In the wonky discourse around Seattle transit, there are plenty of good ideas floating around for small transit projects that could incrementally improve service quality, and there are also some good ideas and lots of enthusiasm for large projects that would radically improve transit in the city, but there are very few which lay out how an agency could spend, say, ten million dollars, to save more than a million dollars a year, indefinitely into the future. With sales tax revenues slowly recovering, and Seattle newly in the business of large-scale service purchases, I’d like to propose — or, rather, revive — just such a concept.
Here’s the problem: when designing routes that connect north Seattle to downtown, Metro planners have to do something with the bus at the south end of downtown. Their options are:
- Continue on as a different route to the south (“through-route”). This is the option Metro historically favored: it’s the cheapest, and because much of Metro’s network, until recently, revolved around infrequent routes, it provided crosstown connections that would otherwise have been unwieldy. The price of through-routing, though, is unreliability, and which has only become worse as the city center has grown impressively in both jobs and congestion. Examples of through-routes include RapidRide C and D, and Routes 5 and 21 — and most riders of both pairs of routes would benefit dramatically from them being split.
- Deadhead the bus back to a base in SoDo. This is the option of last resort: it costs about fifteen minutes of service time per round trip to get a bus back and forth between Pioneer Square and SoDo, and riders get no benefit for that time and diesel. A base deadhead is more reliable than a through-route, but buses are still at the mercy of stadium and I-90 traffic. As far as I know, the only Metro route that does this is Route 40.
- Lay over on-street in Pioneer Square. The operationally preferable choice is to park the bus as close as possible to the stop where it goes out of service. The disadvantage of this approach is most apparent to the neighborhood: buses consume much of the curb space in Pioneer Square, which merchants and residents would much prefer to see used for car parking, parklets, bikeshare — basically anything other than out-of-service buses. The available street space for on-street layover appears to be exhausted, and in fact the Pioneer Square neighborhood association has been effective at lobbying SDOT and Metro to remove some layover spots. RapidRide E is the most prominent route that still lays over near this area.
There’s a solution, although I can’t take credit for it — it’s been knocking around among Seattle transit professionals for years, and even made it into Metro’s capital plan, before being axed in the doldrums of the recession. A block of land, today mostly occupied by surface parking lots, at the boundary of Pioneer Square and the International District, sits atop the tunnel portal at the north of International District Station. To protect the tunnel and station structures, it’s restricted from high-rise development — only six-story, mostly-wood-frame structures are possible, like the Hirabyashi Place affordable housing development underway on the southwest corner of the block.
Here’s the idea: buy the eastern half of this block, and build a combined bus layover and affordable housing facility on it. The transit functionality of this building would occupy only the ground floor — it would be like a one-story, covered parking lot, but with numbered lanes for spaces, and possibly trolleybus overhead mounted to the roof. Upper floors of the building would be affordable housing, presumably built in partnership with Seattle Housing Authority. All-day routes that deadhead to SoDo, or lay over in Pioneer Square, would move into this facility — RapidRide E, Routes 40 and 70, possibly Route 16, and a split RapidRide D being the obvious initial candidates.
More after the jump. Continue reading “Wanted: A Pioneer Square Bus Layover Facility”