined initially, but eventually the superior service and coverage that reform brought to Portland became quite popular. There’s no reason to think a similar reform wouldn’t have a similar fate.

        I was snarky because your statement about ridership/density requirements and grid routing in Seattle could only be based on ignorance about other major transit systems around the world.

      5. Alright. That makes a bit of sense, though I had thought that Vancouver was significantly more dense than Seattle, and Portland is clearly far more suited to a grid-like system than even the few areas, like Ballard, that do not have significant barriers, like water and cliffs, breaking up any semblance of a grid.

        Do you have data which shows that Portlanders are much more apt to transfer?

    2. We simply don’t have the density of population or ridership to support the headways needed to make Seattle decent for transfers.

      Is that really true? Or is it only true if we assume the network is frozen in amber and can’t be changed?

      Think about any bus route with a half-hour headway in the denser parts of the city. When you think about such routes you will always find a way, often pretty obvious, to consolidate the route and create a frequent service corridor that would work for transfers. Two that particularly come to mind are the 2N and 13 (in upper Queen Anne) and the 11 (on Madison). For the 2N/13, we’ve extensively discussed consolidating those two corridors into the 13, and making changes to the 1 and the 4N that would almost totally eliminate any pain from the consolidation. For the 11, I can imagine about four different solutions involving consolidation of the 2S, 10, 11, and 12 in various ways. Both of these solutions would result in frequent routes with the ridership to support them. Your complaint betrays a lack of imagination.

    3. “For now, I ain’t transferring if I can possibly avoid it. Right now that means bringing my bike along with me.”

      Thank you for not making empty threats to go back to driving if Metro doesn’t stop right in front of your house, doesn’t give you 15-minute or less headway, and doesn’t give you a one-seat ride to both the Seattle Center and the baseball stadium. ;)

  6. One thing that would make transfers significantly more friendly would be to post a schedule of when buses are expected to be AT YOUR STOP rather than posting when a bus leaves an intersection you may or may not have heard of and (even if you have heard of it) are completely unaware of how long a bus takes to get from that starting point to your bus stop.

    1. I disagree. If expected arrival time is posted specific to each stop, riders will be surprised when the bus blew by two minutes earlier.

      Stick to expected departure times from actual time points (where operators have to wait if they get there earlier), and fewer riders end up barely missing their bus.

      Metro could get a little bit smarter in regards to where they choose their timepoints. For bus routes serving train stations, those stops should be timepoints (with the possible exception of routes that shadow the train for multiple stations). The 50 still doesn’t use Columbia City Station as a timepoint, despite numerous plees from former 34 and 39 riders to at least do that. A key strategy to improve a transfer is to convince Metro to make it a timepoint.

      1. Post the schedule for each stop with “These times are estimates, please arrive five minutes early to ensure you catch your bus,” and that problem is solved. Putting estimated schedule info for that stop at every stop would make the bus system way easier to use without actually hurting anything.

      2. The posted times are worthless and often counterproductive, because Metro’s on-time percentage is horrible.

        Posting schedules that we know Metro won’t be able to keep does more harm than good.

        Using Metro’s stated instructions of “use the schedule or trip planner and be at your stop 5 minutes early” is a recipe for never getting anywhere on time.

      3. Or you could do what they do in London, in the UK, and have the buses arrive on time at most stops.

        (Every stop which has a shelter and timetables and so forth is a timepoint, AFAICT, but the buses do stop at other unmarked stops.)

      4. I am being a bit unfair by suggesting that anyone model their bus network on London’s. It’s the only city I know of where it has been possible to put bus lanes practically everyhwere (converted from car lanes) and enforce them. The area where bus lanes wouldn’t fit was mostly covered by the Congestion Charge.

        If you can get that level of political will, you can do a lot, but it seems like an overly ambitious political goal in most of the US.

  7. Metro made a bold leap last October creating the 50 and the 156. What did not follow was operating or capital investment. There was no trade-off of improved frequency in consideration for having to transfer.

    The 50 stops next to SODO Station are a treasure hunt. There is no signage at SODO Station giving directions to those stops. Worse, the common-sensical idea of combining the 50 and 21 stops, for getting to West Seattle, has not happened. Maybe the 50 should make 2 stops westbound on Lander. The 21 stop is actually visible, compared to the 50 stop sign hidden between trees. Allowing riders to have a combined stop to wait at would do wonders for the willingness of riders to wait there for a bus. Also that stop merits a better clerical investment than the paper schedules under non-airtight glass that get wet and blow away. Don’t expect lots of riders to wait half an hour during periods when the schedule has become part of the soil.

    The 156 has a similar painful miss. When I first went to check out the 156 from Airport Station, I assumed there would be a westbound stop close to the corner of 188th and Pac Hwy. Wrong. I had to backtrack to find the stop closer to the station, and watch my bus go by. The next one wouldn’t come for an hour, so I gave up on checking out the 156 that day. If any station should have a map to get to bus bays, Airport Station should be at the front of that line.

    There is a lot of empty space in the DSTT mezzanines. All the wonderful maps showing where the buses upstairs run through downtown, and maybe even where they stop, would be a great courtesy to tourists and newer riders. There is plenty of room to have signs in a dozen languages. Just getting the English ones up would make a world of difference. Upstairs, there is very little mappage for how to get into the DSTT. Every stop ought to have such a map to the nearest entrances. If there is room, listing the nearest stops for all the other downtown buses would be magnificent!

    Think of how much time operators spend every day giving directions while their passengers sit and wait. They get stuck doing that job, in part, because there is a nearly complete lack of signage on how to get between transit routes. Make some capital investment in signage, and I bet they would pay for themselves in improved travel time and improved ridership.

    1. Important point. The really heavily used public transportation systems all have very extensive signage.

  8. No major metropolitan transit system can function without transfers. The trick is to make the transfer seamless. When light rail lines are added to all-bus systems, transfers become a primary component in a more complex, potentially more ideal system.

    Think of transfers as a means to match supply to demand. Most commuter corridors are high demand. But demand is lower on transit lines that radiate from transfer points of high capacity corridors. Thus, transfers can more ideally match supply to demand in frequency and appropriate vehicles: high-capacity, high-speed transit for cross-county transit with transfers to low-capacity, shorter routes using more appropriate vehicles.

    Seattle has one of the most overbuilt systems I’ve seen. There are way more buses than necessary, inadequately serving duplicative routes to provide under-utilized one-seat rides. Metro PR ameliorates complaints by pretending the best service possible is achieved. A simple way to measure success is based upon how well daily traffic is managed. Seattle area transit systems do not accomplish this primary objective.

  9. Bus stops that have schedules go a long way toward making transfers easy. If the rider can see what major destinations are available and when the next bus is expected then they can have confidence they are at least waiting in the right spot.

    What concerns me is that the phase out of paper transfers is going to make transfers difficult for infrequent riders. If paper transfers aren’t available then an unsuspecting rider might commit to a transit trip only to find they have to re-pay on each leg of the journey. That could get expensive fast and sour them on transit in general.

    When I lived in Boston many stops wouldn’t be marked with anything more than an MBTA “No Parking” sign. The infuriating thing was that you had to see a bus go by to even know what routes you could expect at a given stop. I lived there for the better part of six years, but almost used subways exclusively even when there were bus routes that turned out to be a lot more convenient. Of course that was before smart phones.

    1. “That could get expensive fast and sour them on transit in general.”

      Really, it just sours them on buses. They’ll still take trains.

    2. Metro hasn’t set a date for the phaseout of paper transfers as far as I know. The re-paying problem would be solved by getting everybody onto ORCA. This basically argues for a cash surcharge to incentivize ORCA use, and more ORCA vending machines or better signs to the stores that sell them to make it easier to obtain one in all neighborhoods. Metro has been making small steps toward a grid- or hub-and-feeder system, and it would have been more extensive if opposition hadn’t derailed the Queen Anne, Central District, Fremont reforms in September. If you look at the all-day network separate from the peak-express network, the all-day network has been moving in the right direction while the peak-express network has remained mostly intact to avoid arousing commuters’ anger. The next logical step is premium fares on peak-express routes.

      1. And also don’t charge $5 for the cards!!! How many times do I have to repeat that? I’d love to invite my relatives to take the bus with me, but I don’t want to pay $20 or so just to get each one of them an Orca!

      2. —> And also don’t charge $5 for the cards!!! How many times do I have to repeat that? <—

        Apparently it has to be repeated to someone with the power to change it. Who has the power to get rid of the $5 charge? This would be worth an organized campaign.

  10. “This is the Catch-22: a better bus network will necessitate better transfers, but many riders won’t support a better bus network until the transfers are better.”

    This seems like the key to the whole thing. Where can Metro make transfers better under current conditions to reduce resistance to a network (at least off peak) geared more around transfers?

  11. I actually transfer a lot, but this is because my travel needs are from points that seem to be generally well-served, and I have an ORCA pass so I never worry about re-paying.

    Case 1: Bellevue and Olive to Bellevue Transit Center — I could take the 550, but this requires an unpleasant walk over I-5 into Convention Place, an unpleasant tunnel station. So instead, I take the 545 and transfer to the 271 at Evergreen Point.

    Case 2: Reverse of #1 — 271 to Evergreen Point, then a 255 / 545. All these routes are frequent enough during rush hour to feel like they’re always either there or coming.

    Case 3: Bellevue and Olive to 23rd and Boyer — if I miss the 43, I can take an 8 from Summit and Olive and transfer to the 48. This even works on weekend evenings, but better when neither of the *8 are *late. I know that this two-bus trip can be no worse than waiting for the next 43, which makes me feel better about it.

    Case 4: #2, when rainy / I don’t feel like walking up Denny — 271 to 43, or 271 to 48 / 8.

    No new insights given here — just providing evidence that Seattle -can- have a system based on transfers and people willing to transfer if all locations were as dense and if all routes were as frequent.

  12. Maybe I should change my name to pestimist mike… this won’t happen because the people of Seattle want to cater to 100% of the population. If one person complains, it’ll remain status quo or they’ll do something ridiculous much like catering to that one person that had a heart attack. Infuriating, really.

    How can Metro change this? They won’t and can’t. The bigger problem is that buses get stuck in the same problem that they are trying to fix – conjestion and traffic stops. Things can help improve this (HOV lanes, signal priority) but a bus still needs to stop at a red light. A bus still gets stuck in traffic (think 5th and Mercer for a great example). And then people think, why would I want to sit on a bus when I can leave on my own schedule, blah blah blah.

    What would be a cool idea would be a transit day (or week) to show what could possibly happen if more people took the bus (though this could greatly backfire, too.) But in short, encourage people to take transit by giving out free rides for a day. My pie in the sky utopia idea.

    1. Interesting – tried replying to a post that has now been deleted. Chicken or egg dilema for Metro.

  13. I think that this article is slightly irrelevant to our region, because a grid system isn’t really practical for places like Federal Way/Burien/Des Moines/Tukwila, it would have to be neighborhood/transit center oriented (which it is). I’ll take some examples close to my home. The S/SW 320 st bus that would go into browns point could go straight all the way… until SW 320 St ends at Hoyt Rd. The 1st Ave S bus sounds great, and would provide a great and scenic way to go from Federal Way to Burien… until you open Google maps and see that such a bus would drive straight into the Puget Sound (oops).

    Let’s face it. Our region is a 2 (or in the worst cases, 3) transfer region, with still a lot you can do with 1 or 0 transfers.

    The link going to Redmond, Federal Way/Tacoma, Lynnwood, and TCC in about a hundred years or so will help a lot. This could expand our two-transfer power to allow us to basically go farther on two transfers or less. For example, when I went from Twin Lakes to Highland CC for the east link meeting, it was 3 transfers to, and then 3 transfers from (the latter of which I missed each and every bus I was transferring to by just minutes). Once the links are completed, that trip will become just 1 transfer, and will be independent of both traffic on I-5 and the dreaded 405 (some might say that their least favorite Apple product is the “I-405”).

    1. Short story, transfers are a part of life here. If you don’t like it, you can buy a car. But be sure to give it consideration. Waiting 15 minutes at a street or TC is not the end of the world.

  14. I’ve seen plenty of tentative signs that people are figuring out transfers that work for them. Case in point: Look at how relatively crowded the Rainier Ave S Flyer stop can get during the afternoon commute. If people are willing to wait in a relatively exposed location, surrounded by nothing but freeway noise for buses that run about every 7-20 minutes, imagine how many would wait there if conditions were improved and the wait time were reduced. Cutting down the number of routes but ramping up the headways to get to transfer points to the east, such as Mercer Island, South Bellevue P&R, and Eastgate P&R. Sadly, All 3 transfer points themselves have issues that would also need to be addressed to improve transfers.

  15. A lot of the stuff that would make transfers better would make the whole network better. Principly: more ROW and TSP to make buses faster and more reliable. And improving layouts of transit facilities and streets to allow more direct routings.

  16. One thing I find about transfers is the longer the total length of the trip, the more willing I am to accept them. For instance, when travelling from Ravenna to Issaquah to hike Tiger on a weekend, I have no problem making a connection downtown (in fact, I choose the connection downtown over the extremely slow one-seat ride of the 271).

    On the other hand, when a trip involves a transfer that is only a few miles total, I will usually avoid the transfer via means such as walking or biking all the way, walking halfway and busing the other half, or driving Car2Go.

    Generally, the shorter the trip, or more specifically, the shorter the shortest segment of the trip, the easier it is to find ways to arrange things to eliminate a connection.

  17. What’s the current plan for transfers at the Husky Stadium Link station? There was a lot of discussion about this a year or two ago, but I’ve lost track of where things finally landed (or if things are still up in the air).

    1. As far as I know, nothing. Northeast Seattle residents who are willing to bike will have an easy ride to the station along the Burke Gilman trail. Those who aren’t will be able to take the 65, 75, or (if it’s a weekday) the 372 to the UW campus and walk to the Husky Link station from there. It would be about a 5 minute walk to make the connection, but there will at least be an overpass available to cross Montlake, which is under construction right now.

      In my dream world, however, there would be some sort of restructuring to make connections easier. Some change I would like to see (but I’m not holding my breath) include:

      – Modify route 74 so that at 25th and 55th, it turns south on 25th, then takes Montlake down to the triangle, serving the station. The route would end here, instead of continuing on downtown. The saved service hours would be used to run the route every 15 minutes during the peak (instead of 30) and, possibly, add midday service as well. (On rare days when traffic on Montlake is exceptionally bad, the modified 74 can go through campus, similar to the 65 and 75).

      – Replace weekend #72 trips with #372 trips. These trips would be truncated at Lake City or Kenmore, rather than going all the way to Woodinville.

      Also, while I’m dreaming, a BikeShare station would be present right at the Husky Link station, in addition to lockers that could be rented by the day, rather than by the year.

      Finally, it would be really nice if the UW could somehow become convinced to allow Car2Go parking in the lot next to the station. This would be extremely helpful to people who need to work late and miss their peak-hour express home. It would also be an attractive option for students to get to class who are in a hurry and don’t have time to take the regular bus. The parking lots next to the stadium never come close to filling up except for the 6 days a year when a football game is going on, so the opportunity cost of those spaces is really small. The UW could also negotiate an agreement where they would get paid for their space, similar to what the city of Seattle does with parking meters.

  18. My commute includes a transfer (Link-140) and a couple times a week I will make bus to bus transfers (7-I90 bus @ Rainier).

    People will transfer. Lots of people will transfer. I see it everyday. It just has to be from frequent service to frequent service and not scary. Which is the entire point of the article.

    I also think that technology will make moving to a transfer system easier. Being able to accurately know what is coming takes a lot of the fear out of changing buses. Hopefully we can get more OBA screens at transfer points in the near future.

  19. I have generally made a choice to switch from a one-seat ride to a transfer. Because I work close to Pioneer Square, I have the “penalty” of having to backtrack from the 120/West Seattle bus exiting the Viaduct at Seneca. Because of that, I find it quite convenient to grab the 50 if it’s coming by and make a transfer on the busway to LINK, another Metro, or ST Express coming along. The key, as others have pointed out, is frequency and availability of transfers. I do this at early morning rush hour; I’m not sure I’d do it in the middle of the day.

  20. I’m sad I was out of town and missed this post. Like the comment above, I’ve found transferring was often far faster than my one-seat-ride that picked me up right from my house and brought me right to work. That said, without a grid system transferring can become massively confusing unless you become an expert at it.

  21. We do have a lot of commuter routes that are super convenient for downtown commuters. They are such great service, we should charge a premium for them like other transit agencies do. Then we could use the extra money to make our non-commuter routes faster/more frequent.

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