UPDATE: Metro has created a survey about the changes described here. Please take it once you feel comfortable with the concepts; our stories next week may help. Metro’s Jeff Switzer says: “The 200+ comments are great, and we’re reading them, but it would help to capture them for tracking and analysis via the survey.”
Yesterday evening, Metro and Sound Transit made public for the first time their proposals for restructuring bus service around Sound Transit’s University Link light-rail extension. The fully tunneled extension will add two new Link stations: Capitol Hill Station near Broadway and John, and University of Washington Station next to Husky Stadium. The trip between UW Station and Westlake Station should take just 6-8 minutes. As of now, U-Link is scheduled to open to the public in March 2016. A Metro and Sound Transit service change, when the agencies will restructure bus service, will happen at the same time. (UPDATE: Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray emails to say: “[This post] says U Link opens in March. Right now we’re still just saying First Quarter.” This leaves open the possibility that U-Link could open before the restructure takes effect.)
Metro is taking the lead on developing the restructures, because the vast majority of the impact is to Metro’s network. In a package of information released late yesterday, Metro is offering two alternatives for public comment. “Alternative 1” represents a major rethinking of bus service in several areas affected by U-Link, while “Alternative 2” seeks to keep change to a minimum. Metro designed both alternatives to be revenue-neutral; neither alternative spends an extra dollar compared to today’s bus network. Metro has created route maps of both alternatives, which include midday, peak, and Eastside route networks, as well as frequency maps.
One thing that is absolutely critical to understanding this proposal: Metro did not take extra funding the City of Seattle is providing because of Proposition 1 into account in designing either alternative. Prop 1 only provides 6 years of taxing authority, and Metro wants to build a network it can sustain indefinitely. So everything you will read below, in upcoming posts, and in Metro’s materials is purely funded by Metro, without Prop 1. Seattle’s Prop 1 funds would add to these proposals. The city has not yet decided exactly what to add, but its additions will likely resemble SDOT’s choices to improve the current network. Bill Bryant of SDOT’s Transit Division told STB’s Zach Shaner by email that the city would need to develop specifics by late summer or early fall.
Broadly speaking, the restructures cover four areas: Northeast Seattle, Capitol Hill, SR-520 bridge service, and to a lesser extent, Downtown Seattle and South Lake Union. In the coming days, we will have four posts that will go into down-in-the-weeds detail about what Alternative 1 would mean for each of these areas. For now, we’ll look at the big picture.
Alternative 1 is an aggressive investment in higher frequency, route consolidation, and network legibility, of exactly the sort we’ve long advocated. It continues Metro’s commendable recent history – first with their ambitious initial proposal for the 2012 west-side restructure, and then with their proposed 2014 cuts – of putting real network improvements on the table.
Alternative 1 doesn’t just tinker around the margins; it creates new, frequent, all-day connections in a large portion of the city. Oran’s before-and-after maps above (slide the white bar left and right) show Alternative 1’s headline feature: major frequency improvements on nearly every all-day route that connects to a U-Link station. We’ll go into route-by-route depth in our upcoming posts, but in this introduction we’ll think about corridors rather than routes. Here are some highlights:
- Northeast Seattle
- A true grid of 15-minute routes comes to all of Northeast Seattle, a quadrant of the city that currently has almost no frequent service. NE 65th St, 25th Ave NE, 35th Ave NE, and Sand Point Way would all gain new 15-minute service.
- Children’s Hospital and University Village would have frequent service to both the central UW campus and UW Station.
- The Roosevelt Way and 15th Ave NE corridors are consolidated to provide 10-minute all-day service between Northgate, Roosevelt, the U-District, and UW Station.
- Many urban neighborhoods get new frequent connections, including a new frequent line that connects Fremont, Wallingford, Green Lake, Roosevelt, Ravenna, and Sand Point.
- Alternative 1 creates an all-day frequent connection between Crown Hill, Greenwood, Green Lake, Roosevelt, the U-District, and Bellevue.
- Capitol Hill
- Alternative 1 creates 4 hubs that each allow 10 minute transfers where none exist today: 23rd/Cherry, 23rd/Thomas, Broadway/John, and Broadway/Jefferson (with a little help from the streetcar).
- There is a new 10-minute bus connection between North Capitol Hill, Capitol Hill Station, and the First Hill hospitals.
- Crosstown service between Uptown, SLU, Capitol Hill, and Madison Valley gets 10-minute frequency and is extended to Madison Park.
- There is a new 15-minute connection between the C.D., Madison Valley, Pike/Pine, and Upper Broadway. Live on Broadway but like to shop at Trader Joe’s? There would be a bus for that.
- SR-520 and Peak Service
- Ends all off-peak service into Downtown Seattle from SR 520, while asking many riders to transfer to Link at UW Station even during peak hours.
- Reorganizes peak-hour SR-520 service to create frequent routes serving many more destinations on both ends of SR-520.
- Creates a new, frequent peak-hour connection between the SR-520 corridor, the U-District, SLU, and Uptown.
- Creates a new, frequent all-day connection between the SR-520 corridor, Roosevelt, Green Lake, Greenwood, and Crown Hill.
- Creates a new peak-hour connection between the U-District, South Lake Union, and First Hill.
Given its ambitious scope, it’s no surprise that Alternative 1 implies some significant tradeoffs as well, and we will talk more about those in our next few posts. Generally speaking, these new connections and higher frequencies are purchased by consolidating all-day routes for the sake of frequency and by asking Link to carry a heavy peak load at UW Station.
By contrast, Alternative 2 is a true minimum-change scenario. It has no significant frequency improvements, a couple of minor frequency cuts, and only a few small route changes. It is not a less aggressive restructure than Alternative 1; rather, it’s not a restructure at all. While Metro will (as it should) put on its best poker face and treat these alternatives as equals, Alternative 2 simply doesn’t display the level of innovation and creative thinking that Alternative 1 does.
Alternative 2 makes just one major change from current service, which actually has little to do with U-Link. It consolidates current routes 66, 67, 72, and 73 into a single all-day route running between Northgate and downtown via the University District (the route we have called the “80X” in the past), and turns route 71 into an infrequent east-west shuttle route. Other changes can almost literally be listed on one hand, and include consolidation of route 30 and route 68 into a single milk run; a split of poorly used route 25 to allow infrequent connections between Laurelhurst and UW Station; reduction in frequency on an otherwise-unchanged 43; and straightening of route 16 in the Northgate area. This alternative is so simple relative to Alternative 1, and so similar to the status quo, that we feel no need to cover it in heavy detail.
Whichever alternative is adopted, Metro gets another bite at part of this apple in five years. North Link will open in 2021, with new stations at the U-District, Roosevelt, and Northgate. As we’ll discuss in the Northeast Seattle post, Alternative 1 is already anticipating North Link. Nevertheless, it’s certain that further restructures will be needed in 2021, and this gives Metro a valuable opportunity to correct any changes in next year’s restructure that do not work as well as expected.
We’ll cover the following parts of the restructure in more detail throughout next week, and will add links here as the posts go live.
Alternative 1 is the most exciting development in Seattle transit in many years. While we’ve had a few internal debates about details, the STB staff is unanimously happy with the overall direction Metro planners have taken, and we hope Metro ends up implementing something more or less like Alternative 1 next March.