KCM Route 38 at Mount Baker TC

County Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Larry Gossett kindly offered some reasons for supporting more bus service in southeast Seattle last Thursday. STB supports adding more service in southeast Seattle that delivers real improvements to riders, which means avoiding wasteful duplication. The councilmembers’ arguments failed to explain why these specific route restructures (in particular, the extension of route 38 / proposed route 106 to the International District) are on the table.

For all the talk of unmet demand on MLK, the proposal has no additional service there. Indeed, by introducing reliability problems with no additional frequency, intra-MLK trips will likely get worse. Starting trips in the International District will scramble arrival times and degrade the transfer from Link to buses on MLK.

The councilmembers understand the advantages of replacing two routes (106 and 124) between eastern Georgetown and downtown with one (124) running twice as often, which is more likely to maintain proper spacing between buses. One alternative for the ID/Mt. Baker service hours would apply the same lesson to high-ridership route 7, potentially matching the peak frequency of Link.

Another alternative would actually improve service for the aforementioned communities on MLK Way by boosting its frequency beyond 15 minutes. This would also improve an already high-quality transfer at Mt. Baker Station. Either alternative is superior to running duplicate service which does nothing but avoid high-quality transfers between 7, 38, and Link. The Metro proposal effectively resurrects the 42, historically a poor performer.

Though we have many process objections to how this proposal was developed, our primary concern is always the end result. And to be clear, we like most of what is in the restructure proposal. It addresses many needs specifically identified in the 2015 Service Guidelines Report. One of them — a frequency investment in route 124 — is listed on page 12. However, a duplicative, poorly synchronized route between Mt. Baker Station and the International District is nowhere to be found in that report.

Reliability is a social justice issue. A mere annoyance for a salaried professional is a job-threatening event for many low-income people. We oppose the 106 extension to the International District not because we prioritize wonky ideals of network elegance, but because we believe that frequency is freedom and reliability is liberation. The same riders this extension is intended to serve would reap a much more usable network if the proposed hours were reinvested in the MLK-Renton corridor and we worked harder to solve the transfer issues that make community groups appeal for the reinstatement of redundant service.

Executive Constantine’s push for agency integration faces its greatest tests in micro issues like these. For lack of an integrated policy solution for transfer fare media, we are set to spend millions in public funds on redundant service. We will also be pushing riders away from Link – far and away the region’s premier and most reliable transit – as a matter of policy. Is this the message we want to send?

We would like to thank Councilmembers Rod Dembowski and Kathy Lambert for pointing out how the 106 ID extension proposal goes in the opposite direction from what Metro was trying to do with the U-Link restructure. We encourage councilmembers who sense that this is the wrong thing to do to pass the rest of the restructure, and instruct Metro to revisit the use of the service hours that are being applied to the ID extension.

The restructure ordinance will be heard at full council on May 16. Please contact your County Councilmembers and ask them to pass the restructure without the duplication between Downtown and Mt Baker. In particular, we suggest contacting TrEE Committee Chair Rod Dembowski, Vice Chair Claudia Balducci, District 2 Representative Larry Gossett, and District 8 Representative Joe McDermott.

46 Replies to “Editorial: Fix the SE Seattle Restructure”

  1. Why don’t they first fix the NE restructure before proceeding to screw up the SE too.

  2. If the transfer problems are the issue for the community (“The same riders this extension is intended to serve would reap a much more usable network if the proposed hours were reinvested in the MLK-Renton corridor and we worked harder to solve the transfer issues that make community groups appeal for the reinstatement of redundant service.”), how about fixing those and then restructuring the service rather than the other way around? Wouldn’t that be a win-win?

    1. “If the transfer problems are the issue for the community”

      That’s the question, what is the reason for the Rainier-Jackson routing? Normally Metro says “We’re restructuring route X because of need Y on Z Street”, but in this case they won’t say what the reason is. Is it to avoid transferring? To avoid Link? If so, then say so. If Link being unaffordable is the problem, then explain why we can’t get ORCA LIFT into every poor passenger’s hand in that area through targeted marketing and services. If distaste for transfers is the problem, then say so. It’s hard to understand why Metro and the Council, which have been generally transparent about routing decisions both pro- and anti-urban, are opaque about this one.

      1. How is Link unaffordable? Metro fare between downtown and Mt. Baker is $2.50/$2.75. Link is $2.50.

      2. “How is Link unaffordable?”

        Double fare if you pay cash for both Metro and Link..

      3. Everyone knows what the reason is. Here’s a hint: Initials ACRS

        That seems to make as much sense as any other explanation. But what’s the deal? Why does this one social service organization have such juice? Do they have compromising pictures of several councilmembers or something? Because plenty of community organizations with a lot more sway than they’ve got don’t seem to have the political power to get Metro to flagrantly violate their service revision guidelines to give them the particular service pattern they want.

    1. A group of supporters of the ID extension got together, met for a couple years, and asked for something like this, but not for the extra service for Georgetown. In the background material, they are usually referred to as “Trusted Advisors”, but it was a private group, as far as I can tell.

      Transportation Choices Coalition, which participated in the private “Trusted Advisors” group, then asked for route 107 to serve Georgetown as part of the restructure, after TCC opposed doing the restructure without the Renton extension.

      But the call for keeping a route from MLK to the IDS via Rainier/Jackson dates back to the 2009 restructure around Central Link, and the calls for restoring such a link after route 42 was cut, due to low ridership and as per the Service Guidelines, have been going on ever since the 2013 restructure around RapidRIde and the recession-forced cuts. ACRS had a banner up on the side of their building until the bitter end of route 42 in February 2014.

      Metro has a limited window in which to work this into the September 2016 service change, but there is no particular event causing this to happen now. Nor should Metro need an excuse to do restructures, when they come up with a plan that improves service overall, which this one does, IMHO, if they just do something better than ruin route 106 by sending it up Rainier and Jackson.

      1. I’ve seen enough SE Seattle restructure proposals to know that Metro doesn’t appear to have a good understanding of how frustrating it can be to try and ride the bus in Rainier Valley. The 7 is ridiculously slow and connections to Link are difficult. The poorly designed Mt. Baker Station and the spread out Rainier Beach Station are the primary transfer nodes while the more rider-friendly stations–Othello and Columbia City–offer fewer transfer opportunities.

  3. The big question is why the 106 extension is running daily. The original proposal was to run the extension only weekday daytime, since that is the time when the social agencies would be open. (I assume KC Metro decided to do it daily to avoid rider confusion, or for those going to Downtown from the Skyway area – or vice versa , a way to get close to downtown without a transfer). I would use the weeknight and weekend extension hours to improve service on Sunday daytime instead.

    1. Orienting bus routes around social service agencies is bad practice to begin with. The vast majority of transit riders along the Ranier/MLK corridor are not going to or from any social service agency. To pretend otherwise is to simply indulge in the fallacy that transit rider == poverty.

      1. Those agencies have employees, too, who theoretically could be a stable source of ridership. I’d guess about a hundred employees work at that building where the “Save Bus 42” sign used to be. That it has clients going there at various times of day is the icing on the cake for the principle of serving human service agencies just as much as other mid-major employers.

        For clients and employees at ACRS with mobility issues, though, losing the live loop on route 38 will be unfortunate. But then, the situation for getting from the nearest bus stop to the front door of ACRS is already a bad situation for some with mobility issues.

      2. Enumerating individual buildings as sources of ridership and planning transit routes around them doesn’t work unless ridership from those specific buildings is really, really big (as in the football stadium before and after Seahawks games). A building with 100 employees, 95 of which probably walk or drive to work, rather than take the bus, does not warrant special treatment with bus routes. And, people with mobility issues have plenty of places to go besides ACRS.

        And, speaking of transfers – even if a one-seat ride from ARCS to downtown, how would these people be getting downtown in the first place. If they don’t live under a freeway bridge, presumably by taking another bus or train- which means they are transferring anyway.

      3. Dudes! The MLK corridor has a ton of businesses that cater to a variety of Asian communities, just like the ID. It’s a much bigger service need than getting to a social service agency.

      4. Al, the only need being met here is the “need” for a one-seat ride. The talk of new service is just cover for not discussing whether this need for one-seat rides is worth $4 million per year to provide, and more useful than providing 10-minute headway on route 106 from Renton to Mt Baker Station. No alternatives analysis was done to determine the *best* way to improve service along this corridor.

      5. Oops, the $4 million figure is for two years, and for the whole restructure. After that, SDOT has to be asked again, and Metro is counting on improving revenue.

      6. Brent, I’m simply pointing out that the interest of a one-seat ride is bigger than the ACRS. To suggest that it is just the ACRS is showing naïveté about the complete issue.

      7. To suggest that anyone is suggesting it is just ACRS is naivete. That’s why ACRS had to spend two years getting allied orgs on board for the ID extension, knowing that “continuing community engagement” was the only cover the Service Guidelines could give restoration of a proven poor ridership route.

    2. Those agencies have employees, too, who theoretically could be a stable source of ridership. I’d guess about a hundred employees work at that building where the “Save Bus 42” sign used to be. That it has clients going there at various times of day is the icing on the cake for the principle of serving human service agencies just as much as other mid-major employers.

      For clients and employees at ACRS with mobility issues, though, losing the live loop on route 38 will be unfortunate. But then, the situation for getting from the nearest bus stop to the front door of ACRS is already a bad situation for some with mobility issues.

    3. The route could, instead of turning west at Jackson, continue north on Boren to SLU. Then it might be seen as a promising new crosstown service on both ends, and it would diminish calls for the 7 to be rerouted this way.

      1. That idea actually makes a lot of sense. SLU->First Hill is one of Metro’s long-neglected corridors that could use some service. The reliability drag of Boren on the rest of the route, though, could be a concern.

        Anything but resurrection of the 42, which already been proven to generate negligible ridership.

      2. That’s when you’d look at splitting the route to ensure reliability. And what better place to split it than at Mt Baker Station….

      3. Dead end suggestion. I’ve spoken to Metro planners about that very idea and it’s DOA.

      4. What makes you say that, GuyOnBeaconHill, when Metro’s LRP has that very connection mapped? And even if they have changed their mind about it, what gives them the authority to say that such a common-sense idea along a highly-trafficked corridor is for all eternity a dead-end suggestion?

      5. William C.

        I don’t think Metro currently has the service hours available to fund an extension all the way to SLU, so they’re not receptive to the idea I’d be fine with simply terminating the route at 14th & Jackson and creating a transfer node between the FHSC and the 38/106, but that isn’t an option either.

        The only positive that extending the 38/106 to Jackson St. creates is better access to I-90 Station for riders along MLK. Riding Link to downtown and making the transfer at IDS is a PITA.

      6. That’s a more sensible (and unfortunate) answer; thanks. I would say that connection’s a high enough priority that it’s worth moving some service hours from other places (like short-turning some 124 trips) to fund it, but I can see how people could differ on that.

  4. A clever solution would be for STB to push a narrative and constant messaging until it becomes, say, a legislative requirement:

    ALL transit changes must list a summary of the top three reasons why planners feel it’s a good idea that benefits the majority of people. If that means they’re forced to concede on the record that it’s for spreadsheet nickel and dime reasons, or whatever else — good, positive, mundane — at least it’s on the record.

    I’ve suggested similar things in the past and most people in government think I’m crazy for it.

    1. And to be clear: no summary items like this? Your changes are invalid and may NOT be initiated.

    2. A lengthy discussion around the restructure can be found in the background material for agenda item 19 here.

      Again, the frustration here is with the extension of route 106 to the ID, which STB opposes.

      We’re not trying to say NO to the whole restructure.

    3. As I said above, Metro is usually transparent about the reason for changing a route. In the West Seattle restructure, it was to consolidate service on the C corridor and increase 35th Ave SW. Lower-ridership areas like Admiral retained a peak express to downtown but all-day service was replaced with the crosstown 50 and 128 to Alaska Junction. The far southwest corner (Arbor Heights) lost off-peak service or all service, I can’t keep track, but again the reason was clear: low ridership. In the Capitol Hill restructure, where various alternatives had equal support, Metro spelled out the major reasons initially, and if you followed the ongoing proposals and discussions you can see why each compromise was proposed; e.g., the 11-19th-John was to get some service near both Capitol Hill Station and 17th & Madison. This 106-Rainier-Jackson proposal is different because Metro won’t say why so we have to guess. The most plausable reasons we can think of are transfer-phobia and bus-train transfer cost. So Metro should say. But the issue is not so widespread that we need a new blanket policy with a required paragraph at the top of every route change. That could become necessary if this practice spreads to other routes and future restructures, but so far it has been an isolated case.

    4. Joe S;

      As to,

      ALL transit changes must list a summary of the top three reasons why planners feel it’s a good idea that benefits the majority of people. If that means they’re forced to concede on the record that it’s for spreadsheet nickel and dime reasons, or whatever else — good, positive, mundane — at least it’s on the record.

      Yeah, I’d like this law as well.

    1. +1. It’s time to concede and move on, clearly the KCC is going to do it no matter the metrics.

  5. I would have liked to have seen the 106 replace the 9 and run up Boren through First Hill and down to SLU (instead of the 9 running up Broadway to CH from Boren)

    This would connect SE Seattle to First Hill and the Hospitals as well as to SLU (and providing frequent bus service on Boren and connecting First Hill to SLU)

    1. I’m willing to bet that a lot more SE Seattle residents have a lot more trips to the hospitals (work, appointments, visiting family/friends, etc.) than they do along this corridor.

      Not how politics works, regrettably.

  6. This is one of the better STB editorials in a long time.

    I guess it helps I agree on the issue…

    I responded to Jeff Switzer in the last thread asking what the ridership projections are for this extension.

    Crickets.

  7. Why does everyone always want to critic, fix, correct, or change everything Metro does?

    1. Sociology is above my pay grade as a volunteer.

      However, I think it should be abundantly clear by now that Metro did not instigate this restructure. A group of community organizations wanted to critique/fix/correct/change what Metro is doing in southeast Seattle. Skyway came along for the ride, and later on, Georgetown and north Tukwila.

      I hold nothing against the instigators for wanting to improve Metro’s service pattern. The background material is full of reasons the instigators want a one-seat ride from MLK to the International District. They may have other reasons not listed in the materials, and are free to comment here.

      Given that this is a change, and there are others clamoring for Metro to spend money in their neighborhood, Metro should justify why this restructure outweighs the benefits of other service investments, for which there is a long queue in the Service Guidelines reports.

      Also, given that I pay City of Seattle taxes, I think I have a right to know why SDOT is investing millions in a service restructure for which the only real service improvements are in Skyway and north Tukwila.

    2. To be clear, I also have nothing against the transit planners, who have a job that ranks right up there with transit operator, construction worker, fast food server, union representative, manager, politician, beat reporter, and referee in the list of the world’s most thankless jobs.

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