Seattle, A Tech Friendly Town? Sort of…

I’m going to start out with a rant, probably end with a rant too.  Seattle has some serious catching up to do.  For such a smart, educated, progressive city it has really missed a few key advances compared to Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia.  I’m going to cover a few of these points now, so get ready.

First Point, I Want Transit Data NOW

Trimet has been a leader in this for about 6+ years.  Metro, Sound, Pierce, and the other agencies can’t seem to coordinate this in an efficient, standards based way.  Even though Vancouver, BC hasn’t been a leader with this, they’ve definitely made short order of catching up.

The solution is for the Seattle area agencies to coordinate and get the web services deployed, possibly using cloud technology (Amazon & Microsoft are IN TOWN!?!?!?), that provides real time location and other information.  This has been provided by TriMet for years, and even the MTA in New York (notoriously behind on technology too) has started providing this data.

Second Point

Timeliness has fallen apart completely in the US.  Metro, Sound, and others are on queue for this.  Especially Metro, as I haven’t ridden a bus that is on time. I know I know, it is inherent in any mixed travel lane service.  This is true.  Sound proves this even further with the timeliness of the Sound Commuter Rail.  Their on time arrivals are very high percentages.  But the bus system desperately needs help.

Solution is to either get the first point above taken care of ASAP or get services that can be on time (i.e. BRT, LRT, and dedicated transit lines).

Third Point

Actually get downtown figured out, and stop giving everything to the automobile.  If Seattle wants to get closer to the smart populations of Portland, Vancouver, Chicago, or New York in regards to transit share.  Better yet, get closer to a larger walking share.  Seattle transit authorities need to find some way to work closer with developers and getting downtown oriented more for pedestrians, especially in the residential parts of downtown.

Downtown Seattle absolutely kicks ass.  It is a fun place to be, a fun place to live, and can be very efficient.  However, the transit and development hasn’t lent itself to appropriate pedestrian friendliness.  There needs to be more tree lined streets, dedicated pedestrian crossings (especially on Pike & Pine), and other pedestrian friendly requirements.  New Orleans has it, Portland, Vancouver, and even parts of New York, Chicago, and other places.  Seattle has a rough spot around this aspect of life though.

Solutions Right Here in the City

Some prime examples of pedestrian friendly areas include Fremont, and Ballard.  These two town centers actually provide great examples of intelligent build up that Seattle might take care to notice.  Such as the tree lined streets, a number of streets that are no more than two lanes (yes, Seattle IMHO should decrease the size of some of their multi-lane boulevards).  This creates a much better atmosphere for street shopping, and other such pedestrian activities.

There are other points, and I know Seattle is working on learning from these areas, but it needs to a bit harder.  Seattle needs some hard line edge against the “let’s build more really big roads” mentality.  It doesn’t work and there is enough evidence to point that out.  I’m not anti-car, just anti-car commuter (the SOV people).  The “congestion” based lifestyle that so many “keeping up with the Jones’” create lies in the realm of mass stupidity.  Maybe one day we can cure it?

Transporting the Smarts

While riding the bus recently, I was contemplating the absolutely gregarious myth that public transportation is for the poor and downtrodden.  Of course, this myth isn’t particularly held by those that actually know about cities, urban lifestyles, and other such things.  However there are a large number of people (namely on random AM radio talk shows) that hold this myth to be true.  They hold it as if it is some real redistribution of wealth, some hand out to the poor, or just some hand out in general.

As I sit here riding the #545 toward Microsoft, I realize just how objectively wrong they are.  There are approximately 60+ people on this bus as it travels across the bridge toward Microsoft.  These 60+ people have a median taxable income near the upper 93-95% bracket.  That means the following facts are true:

  1. These people are absolutely not poor, in any sense of the word.
  2. These people are in the bracket that pays the largest percentage of tax share to the Government.  In other words these people pay approximately 1.8-2.4x their costs incurred by the Government.

Think about that for a second.  These people are the bread and butter of America’s Economy right now.  The part of the economy that is actually creating jobs, not shedding them.  The part of the economy that is growing still.

In another part of town, Amazon has thousands of people coming in on busses and even walking to work (which I’d say is a better corporate citizen than Microsoft when it comes to environmental and economic activity).

Again, the facts for these individuals hold true also.  Amazon is growing massively.  They pay very well and need intelligent and highly skilled people.  Everyday they’re hiring more people.

Both of these companies have a large percentage of employees that use public transit to get to and from work, and in both situations both companies provide private transit agencies to get employees back and forth to the various areas of their campuses.  Both of these companies are prime examples of what should be encouraged and perpetuated in cities throughout America.  These companies are also prime examples of employers, that don’t require you to have a car.  Going car free with Amazon or Microsoft is super easy, and with either you could be an urban, suburban, or even rural person and get away with being car free.

So get rid of the myths if you hold them, you’re holding things that are not true in the least if you have that thought.  Public transit is vital to our most productive and growing industries.

Metro (and Sound Transit) Rock Star Drivers!

I made perfect connections this morning!  I was stoked!  After boarding the Metro #5 to cover a few quick blocks to downtown I then transferred to the next #545 coming down the street.  To make matters even more awesome, another #545 had just come by running late.  So when I boarded this bus I was the first rider of the route.

This is when the rock star maneuvering of empowered drivers took effect.  We were bunched so closely with the leading #545, it was picking up customers that would normally have been riding this bus.  The driver decided proactively to circumvent the twisted street up off of Olive way and instead head to Montlake.  This would serve two purposes, relieve some of the packing on the first bus, and enable a reasonable pickup for this bus.

The idea worked beautifully!  My commute was looking to be a record 19 minutes flat on the #545.  I’m impressed.  TriMet, eat your heart out on that maneuverability!