The Center of the Universe

Photo of painting that reads "Welcome to Fremont -- Center of the Universe"
Welcome to Fremont

One idea that arose from the discussion of the possible Queen Anne-Downtown-First Hill-Madrona restructure that I blogged about a few weeks ago has been mentioned before in other threads, namely the possibility of extending the Queen Anne trolleybus routes up to Fremont. The case for making this change is evident just from looking at a map: the terminus of the 13 is about half a mile from the Fremont Bridge, a gap which is currently filled only by the infrequent daytime-only route 31. This short extension seems to offer the possibility of tying together two city neighborhoods with frequent service.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Such a route entails negotiating the Fremont Bridge — the most frequently-raised drawbridge in Seattle — along with the traffic around the bridge, which can be terrible (especially on the north side). To me, the cost in terms of schedule time and reliability outweigh that advantage, so I’ve always argued against it. Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for this any more, because I have obtained timepoint data make the situation clear, after the jump.

Continue reading “The Center of the Universe”

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

As many of you are doubtless aware, there was a zoning hearing last night, regarding the upzone of the station area surrounding the future Roosevelt Station. I’m not terribly interested in rehashing the tortured history, arguments and intrigue surrounding this rezone and the (officially separate, but practically intertwined) contract rezone near Roosevelt High School. As someone who’s perhaps taken more of an in-depth interest in the matter than most on “my side”, and reached out to people on the “other side” of this debate-cum-brawl, I have some observations that I hope will be useful for the future.

  • Stick a fork in it. The Mayor’s modifications to the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association’s proposed rezone are done. Whatever your opinion of the outcome, the last six months have been a tour de force in community organizing by Jim O’Halleran and the RNA. They’re well versed in the minutiae of zoning laws, politically and legally astute, incredibly motivated, well organized, and they vote. The council couldn’t ignore the opinions of this group of people if it tried. If only we could run transit campaigns a tenth as well.
  • Let’s not ever do this again. The upzone sideshow has become a nightmarish headache and time sink for the agencies caught in the crossfire. In particular, I think Ron Endlich and his staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to address the concerns of neighbors in meetings beyond those required by the formal outreach process, deftly addressing the matters that pertain to Sound Transit while not getting caught in the zoning-related crossfire, which legally has nothing to do with ST.
  • This isn’t going to happen again at Northgate.  There is already a real effort underway to bring together neighbors, agencies, transit advocates and other stakeholders to talk about the station area rezone at Northgate, a process that is just beginning. I hope to write about this effort more as it unfolds.
  •  “DIY Zoning” is perhaps an experiment we should not repeat. When the light rail upzone process started in 2006, the RNA asked DPD if they could devise the plan to meet DPD’s density targets, rather than the normal method of DPD planners crafting the proposal based on community input.

    Years of successful volunteer effort (which met DPD’s density targets) created the not-unreasonable expectation that the RNA’s plan would be adopted wholesale by the city. When transit and density advocates appeared at the 11th hour to demand major changes, those people were — not unreasonably — very upset.

    Can such a process be made to work in a way that balances the competing interests of present and future residents, without offending those current residents who have shouldered the hard work of planning, and who feel a legitimate pride of ownership in their own efforts?

  • The legitimacy of neighborhood opinion. Just as RNA members tend to skew toward older, wealthier, property-owning people in the neighborhood, transit and density advocates tend to skew the opposite way in every respect. If we expect them to understand our concerns, we must take be willing to listen to and understand their concerns. If you’d poured $400,000 into a house, you’d be jittery about neighborhood land use changes, too; and to be idly dismissed as a NIMBY by random internet commenters for expressing those sentiments would be hard to bear.
  • Most people aren’t anti-density, they’re just worried about how the change will affect them. This doesn’t make them stupid or evil, rather we need to better articulate the benefits of well-planned mixed-use density (which seem transparently obvious to us), and counter the mostly-bad arguments of the very small number of people who really are just intransigently opposed to density or change.
  • Engage with people, not the internet. This is something of a cri de coeur and perhaps an odd thing for a blogger to write, but I’m absolutely convinced that if even a small number of transit or density advocates had personally gone out to the neighborhood meetings and just listened and talked to the people there, most of this uncivil mess could have been avoided. A majority of people can usually be swayed either way by someone who takes the time to address their concerns; even those who don’t fully buy your arguments will typically see your perspective and work with you to find common ground; virtually everyone will hear you out and respect you for showing up and listening to them.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Why Delete Route 2N?

2 Express Diesel
Photo by Atomic Taco

While much of the debate about the possible Queen Anne-Downtown-First Hill-Madrona restructure I presented last week centered on the long tail of the 4S, some commenters raised good questions about current ridership patterns on Queen Anne, and whether abolishing local service on the northern tail of the 2 in favor of more service on the 13 left too big of a gap in all-day service at the top of Queen Anne.

If you’re not already familiar with the details of Queen Anne service, I recommend opening this Google map and this Metro map in separate browser windows, and examining on each the alignments of the 2 and 13. The Metro map gives a better sense of context, but the Google map will allow you to zoom in and see the street grid in more detail.

Data and analysis after the jump. Continue reading “Why Delete Route 2N?”

Splitting Route 48

48 and 271 Restructure Map
48 and 271 Restructure Map

King County Metro’s Route 48, running from Mount Baker to Loyal Heights via the U-District is the highest-ridership route in the county; it’s also one of the longest routes in Metro’s network that exists entirely within the densely urbanized and heavily-trafficked urban core of Seattle. Both the north and south segments could stand alone as high-performing frequent-service routes: they would be the 8th and 16th highest-ridership routes in the county respectively. It is also, anecdotally, one of the most pathologically unreliable routes in Metro’s network, earning the sobriquet “forty-late” from its riders.

Talk of splitting the 48 in the U-District probably began when the route was created, and has yet to stop. In general, there tends to be much more transit ridership from residential areas to urban centers, or between urban centers, rather than between residential areas. While reasonably good bidirectional demand exists throughout the route, much of the 48’s ridership is going to or from the U-District, and in that circumstance, splitting the route there has the potential to improve reliability for all riders, while forcing only a minority to make a transfer.  Continue reading “Splitting Route 48”

The Bus Network We Could Have

Queen Anne / Downtown / First Hill / Madrona Restructure Map
Queen Anne / Downtown / First Hill / Madrona Restructure // Map by Oran

[Clarification: “Driving buses around almost-unused streetcar turnback loops” is an example of institutional inertia rather than political interference by the council. The canonical recent example of council interference is the continuation of Route 42 after Central Link entered service and Metro staff proposed its abolition.]

Ever wonder why I write so much about reliability, simplicity and efficiency in our bus network? It’s because much of our bus network is terribly designed, and it’s costing us in money, ease of use, service frequency, and ridership.

The map above distills the information contained in an internal Metro spreadsheet STB has obtained, which provides a fully costed-out schedule for a budget neutral restructure of bus service on the extremely busy Queen Anne / Downtown / First Hill / Madrona corridor. I alluded to this in last week’s discussion of Route 4.

It illustrates a point I’ve made in previous discussions, namely that Metro knows how to build good bus networks, but due to a combination of institutional inertia and political interference by the King County Council, Metro is still driving buses around almost-unused streetcar turnback loops from a century ago. What’s missing is not the smarts to redesign these routes, but the leadership to implement the necessary changes.

This schedule was developed as part of the internal deliberations for the potential 600,000 hour cut scenario that has been avoided thanks to the passage of the $20 CRC. This funding reprieve must not cause Metro to lose its new-found zeal for efficiency restructures such as the one described above, that are overwhelmingly in the interest of riders and the taxpayer, but are certain to draw organized protest from the small number of people for whom the current configuration happens to work very well.

Over the course of the next week, I’ll present the spreadsheet and get into the nuts and bolts of how and why this schedule works, along with other improvements that this restructure would enable.

For readers unable to read the map, a textual summary of its contents after the jump.

Continue reading “The Bus Network We Could Have”

Ridership on Route 42

Photo of Route 42 bus interior, completely empty.
Route 42 -- Photo by Oran

In a recent post, Martin made the case — based on his own experience, and the 2009 route-level data — for abolishing the underperforming and almost entirely redundant Route 42. I think that post and the subsequent discussion demolished any reasonable argument in favor of the 42 based on mobility (“mobility” meaning the idea that transit agencies should attempt to provide some service within walking distance of every urbanized part of their service area). In this post, I’ll discuss more recent stop- and route-level data.

Continue reading “Ridership on Route 42”

Is Route 4 Redundant?

Map of south sections of Metro routes 3 & 4
Map of south sections of Metro routes 3 & 4

About ten months go, Zach wrote a post asking whether the southern tail of Metro’s Route 4 is redundant in the context of Metro’s current bus network:

I have a distinct impression that it no longer serves any unique transit market and in fact diminishes the performance of Routes 3, 8, and 48, all of which serve unique destinations.  From 3rd/James to 23rd/Jefferson, the shared 3/4 provide 7-15 minute headways until 1am.  Once the 4 turns south on 23rd, it duplicates the 48.  From its turn at Dearborn it runs in a couplet on 24th and 26th, needlessly threading the needle between 23rd (Route 48) and MLK (Route 8).

In this post I’ll drill down into the stop-level data to answer a complementary question: Are people using the unique part of Route 4 to Judkins park and beyond? I’ll also examine stop-level data for Route 3, and suggest an inexpensive capital modification to the trolleybus network that could dramatically improve the reliability and almost double the capacity of these workhorse routes. Continue reading “Is Route 4 Redundant?”

Report: Eliminating Ride Free Area Will Hurt Tunnel

Photo by Oran

Long discussed by transit wonks, and prominently included in the recent $20 CRC deal, the elimination of the ride-free area is now just a matter of time—about 13 or 14 months. There are pros and cons to to the elimination of the RFA, but perhaps the biggest concern to many in the transit community is the effect on on travel times and reliability at the extremely busy stops on 2nd, 3rd and 4th Avenues and in the DSTT. Over the last year, Metro has simulated the increased boarding times due to RFA elimination in those locations, and the results of that study presumably fed into Metro’s decision to acquiesce to that demand. Earlier this week on STB:

“We tested this at several locations in downtown, including Third Avenue and it didn’t really create a serious problem,” Jim Jacobson, Deputy General Manager of Metro, said in an interview. “There are times when it creates problems, but that usually goes away after one signal cycle.” There will certainly be an increase in dwell times, Jacobson said, but there wasn’t much reason for alarm.

I have obtained an internal document from Metro that lays out the methodology and results of the study for 4th Ave and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), and includes a summary of the results for 2nd and 3rd Avenues, along with staff suggestions for mitigation of the increased congestion that will result.

According to the report, if the RFA were abolished tomorrow—without mitigation or service changes—bus operations on 2nd Ave, 4th Ave and 3rd Ave northbound would be slower but still acceptable; 3rd Ave southbound operations would be borderline acceptable, with no additional capacity for new service (such as the RapidRide C/D slated to start next year) and liable to tip over into failure in the event of DSTT closure or a traffic disruption downtown; and the transit tunnel would be hosed. From what the report says, Metro will have to deploy a suite of mitigation measures (suggestions include TVMs, better scheduling, lengthening bus zones, more traffic restrictions and enforcement on 3rd) on the surface streets and move some peak routes from the tunnel to 2nd/4th in order to make this work.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Report: Eliminating Ride Free Area Will Hurt Tunnel”

Improving Routes 10 and 12

Photo by Rob Ketcherside

In two previous posts on STB, I’ve discussed the possibility of improving Route 16 based on timepoint data showing unreliability on one problematic segment, and presented detailed stop-level data showing ridership patterns on Route 36. In this post I’m going to meld the two and suggest improvements to the Route 10/12 pair that would improve reliability and more closely match service with ridership, introducing savings by limiting service to 1st and 19th Avenues.

1st Ave

Routes 10 and 12 stand out immediately on a map of downtown’s bus service as they possess a unique through-routing arrangement: trips from the 10 come into downtown on Pine St, turn into 12s, head down 1st and turn left on Marion; similarly, 12s come in on Madison, turn in to 10s, and head out on Pike. (Two late-night trips on the 10 turn back on Pike St and head back to Capitol Hill; service on the 12 ends before service on the 10). Unlike typical through-route patterns, such as from Ballard to West Seattle, this does not have the effect of reducing bus travel time through downtown, or providing one-seat rides between popular destinations: surely no-one is going to ride from Capitol Hill to First Hill via 1st Ave. The main benefit is that it saves a short walk for some riders going to or from stops on 1st Ave.

As part of the regular pattern, Routes 10 and 12 serve four stops on 1st Ave: northbound just south of Seneca, and just north of University; and southbound mid-block between Union and University, and between Seneca and Spring. The Seneca/Spring stops are two blocks north of the nearest stops on Madison and Marion; the Union/University stops are about four blocks walk to 4th & Pike, which all service from Downtown to Capitol Hill passes through. If these stops were closed, it seems likely that virtually all current riders would simply switch to the nearest open stop, which for most people would probably be two to six minutes walk away.

Much more below the jump.

Continue reading “Improving Routes 10 and 12”

2010 Route-Level Data

For those of you who just can’t get enough data, I have a present: Metro’s 2010 route-level performance data in Excel format. For ease of reference, I’m including it all here along with the same data for 2009 and, courtesy of Mike Shekan, similar data from 2008. If you don’t have anything that can read Excel files, open it in Google Docs and export it in the format of your choice.  Here’s a chart of of the top 20 routes by annualized ridership:

Per Metro’s policy, this performance data is annualized data based on the 3rd quarter of 2010, same as Metro’s 2009 data. This means the ridership in this chart is simply the number of riders for that quarter multiplied by four, rather than the true ridership; similarly with all other numbers in this spreadsheet. I have a couple of posts coming up where I’ll drill down into this data and compare it to prior years. Also, note that the 2008 data is formatted slightly differently, and the routes are broken out differently, so some care is required when comparing that data to 2009 and 2010. Enjoy!

Update: I’ve modified this chart to correctly include RapidRide A.

2nd & Columbia

As we reported last week, Metro is contemplating permanent closure of the stop on Columbia just east of 2nd Ave. This stop, served by the 21X, 54, 55, 56X, 113, 120, 121, 122 and 125, is very well used, especially in the afternoon rush hour. Unfortunately, at that time of day, Columbia is typically backed up to 3rd Ave and beyond, as cars and buses queue to get on to the viaduct.

Photo from 3rd & Union looking north
June 9th, PM peak: Buses backed up to 3rd & Pike due to viaduct traffic. Photo by author.

Sometimes, accidents on the southern section of the viaduct bring traffic to a standstill, which, of course, reduces Columbia to a standstill and causes severe congestion on 3rd Ave. Even when such pathological road conditions do not exist, Columbia impacts travel times and reliability on 3rd. Were it not for the bus lane between 3rd and 2nd, and the bus signal at 2nd, I doubt buses would be able to get on the viaduct with any reliability at all. More below the jump. Continue reading “2nd & Columbia”

Northgate Station Area Open House

Sound Transit

On Tuesday night DPD held an open house for its Northgate Station Area Community Design Study. As part of the North Link project, Sound Transit is scheduled to open an elevated station just to the west of King County Metro’s Northgate Transit Center around 2021; ST hosted an open house regarding the design of that station in May. Tuesday’s Open House was focused on future zoning, land use, pedestrian and transit connectivity, and public amenities in the areas adjacent to the station.

For those not familiar with the area, what constitutes Northgate is, like most Seattle neighborhoods, somewhat ill-defined, but is centered on I-5 and NE Northgate Way and invariably includes the Northgate Mall and Transit Center. The larger Northgate area, subsuming the neighborhoods and major institutions of Pinehust, Maple Leaf, Haller Lake, North Seattle Community College and Northwest Hospital, is designated as an Urban Center, one of only two outside the central city, and perhaps the only one that enjoys both a large amount of readily-buildable land and a favorable regulatory environment.

Northgate TC is well served by transit, but today’s built environment is not very pedestrian- or transit-oriented. The TC is surrounded by acres of surface and garage parking on two sides, with a fairly long and bleak walk to the mall or the stores on Northgate Way; to the west is I-5, forming an impenetrable pedestrian barrier with nowhere to cross between Northgate Way and 92nd St; to the south are single-family homes. The explicit goal of this community design study is to get from the status quo to the kind of vibrant, walkable, bustling place where people will want to live and work.

The Open House was structured as  a presentation followed by an informal workshop. The presentation began with a brief history of the area and DPD’s goals, then moved on to a great discussion of some basic principles of urban design, including the importance of street-level activation and landscaping to the perception of massing and height. The presentation touched on the evolution of urban design in area, noting the large, squat, widely-set-back single-use buildings typical of the 1980s and the evolution towards more pedestrian-friendly mixed use buildings of today, of which the “big-box” (actually small-and-tall box) stores on Northgate Way and the invitingly-landscaped Aljoya senior apartments and Thornton Place are good examples. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Northgate Station Area Open House”

Ridership Patterns on Route 36

Chart by the author

This chart summarizes Metro’s most recent stop-level Automatic Passenger Count (APC) data from Route 36. The bars show the average daily number of boardings and deboardings by stop, and the origin of the bars is the average daily “load approaching” for each stop; i.e. the number of riders on the bus as it approaches each stop. Thin colored lines show the load approaching by time period. This is the passenger data Metro’s planners refer to when they do their work.

There are lots of caveats that accompany this data. A degree of error is intrinsic to APC technology. In the average, these errors are statistically “washed out” to a higher degree as the sample sizes are increased. Thus there is more confidence and less error in the all-day average than in any one time period, and similarly between (say) the mid-day data than the night data.

The data do not quite begin at zero probably because of the complicated configuration of the 36 at its northern end: some trips are through-routed as 1s, others terminate at 3rd & Lenora, others (diesel peak trippers) at 6th & Lenora. It’s also worth noting that the data begins at the Fall ’09 service change, when the 36 was extended from Beacon & Myrtle to Othello Station, so the data partially reflect the initial bedding-in of Link and the revised 36 alignment, when ridership patterns had not yet adjusted to the new network.

Here are a few things that stand out to me:

* S Jackson St, including the parts outside the RFA, is a blockbuster ridership corridor with a constant on-off churn, comparable to 3rd Ave. This bodes will for the First Hill streetcar’s ridership.

* Density and land use drives ridership. Even ten minute headways doesn’t seem to motivate residents in Mid-Beacon to to ride the bus to shop at the commercial area at Othello, whereas the data suggest that happens much more between North Beacon Hill and Little Saigon. Ridership fizzles out, with the bus steadily unloading as it leaves downtown.

* I wonder if the early morning ridership spikes that begin and end at 5th & Jackson could be related to Sounder? The VA hospital is evident in the “Beacon/EXIT [VA HOSP]” AM/PM peak data.

Those of you who live or work on Beacon Hill, please let us know in the comments what else you see in this data that I’ve missed.

Improving Route 16

Slow, often overloaded, and seemingly always late, Metro Route 16 is nevertheless one of the workhorses of north-central Seattle. Starting downtown, heading through Queen Anne to Fremont via Aurora Ave, thence to Wallingford, Greenlake, North Seattle Community College and Northgate, it connects lots of dense neighborhoods and transit destinations. Its roots go back a long way: streetcar service circled Green Lake and connected to downtown via the Fremont streecar bridge, and frequent service has existed on Aurora since the construction of the Aurora Bridge. The 16 was interlined with what was then route 6, the predecessor of today’s 358.

The Seattle Center Detour

According to some Metro planners I chatted with, Route 16 formerly ran out of a bus base, known as North Base, which was located on the east side of what is now the Seattle Center. It was presumably convenient to route the bus past this base, which explains the first oddity on the map above: rather than run straight up Aurora like today’s 5 and 358, the bus serves the stops on 5th Ave N, which, in the northbound direction, requires a stopless loop-like detour of just over a mile and roughly five minutes when traffic is moving freely. This detour is actually much worse than it looks on the map: due to the construction work on Mercer, that road is congested most days and is invariably a parking lot during the afternoon commute. This sitation is going to persist for years, and if the Mercer West project is funded, the construction disruption will probably get worse before it gets better.

Let’s look more carefully at the consequences of this detour on travel times and reliability. The following graph, generated from Metro’s official timepoint data, plots the average measured travel times for routes 5 and 16 throughout the day, between 3rd & Union (Route 16) or 3rd & Pine (Route 5) and Fremont Way and N 38th St. Error bars indicate the standard deviation of the measured travel times, a statistical measure of the variability of those times, and hence the of the bus’s reliability. Chart below the jump.

Continue reading “Improving Route 16”