Community Post

Lots of popular, frequent buses in the CD. Upgrade plz!

Today the guys at Seattle Transit Blog released an awesome map that shows bus routes based on their frequency. Routes that run at least every 20 minutes get big colorful lines. Those that run only part of the day or less often get little skinny gray ones.

Central District routes are prominent on the map, with frequent service on the #2, #3, #4, #8, and #48 routes.

We should be thankful for our good bus service, but also realize it exists for a reason: because we’ve got a large population that are heavy users of transit. Get on the #3 or #4 on any given day an it’s likely to be standing room only by the time you reach Broadway. It’s the same for the #48, and the #8 has been doing very well too since its frequencies were increased earlier in the year.

But our problem going forward is that those frequent bus routes are apparently all that we’re ever going to have. They are currently at capacity, especially on the slow, crowded routes that have to forge through bad hospital traffic and steep hills as they approach downtown. You often see buses bunching up on the #48 route too, indicating it is nearing its maximum productive capacity.

It made total sense for the region to put a priority on connecting UW, Capitol Hill, and downtown with light rail. It’s an expensive project, but those 3.4 miles of track are going to immediately carry tens of thousands of people on transit, in a fraction of the time it used to take on the bus. It’s no mystery why, since those destinations already have a high density of people who use transit, and who have lifestyles and outlooks that make transit use natural, even when the current solutions are slow, crowded, and inconvenient. High existing performance is the best indicator that it makes sense to invest in an infrastructure upgrade.

But for some reason during the last 10 years, the city’s next priority for mass transit development has been two areas that don’t rank highly in terms of existing transit density and ridership. The Central District has 3 routes in the top ten county-wide when ranked by ridership, and five routes in the top 25. West Seattle’s busiest route, the #54, ranks at 41st on the list. That’s an existing, high-frequency route that is far from a top performer in terms of ridership.

Ballard fares a bit better, with the #15 route ranking 11th, and the #44 at 14th place. But that’s still significantly less existing transit demand that what we see in the Central District.

The CD would score even higher if you used a metric of passengers per mile, as we’re so much closer to our major destinations than either of the west-side neighborhoods. That indicates that you could get more bang for your buck here than in the other options.

This is why we think it is so important for the city to develop a new, comprehensive transit master plan. We need a plan for the whole city that prioritizes future transit funding by hard, objective metrics such as ridership, cost, and travel efficiency. We need to take the decision out of the hands of the at-large city council, which often favors projects based on the area where they reside, a factor that gives unusual weighting to a few select neighborhoods. 

It is good to see the city council moving forward on that. But it’s key that they don’t prejudice the outcome of that process by insisting that any previously conceived projects remain at the top of the list. And it’s important that the funding scheme not rely only on the ability of a given transit service area to support high property taxes, something that is certain to restrict improved transit to only wealthy and commercialized areas.

To be clear, we’re not asking for a personalized subway from 23rd & Cherry to downtown and the UW. We’re asking for some rational planning that gives us something more than the same old slow buses for the next 50 years. Maybe that’s a streetcar that goes somewhere further than Broadway or a deadend at 23rd & Jackson. Maybe it’s a bus or streetcar that gives us fast, frequent connections to the new Capitol Hill light rail station. And maybe we could be put on the list to get a few light rail stops in the central part of the neighborhood if one is ever planned out on 520 or to other regional destinations.

But for heaven’s sake: we use transit, and many of us are very dependent on transit, so please factor that into some sort of data-driven, results-oriented transportation planning process.

0 thoughts on “Lots of popular, frequent buses in the CD. Upgrade plz!

  1. Is it weird that the CD doesn’t have a lot more / more frequent East – West routes connecting the neighborhood to downtown, the ID / Pioneer Square, and First and Capitol Hills? I don’t know the principle / optimization scheme that best gets people between all these populated and active areas of the city, so maybe it’s incorrect to assume that a bunch of East-West buses would be helpful. Any transit experts / urban planners with thoughts on this?

    I live in Madison Valley, and am near the 8 and 11, which gets me East-West if I schedule myself. But, in my ideal, there’d be an East-West bus every 5-10 minutes that runs between the valley and First Hill or Capitol Hill, where there are then a wider variety of bus options running in all directions (plus the forthcoming light rail and streetcar stops).

  2. Regarding the #2 and peak hour routes. I regularly ride the #2 at many time but always three days a week at 8:40 AM. Either 8:30 or 8:45 would work for me but it is suppose to be 8:40, which often doesn’t arrive until around 9:00 AM which does not work out well. There is a bus scheduled for 9:00 AM which usually arrives soon after or at the same time as the 8:40 AM one. I also noted that often the peak-hour buses downtown basically skip one time and come at the same time. Often an extra bus has been inserted here and there on the schedule throwing the schedule off its otherwise predictable time with many runs retaining the regular spacing of 15 minutes and sometimes more than that. Yet, we are supposedly paying peak hour rates for more service. I suggest that if these runs cannot really perform, use those extra inserted to retain every-15-minute service after 7:00 PM, which on the #2 are quite full. Many work past 7:00 PM and retail stores are open much later as are the downtown theaters. Please we need these buses to run at least every 15 minutes.

  3. I totally agree, Scott. I was so very ridiculously excited this past week to ditch the car and start riding the bus. Every 13 min during peak hours is pretty weak, especially because the bus is often late (from the downtown direction) and I am surprised at how limited our options are in the CD for buses. Not that this is in encouraging, but i was at a BBQ with a King County Metro Project Manager a couple of weeks ago and I mentioned that the bus should run every 5-7 minutes during rush hour (kind of like what I grew up with in Ottawa, Ont, Canada back in the old 80’s), and she laughed at this! I was actually surprised that this seemed like an preposterous concept. But enough whining…please let us know if you think there is someone we can write to about this.

  4. I’d like to be able to get from Madison Valley to the south part of downtown / ID without transferring busses! I wish the #8 turned on Yesler and headed down town. It’s takes so long to take 2 busses to the ID that I could almost walk in that amount of time, were I not OLD.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with this post and with the comments. One of my biggest frustrations with the current mayor is that for all of his cheerleading for transit (or is it really just bikes?) he utterly ignores the Central District & South Seattle. Light rail doesn’t help most of us because BUS ROUTES DON’T CONNECT TO IT. There aren’t really any north – south lines (remind me again why 12th doesn’t have bus service?) and we just got cut out of a streetcar route.

    Add to this that we are home to a number of food banks, hospitals, city and county services, and educational institutions (during the school year the 3 / 4 becomes the Garfield school bus), and we are definitely underserved and underprioritized.

    I have just started taking the bus on a regular basis and I love it (OneBusAway is your friend). I don’t use it because of any desire to reduce my carbon footprint or other enviro agenda BS. I used it because it’s cheaper and more efficient than driving to my downtown job. I am not a huge fan of the 3 / 4 because of the crowding and the sketchy ridership, but I always have good stories. I would love to see bus service better supported in our community.

  6. whats her name where does she live? not in CD I bet.
    The CD tax base basically carries this area (over kill property taxes)an yet we have no representation at all.
    It time we post a City Council member that is our specifically.

  7. YES YES YES. I agree. I would ride the Light Rail more if I could get to it without riding in my car and getting dropped off, or going all the way downtown to catch it in the tunnel.

    As for bikes, Mr. Mayor, they don’t work for everyone. For those with multiple kids or those with bike phobias the pathetic little bike “lanes” painted onto arterial roads aren’t really making that mode of transportation more convenient or making me feel any more safe. In most cases it’s not a “lane” it’s a stencil of a bike on the side of the road. Not safe for riders or drivers!

  8. thanks for stepping beyond ‘news’ and giving us a strong editorial stance. we’re with you…

  9. Public transportation is great for the environment using less fuel and hopefully fewer trees and green space are lost to the building of roads and parking lots. Most of us will not have the energy to make decisions hour by hour based on our carbon footprints and will only be motivated to take action when it is available to us. People have day to day needs to get to work, school, and appointments, while maintaining themselves and recreating. Thus, it falls to policy makers to ensure accessible usable options for all in the interest of the public good. This also relates to closing bus stops. walking two more blocks to a bus may not seem like a big deal, but buses do not wait and there are corners where it can take 5 minutes to cross various intersections to get to the bus stop and if two blocks are added to what is already a four block walk this can be discouraging for those who do not love to walk, who are somewhat disabled, or who have a load to carry. Transferring buses is time consuming by itself and adding distance can ensure that the connection will be missed. Some of the closures make sense but more would not if public transit is designed to be used by all citizens of all ages.

    The plan to connect us could have been better and yes, Metro is not as responsive as it should be to the needs in the CD. However, there are a few more connections to light rail than were mentioned here. The #48, #8, and #14 directly connect to the Mount Baker station.

    Once the Broadway station opens, the #8 will connect and it will be accessible from the #2, #3, and #4 via the Broadway street car or a possible walk from the #2. Of course the walk and the need to for the additional transfer are convenience and time issues. Really there probably should be additional direct connections beyond the #8 (which only serves a portion of the CD) to Broadway and E. John.

  10. Elaine, I don’t know the planner you talked to – but I do know that the 3rd Avenue transit wire is very, very busy, and adding additional service would be difficult without displacing other non-trolley buses to other streets. These are the kinds of comments City Council needs to be hearing, as does the Mayor’s office, as they start work on the new transit master plan.

  11. Remember that once the Broadway station opens (as Joanna alludes to above) Metro will be looking at ALL the CD and Cap Hill routes. That’s the chance to get service on 12th, to look at additional connections to the Broadway station, etc. Scott is 100% right that we deserve better than what we get (although friends in other parts of the city would kill for multiple routes with 15-minute headways) and we have to fight for it. But there will be a window in the next few years to really look hard at Metro’s service, the new streetcar line, and cx to the Link stations.

  12. Since King County runs the buses, there’s only so much the Mayor and the City can do directly to improve bus service. What they CAN do, however, is create more transit-only lanes in the CD and do other things to give buses priority, such as bus bulbs on street corners. This WILL mean taking away lanes from cars, but that’s really the only option. Adding more buses at this point would really mean more bunching. Instead of 2-3 buses all bunched together in traffic, we’d have 4-5 buses bunched together. Not much of an improvement.