As most STB readers probably know by now, Metro published its proposal for 17% service cuts yesterday. No area of the county escapes significant pain, and any service that smells even slightly of empty seats would be cut or restructured. In this post I’ll have a look at some of the more interesting (or scary) specifics within Seattle and North King County. (A future post will cover the Eastside; cuts in South King County are more straightforward, although just as painful.) A holistic look at the cuts, which are presented by Metro only route-by-route and in some not-so-informative area maps, reveals much more about what Metro is thinking for a funding-free future — and possibly a well-funded future as well.
Go below the jump for the details.
The most consistent theme in the entire proposal is sharp cuts to late-night service. Metro decided to shorten the span of service across nearly its entire network, with just a few exceptions, and a significant number of the “107 routes changed” are only changed to eliminate the last night trips. At the big-picture level, these cuts would take Metro from a system that generally runs until midnight, with later trips at 1:00 or 2:15 on key routes, into a system that generally runs until 10:00 or 11:00, with later trips at midnight or 1:00 on key routes. All “night owl” service (trips between 2:15 and 5:00 a.m.) would disappear.
While it appears justified if you look only at trip ridership, this change is heartbreaking to anyone who wants to see Seattle evolve into a place where car ownership is optional rather than mandatory for a significant number of residents. No public transit at night means that more people will need to own cars only for nighttime activities, and that mobility for many of Seattle’s lowest-wage workers will become very difficult and expensive. Lyft, Uber, and car2go will fill the gap for more affluent users, but others will be out of options.
Here is a list of when each revised all-day Seattle route will stop running under Metro’s proposal:
Unspecified: 28X, RR C, RR D (although both RR C and RR D have night reductions)
7:00 p.m.: 1, 14, 26X, 70, 71, 330, 331
9:00 p.m.: 50, 60, 346, 348
10:00 p.m.: 33, 128, 132, 345, 347
11:00 p.m.: 2, 8, 11, 13, 32, 40, 65, 107, 131, 372
Midnight: 3, 5, 16, 36, 41, 43, 48, 75, 106, 120
1:00 a.m.: 10, 44, 49, 73, 358 (RR E)
2:00 a.m.: 7, 124
A gratifying surprise is that Metro is proposing real restructures to eliminate duplicative service, maintain frequency, and reassign the remaining service to where the most riders are. Given the tight timetable involved, I feared that the agency would simply leave today’s network in place (complete with duplicative service) and cut frequencies across the board to unusable levels. Diving into the details shows that there are seven separate restructures embedded in the Seattle part of this proposal alone, which makes this the most ambitious restructure effort Metro has ever announced. These proposed restructures likely tip Metro’s hand about where it would like to go with the network even if funding were flush. (If that’s not enough, there are at least two more restructures in the Eastside portion of the proposal, which I haven’t yet had time to figure out in detail.) This is difficult and detailed teamwork that has been completed in an amazingly short time. Metro’s planning staff should be given a hearty round of applause, and probably could use a few beers and a day off.
Some commenters here and elsewhere have suggested that the cuts could actually be a blessing in disguise, because they will provide political cover for restructures that will drastically improve the network once funding is restored. The viewpoint is tempting — particularly after seeing some of the work Metro has done on this proposal — but I have to disagree emphatically with it. The level of pain the cuts will create, and the level of mobility they will destroy, is just too great. Political support for any restructures will suffer as riders associate them with drastic losses in mobility. In an ideal world, the cuts would be forestalled, and then Metro would discuss restructures broadly similar to the ones in this proposal — but with the frequency, the long span of service, and the coverage routes to ensure they are seen as an improvement by at least a majority of riders. I encourage readers to look at all of these restructures with a mind to what they might look like with full funding — in other words, with frequencies that are a real improvement over today’s, with adequate supplemental peak service, and with night service at least as late as today’s.
These are in the order, in my view, from “most dramatic” to “least dramatic.” The maps are Metro’s; I wish they would show more clearly the difference between peak-only and all-day routes, but they’re better than nothing. Read about them all, or jump to your favorite neighborhood:
First Hill and the Central District
This restructure is extensive and has several parts: consolidation of service through First Hill, rationalization of service in the Central District, and a new approach to Yesler Terrace. Much of it will be familiar to those who followed the 2012 restructure proposals, but there is one surprise.
Route 2 to Madison. First Hill activists torpedoed a part of the proposed 2012 restructure that would have consolidated east-west service through First Hill, currently divided between Seneca St and Madison St, onto Madison Street. The restructure would have provided eight buses per hour along Madison. Metro is now proposing a similar restructure — but with only five buses per hour, plus a modest amount of additional peak service. Route 2 would be moved to Madison, and Route 12 would be almost eliminated (a few peak turnback trips, only as far as 15th, would remain). It is not clear from Metro’s materials whether some trips on the new Route 2 would continue north to Queen Anne as Route 13; if they did, it would eliminate one major criticism of the 2012 restructure. In principle, such a restructure is a wonderful idea, providing a consolidated, more frequent corridor through First Hill. A frequency of only five buses per hour, though, will strain capacity to the breaking point; the current eight buses per hour are standing-room-only during much of the day. It remains to be seen whether SDOT’s “Madison BRT” efforts could include funding to pick up some of the slack.
Routes 4 and 27 Eliminated. The Central District becomes simpler, but loses a substantial amount of service. Route 4 is eliminated, while service on route 3 becomes more frequent — but there is still a cut of downtown-Jefferson service, from the current eight buses per hour to six. Route 27 is eliminated, with just the Yesler Terrace portion replaced by Route 106 (see below). Route 14 adopts a much shorter span of service, turning into a daytime route only.
Route 8 Replaced by Route 106. Perhaps the most interesting change is to current route 8 through the Central District (and on MLK through the Rainier Valley). Route 8 is truncated to cover only the northern half of the current route. The southern half is replaced by a radically changed route 106, which would entirely replace its current Georgetown routing with a routing through the Central District. The route would travel along MLK between Rainier Beach and Jackson; use Jackson between MLK and 12th; and then cut over to Yesler for the final trip downtown, serving Yesler Terrace. My hope is that the awkward Jackson/Yesler routing would change when SDOT completes its project to provide trolley wire along Yesler. Outside of the Jackson/Yesler jog, the revised 106 is an interesting way to improve reliability along MLK and create a new connection between Renton, Skyway, the north Rainier Valley, and the Central District. Riders on MLK north of Jackson, however, would lose all north/south service. While ridership in the area is somewhat low today, Madison Valley would turn into an essentially transit-free zone.
Metro’s long-simmering “80” proposal, which STB has been discussing for a couple of years (Bruce first mentioned it in 2011), is finally here.
Metro’s restructure in Northeast Seattle is possibly the most dramatic in the proposal, and is centered around a radically simplified vision of downtown-northeast service: a new “Route 73” which runs extremely often, along a single route. This aspect of the proposal is reminiscent of the restructure that brought Route 120 to Delridge and Ambaum about a decade ago. The new 73 would use the same route as today’s 71/72/73 service, express during the day and local at night, between downtown and University Way. Going north from the U-District, it would shift west to Roosevelt Way at Ravenna Boulevard, and continue on Roosevelt Way all the way to Northgate. North of Roosevelt, service on 5th Ave NE (today’s 66/67) would be eliminated, while service on 15th Ave NE (today’s 73) would be reduced to peak-only on the 373 and 77. The 68 would also be eliminated.
All of today’s other downtown-northeast service would be restructured. The 71 would turn into an hourly, daytime-only feeder route running between NOAA and the future Roosevelt Station along 65th Street. Ravenna and Bryant riders would have to transfer to the 73 to reach downtown, and use the 372 or the 65 to reach the U-District. The 72 would be collapsed into the 372, which would gain night and weekend service (and be truncated to end in Bothell). The 74 would remain during peak hours, but the 30 would be cancelled altogether.
Of the area’s all-day routes, only the 65 and 75 would emerge unchanged (except for a shorter span at night). This restructure contains the seeds of greatness, if only all of the routes were frequent and if North Link were open. It brings North Seattle much closer to a logical, understandable grid of routes. Today, though, it will cause pain for many riders, particularly those in Ravenna, Wedgwood, Bryant, and Maple Leaf, because of low frequencies and slow speeds.
Unfortunately for West Seattleites, the pain of the planned cuts is magnified for them. Not only are they sharing in the general loss of CRC funding that will affect the whole system, but Metro is also losing state funding devoted to mitigation of the DBT construction project, which currently funds a significant portion of trips traveling over the West Seattle Bridge. (Why that funding expires in 2014, when the DBT will not be complete until 2016 and the replacement bus corridor until 2018, may qualify as a Central Question of Philosophy.)
As a result, the cuts in West Seattle are perhaps more savage than anywhere else. And one area, more than others, takes the brunt: High Point. The neighborhood has been substantially redeveloped in the last few years, and has become an increasingly important transit destination. It currently lies at the crossroads of the 21, providing frequent north-south service, and the 128, providing half-hourly east-west service. The area will lose the 128 altogether — it is rerouted to travel east-west further north, between Alaska Junction and Pigeon Point, replacing lost off-peak service on the 125. Meanwhile, 15-minute service on the 21 local will be replaced with half-hourly service on the 50, which is rerouted from Alki to Westwood Village via 35th Ave SW. An area that formerly had frequent service to downtown and service to SSCC, White Center, and the Alaska Junction will now have less frequent service only to Westwood Village, 35th/Avalon, and Sodo. In my opinion, this is the most painful cut in the entire proposal.
Other disappearing West Seattle routes include the 22, the 37, the 57, and the 113, all of which have relatively low ridership, but which together with the 21 make up a significant portion of the area’s service. The 125, which has hemorrhaged ridership in recent years, becomes a peak-only route. The 128 is rerouted out of North Admiral to Alki, to replace the 50 service that was moved to 35th Ave SW. The 116, 118, and 119 expresses — Vashon-oriented service that also attracts some West Seattle riders — are truncated to begin and end at King Street Station; riders headed to the north end of downtown will have to transfer to or from other downtown service to complete their trips.
These cuts, however, allow salvaging of other core West Seattle routes despite the extreme loss of funding. RR C and the 120, the highest-performing West Seattle routes, are unaffected except for late-night service. The 21X, 55, and 56, the highest-ridership peak-only routes, largely remain in place (although the cut 57 means less frequency for many 56 riders). This may be the clearest example in the proposal of retrenchment toward the service that serves the most, at the expense of everyone else.
Magnolia residents were unpleasantly surprised in 2012 when, upon rejecting a proposed money-saving restructure that would have straightened route 24 and given it a new connection to Ballard, they discovered that Metro’s alternative savings plan was to cut all night service to Magnolia after 9:00. In early 2013, Metro restored one outbound 10:00 trip on both Magnolia core routes, but nothing else has changed.
In this proposal, the pain for Magnolia residents just gets worse. As the single area of Seattle with the lowest off-peak ridership, Magnolia is absorbing a substantial share of the proposed cuts. Two of the three all-day routes currently serving Magnolia, the 24 and the 31, are eliminated. (The peak-only 19 is made into a loop covering a bit more of West Magnolia and renumbered “24.”) The surviving route, the 33, is reconfigured into a loop-shaped milk run which awkwardly attempts to provide coverage to every semi-dense area in Magnolia. While the loop is mainly centered around 28th Ave W and Thorndyke Ave W, the route also serves Magnolia Village (except at peak hour) via a long deviation using 15-mph Condon Way in both directions. It attempts to serve the important intersection of 34th Ave W and Government Way through a deviation via W Emerson St, which I am frankly surprised can be used safely given its extreme steepness. This route will provide essential coverage, but it will be slow and unwieldy for virtually all users, and will cut frequency between south Magnolia and downtown in half. The revised 33 is the worst sort of spaghetti service, but given the magnitude of these cuts and the Magnolia ridership numbers, it’s easy to see that Metro had no other reasonable options.
Fremont and Wallingford
The proposal makes major changes to Fremont and Wallingford service. The largest change is a swap between the 16, on one hand, and the 26 and 28, on the other. The 16 would serve central Fremont and Dexter, while the 26 and 28 would turn into all-day “express” versions of themselves, using Aurora with limited stops. The new 26X would run only during the daytime, while the new 28X (which would exit Aurora at 39th, rather than 46th like today’s 28X) would run hourly at night as well. The routing of the 5 and 40 would remain unchanged, although the 355 and 5X would be combined into a single route, slowing down north Greenwood commuters but offering them more frequency.
Daytime frequency on the 5, 16, 26, and 28 would be unchanged, which would have the effect of increasing service along Aurora while reducing it along Dexter and to central Fremont. Frequency on the 40 would decrease; only six buses an hour would connect central Fremont and downtown, rather than the eight that run today. Given extremely high ridership on today’s service between Fremont and downtown (particularly along the Dexter alignment), I am not convinced this change will provide adequate capacity for Fremont riders.
In my opinion, this restructure produces a few big winners and too many losers. The relatively few off-peak riders along the northern segments of the 26 and 28 are the winners, as their service becomes faster all day and does not lose any frequency. On the other hand, many more riders along the busier 16 alignment in Wallingford, although not losing frequency, will see their service become dramatically slower and more crowded. Even more numerous Fremont riders will also lose frequency and capacity. Finally, many central Ballard riders will lose frequency as a result of the 40 cut. I think a more logical outcome with approximately the same resources would be to cut the 26 entirely (except for peak-hour express service), cut the 28 at night, preserve frequency on the 40 (at least between Ballard and downtown), and leave the 16 and daytime 28 in their current forms.
Another cut that will be painful for Fremont and Wallingford riders is that off-peak east-west frequency becomes half as frequent on what is now the 31/32 corridor, as the 31 is cut entirely.
South and west Beacon Hill undergo a significant restructure. As mentioned above in the Central District section, the 106 is rerouted away from south Beacon Hill and Georgetown, to provide service to MLK and the Central District instead. Furthermore, the 60 no longer provides north-south service in west Beacon Hill, becoming exclusively an east-west route between Westwood Village and Othello Station.
Both of these gaps are filled by an extension to route 107 which is intended to provide residents of south and west Beacon Hill (along with Cleveland High students) with connections to Link. It uses the current 106 routing between Rainier Beach station and Albro Place, and the current 60 routing between Albro Place and Beacon Hill Station. Unfortunately, the route only runs every half hour, so connections (particularly in the Link > 107 direction) may be frustrating. The loss of the 60’s direct connection to the International District and First Hill will be aggravating to many west Beacon Hill residents, particularly since connecting service on the 36 is becoming less frequent.
There are two silver linings. First, the 60 would provide new east-west service on Graham Street on its way to Othello Station. Although the part of Graham Street involved is very low-density, low-income residents of South Park, Georgetown, and White Center will find this service useful for reaching services along MLK (particularly the DSHS office). Second, the 107 would no longer make the time-consuming VA hospital loop currently made by the 60, in either direction. (The 50 also would skip the loop, although it would serve the stops at the base of the VA driveway.)
I don’t know if Metro planners consciously adopted Bruce’s 2011 post, or independently came to the same result. Queen Anne will have two frequent north-south routes, both running between Seattle Pacific and downtown. One is the current 13, but with a frequency boost to every 15 minutes. The other is like current route 3, except that it will terminate at Seattle Pacific rather than the old and odd Raye Street loop. All-day service will be eliminated along current route 2 north of Galer Street, and along the 4 terminal loop by the old Queen Anne High School. (Peak-hour service on route 29 would remain, although the route would be truncated to serve only the old 2 Express routing.) The 1 will run only during the day, with no night service to any of West Queen Anne between Queen Anne Ave and 15th Ave W.
The shift of service from the current route 2 to the route 13 corridor is one of the few unambiguously good things to come out of this proposal. Route 13 has much higher all-day ridership, and connects much more logical destinations for frequent service. In a better funding environment, much of the affected area could be covered by the extension to route 1 which I proposed in my own Frequent Network Plan. I hope Metro will consider the shift even in the absence of cuts. Meanwhile, the streamlining of the 3 is equally welcome.
Just Plain Cuts
A number of low-ridership areas are losing all-day service altogether, without any significant replacement service. Some are discussed above; others aren’t. Many of them will seem familiar to longtime readers. The following areas will have only peak service (or, if marked with an asterisk, no service at all) after these cuts are fully implemented:
- Arbor Heights
- Broadview* (west of 3rd NW)
- Central Magnolia (outside of Magnolia Village)
- Genesee Hill*
- Horizon View*
- North Beach
- North Ravenna
- Sunset Hill
- Upper Rainier Beach*
- West Magnolia
While pretty much every cut to these neighborhoods is logical in terms of ridership, and restoring service to them is a lower priority than keeping well-used service in operation, it is still worth keeping in mind that these cuts significantly affect mobility for those without cars.