Metro completes traffic study on likely future bus pathway

Demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is planned for 2017 and will require bus service to move to a new, permanent pathway to and from downtown Seattle.

Having determined that a two-way pathway on Columbia Street seems best for riders, we’ve talked with stakeholders along this pathway who would be affected by this change. Their input helped us design a traffic study to analyze different street configurations that would allow buses to travel in both directions on Columbia street between First and Third avenues.

The results of this study are in. Here’s a brief summary:

We studied three options for converting Columbia Street to two-way operation between First and Third avenues in downtown Seattle. The study assumed 40 buses per hour in the peak direction (into downtown Seattle in the morning and leaving downtown in the evening). Each of the three options includes conversion of one westbound general-purpose lane to an eastbound transit lane.

Option 1

Option 1This option maintains a three-lane configuration between Third Avenue and Alaskan Way. It has one general-purpose lane for through movement and left turns, and transit lanes in both directions. Right turns are allowed from the westbound transit lane. The eastbound transit lane allows local access for general-purpose traffic between First and Second avenues. This traffic would then be forced to turn right at Second Avenue.

What we learned:
This option provides a shared through/left turn lane at Second Avenue, causing left-turning vehicles to block through-traveling vehicles and increasing traffic delays, queues, and travel times. It could provide wider sidewalks (4-5 extra feet on each side) between First and Third avenues given that it has one fewer lane than options 2 and 2a.

Options 2 and 2B

Option 2 and 2BOption 2 has four lanes: a transit lane in each direction and two general-purpose westbound lanes.  From Second to Third Avenue, the two general-purposes lanes allow through-movement of traffic and left turns to Second Avenue.  From Second to First Avenue, the two general-purpose lanes allow a through/left turn movement onto First Avenue and a right-turn-only lane onto First Avenue.  Right turns are allowed from the westbound transit lane. The eastbound transit lane allows local access for general-purpose traffic between First and Second avenues. This traffic would then be forced to turn right at Second Avenue.

What we learned:
Option 2 allows for an exclusive left-turn lane at Second Avenue, resulting in faster travel times, less delay, and less vehicle queuing than Option 1 for general-purpose traffic. It does not provide for wider sidewalks from First to Third Avenue because of its a four-lane configuration.

Option 2B is the same as Option 2, except that general-purpose vehicles can’t use the eastbound transit lane for local access.

Conclusion

Because of the impacts to general-purpose traffic in Options 1 and 2B, the study’s recommendation is that Option 2 is the best configuration for a two-way Columbia Street.

The information from this study will inform our work with the City of Seattle and stakeholders as we begin designing a future two-way pathway for transit on Columbia Street.

Bus service changing June 8, including RapidRide C Line trips

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Pick a timetable, any timetable…

Metro’s thrice-a-year service change is June 8, and we have new green timetables and website updates for riders to review. 17 routes are affected.

One change is expected to help morning commuters using the RapidRide C Line from West Seattle.

RapidRide C and D lines: A new southbound weekday trip to Westwood Village leaving Bay 3 at the Alaska Junction at 5:12 a.m. will be added. Also, in an effort to balance passenger loads, the RapidRide C and D line schedules will be adjusted during the morning peak period.

What does this mean?

  1. We’re adding an early morning trip to help connect with service to the airport.
  2. The other changes are to actual trip times northbound from West Seattle to downtown. The net number of trips is identical (except for the partial added early morning trip), while having more buses run during the period where ridership data showed more need.

This has the effect of allowing 11 trips instead of 10 between 7:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. (when passenger loads were higher) and 12 trips instead of 13 between 4:59 a.m. and 6:59 a.m. (when passenger loads were lower).

Another way of looking at it, after June 8, C Line weekday buses to downtown Seattle are scheduled:

  • about every 8-12 minutes from 5:30-9:24 a.m.
  • about every 15 minutes starting at 9:24 a.m. (15-minute service previously started at 8:39 a.m.)

Updated schedules will be posted online later Friday (June 7), and riders can view the adjusted trip times to be ready for Monday. Though the RapidRide C/D line service is interconnected, D Line morning trips are staying roughly the same as they were since February.

Since launching, we continue to closely monitor operations and watch for opportunities to better serve passengers within our budget.

We appreciate everyone’s continued support and ridership, and ask for patience as riders and drivers transition to the adjusted trip schedule.

What’s driving Metro? Learn more about the future of bus service in King County

Are you wondering what the future holds for Metro bus service?

We’ve been in the news a lot lately, and for good reason. Revenue to keep our buses moving has been shrinking in recent years, leaving us with a projected $75 million annual revenue shortfall. It’s a problem state legislators are also grappling with as declining revenues impact transit agencies all across the state.

Meanwhile, Metro has begun looking at how it will eliminate up to 17 percent of its bus service in future years if a sustainable funding package does not emerge in Olympia.

We know it’s a lot to absorb so we invite you to learn about the many issues that will impact what we look like in the future. Watch Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond’s recent interview with the West Seattle Blog. During the taped interview, Desmond lays out the myriad issues impacting Metro.

It’s your opportunity to hear about what’s driving Metro today and what may be in store for transit service tomorrow.

Find out more about where we’ve been and where we might be headed.

Two-way Columbia Street pathway seems best for riders when viaduct is gone

Boarding the C Line in West Seattle

Boarding the C Line in West Seattle

Beginning in late 2015, demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will require bus service to move to a new permanent pathway to and from downtown Seattle. Metro and the City of Seattle have been looking at options to connect transit from from State Route 99 and the West Seattle Bridge, south of downtown, along the Alaskan Way surface street to the Third Avenue transit spine in downtown Seattle.

After evaluating potential pathways, including Fourth Avenue S, First Avenue S, Yesler Way, and I-5, Metro has identified a two-way Columbia Street pathway as the most viable option for transit riders. Buses would travel in both directions on Columbia Street from Alaskan Way to Third Avenue, using transit-only lanes.

Pathways in SODO and Pioneer Square were eliminated from further consideration due to a range of issues, including travel time reliability, difficult turn movements for buses, conflicts with train, ferry, stadium, and streetcar traffic, and potential impacts on neighborhoods. Learn more about other pathways evaluated and not selected as viable options.

Based on input from riders and neighborhoods as well as our pathways analysis, the two-way Columbia Street pathway appears most viable. If transit priority improvements can be made, the Columbia pathway will be the fastest, most reliable option of those studied—and riders have a strong preference for this current pathway.

In June 2012, Metro asked riders which pathway they preferred. Most chose the Columbia Street pathway (see summary of results).

The chosen pathway will be crucial to keeping transit service fast and reliable for riders from southwest and northwest Seattle neighborhoods (including West Seattle and Ballard) who travel to, from, and through downtown Seattle.

  • Routes that use the viaduct collectively carry some 22,000 riders (an additional 8,000 RapidRide D Line riders are also affected by this corridor)—similar to the totals carried by Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail service from SeaTac Airport to downtown Seattle (27,000 riders) and the SODO Busway (24,000 riders).
  • Twelve routes, including the RapidRide C and D lines, rely on the Alaskan Way Viaduct to get to, from, and through downtown Seattle.
  • About 15 percent of people currently using the viaduct are riding buses.

We continue to work with the City of Seattle and other key groups, including neighborhoods and business, to make a final decision on a pathway. The Central Waterfront Committee will make a recommendation to the Seattle City Council on street and transit design issues along the Central Waterfront in late May/early June. The final decision is expected sometime this summer.

Learn more

Stay informed

When viaduct is gone: what pathways buses won’t use, and why

Once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is demolished, buses from West Seattle and Southwest King County will need a new permanent pathway to and from downtown Seattle.

The City of Seattle and King County Metro evaluated several potential pathways, including surface streets and Interstate 5, to connect buses from State Route 99 and the West Seattle Bridge to the Third Avenue Transit corridor in downtown Seattle.

We eliminated several pathways because of  traffic conflicts, significant likely impacts on transit reliability, difficulty with turns, and other challenges that would prevent delivery of high-quality transit service to the downtown Seattle core.

Here are some of the pathways Metro and the city evaluated and removed from further consideration:

Interstate 5

  • High traffic volumes and poor transit reliability, depending on time of day.
  • Greatest travel distance between West Seattle and downtown Seattle compared to other pathways.
  • Poor connection to stadiums and other key downtown areas.

First Avenue S and Fourth Avenue S (as combination pathways)

  • Significant travel time increases (5-8 minutes, depending on direction of travel).
  • Poor reliability due to at-grade train crossings—which can delay buses up to 20 minutes—and more than 200 stadium events each year.
  • Would require right-of-way acquisition for transit lanes and other improvements, estimated at $20-30 million. A Lander Street overpass would cost an estimated $200 million.

Airport Way (in combination with other streets)

  • Poor transit reliability.
  • Not all routes that currently use the viaduct can connect to Airport Way.
  • Would not allow buses to serve the SODO area.
  • Poor connection to the stadium area.

Yesler Way and James Street (as both single-street pathways and in combination with other streets)

  • Conflict with ferry operations, as cars and other vehicles access the terminal via Yesler Way.
  • Turns that are difficult for buses to make.
  • Pedestrian conflicts.
  • Added travel time due to turns.

Jackson Street (as both a single-street pathway and in combination with other streets)

  • Higher traffic volumes are expected on Jackson Street with the new Alaskan Way surface street.
  • Right-of-way constraints due to First Hill Streetcar operation.
  • Increased turns and pedestrian conflicts.
  • Difficult turns for buses.

Main Street and Washington Street (as both a single street pathway and in combination with other streets)

  • Extensive street improvements would be required.
  • Neighborhood concerns over potential effect on historic district.

Given input from riders and neighborhoods, as well as the pathways analysis, the city and Metro are now focusing on evaluating a two-way Columbia Street pathway.

Once the necessary transit improvements are made, Columbia Street will be the fastest, more reliable pathway. It will provide improved connections to the stadium and waterfront area. Improvements needed to make this pathway work for transit riders include transit priority measures, street and intersection modifications, multi-modal connections at Colman Dock, and enhanced bus stop locations. For more details about the pathways studied, read Metro’s full report.

West Seattle rider questionnaire: What you told us, what’s next

West Seattle riders have given us a lot to think about in response to our recent questionnaire. We wanted to hear all of it – the good, the bad, the ugly – after receiving reports of overcrowded buses on the RapidRide C Line and routes 21, 21X, and 120, as well as service not arriving on time. Concerns were focused on the challenges we faced launching RapidRide C Line and changes to the transit system made Sept. 29.

Thanks to the 499 people who filled out our survey last month, as well as some 200 people who chatted with us in person in West Seattle in November. We appreciate and value your input, and have summarized your feedback.

Riders told us they want us to focus on three key things:

  1. Relieve overcrowding.
  2. Make buses show up on time.
  3. Get more and sustainable funding to expand or increase service.

The good news is that we want what you want: excellent and reliable transit service. But some things are within Metro’s control and some aren’t, and we have to balance the need to be cost-effective with the need to serve the most riders, including those who most need public transit.

Factors that contribute to overcrowding and gaps in service

Managing the timing of buses along some of Seattle’s busiest streets is a daily challenge. Gridlock, traffic collisions and people bustling across streets can delay buses, and riders squeeze onto already-full buses if real-time arrival signs and third-party apps don’t give them reliable information about when the next bus will come.

Did you know?

Metro’s fleet continues to evolve as we invest in new buses. As with other urban transit fleets across the country, we’re moving toward slightly fewer seats and more standing room, especially on RapidRide buses.

In a busy transit system, buses are expected to have at least some riders standing, especially during the busiest commute times. Metro’s largest buses offer a range of seating configurations: RapidRide buses have 49 seats, while our other low-floor articulated buses have 58 or (on older buses) 64.

When full, each bus carries about 100 people (some sitting and some standing). By working to minimize bus delays, we can reduce the number of packed buses. Metro also needs new funding to provide new service that meets increasing transit demand.

Ridership between West Seattle and downtown Seattle grew dramatically after the September service change, while the number of weekday peak-period trips we offer (77-78) stayed the same.

What are we doing about it?

We know that every minute counts in your bus trip. To address unexpected overcrowding and delays, we used reserve funds to add bus trips. Our control center also began actively monitoring traffic delays and RapidRide service to manage the timing of buses, especially during peak commute hours. These efforts work to smooth out the wrinkles of every daily commute, but service on any given day can still be affected by traffic and other variables—so, sometimes service is great, and sometimes it isn’t.

Did you know?

You can view a table showing how peak bus loads have increased between West Seattle and downtown Seattle.

But it is getting better. Our drivers are operating these routes more efficiently, and our coordinators more accurately deploy standby buses to fill gaps caused by traffic delays. We expect performance to steadily improve. With help from the city of Seattle, we’ve completed 27 transit signal priority projects that give buses more green lights between Ballard and downtown Seattle—boosting reliability as those buses head toward West Seattle. We also recently made progress improving the systems that predict bus arrivals and relay that information to real-time arrival signs and third-party smartphone apps. And come February, we expect to publish a printed schedule to help RapidRide riders know when buses are leaving most of the day.

Why we can’t expand service or go back to what you had before

In the face of tight budgets, we had to rearrange bus service to serve more riders. That meant reducing service in some places while adding it in others to create new and better connections. We also consolidated bus stops to improve speed and reliability – with the tradeoff that some of our riders have to walk farther to reach the bus. And we’re shifting our system from “one-seat rides” to carrying more riders to more places in a cost-efficient way, which requires more transfers.

Did you know?

OneBusAway is programmed and operated by the University of Washington with funding provided by Metro and Sound Transit. Metro works with developers continuously to troubleshoot software and data problems, but ultimately the functioning of this application is in the hands of staff and students at the UW. In the future, there may be other apps that also provide this type of information to riders.

We have the same number of bus trips between West Seattle, the viaduct, and downtown Seattle during peak commute hours, but we did reduce midday service by 95 trips due to low ridership. Those buses moved to other areas to serve more riders. For example, we extended Route 128 to the Admiral district and added more peak service; we created Route 50 to provide a long-awaited east-west connection between West Seattle and southeast Seattle; and we rerouted routes 60 and 120 to serve Westwood Village.

Going forward…

It’s important to us to make transit service as reliable as we can. We started operating RapidRide buses between Ballard, downtown Seattle, and West Seattle in September in the face of great change to our transit network. Some capital improvements were incomplete, riders had high expectations, and — as noted above — ridership increased unexpectedly. We’ve made strides in completing transit signal priority projects, better bus-arrival predictions, and continue to focus on improving operations.

Did you know?

Metro’s Strategic Plan and Service Guidelines set target service levels and guide us when we restructure transit service. The plan includes criteria for route performance, including the number of riders carried per hour.

Instead of rearranging service, we’d rather be increasing and improving it to meet growing demand. Those discussions continue. As for the challenges we’ve faced recently and concerns you’ve shared, we’ve learned valuable lessons that will help guide us to better implement transit changes in the future.

We can agree on this: Metro wants to operate a world-class transit system that serves the needs of a growing and diverse community. How best to do that is always a balancing act between budgets and competing interests across King County. We have 240 bus routes, 400,000 daily riders, and a vision for providing robust transit service while also serving those who need transit most.

Your input continues to be important, and we want to remain in conversation with you as we work to improve the service we provide.

Stay connected with us

RapidRide test bus helps troubleshoot signs

130255As soon as Monday, Dec. 10, riders may see a test RapidRide bus traveling the C/D lines between Ballard, downtown Seattle, and West Seattle. Instead of stopping to pick up riders, the bus will travel the corridor with Metro staff members aboard to compare actual bus arrival times with what the real-time information signs say.

We’ll collect data for a few days and analyze it as part of our ongoing effort to improve the performance and accuracy of real-time bus arrival signs at RapidRide stops.
Behind the scenes, we continue to troubleshoot the software, hardware, and communications that feed the signs – a dynamic system that tracks buses, reports their locations, and predicts and reports when they’ll arrive at upcoming stops.

This key feature is integral to RapidRide service, something riders remind us of daily – especially when traffic congestion delays our otherwise frequent service. We’re working on improving the system with the goal of providing good information more consistently.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress.