A few months ago, with lots of help from STB regulars, I created the Frequent Network Plan to show how we could improve Metro’s Seattle/North King County bus network without adding any service hours. That’s great, wrote guest writer and commenter extraordinaire Mike Orr. But, he asked, how much money would it cost to get the bus network we really want? Or, since it’s mid-December, what would Santa have to bring Seattle’s passengers to make it the best Christmas ever?
At first, I was reluctant to look into the question because I figured the results would be ridiculously unrealistic, especially when we are still trying to fight off a network-killing 17% cut. But I started playing with maps and steadily got more interested. I drew up an “ideal” network closely related to the FNP, but with the goal of making the best possible bus network regardless of resources, rather than using a fixed level of resources more efficiently. Pictured is a small bit of that network.
Then I put together a preliminary estimate of the service hours needed. The answer surprised me: only about a 33% increase in service hours from today’s level. That could actually come to pass, if there were a solution to the 17% cut, a few good years of economic growth, and maybe one more funding vote premised on meaningful improvements. It’s realistic enough that the City of Bellevue considered a 30% increase as the best-case scenario in their 2030 Transit Service Vision Report. A 33% increase is an attainable goal for medium-term political advocacy and makes for a credible network vision, not a fevered hallucination.
As I did with the FNP, I’ve created maps of this “ideal” network:
- Color-coded by route (the labels reflect the +33% scenario).
- Color-coded by frequency for both the +33% and the +15% funding scenarios.
Of course, a 33% increase, while imaginable, would be an uphill struggle. So I created one more scenario, intended to show the lowest funding level at which the “ideal” network is meaningfully superior to the FNP network even though it aims for broader coverage and thus sacrifices a bit of efficiency. I found that to be a 15% increase in hours from the current level. The +15% scenario uses the same network (with two extremely minor changes), just with not-quite-ideal frequency levels on thinner routes.
Much more explanation follows below the jump.
Both scenarios allow for established core routes to gain frequency; allow for improvement of services in neighborhoods that have potential for substantial growth (often radical improvement, in the +33% scenario); and offer enough coverage with frequent routes that a trip between any two points in the service area should be possible in a reasonable time except possibly at PM peak. In the +33% scenario, no all-day route would run less often than every 15 minutes, and no core route would run less often than every 10 minutes. (In the +15% scenario, a few routes would have 20-minute frequency.)
In addition to the maps, I’ve published three reference documents:
- A summary list of routes under the +33% scenario.
- A summary list of routes under the +15% scenario.
- A reference list with a detailed description of each route.
As always, a few explanatory notes are needed for this proposal.
- As with the Frequent Network Plan, this is a weekday and Saturday daytime network. Both scenarios would allow for significant improvement of night frequencies, and each would look far better than the FNP night map, but night service levels would be lower than pictured here. Sunday service levels would also be lower unless Metro’s work rules were revised to allow partial shifts on Sunday.
- Also as with the FNP, this work is entirely unofficial, done without any collaboration with Metro other than careful reading of their public documents. It’s not intended to set this vision in amber, but to demonstrate an operationally realistic example of how a good network could be put together at these levels of funding. Other suggestions are very welcome.
- Neighborhoods where there is lots of room for growth would see improvements in service ranging from important to radical. Major transit improvements of this nature could help take some controversy out of growth, particularly in historically car-centric areas where residents have objected that new arrivals can’t possibly be expected to live car-free and therefore growth means Certain Parking Doom. Here is a partial list of the improvements:
- Crosstown service throughout South Seattle would be revolutionized. The current two east-west routes (50 and 60), with 5 buses per hour, would become four evenly spaced routes (50, 52, 51, and 59) with 16 buses per hour in the +33% scenario. In addition, a fifth crosstown route within West Seattle would connect SSCC, north Delridge, the Junction, and Alki. Virtually every point in West and South Seattle would have access to at least one east-west route. North-south service on California Ave SW, which also functions significantly like crosstown service, would run every 7-10 minutes all day.
- Georgetown would gain new service to the Alaska Junction, High Point, and Othello Station, all running every 15 minutes in the +33% scenario. Its existing service to downtown, Beacon Hill, South Park, and Tukwila would also become much more frequent.
- South Park would gain new frequent service to Rainier Beach and Alaska Junction, both every 15 minutes in the +33% scenario. Its existing service would also double in frequency.
- Boulevard Park would gain a new connection to Rainier Beach, and would see its current service double in frequency.
- Seward Park would see service frequency double, and a new connection to Georgetown would be added. (Routes 50 and 52 are through-routed, which may not be immediately obvious from the map.)
- Alki would go from 2 buses per hour, serving an indirect Admiral-Alaska Junction route, to 8 buses per hour in the +33% scenario, with a much faster connection to Link and new service to multifamily housing on Beach Drive.
- Admiral District would gain an extremely fast connection to Link on revised route 50, as well as 6-8 buses per hour to the Alaska Junction and Seacrest Dock.
- Making up for our failure to build a Summit light rail station, Summit would gain 10 buses per hour to Capitol Hill Station, as well as a frequent and reliable connection to downtown on expanded route 47.
- Service in South Lake Union would be radically improved. Route 8 would avoid much more of Denny Way, improving reliability. New frequent service to Belltown and the waterfront would be added on route 34, and to First Hill on route 7. Frequency would double on the now-underserved route 40 corridor to downtown and Fremont.
- Madison Park would go from 2-4 buses per hour to 11-12, evenly divided between the 8 (service to Capitol Hill Station, SLU, Uptown, and Magnolia) and the 12 (“Madison BRT” one-seat ride to First Hill and downtown). I’m bullish on the urban part of Madison Park as a place that could absorb quite a lot of growth without losing its attractiveness, but its current transit service is a disgrace.
- Magnolia Village would gain new crosstown service on the 8, much more frequent service to downtown and Ballard on the 24, and connections to all of Magnolia between the 24 and 33.
- W Manor Pl, the densest part of Magnolia, would have 7-8 buses per hour traveling directly through it on two different routes (24 and 31), collectively serving downtown, Ballard, Fremont, the U-District, and Magnolia Village. Currently, residents have to walk uphill or downhill to access service on half-hourly routes.
- Roosevelt and Fremont would both become transfer hubs, each gaining lots of new service to new destinations, and seeing existing service become more frequent.
- Central Wallingford would gain a new connection to Fremont on new route 63 and faster, much more frequent service to downtown on streamlined route 16.
- Now that ST has announced likely station sites for Lynnwood Link, I’ve added a “likely version” of Lynnwood Link to the map, with stations at 130th, 145th, 185th, and Mountlake Terrace. More optimistically than some commenters, I think the 130th station is an inevitability as long as ST continues to accommodate it in plans. It’s just too logical not to build, and the marginal cost is very low. I’ve restructured Shoreline and far north Seattle service with these Link stations in mind.
- Because this is now a 2023 vision, I’ve also added the relevant portion of East Link to the map, which includes a very useful transfer point for north-south riders in the Rainier Valley and the Central District. I’ve also changed a couple of routes near South Lake Union to take advantage of the reconnected street grid there.
- The map does not make the Queen Anne service pattern totally clear, and I should explain. Routes 1 and 4 are through-routed, with a pause at Queen Anne and Crockett in both directions. For example, outbound route 4 buses would arrive at Queen Anne and Crockett southbound; lay over for a short time (likely 5-8 minutes); and continue as inbound route 1 buses. The same would occur in reverse, laying over northbound. This routing would have a number of positive effects. First, it would allow for what amounts to a crosstown route within Queen Anne. Second, it would give everyone in Queen Anne a one-seat ride to the Queen Anne Ave N commercial area, and to a Queen Anne Link stop should one be built. Third, it would continue providing service to the current route 2N wire. (Route 13 would remain as is except for the Fremont extension and the frequency improvement.)
- I haven’t prepared a comprehensive FAQ for this plan like the one I prepared for the FNP, because this plan is less about showing exactly how improvements would work and more about establishing a baseline amount of resources we ought to devote to the system. So I’ll provide a few basic numbers here instead. Where the current all-day network in this area uses roughly 324 all-day buses and the FNP uses 337 (through absorption of hours from some redundant peak-only routes), the +33% scenario here uses 441 all-day buses and the +15% scenario uses 387. (As with the FNP, these numbers assume elimination of peak service wholly redundant with the improved networks.) These plans also offer more generous recovery time than either the FNP or the current network, so they should improve reliability significantly.