Anchorage: A Clear Conversation on Transit Choices


Updated 23 Dec 2016 with concept maps and link to Next City article.

Our firm’s work for the Alaska’s largest city has turned into a public conversation about two possible futures for the transit network.  As often, the choice is the ridership-coverage trade-off:  Should the transit agency try to go everywhere with mediocre service, or should it focus on the places where high ridership is possible, and run good service there?

The city’s online presentation is very thorough.  You can explore the two concepts in detail, but you can also look at isochrones showing how your ability to get places changes under each scenario.  It’s the process we recommend for many studies at this point, since it turns the conversation away from proposals — with their tendency to polarize people into “support” and “oppose” camps — and focus instead of alternatives that each have advantages and disadvantages.

Here are the two alternative concepts.  Remember, these are not yes/no alternatives.  They are points on a spectrum and the final decision may be anywhere along that spectrum.



The Alaska Dispatch-News has a story on the process (though it inaccurately calls the concepts “proposals”).  For a really fun read, have a look at this unsigned opinion piece in the Anchorage Press.  The writer captures the special frustration of having lots of bus routes to choose from, none of which may actually be coming:

Between downtown and [University of Alaska], I’m spoiled with five options. When I miss the 3, a direct connector, I know the frequent [but circuitous] 45 won’t be long. If I’m really lucky, I’ll catch the 102, truly the unicorn of Anchorage bus routes (operating pretty much never, this rare but beautiful beast boomerangs through downtown on a route where red lights are rare and left turns are rarer). The far-flung 36 is obviously not my option, as it hugs Turnagain/West Anchorage, but the 13 seems blissfully benign, a loping zigzag across the city.

Often, when I’ve missed the 3 in the dead of winter, the 13 beckons with its bright lights twinkling “Downtown.” I know it’s a mistake, but it’s cold and I can’t help but climb aboard. Like traversing the doldrums, there’s no wind in the sails but at least it’s warm. So I steer into the Bermuda Triangle of bus routes, hoping to someday make it home.

It gives quite an attentive tour of Route 13, Anchorage’s most circuitous bus route.  Here’s the map if want to follow along.

Update:  Jen Kinney at Next City has a good piece on the plan.


5 Responses to Anchorage: A Clear Conversation on Transit Choices

  1. el_slapper December 5, 2016 at 3:09 am #

    in terms of circuitous routes, Montpellier is plagued with them.

    Take a special look at route 9. Starts with a 180° turn around the hill of Grammont(probably the only justifiable turn, due to topology), then zigzags a little bit West-South-West to my home, Then full North for a long time up to the Eureka park, then South-West for more than one kilometer, with an insane loop around the Place de L’Europe, Then back straight to the North, ending up Easttwards towards Apollo – less than 500 meters from the Eureka Park stop…..

    Tram routes are not very good either(besides the 3, which is already not perfect), but bus lines are simply drunk. My uneduicated guess is that they just looked for destinations not linked by the tram, and throwed buses ther to keep the illusion of coverage.

  2. George Lane December 6, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

    I think our 555 gives it a good run for it’s money. Cannot wait for the new network.

    • el_slapper December 7, 2016 at 1:48 am #

      Ah yes, not “bad” either, in terms of zigzag route design.

  3. David Totten December 12, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    I rode the 36 from my apartment in Spenard to the University of Alaska every day, back in the 1990s, while getting my undergrad. Later, as a reporter, I covered the “Anchorage 20/20” Comp Plan process extensively. Its failure is one of the great missed opportunities in the city’s history, and the inspiration for my going back to school to become a planner. I’d like to think that Walker & People Mover’s focus on a practical, outcome-oriented plan for the transit system will be another chance to put the 20/20 plan’s smart growth thinking into real action. Congrats to Mayor Berkowitz for seeing what a great potential asset he has in the People Mover! And, I’m hoping that the Spenard Complete Streets groups and others can capitalize on all of this work to make the city even more livable.

  4. Jarrett December 23, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    This article was updated 23 Dec 2016 with maps from the plan and a link to the Next City article. Comments above this point refer to the old version.