Metro is making another attempt at restructuring the trolley service on Queen Anne Hill. Metro hasn’t released enough details about the proposals for me to yet decide if the proposal is an improvement over the existing service pattern. Moving service from the historic streetcar tails on routes 3 and 4 on Queen Anne Hill looks like a smart and productive gain. But I want to see how much productivity could be gained system-wide with changes to the entire Queen Anne-based trolley network. There are plenty of inefficiencies in Metro’s current Queen Anne to First Hill/Madrona/Judkins Park/Mt. Baker trolley network. How much better can the network become if the existing resources were deployed more efficiently?
To begin this project, I gathered some paper timetables and consulted the online schedules at OneBusAway to try and figure out the service patterns for the existing Queen Anne, First Hill and Mt. Baker routes (1, 2, 3, 4, 13, 14). As best I could figure, this is the current midday operating plan for the routes I looked at:
The challenge is to create an operating plan that would be cost neutral (33 total buses during the midday) but provide the most coverage possible. Because the peak hour services of the existing Queen Anne based trolley routes are currently some of Metro’s most productive routes, I won’t offer any changes to the peak hour routes. These changes will only affect midday services.
The Queen Anne Plan
(Step 1) Create 2 strong spine routes that anchor the entire system. These routes would replicate the route paths of the current 3S and the 4S from First Hill/Madrona/Judkins Park to Belltown. These routes would offer very frequent service (every 7.5 minutes) for the many landmark neighborhoods and institutions along the path (Central District, Garfield High School, Swedish and Harborview Hospitals, Seattle University, Downtown, Seattle Center, Queen Anne Hill and Seattle Pacific University). This spine would look very much like a combined 3S/4S/3N/13 route, (although I will later propose a modification of the 4S that I think would be a major productivity gain). The 3S and 4S would both begin at their existing Madrona/34th Avenue and Judkins Park terminals, but both routes would run every 15 minutes from the terminals and provide 7.5 minute headways on their common corridor from First Hill through downtown Seattle and Belltown. This spine route would then split in Belltown with one route serving the west side of Seattle Center (continuing to SPU on the 13 route path), the other route would continue to SPU via the 3N path to Queen Anne/Boston Street where it would then continue to the SPU terminal. Using the route timings in Metro’s current timetables, this spine route would require a minimum of 18 buses to operate during the midday, but it might be wise to add 1 or 2 extra coaches to guarantee on-time operations.
(Step 2) Modify the 2/13 timetable to replace the 13 SPU service with the 1 Kinnear route. This would maintain 15 minute headways between Madrona Park and lower Queen Anne and the paths to Kinnear Park and West Queen Anne would each receive 30 minute service.
(Step 3) Route 14 would then be a Mt. Baker to downtown-only route and would require 5 coaches to offer 20 minute headways unless modified (see below).
Total buses needed for this plan:
In order to create a cost-neutral plan, at most I need to eliminate 1 bus from my plan. An easy way to reduce the number of buses needed would be to reduce service to the Judkins Park and Madrona/34th terminals on the spine route from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes. This change would maintain the existing service levels on those corridors, but I think Metro riders would greatly benefit from a revised 4S route path south of Jackson Street.
A Modified Route 4 to Judkins Park/Mt. Baker Transit Center
The existing 4S wanders through the Judkins Park neighborhood and inefficiently duplicates service offered by existing Routes 8 and 48. To improve service on the 4S I propose the following changes for the route paths of the 4S and Route 8.
Route 4S: starting at 23rd Avenue & Jackson Street, the outbound route path would (1) turn left onto Jackson Street (2) then turn right onto MLK and stay on MLK until it terminates at the Mt. Baker TC. With the 4S operating on MLK south of Jackson Street, the 8 could then be revised to terminate near Garfield High School at the existing 3 First Hill terminal. This change wouldn’t reduce the number of buses needed on the 4S, but it would free up 2 buses from route 8. Because this plan would involve new trolley wire it could be decades before Metro would be able to act, but the benefits of connecting MBTC with First Hill via a fairly straight path are enormous.
Some might object that the running the 4S directly to MBTC would eliminate front door service to the Lighthouse for the Blind. A possible solution to that problem would be a van that connects Lighthouse to MBTC and then continues to the legacy Hanford Street terminal of Route 14 (replacing the trolley bus). Eliminating the crazy split-tail routing of the 14 would save one bus from the 14 schedule which would pay for the van.
Is This a Better Plan?
This plan would offer more frequent service on most of the existing Queen Anne based trolley routes. SPU and the Boston Street commercial area would receive much better service. The Madrona/34th and Judkins Park areas would also get 15 minute headways. The only service reduction (other than the legacy tails on 3N/4N) would be on the 1 Kinnear route path north of Uptown (20 minute headways would become 30 minute headways).