What Should Santa Bring Seattle’s Bus Riders?

A few months ago, with lots of help from STB regulars, I created the Frequent Network Plan to show how we could improve Metro’s Seattle/North King County bus network without adding any service hours.  That’s great, wrote guest writer and commenter extraordinaire Mike Orr.  But, he asked, how much money would it cost to get the bus network we really want?  Or, since it’s mid-December, what would Santa have to bring Seattle’s passengers to make it the best Christmas ever?

At first, I was reluctant to look into the question because I figured the results would be ridiculously unrealistic, especially when we are still trying to fight off a network-killing 17% cut.  But I started playing with maps and steadily got more interested.  I drew up an “ideal” network closely related to the FNP, but with the goal of making the best possible bus network regardless of resources, rather than using a fixed level of resources more efficiently.  Pictured is a small bit of that network.

SLU/Queen Anne
A bit of the “ideal network,” in the 33% funding scenario.
Red = 6 min. Orange = 7-8 min. Yellow = 10 min. Green = 12 min.

Then I put together a preliminary estimate of the service hours needed.  The answer surprised me: only about a 33% increase in service hours from today’s level.  That could actually come to pass, if there were a solution to the 17% cut, a few good years of economic growth, and maybe one more funding vote premised on meaningful improvements.  It’s realistic enough that the City of Bellevue considered a 30% increase as the best-case scenario in their 2030 Transit Service Vision Report.  A 33% increase is an attainable goal for medium-term political advocacy and makes for a credible network vision, not a fevered hallucination.

As I did with the FNP, I’ve created maps of this “ideal” network:

  • Color-coded by route (the labels reflect the +33% scenario).
  • Color-coded by frequency for both the +33% and the +15% funding scenarios.

Of course, a 33% increase, while imaginable, would be an uphill struggle.  So I created one more scenario, intended to show the lowest funding level at which the “ideal” network is meaningfully superior to the FNP network even though it aims for broader coverage and thus sacrifices a bit of efficiency.  I found that to be a 15% increase in hours from the current level.  The +15% scenario uses the same network (with two extremely minor changes), just with not-quite-ideal frequency levels on thinner routes.

Much more explanation follows below the jump.

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PSA: Standing the Right Way

Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve been a passenger on buses that passed up other passengers while there was still room in the back of the bus.  Two weeks ago, I got on a bus after the driver was telling other riders it was too full, because I saw open space in the middle of the front half of the bus, and pushed my way back there.  Especially in horrible November and December weather, things like this shouldn’t ever happen.  And the reason they do happen is oblivious or rude standing habits.  To be considerate when you’re standing, all you need to do is follow three simple rules.  Please pass this post along to everyone you know who rides well-used routes, so more people can get on without someone making a scene.

1. Move Back!

Really.  Move back.  Yes, all the way back.  Yes, further back than that.  This is the most important rule.  And it’s that simple.

A typical scene on a morning Route 312 trip. Note the fantastic view I have, because I’m standing in the elevated area at the very back, where more people need to stand.  Also notice the guy in the black parka who refused to move further back even as we passed up passengers at NE 85th.  The passed-up passengers should make and use voodoo dolls of that guy.

There is not a spike that descends from the very back of the bus to impale you if you stand all the way back.  I often see otherwise jam-packed buses with absolutely no one standing to the back of the rear steps.  Please stand back there.  You can still reach the door easily, you have a nice view past other standees in low-floor buses (as in the photo above), there is plenty of headroom unless you’re well over six feet, and you’re considerately making room for others.  Three to four people can comfortably stand behind the rear door, and you can jam six or seven in when it’s extremely crowded.

Other places where people are very reluctant to move back are at the hinge and, bizarrely, at the front door.  Yes, you need to move past the hinge if there is room in the back half of the bus.  And if you are that person who insists on standing at the front door and forcing everyone else to dance around you just to get on, then you deserve all the bumps and bruises you get.  You will still be able to get off the bus just fine if you move further back.

2. Pay Attention.

Frequently, standees will tune out the world around them as soon as they’ve settled into a position, not noticing that people behind them have considerately moved back because more people want to get on.  When the bus stops, look around you. Look both backward, to see if you have more room to move back, and forward, to see if more people are trying to get on.

People sitting in full buses should also pay attention, because they should be ready to give up their seats to seniors or persons with disabilities who may have a hard time standing in a moving bus for the length of the trip.  Getting totally lost in your reading, music, or game is fun, but rude to those around you.

3. Step Out.

If you are standing near the doors and passengers are trying to get off, then get off the bus, and step back on when people finish exiting.  People can exit much faster when the aisle is clear, saving everyone time.  You will have time to get back on.  Drivers will wait until they see no movement at the back door to close it, and they can tell the difference between existing passengers getting back on after having stepped aside and new passengers trying to evade payment.

If all standees followed these three simple rules, we’d have considerably fewer pass-ups, and buses would move faster as well.  Please be considerate to your fellow passengers and stand the right way.  Those waiting in the cold and rain at bus stops thank you sincerely.

A Closer Look at Metro’s Cuts: Eastside

Metro Route 246
Quite an unusual sight on the 246. By SolDuc Photography.

This is the second of two posts diving deeper into the service cuts Metro proposed a couple of weeks ago.  The first post looked into the method underlying the Seattle madness, and concluded that Metro’s willingness to do substantive restructures rather than just slicing frequency was admirable, although the cuts would still hurt riders badly.  This post will focus on the Eastside, where the restructures are not as extensive, but are still interesting enough to warrant a closer look.  (South King County, Metro’s other major service area, has fairly straightforward service cuts that, while horrible for many riders, aren’t all that surprising or revealing.)

As with the Seattle proposals, Metro planning staff deserves an enormous amount of credit for preparing a carefully-thought-out package in a very short time.  It would be wonderful to see what they could do with increased resources and a political mandate to improve the network.  Details are below the jump.

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A Peek At the Future in Sound Transit’s 2014 Draft SIP

2014draftSIPcover2A couple of weeks ago, Sound Transit published a draft of its 2014 Service Improvement Plan (SIP).  The plan shows no major changes for 2014, as Sound Transit works both to digest the substantial changes it made to ST Express in 2013 and to prepare for the introduction of University Link in 2016.  Nevertheless, the draft SIP is worth a read both for its assessment of the state of the ST system and for some hints it provides about changes ST is thinking about making in the future.  While much of the information is not new (particularly the data about steadily increasing ridership during 2011 and 2012 throughout the ST system), ST does share some new information, and presents data in some new, and very accessible, ways.  Below the jump is a “grab bag” of interesting details from the report.

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A Closer Look At Metro’s Cuts: Seattle and North King County

26 Bus
Metro Route 26, by WhenEliseSings

As most STB readers probably know by now, Metro published its proposal for 17% service cuts yesterday.  No area of the county escapes significant pain, and any service that smells even slightly of empty seats would be cut or restructured.  In this post I’ll have a look at some of the more interesting (or scary) specifics within Seattle and North King County.  (A future post will cover the Eastside; cuts in South King County are more straightforward, although just as painful.)  A holistic look at the cuts, which are presented by Metro only route-by-route and in some not-so-informative area maps, reveals much more about what Metro is thinking for a funding-free future — and possibly a well-funded future as well.

Go below the jump for the details.

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Bellevue’s 2030 Transit Service Vision

As part of the process of updating its Transit Master Plan, the City of Bellevue has published a “Transit Service Vision Report.”  The report is the culmination of a year-long public process intended to help the City of Bellevue identify its future transit priorities.  The report includes proposed networks for 2030, 2022, and 2015, modified for each of three funding scenarios.

Bellevue Vision Map
Part of the map for the “Growing” funding scenario

The unifying theme of the proposed networks is “Abundant Access,” which incorporates goals of frequency, convenience, efficiency, simplicity, directness, and effective regional connections.  The networks include only  service that serves Bellevue destinations, although the maps cover almost the entire Eastside, so some mental “filling-in” will be necessary as you look at the maps.

At a high level, the proposed networks are outstanding examples of frequent, gridded network design.  High-ridership lines connecting major destinations are improved, with more frequent routes than exist today even in the Reduced funding scenario. Coverage to extremely low-ridership neighborhoods is mostly eliminated in the Reduced and Stable funding scenarios, with priority given to services that accommodate high numbers of riders.  Construction impacts from Link are taken into account in the 2015 and 2022 scenarios.

Some specific changes in the 2030 proposals, below the jump, are likely to get riders’ attention.

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Mayor McGinn Proposes Transit Improvements in 2014 Proposed Budget

Multimodal afternoon jam on 4th Avenue South. Photo by zargoman.

Yesterday, Mayor Mike McGinn issued his proposed budget for 2014.  The $4.4 billion total proposed budget represents a 1.9% increase over the 2014 budget endorsed as part of last year’s budget process.  The mayor’s office reports that the increase is possible largely because of better-than-expected tax collections resulting from the sustained economic recovery.  SDOT fared better yet in the Mayor’s proposal, receiving a 3.9% increase (bottom of p.3) from last year’s endorsed budget, to a total proposed amount of $407 million.  (The existing Seattle Streetcar, which is a separate line item from SDOT, saw no change.)

Buried in the details of the budget proposal are some items of considerable interest to transit riders.  There are direct improvements to the city’s transit network, as well as street improvements with the potential to have a disproportionately positive impact on transit service quality.  Further details below the jump.  The descriptions in the budget documents are relatively basic; text in italics represents my commentary.

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Your Bus At Night, Only A Little More Often.

One of the very first questions I expected when I published the Frequent Network Plan about two weeks ago was “How much frequency would we get at night?”  And, indeed, reader lakecityrider brought the topic up in the second comment to my original post.  I wrote at the time that I needed to crunch the numbers.

21 bus on 3rd Ave at night
Metro at night: Skeletal, and raggedly efficient. Photo by zargoman.

Now I’ve done that.  And the results, summarized in this map, show just how badly Metro’s night network has suffered in recent years.  Night service has borne the brunt of all the cuts and efficiencies in the last decade.  As a result there are just not a lot of hours to put into core-route frequency.  The existing all-day network in the area covered by the FNP uses about 324 buses; the existing night network uses only about 196 buses during early “night” hours (about 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.), with the number rapidly diminishing as the night wears on.  Further, there are no peak trippers at night that may be made redundant by a superior all-day network, so there are no “extra” buses to add to the new night network, either to provide more frequency or to add recovery time.  Night service does run faster than day service, but not by enough to make a huge difference; there is no alternative but to cut frequency substantially from daytime levels, and to cut a small amount of service entirely.

Speaking in broad terms, most 10-minute routes in the FNP would have to become 15-minute routes in the early part of the night, except for two that become 20-minute routes.  Most 15-minute routes become 20-minute routes, although there are several that become 30-minute routes.   The 30-minute routes stay at the 30-minute level, but several suffer truncations of varying severity.  A couple of through-routes that would be impossible during the day would be used at night to save additional hours.  Further details after the jump.

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Frequent Network Follow-Up: University District

I was impressed and gratified by the reader reaction to my post last Monday introducing the Frequent Network Plan.  Almost 300 comments, lots of interesting and knowledgeable discussion, and not a single post needing moderation: this is what an online community should be, and STB readers rock.

The discussion helped me to figure out a few areas of the plan that I wanted to refine.  In this post, I’ll talk about one neighborhood in particular — covering both the general ideas there, and a couple of specific improvements I’ve made in response to last week’s comments.  That neighborhood is the University District.  Other neighborhoods warranting special attention — particularly Magnolia, northern West Seattle, Rainier Beach, Fremont, and Madison Valley/Park — will be covered in future posts.

FNP U-District Map
The revised FNP in the U-District

Details below the jump.

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Your Bus, Much More Often. No More Money. Really.

What if almost every bus in Seattle came every 8, 10, or 15 minutes? And gave you a fast, reliable ride?

That may sound like a pipe dream. But it’s entirely possible. And the best part is: we don’t need more money to do it. We just need some inventiveness, a lot of political courage, and the occasional willingness to walk a couple extra blocks or to make a transfer.

This post, together with the linked documents, sets out a proposal called the Frequent Network Plan—a new idea for the core all-day bus network for the city of Seattle.  This initial presentation is general and covers the whole city; specific neighborhoods seeing big changes will be addressed in more detail in future posts.

A small piece of the route map
A bit of the map, in a neighborhood seeing a lot of change

I built two versions of the Frequent Network Plan map: one where each route has a separate color, and one where each frequency level has a separate color.  The first shows where routes would go, while the second shows just how much more frequently buses would be running along any given corridor.  I also wrote three reference documents, linked at the end of the post.  Further explanation after the jump.

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Metro’s New Beta Trip Planner: Try It

Most of us have had to rely on King County Metro’s trip planner at some point, particularly when traveling to parts of the county we don’t know well.  It works, most of the time, but isn’t always fun to use.  Results come in a stark, dated-looking text format that requires a lot of interpretation.  Control over itineraries is limited, and transfers are only skeletally explained — you are mostly on your own figuring out how to get from one leg to the next.  As Google and other transit agencies have steadily improved trip planning tools, Metro’s planner has been showing its age.  Experienced transit riders will often recommend using Sound Transit’s trip planner or Google Maps transit directions instead..

Metro has been working on this problem for some time, and now we can see the fruits of the agency’s labor.   A beta version of an all-new trip planner is live.  The new planner includes live maps based on the Google Maps engine; much more detailed directions; and lots of reference material.  More screenshots and details follow below the jump, but the verdict is: Metro’s back in business. The new planner could use some refinement (as expected for a beta product), but it is once again competitive with the alternatives, and even occasional transit users shouldn’t hesitate to try it out now.  It also includes goodies not strictly related to trip planning which may be even better than the trip planner itself; as we will see, it may be a more useful reference tool than the normal Metro site.

Default View
The default view in the new trip planner

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Sound Transit Board to Vote Thursday on P&R Parking Permits

Tukwila Int'l Blvd. Station
Tukwila International Boulevard Station, by l0st2

Paid P&R parking is getting its nose under the tent at Sound Transit.

In its meeting last Thursday, the Operations and Administration Committee of the ST Board voted to recommend that the full Board approve a parking pilot program. The Board is expected to vote in favor at its Thursday meeting. The pilot is described in this draft board motion which was attached to the agenda for the committee meeting.

By far the most noteworthy component of the pilot program is paid parking permits, which would guarantee parking availability at high-demand P&R lots to permit holders, even if they arrive later in the morning. This is a first in the Puget Sound area. ST would initially reserve 20% of the spaces at the following four ST-operated P&R facilities for permit holders:

  • Tukwila International Boulevard Station
  • Issaquah Transit Center
  • Sumner Station
  • Mukilteo Station

This is fantastic news. Details below the jump.
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