Route 2

Since it’s a bus I ride regularly, I headed over to the Madrona Community Council on Tuesday to listen to Metro come talk about the proposed changes to the Route 2.

It was an impressive turnout of residents, overwhelmingly in opposition.  Hats off to the folks opposed to the changes who organized en masse.  Over 50 people crowded into the Madrona field house to give Metro’s planners an earful about why they thought the proposed change was the worst idea since New Coke.

A couple of thoughts, as someone who designs systems for a living and has listened to my share of irate user feedback:

  • Change is hard. People come to expect the bus to be there, and they work those assumptions into their daily lives.  When someone tells you they’ve been riding the #2 since 1965, it’s hard to just say “well, sorry, it’s going away.”
  • Explaining why a change is better than the status quo is surprisingly difficult.  Metro’s planners, I think, struggled to articulate the benefits of the proposed change.  Telling people that their route will get shortened to benefit the overall system doesn’t really get you very far.
  • User feedback is important, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. People make contradictory demands.  They want the bus to be more reliable, but they don’t seem willing to make the trade-offs to make it so.
  • People don’t understand the difference between SDOT and Metro.  This is obvious and long-running, but it’s especially problematic when Metro moves a bus to Madison Street under the assumption that Seattle’s Transit Master Plan calls for improving bus service on Madison, but people don’t make the connection because the changes aren’t made in sync.  You have to be paying very close attention.
  • The suburban-ness of Seattle exacerbates the issue.  Seattleites expect frequent bus service in relatively low-density neighborhoods, and older riders need to get on the bus just to get groceries. The QFC on Broadway seemed to be the go-to.  Shockingly, no one in the meeting shops at the nearby Grocery Outlet on MLK and Union.  One obvious solution would be to put a grocery store in Madrona proper, maybe with some apartments above it.  Apartments would mean more people, and thus justify more transit service.  But I’m pretty sure you’d get ridden out of that meeting on a rail (pun intended) if you proposed anything like that.
  • The residents of Madrona are quite scared of downtown, despite living just 2 miles from it. The idea of transferring to get to Queen Anne was a terrifying prospect, especially at night.  I wonder how much of that is based on downtown today, versus how they might remember it from 10-20 years ago.
  • For many riders, speed is not an issue.  The slow “milk run” routes are not really a problem for riders who aren’t in a rush to get anywhere.  How do you balance the needs of a transit-dependent person who needs to go to the grocery store once or twice a week with a downtown worker who rides 10 times a week?
As for me, I can see the benefits of the changes detailed by Bruce @ STB and I support them overall, even though it’ll mean I have to walk an extra two blocks to and from work. But I still feel like we’re doing something wrong by pouring all our bus service through a few East-West corridors (like Madison) rather than amping up the grid across the city with more transit-only lanes.  But maybe that’s wishful thinking.
I’d encourage everyone to take the survey and tell Metro what you think.  They’re listening.

6 responses to “Route 2”

  1. News Roundup: Number One - Seattle Transit Blog

    [...] Road has some smart observations about the Route 2 debate. Also, [...]

  2. Matt the Engineer

    Did a large number of people claim they ride all the way to Queen Anne? I’ve lived at the other end of the 2 for over 8 years, and have never ridden the bus to Madrona. I’m not sure I knew it went to Madrona – I had a vague feeling it went up past Seattle U somewhere, but that’s it.

  3. justinf

    I also live in Madrona, ride the 2 regularly, and attended the meeting. I agree with your summary of the meeting and the issues.

    I thought the three Metro representatives did a great job — they were informative, diplomatic, and patient. The crowd was rude and hostile. Metro was accused of 1) sacrificing service in the city for improvements to suburban service, 2) trying to sneak the service changes by without announcing them, and 3) not considering the needs of the elderly and disabled.

    A Metro rep gave a good explanation of the reasons for the proposed changes to the 2, but as Frank notes, the reps didn’t explain the system-wide changes and the benefits of those changes.

    However, even if they had given a compelling presentation of the benefits of the proposed service changes, it wouldn’t have made a difference. One thing that became obvious as the meeting went on is that the opponents of this change only ride the 2. They don’t transfer (yes, they are terrified of downtown), they don’t care how long the trip takes, they only ride to destinations along the current 2 route, they don’t like walking more than a block.

    They don’t even care about the other bus serving Madrona. No questions were asked about changes to the 3. The only time the 3 was mentioned was when a Metro rep proposed the 3 for a woman who didn’t want to lose her one-seat ride to Key Arena. This was met with silence and blank stares. Apparently these people are also terrified of the 3.

    One elderly man made a dismissive comment about the network, and the scorn was palpable when he said “network.” Because they don’t ride any other routes, these folks don’t perceive any benefits from improvements to the system as a whole.

    When a group’s priorities are so clearly opposed to Metro’s goals, how can Metro work with them to resolve the situation? Service improvements that will benefit the vast majority of riders and bring in new riders shouldn’t be sacrificed to appease a tiny but vocal minority.

  4. Building Coalitions - Seattle Transit Blog

    [...] it. People are more likely to come out of the woodwork to oppose something, be it the Iraq War or changes to the Route 2, than to support something new. But people do come out to celebrate the new, if they sense [...]