When we last checked in on the King County Council’s erratic treatment of Metro’s budget crisis, the Council — after a veto by Executive Dow Constantine of a plan that would have postponed nearly all of the cuts without providing any new revenues, acting only on hope — passed a compromise ordinance which implemented this month’s cuts and provided for additional cuts, yet to be specified, in February 2015. The ordinance established an “ad hoc committee on transit reductions” to make specific recommendations for those cuts, which (the ordinance provided) were to be consistent with King County’s Strategic Plan for Public Transportation and Metro’s Service Guidelines.
The ad hoc committee, consisting of Executive Constantine and Councilmembers Joe McDermott, Jane Hague, and Rod Dembowski, made its recommendation on the February cuts last week. (UPDATE: Councilmember Rod Dembowski’s office reached out this afternoon to tell me that the ad hoc committee’s recommended cuts were entirely devised by Metro staff.) Yesterday, the Executive transmitted that recommendation to the Council, and Metro published the specific proposed cuts. The cuts and restructures are generally similar to those proposed for February in Metro’s original plan, but there are some interesting differences which we will look at below, particularly for Wallingford and Fremont residents.
If the “Plan D” Seattle-only measure on the November ballot succeeds, then the Executive would postpone the February cuts to June 2015, in order to give Metro and the City of Seattle time to determine how to proceed. The Seattle ballot measure includes language saying “the first priority for the funding is to preserve existing routes and prevent King County Metro’s proposed February 2015 service cuts and restructures.” The cuts proposed yesterday continue to include multiple restructures, and it is not clear whether the City of Seattle would or could allow those restructures to be implemented with increased service levels at a later date than February 2015.
Some specifics of the new cuts below the jump.
At a high level, it’s sufficient to say that the new proposal implements the same restructures originally proposed for the following areas (links are to our article describing the last proposal):
The Fremont/Wallingford restructure has been moved up from its originally planned date of June 2015. The proposed restructures for Northeast Seattle and West Seattle in the last proposal were slated for later rounds, and remain absent from this February-only proposal. The Kirkland restructure, which was originally scheduled for February 2015, has been postponed. Although the Executive’s statement indicates that the February cuts were “ rebalanced to distribute reductions geographically within each stand-alone service change,” the changes from the original February proposal are relatively minor except as described above.
Given this proposal’s similarity to the last, we won’t do another exhaustive overview of it. There are a few differences worth noting, though, from the last proposal–both positive and negative.
- Routes 5 and 40, originally to be cut to 20-minute frequency during the day, will both retain badly needed 15-minute frequency.
- Route 8, originally to be truncated at Group Health Capitol Hill, is extended to Garfield High School via MLK Jr. Way and Cherry Street, restoring coverage to the eastern Madison Valley (portions of which are a steep hill and some distance from other north-south service).
- Route 14, originally to go daytime-only, will retain weekday night service.
- Revised all-day Route 28X, originally to run weekdays only, will run half-hourly on weekends.
- Route 60, originally to be truncated at Beacon Hill, retains its full routing, with only night trip reductions.
- Route 125, to become a peak-only route in the original West Seattle restructure, remains an all-day route, with only night service cuts. (UPDATE: As “M” points out in comments, this will also improve service for riders of current Route 22 outside of Arbor Heights, most of which is absorbed into Route 125.)
- The restructure/cut in Kirkland, which would have severely reduced frequencies while requiring additional transfers for some riders, is postponed for the time being.
- Route 21, originally proposed to be unchanged until its absorption into Route 50 in the West Seattle restructure, will be reduced to 30-minute frequency weekdays off-peak and Saturdays.
- Peak service on Route 30 is cancelled earlier than expected (off-peak service is scheduled to be cut in September), leaving only Route 74 peak service along 20th Ave NE and NE 55th St.
- Service is dramatically cut in Federal Way and Kent West Hill, with all-day Route 187 being absorbed into a revised Route 901 with lower frequency; all commuter service serving Federal Way neighborhoods being cancelled, in favor of transfers from Routes 181 and 901 at Federal Way TC; and commuter Route 177 being slowed to accommodate passengers at Star Lake from the cut Route 190.
The (Still) Ugly
- Restructured Route 2, now serving Madison Street, is still slated to have only 10-minute frequency at peak and 12-minute frequency off-peak. It’s no surprise that we are big fans of a restructure to consolidate all east-west First Hill service onto Madison Street, but the premise of such a restructure is that riders will get much-improved frequency and speed in exchange. At just 12-minute frequency, the new Route 2 isn’t a huge improvement from today’s 15-minute routes, and we have to make the restructure now while counting on improved frequency in the yet-to-be-determined future. Riders along Seneca would retain service on revised Route 27, but with half of today’s frequency.
- Revised Route 16, Wallingford’s core service to downtown, gets much slower with a stop in central Fremont. There is no frequency improvement in exchange, and the heavily-used Dexter corridor will see a drop in midday frequency to 20 minutes.
- Route 32, today a core frequent corridor connecting Interbay, Fremont, the U-District, and U-Village, drops to 30-minute frequency at midday. Buses on this corridor often run quite full at today’s 15-minute frequency, and 30-minute service is likely to present major capacity challenges.
- Route 33, the only remaining all-day route in Magnolia, remains an indecipherable and very slow loop. It will serve Magnolia Village through a long deviation in both directions along Condon Wy W, a street subject to a 15-mph slow order. The loop has been slightly revised in this proposal to avoid W Emerson St between 30 Ave W and 34 Ave W, which is not operationally usable by buses. The result is that remaining service gets farther away from one of Magnolia’s pockets of density, along W Government Way near 34 Ave W.
The Just Plain Strange
All-day weekday and Saturday service on Route 27, currently slated to be cut in September, is restored. The route would use Seneca St and 9th Ave, instead of Yesler Wy, between downtown and First Hill. The routing change is likely in response to vocal activism in favor of continued service on Seneca St, despite its proximity to Madison St. The choice to retain Route 27 is a bizarre one in light of some of the extremely painful cuts listed above, because transit service along most of the route would improve even if Route 27 were deleted completely. Riders on Yesler Terrace will have new service on revised Route 106, running twice as often and with a much longer span than the current Route 27. Yesler between 12th and 23rd Aves is two flat blocks from S Jackson St, where the same Route 106 will provide new 15-minute service (and where Route 14 will continue to run as well). The Leschi tail of Route 27 has extremely poor ridership, and it is hard to believe that continued service there meets the service guidelines while heavily used corridors like 35th Ave SW, Dexter Ave N, and the Route 32 crosstown corridor absorb severe cuts. (UPDATE: Mike Orr correctly points out in comments a note I overlooked on Metro’s map: the Leschi tail east of 23rd would be served only during peak hours. This presumably would allow the remainder of the route to be operated on half-hourly headways with only one extra bus compared to terminating the 33, the through-route partner of the 27, at the south end of downtown. This significantly reduces the financial impact of retaining the 27, although I continue to think it’s an odd decision.)
The committee’s choice to retain Route 27 appears to contradict Metro’s previous planning work based on its Service Guidelines. It illustrates well the perils of political involvement in the planning process, which we’ve decried before. While the ordinance establishing the committee in theory required the committee to abide by the Service Guidelines, the committee is made up of politicians rather than professional transit planners. Its work has been opaque to the public. There is no way to understand its reasoning; to distinguish which of its decisions are driven by sound data and which are purely political; or to evaluate whether the requirement to adhere to the Service Guidelines has been met. (UPDATE: As noted above, Rod Dembowski’s office reached out to inform me that the committee’s recommendations were entirely devised by Metro staff. There was no indication of that in either Metro’s or the Executive’s materials describing the recommendations.)