A few months ago, with lots of help from STB regulars, I created the Frequent Network Plan to show how we could improve Metro’s Seattle/North King County bus network without adding any service hours. That’s great, wrote guest writer and commenter extraordinaire Mike Orr. But, he asked, how much money would it cost to get the bus network we really want? Or, since it’s mid-December, what would Santa have to bring Seattle’s passengers to make it the best Christmas ever?
At first, I was reluctant to look into the question because I figured the results would be ridiculously unrealistic, especially when we are still trying to fight off a network-killing 17% cut. But I started playing with maps and steadily got more interested. I drew up an “ideal” network closely related to the FNP, but with the goal of making the best possible bus network regardless of resources, rather than using a fixed level of resources more efficiently. Pictured is a small bit of that network.
Then I put together a preliminary estimate of the service hours needed. The answer surprised me: only about a 33% increase in service hours from today’s level. That could actually come to pass, if there were a solution to the 17% cut, a few good years of economic growth, and maybe one more funding vote premised on meaningful improvements. It’s realistic enough that the City of Bellevue considered a 30% increase as the best-case scenario in their 2030 Transit Service Vision Report. A 33% increase is an attainable goal for medium-term political advocacy and makes for a credible network vision, not a fevered hallucination.
As I did with the FNP, I’ve created maps of this “ideal” network:
Color-coded by route (the labels reflect the +33% scenario).
Of course, a 33% increase, while imaginable, would be an uphill struggle. So I created one more scenario, intended to show the lowest funding level at which the “ideal” network is meaningfully superior to the FNP network even though it aims for broader coverage and thus sacrifices a bit of efficiency. I found that to be a 15% increase in hours from the current level. The +15% scenario uses the same network (with two extremely minor changes), just with not-quite-ideal frequency levels on thinner routes.
One of the very first questions I expected when I published the Frequent Network Plan about two weeks ago was “How much frequency would we get at night?” And, indeed, reader lakecityrider brought the topic up in the second comment to my original post. I wrote at the time that I needed to crunch the numbers.
Now I’ve done that. And the results, summarized in this map, show just how badly Metro’s night network has suffered in recent years. Night service has borne the brunt of all the cuts and efficiencies in the last decade. As a result there are just not a lot of hours to put into core-route frequency. The existing all-day network in the area covered by the FNP uses about 324 buses; the existing night network uses only about 196 buses during early “night” hours (about 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.), with the number rapidly diminishing as the night wears on. Further, there are no peak trippers at night that may be made redundant by a superior all-day network, so there are no “extra” buses to add to the new night network, either to provide more frequency or to add recovery time. Night service does run faster than day service, but not by enough to make a huge difference; there is no alternative but to cut frequency substantially from daytime levels, and to cut a small amount of service entirely.
Speaking in broad terms, most 10-minute routes in the FNP would have to become 15-minute routes in the early part of the night, except for two that become 20-minute routes. Most 15-minute routes become 20-minute routes, although there are several that become 30-minute routes. The 30-minute routes stay at the 30-minute level, but several suffer truncations of varying severity. A couple of through-routes that would be impossible during the day would be used at night to save additional hours. Further details after the jump.
I was impressed and gratified by the reader reaction to my post last Monday introducing the Frequent Network Plan. Almost 300 comments, lots of interesting and knowledgeable discussion, and not a single post needing moderation: this is what an online community should be, and STB readers rock.
The discussion helped me to figure out a few areas of the plan that I wanted to refine. In this post, I’ll talk about one neighborhood in particular — covering both the general ideas there, and a couple of specific improvements I’ve made in response to last week’s comments. That neighborhood is the University District. Other neighborhoods warranting special attention — particularly Magnolia, northern West Seattle, Rainier Beach, Fremont, and Madison Valley/Park — will be covered in future posts.
What if almost every bus in Seattle came every 8, 10, or 15 minutes? And gave you a fast, reliable ride?
That may sound like a pipe dream. But it’s entirely possible. And the best part is: we don’t need more money to do it. We just need some inventiveness, a lot of political courage, and the occasional willingness to walk a couple extra blocks or to make a transfer.
This post, together with the linked documents, sets out a proposal called the Frequent Network Plan—a new idea for the core all-day bus network for the city of Seattle. This initial presentation is general and covers the whole city; specific neighborhoods seeing big changes will be addressed in more detail in future posts.
I built two versions of the Frequent Network Plan map: one where each route has a separate color, and one where each frequency level has a separate color. The first shows where routes would go, while the second shows just how much more frequently buses would be running along any given corridor. I also wrote three reference documents, linked at the end of the post. Further explanation after the jump.