I don’t know who this young man is, or the woman he is writing to, but he speaks for multitudes:
He’s right: The 16’s reliability and travel times are absolutely pathetic. More galling is that those problems are obvious, must be known by Metro, are entirely within Metro’s capacity to fix (without requiring any significant expenditure of capital money), and yet Metro has utterly failed to do so when given the opportunity. The 16 is so bad that it inspired me to write my first blog post for STB, wherein I examined the problems at length. In this post I’ll extend and update that original discussion.
To recap, the 16 is crippled by two terrible routing choices, one in each direction, near each origin, which destroy its reliability, in both directions, for the remainder of the route. Both of these routing choices would never be made if the 16 were created today, but it always seems to require Herculean effort to fix vestigial bad design in Metro’s bus network, no matter the merits of doing so.
More after the jump.
The Seattle Center Detour
Northbound, instead of getting directly on Aurora like the 5 and 358, the 16 follows the path of the East Queen Anne buses on 5th Ave N until Mercer St, where it then drives in a giant circle to get back to Aurora. This is slow and annoying enough, even when traffic is moving well, but during the weekday, Mercer is a traffic disaster area, and the bus can take several minutes to crawl a hundred yards between 5th and Dexter.
Inexplicably, even though Metro made far more controversial suggestions during the Fall 2012 restructure (including a change to the 16’s Northgate routing, discussed below), Metro did not propose fixing this detour even in the most ambitious initial proposal. But, for the future, I have both good and bad news about this detour. The good news is that it will almost certainly go away around 2017, if not before; the bad news is that it’s going to get even worse in the interim.
The SR99 Deep Bore Tunnel, constructed as part of the SR99 viaduct replacement project, will have its north portal at Harrison St, three blocks north of the current Battery Street Tunnel’s portal at Denny Way. WSDOT will rebuild the city street grid in those three blocks, and those three rebuilt non-highway blocks of Aurora Ave will have continuous bus lanes from the new SR99 ramps to the existing bus lanes and queue jump on the Wall/Battery couplet; there will also be new bus stops near Harrison Street. You can see what all this will look like on WSDOT’s great interactive simulation of the construction process.
The given rationale for the 16’s current detour is to improve rider access to the Seattle Center, avoiding the need to use the inadequate sidewalks in the Mercer underpass to reach the northbound stops. (Why the 16 should be uniquely singled out for this has never been adequately explained to me). Once the street grid rebuild is complete, there will be good pedestrian access between the new Aurora & Harrison stops and the Seattle Center, and that issue should be moot.
Unfortunately, as the WSDOT simulation shows, the next five years of open-heart surgery on the street grid near the tunnel portal are going to make traffic in the area, and particularly on Mercer, suck even more (if that’s possible). Notably, it looks like eastbound Mercer St will be reduced to two lanes for at least a year, starting in 2014. Granted, some of these problems will also affect buses that go directly onto Aurora, but the impact to the 16 seems likely to be much more severe.
NE Northgate Way
I discussed in my previous post on the 16 why it uses Northgate way rather than the faster, more reliable, and more direct 92nd St. Metro did propose to fix this in the Fall 2012 restructure, but I’m told by people at Metro that the proposal was shot down by community opposition, particularly from seniors in Wallingford and Green Lake who wanted access to social services on Meridian, near the community college. I don’t know much more about this, or if there’s any hope of finding an alternative that Metro could stomach.
The Wages of Unreliability is Unspectacular Ridership
There are real consequences, beyond Craigslist posts, to atrocious unreliability such as that exhibited by the 16. In my case study of the 1997 Aurora restructure, I presented this chart showing the productivity (rides per platform hour) of the routes on this corridor:
Post-1997 productivity on the 358 has grown significantly faster than the 16. Comparing two routes in this way is subject to a raft of caveats, but I think there is some validity to the comparison: both routes serve roughly the same geographic part of the city, and although the demographics and built environment of the walksheds are different, that difference is arguably baked into the 1998 initial numbers.
I’m convinced, and I think the anonymous man and woman on Craigslist would agree, that the 16’s unreliability is a major reason why more people don’t use it. Metro could fix these problems, drive ridership, save money, and make Wallingford and Green Lake more accessible via transit if they so chose. So far, they haven’t.