Phase 3 Northgate Link Bus Network Proposal

Metro is in Phase 3 of the North Link Connections Mobility Project.  Their proposed network is disappointing, but understandable. Instead of increased frequency, there are cuts (due to funding issues). This is my proposal based on their ideas.

About the Map

You can see a full size map by clicking in the corner. The map is interactive — the check boxes will display or hide different routes. I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible on the map, although buses on one-way streets are shown only in one direction.

Summary

Most of the buses follow Metro’s proposed routing, and most of those are unchanged. The 301 is the only two-way peak bus route. Every other “Peak Only” bus is peak direction.

There are four basic themes with my proposal:

  1. Consolidate routes as a way to increase frequency on corridors.
  2. Worry less about transfers, and more about frequency and speed.
  3. Trips — including those involving transfers — should be in the same basic direction.
  4. Express buses are truncated at Link stations to increase frequency.

New or Modified Routes

Peak Only:

64 — This will be truncated at the Roosevelt Park and Ride. This provides riders with a fast connection to Link. It is more cost effective than increasing frequency on the 65.

302 — This gives Richmond Beach riders a faster trip to Northgate, where it ends.

303 — Like Metro’s routing, except truncated at Northgate.

304 — This replaces the Shoreline Park and Ride section with the deleted part of the 302. As with all of the Shoreline changes, riders have faster alternatives to get to Northgate, and other ways of getting to Aurora Village.

312 — Truncated at Green Lake Park and Ride (like the 522). Side Note: I wish the 312 and 522 were reversed. The 312 (with more stops) should run all day, while the 522 (limited stop express) should only run during rush hour. But that is unlikely to happen without greater cooperation between the two agencies.

All Day Routes:

61 — This is a new bus, based on Metro’s previous proposal. I extend it all the way to 32nd Avenue NW. Crown Hill has plenty of density (and existing ridership) and this would connect to all of the north-south Ballard buses (the D, 28 and 40). Although the section between 15th and 32nd is pretty cheap, I would expect ridership to go down there. If layover space could be found at 15th, that would be ideal. If push comes to shove, then I could live with the layover in Greenwood. That would preserve the core of the 61 — a fast bus connecting Lake City, Northgate and Greenwood (with a connection to the E).

62 — This is a fairly simple change that allows for faster travel between Roosevelt and Wallingford/Fremont, the core of the route. If for some reason the bus can’t turn on 55th/56th, at the very least it should stay on 65th to Woodlawn. Even though there is only one bus through there, no one will have to walk far to catch it (and for many, it will be a lot more frequent). 

65 — This would run through campus both directions. I don’t have a strong preference for running through campus or by the Montlake triangle. If it is faster to run by the triangle, then do that. I just want the 65 and 75 (and to a lesser extent the 372) to serve the same stops whenever possible. That way someone trying to get to the U-Village, Children’s Hospital or Lake City can use the same bus stop, and have double the frequency.

67 — This combines the 67 and 73 for a faster, straighter, more frequent bus. As with any change, there is a trade-off. A small number of riders on 15th will have to walk a bit farther. It is harder to catch a bus from Maple Leaf to Northgate. But with the existing 67, very few people did that. This is understandable, since it is often faster to just walk, even if you are standing by the bus stop, and the bus is right there. Those that don’t want to walk can always make a transfer (to Link or a frequent set of buses).

In exchange, this would give a lot of people (north of Northgate Way) a  more frequent, fast, one seat-ride to Maple Leaf, Roosevelt and the UW. Combined with the 347/348, it gives a lot of those riders a more frequent, fast connection to Link. Most riders, of course, won’t notice the difference, but will appreciate better frequency on this, or other buses that come from combining these routes. 

The other change to the 67 is to combine service with the 45, between 45th and 65th. As much as I hate to abandon that part of the Roosevelt/12th corridor, we need more frequency on The Ave. It is a short walk (three or four minutes) from Roosevelt/12th to University Way. If the bus ran on Roosevelt/12th, those that are trying to connect to Link would have to walk most of those blocks anyway.

Deleted Routes:

26 — The existing 26 does not perform well through the preserved section. It carries fewer riders north of 45th than south of it. Nor is it essential for coverage. North of 65th, the 26 is never far from the 45 or 61. South of 65th, the new 62 covers most of the route. There is no reason to save what would be a low ridership, poor coverage route.

73 — The 67 replaces it.

322, 361 — Not needed. The 312 replaces service on SR 522 (to complement the 522) while the all-day 61 replaces the 361.

Service Levels

To get a rough idea of service levels, we can compare costs and savings versus Metro’s proposal. My proposal truncates 144 trips that would otherwise go to First Hill or South Lake Union. The 26 and 73 are gone. These service savings are put into the addition of the 61 . At worse the 61 would run only to Greenwood, but still have 15 minute all-day frequency. The 62 is a bit faster, while the 67 is a bit longer. Other changes are revenue neutral.

Ultimately it would lead to the type of network that Metro originally proposed, even if it doesn’t have the big increase in frequency we all want. If and when the funding situation improves, we will already have the buses in place to take full advantage of it.

Truncate Metro Buses After Northgate Link

Metro is in Phase 3 of the North Link Connections Mobility Project. They have proposed running several rush-hour buses past Link stations to First Hill and South Lake Union. This is a bad idea.

The Express Routes

Here is a listing of the express routes, and the number of trips each will take:

64 — Lake City, Wedgwood, Roosevelt, South Lake Union, Downtown (24 trips a day)
302 — Richmond Beach, Aurora Village, Northgate, First Hill (26 trips a day)
303 — Aurora Village, Northgate, First Hill (26 trips a day)
322 — Kenmore, Roosevelt, First Hill (37 trips a day)
361 — Kenmore, Roosevelt, South Lake Union, Downtown (31 trips a day)

All of the routes go by a Link station before heading over the ship canal. They only operate during rush-hour, when Link will be frequent. In many cases, these routes will spend more time getting to downtown than they do getting to Link. Since most of the riders will simply get off at Link, the ridership per hour will be far less than if the bus stopped at a station.

We can see today that the express buses generally don’t perform well. Even the buses that run to downtown Seattle lag other routes. The 372 performs better than the 312, and a lot better than the 309. The 65 and 75 dwarf the 64. It isn’t about total ridership, but ridership per hour. The 309 and 312 carry a lot of people, but those buses spend a lot of time getting to downtown, and traveling through it. It is much more efficient to just end the route at the station.

There are also issues with crowding. On some corridors (like Lake City Way) the buses are often full. It is common for riders to see a 522 or 312 go by before they can get on. Thus it is quite possible that many of the riders who want that one-seat ride to First Hill or South Lake Union will end up taking a 522 anyway. At that point, it isn’t clear if they get anything out of the express.

I don’t think there will be many riders that will transfer (or walk) to a bus headed to South Lake Union or First Hill. The main transfer point will be a Link station, where the train will be more frequent, and often faster. It would be crazy to take a train from the U-District up to Roosevelt or Northgate, just so you can catch a bus to First Hill, or South Lake Union. At best these buses perform similar to the existing 64 or 312 — subpar, and much worse than a truncated version of the same route.

I have no doubt that some riders will find these buses popular. I would like an express bus from my house to my work. But they simply aren’t cost effective, and make no sense when other service is being cut. It is hard to see why folks in Wallingford no longer have a fast one-seat ride to downtown Seattle (via the 26), but others avoid an easy transfer.

Link light rail will run frequently, and be able to carry plenty of riders. It doesn’t make sense to waste precious transit resources pretending it doesn’t exist. The money would be better spent increasing frequency in other parts of the network.

Phase 2 Northgate Link Bus Network Proposal

Metro is in Phase 2 of the North Link Connections Mobility Project. This is my proposal based on their proposed network.

About the Map

The map is interactive. The check boxes will display or hide different routes.

I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible on the map, although buses on Roosevelt are only shown going south (on Roosevelt itself, not on 12th).

Summary

Most of the buses either follow the current routing, or Metro’s proposed routing, although there are some significant differences. None of the buses go on I-5 over the ship canal (a subject worthy of its own post). There is more bidirectional peak service. Routes in the U-District involve fewer turns, which should speed things up. I’ve added a few routes, removed a few, and created new pairings, as follows:

      45 ↔ 65
      67 ↔ 75

Specific Routes

Peak Direction Only

302 — This replaces the coverage part of the 301/302, while providing some riders on Aurora with a one seat ride to Shoreline Community College. Most of this route is low ridership, so the extra time spent around Bitter Lake should fill up the bus, while saving Bitter Lake riders some time.

304 — Much faster bus to Richmond Beach.

Peak Only Bidirectional Routes

25 — The 25 is essentially an express version of the 62. Unlike Metro’s proposal, it covers the most densely populated parts of Wallingford. It is bidirectional, as there should be riders who want a faster ride to the UW.

63 — This is a relatively fast coverage route that goes by a lot of apartments, making quick connections to Link. It makes a new crossing of I-5 (that would have to be approved by SDOT). The success (or failure) of that crossing could give Metro data for sending the 45 the same way.

64 — This is a borderline route, but it saves a considerable amount of time for riders on 35th trying to get to Link. There may not be a lot of riders taking it in reverse peak direction, but it isn’t that expensive to run.

73 — This is a fast, cheap way to deal with overcrowding at both the U-District and Roosevelt stations, while providing some coverage on 15th NE at the one time of day that it carries a significant number of riders.

All Day Frequent Routes

D Line — Extended to Northgate, for the most part following the current 40. It makes one small deviation, using 1st NE (just east of the freeway) to get to the transit center. This is different than the current routing, as well as Metro’s proposed routing for the 40. This should be a little faster than the current routing, and much faster than Metro’s proposed routing.

31/32 — This covers the southern end of the U-District, making it easier to connect to buses heading south (like the 48). It avoids turns, getting to the station faster, while saving service money. These buses are notoriously unreliable, so it doesn’t through route.

40 — Goes to Northgate via 85th, using part of the 61 route proposed by Metro.

45 — Through routes with the 65 (avoiding turns), otherwise it is unchanged. It follows the current routing, not 80th as Metro proposed. There are lots of problems with 80th. The time savings are exaggerated, and there are fewer apartments along the way.

The combination of the D, 40, and 45 means that service is doubled up along 85th, but not on Holman Road. Ridership is much higher along 85th than Holman Road. For example, on the 45, the stop at 85th and 15th is the highest ridership stop outside the U-District. As a result of this change, more riders along 85th would have two buses to Link, as well as more frequent trips across 85th. Crown Hill — which has high ridership on several buses — would have three buses to Link. It would also have two buses to Northgate, in much the way that Lake City has two buses to the U-District.

65 — Through routes with the 45, otherwise unchanged.

67 — Replaces the 73 by going straight instead of looping around. I’ve written about this idea in the past, and now have data to support it. Those on 15th would lose all day service, but less than 35 people a day ride the 73 on this section. Riders on the 67 would have a two seat ride to Northgate, but only about 150 people actually make that trip (and they would have a very frequent transfer). In contrast, there are about 500 existing riders (on the 73 and 373) who would benefit from a more frequent connection between Pinehurst and the UW. There would be significant cost savings from ending all day service on the 73, which would go into improving other parts of the network.

75 — Through routes with the 67, otherwise the same as Metro’s proposed routing.

372 — Follows the Montlake Loop. The main thing is that service is consolidated, not that the outside loop is better than the inside one. More research would have to be done to determine which is faster, and/or saves riders time.

Infrequent Routes

74/79 — The two best pieces of Metro’s infrequent plan, with a solid layover (Green Lake Park and Ride).

81 — This is a new cross town route, similar to the 330. Hopefully both could run every half hour. They might also connect, using 30th instead of Lake City Way. The 330 is one of our most cost effective routes. It has better ridership per hour of service in the middle of the day than the 309 does during rush hour. For a bus that runs every hour, this is astonishing. Most of its ridership is not on the unique coverage area. Riders choose the route in part because the alternatives (e. g. taking the 41 to Northgate, then the 345) are so slow, and indirect. It is a bus worth waiting for, even if the wait can be huge. It is also fast, making service relatively cheap. I believe the 81 will have the same characteristics. Ridership won’t be enormous, but good enough to make this a very competitive route (much better than express buses to First Hill). It would layover where the proposed 16 lays over.

Cost

Most of the changes cost about the same as what Metro proposed. Buses should run through the U-District a little bit faster, saving some money. The changes to the 40, 45, D and 61 cost about the same as what Metro proposed (based on my calculations).

There are significant savings made by not sending the rush hour buses to downtown. The 25 is also significantly cheaper. Those savings go into making several of the routes bidirectional, with money left over.

Big savings come from not running the 73 outside of rush hour. In contrast, sending the 67 up to 145th (instead of Northgate) costs only a bit more. A lot of money is also saved by eliminating Metro’s proposed 23. That should more than pay for the new 81, since the 81 is a much faster run.

Overall, ridership should be higher, with no additional spending over what Metro has proposed.

Other Considerations

I have the 31/32 laying over at the new loop, next to the U-District station. That would mean that the 31, 32, 48, 49, 70 and 372 all layover there. If that is too many buses in the same spot, I would have the 48 follow the current routing (since it passes by the other Link station).

I also have the 31/32 and 372 turn onto 43rd from University Way (“The Ave”). This would likely require a new stop sign. If this isn’t possible, then both routes would go up 15th instead (and turn with the rest of the buses).

The new pairings I propose would avoid turns and be more reliable, but there is a service mismatch between the routes. Hopefully there will be enough savings to justify increasing frequency to ten minutes across the board. If not, then 12 minutes would be fine. This would mean a small degradation on some routes, and a small improvement in others.

I’ve abandoned Metro’s proposed 23. There simply isn’t enough ridership along there to justify a new line.

A few of the rush-hour only routes are borderline, and perhaps not worth having. I think a few fairly short rush hour routes are worth having, just to see how popular they are. For example, the 64 might have high ridership, as folks prefer going to the Roosevelt Station for trips that don’t involve the UW. Likewise, for political reasons, folks who are used to having all-day service may object to having none at all.


Bus Restructure for Northgate Link

Metro is getting serious about restructuring their system for Northgate Link, so I figured I would as well. Here is a map of my proposed changes (click on the map for a full screen view):

Design Goals

I’ve tried to design a system that enables fast, frequent service to the Link stations and the UW. A balance is made between coverage versus speed and frequency. I’ve focused my efforts on the clusters of apartments that exist in the area, while still retaining a reasonable walking distance for everyone. As part of this restructure, I’ve tried to remove turns, which slow down buses. Effort has been made to consolidate routes and provide more of a grid, but given the geography of the area, it remains a challenge. Overlapping bus routes tend to occur where there is larger demand for transit.

Unlike previous proposals, all of the routes use existing layover space. This map also includes peak-only service.

Continue reading “Bus Restructure for Northgate Link”

Seattle Bus Routes after Lynnwood Link

This is a proposal for improvements to the bus network following Lynnwood Link. I assume that the NE 130th station is included. Like previous posts, this is focused on improvements in Seattle. The only Shoreline routes I show are those that enter Seattle.


Many of the routes build on what I’ve proposed earlier. In general I’ve adopted my preferred routing, but at times I’ve favored the current routing. Buses that aren’t listed (such as those exclusively in Shoreline) would be more or less the same, or as listed in Metro’s Long Range Plan.

The design goals are similar to those mentioned in a previous post. The big difference is that one-seat rides to the UW are reduced; the farther you are from a destination, the more attractive a transfer to Link becomes. The station at 145th is largely treated like a transit center, as there are several buses that terminate there. 130th station, on the other hand, only serves buses that keep going. Hopefully the station entrances will straddle the street, allowing riders to transfer from the bus to the train without crossing the street.

Changes on State Route 522

The addition of BRT on SR 522 (Stride) also changes the dynamic in the area. It is wasteful to send lots of buses out to Bothell when Stride will provide fast, frequent service for most of the corridor. At the same time, 522 BRT will not serve Lake City. Service is needed there, which begs the question: Where should Lake City Way buses terminate? The most efficient location would be at 145th. In my proposal, I terminate two buses there. If all buses terminated there, however, it would require a transfer even if someone is trying to get a get a mile or two up the road. I try to strike a balance, by having some overlap. I considered having buses turn around in Lake Forest Park, but that would require adding layover space (or a live loop) in a mall parking lot. I just don’t see that happening. The logical turn-around spot is Kenmore, which has plenty of space for buses, and relatively high ridership. I chose the all-day 312 as the bus for Kenmore. Its segment in Seattle is much shorter than the 372 and I think the route has fairly consistent demand along the corridor.

Specific Routes

41 — This is a key bus route for the region. It would terminate where the D terminates, making the QFC on Holman Road a de facto transit center. I would expect this bus to be very frequent, not only because it would be popular, but because it would provide key connections. Buses that are used for transfers should err on the side of extra service. This one has a lot of connections. It not only connects to Link, but to the E, the 5, and just about every north-south bus in the region. Someone in Lake City, Bitter Lake, or anywhere along the route would have a fast two seat ride to just about everywhere. While it may be confusing to call this the “41”, I believe it deserves such a worthy moniker.

46 — This is a new bus that comes out of the long range plan. They propose something different (the 1010) that I don’t particularly like. I can see the appeal, though. A bus that goes up 15th NW, cuts over on 85th, then up to Northgate and on to Lake City would be popular. But I think it is fairly redundant. I also think the eastern tail to Lake City doesn’t get you much. Like so much of the long range plan, it largely dismisses the geographic advantages of a station at NE 130th. Someone in Ballard trying to get to Lake City would never drive through Northgate — they shouldn’t have to ride a bus through there either. But I do understand the importance of connecting Greenwood (and the rest of the 85th corridor) with Northgate. I considered just ending the bus at 32nd NW, where the 45 terminates. But I think there is value in having service along 32nd all day. I could see this running to 32nd every 15 minutes, while running to Market (down 32nd) every half hour (much like the 3 serves Madrona). Some of the buses could be extended to Lake City if the 75 proves insufficient, although I don’t consider that essential.

65 — This is the existing 65, extended up to 145th, and on to Shoreline Community College. The 65 runs a bit more often than I would expect (every ten minutes) but with this addition, I believe it is appropriate. This would be the main connection between the college and Link (or 522 BRT), so it should have no problem justifying that kind of frequency (if not a little bit better).

67 — As with the Northgate proposal, this replaces the 67 and (3)73. It is now extended to the 145th Station. With fairly fast travel along a relatively dense corridor and three connections to Link, I think this bus would be fairly frequent and popular.

75 — This follows the current route, which is different than my proposal for changes after Northgate Link. It will be the only bus connecting Lake City with Northgate, but I  believe current frequency (about every 15 minutes) is adequate. There should be a big increase in transit traffic to Northgate from Lake City after Northgate Link, then a big reduction once the 130th station is built.

312 — As mentioned, this bus replaces the old 522. It would have more stops than the old 522, providing service along Lake City Way to Kenmore. It would provide a nice one seat connection to Roosevelt, as well as apartments along Lake City Way that I believe have always been underserved. Fifteen minute all-day service seems appropriate (similar to the 372).

372 — Now truncated at 145th.

346 — The 345/346/347/348 buses were the most challenging part of this project. At first glance I was just going to keep the 347 and 348 the same. It wouldn’t surprise me if Metro does this, since the 347 goes by three stations, and the 348 goes by two. However, I found that with a little work, I could save some service, which in turn would mean that each individual line could run more often. It also adds flexibility in the system (e. g. you can run one bus every 15 minutes, and the other every 20). The 346 matches a bus route on the long range plan, and works out nicely with the other changes.

347 — Provides fast service from Link to the hospital, coming from either direction. This also means that the detour to the hospital is acceptable, in my opinion. There aren’t going to be that many riders that take a bus past this point (they mostly connect from either end).

348 — This is unchanged. This will provide a very fast connection from Richmond Beach to Link (reducing travel time to various locations dramatically) and will be the only service connecting 15th/Pinehurst to Northgate. Right now it runs every half hour, but I could see this running every fifteen minutes.

Variations

As before, there are a couple areas where I think either option would be good. The variations are meant to be exclusive (e. g. I don’t expect both an all-day 28 and the 82 to exist). I prefer the first option in both cases.

40/345 Variations

The first option is simple. The 40 follows its current route (providing a connection from Northgate to the backside of North Seattle College) and the 345 no longer exists. Extra service would be put into the 347.

The second variation alters the 40 so that riders have a faster connection from Ballard to Northgate. Unfortunately, this means two buses serving Meridian (as they do now) and this is problematic. The service levels don’t quite match an ideal split, and it is always tricky timing things. Based on the long range plan, Metro isn’t eager to modify the 40 anyway, so I went with the simpler option.

82 or All Day 28

Both the 82 or all-day 28 extension are meant to provide service on 145th. It is not a major corridor, but there are enough apartments and businesses along there to justify some direct service to the 145th Station. Without it, riders would have to take a two seat ride to Link, which in all likelihood means a three seat ride (or more) to their destination. In both cases you double up service along Greenwood. Someone at 125th and Greenwood (or more likely, someone who has finished riding the 5) would have two options for getting to a Link station (allowing them to take whatever bus comes first).

The 82 is a simple coverage route that wouldn’t cost much to operate. I could see the bus being extended a bit into eastern Shoreline (NE 155th, NE 150th) to provide more coverage and connections.

The extended all day 28 is also an option. This is not an especially expensive connection, although Broadview is a fairly weak service area. As with the 3, I could see a truncated version (e. g. have the main 28 run every fifteen minutes, while the extended 28 runs every half hour).

 

North Seattle Bus Routes After Northgate Link (Third Version)

This is the third (and probably last) version of a proposed restructure of bus routes following the completion of Northgate Link. This builds on the other two posts. As with the other two maps, this focuses on all-day service. I still expect some express buses to provide additional connections or coverage.

Design Goals

There are several, conflicting goals I’ve followed for designing this. Some are specific to this area, while others are important for any network:

  1. Make the buses faster by avoiding turns, or congested areas.
  2. Enable straightforward trips from anywhere to anywhere.
  3. Provide fast trips to a nearby Link station.
  4. Make it easy for people to get to the UW.
  5. Match service with demand. This applies not only to individual routes, but corridors that share sections with multiple routes.
  6. Favor more densely populated areas over less densely populated ones.

The first two goals are achieved best by building a grid with frequent service. Not only is this difficult for this part of town (because there aren’t many east-west arterials) but it conflicts with some of the other goals. Link stations don’t always fit nicely on a grid. To get to Northgate Station, for example, you need to make several turns (from any direction). UW Station is particularly difficult to get to. But the UW is a major destination in its own right, and should have direct service from nearby areas. This is why I’ve tried to give apartment dwellers in the area both a one seat ride to the UW as well as a fast, direct bus to a Link station.

Specific Routes and Options

65/66 — The Wedgwood/Ravenna area is one of the bigger sticking points. At first glance, simply running the existing 65 and 62 should be adequate. The problem I have with this is that riders on 35th NE — or at least those not close to NE 65th Street — would continue to endure a time-consuming trip to Link. I also don’t like the northern tail of the 71/76. It is obviously designed for coverage, but it serves low density areas before high density ones.

Variation 1 — I address both these issues with this proposal. The bulk of the apartments along 35th are north of 65th. Those riders would have a fast connection to Link, as well as good connections to additional bus service. For example, a trip from Wedgwood to Greenwood would involve a two seat ride through Roosevelt (instead of through the UW or Northgate). The 66 helps fill the gap left by the change. It provides for a good network in the area, as well as direct service to the UW. The tail of the 66 is messy and similar to the tail of the 71/76. But it is actually significantly shorter than the existing 71/76, while providing almost as much coverage. The layover area is part of the existing one way loop, saving some time. The best part about the new loop is that low density areas are closer to the tail. In that regard, it is similar to the all day 24 (which serves low density West Magnolia last). Thus coverage riders at the end of the line may be costing Metro some service time, but they aren’t delaying other riders. This particular combination also has the tail going to a different location than service along 65th, thus picking up more riders. If you are at View Ridge Park (equidistant to the 65 or 66) you would walk to the 66 if you are headed to Children’s or the the UW. From a service standpoint, I think the 65 would run more often than the 66 in this variation (as more people are headed to Link instead of the UW or Children’s).

Variation 2 — This is more closely aligned with current routing. The 65 is unchanged. The 66 has the new tail but is otherwise similar to the 71/76. This is a reasonable trade-off that keeps most of the existing network, while allowing a lot of the people on 35th to have a fast ride to Roosevelt. Frequency becomes a bit more challenging. With this combination, I think the 66 would be more popular and thus run more often (since it provides for a faster connection with Link). This would have the downside of running the tail of the 66 quite often, unless they ran a truncated version of it (like the 3 to Madrona). It also means that the current 65 is running way to often for what it provides (a connection to the UW and Children’s).

Variation 3 — This is a very lean and fast routing. The tail is gone, and people in that area simply have to walk a bit farther. The 65 would provide a connection to Children’s and the U-District. Thus the connection to Link may not be as fast as if the bus went to Roosevelt, but it is still a lot faster than today. You also double up service between Children’s and the U-District (and thus the fast connection between Children’s and Link). You lose some of the service between Children’s and the south end of campus, which is a natural connection between the two medical areas (and largely the justification for the existing 78).

As with all of the maps, I prefer the first option. Variation 3 saves service hours, but I don’t think it is worth it. I believe the first variation allows for a very good matching of demand to service. The new 65 doubles up service along the densely populated part of 65th, while giving the vast majority of people along the 35th corridor a fast ride to Link. A bus like that would be popular, and thus frequent. Service along the southern part of 65th is less important, but still strong enough — and short enough — to justify 15 or 20 minute frequency. You still have coverage for View Ridge, but it doesn’t cost you that much, because the bus doesn’t run that often. It also serves a different area, which means that it may attract those who are willing to walk a little further for a one seat ride.

346 — This change follows the move of the 26 to 5th Avenue Northeast in the previous map. While that provides good coverage and a faster connection to Northgate, it breaks the connection between the North Seattle College area and Green Lake (or the area and the 45). This puts it back. But there is a cost, as now service from Northgate to North Seattle College (and the surrounding area) is less frequent. I believe the combination of the new pedestrian bridge, the existing 345 and the new 40 (serving Northgate Way) is adequate to serve this connection. If not — if this is simply too much walking — then the 40 could follow its current route. I’ve kept the 345 going to Northgate because it provides front door service to Northwest Hospital. This means that folks who don’t (or can’t) walk that far still have existing service.

You do lose the frequent connection between other parts of Meridian and Northgate. But in return, you get a connection from Meridian to Roosevelt. This means that getting to Northwest hospital (or anywhere along Meridian) is a lot easier for a lot of riders (in Roosevelt, Sand Point, Greenwood, etc.). The variations all deal with the southern tail.

Variation 1 — This follows the 45 to Roosevelt. The only reason I prefer this is because of congestion along 80th, close to the freeway. It is not clear where this bus would layover (it is possible it could tie into some of the 65 buses coming from the east).

Variation 2 — This follows part of a route proposed in Metro’s Long Range Plan. This covers all the bus stops from the old 26. I don’t think the coverage is that important, but it is nice to have the bus loop around and layover under the freeway.

Variation 3 — This is a combination of the above two concepts. It avoids the traffic on 80th, but has a nice layover.

Other Considerations

The 522 should have more bus stops along Lake City Way. The stop on 20th/85th is the second most popular bus stop on this route, north of downtown (exceeded only by the stop at 125th and Lake City Way). Riders along the corridor aren’t just going downtown, either. About 10% of the riders on the 522 are going from Lake City Way (within the city) to places north. As the population increases, so will rides of that nature.

It would behoove Sound Transit to add more stops along Lake City Way. At a minimum, the route needs a stop at 80th and 15th. Likewise, I consider 95th essential, as the 372 does not serve that area, making some otherwise close walks to the bus stop cumbersome.  I would consider 98th optional but would definitely add a stop at 110th. 115th and 120th are optional, as those riders could take a frequent bus to Northgate (even if it is a bit slower). Metro (and Seattle) might have to negotiate with Sound Transit to add as many stops as possible. Adding three stops (80th, 95th and 110th) would still have wide stop spacing, while providing Seattle riders with a good connection to Link as well as the areas along State Route 522.

I used this map to figure out where the apartments are, and where they are likely to be built in the future. It isn’t perfect, but I’ve found it to be the easiest way to get an idea of where the density is.

North Seattle Bus Routes After Northgate Link (Updated)

Based on some ideas from other commenters, I decided to update a proposed restructure of Northgate Link related routes. As before, the map is focused on all-day routes in Northeast Seattle.

Specific Changes

26 – The 26 has been altered considerably. It is faster, has fewer turns, provides all day coverage for 5th Avenue Northeast, and provides a better connection to Roosevelt Station. Only a handful will lose out, and their inconvenience will be minor. Overall, I think this change would result in more frequent, more direct service for more people.

40 – The 40 uses First Avenue so that it can get to Northgate faster. This change has been considered by Metro for a while.

University District

I dig into the details with regards to buses in the U-District this time. There are tough trade-offs here, but I tried to focus on a few themes. First is that consolidation is a good thing, but can be too much of a good thing. Without adequate improvements (e. g. off-board payment and bus lanes) it can lead to bus bunching. Certain streets also make sense as through streets, while others don’t. Finally, there is the new Link station to consider.

Given all that, I want to see the buses running on Brooklyn and University Way (“The Ave”). I was temped to run all the buses on Brooklyn, but north of 45th, that is problematic (requiring twists and turns to get there). Likewise, running all buses on The Ave would likely lead to congestion.

Moving the 49 over to Brooklyn works out really well. It would have fewer turns than it has now. Moving the 31/32 to Brooklyn is similar. The 74 also would use Brooklyn, and be paired with either a 31 or 32. The other 31/32 would just end north of Brooklyn.

Other buses are consolidated on University Way. This means that it would be very easy to take a bus to the south end of campus (towards the medical center). There may be too many buses on The Ave, but if that is a problem, then the 271 and 48 could be moved to Brooklyn. I would rather avoid that, because the 45 (which also serves south campus) can’t easily use Brooklyn.

Variations

The map is dynamic. There are variations you can choose to get a good idea of the trade-offs. For each selection, you need to deselect the corresponding other variation(s) to create a meaningful network. For example, you can select one of three options for the 522, but selecting more than one (or none) would make for a silly map. In all cases, my preferred variation is the first one.

45/62 — The 45 and 62 provide east-west coverage in the area. I’ve since come around to the idea that the best approach is the current one (Variation One). This breaks the grid, but matches demand better. There are a lot of people along the 85th/Green Lake corridor, and giving them both a connection to Link as well as a one seat ride to the UW makes sense. Variation 2 provides for a better grid, but it doesn’t add too many trip connections. The main advantage are for folks in the less traveled parts of Sand Point Way headed to 85th (e. g. Matthews Beach). Even then, this route simply speeds up the process (either way it can be a two seat ride).

65 — With the 65, the choice is mostly between speed versus coverage. I also prefer doubling up service on 65th, given the clusters of apartments around 25th and 35th.

522 — The variations on 522 involve getting from Lake City Way to the Roosevelt Station. The third option is straightforward, but likely to get bogged down during rush hour. The first variation should be significantly faster, but would likely require adding a left turn signal on 20th (here). There already is a left turn lane, so this would be a minor change. Ideally the bus would turn on 15th, but there is no room for a left turn lane there. I don’t like to split up routes, but it isn’t clear in this case that it would matter, as there would not necessarily be any stops between 15th and 20th. The second variation uses 20th, which would be more straightforward, and allow for a bit more coverage (on 20th). However, it would mean losing the stop at 15th and Lake City Way (which is a lot more important). There are a fair number of shops on that corner, whereas that part of 20th and 75th has very little.


East Seattle Bus Restructure

In a few years, RapidRide G will begin service. This will be a major change in the area, bringing fast, very frequent service to Madison Street. At roughly the same time, East Link will be completed, and with it, a stop at Judkins Park. Both of these changes should result in a major restructure of bus routes in the eastern part of Seattle. This area is not to be confused with the “East Side” (i. e. Bellevue, Redmond, etc.), but the part of Seattle with “east” in their address. This can also be thought of as the greater Central Area, roughly defined as the region east of I-5, north of I-90 and south of the ship canal.

Metro has produced a number of route changes in their Long Range Plan (or LRP). I am very impressed with their ideas, and I would be happy if it was implemented as is (and I can’t say that about other parts of the plan). There are some relatively minor changes I would make though, and that is the focus of this post.

The following is an interactive map, with a couple options. Each complete proposal is meant to involve the first two items (“Unchanged Routes” and “New and Modified Routes”) along with one (and only one) of the two options. I didn’t include all of the various bus routes, but only those within the region. Some of the bus numbers may be confusing, as they bear little resemblance to the old route. But I figured it made more sense than using four digit numbers, as Metro did. All of the bus routes are meant to be all day, relatively frequent routes (at least every 15 minutes if possible). What follows is a discussion of the various changes.

Route Details

6 — The new six is identical to Metro’s 3028. Metro has this as a “local”, which is their lowest designation. I think it should be frequent, as I think it would be very popular (it would replace trips that are very cumbersome right now).

14 — Modified slightly to avoid Mount Baker Drive South (the new 60 provides some of that coverage).

12 — Altered to be a north-south bus. This would connect various neighborhoods, creating more of a grid. It would also provide a one seat ride from East Link to Cherry Hill, Seattle U. and parts of Capitol Hill. It helps make up for the fact that the new 60 (just a few blocks to the west) does not connect with East Link. I think the greatest benefit, though, is for trips within the region — it is as close to a grid as you can produce (unless you run a bus down a residential street).

16 — This is based on the 1074, which looks great. The only change is that it crosses Aurora at Harrison. This allows the current 8 (or the new modified 8) to continue on Denny. Doing so provides more of a grid, making it easier for those in north Belltown to get to north Capitol Hill.

27 — This is the existing 27, truncated at MLK. While I like the new 3033 (60 on my map), I have a hard time telling folks on Yesler (including Yesler Terrace residents) that they have to either take two buses, or walk to get downtown. This bus could also provide unique downtown service (such as on the waterfront) in compensation for being somewhat redundant.

47 — This is a combination of the 3122 and 3123. The 3123 (serving Boyer) looks a lot stronger to me. It goes to a more popular area, with greater coverage and fewer traffic problems (the 3122 would get tangled up in the Montlake Boulevard mess). It would be nice to have both routes, of course, but I would rather have better frequency. The 47 would allow folks from Boyer, parts of 24th and Aloha to connect to Pike/Pine. I see this as a fairly popular bus, even though the Boyer part would not have that many riders.

49 — Identical to the LRP 1064.

60 — Identical to the LRP 3033.

Option 1

Option 1 is similar to the changes that Metro proposes in their long range plans.

8 — This is similar to LRP 1061, except that it follows current 8 routing for Denny. Metro has been trying to break up the 8 for a while. I’m not sold on the idea, but it is definitely worth considering.

10 — Modified to serve 19th, retaining service there, and providing plenty of options for a one seat ride to downtown.

39 — Same as LRP 3997. This bus helps cover areas lost by the old 8. It provides a better connection to East Link, but skips part of the Mount Baker neighborhood in the process. It still has a bit of a hole on MLK, but not as big as I originally thought.  Many of the potential riders will just walk to Judkins Park, while others will walk a little ways to catch the very frequent 48. Meanwhile, it does provide provide some pretty good connections in the area, including a ride up the hill to Beacon Hill.

Option 2

Option 2 keeps more of the existing network and might prove to more popular for that reason.

8 — Same as today.

11 — Modified to provide excellent service for Madison Park. Folks there would continue to have a one seat ride to downtown (towards Pike/Pine) or a quick transfer to Madison BRT or Link.

Trade-offs

With either variation, you have much more of a grid within the area. Trips that take forever right now would be fairly easy. In exchange, some riders will have to transfer or walk further to get downtown. But most riders will have plenty of options to get downtown, they will just be different. Aloha will have a frequent connection to downtown, and Madison will have an extremely frequent bus (running every 6 minutes all day). In between there will be another bus (which differs depending on the option) but very few people will have to walk very far to catch a direct ride to downtown.

Coverage and Frequency

While there are some minor truncations, coverage in general is better than today. But the big improvement is much better connections and more frequency. As I wrote in the introduction, I would expect every bus to have at least 15 minute frequency. But some buses will struggle to justify that, while others will be very frequent. In that regard, I see the following as low frequency buses:

12 — I don’t expect this to get huge ridership, but be very popular for those that ride it. Since it makes sense as a connection (part of a two seat ride) more frequency could be justified and likely lead to significantly higher ridership (on the bus as well as the system).

14 — Runs every 20 minutes right now, but it would be nice to bump that up to 15 (which could be justified simply because it is shorter).

27– This is a short route that should have high ridership if it can operate every 15 minutes.

47 — As one of the few buses running directly to downtown, I could see this running more often than every 15 minutes. But much of it is coverage in nature, and likely to be a bit bogged down going over the ship canal. Even if it ran every 15 minutes it would be a big improvement for those that ride the current 47.

60 — The new 60 is mostly a coverage bus, but provides some nice connections and front door service to the hospitals. I think 15 minutes can be justified, simply because it should move fairly smoothly throughout the day.

10 (Option 1) — The 10 runs every 15 minutes now, so it would make sense to keep that.

11 (Option 2) — The 11 runs every 15 minutes now, so it would make sense to keep that.

39 (Option 1) — This is a coverage bus. I would like to have all buses run every 15 minutes if possible, so hopefully that would be the case here.

Every other new or modified route would be 10 minutes or better. The 6 looks like a critical bus that will change the relationship between Capitol Hill and South Lake Union. The 16 looks even better, running perpendicular to Madison, connecting Rainier Valley, First Hill, South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne. The 8 and 49 run every 12 minutes, so it would require only a minor improvement to bump those up to 10 minutes.

Existing buses would be similar to what they are now, if not better (they all have 15 minute or better frequency now). All of these times are for the middle of the day, and will of course be higher during rush hour. I don’t see any rush hour specific buses for the area (the 43 will be eliminated) other than express buses to First Hill (like the 309).

Summary

Eastern Seattle is one of the more densely populated parts of the state. There is a real possibility that a very good bus network will operate there, providing not only fast and frequent service to downtown, but to everywhere in that area.

 

Mobility Alternatives to the CCC

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.

 

 

Frequent Everett Bus Routes Serving Lynnwood Link

Lynnwood Link will dramatically alter transit in Snohomish County. There will be substantial savings that come from truncating long distance runs into Seattle, and with that money, the opportunity to better serve the region. This is a proposal for three frequent bus routes that would connect the Lynnwood Transit Center to various parts of Everett.

Current System

There are three agencies operating in the area: Sound Transit, Community Transit, and Everett Transit. Sound Transit has four routes there. The 513 is rush hour only, and picks up less than 20 people per bus north of Lynnwood. It performs poorly, and is not worth expanding. The 510 and 511 are both rush hour express buses to downtown Seattle. The 510 serves Everett and South Everett stations, while the 511 serves Lynnwood and Ash Way stations. The 512 does not operate during rush hour and essentially serves all of those locations. Those three buses would undergo changes with this proposal.

There are numerous buses serving the area. Everett Transit doesn’t go to Lynnwood, but is worth mentioning because it would complement the proposed routes. Community Transit has several routes in the area, but most of them run only every half hour. The 201/202 are an exception. These buses run every 15 minutes from Everett to Mariner, Ash Way (the street as well as the Park and Ride) and Lynnwood. The three ST buses (510, 511 and 512) along with Community Transit 201/202 serve as the basis for this new alignment.

I am proposing that we run buses frequently (about every 15 minutes all day long) like so:
map

  1. The 201 and 202 would retain its existing frequency (15 minutes combined) and simply be truncated at Ash Way Park and Ride.
  2. The 510 is largely the same (merely truncated at Lynnwood) but would run frequently all day.
  3. The 514 is a new bus that would also run frequently all day.
  4. The 511 and 512 would go away.

Faster Running

One of the key elements of this proposal is to speed up the travel between Everett and Lynnwood. Sound Transit already does that with the design of the 510 and 511. In both cases, there are bus stops along the way connected to HOV lanes on both ends. This means that buses spend very little time serving those stops. In contrast, because there are no north end ramps connecting the Ash Way transit center to the freeway, the 512 spends extra time dealing with the traffic lights and general purpose lanes. My proposal is to continue the basic idea of the 510/511, but extend it all day long.

Better Connections

The bus serving Ash Way (the new 514) does not get on the freeway north of there. It is instead extended to serve the neighborhoods to the north. By overlapping the 201/202, it allows those Community Transit buses to be truncated at Ash Way. If you are headed from Everett TC to Lynnwood, you would take the 510. Between 128th and 164th, you can take the 514 to Lynnwood.

The 514 manages to serve most of the densely populated areas north of Lynnwood. It connects with both Swift Lines as well as a lot of Everett Transit and Community Transit buses. It can take advantage of the right of way granted to both Swift lines. For many in the area, it would provide a much faster connection to Lynnwood. Someone on SR 99 who happens to be close to a stop can get to Lynnwood using one bus, instead of three. The bus also provides a little extra service along the two main corridors being served by Swift. While Swift is relatively frequent (12 minutes during the day), adding an extra bus along that line would likely be welcome, and not excessive.

Other Options

The 514 is fairly long (about 12 miles). If money is tight, then it could be truncated at various places. There is no point, though, in ending it before (or at) 164th. That would simply be a shift in service, with no benefit over keeping the existing routing of the 510, 511 and 201/202 (but running the first two more often). That leaves a few options:

1) Ending at SR 99 and Airport Road. That would provide a lot of people with a fast one seat ride to Lynnwood, while anyone on SR 99 would have a fairly frequent two seat ride. Unfortunately, a lot of people on Casino Road (which is relatively densely populated) would still have an infrequent three seat ride to Lynnwood. It also becomes more difficult to get to Paine Field and the surrounding factories. There are likely to be alternative bus routes, but probably nothing as frequent (because nothing would pass through as many relatively densely populated areas).

2) Ending at SR 99 and Casino Road. A stop here would connect to several Everett Transit bus routes. However, the Community Transit bus routes manage to skip this stop by using the freeway. This means that connecting service to the airport (and surrounding businesses) would not be that frequent. I could easily see how more bus routes could be changed to serve that area (since it is a crossroad) but if you ended at Airport Road and Casino Road, you wouldn’t have to. That connects to just about every bus in the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Replace the CCC with Better Bus Service

Seattle is planning to expand the streetcar system in a project called the City Center Connector, or CCC. Like all of our streetcar projects, there are bold promises of very high ridership. Not only are the ridership claims likely to fall short (as they have before) but we would get a much higher level of service, and higher ridership, if we put the money into improving the bus system. We should follow the lead of other cities, like Providence, Rhode Island, and switch to making bus improvements.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Streetcars

Every transit mode has its advantages and disadvantages. Streetcars are no different. Unfortunately, our streetcars have all the disadvantages, but none of the advantages of other streetcars.

Advantages

Jarrett Walker did an excellent job of summarizing the two advantages of streetcars:

1) They can leverage existing railways.

2) Streetcars often have a lot of capacity.

Unfortunately, neither applies in Seattle. The streetcars won’t run on existing tracks (we will instead lay new rail). Thus it will cost significantly more to enable streetcar running instead of buses.

Nor are the streetcars significantly bigger than our buses. Our articulated buses are very large, and our streetcars are very small. Even if we needed the extra capacity of a train along this route (which is doubtful) these streetcars can’t offer it. Our streetcars offer no advantages over our buses.

Disadvantages

1) Expense. This streetcar line is expensive to build and operate. The small, 1.2 mile expansion will cost $177 million, or more than the entire budget for the Move Seattle RapidRide+ projects (which are listed as “Corridor Mobility Improvements” in the proposal). Operating this streetcar costs $242 an hour, while operating a bus costs $163 an hour.

2) Inflexible routing. It is pretty common and pretty cheap to change a bus route (several changes were made just last month).  But making even a minor change to a streetcar line is extremely expensive. For the Roosevelt HCT project, they have budgeted $7 million just to move a streetcar stop a couple blocks.

Since it is expensive to change a streetcars routing, it doesn’t happen. We will continue to endure the mistakes that have lead to slow running, inconsistent headways and low overall ridership.

3) Limited routing. A bus route may run on a busway or bus lanes for its entire route, but it doesn’t have to. It is common for a bus to serve a neighborhood with regular service, then run congestion free where it matters most (downtown). You can’t do that with a streetcar. We see this with the current plans. The streetcars will travel a very short distance, and stop well before a bus would stop. In contrast, the 40 and 70 will be turned into RapidRide bus routes, and they will not only connect South Lake Union with downtown, but connect to other very popular areas.

4) They are a hazard to bicycles. Even with our very short streetcar lines, we have seen several accidents, at least one of which was fatal. We are not alone. All streetcars are a hazard, and different cities mitigate the hazard in different ways. This isn’t just a matter of education, either. Toronto has had streetcars for generations, yet they still has plenty of accidents. Researchers found that 32% of injured cyclists had crashes that directly involved tracks. According to UBC researcher Kay Teschke, a three-fold increased risk of injury was observed when cycling on routes with streetcar or train tracks.

Work can be done to make the streetcars safer but that is often expensive and difficult. You need to both isolate the bike paths and provide for 90 degree crossings. These are common in Amsterdam, but rare in North America.

5) Since they are a hazard to bicycles, a streetcar routing is often less than optimal. It is unlikely that we will be able to produce a relatively safe system, such as the one in Amsterdam. We have trouble converting a general purpose or parking lane into a transit lane so it is unrealistic to think we will also set aside a lane as a buffer for bikes as well (as in this photo). But the routing will have to deal with the fact that surface rail is a hazard to bike riders. In this article, the author points out the hazards that the proposed streetcar routing would create. This sort of criticism is valid, and will likely result in a different routing. Thus the ideal route is replaced by something worse, and only because this is a streetcar, not a bus.

6) Streetcars can’t avoid obstacles. This means that an accident, a parked car or just a bit of debris in the roadway can bring a streetcar to a complete stop. Construction is also a problem. It is common in this booming city to have one lane blocked off, and a flagger move traffic to the other lane. But a streetcar can’t do that. So either the streetcar is shut down for a while, or special work has to be done to accommodate it.

Much has been made of the fact that for part of this route, the streetcars will have their own lane. This is great, and should greatly improve average speeds along part of the route. But for much of the way, there will still be congestion, and a streetcar (unlike a bus) has a tough time avoiding it. But even for the parts of this route that include a transit lane, there are disadvantages for a streetcar. The pathway may be clear most of the time, but if someone sticks out even an inch into the transit lane, the streetcar has to wait. A bus would simply slide over to the general purpose lane, and be on its way. But a streetcar, and all its passengers,  will be stuck.

Alternative

The good news is that there is an alternative, and Providence has already provided it. We simply take the street improvements we would have given to the streetcar, and give it to buses. That would be a better value, whether the bus routes that take advantage of it are BRT or just regular buses. For far less money, we can provide a much better transit system.

Please contact your city council representative and let them know that you want to see the streetcar money be put into bus lanes, and other bus improvements.

North Seattle Bus Routes After Northgate Link

Northgate Link is about four years away from opening. The light rail extension will have a major impact on transit in the region, especially in Northeast Seattle. By then the Roosevelt HCT will also be operating. Here is a proposal for a bus restructure to take advantage of both projects.

Design Goals

I’ve tried to design a system that enables fast, frequent service to the UW and Link stations. As always, a balance is made between the desire for coverage (minimal walking) versus speed and frequency. I’ve focused my efforts on the clusters of apartments that exist in the area, while still retaining a reasonable walking distance for everyone. As part of this restructure, I’ve tried to remove turns, which slow down buses. Effort has been made to consolidate routes and provide more of a grid, but given the geography of the area, it remains a challenge.

Specific Routes

I haven’t drawn every bus route (obviously) but have focused only on those north of the ship canal, east of I-5, and south of 145th NE. Many of the routes are unchanged (26, 347, 348 and 372). Here is a description of the rest, in numerical order:

Roosevelt HCT — I assume this ends at 65th NE.

41 — This bus starts in Lake City at the old location, and ends in Northgate. It has been moved from 125th to Northgate Way, following the old route of the 75. I believe this is the fastest way to get to Link from Lake City, although going to Roosevelt is close.

44 — This is the tentative routing for the RapidRide+ route that will replace the 44.

45 — This has been modified to provide an east-west connection in the area. The western part is the same, while the eastern part replaces the eastern part of the 62.

48 — Essentially the same, but moved to serve The Ave (University Way). This is a minor change, but it consolidates service on the Ave. Since there are far fewer buses running in the U-District, this provides a nice way to move people through the main commercial corridor in the area (and a block closer to Link).

61 — This is a new route from Lake City to the Roosevelt Link Station. It avoids the congestion close to the freeway by using 20th NE. I consider the route optional (discussed in more detail below). It would end at the Green Lake Park and Ride or tie into the 62.

62 — This is the western part of the old 62, and it remains unchanged. It would tie into the 61 or 65.

63 — Another bus route that I consider optional, this provides coverage along 5th NE and Banner Way NE.

65 — This connects Wedgewood to Roosevelt Link Station. The northern section remains the same, but instead of serving the UW, it travels on 65th towards Roosevelt. It would tie into the 62 or end at the Green Lake Park and Ride.

66 — This provides direct service between Wedgewood and the UW.

67 — This replaces the 67 and 73. I essentially straighten out the 67, and have it continue on the main corridor of the area: Roosevelt/Pinehurst/15th.

74 — This is a combination of the 74 and 78, designed primarily to provide coverage.

75 — The southern section of the 75 is unchanged, but at Lake City the bus would go straight on 125th, following the old route of the 41. This eliminates turns for both buses.

Options

I created layers containing a couple of the bus routes as well as a variation on 65. This should make it easier to see how the system would look without the bus routes (or variation) that I don’t consider essential.

61 — The 61 provides a fast connection between Lake City Way and the Roosevelt Link Station. With other service to Link from Lake City, this route is debatable. It is only when you look at the specifics that this starts to make sense. There is a cluster of apartments on Lake City Way, south of where the 372 splits off. For the people in those apartments, the 372 is a surprisingly long walk. For example, from 89th and Lake City Way, it is about a ten minute walk to a southbound stop. Theoretically the city could make crossing Lake City Way easier (and legal) at 89th, but it would still take about five minutes. For a lot of places to the south, it would be an extra five minute walk to a bus stop. Worse yet, the bus would not quickly connect to Link, but follow the existing route, which goes to the UW. This adds another five minutes of walking (to the station).

63 — The 63 plugs a similar hole. This would provide a one seat ride to various parts of the corridor (NE 5th and 85th NE to 55th and the Ave.). There are a couple clusters of apartments along the way; on Banner and on 5th NE. In both cases it is about a five minute walk to another bus. For folks on Banner, the walk would be to the new 45 and you can make a strong case for very frequent service on the 45. It also isn’t that far to simply walk to Link or the very frequent Roosevelt HCT.

65 Variation — If the 65 took a zigzag route from 35th over to 15th, it would add coverage. Unfortunately it would also slow down the bus, as it would require a couple extra turns (that lack turn signals). The people who would benefit the most from this change would be people who live close to this variation, and there aren’t many that do.

Bus Frequency

I don’t have access to sophisticated tools, so when it comes to estimating the new headways, everything here is a rough approximation. I start with the idea of simply trading service, then go from there. With that in mind, here are some areas where I think things would be approximately the same:

The 372, 347, 348 are unchanged, while the tail of the 75 and 41 just get swapped.

The 67 just gets moved a bit (straightened out), but travel time should be about the same. All those twists and turns add up.

The 65 is shortened, but not dramatically. The 66 replaces the 71 and the 61 replaces the 73. These are half hour buses.

The 45 and 62 can be thought as four pieces, all meeting at 65th and Roosevelt. Three of the four pieces remain unchanged in terms of frequency, while the southern tail of the old 45 (service from 65th and Roosevelt to the UW) goes away. This is a net savings (mentioned below).

The new 74 replaces the old 74 and the 78. That should yield enough for half hour service all day long on the new 74.

Replacing the 76, 77 and the old 63 with the new 63 should yield half hour service.

Thus the starting point — before service is shifted from truncated runs — is for every bus in the region to run every 15 minutes, with the exception of the 61, 66, 74 and 63 (which run every half hour).

Shifting the Service

There are significant savings that will occur as part of these changes. I focus on all day service, just because it is simpler.

As mentioned, the tail of the old 45 (from 65th and Roosevelt to the U-District) is gone with my proposal. This has 15 minute headways, or four trips per hour. I would put that service into the new 41 (from Lake City to Northgate via Northgate Way). It is roughly the same distance, so theoretically that would be 8 runs an hour. That is probably a stretch (and probably not required), but 6 trips an hour (or 10 minute frequency) seems quite likely. Since this is the fastest way to a Link station for folks in Lake City, I think it is worth it.

The 41 from Northgate to downtown is gone. That is a huge savings, as it is a 15 minute all day run from Lake City to downtown. The old run takes about as long as the new 45 will take. The new 45 is very important (as a major east-west connector) so I would give it an extra two runs each hour, for ten minute headways.

So that leaves a couple of the old 41 runs (if not more) to spread around to the half hour buses (63, 74 and 66) or bump up the frequency on other buses in the system. I think better service on the 61 is justified, and that wouldn’t cost much (bringing it up from 30 minutes to 15). The 74 would be my second choice, as extra service on The Ave is always welcome.

While it would be great to have extra service on a lot of the other runs in this region, I don’t see it as being essential. As long as you have 15 minute service on all the runs, and much better service on the key routes (the new 41 and 45) I think it is fine. I would put the extra service into bus routes in other parts of town. Of course if some of the half hour bus routes were eliminated, it could mean better than 15 minute service on several runs. For example, the 63 service could be shifted to the 67, yielding 10 minute all day frequency, making the change more palatable.

Items not Covered

To simplify things, I didn’t mention the 522. It is likely that the 522 would follow the new 41 routing to Northgate Link. I don’t think it makes sense to follow the 372 routing (for reasons mentioned) but I could see running towards the Roosevelt Station. Either way you have the possibility of some service savings (that could be put anywhere) if you timed it right. Otherwise, you simply add service along that corridor (which is not a bad thing, as Lake City has enough density to justify it).

I also didn’t mention the 145th station, nor the 522 BRT (which ends there). Surprisingly enough, I don’t see any major changes as a result. Some of the buses (the 65 and 67) simply get extended a few blocks to 145th.

The bigger change would occur with the NE 130th station, but I leave that topic for another day. It would be great to have a nice east-west bus route on 125th/130th before then, but I think it would be hard to justify. Such a bus route needs high frequency to work well (since transfers provide a big part of the added value) but that costs a bunch. I just don’t see adding a route that goes from Bitter Lake to Lake City until that station is built.

Why I’m Voting No on ST3

[Editors’ Note: It has come to our attention that people are misrepresenting this post as “STB is opposed to ST3.” As Ross would be the first to say, he is not an STB staff member. and Page 2 functions much like a newspaper op-ed page. Indeed, Seattle Transit Blog wholeheartedly endorses ST3.]

I consider myself a tax and spend, bleeding-heart liberal. I’ve voted yes for almost every bond issue since I turned 18 (a long time ago). I’ve supported all four Sound Transit proposals. This is why I find it strange and uncomfortable to oppose ST3. It sounds like a great proposal, especially because it is similar to the one originally proposed by Sound Transit. However, in the last few years, thanks in good part to this blog and the folks who write or comment on it, I’ve learned a lot about transit and transit issues. I have a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t; what is a good value and what isn’t. ST3 is not. It won’t do enough to improve transit to justify the large price.

What Works and What Doesn’t

Building mass transit is no guarantee of success. You can spend a huge amount of money and only help a handful of riders.

Or you can build a system that transforms a region. People still drive, but everyone knows that taking transit is a viable option, no matter where they are going. Within the urban core, where all day demand is high, there are two systems that work. The first covers all of the city with a subway, with overlapping lines connecting various neighborhoods. Most of these were built a long time ago (New York, Chicago and Boston). Washington D. C. stands out as a city that has built this recently. Unfortunately, building a system like that is extremely expensive. Even if we build ST3, we are nowhere near achieving that goal.

The second type of system is much smaller. It doesn’t cover the entire city, just the essential core. More importantly, it integrates really well with buses. Trains travel through the most congested, highest demand areas, allowing the buses to run quickly and frequently as well. A great example of a system like this is right up the road, in Vancouver, B.C.  Vancouver is about as similar to Seattle as you can get. Both have challenging terrain full of hills and waterways. Both are fairly new cities that grew with the automobile, not before it. Yet despite having roughly the same number of people, Vancouver BC has a subway that is small compared to ours. While it carries a lot of people (390,000 people a day) it is their overall transit ridership that is impressive: over three times the ridership per capita than Seattle. The model works. Make it fast and easy to get from anywhere to anywhere via a bus or train (or likely, a combination) and people use transit.

These types of subways work really well inside the urban core (where all day, neighborhood to neighborhood demand is high). For the suburbs, building such a system would be prohibitively expensive. You just can’t build a high speed mass transit grid for every suburban neighborhood. What works for the suburban communities is a radial system reaching everywhere, connecting people to the core via a mix of commuter rail or express bus, with service concentrated in the peak but available less frequently the rest of the day.

What doesn’t work well is sending trains to low density or distant areas. Dallas, for example, has the longest light rail line in North America yet it has the lowest transit ridership of any big city. Unfortunately, we are building a system more like Dallas, and less like Vancouver.

Weakness of ST3

Much has been written about the shortcomings of ST3, or rather, the advantages of other alternatives. There are plenty of flaws.

  • Poor Bus Integration.

Even the best, most productive, most justified additional railway section of ST3 fails from a bus integration standpoint. For example, when the Ballard Station is finally added (in 2035) very few will use it from Phinney Ridge, even thought it is one mile due east. It would require two buses to get there, and for most destinations (downtown, the U-District, Northgate, Bellevue, etc.) it isn’t worth taking the new train. What is true of Phinney Ridge is true of Fremont. These are neighborhoods adjacent to the light rail line, but the ST3 additions are pretty much useless for them. Sound Transit has failed (as they have in the past) to consider our geography and the role that complementary bus service plays in it.

  • Cannibalizing bus routes

At the same time, there are clearly areas where buses will feed the stations. Unfortunately, for many of these, the train stations don’t complement the bus service, they cannibalize it — forcing riders into a time consuming transfer. Consider the neighborhood of High Point, the most densely populated part of West Seattle. Right now, if you want to get from High Point to downtown, you can take the Metro 21 directly there. In 2030, when a new bridge is built over the Duwamish and trains run overhead through the Alaska Junction, riders will be forced to get off the bus and wait for the train. What is true of West Seattle is true of Issaquah, where most riders will have to make two transfers to get downtown. It is possible that the buses will continue to run as they do now — but that would mean extremely low ridership followed by extremely low frequency on the trains. Either you eliminate the direct alternative, or put up with a system that performs very poorly and bleeds huge amounts of money.

  • Poor intermediate destinations

Trade-offs like this exist in many subways. Folks trying to get from Queens to Manhattan sometimes take an express bus (or a cab). Yet the subway is still extremely popular, because lots of people are going to stops along the way. Unfortunately, most of ST3 lacks this. Very few will take a train from one stop to another in West Seattle. Nor are there a lot of people trying to get from park and ride to park and ride. Mariner to Mountlake Terrace or Federal Way to Fife trips just won’t happen. Despite spending billions, most of the riders would be better off with express buses.

  • Superficial Service

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of considering door to door travel time versus “serving” an area. It isn’t enough to simply add a station in an arbitrarily designated city or neighborhood. Tacoma stands as a great example of this. From the Tacoma Dome to downtown Seattle, it will take about an hour and fifteen minutes. Sounder is faster, and the bus is much faster in the middle of the day. But more importantly, very few people live close to the Tacoma Dome. Just about everyone is going to have to spend an extra fifteen minutes just to get to the stop. This means that even if a Tacoma resident works right in downtown Seattle, right next to a station, they will spend three hours a day commuting via Link. There just aren’t that many people willing to do that. This is why it is rare for subway systems to extend out this far. Washington DC, New York, Chicago, London and Paris all have over a hundred miles of track, yet none of them extend out this far. They serve those areas with commuter trains or express buses. We should do the same.

It isn’t just the suburbs that suffer from the myth that simply having a station is sufficient to “serve” an area. The Ballard stop is another example of this problem. The route is largely parallel to the existing route, which means it is useless for a large percentage of Link riders. From the UW, Roosevelt, Northgate and every other stop north of there, it is meaningless. It is faster to take the 44 bus than it is to transfer downtown.

By failing to consider geography, density and the history of transit in the world, Sound Transit has failed to come up with a sensible plan. It emphasizes superficial achievements, such as “serving” areas like Tacoma, Everett, Issaquah, and West Seattle instead of building a cost effective transit network.

The planning process is broken

Of course this is just the armchair analysis of someone who listens to experts and has way too much time on his hands. There are plenty of people who feel the same way, but maybe we are all wrong. Maybe the folks at Sound Transit, who hired real professionals to do the job, have come up with the best available plan.

Unfortunately, the professionals haven’t been given a chance. The Sound Transit process is broken, which explains why we have this mess.

In a typical transit improvement process, you start with a blank slate. You look at the census data, the traffic maps, the existing trips as well as existing (and potential) transit and try to make the most cost effective system available. You measure alternatives by how much rider time you save versus how much you want to spend. This is a commonly used metric, that until recently was required for federal funding. Of course there is bound to be some horse trading at the end of the day, but you at least initially come up with reasonable ideas and debate the merits of all of them. Nothing like that happened here.

  • West Seattle

For some bizarre reason, West Seattle — despite having better average transit times and lower density than much of Seattle — was considered a priority, while the Central Area (with the opposite) was not. Making matters worse, Sound Transit never considered a bus tunnel for downtown. Despite a front page article in the largest newspaper in the state and the support of the most fervent subway proponent in town, they didn’t consider it. They studied a couple of “BRT” options, but they failed to include a tunnel, which resulted in slow time estimates. Of course it did. There was no tunnel. Failing to study an obvious option — one that was well known — is not an oversight, it is a sign that the process is broken.

  • Kirkland

What happened to West Seattle was not unique. The city of Kirkland hired a team of consultants to design a bus based solution that would leverage and enhance the existing bike trail. It was part of a range of improvements for the East Side (a plan nicknamed BRISK). Sound Transit didn’t study it, largely because they favored rail. The end result is a plan that features rail from Issaquah to South Kirkland, which is as misguided a plan as one can imagine. Despite a proposal put forth by a major municipality with the help of hired consultants, it was never seriously considered by Sound Transit.

  • The Spine

Then there is “the spine”, a subway from Tacoma to Everett. In every single proposal, projects are graded on this bizarre and arbitrary criteria. Right next to ridership, cost and other obvious measurements, each planning document lists as one of their “Key Attributes” a row entitled

“REGIONAL LIGHT RAIL SPINE. Does this project help complete the light rail spine?“.

The assumption being that the spine is, without question, extremely valuable. That assumption is ridiculous. Very few people are willing to ride a subway for over an hour through miles of suburbia, which is why very few agencies bother to build such things (and those that do have failed miserably at it). Instead of considering and measuring various alternatives on a common and meaningful metric, they judge a project in part on whether or not it helps achieve an arbitrary and dubious goal.

The planning process is broken. An independent, experienced set of planners should be given the resources and freedom to come up with proposals for the area. Each proposal should be measured and openly debated. I don’t think there is any way we would get anything like this plan if that was the process.

Where we go from here

There has been a lot of discussion as to what will happen if ST3 fails. I understand and sympathize with those who feel like a flawed plan is better than nothing. While I can point to many mistakes made with ST2, I would enthusiastically vote for it again. But the amount of money we are talking about requires a better system. We have other needs besides transit. We could spend the money on education, day care, mental health services, homeless relief, police protection (or training), just to name a few. In the meantime, we will be able to muddle along. Seattle is making changes that will improve things considerably, while ST2 will change things dramatically.

It is likely that Sound Transit will come up with another plan. Just about everyone expects the next proposal to be smaller. So, whether proposed by Sound Transit or individual municipalities, it is likely to involve less rail and more bus service. These proposals would not only be more cost efficient, but better overall. In the suburbs, bus service improvements and new busways would enable much faster door to door service for a lot more riders.

Seattle remains one of the few areas in the region where light rail could be cost effective. But building smaller, shorter, more effective rail like a Metro 8 subway or a Ballard to UW subway would upset too many in West Seattle (where the head of Sound Transit lives). What is more likely is to build the WSTT, and make other, relatively cheap improvements. That would serve a much wider area — not only within West Seattle and Ballard, but along the extremely popular Aurora corridor. It would provide much faster door to door travel times for more riders. Like a similar and very successful system in Brisbane, we will be able to convert the busway to a subway eventually. But my guess is like them, we will be happy with the busway and focus our efforts on other parts of the city.

In all these cases, a cheaper plan would actually save more people more time than what ST3 has proposed. But I could be wrong. Show me the numbers. If ST3 fails, I want them to go back to the drawing board, and then show me the cost effectiveness of each proposal. I’m sure that we will end up with something much better.

Metro 8 After Bertha is Finished

With the SR 99 tunneling project more than half done, it is worth considering what a revised Metro 8 bus route could look like in 2018.

By then the street grid will be connected, like so:

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a bold proposal for a new routing.

It is unlikely that all of this will come to pass. There are sections that would be very controversial, and quite possibly not be worth it. Here are my thoughts on the routing, section by section (I ignored the east end of the route, as it would remain the same).

First and Mercer through the Seattle Center

This could be rather controversial, of course. Running a bus through the Seattle Center might upset some people. During big events, the bus would have to re-routed (just as buses around Husky Stadium are). There aren’t that many events like that, though, so I don’t see this as a problem. Thomas Street does go through the Center, but some work (making better sidewalks) would have to be done. To avoid complaints about diesel exhaust, the route could become a trolley or a hybrid (running only on electricity through there). The advantage to running via Thomas is that it wouldn’t encounter any traffic through the Center. The second advantage is that it would enable a much faster connection to the monorail.

Running on Thomas avoids the worst congestion on Denny. Another alternative would be to skirt around the Center to the northeast (via 5th, then Mercer). That is likely a significant improvement, but I’m not sure how easy it will be to get additional right of way there. On the other hand, this would share part of its trip with the RapidRide D route (along 1st Ave. West and Queen Anne Avenue) which means that if those streets are given bus lanes, both routes would be able to take advantage of them.

Seattle Center to Eastlake

This is arguably the greatest part about the viaduct replacement project. The grid north of Denny (up to Harrison) will be connected. One of the great things about this area is that converting general purpose lanes to bus-only lanes won’t be that difficult from a political standpoint. There is no “taking” as people can’t drive that way today. It is quite reasonable to extend those bus lanes throughout this area, all the way to Eastlake Avenue. Even with the change, it isn’t a major through route, because you simply can’t go that far (I-5 and the Seattle Center cut off through traffic). This makes it significantly different than Madison or Eastlake (where lots of lanes were taken, while taking others proved too difficult).

Eastlake to Capitol Hill

This is another controversial change. Right now there are no buses on Belmont. This, again, is why it would make sense to run wire along this line, so that neighbors don’t complain about noisy buses struggling to get up the hill. By going over the freeway on Lakeview, the bus would avoid the traffic on Denny altogether. A traffic light (with signal priority for the bus) would have to be added to Eastlake at Thomas, but that is a pretty cheap addition. If more money is found, it looks to me like you could widen Eastlake (next to the freeway) or eliminate some parking to add jump ahead lanes. Lakeview is a bridge, of course, and it wouldn’t make sense to spend the money on expanding it. But if traffic overall is less of a problem there than it is on Denny, moving the line north would make sense.

As with the change through the Seattle Center, it might not be worth it. The big improvement will occur when the grid around Denny and Aurora is open. That, just by itself, will enable a huge improvement in speed and reliability for one of the most important buses in our system.

 

 

 

 

Support “Full BRT” with Roosevelt HCT

The Seattle Department of Transportation is in the midst of planning a new high capacity transit (HCT) corridor from Roosevelt to downtown. The route would connect some of Seattle’s most populous neighborhoods: Roosevelt, UW, Eastlake, South Lake Union and downtown.

The latest official document lists three options. The first is based on the current Metro RapidRide service and is called (of course) RapidRide. This has some stop consolidation, off board payment and transit priority. North of Denny, it would lead to a 26% increase in peak hour (i.e., rush hour) speed. The second option is called “Targeted Investment” and involves all of that plus “Minor roadway geometric changes that may include use of queue jump, business access and transit lanes, or dedicated transit lanes”. North of Denny it would be 38% faster.

But the most exciting proposal is called “Full BRT“, which would revolutionize transit it in the area. It would have center running buses and have “major roadway geometric changes that may include use of queue jump, business access and transit lanes, or dedicated transit lanes”. The result is extremely fast rush hour speeds:
Roosevelt BRT

An average speed of 21 MPH may not sound like much, but that is fast for the city, and blazing fast for urban transit (the NYC subway and Toronto subways average less than that). It is also, as the chart shows, a dramatic improvement — south of Denny it is over 10 times as fast as today! To get an idea of the possibilities, here is a chart showing travel time from stop to stop:

Roosevelt Timing

These numbers are rounded up to the nearest minute from the rush hour estimates. The stops are the ones that SDOT recommends. This obviously represents a dramatic improvement in transit mobility.

But this won’t happen unless enough people support it. Please let SDOT know that you want “Full BRT” on this important corridor.

Faster Madison BRT through Downtown

There has been a lot of discussion about the plans for Madison BRT, and how it might encounter congestion downtown (in BAT lanes). I propose a solution.

Background

The Madison BRT plan at this point has center running from 13th to 9th. West of 9th, a bus would have to move from the center lane to a curbside lane. From there, it would head down Madison and up Spring (traveling with traffic). There are several problems with this. First, moving in an out of bus lanes is problematic. Second, BAT lanes can easily encounter congestion downtown. It is legal for a general purpose driver to use the BAT lane if they are turning into a garage or the next street. With lots of pedestrians, this means that a bus can be blocked by a car waiting to turn.

Proposal

  1. Extend the center running lanes all the way to 6th.
  2. Add a contraflow lane on 6th, from Madison to Marion. A bus heading west on Madison would then be able to make a left on 6th to get to Marion.
  3. Add contraflow lanes on Marion and Madison.
  4. Add a BAT lane for 1st or Western (depending on where the bus turns around).

Advantages

  1. By extending the center running lanes to the contraflow lanes, the bus doesn’t have to weave to get into or out of the curb lane. When the bus is headed westbound (down the hill) it simply makes a normal left turn. When it is headed eastbound, it is the only vehicle headed that direction, so changing lanes is easy. Regular drivers making a turn from 6th to Madison will simply be required to turn into the right most lane (as they are legally required to do most of the time).
  2. Contraflow lanes for downtown eliminates all of the BAT conflicts where they are likely to be an issue. A BAT lane on 1st would be very quiet, as there are no garages along here, nor can a car take a right turn onto Madison (only a bus can do that).
  3. The only left turn is trivial. The left turn occurs westbound from Madison to 6th. The only oncoming traffic will be another bus (in a contraflow lane). This is better than the current proposal, which would requires a left turn onto Madison from the north (to get from Spring to Madison).

Concerns over Extending the Center Running

  1. Adding stops is tricky and expensive for center running BRT. In this case, though, there are no plans for a stop along here (there are no stops between Terry and 6th).
  2. With center running BRT, left turns need to be banned or managed with special signals. In this case, there are four intersections to worry about, 6th through 9th. As mentioned, 6th is not an issue (since a car can’t take a left). Seventh is one way from the south, so you only have to worry about banning cars from making a left turn eastbound on Madison. The rest of the streets are two way. In all cases, the intersections are very similar. There are left turn cutouts, but no left turn signals. This tells me that either very few people take a left, or they are backing up into regular traffic anyway, and left turns should have been banned a while ago. It isn’t clear where the center running ends in the current proposal, midway on 9th or the end of ninth. But either way we are talking about very few left turns being eliminated. One for 7th, two for 8th and maybe another two for 9th. The effect on traffic should be minor.

Other Negatives

  1. Loss of parking. I am no fan of parking, but this would eliminate a huge swath of parking. Lots of angle parking at that. This could be moved to the other side of the street, assuming that we are only going to have the buses running in contraflow mode through here. That is implied. The only bus that goes on Marion right now is the 12 and it follows pretty much the exact same route. The large amount of parking on Marion gives the city a lot more flexibility. It can eliminate parking or reduce the number of general purpose lanes (or split the difference and replace angle parking with parallel parking). They don’t even have that option with Madison (they are getting rid of a general purpose lane).
  2. Loss of taxicab stops. This is similar to the parking issue. The one area where this is a big deal is right where I would like to put a stop. This is right by a major hotel, where cabs pick up and drop off guests. Even without a stop, taking this lane is a bit problematic. But there is enough room there to solve the problem. The first thing you do is build a  two inch curb separating the two directions of traffic. Now a cab can pull up to the curb and park as before. The guests only have to worry about a bus that turns right in front of the hotel. A bus would be turning, approaching a bus stop, with plenty of visibility, so this really isn’t an issue. You essentially move the carved out parking area for the cabs closer to the east (closer to the freeway). You would also have to remove the curb bulb on the uphill side, meaning the white truck in this picture can’t park here. That becomes a general purpose lane. You might have to take out the other curb bulb as well (for a bus to make that turn), but I think you can leave the lamppost and hydrant. I’m pretty sure all of this will work, without any real loss, other than pedestrians lose a curb bulb or two.
  3. Stop selection. So far as I know, the main reason Spring was chosen over Marion is because it is closer to Link. But this connection to Link is only one-way. So someone has to walk an extra couple blocks, but only when going from the BRT to Link (either way they use Madison for half the trips). It is actually less than two blocks. From Marion, the fastest way to Link is to walk south on 3rd to a little bit past Cherry to the Pioneer Square station. So compared to Spring, it is really only one extra block, and only for half the trips. Meanwhile, you save a block for Ferry riders. Speaking of which …
  4. Ferry traffic is an issue. This goes back to parking, though. Marion has plenty of parking on the left side of the street (where this new bus lane would go). If the city is worried about too many cars being squeezed into too narrow a pathway, then it can just get rid of the parking (which seems likely). It can also funnel folks elsewhere, such as Spring. That would essentially move the ferry traffic right around this route.

I believe these changes would lead to much greater reliability and speed through downtown, which in turn could lead to greater frequency or cheaper operation. The cost is not trivial (moving a lot of parking, removing curb bulbs and the like) but I believe it is worth it for a line as important as this one.

Seattle Projects for ST3

Sound Transit is in the process of deciding what will be part of ST3. For the subarea that includes Seattle, I believe the set of projects listed here can best serve both Seattle and the larger region.

While it is tempting to assume that we can build anything, Sound Transit won’t look at every possible light rail line. They won’t, for example, propose something to replace the Metro 8 bus route, even though a strong case can be made that such a subway would be the best value for the region. Sound Transit will propose projects largely benefiting areas they have started studying: West Seattle, Ballard, and areas next to them. With that in mind, and with a rough idea of what these things cost, I propose that Sound Transit build the following:

  1. The WSTT
  2. West Seattle BRT
  3. Ballard to UW Light Rail

There are other small projects that could be done by Sound Transit, the city of Seattle. or some combination of agencies. This includes the NE 130th Station, the Graham Street Station, and a pedestrian bridge connecting North Seattle College with the Northgate Station. For the Elliot/15th corridor, two small projects are critical. The Elliot and 15th Avenue bus lanes need to operate as bus lanes at all times, along with signal priority given to the bus (as they would with light rail). A new underground bus stop at Dravus and 15th should be added. A stop there does not appear to be that difficult to build — there is space there for a wheelchair ramp. Making these changes would allow a bus to avoid traffic, and thus greatly reduce the time a bus spends serving the 15th (N)W corridor.

There are a lot of smaller projects that could make a big difference, but the three projects I listed are large and should be the focus of ST3 efforts in Seattle.

Alternative

The obvious alternative to these sets of a projects is a subway line from Ballard to West Seattle. The combination of projects I propose are much cheaper. This means that money could be spent making these projects even more productive. For example, the Ballard to UW subway could be extended to include stations at 24th NW and University Village. Neither of these stations are included in my proposal, but they do remain a possibility if costs are as expected.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has suggested a routing for the northern section of a Ballard to West Seattle light rail line. This serves as a good comparison point. There is no suggested subway line to West Seattle, but costs make a subway system for West Seattle problematic. To send even two subway lines to West Seattle is extremely expensive, and won’t happen in the next round of funding. At best we get one, which is adequate for a comparison (and the basis of a previous post).

There are winners and losers with every project — even the most far fetched. If we built a subway line from Discovery Park to Madison Park instead of U-Link, some people would come out ahead. As should be obvious though, U-Link is simply a better value. It will mean a bigger improvement in transit time for more people. While less obvious, the set of projects in this post is better than the Ballard to West Seattle proposal for the same reason: more transit riders would save more time.

Comparison

Many of the stops are the same, which makes the comparison between the two projects fairly easy. The trade-off between a station at Belltown and a station at Denny and Westlake is a toss up. Both are very densely populated (for Seattle) and have plenty of jobs. Both are about the same distance from other stations. I don’t see a substantial advantage of one versus the other.

With West Seattle BRT, the vast majority of riders come out ahead with BRT, because the vast majority of riders would have to take a bus to the light rail line. There simply isn’t enough money to build three (or more) railway lines to serve most of West Seattle. We will never have great light rail to West Seattle, but we can have great bus service to West Seattle, which is why it is the better choice for the majority of riders.

Service from one part of downtown to the other would be the same or slightly better with the WSTT. There would be the same stops as with the subway, but buses have lower headways, lower operating costs and thus will come a lot more frequently. It should be assumed that the buses in the WSTT run like BRT — with off board payment and level boarding. Even RapidRide, with all its flaws, has this. Buses are capable of passing other buses (as this old Seattle bus tunnel video shows) which means that buses can travel quite quickly through downtown (although with off board payment I think such passing would be rare). So riders traveling between Lower Queen Anne and West Seattle (and every combination in between) come out the same or ahead with my proposal.

Riders who walk to the Interbay station(s) would come out about the same either way. A BRT bus along this corridor would travel just as fast as a train. Either way the vehicle would travel just like Link does in Rainier Valley (fairly fast and with rare delays). For those in Magnolia or West Queen Anne, feeder buses either go through the station, or buses feed the other buses. Either way, because of the greater frequency (or possibility of one less transfer) those in Magnolia or West Queen Anne come out ahead with my proposal.

Those in Ballard (at 15th and Market) headed to downtown will take the other subway (via the UW). It takes almost the same amount of time to go via the UW as it does to go via Interbay. The Ballard to West Seattle subway is faster, but not by much (around two minutes).

Riders who are going between Ballard and Interbay, Lower Queen Anne or South Lake Union come out ahead with the Ballard to West Seattle subway. Going via the UW would be substantially slower. Direct bus service from Ballard to Interbay, Queen Anne or South Lake Union would be good, but not be as good as if there was a new (much higher) bridge over the ship canal. This is the only set of trips that benefit substantially from the Ballard to West Seattle subway.

Advantages of This Proposal

Meanwhile, the number of trips that are made substantially better in my proposal is huge. Unlike the Ballard to West Seattle subway, I can’t list every trip that is better with my proposal because there are so many of them. So rather than list every connection that is better, I will summarize and talk about large regions, rather than individual connection points. First, the WSTT provides service along Aurora to South Lake Union and downtown. It would pair nicely with bus service heading east-west in South Lake Union. Once the SR99 work is complete, buses can travel east-west over streets like Thomas or Harrison, possibly in their own lane. This would mean that accessing any part of South Lake Union/Cascade from this stop would be very fast and frequent.

At this point, I believe my set of proposals is way ahead. With all due respect to the riders traveling between Ballard and Lower Queen Anne, I think the number of riders from Greenwood/Phinney Ridge to downtown outnumber them. They also see a bigger improvement. While traffic can be really bad crossing the Ballard bridge, it is not as bad as a bus slogging through downtown traffic. Those riders could transfer, of course, but that has its own (substantial) time penalty. Without a new tunnel, buses on Aurora will have to compete with cars to get downtown, a situation that is likely to get worse, not better.

But the really big improvement comes from the added set of trips with the Ballard to UW subway. The UW is one of the biggest destinations in the state (and growing). It also happens to sit at a major transit crossroad. So not only would this mean that a trip from Ballard to the UW is fifteen minutes faster, but a trip from Ballard to an area like Roosevelt, Maple Leaf, Northgate, Lake City, Lynnwood (and many other neighborhoods) would be fifteen minutes faster. What is true for Ballard is true for every stop along the way (e. g. Wallingford) as well as stops connected with bus service (like Greenwood and other parts of Wallingford, Fremont and Ballard). As mentioned in a previous post, the buses that run along the north-south corridors in that area travel fairly quickly, and would complement a light rail line quite well. In short, anyone in the area north of the ship canal and west of I-5 would have a substantially faster transit ride to just about everywhere. This makes it clearly better than a Ballard to West Seattle subway. A Ballard to West Seattle subway would only benefit a small part of Ballard, and only for those heading along a single corridor (a corridor that would see substantial improvement with my proposal as well). The set of projects I listed will serve a much greater area, and a much larger combination of trips.

I would love it if we built light rail everywhere in this city. But we have to be realistic, and assume that not every possible subway line will be built. It is also important to build the most productive lines first. Building things out of order costs money and diminishes support for transit. We have to live with the possibility that the next set of projects we build could be our last set (just as we did with the previous proposal). Of course it makes sense to plan for the future, and the possibility that the system will be expanded. But we shouldn’t build less productive lines now and hope that we fill in the gaps later. We may never get that chance. With that in mind, it makes sense to build projects that provide the greatest improvement in transit time to the greatest number of riders. This is clearly the case with this set of proposals.

Fast Train to Ballard

This is a time comparison of two different ways for getting from Ballard to downtown Seattle. The first is a fairly direct route, as proposed by SDOT. The second involves going from Ballard to the UW, then south, via the main line. As it turns out, not counting the transfer, the time difference is minor: roughly two minutes.

Methodology

Generally speaking, trains spend a good part of their time stopped at a station or accelerating or decelerating. As luck would have it, both of these routes have exactly the same number of stops (eight inclusive). This simplifies things considerably. I also determined that the distance between each station is just big enough for the train to reach maximum speed (although in many cases, only for a second). Again, this simplifies things.  Both trains would spend the same amount of time at a station or accelerating or decelerating. Thus the difference in time between the two routes is simply the difference in distance divided by the maximum speed. Based on my calculations, the SDOT route is 5.25 miles, while the route via the UW is 7.35 miles (a difference of 2.1 miles). Since the trains have a maximum speed of 58 MPH, going via the SDOT route saves 2 minutes and 10 second, not counting a transfer (if there is one).

Total Time

The estimates are a bit rougher when it comes to the total time for either trip. I take two different approaches to figuring this out. Both lead to roughly the same amount of time: 18 minutes via the UW and 16 minutes via Queen Anne.

The first approach is to look at our system as it currently exists or is being built. Since stop spacing varies widely in our system, so too does the time it takes to travel eight stops. But I think we can start by ignoring the trips that include Rainier Beach to Tukwila, since that trip dwarfs the others in terms of stop spacing (over five miles). This gives us a range of 14 to 20 minutes. So, splitting the difference gives us 17 minutes. I think it is reasonable to assume that the SDOT route would take 16 minutes to get to downtown, while the route via the UW would take 18 minutes. This is roughly in line with other measurements. It is going to take 8 minutes to get from the U-District Station to Westlake, so it is reasonable to assume it will take 10 minutes from Ballard to the UW (the distance isn’t far, but there is an extra stop). This gives us 18 minutes via the UW and 16 minutes via Queen Anne.

The other approach is take the estimates that Sound Transit gave with the studies. Sound Transit did not include a time estimate for a Ballard to downtown route like the one that SDOT proposed. The closest route that resembles it is Corridor A, which gives an estimate of 14-19 minutes. The SDOT route adds two stops, so it is reasonable to take the far end of that proposal, or 19 minutes.

Of the various proposals for UW to Ballard high capacity transit, only one involves a light rail in a tunnel: A3. The time estimate for A3 is 6-9 minutes . However, there are  only two proposed stops with that route. With the addition of two more stops, I think we can take the high end of that estimate: 9 minutes. Once you add the known time (8 minutes from the UW to Westlake) you get to 17 minutes. Using this approach gets us within a minute of the other estimate (17-19 versus 16-18).

Given the imprecise data surrounding actual travel time, it is not known exactly how long it will take to get from one place to another. However, based on the distances, the number of stops and the capability of our trains, the difference between the two routes will be around two minutes.

Move the 255 Out of the Tunnel and Move Other Buses In

The question of which buses should be in the tunnel has been asked in at least two different ways. Right now, the buses that are slated to remain are the 41, 74, 101, 102, 106, 150, 255. I agree with David Lawson, that the 255 should be removed. I think it should be replaced by either the 77 or the combination of the 76 and 316.

One of the big advantages to the bus tunnel is that it feeds very well into the express lanes. The 255 does not use the express lanes, so it does not gain much of an advantage (if it gains one at all) by using the bus tunnel.

It also makes sense to cluster similar bus routes into the tunnel, or out of the tunnel. The old 71,72, 73 and 74, for example, all served the U-District, and they all went in the tunnel. This meant that someone headed to the U-District from downtown simply waited for the first available bus starting with a “7”. The 255 doesn’t pair well with any other bus that travels in the tunnel. It is possible that someone might want to head to Montlake on either the 255 or Link, but I doubt very many.

The buses that use (or could use) the express lanes, but are not slated to use the tunnel are the 76, 77 and 316. By my estimation, they make the following number of trips:

76 — 11 trips at rush hour.
77 — 8 trips at rush hour.
316 — 11 trips at rush hour.

By removing the 255, we would remove 23 trips at rush hour. So, obviously, we can’t put all three in the tunnel. Each bus overlaps (or shares) some of the other routes in the tunnel, so there are several possibilities. These are the two that I believe make the most sense:

76 and 316 — They both serve the Green Lake Park and Ride. They diverge from there, but since there are a lot of transfers from there, and this a fairly populous area, the shared ridership is probably significant. In addition, the 76 and 74 are close enough in service area to have significant overlap (for those who live in between the routes).

77 — The 77 and 41 both serve Pinehurst (NE 125th and 15th NE). This also means either one works as the first bus to the 347/348. In addition, those headed to the area served by the 77 can take a 74 (or Link) and then transfer to the 73 or 373 instead. Replacing the 255 with the 77 would mean significantly fewer buses in the tunnel. This could improve reliability in the tunnel, especially for Link.

Either option (either the 77 or the combination of the 76 and 316) would be an improvement over the 255. The 255 does not take advantage of one of the best features of the bus tunnel (its connection with the express lanes) nor does it’s service area overlap with buses that will be in the tunnel.

Proposed Changes to the new 67 and 73

Metro presented its new “Alternative 3″ U-Link restructure proposal. As part of that process, I would like to propose the following changes for the 67 and 73:

1) As David Lawson suggested, combine the 73 and 373 through the U-District.

2) Have the 67 use 5th Ave. NE, instead of Roosevelt Way, north of 80th and south of the transit center. This is the routing that the city is proposing for a new high speed corridor. A shorter, less congested route will make the connection between Northgate and Roosevelt much faster. This will, in turn, reduce the number of service hours necessary for this route, which can increase frequency on this (or other) buses.

A fast connection to Northgate Transit Center is important. This is a major connection point to other buses. For example, if you are traveling from Northwest Hospital to the UW Medical Center (both owned by UW Medicine) then you would use this bus. Likewise, if you are headed to North Seattle College from the UW. It makes sense to provide a fast, convenient connection between the very popular Northgate Transit Center, Roosevelt and the UW.

This isn’t without its drawbacks. There are probably more people along the currently proposed route. But I believe the difference is small, and not worth the substantial difference in distance (4.4 miles versus 5.5 miles). The distance isn’t the only problem. You have several turns in a very high traffic area. It is simply a lot quicker (and a lot more direct) to use the southern part of 5th. This area is not devoid of apartments or other destinations either. There are plenty of apartments and offices at the bottom of the hill (close to the transit center) as well as up on top (around 85th). Compared to the rest of the area (the transit center, the Roosevelt neighborhood or the UW) the number of additional people served by the currently proposed routing is small. It doesn’t make sense to slow down the bulk of riders just to serve a handful of additional people (while leaving out a different handful).

Of course, this would mean no service on Roosevelt Way through Maple Leaf. There would also be no weekend service on the northern part of Maple Leaf at all (on any street). Which is why I propose the following:

3) Move the 73 and 373 to Roosevelt Way. This routing has been used before — when the bridge over Thornton Creek on 15th was being repaired. This will, of course, slow down the 73, ever so slightly. But it is hard to justify slowing down a bus like the 67 so that the 73 can run faster, since the 67 is much more frequent. Since the 73 is slated to follow Roosevelt on the south end anyway (south of 65th), this routing will reduce the number of turns. This means that the speed difference will be minor, if there is one. Overall, the combination is much faster and much less congested.

4) Either make the changes to the 67 applicable on the weekdays only, or run the 73 on the weekend. Either way, you would get needed coverage for the north part of Maple Leaf. Having a weekend routing is nothing new. If you can’t find the service hours to run the 73 on the weekends, this is a good solution. The vast majority of riders on the 67 will only experience a delay, as opposed to a loss of service. Only those on the southern part of 5th (who are currently slated to have no service at all) are left out on the weekend. Those on Roosevelt Way would hardly notice the change (since the southern part of the 67 and 73 are very similar). Overall, it is less confusing than other changes for the weekend (such as a complete lack of service, which is common).