Green Transit

I was pondering recently, even with all the fussing the naysayers have about transit, what was accomplished when TriMet finished the Green Line connecting another couple of neighborhoods to the light rail system plus multiple park and rides.

The first thing was the system picked up another 17-18k riders per day. The riders on this line were almost entirely new at first. At least 10-15k of them. The busiest bus line in the city, the #72 plying up and down 82nd Avenue, saw almost zero change to the ridership. Being only about 1-6 blocks at various points from the light rail one might have thought some of the riders would have switched modes. The simple explanation is that the #72 serves a specific constituency and the light rail serves another constituency.

There is however one huge difference. After a period of 18-20 years Trimet will have spent – including infrastructure – less on the light rail service than on the bus service on 82nd Avenue while getting a growing ridership on the green line that will even surpass those estimates.

What does that mean?

It means Trimet will have more money to spend, operationally and for infrastructure, on other parts of the system.

Fast forward to my current city I’m living in. The light rail that Sound Transit is building is almost 10x the cost of what Portland is building. Primarily because Seattle’s Sound Transit is getting the light rail built in raised and subterranean infrastructure. This type of infrastructure is inordinately expensive. A cost, that at this point is unneeded.

Recently Federal Way requested that Sound Transit make sure the promise of light rail doesn’t disappear from the future. Right now, from a money perspective, Sound Transit has basically told the city it won’t be getting light rail. I see two massive problems here.

1. There isn’t money for the current plan to get light rail into Federal Way. That’s the plain and simple reality of the matter.
2. Sound Transit and most of the area Governments are inflexible on building light rail more cost consciously.

Now these are the two problems at the surface. Looking a little deeper, just below the surface, one will immediately notice the real problems. Both of which I’ve raised here at Transit Sleuth a number of times over the years.

The first problem is that the Government assumes the economy will do X and has almost no plans to mitigate when Y happens. Our currency is hosed, so an individual citizen of Seattle can safely assume that all plans moving forward that aren’t already under contraction and paid for are on the chopping block. Yes, EVERYTHING. Increasing funds and taxes won’t particularly help either until some politician in the White House gets the balls to do something about our currency and valuation against the global markets. Right now we’re sunk. That’s the summary position of problem #1.

Problem number two is a different beast. With the money that is allocated so far Sound Transit could do a lot of infrastructure investment. They could, in all honesty, get to Federal Way. The problem lies in Federal and State Regulation that causes Sound Transit to be rather inflexible in how or what they can do with that infrastructure money. This inflexibility we as citizens we do want and don’t want.

Either way, I digress, I hope that Seattle and Sound Transit can find a better way to get real infrastructure with high quality transit built. Right now the ambitions look good, but more reality needs brought to focus. This massive high cost light rail infrastructure probably is not the best way to go about getting higher capacity and higher quality transit to the Seattle area.

Transit Projects in Seattle

Out of all the transit projects that I’m excited about, the Capitol Hill Streetcar is up towards the top. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about the light rail efforts, but the city/Sound Transit is taking the slowest bloody route possible to get those done. I don’t even know if I’ll live in Settle anymore let alone close to it! Most of the big light rail changes the population that could use it now will be old! Absurd the lethargic speed in which things are being done here.

But I digress, check out the streetcar work starting! It’s gonna be exciting when it is done. I can only imagine how much more life it will bring to cap hill. I just hope it doesn’t damage through to much gentrification, a little wouldn’t hurt, but too much would be less than ideal.

Rethinking Transit #2: Make the Route Transitions Transparent

Ok this might actually take some effort on behalf of King County Metro. But seriously, it would help tremendously for anyone traveling through downtown. Most routes come into the city from the north, south, or east (the ferries come in from the west). One example is the #18, which arrives downtown from the north and then becomes another route. Sometimes it becomes the #56 or something else that then heads south, but I’m not always sure what it becomes. It isn’t entirely obvious without doing research on a regular basis and studying the schedules (which again is mostly nonsense). So what’s the solution I proffer? Stop making these routes independent. I understand they’re “different routes” or whatever, but you don’t actually transfer. Not in a physical way. It also doesn’t make sense to any logical person, if you paid when you got on and then when you get off again they want you to pay again. The confusion is stupid. However, I’ll leave the fixes to the fare collection system for another day, so don’t get tangled in all that nonsense.

What I suggest, is keep a route number (or whatever designates the entirety of the route) the same. If the #18 starts at North Beach, goes through Ballard, and generally becomes a #56 that heads south to SW Alaska Way or whatever, just pick a number for that route and stick with it. Stop being all bi-polar about what the route number needs to be as soon as a bus gets downtown. This only serves to confuse regular riders and people that don’t regularly use the system are screwed. Those individuals have no chance of understanding at first glance what in the world the system is doing. If the #18 however changes to another route, say #21, then just change that routes number to #21 from the get go and give it a full north to south alignment.

What other problems does this bi-polar splitting of the route? It makes bus drivers have to deal with passenger confusion all the time. Passengers come up all the time and ask, “where does this bus go now?” or if they know a little bit about the system they ask “what route is this bus changing to?”  Once you’ve boarded there is no way to know without harassing the bus driver. I’m pretty sure they’d be cool with simplifying it for the passengers and just saying this is the #18 route from north to south or the #21 route from north to south. Also, don’t give me some nonsense about this being some normal way to run a bus system, it may be but its a crappy thing to do. For once, act like it actually matters that the passenger has a usable product (the transit service) and make it work for them.

Anyway, that’s solution #2. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them! There are lots of improvements to make and I’d be more than happy to be a sounding board for the ideas!

Until another time, happy riding!

In case you want more information about King Count Transit.

Wow, Glad I Moved Out of Jacksonville, Florida

The most dangerous cities for pedestrians:

Most Dangerous Metro Areas

  1. Orlando-Kissimmee, FL
  2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
  3. Jacksonville, FL
  4. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
  5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
  6. Las Vegas-Paradise, NV
  7. Memphis, TN-MS-AR
  8. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
  9. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
  10. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

Day #15 of the Ballard Commute

Today the sun is out and shining bright in Seattle. This always brings more people out by an order of magnitude. The sidewalks have all sorts of people out and about, in addition it also brings those people out that the rest of society would rather not see. The entertainment factor also increases. People and all their silly pet tricks get into full swing.

But I do digress. It’s nice to see everybody outside wandering and playing around in the sun. I however am going to ramble on about the actual Ballard commute some.

The commute generally stays the same as it did the first few days, except a slight bit faster in the morning and a little bit more cumbersome in the evening. It seems, when their isn’t rain pouring everywhere that people manage to not wreck as much. At least, they aren’t wrecking on roads that I’m riding the bus on.

The Market Street & Ballard Street Bus Stop has been immensely useful. With the #17, #18, and #44 running through that stop, it is very easy to get anywhere that I need to be in a reasonable amount of time. Even the run to the airport isn’t really that bad. Albeit, it would be nice if it were a single seat ride.

The ride out of downtown is the only part of the daily commute that has a little bit of a problem. The Denny to Elliot Street traffic is a complete catastrophe most of the time. It only amounts to about 3-4 blocks of traffic, but the bus lane doesn’t begin until the bus manages to get through that 3-4 blocks. Amazingly I don’t have any solutions for this bottleneck and obviously Seattle doesn’t either.

Anyway, just a few observations from the last few days of the commute.

A Smile For The Commute Home

The commute home today has been an interesting one. I really dug the Coffee Bean Espresso Shop in Belltown when I visited a couple weeks ago. I got a coffee card, a mug, a pin, and other nicknacks when I first visited – because I dug it just that much. Today on the way home I decided to go by again and have a coffee while I waited for my bus.

You might wonder, “why would you go way over there to wait for your bus! That’s the other end of downtown!” Well my main stop that I board the bus to return home, 3rd and Seneca, has so many buses coming by in addition to the #17, #18, or #15 that I usually ride. I decided to board one of the dozens of other buses coming by that exit downtown through Belltown and get off to finish my wait at the Coffee Bean. I boarded a #1 and was down to the Coffee  Bean with a solid good few minutes before my next bus arrived.

I egressed the #1 and a few others also did too. I walked under the construction awning that is setup as I walked to the corner. Out of the peripheral of my eye I saw someone following me. I thought nothing of this, it is the city after all. However I walked across the street and I looked behind me to see who it was. Not that I expected it to be someone I’d know, but just wanted to see. When I looked around I saw a young lady walking behind me. I thought “meh” ok, no threat, no concern, nobody I knew.

Well I walked on up to the front door of the Coffee Bean Shop and she says jovially, “yes, I’m following you…” with the expected sarcasm one would have when not really following someone. To her surprise though, me being who I am, I decided I’d open the door for the young lady. So I took the door and stepped back pulling it open letting her walk in. She got a smile from this and said thank you as she entered. I jokingly retorted, “and now I’m following you”.

She walked up to the counter to order and I followed in. As she ordered the guy at the counter asked, “is that all?” She responded with, “for me, and whatever he’s having.”  So I piped in with, “A small cappuccino, wet.” He responded “cool”. I said “thanks” to the young lady and walked over to my corner and plunked out the Apple Mac Book Pro to work on. I got my coffee, finished up what I was doing, and checked on the arrival time of my next available bus.  I had 4 minutes, which was perfect.

I packed up, and walked over to the young lady. I figured, after such a nice gesture, I should introduce myself. One never knows when they may run into a familiar face again. She introduced herself as “Laura”. After a rather long day, thanks Laura for being such a good soul and making my trip home a pleasant one.

I exited the coffee shop and headed to the stop. A #15 rolled up and I boarded. Again, I whipped out the laptop and decided this entry on the Transit Sleuth needed typed up, so here it is. The remaining trip went well, with no traffic congestion.

I sure hope everybody else had a good trip home with the smiling faces of friendly people. Until the next sleuthing about…  good travels.

Rethinking Transit #1: User Experience Fixins’ for King County Metro

One of the big problems with transit, is the lack of creativity to create better, more usable, easier to understand elements.  The last great strides in transit usability, where almost all done during the private* company days of the early twentieth century. Regardless of this though, I’m going to put together some ways that King County Metro could make the system here in Seattle more friendly to regular users, new first time users, people coming in from other cities for a visit, tourists on vacation, or whoever may be trying to use the system. With that, this is a new blog entry series I’ll be starting called Rethinking Transit. If anyone would be interested in syndicating this I’m all ears! Just get in touch with me at adronhall [at] gmail [dot] com.

With these solutions I will try to follow a few general principles:

  1. They have to be covered by current operating or set dollars that are in the budget. I might provide some solutions that are extremely small expenses – no more than a 1-2% increase in the budget at most.
  2. They must be simple enough that even a heavily bureaucratic entity like King County Metro could undertake with just a few brave individuals standing up for the change! These solutions aren’t going to be like “Run light rail EVERYWHERE” or “Make every bus like a BRT line” or “put tolls on the entire city and do rush hour charging”. Simple, basic, easy to implement solutions.
  3. Any changes that I suggest, that provide solutions to current problems should enable ridership to increase without strain on the system. Maybe a few minor tweaks or changes, but overall the system and Union people won’t have to freak out, they can still generally operate everything just as it was.
For any other suggestions on how to fix the system, I’ll leave those for specifically labeled blog entries. For this series though, I’m going to label each entry starting with Rethinking Transit. With all that out of the way, my first of the series begins now!
User Experience Map Fail

King County Metro has time tables and schedules available in some locations. On some of the posts downtown they actually have schedules and other miscellaneous information. On many of the signs and posts that show stops downtown or even in the outer edges of Seattle the number of the route is at least shown. Here’s a suggestion on how to drastically improve the usefulness of transit stops in Seattle. I’ve enumerated them below.
  1. Stop putting the schedules at the bus stops. If anything is on the post, put the frequency and a link to for real-time arrivals, but do NOT put the intended arrival time. The schedule is a lie, complete utter bullshit. Everybody around the city that uses the buses more than once or twice knows the schedule is a lie. That’s why about 32k people per day use the @onebusaway service. So just stop lying and provide something that can actually help people ride the bus. Get usage of @onebusaway even higher, provide some small funding for it, get more involved, but stop putting up bullshit schedules. Just because that’s the way it worked 100 years ago doesn’t mean it does today, so stop ignoring reality.
  2. The second thing that would actually be helpful is to actually put a map on the stop. It doesn’t have to be a complex map, but at least a map stating if the bus heads north out of downtown or south or whatever. A schedule, which as I pointed out above is completely useless, is silly but a map at least gives some guidance for people that aren’t absolutely sure which bus they need. I know, some of the bus drivers out there might bitch (at least I can imagine Jeff calling me an idiot or something now because I supposed to know every route – which generally I do, but I study this stuff, most people do NOT do that and shouldn’t have to). But seriously, help out the people trying to use the system by at least making a meager attempt to inform them where a route goes.
Well, those are my first two suggestions. I’ll have another entry coming real soon on how to improve the system. I intend to write a new entry of Rethinking Transit every two weeks, so the next installment will be on the 30th. Until then, happy riding!
In case you want more information about King Count Transit.