Cafe Fiore, Route #17 and #48, and a Long Narrative!

I’m sitting here at Cafe Fiore. Watching the clientele come in and out, here at 85th and 32nd. It’s a nice little coffee shop with seating outside on the side walk in the sun. Outside there is the junction of two bus lines; #17 and the #48. Just the other side of the junction is a road that goes downhill through forrest to a Golden Park along the waterfront. This, is an absolutely gorgeous area. Not for me, but absolutely stunning in so many ways.

Considering the ridership of the #17 and #48, many people in this area ride the bus on a regular basis. I gather this from several observations. There is not much density here, as everything for many blocks is single family homes and there are plenty of garages with more than a few cars here and there. However, just from the ridership numbers one can assume that the express busses probably get 80-90% of their patronage from this area, with another 10-20% along the Market Street area. Further, much further down the street between Market Street and 60th there are a lot more apartments, where I assume a large part of that 80-90% come from. Leaving about half or less of that percentage coming from this area… which concludes with about 1-2% of the households in this area riding the bus. Considering the suburban layout of this area, this isn’t all that bad of a number.

One major positive for this area, is this coffee shop garners heavy foot traffic on a day like this. As does the park below near the waterfront. This is encouraging, as people aren’t riding around in their automobiles cluttering up the streets with traffic and wasting fuel. It is a very community oriented neighborhood, very unlike the far flung suburbs of Bellevue, further north in Everett or other outlying suburbs. This is a more traditional style “streetcar suburb”. Considering where the streetcars used to travel, it once was, so it all makes logical sense that it continues to be this way.

The #17 travels along 32nd avenue down and onto Market Street in Ballard. There it cuts a turn down the parallel to Ballard Street (I can never remember this street) and then travels across the 15th Street Bridge. Here is where it gets tricky. The #17 express continues along 15th, which becomes Elliot or Interbay (I hate it when cities give a street multiple names, or it continues along and just has multiple names for different stretches), and then into downtown. The express only runs on weekdays. The regular local route runs along this same stretch until the southern end of the 15th street bridge where it turns and runs along the canal and onto Westlake, then getting into the city. The whole route, of course, with many more local stops. One trip takes a total of about 35 minutes forms end to end, and the other takes about 45-50 minutes end to end.

The #48 travels along 85th, then cuts south somewhere and heads into the University District. I’ve never ridden the entire length, but at some point I intend to, maybe later today. It has good patronage I hear, from conversation, from the college crowd.

Which leads me back to the excitement and thought, that when Seattle finally opens their extra few miles of light rail to the University District they’ll finally see massive ridership increases on a scale they’re not yet imagining. I at least hope, because ridership on everything else that has been built out like this (the current line, the commuter rail, etc) has been appalling compared to other Northwestern Cities like Vancouver, San Francisco, and Portland (in that order matter of fact).

But again, back to the #48, this route acts as a great local route into the University District area. In the future, when the light rail opens, it could provide as a major feeder along with another dozen lines straight to the light rail. I know some transit enthusiasts will scream at me for this, but they could even cancel some early morning frequencies and replace them with express routes straight along this route to the light rail. The express route could then provide faster travel along 85th and along the north south of its route into the University District, doubling as a fast light rail feeder, university express, and more. Combine both the express and regular route and the area will have one of the fastest methods of getting into University and into Downtown Seattle.

Anyway, onwards route #48. This deserves riding, so now that I’ve pondered it, I’m off to give it a ride. So between now (12:30 on Sunday) and the next time stamp I’ll have given the bus a ride. 🙂

#48 Narrative, A Sunday Ride during the “lowest ridership” part of the week!  😉

1:00pm, departing on time with my “English Driver” as he referred to himself. We chatted a bit about the route, when it is busy and when it isn’t, week days vs. week ends, and more. As we moved along it was a pretty standard Seattle Route (beautiful along the way), with standard Seattle Streets (deteriorated and bumpy).

We got to the 24th Street stop and boarded 7 guys, all appearing with bandannas and such, carrying on and having a good time. I couldn’t help but ponder if they had gang associations with their “cali” style appearance. They also had a standard American disregard for simple speaking etiquette, but one can never really expect that except in the morning when the working America is headed into or out of work for the day. In the end, it doesn’t matter to me, I’m not offended but do make the observation.

Total Person Trips so far: 7 (I’ll be excluding myself and adding me at the end of the trip)

At 15th Street I note the numerous Swedish and Norwegian Flags along the Safeway. It is very interesting the pride in the Ballard area in regards to these origins. The patrons on the bus however seemed completely unrelated to those origins in a number of ways. Fortunately, their slight annoyance left with their presence as the de-bussed.

This was good since a small girl with a soccer ball, her mother, an elderly gentleman, and one other boarded at the 15th Street Stop. This makes for a much more comfortable ride for them, since these faux gangsters left (I say faux, since they obviously don’t live in poverty, northern Seattle isn’t exactly poor).

Total Person Trips so far: 11

Just a few streets further we have two elderly asian ladies board, with big smiles on their faces. They were speaking a language that I could not identify in any way. It struck me odd, as I can usually identify languages with a fair amount of accuracy. After a few minutes though, I realized what language they were speaking, which struck me as really odd, German! Yes, these two ladies were speaking German!

Total Person Trips: 13

Another man boarded, another man with his mother boarded, and several got off along the next few blocks.

Total Person Trips: 15

We reached Palatine Avenue North and one could see a number commercial establishments, little dives and grocery stores, basically a small town center of sorts. It appears to be a nice area that has at least a half dozen or more decades of history behind it. Again, another one of those “streetcar suburbs” which becomes very appareling with its character and presence. These suburbs always tend to go in stark contrasts, either beautiful and lively, with character or violent, downtrodden, with character and barely scraping by.

Getting into the core of this town center just a bit we boarded another 5 young people and another fella. This got our person trips up to 21.

While boarding one of the individuals, who was handicap and thus takes a minute or two, we boarded another 2 gentleman, which again bumped us up to 23 before we even pulled away from the stop.

We passed more streets; Dayton, Evanston, Fremont, Linden, and more. Along the way we picked up another 5, all younger people. Giving us a wide age range of people on this bus.

The bus finally arrived at Aurora, the major arterial to downtown where the #358 runs frequently (every 10 minutes? not sure how often but it is often). We moved on thru the light at Aurora with a few more boarded while passing another dozen or so higher density residential areas. The Aurora Corridor always kind of trips me out. It’s busy commercial and then quickly goes from moderate density to practically single home density within 4-5 blocks, with very little walkability, or enjoyable walkability along Aurora. However the residential areas are beautiful with sidewalks, small parks, schools and more.

Total Person Trips: 28

We rode further and I noticed another strange bit, the ladies speaking German behind me where also speaking Chinese now. Wow, my mind was being blown away by these two ladies just chatting away. It was really cool to hear them both switching between languages like that.

We arrived at Green Lake via Wallingford, turning onto the street slowly while dozens of people crossed. Another individual boarded the bus at this intersection stop. We then rolled on with the gorgeous lake view and hundreds of beautiful people jogging, walking, and families enjoying the Green Lake and surrounding park area.

The route was easy going along this segment. The trees stood still with no real wind to speak of, except as the bus passed we caused a slight stir. As we headed into the town center area near Green Lake along the eastern side of the lake, the route cuts onto Ravenna. In the median of Ravenna there are more jogging and bicycling on this gorgeous day. Very few cars are out at all, one of the beautiful things about the northwest. When it is nice out, in areas like this, people actually get out and get going within their communities.

We then cut onto 65th and pass underneath Interstate 5, the blight that it is here. Even though it poses all of the problems to a community and neighborhood that an Interstate does, the city and community has done its part to clean up, and keep clean, underneath the Interstate. Making it as appealing and as negligible an impact as possible. Just a few blocks further the town center area of Green Lake, even though divided by the Interstate, continues on into the University District Area. There we board another 2 people.

Total Person Trips: 30

A short ride further and we board another 3 after a turn onto 15th heading south into the University District core. Passing Cowen and 15th we get another person, a let off one person who travelled a whopping 1 stop with us.

The buildings in this part of town are interesting, with an almost European Elegance to them. Interspersed with College Dormitory style apartments that show a slight wear and tear. The route continues on 15th, heading uphill into the area. Another 1 person boards.

Total Person Trips: 35

We arrive at 50th, which gets us about as close to the core of the University District to make a walk around easily done. The bus clear 47th, 45th, and so on. It appears some of the blocks just skip altogether in this part of the city. Another 1 person boards.

While heading down 15th street through the University District I note that the construction of the bus stops is going well. They look nice, open designs, easier to keep clean and unmarked by the mischievous. It doesn’t appear they’ll be completely enclosed, green style stops as is traditional in Seattle like King County Metro has built them in the past.

A bit further on, another rider boards. The sun shines in brightly as we come down to Pacific Avenue. One of the riders that boarded earlier continues, after more than 10 minutes already, to frantically put on lotion. I suspect, considering her light complexion that she’s preparing to be outside for a while. However I keep noticing since she has this frantic gusto about her efforts to get this lotion on. In a way, it’s sort of comical, and even though she doesn’t realize somewhat awkward for her activity. Others are watching her every few moments, her activity triggering an instinctual response to look and see what the frantic action is about!

I just sit there, straight faced as I always do. We pull along, on Pacific Avenue and then across the canal bridge into the Montlake area. While passing one can see the cranes and walls surrounding the future light rail tunnel stop.

As the bus travels along 24th avenue through Montlake, I see a few funny sites. One is a couch, in typical northwest fashion, sitting on the sidewalk with a big sign that has “free” written across it. Further up the way, in the heat of the this sunny day, I see two standard bearing “Goth” kids walking along a sidewalk with big bags of colorful recyclables. It isn’t haha funny, but curious funny, with a little touch of entertaining.

Our current load of passengers slowly starts to trickle away as we move up the hill while still on 24th. We travel thru some extremely rough spots in the road. This bumpiness, another of my frustrations with buses, is frustrating. Flinging the monitor on my laptop forward. The display almost hits its back against the seat wall in front of me. I can’t help but ponder how much nicer this would be if it were light rail, a streetcar, or something on solid, flanged wheels. I’d even suffice to say a nice Mercedes BRT style bus would do exponentially better. But oh well, life will go on, I’ll straighten my display, and I’ll just suffer the bus life with it’s better livability versus the other options (auto-based dependent nooses, I mean lifestyles, for those that may read this and not know what I speak of).

We arrive at Madison, 23rd, and Denny, and a young girl holds her arms out to her sides, as if forming a cross, and rotates her torso. Apparently exercising or doing middle of the sidewalk yoga. Something of the sort, one more funny bit to note.

During these few stops we trickle away a few more riders and gain another 6 over time.

Total Person Trips: 41

As we move further into the core of downtown Seattle, we pass a Church with patrons lined up outside heading inside. We board a few African Americans, taking pride in their church going activities and wearing very stylish proper Sunday attire. Further on we board more youth, a few more elderly, and a loud mouthed mother. She spurts out commands to her child making half the bus look at her. Being she’s a “loud mother” people just look down and ignore her. Not particularly concerned with her or her disruption. Another person boards, we roll on.

To the right, facing west, the city buildings can be seen from about the 40th floor and up. The First and Capitol Hills and the angle we ride upon them, block the view any lower than that. We head thru an African American dominated part of town into another Asian dominated part of town. The divide, in my opinion unfortunate, is clear from one part of town to another. Hopefully the divide continues to decrease over time as it has been. The horrors of Seattle’s past between these two communities, and the Irish and Asian Communities is something to be left in the past.

Riding a long further one yard has the flames of a super hot barbecue alive with the efforts of the cooks. Several in the yard focusing on attaining those tasty morsels.

The route cuts along a S in the road as we draw nearer the end of the route. It makes me wonder, with the ridership on a Sunday like this evenly spaced in this short end of the route equal to that of the long 85th to the University District end. I had thought earlier that this would be a great route that could act as a feeder into the light rail station, and it absolutely can, but this southern end of the route will probably maintain a pretty significant ridership that may or may not feed into the light rail, but instead just in and around the area. It does however serve to some degree as a feeder into the Baker Station Stop of the existing light rail station. This however brings up another thought, “do the bus routes act very much as feeders to the light rail or is the light rail mostly derived from other sources?”

The bus pulls onto Rainer Avenue, where the loud mother and her mother de-bus, a friendly reminder from one passenger asks them, “is this your stroller” under the front seat. To which the mother’s mother replies, “yes, thank you” as they all line up and de-bus. Always nice, that even the noisy, what appears to be uncourteous individuals, can be respectful and polite. Just because they don’t cover the full gamut of what one might think is or isn’t polite, doesn’t mean that individuals don’t have their redeeming qualities and polite aspects.

We arrived, just a few minutes behind the intended arrival. Pulling into the Baker Transit Center stop at 2:08pm. A great ride, interesting sites, beautiful scenery, and a very wide slice of Seattle’s Population. Asian, African American, Philippine, Mexican, and more. Always great to see transit, where the real melting pot of the United States is.

I got off the bus, while some people asked the driver questions about where they were going. I pulled my bike from the bike rack on the front of the bus. Officially, the trip is complete.

Total Person Trips: 41 <- Anyone know the peak person trips per frequency? I’d love to know what the range is.

End Narrative

I walked across the street to the Baker Transit Center Light Rail Station. Up the escalator and along within 2 minutes was my ride back into town… and this is where I leave this blog entry.

Cheers, happy riding!
Transit Sleuth


PS – The geoposition on this blog entry, which is the address for Zeitgeist Coffee (1 of the best in Seattle) isn’t showing up on the Bing Maps properly. It shows like it is in the stupid stadium, it however is clearly in the old town part of Pioneer Square Area! Not cool Bing Maps, not cool.

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  🙂

Ouch, More Cuts on the Way

Time for some more cutting, straight from Metro…   😦

Public Hearings on Transit Service Cuts

Due to the dramatic recession-driven drop in sales tax revenues, Metro Transit is facing a $60 million annual deficit between revenues and the cost of providing current levels of transit service. To close this budget shortfall, King County has a choice of cutting 17 percent of transit service—taking the system back to 1996 service levels—or preserving current service levels by enacting a $20 congestion reduction charge on vehicles in King County.

The Metropolitan King County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee will host three special evening hearings to hear public testimony on the proposed transit service reduction and the Metro Transit budget crisis. These meetings are an opportunity for you to learn about the proposals and weigh in on the future of Metro transit.

The meetings will be held in Kirkland, Seattle and Burien:

Date Location
Wednesday, July 6, 6:00 p.m. Kirkland City Council Chambers
123 Fifth Avenue
Tuesday, July 12, 6:00 p.m. King County Council Chambers
516 Third Avenue, 10th Floor, Seattle
Thursday, July 21, 6:00 p.m. Burien City Council Chambers
400 S.W. 152nd Street


In the past two years, Metro Transit has transformed its operations to hold off these cuts and wrench every available dollar out of the agency for service, including:

  • Achieving new scheduling efficiencies;
  • Eliminating more than 100 staff positions; deferring planned service expansion;
  • Reducing operating reserves; and reducing its capital program.

In addition, riders are sharing the pain: since 2007, Metro has raised fares four times, an increase of 80 percent. Metro’s employees were also part of the solution: negotiating cost-cutting labor agreements that will reduce Metro’s costs by $17 million per year.

Despite these fare increases, budget reductions, and operational efficiencies, it is not enough to cover the anticipated shortfall and we are now nearly out of tools to save our system. The savings and efficiencies created by Metro over the past few years save approximately $147 million per year, but the drop in sales tax revenues means Metro still faces an operating shortfall of $60 million a year each year from 2012 through 2015.

The State Legislature authorized a tool that is available to King County to help maintain Metro service at its current level: a temporary $20 Congestion Reduction Charge on vehicle licenses for a two–year period ending in mid-2014. County Executive Constantine has sent that proposal to the County Council as well as two other pieces of legislation:

  • An ordinance approving a Congestion Reduction Plan, a prerequisite for Council action on a Congestion Reduction Charge.
  • An ordinance cutting 100,000 hours of Metro bus service effective February 2012 and directing Metro to plan for reducing bus service by an additional 500,000 service hours in the 2012-2013 budget.

Metro Transit service is critical to the economy of King County, providing approximately 110 million rides annually, taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road each day, and helping people get to and from some of the largest employment and activity centers in our state. More information about Metro’s financial crisis and the Congestion Reduction Charge is available at this link.

17% Service Reduction?!?! Seriously?

Ok, this sucks. Straight from Metro.

County Executive calls on County Council to enact two-year funding for Metro or face 17 percent service reduction

King County Executive Dow Constantine this morning asked the King County Council to make important decisions about the future of Metro Transit: approve a two-year, $20 congestion reduction charge to help maintain Metro service near current levels for two years, or begin the process of reducing the transit system by 17 percent.

The poor economy has hit Metro hard, causing a drop in Metro’s funding from sales tax. Over the past four years, Metro has cut costs, raised fares four times, dug deeply into reserves, found new operating efficiencies, canceled the purchase of replacement buses, and negotiated cost-saving contracts with its employee unions. These actions have generated nearly $400 million to narrow Metro’s budget gap for 2008-2011 and about $143 million annually for the years ahead—but Metro still faces an ongoing shortfall of $60 million per year.

The two-year congestion reduction charge would be $20 a year on vehicles licensed in King County. The proceeds would be used to preserve transit service while King County works with regional leaders, legislators and the Governor on a long-term funding solution for transportation needs.

In case the congestion charge is not approved, the Executive also asked the Council to authorize a reduction of about 100,000 annual bus service hours in February 2012. This would be the first in a series of reductions totaling 600,000 service hours that the Executive would ask the Council to authorize for the next two years if new funding is not approved.

These reductions would shrink the Metro system by about 17 percent, leading to the loss of an estimated 9 million passenger trips annually.Overall, a reduction of this size would affect 80 percent of Metro passengers—meaning four out of five bus riders would have to walk further, wait longer, make an extra transfer, stand in the aisle, or even see fully loaded buses pass them by.

Other areas have balancing budgets at this point? Why is Seattle still getting hit so hard? Can we stop serving the areas that barely use transit and bulk back up where we get real ROI already?! This is insane.

The other question I have though, is what in the world is this $20 congestion charge? How would it be applied? It appears that this isn’t a concrete idea or maybe somebody knows something more about it?