A Nice Day for a Commute

Today the sky is without light, except for the ambient glow of the white overcast sky.  The rain is falling slowly and in spurts over certain parts of the city.  The drivers ply their directions into and out of downtown, looking around with the extra franticness that rain incurs.  Being the north west pedestrians still walk around with barely a notice of the drizzle or grey skies.  The buses still roll in and de-bus their hundreds upon hundreds of passengers.  3rd, 4th, and the other streets where egress takes places are full of transit commuters pouring out and onward to work.

I love it.  To me this is beautiful.  The flow of people, the meaning of their intent, the mastery of their day.  Modern humanity.  Some may see despair or slavery to the corporate machine, I see knowledge, security, and passion where it truly is.

On the bus I board, the #545 bound for Redmond, I already know the faces but not the names.  I get the friendly smiles and cursory glances of familiarity among the driver and fellow riders.  It is a warm feeling to have that basic familiarity with those around me.  At some point I will probably know some of their names as random conversations turn into actual meaningful discussions.  The banter rolls away and actual communication takes place.

As we roll up into the hills, to what I suppose is Capital Hill, we poke along at a very slow pace.  It’s always nice compared to the chaotic racket when driving down the Interstate.  It makes me wonder how many people are actually aware of the noise pollution high speed (30+ mph) thoroughfares have.  The noise is often very overbearing, as anyone that has ever lived by a highway or major road can probably verify.

The commute rolls on, rain and dreary overcast, and I have a grand smile on my face while I observe the world around me.  Transit, with the plush seats and comfortable ride, provides the ultimate platform for doing just that.


Blame BP For Oil Spill? How About Blame Yourselves!

A  little context:  http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/05/oil_reaches_louisiana_shores.html

o25_23537411[1] (Image Credit:  John Moore/Getty Images) Yeah, back with the transit attitude.  So obviously, unless you live under a rock, you know about the bubbling black gold coming out of the Gulf of Mexico.  One could argue that it is BP’s fault, it is the Government’s fault, it is X’s fault.  I’m just going to step out here and say, if you aren’t riding a bike for every bloody day of your life in the United States, IT IS YOUR FAULT!  Yup, that’s correct.  You are the reason that BP is out there.  You America are the reason we’re addicted to the catastrophe, now and the ongoing one.  You are the reason that communities have been destroyed by Interstate Construction, people live farther away from each other than ever in history. You, you, you, and you.  All of you that drive.  Even the people taking transit have some things to answer for.  Streetcars did create the original suburbs.

Needless to say, we need new energy sources.  We need to clean up the ones we have to keep using and we absolutely have to find a way to reconnect society in a better way.  This is especially true if the US seeks to maintain some type of integrity, success, and basic standard of living for the children of today.  YES, the children of today.  Not tomorrow, but today’s children have their very future at stake.  Some may say it’s their children’s problems, but no, that is not the case.  It is the children of today that have their future already in debt, it is their environment that is already partially wrecked, it is their spoiled lives that we’ve set to a path of laziness.  What they have on their shoulders only our grandparents and great grandparents even could guess.  We’ve lived in an age of ease and it is slowly but surely coming to close for the US.  Transit, zoning, and technology are our rescue, but the children of today, and the minds of today must mitigate the risks of tomorrow.

I’ve got my fingers crossed, as I’m always optimistic.  But there are some days this lack of action really drives at me.  This oil burbling up from the depths definitely doesn’t help my optimism for the future.

Walk, Ride, Around About Seattle, A Bit of Caffé Vita and Fremont

The Blur of Saturday Morning

It is Saturday.  I am feeling a bit retrospective.  New city, new residence, new places out there.  I decide I need to get out and about, otherwise I am going to get to feeling kind of ratty today.  Nothing like wandering to clear the mind, get one’s ideas straight, and get the motivation kicking again.

I got up around 8am, maybe later, not really sure.  I put myself together and out the door I went.  No coffee, no food, nothing but a laptop, cell phone, ORCA Card, and some wanderlust.

First I decided that coffee was in order, so I headed toward the Uptown Espresso at 4th and Wall.  However, just after crossing Denny by the Monorail, here comes a #8 (#8 route map) which just seems like the perfect route to kick off my day with.  So with a flicker of thought, and pondering if I’ll survive without coffee, I decide to board the bus.

We get to rolling and pass across I-5 and slowly make it up the hills toward Capitol Hill.  At John St & 15th I note a Safeway, which is important for the car free life.  In these parts the Safeways are often the cheap bulk stores that are great for commodity type goods.  Unlike the Whole Foods, which are great, but suck up every penny a poor soul has to their name.

The #8 route continues up and over the hills into residential streets.  Beautiful neighborhoods that remind me of north west neighborhoods.  The green is lush, the hills steep, and people walking about carrying on with their daily lives.

At Madison and MLK Streets there is a small slice of stores mixed into the middle of the neighborhood.  The bus just pokes along this section with us 4 riders.  Unlike other times I am not particularly observant today.  I haven’t noticed the people or been watching them.

I pull up another map, to see where my connection points are to get back into town.  The Sound Transit Link Light Rail has several connection points that look perfect.  I figure if anything, being deprived of coffee still, it ay be a good idea to grab the light rail back into town and and get a cup of coffee that I’d trust.

I finally transferred at the Othella Link Light Rail Station stop.  The #8 headed off on its southward route, and I walked around the station area.  The area was somewhat sketchy, nothing compared to my New Orleans days of wandering, but sketchy for the north west.  As always, this didn’t really both me and I walked about looking in the unopened stores.  At this time of the day, this part of town is shuttered.  I’m betting though if one wants some Pho or other Vietnamese treats, this is probably a good part of town for that.

Flanged Wheels Rolling and STOP

So I boarded the light rail train that came along next.  We zipped off quickly heading north into town.  I got a little curious about the tunnel station under Beacon Hill.  That curiosity kicked me into gear and I decided to go explore that area too.  I got off and headed up in the elevator to ground level.  I got out and this part of town was rather desolate.  I must admit, I’m not sure why Sound Transit or Seattle or whoever, decided to stick this station right here.  There is literally nothing that is particularly walkable from here.  Maybe it was hiding, but it definitely was not visible.

I walked a few blocks toward where I could see over the edge of Beacon Hill down upon the city.  Even though there wasn’t any immediately walkable coffee shops or such the view up here is spectacular.  I needed a panoramic camera to get this shot of the city!  One can see the shipping loaders, the SODO area, and of course downtown rising from the Earth.  Absolutely great view.  I’ll have to return here just for pictures upon getting a camera to do it justice.

I then headed back into the tunnel, boarded the next train, and zipped off toward the city again.  I love coming out of the tunnel on the raise section of rail overlooking SODO.  Being able to see the light rail facilities and passing along the bus facilities is interesting for a transit sleuth like me.  We rolled into SODO and then onward.  However at some point we came to a complete stop!  We just sat and sat there.  The recorded voice came on the speaker and said there is traffic and we’ll move forward in just a moment.

That left me with the thought, if the voice is recorded to say that, how often do they have delays on the light rail because of traffic?!?!!?  This is a dedicated, controlled, unimpeded right of way!  WTF!  Nonsense, again, if I ran transit this nonsense would be a thing of the past (at least with five 9s of no delays).  Anyway, not like I was unhappy, just kind of shocked at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Then after a few minutes the driver came onto the speaker as we sat, “There is a bus broken down in front of us so as soon as they get it moved we’ll pull into the station.”  Oh my god the perverse transit related irony of this situation!  A BUS is blocking the dedicated LIGHT RAIL.  I suppose though, this is the one part that isn’t dedicated.  This points out two issues – 1.  Buses break down (for whatever reason) a LOT.  2.  Rail based vehicles can’t pass things when appropriate infrastructure isn’t available (like passing tracks).

After the 13-15 minutes STOP we experienced we finally pulled forward.

Caffé Vita Mmmmm

I got off the light rail at this stop and walked over to Caffé Vita at 125 Prefontaine Place South Seattle, WA 98104-2672.  I knew this coffee shop from many previous visits to Seattle.  They make a high quality cappuccino which is much needed sometimes, especially on a day like this.

View Larger Map


Finally I headed out from Caffé Vita and north bound to Fremont via the #28 (#28 route map).  This route is initially the #23 (#23 route map) before it turns into the #28 I found.  This is a good thing to know, being that I didn’t, but d
ecided at the last minute I’d board the #23 to get further into town.  Once I got into town I got off, thinking that the #28 was coming and fortunately looked back at the bus and realized it now read #28.

This is by far another stupid point for Metro.  How the hell is anyone supposed to know the route change if all they’ve looked at is the time points or the numbers on the stop?  The stop had #28 listed, but #23 comes up to the stop?  That’s not good at all, that just introduces total confusion for riders.  But alas, I managed to get onto the correct route.

Awesome Hippy Land Communist Capitalist Fremont

Just toward the center of Fremont is an actual X-Soviet Statue of Lenin.  Yes, that guy that managed to create one of the most horrific Governments in all history.  Yeah, that dude!  His statue is on American soil standing in Fremont.  I found this hilarious and sad.  But wait, that isn’t the entirety of the sadness.  The reason it is here is because of an American individual who saw the statue toppled and desecrated in the then X-Soviet Union after the wall came down.  He re-mortgaged his house to get the status – which weighs tons – back into this country.  Nothing against the guy for liking art, but wow, that seems like a lot of trouble for a part of history that is of questionable perpetuation at best.  Anyway there is this statue, of him in front of arms (i.e. armaments of war) and flames moving into revolution as he did.  In an artistic sense this is awesome, in a tasteful sense it is of questionable nature to keep a statue that for millions represents great suffering and death.  But I digress, it really isn’t for me to say as I stood against and have always stood against what Lenin did.

I wondered about and found Tableau (a company I have worked with and almost prospectively worked for), and Adobe Office, and a bunch of other things in the Fremont area.  This is one of the cooler places in Seattle.  I got off the bus and wondered a good hour plus in this area of town.  There are coffee shops, diners, breakfast places, and much more.  I also found a great sandwich shop.

After wandering about for a time I went back and boarded the #26 (#26 route map) back into Belltown.  I retraced this route later, but as for the exploratory wandering this was it for me today.  Great fun, awesome discoveries, and more to come in the near future.  Enjoy.

The Comparison So Far: TriMet vs. Metro/Sound Transit

Ok, I am in week three of my new Seattle life.  All is rocking along, but I must say I have noticed some serious differences between the transit options in Portland versus Seattle.

For one, both cities now have pretty much the same type of core modes.

Seattle Portland
Bus (30~ ft, 40 ft, 60~ft) Bus (30~ ft, 40 ft)
Streetcar (Skoda Style) Streetcar (Skoda Style)
Light Rail Light Rail
Oddball Monorail Oddball Aerial Tram
Ferries (big, small, medium)  
Commuter Rail (Engine + Passenger Cars) Commuter Rail (DMU)

The biggest differences I have noticed are those that impact me the most.  I will go through each of those here.

  • Wireless is available on the Express Buses & Commuter Trains.  This absolutely ROCKS and Portland should have done this ages ago!  It is NOT expensive to do these days either.  Point – Seattle
  • Metro & Sound Transit actually have cushy, comfortable, enjoyable seats to sit in.  This is a big step up from TriMet’s Seats except on the WES BRDs.  Point – Seattle
  • TriMet’s fare system is about a billion times easier to use, understand, and in addition it is actually cheaper if one uses it well.  Sound Transit, or Metro, or whatever – the Seattle Transit Fare System is absolutely nutsy.  Major failure in my opinion.  Point – Portland
  • TriMet has a ton more light rail, and if you like light rail as I do, and prefer it over buses, TriMet wins in this category big time.  Buses just are NOT smooth vehicles.  I try to use the laptop, with the awesome wireless and I have to fight to keep the stupid thing on my lap!  The longer buses are even less off a smooth ride.  Not a big issue to me, I deal, but overall it really sucks.  Light rail is generally just a lot smoother.  Point – Portland.

Point wise, Portland and Seattle are even.  2 points each.

However, TriMet in my opinion is doing a much better job of providing transit that is easy to use over the Seattle area agencies.  However the Seattle area agencies are doing a much better job at providing nice, comfortable transit that mostly works (the scheduling and mapping is horrible to figure out – mostly at the fault of Metro).  I am also betting, per area resident, per cost per person, TriMet is probably doing better too.  That however is a study for another time.

The other contender.  If Portland had a Microsoft Transit

Ok, so I am a private (i.e. pro-citizen/individual) operator advocate.  I hate that cities have taken transit (as any long time reader of this blog knows), made authorities, taken control from individuals running and operating transit as non-profit, for profit, or otherwise.  However, there is still private transportation in some areas, albeit often on a small scale.  One example of a not-so-small scale operation is Microsoft’s Transit & Commuter Operations.

Microsoft itself runs its own transit and commuter operations.  It includes taxis, mini-buses, and actual buses.  They operate at efficiencies that Metro, Sound Transit, and TriMet could only dream of.  They all provide wifi, and in normal private fashion, they cost taxpayers a whopping $0.

The dispatch system and other features of the system are integrated into the reception desks, computers, and all sorts of devices to create efficiencies in pickup and delivery of riders.  Metro & Sound Transit in Seattle and TriMet in Portland absolutely need to send people to learn from Microsoft, because there is a LOT to learn from these private operators.

This alone, when working at Microsoft (which I am doing as a consultant right now) makes Seattle ROCK in so many way.  Not a system I have seen compares to the awesomeness of Microsoft’s System.

Point – Seattle!

With that stated, Seattle wins hands down.  Portland needs more private entity involvement.

Ah, Return of the Transit Sleuth

If anyone is still reading I am impressed and happy to know (so please toss in a comment!)

Anyway, I am now living in Seattle and riding the King County Metro and Sound Transit System on an almost daily basis now.  I must say, I’m impressed and unimpressed with some of the transit options up here, but it is at least as capable as TriMet.  That makes Seattle a pretty rocking city.  As always, I’ll now be blogging from up here, and of course blogging on trips down to o’ Portland too!

So stay tuned and I’ll have blog entries a flowing again soon.  Especially now that I actually have a commute again (Even though it is only about 25-45 minutes each way)!  🙂

I leave you with this hilarity (one of the things I do NOT find impressive, more or less just stupid)