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On March 30 of this year, Mayor Durkan suspended the streetcar expansion project known as the Central City Connector, or CCC. In a statement released three months later, the mayor asked SDOT to “evaluate additional mobility alternatives in order to understand the transportation benefits that would accrue from either a streetcar or an alternative mode of transit”. Here are a couple of ideas for alternatives.

The CCC in Brief

The CCC would add five new stops along First Avenue, and connect the two existing streetcar lines. For much of the 1.2 mile addition, the streetcar would run in its own center lane. The initial service plan consists of overlapping the two existing lines, so that the streetcars would run more often on First Avenue. Since each streetcar line would run every ten minutes during peak, that would enable five minute frequency in the shared segment. It is important to note that the peak five minute service is only average. Since the trains will start at two different spots and the First Hill train is routinely delayed, it is likely that you will see waits that are longer than five minutes, even during peak.

A short distance, looping route like the completed streetcar line is sometimes called a circulator, and is often found in small cities and towns that lack an extensive transit network. In addition to the overall loop, the First Hill segment makes an additional button hook before it reaches downtown. Both circulators in general and routes that are short, squiggly and looping are often criticized by transit professionals. The particulars are complicated, but the basic problem is that it doesn’t make sense to use it for longer trips, since it doubles back on itself. For example, even if the CCC is completed, it will be faster to walk from Yesler Terrace to First Avenue than use the streetcar. That means that a rider from First Hill who is headed to somewhere on First Avenue could get off the train, walk several blocks, and then take the exact same streetcar as it caught up to them. This sort of circuitous routing means that people will find better, more straightforward transit options for their trips.

RapidRide Solution

The first alternative is fairly simple: Take the right of way granted for the CCC project, but run buses there instead. Buses with doors on both sides would have to be used, which means running the so called RapidRide+ routes on First Avenue. There are several possible routes, but I think the 7 and 70 would be ideal (these are referred to as Corridor 3 and 7 in the RapidRide+ documents). Send them both over to First Avenue in an overlapping manner (similar to the proposed streetcar service plan). The combined service (along First Avenue) would be better, because each line is very popular right now (unlike the existing streetcars) and already has more frequent service than the proposed streetcar.

The routing would also connect to more places. Unlike the streetcar routing, any trip along there makes sense (trips like Eastlake to Pioneer Square or Rainier Avenue to Pike Place). Thus there would not only be more frequent service along First Avenue, but more frequent service to more places. Buses would enable faster, more consistent operations. A bus can avoid an obstacle, and the city can more easily and cheaply make improvements to reduce bottlenecks with bus routes.

One of the big advantages to this approach is cost. It isn’t cheap to build the center platforms and purchase the dual sided buses, but it is still cheaper than adding rail. But the big savings come from the operations. This would cost almost nothing to operate, as these buses have to travel from one end of downtown to the other anyway.

BAT Lane Bus Alternative

The second proposal is even simpler. Just add BAT lanes along First Avenue, and move a few buses over there. There are plenty of buses that could easily use First Avenue, while retaining very good connections to other parts of downtown. BAT lanes are not ideal — cars can clog a lane while turning right — but it is still a big improvement over regular traffic. Fourth Avenue carries dozens of buses in BAT lanes, and it functions without major problems. It is likely that the maneuverability, added frequency and better routing of buses would more than make up for the difference between BAT lanes and exclusive transit lanes.

This alternative could be implemented very quickly. Over time, this alternative could easily evolve into the other one, as we purchase more buses with dual sided doors.

My own preference is for the first approach. Running dual sided buses on First Avenue (in a center lane) makes a lot of sense given the amount of effort that has gone into this project. It is quite possible that grant money could be transferred as it was when Providence switched from a streetcar to BRT. Rides would be faster, more frequent and connect to more places. But even just using BAT lanes and regular buses would be a step up from the proposed plan, and it could be done very quickly, for very little money.

The mayor is soliciting input with this project. You can contact her at jenny.durkan@seattle.gov.

27 Replies to “Mobility Alternatives to the CCC”

  1. I didn’t want to go into great detail about the advantages of the 7 and 70 above, but will do so here. It is likely that many of the riders from Eastlake and Rainier have no interest in traveling on First Avenue, and would rather go via Third. Fortunately, transferring to those places would be easy. In a few weeks, riders will be able to get off a bus, then ride along Third Avenue without having to stop and pay a fare. With essentially no waiting, and very little time spent boarding, it is about as easy a transfer as is possible. Not only would both bus routes cross Third Avenue, but the routes will run by four Link stations and be fairly close to a fifth (in the U-District). With that sort of flexibility, it is unnecessary to worry about transfers.

    We are moving towards a system that functions more like a grid, even if it doesn’t always resemble it. You can’t expect to get to within a block of your destination with one seat. But you can get there with a transfer. This is really nothing new. Folks in Madison Valley (and much of Madison) have not been able to reach the south end of downtown with one bus. They transfer, just as riders from the 41 will have to transfer as soon it is kicked out of the tunnel. While those on a re-routed 7 or 70 headed to Third Avenue have the option of walking a couple of blocks, on the other buses it is much longer schlep. Yet they manage, either by taking a frequent bus on Third, or just spending ten minutes on foot.

  2. It is also worth noting that purchasing more big buses with doors on both sides might help the city out of a current problem. The city wants to purchase several of these buses for the Madison BRT project, but the company that makes them has been reluctant because the order is relatively small. It is possibly that buying more special buses — instead of a mix of streetcars and buses — would convince the company to fulfill the order, thus solving two problems at once.

  3. Seattle and Metro need a third option, similar to your second one without civil work, that could be implemented in March 2019. It would need 1st Avenue restored from the water line work. It would need paint and signage for bus lanes or BAT lanes depending on the direction of travel of the east-west street.

    One set of routes would be from SR-99. The now use the Seneca and Columbia ramps. the deep bore opens in fall 2018. their interim pathway will be on 1st Avenue. They are the C Line and routes 21X, 55, 56, 57, 113, 116, 118X, 119X, 120, 121, 122, 123, and 125.

    Another set would be west side local routes with longer through routes today: routes 21, 24, and 33. They should be provided bus bulbs in Belltown for in-lane stops. Another set would be electric trolley bus routes serving the circulator function of the CCC but better, routes 7, 14, and 36, that combine for 16 trips per hour per direction relative to 12 for the CCC. These two sets would shift from 3rd Avenue, freeing up capacity there for trunk lines 101, 102, and 150, now in the transit tunnel and headed to congested 2nd and 4th avenues otherwise. electric trolley bus routes could use the 1st Avenue transit spine to turn around: routes 10-12 again, routes 14-47 again. Pine-Pike routes could use 1st instead of 2nd Avenue, slowed by the lanes lost to the cycle track.

    In sum, some serious frequency could be provided with service hours in the network today.

    1st Avenue grew more congested with the changes to the AWV. 1st Avenue was lost to routes 15-18-21-22-56 due to the AWV project. SCL dug a hole at 1st and Cherry; WSDOT closed 1st Avenue South for the WOSCA detour.

    in fall 2018, traffic patterns will change all over the CBD with the deep bore.

    1. It’s stunning that after raising a big alarm about how critical the problem of the maximuim construction years will be on transit, the city ended up doing practically nothing. The plan seems to be to just move the viaduct buses to the nearest available street and not think any further about red paint, street configuration, bus route configuration, or frequency. I hope that this is not a foreshadowing of how the city will address the housing shortage and homelessness, “just let ’em pile up”.

    2. Through-routing the 21 with the 24 and 33 would create a nice west side route that would be easy to operate on First, but it would leave you with some bad options for the former through-route partners of those routes. A 5/124 through-route would create a massively long route with major reliability issues on both ends. Either you would have to separate them (requiring extra service hours to cover the overlapping downtown segment) or you would have to do a bigger network revision.

      1. Magnolians (is that what they call themselves?) will object vociferously. VO-ciferously. They only ride the bus to their jobs in the financial district, four blocks and 200 vertical feet from 1st and Marion.

      2. “they” don’t speak for all Magnolians or riders of the 24 and 33. Many people now take those routes from downtown to jobs in Interbay. And many others are going from all over Magnolia to all over the city. Just becuase somebody gets off a bus in the Financial District doesn’t mean that’s their destination; it just means it’s where the transit network forces them to transfer. Do you think nobody in Magonia works in Bellevue or First Hill or West Seattle?

  4. One thing to consider is that the 7 is interlined with the 49 under some circumstances. They normally are standalone routes, but weekday evenings all 7s become 49s and vice versa. If it were just a few random trips, it would be easy to keep them interlined and call those “short 49” trips (similar to how trips that go to Atlantic Base are denoted). To make this work, either the routes need to be decoupled (adding lots of operational cost, but certainly cheaper than the streetcar still), or move route 49 to first avenue also.

    I personally think it’s a good idea to move the 49 in this case, as it has very good connections to Westlake Station and other buses, and would be a huge mitigation to third ave capacity issues.

    And if it comes to using buses, I think using side platforms with normal doors would probably be fine. Doors on both sides for Madison seem to be causing more trouble than it’s probably worth, so if a 1st ave busway (assuming the streetcar doesn’t happen) could be built to be compatible with existing buses, that would make everything easier.

    1. If and when the 7 becomes RapidRide, I would expect it to be decoupled from the 49, especially if the bus has doors on both sides. You are right, though — sending the 49 down First Avenue makes sense as well. That means that the 49 could become RapidRide (which makes sense given its frequency and route) or the 49 is one of the buses sent to First Avenue under the second scenario (where buses run in BAT lanes on First Avenue). That definitely works, and is a good example of how a little creative routing would save a huge amount of money, and provide much better service.

    2. The 49 is going away, probably in the Madison restructure or Northgate Link restructure (if they aren’t simultaneous). Metro’s 2025 plan suggests rerouting the 2 to a Pine-12th-Union route, and a north-south route on Broadway-John-12th from the U-District to Beacon-Othello. In the 2040 plan the north-south route is upgraded to RapidRide. Of course, given the recent cost increases, most of the RapidRide corridors will probably not be upgraded, but the routing will probably be as proposed.

      1. While I like the way they restructure service in the LRP, I think getting there is another matter. For the way they have the 49 split into a NS and EW route, if they have the guts to actually do it, I think they are taking their time to get ready for the pitchforks. Just look at how they backtracked on deleting the 43 and 71. And the LRP has the 7 split at MBS, and the southern section becomes part of the 48 RapidRide, but right now with discussion of 7 becoming RapidRide, I don’t think they are even talking about how this affects a split 7, even though it’s in the long range plan!

        So as it pertains to the streetcar replacement, I think it ultimately doesn’t really matter, as this makes sense even with just the 70 and 7, but a 49 thrown in there would be a nice touch. The east-west 49 replacement could be a part of this as well. And I think it’ll be fine to have a mix of RapidRide and regular routes on first ave. They could still have offboard payment on all routes like is coming to third.

      2. The route that has gotten the biggest opposition to changing in the last few restructures was the 2, and the second biggest was the 12. But with Madison RR they will change anyway.

        I have some reservations to breaking the 49 because its axis serves a lot of trips between downtown, Pike/Pine, and the upper Broadway commercial district. So it may end up being a minor loss in connectivity, particularly if its successors aren’t 5-minute frequent. The 2 will probably have 5-7 minute frequency but the north-south route will more likely be 5-10 minute. However, the restructured 10 may take some of the load, and that may reverse its precipitous ridership drop.

      3. The 7/49 interline barely exists anymore and I doubt there will be operational concerns about separating them completely.

      4. The 2 seems like a solid run to me (straight) and Madison BRT doesn’t change that. The 12 is a different matter. Hard to see it existing in a similar fashion in a few years.

        I agree with you on the 49. That is a tough call, really. I see your point, but at the same time, it would be nice to see upper Broadway connected with lower Broadway, while the middle of Broadway will be connected to Pike/Pine with plenty of buses (probably more than now, as buses like the 11 or 12 get sent past CHS to there). I’m a bit torn, but if we really want to create a real “anywhere to anywhere” network then some places (like upper Broadway) will have to live with two seat rides to downtown.

      5. @RossB Exactly. Everybody wants a one-seat ride to wherever they’re going, and right now a large portion of them are going downtown. If we can get people to accept a two-seat ride to where they want to go if it means they get a two-seat ride to almost anywhere else they want to go. Metro is moving in that direction for sure, but they need to do a better job convincing riders of that. They do cave a certain amount with the retention of the 71, 43 (though they did keep the 43 minimal, and most of the 43s are actually deadheaded 44s, and as a result 100% of deadheading 44s are in service which is super smart!), and the creation of a silly route 78.

      6. “The 12 is a different matter. Hard to see it existing in a similar fashion in a few years.”

        What I worry about is that if Madison RR is canceled the alternative might be to just make the 12 more frequent on Madison-19th. But that misses 23rd where there could be a productive transfer to the 48. And all because of intertia and legacy trolley wire.

      7. @Alex — Yes, I think Metro is definitely moving away from the one seat mentality. Partly it is because it simply doesn’t work anymore. Downtown has stretched, and now includes South Lake Union and First Hill. You simply can’t have one bus cover all those areas. Another reason is Link. People are getting used to the idea of taking a bus, then a train. For many, it is actually worse (due to Link’s poor station placement) but all of the people I’ve talked to love it. Not because the trip is faster, but because it is more frequent. The direct bus (e. g. 74) is actually much faster — but frequency is more important. The combination of decent frequency on Link along with much better frequency in northeast Seattle has resulted in better overall service. This will only continue, as Link expands and the transfers become a lot less arduous.

  5. Rather than create reliability problems by using a long route, how about using a short route like Route 10 or Route 11? These routes also serve the WSCC and Capitol Hill restaurants – so enhancing the vehicles for tourists seems like a no-brainer. It would seem to be cheaper to operate than the CCC is, even with more frequency service and a route extension.

  6. Just to be clear, I really don’t care. That is the point. There are two ideas here:

    1) Run some special buses on First Avenue in the center lane.

    2) Run some buses in outside BAT lanes.

    That is it. That is the proposal. The only reason I mention the 7 and 70 is because they are routes that are slated to become RapidRide+, and thus get special buses capable of running in center lanes. Buses like the 10 and 11 are not slated to get such treatment. But I’m not wedded to the idea that the 7 and 70 run on First. They are merely an example of routes that we are planning on enhancing anyway, and thus capable of using the center lanes at no additional cost.

    Buses that could run on First in BAT lanes are too numerous to mention (take your pick).

    Everything else — particular routes (whether center running or not) is just a mental exercise, and not really the key point here. The key point is that we have two excellent alternatives to the streetcar (options one and two above) regardless of how the specific routing shakes out.

    1. That being said, since I like mental exercises, let me address those particular routes. I think they would work fine. It is hard to say whether both will exist in the same form once Madison BRT gets here, but I could see them both going down Pike. I like your idea as well — rather than perform a loop around Second, head south down First instead. Sounds nice, except it isn’t revenue neutral. You would still have to go down First and then come back. The beauty of just moving a bus like the 7 over to First is that it doesn’t cost anything. While moving the 11 over to First would be great for the folks at Madison Park (nice ride down First if they want it) it would still cost some money.

      1. Thanks for recognizing that it’s a mental exercise. Solutions come from examining lots of options. When options are limited, we get problems like our current two streetcars as modes stuck in mixed traffic.

  7. I for one am going to press my Senators and Congresswoman to oppose transferring the grant money. A deal is a deal.

  8. In the rush to eject buses from Third Avenue, it might behoove people to remember that when Link opens to Redmond, Lynnwood and Midway buses are going to become as rare as hens’ teeth on Second and Fourth. ST Express? Gone. CT? Gone. Metro peak hour expresses? Mostly gone.

    This will be great for operations and for downtown traffic, but will make Third Avenue even more important.

    Very few commuters want to go to First Avenue; service there should be aimed at tourists and residents of SLU and Belltown who want to take a hop to the Market or Pioneer Square.

    1. As Link expands there will be fewer buses downtown, especially on Fourth or Second. But even after ST3 is complete, there will still be lots and lots of buses on Third Avenue. Enough so that it there is essentially no waiting, all day long. Moving a couple of buses off of Third, onto First, would at best ease the bus congestion there, and at worse simply alter someones bus route. As for whether that is a huge burden or not, see the first comment. As long as you have the ability to easily transfer (and you will) it really is no problem. It makes for a more effecient system, which is a lot more important.

      Consider this trade-off. You ride the 70 from Eastlake to downtown. It runs every 15 minutes. Metro basically says you have two choices: Either continue with the current plan while they add a circulator on First Avenue, or see your bus move to First Avenue (between Westlake and Jackson). But the latter comes with 10 minute service. I think most people would gladly trade the transfer/extra walking for more frequent service. The system won’t be that clear cut (the extra service might be on a bus that goes from half hour to 15 minutes) but it is the same dynamic.

      There is also another possibility, which is simply adding new routes that also serve First. For example, the 18 could run all day, but go on First Avenue. That would save a lot of people a lot of time, even if many of them would rather go to Third. There are lots of different ways to serve First via a bus — but only one way (a very poor way) to serve it with a streetcar.

  9. If you are willing to use the sidewalk and some of the existing bus stops for the northbound bus stops, and have the median stops only for southbound stops, you could get something like MAX on NE Holladay Street so you get dedicated transit lanes that fit any bus.

    The only thing you lose compared to a special bus and median lane option is the ability for easy transfers between directions at a shared middle platform

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