The Frequent Network Plan

Frequent, fast, and affordable bus transit for Seattle

About the Frequent Network Plan

with 5 comments

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.

The key goals of this proposal are frequency and speed.  Within the urban parts of Seattle, almost every route would run at least every 15 minutes all day, with key routes that collectively serve every dense area of the city arriving every 8 or 10 minutes. Even in peripheral areas, many buses would run every 15 minutes, with the rest running at least every 30 minutes. There are no hourly routes.  Most routes are designed to run faster than current service, without deviations or bottlenecks. Routes are on straightforward, easy-to-understand corridors wherever the frequently odd geography of our city makes it possible.  Not only do frequency and speed improve the rider experience, they also allow more trips per service hour, improving the efficiency of the system.

To a fairly precise approximation, this proposal would not require any additional money. It is based on a well-educated estimate of the service hours required for the current all-day network, plus a small number of hours taken from current peak-only service that would be entirely redundant (in terms of both routing and frequency) with the planned all-day network. It does not address, or use any hours from, the majority of the current peak-only network.  The proposal is a 2021 vision; it relies on the completion of North Link as far as Northgate, and on the completed Seattle Waterfront project.

So what’s the catch? There are two. First, more transfers will be required. Some very heavily used one-seat rides would turn into two-seat rides, always with one or both legs on Link or an 8- or 10-minute bus line. Second, riders might have to walk a few extra blocks. Corridors in today’s network that are close together and not separated by steep hills are mostly consolidated. Many deviations that slow down service are removed. Service to some very-low-ridership areas is cut entirely, particularly if it requires a high number of service hours. For most of us, those changes should be a price well worth paying to get frequent and fast service throughout Seattle and North King County with no more money.

I should emphasize that it would be impossible to implement anything like this plan under the worst-case scenario of no CRC replacement funding and a 15%-17% service cut. If you cut 17% of the hours in the plan, most 10-minute routes would become 15-minute routes, and most of the longer 15-minute routes would become 30-minute routes.

Please forgive all mapmaking sins (or, better yet, offer feedback in comments); I remain a GIS and cartographic novice. Also, there is not yet a schematic map. Designing a schematic map covering the entire city is an enormously complex undertaking which I don’t have the skills or time to do.

I’ve written three reference posts covering the plan in more detail, which will likely be useful as you examine the maps:

  • short list including each all-day route, its base frequency, and its key corridor or destinations.
  • detailed route-by-route list of the all-day routes, with basic descriptions of each route and a listing of technical hurdles each proposed route would face.
  • cross-reference with current service, explaining how riders of current all-day routes would be served by this proposed network.

Answers to many more questions are in the Questions and Answers post.

I should particularly thank members of the STB community who have helped me develop and refine, and sometimes suggested, the ideas in this plan.  Bruce, Zach, Martin, Adam, Brent, Matt, Mike Orr, d.p., Anandakos, and Aleks, among others I’m sure I’ve left out, all deserve part of the credit, and I’m very grateful to be part of such a well-informed and collegial community.

Copyright 2013 David Lawson. This material is licensed under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0 license. You may freely modify and share it as long as this attribution remains.

v. 1.0.1


Written by David L.

July 30, 2013 at 19:56

5 Responses

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  1. David, would a schematic map help the vision? I’d be happy to start working on one, but it would probably take a few months before anything substantial came about.


    August 19, 2013 at 14:17

    • It would be very helpful indeed, and thank you for the offer. I know that at this scale it’s a heck of a project.

      David L.

      August 19, 2013 at 15:45

      • Yeah, the more I look at the map the more of an undertaking it looks to be. Perhaps I’ll just start with the high frequency routes. 🙂


        August 19, 2013 at 15:52

        • Only about 10 months later, and I’ve got a draft of a schematic frequency map done!

          What do you think, David? Anything you’d like specifically added/changed? In your interactive maps you say that the frequency specification is for the highest frequency service on the corridor rather than the combined frequency, but it looks to me like a number of them (4/13 on Queen Anne, 65/75 in the U District, etc) are combined, so I just ended up marking the same ones as you have on mine.


          June 12, 2014 at 02:18

        • Also, there are a number of lines that got kinda screwed up in the export to a PNG, so I’m working on cleaning those up.


          June 12, 2014 at 02:22

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