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.

Ballard to Bellevue to Redmond to Seattle to Ballard, Done!

A couple weeks ago Ro and I made a trip to check out the B-Line. The B-Line is the latest BRT type route between Bellevue to Redmond on the east side of Lake Washington (I really don’t want to call it east Seattle, because it isn’t anything like Seattle). We left early in the day boarding the #44 at Ballard & Market Street.

#44, in Diesel Operation (Usually it runs a Trolley Bus)

#44, in Diesel Operation (Usually it runs a Trolley Bus)

The #271 can be seen hiding behind the #49.

The #271 can be seen hiding behind the #49.

From there we rode to the University District and transferred there to the #271.

As we rode the #271 I saw an activity, that when I drove would cause me serious rage and concern over safety. But here on the bus, it was almost endearing to see a fellow rider making good use of their bus riding time. A young lady sat politely in her chair doing some of that fancy make up doing that young ladies do.

An appropriate time to put on makeup.

An appropriate time to put on makeup.

Once we arrived in Bellevue we spent some time to get a bite at Chantanee Thai Restaurant and Bar. After a good meal and some pretty snappy drinks, we headed over to the Bellevue Transit Center to board one of the new B-Line Buses. Behold, before us stood Chad (aka punkrawker of punkrawker4783 videos)! We talked for a bit about the new route. He told me about how part of the line was super busy while the other part was moderately so. After a few minute Ro and I left Chad to go his way and we were off on our way.

B-Line to Redmond

B-Line to Redmond

We boarded the next bus, when it showed as ready. They sit there at the transit center, off with a driver usually standing nearby in preparation for departure. On this day, since it wasn’t a weekday, the frequency was only 15 minutes. This made it really not like BRT. But I wasn’t expecting too much, as BRT is rarely setup the way it is talked about by advocates.

B-Line, Side Shot

B-Line, Side Shot

B-Line to Redmond

B-Line to Redmond

Once aboard we took our seats and enjoyed our departure. We pulled out onto the main street, into traffic, with barely a dedicated lane in site. As expected I thought to myself. But it wasn’t bad. The ride was smooth, as far as buses go, and vastly superior to the ride quality of buses that actually travel most King County Metro Routes. Part of this was the roadway, which is newer than most of the roads in Seattle proper, and part of it was the bus that has better suspension and ride quality.

On our ride we also were entertained by some of the colorful characters of the east side. One guy had a strange cat hat thing on with a girl who, well, simply had odd attire on altogether. But to each their own, it brought a chuckle and props for being different!

Cat Hat

Cat Hat

The east side, I will admit, is a beautiful area with a lot of nature. It is however a massive lifeless suburban sprawl. Everyone has their ticky tacky houses and with cookie cutter restaurants with barely a unique characteristics to the whole place. The only way to tell you’re in the north west is by the trees and natural surroundings here and there, plus the continual spurts of rain every hour or so. Other than that, you might as well be in Texas. The east side, with almost every house, apartment, and building carries an almost triumphant lack of culture and art. But again, this is something I was prepared for. Want art, go downtown to Seattle. Want some grass that you can mow, go to the east side.

The stops along the way, that are dedicated to the B-Line, are pretty neat. They’re just like the A-Line stops for the most part. With the rich red color and simple design.

B-Line Bus Stop

B-Line Bus Stop

I did grab one shot that I thought was just so stereotypical of the east side. The irreverent and disrespectful by their mere existence, H2 Hummer. Not the real Humvee, but no the superficial and fake H2. The thing that only pretends to be a real truck and is by no means even related to a military vehicle in any way other than mockery. The marketing on this sure worked for those of lesser income that have issues with their big truckness of manhood.

East Side Superficialness in Full Effect

East Side Superficialness in Full Effect

When we did get into the small town of Redmond the bus pulled up to the Redmond Transit Center. There we walked to the area that literally has the MOST life of the entire area. The local skate park. Of course, there were some kids there breaking the law while having fun riding their bikes. But as with the respect among young people, everyone was honorably taking their turns at runs on the park. Bicyclists, skooter riders, and skaters alike. It was very chill. Several of the kids were pretty bad ass on those bikes too. I’d hate to see an officer have to enforce the law and bust those kids of biking on the skate park. Something seriously should be done to change those laws – these parks should be available to skaters, skooters, inline skaters, bicyclists, or whatever non-powered fun ridable things someone wants to ride on it.

Here’s a few shots of the dudes riding bikes that were tearing it up good.

Flying High

Flying High

…and another…

Airborne Again

Airborne Again

After a while watching, we grabbed some food and then headed off to the heart of Redmond (which is about 4 square blocks of more ticky tacky, but I won’t go into that). On the way back I grabbed a few more shots of the buses serving the Redmond Transit Center.

Redmond Transit Center - B-Line Buses Queued Up

Redmond Transit Center - B-Line Buses Queued Up

#248 Redmond

#248 Redmond

Bus Stop Sign

Bus Stop Sign

After all that riding, it was time to head back to the cultural heart of this metropolitan area. So we boarded the next #545 bound for Seattle!

Once downtown, with a breath of life back in our souls, we then transferred and rode the trusty #18 back to Ballard.

Ride Complete! 🙂 Cheers!

BRT Hittin’ The Road

Looks like some of the sweet new buses are rolling between Bellevue and Redmond. This means I’ll have to head over to the east side and check out this line. It looks like, at least to me, it’ll be a lot more interesting than the A-line route.

The BRT Blog reports “B-Line Bus Sightings Begin“.

Questions: Seattle, Light Rail, and Increasing The Standard of Life in the City?

The Negative

I’ve given Seattle (specifically Metro and Sound Transit) a lot of crap over the years. Overall they do an ok job, I do think they spend WAY too much money on what they’re building. For whatever reason Sound Transit just keeps on suggesting these cut and cover, dig and cover, elevated, and tunnel bore type routes which are insanely expensive. They’re building light rail like it is heavy rail, which puts light rail in the heavy rail price range without the carrying capacity. This leaves me perplexed. This also leaves the Seattle area with very little light rail that could be serving hundreds of thousands of riders by now if it didnt’ get stuck every time it is up for vote or pulled off the “build queue” because it is so blasted expensive.

As I’ve said before, there are prime examples of how to use light rail to our south and north of the city. Vancouver BC carries more people on light rail than the entire Seattle Metro System, and it is only a couple of lines. Portland carries over a hundred thousand people a day on its line, with a per ride cost that is vastly lower than Sound Transit Link Light Rails costs now or will ever cost even with additions. All of this amounts to a lot of scary budget problems and other concerns that I have about Sound Transit.

Overall, it looks more like this whole light rail effort of Sound Transit’s is somewhat misplaced, overpriced, and won’t actually serve to create or expand town centers in core areas that it will serve.

The Positive

Looking at the east side line provides a glimpse into an amazing service potential. Uninterrupted by traffic, unencumbered by the inefficiencies of diesel, hybrid power, or even rubber on road concerns Bellevue could be connected 365 days a year through almost any conditions. Cold weather concerns in this area wouldn’t even bother light rail, the destructive nature of chained tires on buses goes away for this route. Increased capacity to move people between Bellevue and Seattle increases by a substantial percent.

Over a period of 30 years of operation, the net cost of light rail, even with some of the above mentioned design cost concerns, would be equivalent to that of similar bus operations with lower capacity.  (Keep in mind this is in comparison to the usual 18-22 years it usually takes for light rail to recoup and become cheaper than equivalent bus service, after which light rail only becomes a smaller and smaller cost compared to equivalent bus service)

Additionally the amount of “choice” riders will increase based on empirical ridership numbers. The town centers that are served (Bellevue and Seattle) will gain foot traffic that, some realize, is vastly more valuable and less costly to service than auto based traffic. The Overlake Transit Center area, pending Microsoft maintains itself as a dominant employer in the area, will become even more intensely utilized. In addition Microsoft itself could probably even woo additional talent from downtown (which it often desperately wants to do – re: Connector).

The Questions

In the end though, will this work? Will Seattle be able to provide the funds for this? Will Seattle get enough support from the Federal Government? Is the potential payoff even worth it compared to a cheaper implementation of light rail? Why is Seattle, at least by action, ignoring lessons learned in Denver, Portland, San Francisco, and Vancouver? Will people really use the system in enough numbers to validate its massive cost per mile? Already auto based transportation is draining this country of monetary resources, inefficiencies, and now we continue to fall into hock to support it. But can we do better with well built transit services? Will we recoup enough efficiencies from this to save so much of our decaying standard of life? Will Seattle’s (via Sound Transit) ongoing attempts to build out light rail actually build up the town centers within this city?

What’s your take? I’d love to know. Please comment!  Cheers  🙂