Carpinteria and Santa Barbara

After my arrival in Carpinteria I spent the week working on recording material. I’ve however talked about that elsewhere, since it’s well outside the scope of my transit sleuthing! But here’s a few of the day to day adventures and what not.

That First Commute

For the first trip to the office, I scoped out the transit agency for the area and found that there was a bus that would bring me from across the street of the nearby Starbucks directly to the front door of the office. All I needed was fare, and found online after checking out the MTD site for Santa Barbara’s Transit Agency, I could pick up a ten ride ticket at the Albertsons next door.

After I picked up the ticket, the first trip on the bus was a short sweet ride that took just 5 minutes. In the evening that first day I actually opted to take a walk back to the hotel. I wandered up through the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Reserve. It provides a beautiful place to walk out to and along the beach front. The subsequent day I rode the bus one more time, catching the 21x.

I used the MTD App to see when the bus was arriving this day, and gotta say it’s one of the more accurate I used. There were a few glitches in the app like needing to recenter on where the stop was after every few views of the arrivals. However, in spite of the glitches it still worked well in giving me arrivals so I’d know when to go board a bus.

Attaining a Bike

Carpinteria is very bike friendly. All the local roads are slow neighborhood style streets and one routinely sees the school kids to the beach bums to the retired folk biking around town. In the small little main street of Carpinteria there’s also some pretty top tier food options, again, easily able to swing between them via bike. With that in mind I set out to borrow a bike for the days I could from the office. On Wednesday I was able to pick up said bike, and I was super ecstatic that I though immediately, I’m going to go to town and get something tasty tonight!

So upon receiving the lock from security I was all set, and headed into town. That’s where I decided to get some grub at Sly’s. Let me tell you, this place was not messing around! The food was extremely good, and definitely doesn’t fall into the “small town” food category, but more into the big city batting 5 stars level food!

After that I rolled and picked up some things from the local grocery for my rocking steeds front basket. I just figured I ought to fully use the advantage of the bike to the max, so I sure did. Rolled back to the hotel watched a movie and passed out. A most excellent evening!

Bike Commute!

The next day I biked into the office through the park area again. Along through the trail I took a few photos and a short video. The congestion pictures however are of the inbound cars on 101 and on the side road. Every single day they were all backed up. The absolute worst way to commute.

That evening, on the way back to the hotel I took the long way home and snagged a few more photos of the bike trip around, along the coast, through the beach park and back up through Carpinteria and back to the hotel.

Oil rigs. I saw a number of them. If you drive, take a good look at the things you support out there seeping oil into the ocean every day. They’re some nasty shit and one can actually go down to the beach and see remnants of the rigs work coming to shore on a semi-regular basis. I found this kind of odd that they allowed this to occur this close to the shore. In Louisiana they have a lot of rigs offshore, but one can’t see them and rarely does one actually see the oil coming ashore. However, the other filth in the water of the Gulf of Mexico there in Louisiana may have just obfuscated the oil, I couldn’t verify. Either way, it was like a dystopian imagery seeing those offshore toiling away. They did make for an interesting view of lights off the coast too.

After that, I headed into town for dinner, but ate a bit lighter and spent some time working that evening. More on this trip in the next post, there is indeed more. Until then, cheers & happy travels!

Post Wreck Thoughts on 501, PTC, US Liability, and America’s Failing Transportation

I’m already looking forward to healing, obviously, and getting back on the bike. I look forward to riding back to King Street Station, getting on the train and handing off my bike for a station hand to rack on the train. Then rolling, minus a derailment, onward toward Portland to spend time with family and friends biking around town and enjoying one of the greatest, more human, pedestrian friendly, and foodie cities in this great nation. I don’t fear, fate has its hand in what it will hand me, but I can’t live with fear and worry, uncertainty, and doubt. I look forward and am beyond just thankful that I will live to ride this trip again.

In the meantime; Amtrak, Sound TransitWashington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and Oregon Department of Transportation get y’alls asses in gear and get that PTC working, ensure those engineers really, truly, 100% know that line and please get this service running back at 100%! It’s too important to thousands of people to let falter!

New Information, Thoughts on PTC

As I should have expected, BNSF actually has the PTC up and running on their lines. Amtrak trains don’t have PTC on in cabs as far as I’ve learned. If anybody has more information about this please let me know, I’d love to get more details on the matter. I’ve started researching more about PTC too and trying to determine what exactly is the issue and complexity of the system beyond merely the cost. I know that’s as much a red herring as it is a legitimate excuse. PTC is in place in so many places on so many lines that there’s not a lot of functional excuse, except I bet there’s a lot of bullshit regulation and related bureaucratic mess in the way of the railroads getting this implemented.

The money, also something put totally on the backs of the railroads, hasn’t exactly been easy to invest in as they do have to stay sustainable (the freight railroads). Meanwhile, Amtrak which like all modes of transportation (cars, buses, places, etc) is entirely not sustainable from its current state of legislative ecosystem (meaning the way it must account for costs, revenue, systemic matters of stations, debt, etc).

Health Insurance, America Fails Americans Miserably

Another major issue here, that slams all transportation modes, is in insurance claim scenarios like this an incident is liable to entirely destroy a company that operates passenger service. In European countries people that are injured are covered under national health care policies and plans, and lawsuits and liability insurance help to rebuild and make the railroad (or airline, ship, or roadway) better after an incident. Instead in the United States, except for the cap placed by Congress in 1997, Amtrak has its budget wrecked by lawsuits and the need to cover people’s medical costs. Airlines suffer a similar fate if not careful. The problem is, there’s always accidents, but a passenger system shouldn’t be destroyed by lawsuits because of a singular accident, it should be fixed and rebuilt better, safer, and stronger.

In America, we simply do not do this anymore. Our actions instead tend toward destroying a large singular entity with litigation; such as Amtrak, an airline, or bus carrier, while with distributed incidents like the almost 40,000 deaths per year in automobiles, we simple push the cost back onto insurance and individual owners and purchasers. The latter works to perpetuate the most deadly of transportation modes (automobiles) while it defers, damages, and arguably makes the safer modes (buses, trains, planes, shits, etc) harder to operate, manage, and make safe. It’s a perverse and backwards effect that we get, but something that could be remedied with a simple fix.

Instate some form of national health insurance that would easily handle this versus a company or organization be decimated that is trying to build good, reliable, and safe way to travel. The fact we don’t have something in place for just basic, simple, and honest health and welfare in this nation is disheartening and decrease entrepreneurial activities of all sorts. The data shows this too, in tight correlation with actions in developed nations. We do better, have better business, able to build better systems (transportation and otherwise), and more if we had just the most basic of fundamental elements to fall back on in society. Simple single payer and a minor unemployment or injury welfare system would work seamlessly for this. Our current system however is 2x the cost and doesn’t do the job, but we have examples (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, and many others) of how to do these two specific things at 1/2 the cost we currently do and actually having them be functional. Maybe we’ll get there one day, but unfortunately I’ve no hope of us succeeding in my lifetime.

On The Topic of Amtrak Safety

Amtrak has been notorious for unsafe activities along its lines. Much of that is conflict between Amtrak non-union and union employees. There has been cases where the union has even, or well individuals of the union, have even attacked prospective contractors that were going to provide service. There has been situations where the leadership has completely screwed over people in the union. I’ve studied the history and kept up with so many actions within the organization, that it’s hard to see which side would be the higher integrity side.

This of course conflicts with my own experience, as I know people in union and not in union at Amtrak that are top notch people. They work hard, they’re studious and have attention to detail. They’re safe and they work safe. But I also realize I have the viewpoint of operations in the northwest, which are very different than back east, and also different then down in California or the southeastern United States. Amtrak isn’t merely one big organization of singular work cultures. It is instead a giant Governmental quasi-corporation run around a faux demand for profits while working as a Government mandated transportation service that is built of what was many different corporate cultures. Why you may ask? It’s easier than one might at first see, but if we look at the history we know Amtrak came from the many railroads that used to run America’s massive, extensive, world class, and top tier passenger services around the country. Those cultures still eek through just a little in each geographic area and for respective trains along the lines.

How does one fix this? The NTSB issued some reports and Amtrak is slowly but steadily working on implementation. It’s important to note, like all transportation modes in America Amtrak is underfunded heavily for what it actually must do and how it must operate. Whatever the specific fixes are, the overall fix is that the non-union and union Amtrak staff must start working together to better focus on safety and ensure it’s actually part of the day to day operations. Instead, it’s currently something that is disregarded or ignored and this leads to these incidents. Nobody wants to incidents to happen, but they happen when this is how operations work. It must change.

America is Failing

We used to have the fastest trains, the best passenger service, at some reasonably good prices, in nice expedited fashion, that was routinely right on time.

Now, Amtrak barely putter along half the time. They’ve improved dramatically, but by comparison to European systems, even the one’s that aren’t top tier, like England’s or Italy’s rail systems, Amtrak trails far behind them in safety, quality of service, equipment, timeliness and related metrics. This comes from chronic under-funding from Congress and a blatant discrimination against rail service from mostly Republicans while Democrats fumble through managing Amtrak and fumbling through reasoning why Amtrak should have right of refusal over almost all of passenger service in America.

In Close…

That’s it for thoughts on the matter at the moment. In a future post I’ll talk a bit about the slim chance America has for improved service in the next 10-20 years. For now, I’m off to get some other things done, enjoy some Christmas time festivities, and simply be thankful that I’m alive today. Cheers, and merry Christmas, or happy holidays, to all.

If you’d like to learn more about Amtrak, and the convoluted insanity that is Government manipulated transportation in America, here’s a few starting points.

Passenger and Related Transportation Law, History & Info in America

Ranting about Bellevue, Washington

I had thought that literally nobody cared in the city of Bellevue. It’s a super dystopian vertical suburbia that is super creepy from anything other than the wheel of a car. Even then however, it’s pretty myopic in it’s worldview. I was super surprised at this twitter thread however and the great new material to sleuth through!

What transpired from that included a few gems from @theboobla. Then a bit later, after I was frustrated by needing to weed through stopped auto traffic through inclement environments I ranted again while I waited in some cartopian dystopian crossing.

…which led to…

Then the sleuth work actually got underway! Here’s some starter material on what looks like prospectively amazing infrastructure heading for Bellevue. This city could absolutely turn around it’s car-dependency dystopian myopic worldview with this and open the place up to a better future!

Which leads me to two of the leading blogs on all things transit & bicycle transpo ->

http://www.seattlebikeblog.com and https://www.seattletransitblog.com ! Both excellent sources of great information and news for the area.

 

Hawthorne Bus Island Fix

Where a bus island needs to be on Hawthorne, desperately.

@ Fremont,Williams, & Vancouver Intersection

This intersection needs a little help in the AM. It only continues to get worse too. Motorists beware.

Portland’s Better Blocks Broadway

Here’s a short review I did of the redesign. The bus island was something that really shows in this city how these should be implemented. Well designed and well built, we should have these as standard on almost all major roads with bus stops so there isn’t the existing conflict.

Transit Projects: Faux BRT – A Summary of the Situation

Previously written about here.

There are two projects that are either being built or are in the works. There’s the Trimet Powell & Division Corridor BRT Project and north of Portland in Vancouver there is the Fourth Plain “The Vine” BRT Project that is being built right now.

What is BRT? BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit, is bus service over dedicated lanes. This service is generally provided with higher capacity buses that are 60 feet long or longer. Think of current light rail service in downtown Portland it’s basically similar to that, just with buses. The buses run in these dedicated lanes, people pay fare off of the buses at the stations, they have light precedence, and that way the buses are able to move along much quicker than traditional bus service.

The two “BRT” projects I mention above are neither BRT nor regular bus service, but instead a mix of traditional bus service and BRT. The bus service for The Vine and Trimet’s current project will include 60 foot long buses, payment at the stations, but beyond that will have no real features that would make BRT. Thus the reason I labeled the service “Faux BRT”.

Bus Service Improvements : The Current Situation

Even though these lines won’t be real BRT, the good thing is that both of the lines are pretty dramatic improvements over what currently exists. Right now both routes have regular, frequent stop, local bus service style operation. That means they stop about every other block, which makes them timely or efficient if you need to only go a short, very short distance. Otherwise they quickly double, triple, or quadruple the time it takes to simply bike or driver the same distance.

In the case of The Vine in Vancouver, the route will travel along Fourth Plain from downtown Vancouver to Westfield Mall. The route currently has two routes that serve the bulk of the corridor: the Ctran #4 & #44 routes. The #44 is an express bus that currently travels from Delta Park in Portland (the second to last stop of the MAX Yellow Line) and goes to Westfield Mall and past it onward to some other key points. The #4 goes from Delta Park, the same MAX stop, through downtown Vancouver, and onward along Fourth Plain until it reaches the Westfield Mall.

In the case of the Powell/Division Corridor, there are two buses that run this primary corridor right now too: the Trimet #4 & #9 routes. The #4 actually starts far north of Portland in St Johns, travels all the way south into downtown Portland, then back across the Hawthorne Bridge, then over to Division and onward until Gresham. Almost 15 miles form downtown Portland to Gresham, and the #9 completes a similar route, except on Powell.

The Ctran #4 and #44 are low ridership lines compared to the #4 and #9 in Portland. Which will make the ridership of The Vine interesting. Ctran intends to remove or significantly alter or curtail #4 and #44 service when The Vine starts running. The Trimet #4 and #9 lines are actually high ridership lines. Trimet doesn’t intend to entirely cancel either of these lines, but the intent that the ridership that currently uses the #4 and #9 routes in this corridor will likely switch to the new service to get downtown.

Predictions

In both cases the new service will reduce the overall costs for Ctran and Trimet to carry passengers in the corridor while making way for decreased trip time and a potential ability to carry far more passengers than can currently be carried with existing service. The current estimates, from yours truly Transit Sleuth, is that The Vine will like get about 8-10k rider trips per day. The Powell/Division Corridor Service will likely see upwards of 15k passenger trips or more per day and likely climb well past that once it has been operating for several months and people get used to the frequency and faster travel times.

A Major Concern for “The Vine”

There is one other caveat of The Vine, which might be a major sticking point. This bus service improvement actually curtails service in downtown Vancouver, while replacing the #4 and #44 bus. The #4 and #44 bus currently goes to Delta Park, which is one of the top destinations for all of Ctran ridership. The Vine cuts out Delta Park, which could cause a significant time increase and prospectively drop that 8-10k riders a day down significantly. I personally would suggest that Ctran and Trimet both need to figure out how to insure that the riders can get to Delta Park with one trip – one more transfer is unacceptable. Already the vast majority of riders on the #4 and #44 are going to Delta Park specifically for a transfer to the MAX Yellow Line, so adding another transfer would make an already time consuming & rough trip into a relatively unbearable one for the majority of riders.

So that’s my quick review of the situation. More to come on this topic later.