San Francisco Shorty

A few months ago I ran down to San Francisco. On the quick adventure (I promise beers to all those I didn’t call! This was literally a crazy fast trip) down to the city I did manage to grab a number of pictures and ride a few modes of transit. I also made a few observations about San Francisco’s state of multi-modalism and livability.

First the Negative Dirty Bits

There are a few things that I observed, that were in evidence the last couple of trips I made too. San Francisco is a fairly dirty city. After walking around for a day, one often finds themselves with a film of dirt & dust. A shower becomes a requirement instead of a nice to have. This is prevalent in almost any major city, but for some reason San Francisco gives the perception that one wouldn’t feel this way, but it does indeed happen.

Automobile reliance is still out of control in this city, and too much preference is given in laying out the city infrastructure. This is done in spite of livability and existing neighborhoods. I’m sure however, that this will continue to decrease since it is not maintainable at current levels of dependence.

Now For the Awesome News

Even though San Francisco has a lot of automobile dependent people, the numbers that are not dependent or completely independent (i.e. car free) have definitely increased. In addition to that the options are steadily increasing in the city.

I finally got to see the distinctive dedicated bike lanes on Market Street, running parallel to auto and streetcar/trolley traffic. This type of multimodal setup is a prime option for city streets. In San Francisco, this change has shown with physical, visual, and statistical evidence that reduction of car trips by setting up roads for multi-model use does indeed improve the livability of an area. I’m sure there are a few curmudgeons here and there disagreeing, but for those that live in the neighborhoods and downtown of San Francisco, I’m betting they’re enjoying this change at this very moment!

Tree lined streets also seem to be popping up along Valencia and others. This is a major improvement for any city. Trees make a world of difference, pure concrete makes streets less appealing to pedestrians. Pure concrete encourages drivers to speed up and become less attentive, increasing fatalities – again, all in evidence by more than one measure.

Another thing besides the bike lanes and tree lined streets San Francisco is doing something else that’s a great idea! They have taken some street parking along the street and turned it into outside seating. This, like the trees, adds an appeal for people to get out of cars (or not arrive in cars in the first place) and be among their fellow citizenry. I got to experience people actually speaking to each other, getting to know their neighbors. Things one will never see in the fast food joints of the American suburbs. Suburbanites may think they hate their neighbors, but when people get together they realize there is a lot more in common than in separation.

Jeez Seattle, Come On… But Seriously, Cool Stuff Afoot!

Yesterday morning as all three buses pulled up to the Market and Ballard Stop I watched as about 25 people boarded the #17 Express, 3 on the #17, and 11 on the #18 Express. A total of 39 people at one stop is pretty impressive.

Today the morning departures came in exactly on time, one after another. The #17 Express boarded 13 people, the #17 boarded 2, and the #18 Express boarded 13. This seemed a bit more the average than yesterday.

However, we did have a dead bus that Metro Workers were working diligently to get out of the the stop. The bus had spewed some oil and the guy taking care of it had thrown down a material that pulls the oil up to prevent any additional from seeping into the cement or roadway cracks.

The last few days of commuting have been good, no serious delays and for the most part, the buses have arrived at the stops I board on time. When I say on time, regular readers know I literally mean on the dot too! I’m a stickler for that. Not that it is a big deal to me if they’re a few minutes late, but I’m always happy when things go according to plan. 😉

There is one thing I’ve noticed over the last few weeks that I knew, but recently it has really resounded loud a clear.

The City of Seattle and surrounding city areas just are not remotely as serious about transit as San Francisco, Portland, or Vancouver British Columbia. Seattle is looking at 2022-2023 before they lay down light rail that should have been built 10-20 years ago to Bellevue and Redmond. (or the city should have bulked up its original transit system instead of letting it die) As far as north western cities go, Seattle is the least progressive when it comes to transit (Ok, some could maybe argue Spokane, but it doesn’t always come to mind).

However, there is a silver lining. Seattle still manages, mostly through no political competency but mostly pure simple lay of the land, to have clean power through hydro. It has fairly clean transport by American Standards because the citizens in the area are generally thoughtful of such things. The air is clean by measure of many American Cities also. Seattle just lacks luster in getting serious transit infrastructure built compared to its immediate neighbors.

That just bums me out.

However, I’ve been a happy citizen as of late. The city overall is doing pretty well, and even amid these bouts of infighting and backwards mentalities from the east side there is some shining examples of great strides forward (I’m not sugar coating it, it’s mostly the east side that has this perverse orientation and obsession with everything being massive paved over roadways, livability be damned!)

Seattle is Kicking Bicycles into High Gear on Dexter!

One of these examples is the bike way from the Fremont area to downtown were bus stop islands, bike ways and bike lanes are being put into place, and generally the roadway as a whole is being improved dramatically. I hope to get some pictures soon of this and get an entry put together to discuss and describe what they’re doing.

Another great example of progress is citizen activity around building out improvements to the transit system with things like One Bus Away. Even though King County Metro doesn’t put much effort into these things (unlike TriMet, San Francisco, etc) there are efforts among local coders to make sure these extremely valuable tools are maintained and expanded for use. Hopefully King County Metro will get on board with more support in the near future but either way, it is great to see the individual support of Seattle Citizens taking this on themselves to make things better!

King Street Station is Looking…

Sexy. This station, which was once and will again one day be a magnificent piece of American Architecture and design. The station is getting cleaned up and rebuilt in some places to assure it continues to remain standing another 100 years! This station has a huge amount of history for the city and had been in disrepair, but now there is a great future awaiting the station. This then leads me to…

King Street Station, Union Station, International District Station to First Hill to Broadway Streetcar!!!!

Yes, Seattle is stepping it up with a streetcar in what is probably the most happening part of the city. Night life, art, architecture, startups, small business, schools, neighborhoods, restaurants, and more all are on Capitol Hill. With the addition of this primary arterial mover, a streetcar line, running from Cap Hill down to the train station and the International District/Union Station Tunnel Stop two major connection points will be brought together. I also imagine that this streetcar might have higher ridership than the existing one on Westlake. But that brings me to my last positive point…

Amazon is Kicking Ass and Bringing Life to Westlake and South Lake Union

Amazon, a major Seattle employer is in the process of building out several major buildings and moving it’s 12k + employee headquarters to South Lake Union. This has caused the ridership on the SLUT (South Lake Union Trolley) to skyrocket. Travel down that way and check out the stops around Amazon at any time during rush hour and you’ll see 20-40 people waiting to board at several stops. I could imagine if they expanded that streetcar into downtown to Pioneer Square and up into East Lake they’d have one of the busiest transit routes in the city with the completion. Already as it is the ridership is finally getting up there.

This means the streetcar will likely take its place as the cleanest mode of transport per passenger in the city, finally beating out the Monorail and Ferries. But we shall see. 🙂

Overall there are a lot of great things going on even though it often seems as if it is in spite of the transit agencies themselves. I’m hoping to see even more improved and better energy between the Seattleites and transit authorities themselves as time goes forward. As Sound Transit, The Seattle Streetcar, and King County Metro all improve the system with BRT, Light Rail, Streetcars, and increased service levels along major arterials Seattle will finally start pushing forward in a big way.

It is, after all, one of the biggest cities in the north west and it could easily take the lead in many of these neighborhood, complete streets, and transit related efforts!