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 http://www.onebusaway.org 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.

ALT.NET Day #2 Transit

The second day heading to the conference I rode nothing but transit. I did this for a couple reasons:

  • I wanted to leave a little later and wouldn’t have wanted anyone waiting up for me just so I could be lazy and get a ride.
  • Second, I wanted to get a little coding and blog writing done on my way out. On the bus that’s easy (relatively – I still have my bus ride quality complaint).
  • Model On The Bus

    Model On The Bus

    Third, there are super models on the bus sometimes *.

  • Fourth, as the transit sleuth that I am, I kind of wanted to see how the trip would be since there are a number of required transfers to get out as far as the DigiPen Building/Campus is.

Today’s Trip

I started out with the intent to board the #44, transfer to the #542 in the University District area. Then upon arrival in Redmond transfer to the #930, which I suppose is a short hop “Dart” bus. I’m not really sure how these buses work out on the outer regions of the Seattle area, so thought it would be a great learning experience.

However, the minute I was walking around the corner the the Market and Ballard Street Stop, the #44 came rolling by. It stopped, for a longer time than I would usually suspect. Almost like it was teasing me. I almost started running, but I generally won’t do that. The #44 drove off and I was perplexed. Would I make the next #44, should I take the express into town and transfer to something else? Time for some good ole’ Google Maps routing.

I opened up my Android Phone and got the logistics figured out. My new trip had turned into a strange morass of almost completely different buses. Then I realized two things that struck me as funny. The first was that the re-route had me boarding the #17 Express to downtown and transferring to the #256. But then the remainder of the trip was actually on the same two buses; the #542 and #930. Google Maps had actually found a route that leaves, literally 2 minutes later, that got me caught back up with the #542 – hilarious! I’m not sure why it didn’t suggest this trip anyway.

When I switched to the #542 at Yarrow Point/92nd Ave I had a few observations.

  • Interstate Stops suck. They don’t contribute to community, comfortable trips, and in general they’re dehumanizing. The string of faceless traffic just streams by screaming loudly. A conversation is next to impossible to have. It degrades one to peep in different cars attempting to communicate – which is technically impossible in 99.99% of cases. We’re damned to nothing more than apes, meat sandwiches sitting among the greatest dehumanizing creation the world has ever seen – Interstates (or also known as Superhighways, Autobahns, Autostransa, and by other names). These roads were not designed to have people standing in, around, above, or anywhere near them. Absolutely horrible places.
  • The stop times for the #542 are “Arriving at X” and “Departing at Y”. This however isn’t true. The bus arrives and leaves immediately after embarking or debarking passengers. The idea that there is a layover of some sort is ridiculous. My next task is to determine if this is a Google construct or a King Metro construct of information that’s misleading. Considering the difficult to use information that comes from Metro, I’d hedge my bets there, but I’m not ruling out Google for doing something silly.
Anyway, I finally transferred to the #542 and made it out to Redmond. It wasn’t really clear where the #930 stops so I decided to just walk the rest of the way. It took 45 minutes to get out to Redmond, then 45 minutes to walk from the transit center out to the DigiPen Campus Building. Fortunately it wasn’t raining so the walk was nice, but it was a bit long. It’s unfortunate that the connectivity basically ends in that area, but that’s what society gets when it goes auto-centric and not people focused.
Well, off to another day of brain crunching.

Ok, some people might not have seen the ads all over Seattle on the buses, so let me explain. There was an ad with reasons to take transit, one of the reasons was “see/meet a super model”. Now, you may not meet a super model, but there are many beautiful women that ride the bus. Be sure to do them all a favor and not be creepy and hit on em’. That’s not cool.

Attending the ALT.NET Conference in Redmond

Today was a wild ride about and out to Redmond to attend the ALT.NET Conference. I won’t bore my dear transit readers with what that is, but suffice it to say it’s a top tier nerd conference.

In the morning I boarded the #44, which at that hour provides a gorgeous view of the waterway once it starts moving up onto the Fremont Hills. I got off however and headed down into the neighborhoods to a friends house. There we met up and he drove myself and another programmer from out of town out to Redmond for the conference. The conference takes place over Thursday, Friday, and gets into full gear for Saturday and Sunday. Each of these days will be a different trip to get to the building the conference is in.

On the return trip today I boarded the #545 from Redmond town center after a few drinks with my programmer cohorts. I arrived downtown after the quick express ride of about 25 minutes and boarded the north bound #17 to Ballard.

The #17 is a beautiful ride at this time of the evening. The sun is just setting and everyone is almost silent. With the sun distant on the other side of Queen Anne Hill the trip along Westlake and South Lake Union is almost a blue tint. The water is still and the traffic is slower paced. The bus ride is much more calm than the morning ride. Everybody is pacing at a rate that is opposite of the wired feel of the AM commute.

I arrived back in Ballard and called it a day. It’s been a long day and I look forward to figuring out a few more of these routes, what exactly they can deliver me to, and seeing more of the absolutely stunning Seattle neighborhoods and northern views.

Until then, cheers and g’night.

Day 3 of the Commute, Some General Observations

#18 – Departed at 5:46pm from 3rd and Vine. I’m not sure when exactly the bus arrived, but it pulled up on the beautiful sunny day that it is and I jumped aboard.

Pulling into the Queen Anne area around the southern cool area of Queen Anne, the bus got snagged a number of times from the cluster of confusion. Other buses, cars, and people traversing the streets caused the bus to be slowed and go knocked clean off of its schedule. Once we got thru that cluster of sluggishness the bus rolled on and made decent time getting out and onto Elliott Avenue.

Bus Right of Way?

Elliott doesn’t really have a bus right of way, not in the sense of Bus Rapid Transit, but it does have a “Bus Only” Lane that offers a quick way for the #15, #18, and other routes to traverse this corridor quickly. Eventually Elliott turns into 15th and the 15th Street Bridge into Ballard. This is where another issue comes up for timely routing. The 15th Street Bridge is two lanes each way, which breaks the continuity of the bus way and merges it back into regular auto based travel lanes.

The Funnel and the Draw Bridge

The 15th Street Bridge not only acts as a funnel, but also acts as a complete stoppage point. Considering that high boats generally have right of way over all modes of transport, a boat coming along requires the 15th Street Drawbridge to lift. When this happens everyone is stopped cold.

Amazingly Smooth Flow

Even with the road block that the 15th Street Bridge is and the funnel effect that it causes, buses and cars generally flow easily into and out of Ballard. The delays are usually no more than 10-15 minutes when the bridge lifts, and during rush hour those delays only account for 5-10 minutes also. Of course, that turns a 25-30 minute trip into a 35-60 minute trip. However on the bus, that’s no big issue at all for those of us living the transit friendly lifestyle.  Until another observation or two, cheers!