Archive for Transit

Partial Credit at the University of Washington

Yesterday, Gabriel and I took a few hours in the afternoon to go walk around the UW campus. Well, actually it was more like 2 hours and 45 mins of this was for the bus-ride up and back.

Yes, that’s right.. the bus ride. I haven’t been taking the bus too much lately given my new work schedule — I keep G in the morning until Rachel arrives and come home later in the evening (making traffic a lot better and buses a lot less frequent). So, feeling a little bit guilty about the change, I decided to make use of the bus to get to the UW.

Riding the 48 bus north to UW on a Saturday wasn’t too bad. I felt a little awkward with him strapped in the stroller taking up part of the aisle, but he kept pretty busy watching the other passengers (particularly one fellow across the bus who was reading with great concentration).

Then we walked all around the UW for an hour or so and had a great time. It was kind of fun to walk around the core of campus with all the students swirling around us. G was enthralled watching the mass of students passing in every direction! I found it sort of funny too that of the only two (totally separate) conversations I was really able to overhear as we walked… both involved the speaker’s relief that they would qualify for “partial credit” on their project. Ah, mediocrity.

In any case, we finished up by hopping the southbound 48 bus from the NW end of campus. Strangely, this bus driver insisted that I take G out of the stroller. It seemed strange to me that he’d somehow be safer squirming around in my arms as I tried to keep the stroller from moving away (vs just remaining strapped into the 5-point restraint in the stroller so I only have to focus on keeping the stroller from moving). But, I’m sure there was some exam at Metro Transit Bus Driver school where you don’t even get partial credit for allowing the first option. 🙂

We made it home safely. Success!

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Central-Link Light Rail Advances!

This one is, by now, a couple weeks old… but I’m still super-excited to link to this super-cool update/photo from Sound Transit.

Here’s the photo and text, reproduced below:

A Look Ahead

This week Seattle got a preview of future Link light rail service. This photo captures the first tests of a two-car train operating under electrical power. Trains will run with an operator in the front car controlling speed, braking and operations functions. These tests confirmed that the communications and controls between the cars function as designed. Two-car trains will be used when Link begins providing passenger service between Seattle and SeaTac in 2009.

Two car light rail train

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Only buses on 3rd Ave

Thank goodness, they’ve (finally) made it official that they’ll keep 3rd Ave bus-only — even after (some of) the buses go back into the transit tunnel in September: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/325422_bus28.html.

This has worked great for the last few years, and it’s the closest thing we can get to a “BRT right of way” in downtown Seattle; in particular since the buses going below the surface to the tunnel is such a short-term thing. If you really think about it, does anyone really think the bus+train combination is going to last more than a few years before those buses get bumped back out in favor of more trains?

Now, if they can just move bus stops to every 4th block in this corridor instead of every other block, we’ll really be getting somewhere. On a trip from 23rd+Jackson to Pike Street, easily 75% of the time is spent stopping every other block on 3rd Ave to let 20% of the bus on and off at each stop. Traveling through downtown Seattle on a bus is arduous and awful for a number of reasons (no AC, poor behavior of riders, etc) — moving the stops out a bit to get buses through faster would be a great way to get things moving faster in this corridor.

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Investment Guy on the Bus

A week or two ago I had an interesting experience on the 14 bus. I was riding home from something downtown (I forget what) at around 4 or 5pm. The bus was mostly full, and I found myself in one of the few seats near the back of the bus.

What caught my attention was that moments after sitting down, I was drawn into listening to a conversation between a teenager and a man in his late 20s or maybe 30s. The adult was telling the teenager about his (the adult’s) job as an investment banker and about investing. The teenager was listening and asking questions.

The investment banker was telling the teenager about investing in the stock market, what is the stock market, how does it “pay you interest”, how he (the adult) had done all this and was in the process of becoming wealthy, etc. The teenager — initially proud of the large roll of cash in his pocket — quickly got caught up in respecting his elder and hypothesizing about how much money there was to be made by investing.

Eventually, the teenager reached his stop and left the bus, waving goodbye to the adult.

It was particularly interesting that upon entering the bus, either of these two loud-talkers on the back of the bus could have been perceived as intimidating or dangerous but by the time we’d made our way up South Jackson street for 5-10 minutes, they both seemed intelligent and respectful. A future full of promise for all, and thanks to the “Investment Guy” on the 14 bus for putting sensible thoughts about money into at least one young mind.

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Chasing after buses

I’ve posted before about roughly the same thing that Charles is referring to (ie – bus drivers who won’t let you on after they’ve inched out from the marked curb-stop and out to the red-light). Here were my thoughts on when it happened to me at Overlake TC one time…

It’s a massive pain when bus drivers are so rigid as to sit there stoically through the 2 minutes of red-light, being careful not to make eye contact. And it’s probably even worse if you’re hauling a couple of kids in your sprint toward the bus.

That said, Jodi and I had an experience the other day which changed my perspective on this a little bit, at least for buses while they’re operating in the downtown corridor. I now have a lot less tolerance for those who run after buses that have left the pickup zone while downtown.

Jodi and I were riding the 14 bus last Friday evening to the downtown. We did a driver-swap at 5th and Jax, which meant the bus was stopped at this corner for about 3-5 minutes… no short stops here.

But of course, the instant the bus pulled away toward the corner, up runs two youths cussing and screaming that the bus driver stop to let them on. Our busdriver (a fairly new driver, I got the sense) reasonably did not stop in the middle of the road (we had a green light) to let them on.

However, these two kids were having none of it. They cussed and screamed and kicked the door and pounded the sides of the bus. Total hooligans, and I’d say most of us were rightly glad he didn’t let them on.

But it gets worse.

I mentioned to Jodi that the next stop was only a block or two away, and we were about to get stopped at another traffic light so “if they really wanted to get on the bus…”, it should be fairly easy to do so at that next stop.

Well, it turns out they figured this out. They came running up at the next stop and (free ride area) darted in the back door of the bus. I suppose the bus driver was in a bit of a hard place here, since on the one hand this time they were at the stop in time to get on… but on the other hand, they’d just been cussing him out and kicking the bus 60 seconds earlier.

So now they’re on the bus and most everyone on the bus is (duely) nervous that these folks who clearly lack self-control are among us. Great. I was even a little worried that they might ride until most passengers had cleared out and then cause the driver retributive harm for not letting them on. Ugh, scary to be a Metro driver!

Fortunately they got off the bus about 2 stops later. Unfortunately, they “got back at the bus driver” by trying to snatch-and-run out the door with the ipod of a woman sitting at the front of the bus. We called 911, the driver pressed the panic button, and we all sat there a few minutes ruminating on how much damage a couple of young, misguided thugs could do in just 3 minutes and 4 blocks time.

They didn’t get her ipod, thank goodness. And, as far as I could tell, we were all more “shook up” than hurt. But presumably these idiots did get clean away, running empty-handed off into the night for more thuggery.

Here’s hoping they both got run over a block away. No, I don’t wish that on some innocent driver along 2nd Ave. Here’s hoping they tripped and fell down a sewer drain somewhere near the sound and then floated away to sea. Yeah, that’ll do. They don’t belong in my city. They don’t belong in anyone’s city. They belong in prison.

The whole episode reminded me a bit of the scene in the movie Crash with “Peter” and “Anthony” complaining about how badly they’re discriminated against (white people crossing the street as they walk by, etc). To each other, these two wonder out-loud why this is happening in society today and point out what a shame it is.

Then they decide that maybe it’s because they (Peter and Anthony) have guns… at which point they proceed to carjack someone. Totally unexpected, given the context of the discrimination discussion leading up to it. The whole point is that you’re supposed to feel terrible for implicitly discriminating against these two respectable, young black males, and they’re reminding you of it. And then the very next second they fulfill your worst fears — the very things you were just feeling bad about thinking!

A spot-on movie scene, and an unfortunate re-creation in real life.

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“Seattle Traffic” lacks understanding

I can help to answer a question posted the other day to the Seattle Traffic blog. (and yes, I realize it’s rhetorical.)

I believe that high tolls would have the dual effect of paying for construction and reducing traffic as people make other commute decisions. Over time it would probably also cause people to re-think the wisdom of living and working on opposite sides of a major body of water. Of course, I’ve never understood why people would do that in the first place, tolls or not.

Let me add some understanding to your life, Mr Traffic… some of us live and work on opposite sides of the water because we’re married. Married to folks who live and work on the SAME side of the water.

I work on the eastside. My wife works in Seattle. We both live in Seattle. Short of one of us quitting/changing jobs (not too likely), getting to telecommute 100% (slightly more likely, but still pretty farfetched), or getting divorced (terrible!)… it seems like one or the other of us will have to commute across the lake.

I wouldn’t even mind high tolls, even if they were applied to both bridges… with the caveat: I can take public transportation that doesn’t get stuck in traffic and bypasses the toll.

I’m all about taking the bus/train/teleporter to work rather than a car. I just hate getting stuck (in the bus) in horrible stopped traffic. Now, I don’t delude myself into thinking that some not-insignificant part of the commuting public taking the bus will really do much about “reducing traffic”. There’s always more to back-fill any “reduced traffic” that appears.

The real problem is how do we solve the transit problem so that riding mass (rapid) transit is *MORE* appealing than driving your car single-occupancy. If tolls can help, then let’s get some darn tolls already!

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520 Transit lanes NOT designed by anti-transit conspirators

Turns out I was wrong. I’d previously referred to the “right-hand-side-of-the-road” HOV lanes on SR-520 as having been designed by anti-transit conspirators.

I found out yesterday from an email thread on the “Bus Riders” email group at work what is the real story. This link has the details: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/HOV/FAQ.htm (emphasis in the block-quote is mine)

A carpool is any car with two or more people in it, including the driver. (Children and others without a driver’s license count as carpool passengers). There is only one exception to this rule: on SR 520 between I-405 and the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. This lane was originally designed as a shoulder and cannot safely handle large traffic volumes. It is designated as a 3+ section in order to limit the HOV volumes.

Ok, so that explains it: 520 between 405 and the bridge actually doesn’t have a HOV lane… it has a shoulder that was thoughtfully CONVERTED into a HOV lane.

I guess that means it’s only fair to revise my statement to: “SR-520 transit lanes were designed by PRO-transit conspirators”. The end result isn’t pretty, but it beats the heck out of having a wide shoulder in its place!

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Montlake Transfers, the 48, and the 545

Bus Chick Carla (who, incidentally, evidently only lives a few blocks away from me and often rides the same series of buses) posted a blog post that is 1/2 of a post I’d been meaning to put up for some time: http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/buschick/archives/110849.asp

In this post, she points out the insanity that is the process of getting from the 520 westbound “flyer” stop when exiting the ST545 bus and up (and across) to the southbound “island” stop where the 43 and 48 buses stop. This particular exercise is typically the most frustrating part of my day, and it leads to some of the problems I’ve previously observed here and here.

Short version of her post: it’s like running an obstacle course to get from the flyer stop to the island stop. You have to go up a long (ramp) hill, south a block, and then cross ALL-THREE-SIDES of an intersection (squaring it off) or go down the set of stairs and under Montlake to “cross” the street. I’ve discovered that even at a fast sprint up the hill (presuming I am unable to “dart”, dangerously, through stopped traffic on Montlake), it will take nearly 5 minutes to get from the 520 stop to the 48 pickup. Just awful.

And it leads into the 2nd half of the post I had intended to make: timing.

Given how random the bus arrivals are (traffic, number of stops requested, etc) I can’t even imagine how they make it happen, but inevitably as I watch mybus from my phone while stuck in 520 traffic I know that I’m just going to miss the 48. Barely. And quite often because of the horrible walk/run up and across the street that takes so long.

What’s a typical scenario? Well, I gauge it takes (best case) about 12 minutes from the time the 545 leaves Evergreen Point until I can be standing at the Island. This works okay if there’s no slow/stopped traffic on the 520 bridge or at Montlake, and it also assumes I can get up and over the street in my 5 min estimate.

The “inevitable” bit is that — with 12 minutes left before I get there — there is seemingly always one southbound 48 bus (let’s say to Columbia City) estimated to be at the island in about 5-7 minutes. No way I’ll make that one, of course. And then there’s another one 5-10 minutes behind (say, destined to Rainier/Walden or Rainier Beach)… now that’s one I ought to be able to get to, albeit just barely and perhaps by sprinting for it. And, each day, I say to myself “it’s a good thing there’s one coming 1-3 minutes after I’ll get there… won’t that be handy” because I notice that the next one (another Columbia City bus, perhaps) is running way behind and it’s now 20-30 minutes behind the 2nd bus in the pack.

Here’s where it breaks down. Over the course of that last 7 minutes on the bus, the first bus loses 2-3 minutes. Somehow. Every single day. So it ends up arriving just 2-3 minutes ahead of my 545. Still no way I can make it. But since the first bus is running further and further behind, it’s having to pick up more and more people who have collected during the long window with no bus; and the 2nd bus — with hardly anyone waiting to be picked up — ends up just right behind it (I’ve blogged about this frustrating bus-drafting technique before).

Yes, that’s correct: during that 7 minute travel across 520, my situation has changed from “1 bus a few minutes before me and 1 bus a few minutes after me” to the far less pleasant “both buses left (or are leaving) the island as the 545 pulls up to the montlake flyer stop” combined with “… and the next bus isn’t coming for 20-30 minutes”.

I don’t have a good solution. But I’m increasingly tempted to follow Carla’s example on days when it’s obvious I’ll just be standing around Montlake for a while and just ride the 545 all the way to downtown and work my way back home from there. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Metro, are you listening? I’m a dedicated bus rider and this is driving me nuts!

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ST2 Draft Package

On the 11th, Sound Transit announced the details of the ST2 “draft package” to the world. This fills in some of the proposed details for the ST2 plan that have been – to this point – fairly fluid and uncertain.

Exciting to see the proposal includes rail to Overlake Transit Center via Bellevue (as opposed to some of the earlier possibilities that ended in Bellevue, for instance). This is good news, although it can’t come soon enough — see my “we need rail” tirade from a few days ago.

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We so desperately need rail transit here in Seattle

Yesterday and today were proof positive that we desperately need rail transit in Seattle.

Last night, right at rush-hour we got dumped on out in Redmond — first some hail (to form a nice, slippery base) and then a couple of inches of snow that stuck firmly to the slushy hail. End result, hundreds of abandoned cars already stuck all over the roads by the time I left at 7pm.

Now, that’s unavoidable. Some folks will drive their cars and firmly believe that they can make it up (or down!) even the steepest icy hills without chains. I’m willing ot accept that some people are just foolish.

So what’s not unavoidable? How would rail have helped? Well… all those drivers who abandoned their cars combined with all of the folks who were already planning to use transit and converged on the buses. Buses that were idling at Overlake for hours. HOURS. Presumably because they were waiting for someone to bring them chains (which begs the question why we don’t keep chains WITH the bus, or at the very least in the transit center facility).

But even after these buses got chained up, they were going to be entering the parking lot that was 520.

Short version – there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to get home in a reasonable timeframe yesterday. No matter how much planning you did or how smart you were about taking transit, etc… you were out of luck unless you had just stayed home preemptively or were willing to walk home like so many did. That’s just broken.

Rail transit? Well, as evidenced in Denver the other week when they had the massive snowstorm that shut down the whole city, rail transit soldiers through. Masses of people descended on the Amtrak station to get out of Denver when this happened the other week. The same sort of thing would have worked here in Seattle yesterday. I — and THOUSANDS OF OTHERS who either had gotten their cars stuck or who simply decided to leave their cars parked safely in the parking garage at work — could have walked to Overlake and jumped right onto a fast, reliable light-rail train back through Bellevue and to Seattle.

Okay, so that’s yesterday’s impact. What about today? Well, this morning as I took Jodi to work at the VA (I drove her because it’s a 10 minute drive and a 60 minute bus trip… with transfers. And yes, I chained up the car) we noticed 23rd Ave was totally blocked right by Sam Smith park. Totally blocked by a jackknifed articulated metro bus. Presumably a 48 bus, based on the location. So even if Jodi had taken the bus today, she probably would have had a bad go at it given this result. Her 60 minute ride would probably have taken 2 hours or something.

How does this point to rail transit? Well, I think the central point of this whole post is that cars/buses/anything-that-runs-on-the-roads is quite liable to getting stuck or at least being significantly negatively impacted by bad weather conditions. Sure, maybe rail can face its own weather problems (here in seattle sometimes mudslides for tracks that are placed in ridiculous places, for instance)… but there have been at least 3-4 days THIS YEAR ALONE where it would have very specifically solved transit problems for MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE coming to/from Redmond MS campus alone. I’m sure it would have been many TENS OF THOUSANDS of people across the region who would have benefited.

And that doesn’t even take the daily commute benefits of rail (overcoming traffic caused by traffic, not by bad weather) into consideration. Grade separated rail that can avoid the terrible HOV lanes on 520. Grade separated rail that can be FASTER and MORE RELIABLE than driving myself to work. I’d take that 5 days/week.

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