A Few Commutes :: Seattle to Bellevue :: Day #1

I’d had planned to get the 7:06am #37 into town for my transfer to the #550, but as I walked out to get the bus it rolled by at 7:02am. At almost 5 minutes early, that just seemed freakishly early for a bus. But it is one of those oddball things that happens regularly in Seattle. In this city they don’t just say expect the bus to be on time to five minutes late, but instead say it might be 5 minutes early or 10 minutes late. It’s all a crapshoot in this city.

Miss The Bus, You Walk

After missing the #37 I walked up, about a half mile, to the more frequent stops. The #37 was within 200ft of where I am staying this week, however the #37 only has about 8 frequencies in the morning and about that many in the evening. Yes, it is an odd set, which I can’t even begin to understand how that works out logically.

On my way to the other stop, there was one glorious advantage to walking here besides the frequent bus service. There is a diner open for breakfast and a coffee shop serving as early as 5:30am. Fortunately for my soul it had been open for hours, as it was about 7:16am now. I ordered a soy cappuccino and a croissant, my main default order.

A Little Review of the Java Stop

This place was wonderfully quaint with a warm and cozy feel to it. On the cold days during winter I can imagine this little coffee shop is ideal to sit and enjoy and hot drink. Being it the onset of fall, I was actually wearing my hoodie, to offset the chilly weather. But it made for perfect coffee drinking temperatures. The coffee was a decent cappuccino, and the croissant tasted a bit like a “boxed and shipped two weeks ago croissant”. So even though the appearance and feel of the coffee shop was stellar, the coffee and croissant were lacking. However, by most American standards, this was a decent espresso. Keep in mind, I’m a coffee snob from Portland, my baseline is a little wonky.

Overall, I give the coffee shop a 3 out of 5 stars. For another baseline, I rate 95% of Starbucks as a 1 or 2 star out of 5. You know I’m just longing for coffee when I drinking their burnt swill. Stumptown Coffee would generally be a 4 or higher.

The Bus Ride

After that stop I crossed the street, which is a bit treacherous this time of day with the traffic zooming up and down the street here. There’s no crosswalk for a quarter mile, so it makes it pointless to cross legally. But I made it in spite of the treacherous design. I stood at the stop for about 2 minutes and a #54 changing to a #5 arrived. Meanwhile as I stepped aboard the bus a #21 Express flew by in the inner lane. I know a number of good souls that ride the #21 Express.

When I boarded there was standing room only, albeit only two of us were standing. I considered this good fortune, as TriMet buses in the AM hours are often crush capacity. To put that in laymen’s terms, because no one is actually getting crushed, but people are indeed elbow to elbow and often brush against each other. It takes a cooperative people to use transit in those conditions. Which fortunately the people who are open minded enough and thoughtful enough to take transit to work are often exactly those people. Good souls, brave souls, and thoughtful souls.

We arrived downtown after sitting in traffic for about 5-8 minutes. A trip that would normally take about 15-20 minutes took about 20-25 this morning. But no matter I was in line and doing well based on my schedule. We arrived in the downtown tunnel and I literally walked up to the #550 as a beautiful young lady stowed her bike on the front racks.

Be Cordial, Don’t Hit on the Pretty Girls

I’m not one of those wierdo types that tries to hit on every sexy lady on transit. I actually detest those fools. I will admit though that I do prefer a seat next to a pretty lady in good physical shape versus the alternatives. In this case, the pretty young lady stowing the bike on the front of the bus actually came and sat right next to me. I couldn’t complain at all.

I then removed my laptop to knock out this blog entry and a little work. The #550 is an ok ride, it is relatively smooth, but it is a bus. So I’m going to rant for just a few lines.

Bus Rant

Compared to streetcars, light rail, passenger trains, ferries and other modes, the bus just sucks by comparison. It is at the whim of the road, which is often left unmaintained and violently bumpy, costs pushed off onto . Buses don’t handle this well at all and vibrate, bounce and swing in cumbersome ways that make working on a laptop difficult. This has been slightly mitigated by such beautiful advances like the Mac Book Air and other laptops that make it easy, but overall it still sucks.

I’ll also admit though a huge part of this rough ride is dependent on the driver. If the driver is a foot slammer, then it makes conditions 10x worse, often making it impossible to do anything except hold on. When I actually get a seat on transit, I’d rather not have a jack ass driving the bus.

Bellevue

I finally arrived in my workplace for the day. Bellevue is a shiny city, barely a decade old. It is indeed a city, albeit being little more than a vertical strip mall from the perspective of culture. It lacks almost every amenity that a truly developed city has, but the citizens of this city are trying to alleviate this. So far, it’s going to be a few more decades. Bellevue, reminds me of Portland’s Pearl District, albeit an even newer feel.

For the trip home, I’m sure a slew of crazy things await. Until then, good day to you dear readers.

The Ride Home

A Salem Commute, TriMet Almost Messes it Up and a Video of the Trip

Arriving in Tualatin.

Arriving in Tualatin.

Today started at 4:30am for me. I had some business meetings to attend in Salem, Oregon. This seemed like a good opportunity to take a trip to Salem with my girl Kristen. This commute would have us following this trip:

  1. Walk 6 blocks to the MAX Galleria transit stop (check out TriMet’s Map).
  2. Depart on 5:16am MAX to Beaverton Transit Center.
  3. Arrive and depart on the WES to Wilsonville, Oregon.
  4. Then take the Cherriots 1x to Salem, Oregon.

A relatively simple trip really, except for the 3 transfers and a theoretical 21 minute transfer wait to the WES. That’s kind of a bummer. However, what really caused stress is we ended up with zero transfer time. Cuz ya see, the frikkin’ 5:16am west bound MAX NEVER ARRIVED! That meant standing there on pins and needles hoping to catch the next MAX, which at that hour doesn’t come for…  drum roll please… 21 minutes!  Yeah, exactly 21 minutes, which would mean if everything departs on time then the transfer to the WES couldn’t occur, which meant the Cherriots transfer wouldn’t occur, which would mean I’d either be 30-60 minutes late.

WES Train o' The Day

WES Train o’ The Day

But as the trip started, amazingly, we caught that next MAX which was precisely on time 21 minutes later. Amazingly, the WES had not departed when we arrived in Beaverton TC. I guess, TriMet had managed to delay the train? Maybe the conductor or engineer on the train had held knowing familiar faces weren’t aboard. It is totally possibly since the WES crew generally tends to roll that way – they’re good with the passengers.

Either way, I’ve arrived, Kristen is off to work, and I made this silly video with happy goofy travel music (cuz it is canned, and it is a pain to find music that isn’t copyrighted on the Internet).  Next time I might add some of my own custom music, a little shredding for the soul always kicks a trip into overdrive.

Cheers!

Back in Portland…

Ok, so currently I’m staying with family in Vancouver, which provides a nightmare of a commute. I’m however determined to make it an adventure though. Today I’m heading downtown (Portland, not downtown Vancouver). The trip is a multi-transfer and long walking distance trip.

Segment One

The first part of the trip is about a half mile up and down hills. There is a sidewalk, which seems odd in Vancouver, as it seems nobody actually walks here. I see someone maybe every 1000ft. But then of course Vancouver has focused on car happiness and not people happiness, so it all makes sense.

Segment Two

I arrive at fourth plain after this walk/ride/bike up and down a 1/2 mile of hills to board the #4 to Delta Park. The #4 route is pleasant, at least so far. In the morning the bus appears to be clean with a well below half load of people. I counted 14 this morning. Strangely, there was also no traffic to cause delays crossing the great I-5 Bridge bottleneck either. So maybe it is a slow day?

Segment Three

Once I transferred to the Yellow Line MAX at Delta Park things immediately bumped up a notch. By the Rosa Parks Station Stop the MAX has no less than 82 people for the two car light rail train. By the next stop it had 106, which is a little low for a Monday, but sure beats the capacity a bus line could handle.

The day remained gorgeous with the sun shining and even slightly warm compared to previous days. Most were silent on the way in, which isn’t abnormal for the morning rush hours.

The Return Trip

The reverse trip was about the same thing. Easy, super quick transfer to the #4 C-Tran, and overall about 45 minutes between downtown and where I got off the bus in Vancouver.

Observations

  • 95% of the riders of the #4 C-Tran are all going to the Yellow Line. Obviously there is significant ridership demand.
  • Considering ridership in a particular are usually goes up about a 1/3rd past equivalent bus service when light rail is put into place, the Vancouver Ridership would be that or more. Matter of fact, I’d bet a fifty on it.
  • If the #4 was BRT, and connected with light rail in downtown Vancouver (ya know, if they actually build the bridge monstrosity across the river), that would see at least a 5-10% increase in ridership over the current bus operations. It would have to be at least 10 minute frequencies. Having this 15 minute headway during peak hours isn’t going to help all that much even if reconfigured to BRT. Yes, I’d also put a 50 spot bet on this too.

I’m Moving, New Home Base: Portland, Secondary San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver BC

So I’ve done it, I’ve just switched my home base back to Portland from Seattle. However, I’ll be in Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver BC about as often as I was before (ok, slightly less in Seattle). So for those out there thinking, “But Seattle is so great, why leave for Portland?!?!” here’s the lowdown. I enjoyed my time in Seattle but it IS NOT Portland nor is the livability and options the same. Such as…

  • Walkability in Portland is on par with Vancouver BC, both which are vastly superior in walkable locations than San Francisco or Seattle. The distance between any two things in Seattle is easily 2x the distance as key destinations in Portland or Vancouver.
  • I can get to Best Buy, IKEA, Target, and over a dozen other major stores by light rail in Portland. This cannot be done in Seattle. Buying bulk stuff and using light rail to get it home is super easy, doing this on a bus is not.
  • There are literally thousands of food carts, in pods, in Portland. Seattle can’t get its food cart scene off the ground to save the life of the city. I decided again not to keep waiting around.
  • Portland is 10-15 years ahead of Seattle with light rail/high capacity transit construction. Seattle will be paying 2-50x as much as Portland to have a system that will be half the size of Portland’s possibly by 2020 or more realistically 2040 or 2050. It however, is unlikely that Seattle will be able to find the money to do this.
  • Seattle relies so heavily on buses, the city is actually MORE vulnerable to cold extremes than Portland. Portland shuts down during cold, so just imagine that twice as early and twice as long! Not that snow days bother me, and I don’t mind snow days. I just find it somewhat frustrating in Seattle because everything is 2x farther apart, meaning I often do need to get around during the snow.
  • Seattle uses concrete, that becomes uneven, almost everywhere making the roads dangerous for cyclists and extremely rough while riding in the bus or a car. The roadways are actually less maintained than Portland’s (yes, Seattle actually has MORE dirt roads than Portland).
  • Seattle is politically bound by a warring city council and a mayor with too much power and too little impetuous to move forward on things. Again, I’m tired of waiting for Seattle to get things moving forward. In addition, Seattle is held captive to the warring (and often draconian or backwards thinking regions around the city) that don’t want light rail, don’t want livability zoning or livable street designs, want to just pave everything, yadda yadda yadda. Portland has this problem, but it has been put in check years ago. The battle continues, but Seattle’s battle is about 10-15 years away from becoming a “winning battle”. Simply, Seattle could still fall into a “Houston” or “Dallas” complex.
  • There are at least 3x as many breakfast choices, and a much more active (I’d almost say larger) foodie culture in Portland than in Seattle.
  • There are more coffee options, better coffee options, and more availability of coffee shops in Portland than in Seattle. That doesn’t just come from me, I have confirmed this with some of the top brewers in Seattle. They know Portland kicks some serious coffee ass!
  • I actually have to get into a car in Seattle sometimes and sometimes I even have to drive somewhere. This is absolutely unacceptable when there are better logistics capabilities in Vancouver BC, San Francisco, and of course Portland.
  • The tech scene in Portland is actually, albeit smaller, more cohesive, communicative, socially active in person and on Twitter, blogs, and other places.
  • No city I know of has the density of creatives and the messaging, art, advertising accumen, or capabilities as creatives in Portland. People care about what they create in this city and it shows.
  • Portland is basically the mecca of open source software. Linus Torvalds lives in Portland, err, well, Lake Oswego, which still is about the same, and works in the metropolitan area. In addition to that many of the Agile Manifesto signatures come from individuals that live in Portland or nearby in the surrounding state.
  • Portland doesn’t have an airport south of its downtown wrecking neighborhood connections, instead Portland has an airport and a race track separating it form Vancouver Washington – which to me, is just fine.
  • Seattle has more roadways planned than Portland, Seattle’s port is about to be overtaken by Tacoma’s, and Seattle also has a host of other issues that will make it fall even further into a less livable place if they aren’t rectified.
  • The distance between transit options on the west side of the Portland Metro area are often closer than the transit options in the heart of Seattle. I find this horrifying and absurd. Farther out the transit options almost disappear compared to Portland’s options. If anyone knows about Portland’s “west side transit options”, they kind of suck, or to put it more kindly, they’re about average in the nation. It definitely is not similar to the “Portlandia” area.
  • The number of 10-18 minute routes in Seattle are scarce, even more now with the budget cuts. Just as I had suspected though, Seattle has to cut more service than Portland by percentage of budget and riders. Partly because Seattle has to spend about 2x what Portland does to provide transit. I’ll take Portland’s cuts over Seattle’s any day. This is even magnified by the operational efficiency of having light rail over buses.
  • Portland will have light rail to Milwaukee, an east side Streetcar, increased bus service, and other additions to pedestrian and street facilities by the time Seattle finishes ONLY the First Hill Streetcar, the University District Light Rail still won’t be finished by then. Again, I’m not waiting around any longer for Seattle to catch up. I’d be a billion years old by the time they get to the same level as Portland, San Francisco, or Vancouver BC.
  • Voodoo Donuts. Nuff Said’
  • Seattle has the Burke Gilman Trail at 23 miles, Portland has the Springwater Corridor Loop at 40 miles.
  • Seattle has about 30 miles of signed bike routes, and 20 miles of bike lanes, Portland has 202 miles of painted line bike lanes, 46 miles of bike boulevards, 76 miles of paths that are off street and car-free, and several bike boulevards. Yeah, have I mentioned I like to bike? Portland clearly owns bike friendliness by an order of magnitude.
  • Seattle has 2/3 the bike corrals that Portland does, and as above, about one sixth the amount of bike miles, for a city that consumes as much or more physical space as Portland in the metropolitan area. I’m frustrated by this ratio, and the increased risk and danger of cycling in Seattle.

…and the last technical reason of this list…

  • There is about 50 kazillion more transit related things to write about in Portland then there is in Seattle. So maybe, I’ll be able to breath some life back into this blog!

So Emerald City Seattle, I will admit it has been fun, but it’s you not me and I’m back to my Stumptown City Portland. But don’t worry Seattle, I’ll be visiting regularly. 😉

NOTE: Don’t take offense to this, if you do, you should probably involve yourself to fix the city of Seattle. There’s plenty of opportunities to do so. I mean no insult to anyone working toward bettering the city either. I just had to vent/enumerate my issues. As I said, I have absolutely enjoyed my time in Seattle, but there are things I have grown accustomed to, maybe even spoiled by in Portland, that I want back. So I hope no offense is taken, cheers!

King County Metro Bus #18

I have to admit, as my time draws to an end riding the #18 (and #17 pretty frequently) that I will miss my daily commute into and out of downtown Seattle from Ballard. However, my commute is drawing back to that of a commute I had years ago. My commute is again turning into an almost half mile walk. With streetcar, trolley bus, bus, BART, MAX, LINK, or other options as a way to get to and from. Throw on top of that a sprinkle of biking and I’m good. I’ll enjoy not sitting on the bus for 20 minutes anymore.

To think that Americans used to not travel but about 10-30 minutes walking to get to and from work. That we used to use almost no external energy outside of ourselves. We had stronger communities and knew our neighbors, all of them, not just two or three like in the suburbs. In the past Americans also often knew the politics of their town, and to some degree even their nation. Today, people rarely know what is going on in their own city, let alone at a state or Federal level. In various times throughout America’s History people took pride in building their city, the place they live, having a library and post office, and place to congregate in a park, an overlook of the city, or even just a clear cut place for a church or other place. Today, that also rarely exists, except in a few cities.

Seattle happens to be one of those places where the positive aspects of the past are not lost.

…so where am I going, what am I doing? I’ll be posting real soon about that, from a Transit Sleuth’s Perspective!  🙂

Seattle’s King County Metro #2 Trolley Bus to Madrona

Yesterday kicked off another transit commuting experiment. I’m doing a bit of house sitting in the Madrona area, so a different commute is in effect. Instead of my normal #18, #17, or #15 to Ballard I’ll be taking the #2 Trolley Bus Route to Madrona over First Hill (just south of Capital Hill). This morning was the first day of the commute and I must say, this is absolutely a part of Seattle somebody could fall in love with.

The neighborhood and area that the #2 Route traverses a good slice of downtown Seattle in the process of heading out to Madrona. The first part, technically starts up on Queen Anne Hill, but I won’t be traveling up that way. The route however comes down Queen Anne into downtown via the standard approach on 3rd Avenue. In mid-city it then cuts east up the hills toward First Hill. The route winds through First Hill and then down into the central area between First Hill and Madrona.

The segment between First hill and Madrona is basically a long straight route. This area changes from heavily business oriented urban to more residential with some mixed commercial. There are some small businesses, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and the like. Overall, the central part of the run is pretty nice.

Just as the route comes up a slight hill into Madrona the houses become a little bit better kept. In addition, the first sharp left in Madrona passes a number of very nice little restaurants, shops, and such and then winds down through the hills toward Lake Washington. There the end of the route rests within an easy stroll along Lake Washington and absolutely beautiful views of the lake.

I hope to write up a few more thoughts about the route in the near future. This type of commute, this type of neighborhood, this type of area is what can truly get someone sold on Seattle and the real beauty of this city. The area is real, with a wide diversity of people and a range of entertainment options. All this within a walkable distance to parks and other areas or a very short (under 10 minutes, probably only about 5 minutes) ride to Capital Hill.