Anchorage: Alaska’s First Frequent Network

We’re happy to announce that Anchorage’s new bus network, for which we were the planning consultants, went live yesterday.  Without adding much operating cost, it introduces a network of four frequent lines — shown in red — where there were previously none. See these maps in high resolution here.

Anchorage Comparison Maps on letterhead

Again, the colors matter: red means high frequency (every <=15 minutes) while blue means every 30 minutes, green means every 60 minutes, and brown means less frequent than that.

(And if you like trivia, this is the northernmost Frequent Network in its hemisphere!)

This plan was the result of a two-stage public conversation which began by thinking about the trade-off between ridership goals and coverage goals.  The first round of that process led to a decision to lean heavily toward ridership — which means focusing resources where demand is highest instead of trying to cover the whole city.  So as always, a no-growth plan isn’t good news for everyone.  You can see several route segments disappearing.

We worked hard, though, to minimize that impact.  In the urban grid in the northern part of the city, lots of little hourly segments winding between the major grid streets have been removed, but there is still some service within walking distance for most of these people.  Further south and west, the development pattern is more scattered and less walkable, so focusing on high-demand areas meant complete deletion of service to some low-demand areas.

Remember, we didn’t propose this shift toward ridership.  As always, we laid out options and let the community decide.  If a community decided it wanted less frequency in order to have more coverage, we’d help them do that, too.

Another moral to this story: Active political leadership matters!  These plans usually need at least one political leader to show active interest, not just passive support.  Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz took personal interest in this project, engaging with it far more than any mayor in any city we’ve worked in so far.  His leadership was critical to pushing it over the line.

We really enjoyed collaborating with the great staff at Anchorage’s municipal transit department, People Mover.  It was a fun project for us from start to finish, because we were dealing with people who were really enthusiastic about making a better system.



14 Responses to Anchorage: Alaska’s First Frequent Network

  1. MB October 24, 2017 at 5:21 pm #

    Why not use service innovations like Taxibus for low demand areas, instead of cutting them out completely? Public transit is useless if you can’t access whole swaths of a city.

    • el_slapper October 25, 2017 at 2:01 am #

      That will probably be meat for driverless cars, in the future. Right now, it’s insanely expensive. Living far from everything has a cost.

      • MB October 25, 2017 at 3:17 pm #

        It is not insanely expensive. It can be provided with low cost options like Taxibus which really only cost anything if a ride is requested. Many cities do this, and it works great.

      • Walt Hill November 1, 2017 at 9:44 am #

        Driverless is a horrifying idea that must be stopped. But for now, Mr. Walker’s concept in Alaska should be discussed. His new transit map cuts off tons of people in Anchorage, such as those along Johns Rd, where the Route 60 ran, forcing them to walk down a street called 120th Ave, to catch the bus which now runs along a parallel street, Old Seward Hwy. This new map is awful, and further yet, there are examples all over the place where his new map cuts people off that once took transit and now must walk further, including elderly people.

        Another example is how the bus 31 now bus 8, bypasses the Four Seasons Hotel just north of Ira Walker Park (East of Russian Jack Park on the Map). This new system is horrendous and cuts off so many residents and visitors.

  2. MB October 24, 2017 at 5:28 pm #

    This is not really a frequent service network. The 15 min service is only during the daytime on weekdays.

    • Qantas94Heavy October 27, 2017 at 5:34 pm #

      Things have to be taken in the context of the local situation and budget restraints. For example, many services are now “frequent” for longer every day, making them more feasible to actually use these bus routes to get around.

      For example, with the old timetable, route 45 was only every 20 minutes until 4:10pm, then 30 minutes until 7:15pm, then hourly.

      With the new timetable, route 20 (equivalent to old route 45) will run every 15 minutes until 7:11pm, then 30 minutes until 9:36pm, then roughly hourly.

      Weekend service on route 20 is also now every 30 minutes instead of hourly with the old route 45.

      So overall, while it might not technically qualify as “frequent service” under the standards of large European cities, it’s still a far better and more usable service compared to before. (Only if you live near these routes though — tough luck if you don’t.)

  3. Tom October 24, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

    Actually, Reykjavík still has the northernmost frequent network in the western hemisphere

    • Garth MacLeod October 26, 2017 at 1:30 am #

      What is the most Northern frequent network in the world?

  4. Joshua October 25, 2017 at 9:32 pm #

    A bit disingenuous me thinks. The map you show is not the concept you proposed. It was drafted by planning staff after a public process months after your contract expired.

    • Jarrett Walker November 1, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

      Joshua. Where do I say we “proposed” anything? What we do is not propose, but help clients think through issues. The final map contains a lot of our design ideas, but what matters is that we helped organize the conversation and get to an outcome that they like.

  5. Stevens Rod October 27, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    What’s interesting here is the context. I haven’t been there since the early 1980s, but Anchorage then struck me as one of the most sprawling, low density cities I’d ever seen. I do see that it ranks highly elsewhere on bike lanes, perhaps in connection with the regional, lighted trails system they created. I think it’s unfair to impose European standards, built up against dense, old cities, on a place like Anchorage, in a state where all the money comes from oil. In many ways it is the Houston of the north, so having even a half-baked transit is better than none, and this one looks like an attempt to improve service for those who do live near transit. It would be very interesting to know the rider profile– is this a system primarily for low-income people making trips to service jobs, or also for white collar people working for government, law firms, and oil companies downtown? That question of who the system serves, and how best, should underlie every discussion.

    • MB October 28, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

      The system should serve everyone. This is the problem with most American transit systems. It is looked at as just a service for people who have no other option.

  6. ajedrez November 6, 2017 at 12:44 am #

    One thing I noticed offhand (aside from the large, unnecessary gaps in coverage. I mean, on one hand, you say #60 ridership on Old Seward is comparable to #9 ridership on Artic, even with the higher headways, and then you eliminate the #60?) is that you eliminated the last trip on Saturday even on the busy routes. I would think it would be better to have less frequent service at the beginning and/or end of the day, but maintain the same span.

  7. Jennifer November 6, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    Funny. I’d more equivocate Mr Walker’s services as the dnc, media & Hillary campaign all working together in order to create the illusion of a fair election, when in reality they are pushing an agenda behind closed doors. Why aren’t Mr. Walker’s entire conversations with transit agencies made public? All email, attachments, everything. People have a right to know.