124 bus
Route 124, using some hastily un-retired equipment. Photo by LB Bryce.

The last few weeks have been deeply discouraging for close followers of Metro. First we learned that Metro and the King County Council were raising the white flag on any significant effort to improve Link access, or bus service generally, in Capitol Hill. Then we got wind of Metro’s new proposal in SE Seattle, which would resurrect a redundant service pattern that Metro already canceled once because of low ridership, while cutting a couple of services proven over the years to perform better.

In both cases, the common thread is political interference with professional planning decisions. That needs to stop. In a time of plentiful resources, entire neighborhoods with thousands of residents–including Summit, east Capitol Hill, and Georgetown–are about to undergo major cuts in bus service for the sake of appeasing a few activists who do not represent many riders. The process hands ammunition freely to those who would paint transit as a sop to special interests and a waste of public money, rather than the core public infrastructure it is.

The Council adopted a professional service planning process (the Service Guidelines) in 2011, based on guidelines enacted into law, to avoid what had become a chronic pattern of micromanagement by Councils and Executives that left the county with an incomprehensible, spaghetti-like transit network. The process has resulted in meaningful service improvements and sharply increased ridership in neighborhoods across Metro’s service area, and helped ensure that Seattle’s Prop 1 funds went to solving real problems. But recent events, almost all occurring behind closed doors, appear to be signaling that the Council’s professional process is essentially dead, and Metro is back to direct planning by politicians and their appointees. Along with the public, we are reduced to relying on hearsay, rumor, and leaks; the players offer little or no insight into how decisions are made until after the fact. More details underlying this state of affairs as applied to Georgetown in particular, after the jump.

How Georgetown Loses In Metro’s Proposal

The SE Seattle proposal is centered around routes 38 and 106. It would split today’s 106 into three parts, restructuring them as follows:

  • South part (Rainier Beach to Renton): Combined with route 38 to form “new 106,” and doubled to 15 minute frequency
  • Middle part (South Beacon Hill): Replaced by an extension of route 107 at similar frequency
  • North part (Georgetown to downtown): Not replaced at all, except with a few extra peak trips on route 124

In addition to repackaging the 106, the proposal does two other things:

  • Reduces the 9X to peak-only, replaced at other times by transfers at 12th/Jackson between route 7 and the First Hill Streetcar or route 60
  • Extends the “new 106” past Mount Baker into the International District, along the same route as the current route 7, and a very similar route to former route 42

Let’s look at who gains and loses under this proposal.

Winners

  • Residents in Upper Rainier Beach, Skyway, and northwest Renton see their frequency double
  • Riders along MLK gain a new frequent, one-seat connection to Renton
  • The very few riders of former route 42 get their one-seat ride back–with quadrupled frequency overlapping an already ultra-frequent corridor!

Neutral

  • Riders in South Beacon Hill lose their one-seat downtown service, but gain connections to the rest of Beacon Hill, Link, and Renton, with no change in frequency.

Losers

  • Riders in Georgetown see their downtown service cut in half (from 106 + 124 to 124 alone), except at peak hours in the peak direction. They get nothing in return.
  • Riders of the midday 9X have to transfer, although the transfer is frequent on both ends.

To summarize, we trade major frequency improvement in Skyway and the resurrected one-seat ride between MLK and the International District for major frequency cuts in Georgetown.

The frequency improvement in Upper Rainier Beach and Skyway makes good sense. In 2014, route 106 served 5,100 daily riders. That is on the very high end of ridership for half-hourly routes, and well over half of those riders were from the southern portion of the route. Joining the south portion of the 106 with the 38 is also very logical, and will provide improved connectivity to riders of both routes without any meaningful downside.

The tradeoff that does not remotely make sense is cutting Georgetown service to fund the International District extension of the new 106. Route 124 carried 3,400 daily riders in 2014, with slow but steady increase in recent years. Data Metro provided to me this year indicates that about half of those riders were from the greater Georgetown area and points north, with the other half traveling to and from points further south. Current route 106 also picks up quite a few riders in Georgetown; between the 106 and 124, my estimate is that the Georgetown-downtown segment serves about 3,000 total daily riders. Combining these riders with the rest of route 124, I would estimate there are about 4,700 total daily north/south riders in the downtown/Georgetown/Tukwila corridor — more than Metro carries on a number of existing 15-minute routes. And, sure enough, Metro itself identifies the target frequency of the 124 corridor as 15 minutes in the most recent Service Guidelines Report.

In other words, Georgetown could be deprived of its existing (roughly) 15-minute frequency, despite ridership warranting it, in order to spend $2.5 million to restore a route segment that carried fewer than 100 daily riders in its final year.

We have heard multiple rumors that the 106 extension to the International District is being driven by the King County Executive’s office, not by Metro planners. We’ve also heard that SDOT was asked to help fund the extension with Prop 1 funds but refused, citing Metro’s own Service Guidelines. But rumors aren’t hard evidence, and we’ve made a public records request to Metro in an attempt to corroborate them. Sung Yang from the Executive’s office denied on the record that the Executive’s office is driving this proposal, attributing it directly to Metro planners in a conversation with STB’s Zach Shaner. Whichever part of King County actually originated the proposal, there is little reason to think it represents anything other than political interference with the planning process (perhaps at the behest of one or two disproportionately influential stakeholders), at the expense of a less well-connected area. In sharp contrast to the wealth of data Metro offered in support of its proposals during the early stages of the Link Connections process, we’ve seen no data of any sort that supports the 106 extension from a planning standpoint. Choosing winners and losers politically, in direct contradiction of data and the enacted planning process, is not how to build an effective transit network or use our tax dollars wisely.

123 Replies to “Metro’s Political Problem Hits Georgetown”

  1. As somebody who uses the 124 a few times a year – thank you Museum of Flight – I am a bit nervous here. Seems to me well used if not almost full Route 124 buses are going to have to carry the Georgetown burden a bit or a lot more.

    I am also not happy at how King County Metro is at the mercy of the heckler’s veto. This is so not okay…

  2. I’m not sure why David is so upset by this latest example of transit yielding to political masters and throwing professional planners under the bus. Maybe it’s the ‘Last Straw’ issue.
    I won’t try to give too many examples or names to associate with the deeds, but our list of bad outcomes is a long one.
    1. A West.Seattle STEX run to Burien that thankfully got cancelled after years of single digit riders.
    2. N. Sounder that refuses to die being supported by a certain Mayor
    3. Stations and stops all over the place that should close, but don’t
    4 _____________ Pick your own (here)

    1. Proposals that would actively make the network worse are a lot more irritating than existing legacy problems that can slowly but steadily be fixed.

      I also spend more time writing about Metro than ST because I know a lot more about it.

  3. Thank you for this piece, David.

    The series of articles on what is occurring with Metro’s planning and community outreach process over the last few days has been excellent.

    When the post came out about “resurrecting” the 42 routing between downtown and MLK a few days ago, I thought it was just a joke. Like something the STB would write on April Fools’ Day. This is a service that was highly underutilized, should not have continued after LINK opened, and finally was put out of its misery. Now, Metro was proposing to double down on more service on a corridor already heavily served by other modes. No way.

    But the plan seems to be gaining traction. In my comments over the last few days, I have repeatedly pointed to the “service guidelines” and what insight they could give use to the planning process. Remember, these were guidelines that had to be fought for, as previously Metro’s planning was driven by short term “long-term plans” with region by region restructures about once a decade (though NE Seattle was skipped, repeatedly, in every one of those processes, and other than a small restructure in 1998, has seen no effective network changes since the late 1970s). These processes were fraught with political influence, and often led to no changes at all.

    Meanwhile, in exchange for adopting the “service guidelines” to make sure we had equitable service distribution throughout the county, the 40/40/20 plan went away. Thank goodness. However, with the city of Seattle taxing themselves through Prop 1 for in-city service, are we really seeing much gain in the city with the elimination of 40/40/20 and Metro’s suddenly extremely political planning process?

    A few months ago, I brought up (and was quickly raked over the coals for even questioning) the wisdom of using a huge chunk of the Prop 1 money solely for splitting the C/D. Given the opportunity cost of this spending, I didn’t feel it was worthwhile. What I believe we are seeing right now, on both Capitol Hill and in the Rainier Valley, is an attitude that “we know you have a lot of cash for service, so serve us!”

    This shows a huge appetite throughout the city for more transit service, everywhere, and all the time. The Prop 1 money was supposed to help with that, but we are about a cash in a huge chunk of it solely on the C/D split. Because of this decision, we are having a hard time “growing the pie” when it comes to Capitol Hill, and now Beacon Hill, Rainier, and Georgetown. The zero-sum games we thought we’d moved past with an infusion of cash are still here, and exacerbated by expectations of more service, when really, we’ve already spent a ton of it eliminating a historical through-route.

    It is unreal that we are facing these decisions and tradeoffs. I appreciate the STB’s role in daylighting the political players that are pushing for “worse than do nothing” plans for both the Rainier Valley and Capitol Hill. I don’t know what the path out of this mess is, but very public, loud pressure on Metro would certainly help.

    I have more thoughts on this, but will have to reserve them for later.

    1. The C/D split was at the top of Metro’s priorities. The only reason they were through-routed is Metro didn’t have enough money from Transit Now to run them separately in the first place. Thus why they have two route letters instead of one. The need for more service in SLU is real: it has become part of downtown so most north-south routes need to go through it like they do when they overlap between Yesler and Stewart.

    2. If the goal of the C/D line split was to improve reliability, I think just adding more frequency would have done the job better. The D Line is Metro’s new highest-ridership flagship line, and deserves its extra service hours. But if those hours merely get it to the stadia, but don’t increase capacity, that would be a mistake.

      The C Line is one of the few services adding to the SLUS’ dismal frequency through way-underserved South Lake Union. It’s ridership is far below the D Line’s, but it has a neighborhood blog where people readily exaggerate how crowded that bus is. Some still seem to believe everyone is entitled to a seat.

      But I very much welcome getting some new service into way-underserved South Lake Union. Politics seems to have heretofore starved SLU of any additional service.

      1. Mike Orr –

        We’ve been through this. The C/D split was an SDOT top priority, not a Metro one. Metro thought it would be nice to do. The extension to SLU was driven not by ridership or serving the neighborhood, but by the need for layover space. It is that extension to SLU that really jacked up the cost of the split.

        Brent – I agree with the statement about adding more frequency. Splitting all through-routes through downtown because of “reliability” issues is a slippery slope. Not only do we not have enough money to do it whole scale, but we don’t have the curb space to support it. Actual, meaningful improvements to help reliability are discussions we are avoiding (such as whether the road diets and bike-lanes-everywhere are actually hindering transit speed and the resiliency of our road network, as I believe they are) in favor of just “throwing money” at splitting the route.

        Further, SLU has a streetcar. It cost quite a bit to build, and continues to cost quite a bit to operate. And it is totally underutilized. This blog has been through a huge list of the issues with the streetcar. None of them have been addressed by either the operator (Metro) or the owner (SDOT) who just so happens to control the intersections and the streets where the streetcar gets bogged down, making it a poor option for connecting to the rest of the city.

        Maybe we should fix the infrastructure we have, rather than continue to spend operating dollars on it, and then use the “we have to connect SLU to Downtown” excuse as a reason for spending a *huge* amount of operating dollars in perpetuity to serve a need that could be met by our streetcar, but isn’t.

        I agree

      2. Re C Line:

        The issue is having 4-5 busses in a 20-30 minute window not be able to pick up any additional passengers (standing or sitting) during peak hours, in either direction. That’s not exaggerated, it’s a frequent experience for C-line riders–it happens to members of my household 2-3 times a week (they have other options besides C, so sometimes they don’t even try), and luckily they don’t have a scheduled start or end time for their job to they are flexible.

        The issue is that it is seems to be one or the other, either capacity that attempts to matches demand for C-line riders, or issues with frequency and underservice through SLU. I cannot speak to SLU as I’ve never ridden Metro there, I’ll take your word for it–I have lived in an area with poor frequency/service and it’s really frustrating.

      3. As a C Line rider, I gotta say I resent the idea that we are systematically waging a misinformation campaign. When I tweet to WSB or kcmetrobus that a C coach has left a dozen riders behind at 2nd & Columbia at 6pm before embarking on 99, I’m not making that up. I don’t think everyone deserves their own seat, though I’m happy to honestly report that everyone does get their own seat heading downtown at noon. It could be that ridership is just especially peak-oriented on this route, so that yes, ridership is lower than the D Line, but still lots of folks are left behind at rush hour, and we get crushed by bus bunching upstream.

        My #1 priority to fix the C Line would be rush hour-only short runs between downtown and the Junction. My ballpark estimate is that about 40% of rush hour riders are just going between those two destinations, so we could massively help that bottleneck by just pulling a few coaches off the long tail to White Center.

      4. The D Line is Metro’s new highest-ridership flagship line

        Unless things have changed drastically over the last few months, the E Line has the highest ridership of any Metro route with an average 13,700 weekday riders, according to the Metro 2014 Service Guidelines Report.

        The D Line averages 11,000 weekday riders (4th highest) and the C Line averages 8,100 weekday riders (10th highest).

        The C Line is one of the few services adding to the SLUS’ dismal frequency through way-underserved South Lake Union. It’s ridership is far below the D Line’s, but it has a neighborhood blog where people readily exaggerate how crowded that bus is. Some still seem to believe everyone is entitled to a seat.

        Brent, I normally agree with your comments… but you’re dead wrong here. But this seems to be a common mindset amongst the STB commenters.

        I rode a C Line westbound yesterday on the shoulder of the morning peak (we hit the West Seattle Bridge at 9:50 am) and it was packed.

        I’m not talking about the West Seattle Blog level of packed (no seats available)… every seat was filled and every inch of floor space had someone standing.

        That’s not a rare occurrence and I understand that buses are frequently filled to capacity on the morning peak runs and are forced to skip the final stop along Avalon.

        I invite anyone to come over to West Seattle on the C Line and check it out for yourselves. The growth over here has been explosive. In the Alaska Junction and Fauntleroy Triangle areas, at least 6 large apartment buildings (around 100 units each) have gone up over the last two years, with two more large apartment buildings scheduled to open in the next year.

      5. It’s an anecdote, but it’s my most recent one. Rode the C line home yesterday, starting at 8pm in belltown. Bus was under half full when i got on. By the time we hit the last downtown stop heading to west seattle all the seats were full (ie, people sitting in them all, not one person per two seats) and there were at least 10 people standing. This is probably slightly higher use than i see on the average day at that hour, but didn’t seem out of line with my general experience (sometimes a bit less crowded, sometimes more crowded)

      6. I was thinking of the E Line, with its ridership close to double that of the C Line, when I was talking about the D Line. My bad.

        The last time I got resented by a West Seattle commenter, it was because I supported straightening the C Line (which would help with the capacity issue), and daring to suggest a block of street parking be converted to transit lanes.

        West Seattle: Your neighborhood transportation leaders are failing you, using transit pass-ups as an excuse to oppose more housing construction, and opposing making your transit trip faster.

        Yes, there is an organized effort to make western West Seattle the squeaky wheel. And I don’t blame those organizing that effort. They put out a good blog. But it does tend to skew the conversation to make West Seattle sound worse off than it is, compared to neighborhoods without such a blog, that suffer even worse crowding on their buses.

        The political problem in West Seattle goes back a long way, to when route 120 got passed over for RapidRide treatment, because neighborhoods along the C Line had more money and political clout. Route 120 is still more crowded — all day — and still getting the short end of the political stick. You’re welcome to ride it if you don’t believe me.

        I invite those feeling resentful to make a statistics-based case for parking on bus arterials and for the C Line being more crowded than other major bus routes, in particular route 120. Data is the key to getting more service when Metro sticks to its Service Guidelines. Transit lane priority also helps, so it is doubly annoying when self-proclaimed transportation leaders oppose transit-lane priority.

      7. “The growth over here has been explosive. In the Alaska Junction and Fauntleroy Triangle areas, at least 6 large apartment buildings (around 100 units each) have gone up over the last two years, with two more large apartment buildings scheduled to open in the next year.”

        That sounds like just one five-block section of Capitol Hill, and the surrounding sections have the same. Ballard has also gotten a similar number of buildings as your description, and I hear there’s construction in Lake City. So it’s not like West Seattle had a special explosion. That’s not to detract from the need for more runs on the C or higher-quality service, but when people talk about explosive growth in West Seattle it sounds a bit parochial. An east coast city would have had that level of development for a hundred years; what’s unusual in West Seattle is how single-family it is just two blocks from the center.

    3. Bus rapid transit lines that are through-routed through a downtown corridor without dedicated lanes should be considered DOA.

      If the future Madison line is considered RapidRide+ and the E line is considered RapidRide, then the C/D in its current configuration should be considered RapidRide-.

  4. This last planning process seems like a huge waste of time and resources when in the end they are just going to do whatever they want. This crap has to stop so thank you very calling them out.

    As someone who rides the 124 in non-peak direction daily, I can tell you this is going to result in standing room only buses. That’s not a bad thing but this route definitely needs more noon-peak service.

    1. Ben B.,

      If route 106 ends up leaving the tunnel as a result of this restructure, would you prefer to see route 124 take its place in the tunnel (which would probably not add any peak trips, but could conceivably involve more off-peak 124 service, making better use of the DSTT), or remain coupled with route 24?

      Also, to you ever travel on route 60?

      1. In the 2009 winter the 124 started to go in the tunnel then stopped. The louder crowd went away during that time. The 124 is a long route and many bus drivers do not want to accept that route because of the people that ride it and the length of the it. I wish the buses would come before 5 am for those of us who need to be somewhere at 5 am like work.

      2. The tunnel is overcrowded. It still has times where it takes ten minutes to get into Westlake Station, and another ten minutes to get into University Street Station. We should be taking routes out of the tunnel, not putting new ones into it. All buses will have to leave the tunnel sometime in the next four years anyway.

  5. If light rail critics ever fulfill their wish of creating an elected board to replace Sound Transit’s appointed model … this kind of stupidity will expand exponentially on a grand regional scale.

    Appointed boards value science over emotion.

      1. Board structure reform has always been a back-door approach for critics of a transit agency to try to re-stack it to their tastes, hoping they can derail it from its current mission. It is a passive-aggressive alternative to simply arguing over that mission.

        That said, King County has ten slots on the ST Board. If those slots were populated by the Executive and the nine county councilmembers, that would hopefully put the complaints about this or that community being underrepresented to rest.

        And now, back to the topic of this post, METRO’s political problems…

      2. The Sound Transit board is made up of elected officials (http://www.soundtransit.org/About-Sound-Transit/Board-of-Directors/Board-members). Those elected officials (in general) don’t know much about transit and ignore people that do when it comes to making decisions. They are neither experts, nor people directly elected to the board. They run for public office, but not as a member of a transit board. They aren’t asked questions about transit, because it is a minor part of their job.

        Things would be completely different if the board was directly elected (and paid for their services). When you elect someone for the port, you expect them to know a thing or two about port issues, and they answer questions about the port. The same thing would happen if we directly elected the Sound Transit board. You might get the occasional yahoo, but we have that now, and we have no easy way to get rid of him. Seriously, do you really think anyone will run against Dow Constantine because they are unhappy with the way he runs Metro or Sound Transit? Dream on. It will never even be an issue.

    1. Well having elected officials run a transit agency can mean the same kinda antics….

      Let’s see what the e-mails and attachments say.

      I’m all for directly electing transit advocates to boards. But I also worry about anti-transit folks getting in and filibustering or worse.

    2. Bingo. And that is exactly why the rail critics want to change the ST governance structure — because they know that the current structure is working and they don’t want it to.

      It is much harder for politicians to meddle with minutia when you have an appointed board like ST has opposed to the set-up governing Metro. And of course when the R’s ran their initiative to shrink the size of the KC Council it just made things like this worse.

      Time to strengthen the firewall between planning and governance at Metro, but I’m not holding my breath. Metro seems to be too willing to accept the status quo and to listen to squeaky wheels, and to willing to accept unreliable, underperforming routes. In such an environment, it is just too easy for politicians to meddle at the expense of performance.

    3. In what way is Sound Transit working? It has the same faults as Metro, only much more long lasting. Ridership on the Madison BRT will greatly exceed ridership on Link in the same area because Link only added one stop. They spent over ten times as much, and get less ridership. Ridership isn’t everything, but holy smoke, it just doesn’t work for the buses, because, again, there is only one stop! Metro’s original restructure probably was better than what we have now, but in no way was it great. They were simply given too little to work with.

      This continues in their planning right now. Dismissing NE 130th, having only a couple stations for Ballard to UW light rail and then you want to complain about Metro screwing up a restructure! No one in their right mine would ever say that a subway line to one small part of West Seattle should be a priority over other, cheaper and far more effective proposals (WSTT, Ballard to UW subway, Metro 8 subway). But suddenly that is a priority because … wait for it … the County Executive wants it! Not because he can point to an independent study suggesting that it should be a priority, but because he wants it.

      Just to copy a bit of what I said below (https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/12/04/metro-political-problem-georgetown-summit/#comment-663342) I don’t think Constantine is an idiot. He just has a different skill set. He doesn’t know squat about transit, and he thinks he does. He is never asked about transit. The next time he runs it won’t be a huge issue. Do you think any of the newspaper writers will ask him detailed questions about Sound Transit or Metro routes? Of course not. The job involves running a public agency with a budget well over a billion dollars (and little of that money is spent on Metro transit).

      I would love to elect the Sound Transit board (certainly the head) and I would expect to see those running answer pointed questions. Most of the folks running would be transportation experts, not managers. Jarrett Walker could be a great board chair for Sound Transit, but he would be unqualified to be the King County Executive. We will never get someone like the former and will be stuck with the latter unless we change the way people are appointed to the board.

      1. You just made my case bringing up the lack of a Link station along Madison.

        The First Hill Station was pushed by politicians and shot down by engineers who warned of great risk, cost and delay associated with deep bore mining at that site.

        Those engineers used experience (challenges with Beacon Hill mining) to thwart the emotional response of politicians representing that area who could have cared less about science, because they partially pegged their re-election to delivering projects for their constituents.

        What your directly elected board members “would know” about transportation is this: how to get re-elected every four years. As opposed to: what is best for the regional transit system.

      2. “Most of the folks running would be transportation experts, not managers.”

        Because god knows, engineers make great schmoozers, fundraisers and political candidates

      3. Madison Rapidride+ will carry more riders than U-Link? Thanks, made my day.

        Na, you want a governance structure that is at least somewhat protected from political meddling and undue influence by squeaky wheels. If 130St made sense I am sure ST would build it, but at $50M and zero net riders gain? Na, the only way that station will happen is if a Metro style decision is made — squeaky wheels or politcal meddling winning out over data. Not impossible, but hopefully not likely.

        And maybe we can take the $50M we save by not building 130th St and use if for a new rail only tunnel under 5th connecting Ballard to Redmond….

      4. @Drew @10:47,

        Bingo!

        There might have been ways to mitigate some of the risk, but probably not with an economic case that closed.

        @Drew @10:50,

        Hey! I’m going to file a complaint! Not all engineers are socially inept. Some can actually smooze…

  6. The southern part of the new 106 should stay. I’m glad you’re focusing solely on the part north of Mt Baker. Earlier complaints were directed against the route as a whole, saying it was resurrecting the 42, ignoring the risk that Metro might revert the entire route and lost the southern improvement too. The southern part is really the 142, a route that existed until 1990 when the DSTT opened and the 106 was created. At that time Rainier Valley was just starting to gentrify and the trickle of poor people to Skyway and Renton was just starting, so the need for a MLK-Renton route was not apparent then, but in retrospect breaking it was a mistake. And half-hourly service from Rainier Beach to Renton is hindering the ability of Link to serve Renton riders.

    What does Georgetown need? Is a single frequent route on the 124’s path sufficient? The 124 and 60 overlap with it somewhat but provide different paths out of it. Is the 106’s path unnecessary?

    The 9X appears to be redundant with Capitol Hill Station opening and the streetcar serving lower Broadway. Shouldn’t it be reduced?

    1. I only read complaints about having the new 106 extend from Mt Baker to downtown. I saw only support for running route 106 all the way from Renton TC to Mt Baker Station.

      I’ll have more to say later about the path of routes 60 and 124 through Georgetown. Neither do a good job of maximizing walkshed, serving the most important destinations in Georgetown, or keeping Georgetown from being a time sink for through riders.

      1. What is happening to the 60? It appears to have disappeared on Beacon Hill and I’m not sure what is happening with the 60 on Capitol Hill. Is the portion from White Center to Georgetown still intact? Maybe that segment could be extended to SODO and riders could transfer to Link.

      2. Brent: I agree wholeheartedly. I fully support combining the 38 and the south half of the 106.

        GOBH: Neither this proposal nor the Cap Hill restructure affects the 60. For the moment it’s staying exactly as is (although it got a frequency boost from Prop 1).

      3. Guy,

        The only place from which route 60 has disappeared is the VA parking lot. Feature, not bug.

        It also had a stop consolidation a few years ago.

  7. Obviously this string of events has been disappointing, but it is difficult for Metro to stick the process when a certain Councilmember is bringing back the environment of distrust that existed before the guidelines. Please remember this when he is up for reelection. I am hopefully he addition of CM Kohl-Welles and Balducci will be able to reduce the power henia holding over Metro.

    1. Dembrowski is the public face of the regression, for micromanaging the U-Link restructure for two particular areas. I’m not sure he’s responsible for all the rest though.

      1. He pushed through an amendment that will delay Metro’s ability to move stops near UW Station closer to the station (thereby overriding Metro’s traditional power to administratively move stops short distances). I can’t figure out what the point of that was other than to sabotage the connections.

      2. Believe it or not, the councilmember who is doing the most harm to Metro at this point is not Dembowski. Not by a long shot.

      3. Yes, and while Dembowski was not totally helpful I at least have to give him credit for listening enough to realize that torpedoing the restructure entirely would be a very bad idea. The same degree of listening is not happening elsewhere.

  8. We have heard multiple rumors that the 106 extension to the International District is being driven by the King County Executive’s office, not by Metro planners.

    Thank God Sound Transit isn’t run the same way. They have completely different management, headed by … oh wait, the same guy. Never mind.

    I know some people object to the idea of directly electing the board, but I would prefer it. Constantine is not a transit expert (that’s for damn sure). He has other concerns (managing the justice system, public health system and the budget that is dominated by the former). When he runs for reelection, transit issues (like Sound Transit’s priorities or Metro restructures) will probably not even be an issue. I would never imagine a transportation expert would run for county council, let alone county executive. But people running for a public transportation board position would be asked for their level of expertise. We would have a lot of interesting questions to ask them and they would be expected to answer them. Questions like: Do you really think it is a good idea to have only a couple stops between the UW and Ballard if a subway is built between there? Does it make sense to spend huge amounts of money serving a very small part of West Seattle when there are areas that would likely benefit more from that sort of investment, like a Ballard to UW subway or Metro 8 subway?

    Neither Dow nor anyone running for his job will ever be asked those questions, because simply running an agency with a budget over a billion dollars requires a very different skill set. I don’t think Jarret Walker could run King County, but he could be a much better Sound Transit (or Metro) board chair.

    1. The folks pushing for a directly elected board tend to be people like Kemper Freeman, Eymann, Niles, E. Wa legislators, etc. What does that tell you about how an elected board would work?

      Regarding the number of stations between Ballard and UW, I don’t think that will be an issue we get to debate for ST3. If you believe the Times, it will be Ballard-FW, WS-Everett, and Redmond-Everett. If you believe the Times…..

      1. @Joe,

        I think you don’t have anything like that with Metro, but that you are closer to having that with ST.

        Just look at what Metro has been doing lately and it’s pretty clear that they need some sort of a firewall to protect planning from meddling…It appears to be pretty hard to defend.

        But we are talking buses here, they can always change their mind later….

      2. Metro has a directly-elected board: The King County Council. Here we are, talking about the flaws in their governance of transit.

    1. Everything I’ve heard indicates it’s peak, peak-direction trips only. I think the “night” is because one of the new peak trips extends a bit beyond the peak.

      Nothing I’ve seen or heard indicates any change in all-day 124 frequency. If Metro found the money to make the 124 run every 15 minutes all day, that would solve this particular problem entirely. (Then we could focus on moving it to Corson.)

      1. I looked at the 124 schedules. Apparently after 10pm everyday, the 124 goes to hourly frequency, so I assume KC Metro will up it 1/2 hour frequency between 10pm-1am daily to make it for the loss of the 106.

        However, the route description sheets also say 124 only operates to 1am daily. There is night owl service on this route, so does that mean night owl service on the 124 is cut or not?

      2. I haven’t seen any indication that 124 frequency would be made half-hourly at night. I think 1am is a mistake — I haven’t heard of any proposed change to the owl trips.

      3. Would Corson get it out of the really narrow streets with traffic circles that slow the bus down? I saw the 124 on Carlton, and it really has to get out of there, front-door business stops or no.

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t many planners simply former bus drivers who have been promoted up to supervisor, then from there, to planning? Is there a requirement at Metro that transit planners have Urban Planning degrees?

    1. You’re thinking about schedulers, not service planners. Schedulers take instructions from the planners and create the actual timetables and work assignments for the drivers.

      Service planners do need either a degree in planning/engineering and/or many years experience. The planners at Metro I know went to UW and took the same classes I took. Here’s an example opening from Metro http://agency.governmentjobs.com/kingcounty/job_bulletin.cfm?JobID=1295779.

  10. The “that needs to stop” position … so does that mean politicians and government employees would stop listing to the electorate, and so-called experts in a field would have complete autonomy and wouldn’t be accountable to anyone?

    1. To be clear, of course there is a major role for politicians (and the voters who elect them) in the process.

      The role for politicians is to set service planning priorities. The Council wrote and enacted the Service Guidelines, and that was exactly the right thing for the Council to do. If they want to change the Service Guidelines, whether as a result of public demand or on their own initiative, that’s great too. And they should hold the agency accountable for ensuring that agency decisions are in line with the law as expressed through the Service Guidelines and other laws governing the agency.

      But what they shouldn’t do is interfere in specific route-by-route decisions and force the agency to violate the guidelines on behalf of special interests. Doing that ends up benefiting the well-connected and the loud at the expense of all of the other voters, taxpayers, and riders in the county.

  11. Transit service is always a zero sum game. Restructures allow Metro to move around who has good service and who doesn’t. Georgetown and Capitol Hill have enjoyed good service for a while. Now it is time for them to deal with poor service so Renton and NE Seattle can have good service. In 5-10 years maybe Metro will circle back around and provide those areas with good service again. But probably not unless someone from those areas gets elected to County Council and pushes for it.

    1. It is a zero sum game, but every expert in the field will tell you that certain restructures will work out better overall, for more people, than others. Cancel the 41 and run a bus right from my house to my work and I come out ahead, but way more people come out behind. No one using available science would do that. This is napkin restructuring, which is not supported by the data, and not at all what a responsible expert would propose. That is the root of the problem. You have people in power ignoring the data, and proposing crap. This happens with Metro restructures as well as Sound Transit light rail lines (and their stations). It just so happens the same guy is head of both.

    2. A restructure may be zero-sum in terms of service hours. However, the point of a restructure is that the resulting improved (ideally) service level is decidedly NOT zero-sum. As we can see with this proposed change, restructures can be net-negative.

      Thinking of routes, or trips, instead of riders, misses the point. Routes need riders to be of any use.

      1. Routes need riders to be of any use.

        Nope, routes can be parlayed into political support unrelated to ridership. Give politicians, none of which actually use transit, money to spend and guess what they’ll choose… every time.

      2. On this Bernie, I agree, “STB, We Have A Problem”.

        Politicians making policy with a total disconnect between transit users and their dais.

        All the more reason to directly elect transit governing boards. Then you have a much better chance of that connection.

      3. directly elect transit governing boards.

        I’m not convinced that’s a good idea. In King County we elect an appraiser. That’s done nothing for the average Joe that sees assessed rates on residential property disproportionately foot the bill vs commercial property. The Port of Seattle elected officials are another example that I don’t think says elected governance is effective or serves the public’s best interest. I guess the old addage, “with democracy you get the government you deserve” comes into play. The electorate at large has no idea how the Port actually functions, I sure don’t. I think in general there’s even less knowledge about transit. To that end I could forward some wildly inaccurate points of view from both bus drivers and transit riders. I had one driver tell me in all seriousness that the problem was we didn’t put in enough freeway lanes between Seattle and Marysville so that he could have an easy commute to work… uff da!

  12. Didn’t Metro have an independent board before being merged with the County sometime in the early ’90s? I wonder if political interference was a problem pre-merger.

  13. I, too, thought the 42 proposal was a joke.

    On the application for the sounding board, the text states an intent to involve underrepresented groups in government: young people, women, people of color —

    There is no better way to show these groups that involvement is useless, by having insiders unravel months of meetings.

    I moved to Seattle three years ago and have, to wit, not missed a single election. Now I wonder what the use is.

    I hope nobody in this city looks at metro’s uneven service and says, “They should have participated!” We tried, and were ignored.

    1. Yes. When you have a long public involvement process, come out with a proposal which is generally considered to be a decent compromise, and then *alter it behind closed doors*, people become absolutely disgusted with their unaccountable, corrupt government.

      This is how you got the Deep Bore Tunnel and Bertha, by the way. Backroom shenanigans at the state legislature. I still don’t know who was being bribed by whom, but they selected an option which had specifically been rejected as both too dangerous and totally ineffective by all the technical experts.

  14. This problem runs deep.

    An illegal PRIVATE bus run by Metro with no oversight.
    Created at the behest of Gossett.
    Ignoring all service guidlines.
    Taking service away from the PUBLIC to provide an exclusive ride for a few.

    CENTER PARK BUS is all the proof you need that politics is destroying the agency.

  15. King County has a population that is now so large that we no longer have personal accountability. Our county government was not structured for 2 million people.

    Along with this, we will have 1/4 to 1/3 of all transit boardings in King County happening on ST in just 8 years. These kinds of issues are only going to get harder as Link expands.

    Rather than change a board, we need to change the service planning oversight. It needs to have both operators and the cities and other agencies that own and stripe the road regularly working together. That suggests that service planning should get some sort of independent approval by a coordinated transit service commission where all governments affecting transit are represented. This commission needs financial authority to be effective, too.

    There isn’t an easy fix. Still, the culture of each agency acting mostly independently needs to change. That goes for staff as well as elected officials. The current culture of fiefdoms needs to be reformed.

      1. I was thinking in going the other direction with this. How about each census tract get it’s own bus (Lr, Med or Sm) and a driver. The neighborhood gets together once a year to give the driver his/her marching orders.
        It may not be efficient, but it’s certainly fair.

    1. I’d add that we currently trust local jurisdictions to exclusively approve development agreements and most of the time these do little to nothing for transit. Letting Downtown Seattle developers build high-rises without major transit impact and mitigation as routine processes is terribly irresponsible! We are a dense world class city acting like we are a small town — with transit as almost an afterthought once we build.

      1. Considering the long delays on 3rd and 4th Avenues almost every rush hour, I’d say that there is not enough good transit service downtown. Maybe Al’s suggesting that developers be charged enough impact fees that we could build the WSTT and move buses down there? One way or another, we do definitely need to get a second tunnel.

      2. Something like that William! The buildings planned today will open by 2025. When construction begins after 2025, the owners probably will complain that a 5th Avenue subway will hurt their building as well as extort money from ST if they need a station entrance. That’s on top of us paying for a new transit tunnel to their building’s front door. Then there is the need for more transit vehicles to handle tens of thousands of new employees and residents. Our system is completely backwards on high rise mitigations.

      3. That’s putting all the burden on the developers. The developers didn’t create the population increase or jobs increase, they just follow it. We all need enough housing and offices and transit so we should all pay for the transit.

    2. We went from 13 council districts to 9. Then we made the positions formally nonpartisan. If that doesn’t work, maybe we need to just go back and forth between having a county manager, and not.

      1. I would argue that representation should have more seats because we are more populous. Either that or have the legislature divide King County into three counties so that representation can be more responsive to local communities.

  16. I think we need to always defend the planners, yes politics will always have an influence, and needs to be there. But rational analytical numbers need to drive the show and needs support 24/7.

    People blaming road diets and protected bike lanes for transit slow downs need to get on board and support removing parking and general purpose lanes for transit. Point out with data where this has happened too.

    So the deal is support dedicated transit lanes + protected bike lanes + wider sidewalks downtown and in urban villages. Do it always and forever.

      1. Ok, sometimes there are bad/crazy planners and plans, but if they do their job of 1. service design standards, 2. performance measurement, and 3. service evaluation, the results will be better than random touchy feely political decision making.

        Yes, hug a transit planner today (ask first).

      2. Metro has good planners, as you can see in their early proposals and when you talk to them about what they would like to do. The problem is that the planner’ ideas get vetoed by management or the council due to squeaky wheels, or they self-censor out of fear of a veto.

      3. Well then Mike, it’s time we started being those squeaky wheels and got things done all up and down the Puget Sound. I already am one on the Skagit Transit CAC – ask me about it next open thread.

        No, I’m serious – it’s time to get tough with the politicians. We all have our anxieties with ST3 and are rather open about it. It’s time to take our conversations here to the politicians and be that squeaky wheel.

    1. When planners are all also required to be community relations specialists, and sent to neighborhood meetings without a security escort, they have earned their salaries.

  17. If you want any changes, you should ask the City of Seattle to use their Prop 1 transit funds to contract with a provider that is not King County.

    Those local funds do not have to go to the County.

  18. Great work, I’m glad we have journalists that will hold Metro accountable for stuff like this and shake them down for answers. If STB wasn’t here this would probably go unnoticed.

    I get the sense that this issue is particularly bad in Seattle. How is it that the logical and efficient bus networks of Vancouver, Portland, and San Francisco were designed but we can’t seem to get one foot in front of the other before some loud mouth or politician somewhere sinks the whole thing? Is there really something intrinsically Seattle in the way we allocate authority that makes this so difficult for us?

    1. It’s been a major struggle in all of those cities just like it has here, with victories and setbacks. We just have to make sure the victories outnumber the setbacks.

    2. Those cities have large 2-dimensional areas where it’s easier to run grids, and there are more destinations on every grid street that generate demand for a bus. North Seattle has comparable geography but the dense nodes are scattered and far apart in a sea of low density (like Portland but unlike the others) so some grid lines just miss population centers where most people are going. Still, North Seattle’s east-west service is underdeveloped and is only slowly being filled in.

      Central Seattle and especially south and west Seattle are divided into small pockets by many barriers (hills, rivers, highways); too small for a proper grid to form or be useful. Rainier Valley is less than a mile across; Beacon Hill, Delridge, 16th SW, and 35th SW are less than a quarter mile across. This dissuades people from going between the pockets, from building businesses that attract people from surrounding pockets, or building any businesses at the edges of the pockets. The best we can do is link the urban villages together, which is what the largest ridership demand is.

  19. I wonder if part of this is a communication failure. We’ve had a bus system for many decades, and the mantra has always been “one-seat good, two-seat bad.” We’re now shifting to a multi-modal system where two-seat rides will become much more common. Everybody working in transit, or with a strong interest in transit, gets this. But are we adequately preparing the region for this transition?

    1. Transfer quality is another sore point: Metro has done a poor job of making transfers feel (or be) safe. A friend of mine was assaulted at a bus stop, where Metro’s Trip Planner suggested transferring.

      Metro can’t just say “We provide the shelter, and the municipality provides the sidewalks and police protection.”

      Frequency helps (and would be a better investment for route 106 than sending it downtown). Real Time Arrival signage helps. Safety in numbers helps. Safe crossings help. But Metro’s transfer culture has never evolved to the point that a multi-gender panel that includes people with expertise in crime prevention would look at a proposed transfer point and say, “I feel safe waiting for a bus/train/streetcar here.”

      Granted, this is a cultural failure within Metro itself, regardless of the political leadership. But when we can’t sell the concept of transferring, we get garbage proposals like sending a bus downtown instead of having its downtown-bound riders transfer at a train station and its intermediate travelers hop on a frequently-arriving 7.

    2. What’s the #1 complaint about making the 43 peak-only? The 8 is wildly unreliable, and it has large spans where it drops to 20 or 30 minutes, and even 15 minutes isn’t a good transfer. That’s not a showcase for ideal transfers. In Chicago, San Francisco, and Vancouver, grid routes run every 5-10 minutes daytime 15-20 minutes evenings, and 30 minute night owls (spaced a mile apart). Our daytime and evening service is around half that, and night owls much less.

  20. The process hands ammunition freely to those who would paint transit as a sop to special interests and a waste of public money,

    Lock and load. There are many people incensed over the waste that would otherwise be supportive of transit spending. Of course many/most are from the camp “more people using transit should mean congestion free roads for me”.

    rather than the core public infrastructure it is.

    Correction, “it is” needs to be changed to “should be“. I keep coming back to it but the only time Metro was able to make meaningful changes that addressed waste in the system was when they had a budget squeeze. As long as you keep feeding a pig it keeps getting fatter.

    1. Those budget squeezes cause widespread loss of frequency, which make people driver more or lose mobility, and ridership suffers and people get used to not expecting transit to be there when they need it. That’s a lot of negatives for just a couple consolidations, and it’s a significant step backward in a city that’s already far behind of where it should be on transit.

      1. Ridership dropped because of the Great Recession long before Metro made any changes. By the time changes were actually implemented sales tax revenue had recovered to pre-recession levels. The 249 I ride lost 1 trip per day. Sorta sucked for me but ridership on that route has done nothing but continue to increase. Yet, not a word about restoring service; go figure. OTOH, the 236 which carries more HS students to Lk WA on it’s first route of the day than it does on the rest of it’s runs combined remains as is because money to burn returned before that part of the restructure was implemented. Sorry Metro, no soup for you!

  21. It’s been a day since this news broke. Any word or statement yet from Metro, their leaders, the Executive’s office, or anyone on the KC Council?

    1. Getting statements from agency’s in response to posts after they have been published is not STB’s modus operandi. We usual get in touch with agencies being posted about to get comment ahead of time. Sometimes, they take more than a day to respond, and we don’t let their pace slow down our posting pace.

      In this case, we asked Metro for comment regarding the specifics of route 124’s proposed schedule and some of the process behind this proposal. We got clarification Monday that, David got it pretty close to correct. The politics is something we’re going to go into more detail later, but, rest assured, Metro was given a heads up that we are covering this topic.

      If we get something flat-out wrong, that’s when we’ll be sure to post updates and/or correction posts.

  22. The “no net inceease in ridership” for the N. 130th St. station is because this station would primarily serve the urban vllages of Lake City and Bitter Lake with a frequent connector, but the growth in these areas isn’t counted by the formula. Despite is growth, Lake City will actually lose service when the UW staduim Light Rail opens and the 71-72-73 terminate there instead of downtown.

    BTW, comments above about the use of developer impact fees are in error. The Growth Management Act of 1990 allows impact fees to be used for schools, parks, roads (not transit or sidewalks) and fire service. Period. Given that we are short hundreds of classrooms before we implement all-day kindergarten or lower class sizes, Seattle needs to pass impact fees like all the surrounding municipalities. We have a school construction emergency and our kids are sitting in overcrowded, aging and moldy portable classrooms.

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