Previously posted on July 27th at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/evandodds/Blog/cns!1phaOgcvNsBxzvBN9Zpx1vbQ!128.entry
So what’s the difference between “mass transit” and “mass rapid transit”? Well, there’s probably a lot of websites out there that’ll give good definitions and better explanations than this… but I can boil it all down pretty easily.
When you add the word “rapid” in there, it’s not just to indicate “speed”. Sure, everyone wants to get from point A to point B faster on public/mass transit, but just making it faster is not all there is to it. So my translation of the word “rapid” in “rapid transit” is really into two other word: frequent and consistent.
Frequent – If you have to wait 30 minutes for the next bus, it’s not rapid transit even if the bus then spins the tires as it pulls away from the curb at 90 miles per hour.
Consistent – If you sit (stopped or slow) in traffic on the highway for 30 minutes — or conversely, if your once-every-30-minutes bus is 20 mins late because it was stuck in traffic — it can’t possibly be rapid transit.
So, here in Seattle transit is totally broken. It’s totally broken because even at the peak times, buses near my (fairly well populated area) condo only run every 20 mins or so. There are a couple of different routes, so I suppose if I wanted to go downtown or if I wanted to head south to Rainier Beach I might not have to wait that long. And occasionally I’ll get lucky and the bus will come within a few mins. But statistically, it only comes around every 20 mins during peak time. And as infrequently as once per 45mins-1 hour during the early morning hours when Jodi needs to catch it. So I end up driving her to work some morning instead of her taking the bus. Because as inconvienient as this is, it’s still better than waiting for the bus and being late!
It’s also broken because even when the bus shows up in a timely manner, it gets totally stuck in traffic just like any other vehicle. This hasn’t been as much of a problem for me on the surface streets (so, for instance, the 48 bus tends to do just fine on 23rd avenue). Where this is REALLY a problem that I’ve experienced is on the SR-520 bridge. There are carpool lanes intermittently coming back west on SR520, but they start and stop and cars have to merge into the highway across these lanes, causing havoc. And worse yet, when there’s a wreck somewhere on SR520 (like there was last night), it can take > 1 hour to go the 8 or so miles I have to travel on this route.
Definitely not rapid transit!
So, what would fix it? What would be my ideal transit system?
I’d love to see a hub-based system that is both frequent and consistent. I certainly wouldn’t mind having to route far out of my way (completely the wrong direction, west towards downtown, say) if it would be frequent and consistent.
I’d love to see radial train/monorail/light-rail/magic-carpet lines that converge on the downtown. Jump the train at my corner (or even up to a couple of blocks away) and take it to, say, the King St station. It wouldn’t matter that it’s going the wrong way because I’d only have to wait 5-10 minutes for it. And it would only stop once or twice in the 2 miles to get downtown (staggered stations for each radial line, perhaps). No need to stop for traffic lights. No stopping on each corner like a bus.
So, in about 7-12 minutes I’d be in the heart of downtown where I’d have myriad transit options. Bus to specific areas off the main drag, rapid transit (again 5-10 minute headway) to various other “hub” points around the downtown. And, the most important part, rapid transit (5-10 min headway) out to regional hubs. We already have these regional hubs. They’re called transit centers. They’re strategically located throughout the region based on transit demand.
Ideally, I’d now be about 7-12 minutes into my trip, sitting at the King Street Station. I’d wait at most another 5-10 minutes for my train to Overlake transit center. Heck, let’s even be generous and say there’s no direct way… realistically, it’d probably route through the Bellevue transit center on the way so perhaps I’d be waiting for that train. 12-22 minutes into my trip I’d be underway for bellevue, probably about a 10-15 minute trip if we don’t have to stop-and-go for traffic. In Bellevue, I’d just stay on the same train potentially and work my way over to the Overlake stop. or maybe I’d have to transfer. I wouldn’t care! At the end of the day, I’d have a trip from my condo out to Overlake that didn’t make me wait, and didn’t get stuck in traffic.
And the most important part — I WOULD FEEL LIKE IT WAS EASIER THAN DRIVING MY CAR! Yes, you got it. That’s the biggest reason people don’t take public transit. Because it’s a huge pain, and it’s so much easier to just drive their own car. If you make it EASIER to take transit than to drive a car, more people will take transit regularly.
Oh well, that’s enough ranting for today on transit. Seattle is a heck of a city and I love it here so far, which is why I am so frustrated by the transit problems. If you read this and you know how to fix these problems, please let me know. I’d like to be more in-the-know on what’s going on to fix these issues.