Rethinking Transit #2: Make the Route Transitions Transparent

Ok this might actually take some effort on behalf of King County Metro. But seriously, it would help tremendously for anyone traveling through downtown. Most routes come into the city from the north, south, or east (the ferries come in from the west). One example is the #18, which arrives downtown from the north and then becomes another route. Sometimes it becomes the #56 or something else that then heads south, but I’m not always sure what it becomes. It isn’t entirely obvious without doing research on a regular basis and studying the schedules (which again is mostly nonsense). So what’s the solution I proffer? Stop making these routes independent. I understand they’re “different routes” or whatever, but you don’t actually transfer. Not in a physical way. It also doesn’t make sense to any logical person, if you paid when you got on and then when you get off again they want you to pay again. The confusion is stupid. However, I’ll leave the fixes to the fare collection system for another day, so don’t get tangled in all that nonsense.

What I suggest, is keep a route number (or whatever designates the entirety of the route) the same. If the #18 starts at North Beach, goes through Ballard, and generally becomes a #56 that heads south to SW Alaska Way or whatever, just pick a number for that route and stick with it. Stop being all bi-polar about what the route number needs to be as soon as a bus gets downtown. This only serves to confuse regular riders and people that don’t regularly use the system are screwed. Those individuals have no chance of understanding at first glance what in the world the system is doing. If the #18 however changes to another route, say #21, then just change that routes number to #21 from the get go and give it a full north to south alignment.

What other problems does this bi-polar splitting of the route? It makes bus drivers have to deal with passenger confusion all the time. Passengers come up all the time and ask, “where does this bus go now?” or if they know a little bit about the system they ask “what route is this bus changing to?”  Once you’ve boarded there is no way to know without harassing the bus driver. I’m pretty sure they’d be cool with simplifying it for the passengers and just saying this is the #18 route from north to south or the #21 route from north to south. Also, don’t give me some nonsense about this being some normal way to run a bus system, it may be but its a crappy thing to do. For once, act like it actually matters that the passenger has a usable product (the transit service) and make it work for them.

Anyway, that’s solution #2. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them! There are lots of improvements to make and I’d be more than happy to be a sounding board for the ideas!

Until another time, happy riding!

In case you want more information about King Count Transit.

Day #15 of the Ballard Commute

Today the sun is out and shining bright in Seattle. This always brings more people out by an order of magnitude. The sidewalks have all sorts of people out and about, in addition it also brings those people out that the rest of society would rather not see. The entertainment factor also increases. People and all their silly pet tricks get into full swing.

But I do digress. It’s nice to see everybody outside wandering and playing around in the sun. I however am going to ramble on about the actual Ballard commute some.

The commute generally stays the same as it did the first few days, except a slight bit faster in the morning and a little bit more cumbersome in the evening. It seems, when their isn’t rain pouring everywhere that people manage to not wreck as much. At least, they aren’t wrecking on roads that I’m riding the bus on.

The Market Street & Ballard Street Bus Stop has been immensely useful. With the #17, #18, and #44 running through that stop, it is very easy to get anywhere that I need to be in a reasonable amount of time. Even the run to the airport isn’t really that bad. Albeit, it would be nice if it were a single seat ride.

The ride out of downtown is the only part of the daily commute that has a little bit of a problem. The Denny to Elliot Street traffic is a complete catastrophe most of the time. It only amounts to about 3-4 blocks of traffic, but the bus lane doesn’t begin until the bus manages to get through that 3-4 blocks. Amazingly I don’t have any solutions for this bottleneck and obviously Seattle doesn’t either.

Anyway, just a few observations from the last few days of the commute.

A Smile For The Commute Home

The commute home today has been an interesting one. I really dug the Coffee Bean Espresso Shop in Belltown when I visited a couple weeks ago. I got a coffee card, a mug, a pin, and other nicknacks when I first visited – because I dug it just that much. Today on the way home I decided to go by again and have a coffee while I waited for my bus.

You might wonder, “why would you go way over there to wait for your bus! That’s the other end of downtown!” Well my main stop that I board the bus to return home, 3rd and Seneca, has so many buses coming by in addition to the #17, #18, or #15 that I usually ride. I decided to board one of the dozens of other buses coming by that exit downtown through Belltown and get off to finish my wait at the Coffee Bean. I boarded a #1 and was down to the Coffee  Bean with a solid good few minutes before my next bus arrived.

I egressed the #1 and a few others also did too. I walked under the construction awning that is setup as I walked to the corner. Out of the peripheral of my eye I saw someone following me. I thought nothing of this, it is the city after all. However I walked across the street and I looked behind me to see who it was. Not that I expected it to be someone I’d know, but just wanted to see. When I looked around I saw a young lady walking behind me. I thought “meh” ok, no threat, no concern, nobody I knew.

Well I walked on up to the front door of the Coffee Bean Shop and she says jovially, “yes, I’m following you…” with the expected sarcasm one would have when not really following someone. To her surprise though, me being who I am, I decided I’d open the door for the young lady. So I took the door and stepped back pulling it open letting her walk in. She got a smile from this and said thank you as she entered. I jokingly retorted, “and now I’m following you”.

She walked up to the counter to order and I followed in. As she ordered the guy at the counter asked, “is that all?” She responded with, “for me, and whatever he’s having.”  So I piped in with, “A small cappuccino, wet.” He responded “cool”. I said “thanks” to the young lady and walked over to my corner and plunked out the Apple Mac Book Pro to work on. I got my coffee, finished up what I was doing, and checked on the arrival time of my next available bus.  I had 4 minutes, which was perfect.

I packed up, and walked over to the young lady. I figured, after such a nice gesture, I should introduce myself. One never knows when they may run into a familiar face again. She introduced herself as “Laura”. After a rather long day, thanks Laura for being such a good soul and making my trip home a pleasant one.

I exited the coffee shop and headed to the stop. A #15 rolled up and I boarded. Again, I whipped out the laptop and decided this entry on the Transit Sleuth needed typed up, so here it is. The remaining trip went well, with no traffic congestion.

I sure hope everybody else had a good trip home with the smiling faces of friendly people. Until the next sleuthing about…  good travels.

Rethinking Transit #1: User Experience Fixins’ for King County Metro

One of the big problems with transit, is the lack of creativity to create better, more usable, easier to understand elements.  The last great strides in transit usability, where almost all done during the private* company days of the early twentieth century. Regardless of this though, I’m going to put together some ways that King County Metro could make the system here in Seattle more friendly to regular users, new first time users, people coming in from other cities for a visit, tourists on vacation, or whoever may be trying to use the system. With that, this is a new blog entry series I’ll be starting called Rethinking Transit. If anyone would be interested in syndicating this I’m all ears! Just get in touch with me at adronhall [at] gmail [dot] com.

With these solutions I will try to follow a few general principles:

  1. They have to be covered by current operating or set dollars that are in the budget. I might provide some solutions that are extremely small expenses – no more than a 1-2% increase in the budget at most.
  2. They must be simple enough that even a heavily bureaucratic entity like King County Metro could undertake with just a few brave individuals standing up for the change! These solutions aren’t going to be like “Run light rail EVERYWHERE” or “Make every bus like a BRT line” or “put tolls on the entire city and do rush hour charging”. Simple, basic, easy to implement solutions.
  3. Any changes that I suggest, that provide solutions to current problems should enable ridership to increase without strain on the system. Maybe a few minor tweaks or changes, but overall the system and Union people won’t have to freak out, they can still generally operate everything just as it was.
For any other suggestions on how to fix the system, I’ll leave those for specifically labeled blog entries. For this series though, I’m going to label each entry starting with Rethinking Transit. With all that out of the way, my first of the series begins now!
User Experience Map Fail

King County Metro has time tables and schedules available in some locations. On some of the posts downtown they actually have schedules and other miscellaneous information. On many of the signs and posts that show stops downtown or even in the outer edges of Seattle the number of the route is at least shown. Here’s a suggestion on how to drastically improve the usefulness of transit stops in Seattle. I’ve enumerated them below.
  1. Stop putting the schedules at the bus stops. If anything is on the post, put the frequency and a link to for real-time arrivals, but do NOT put the intended arrival time. The schedule is a lie, complete utter bullshit. Everybody around the city that uses the buses more than once or twice knows the schedule is a lie. That’s why about 32k people per day use the @onebusaway service. So just stop lying and provide something that can actually help people ride the bus. Get usage of @onebusaway even higher, provide some small funding for it, get more involved, but stop putting up bullshit schedules. Just because that’s the way it worked 100 years ago doesn’t mean it does today, so stop ignoring reality.
  2. The second thing that would actually be helpful is to actually put a map on the stop. It doesn’t have to be a complex map, but at least a map stating if the bus heads north out of downtown or south or whatever. A schedule, which as I pointed out above is completely useless, is silly but a map at least gives some guidance for people that aren’t absolutely sure which bus they need. I know, some of the bus drivers out there might bitch (at least I can imagine Jeff calling me an idiot or something now because I supposed to know every route – which generally I do, but I study this stuff, most people do NOT do that and shouldn’t have to). But seriously, help out the people trying to use the system by at least making a meager attempt to inform them where a route goes.
Well, those are my first two suggestions. I’ll have another entry coming real soon on how to improve the system. I intend to write a new entry of Rethinking Transit every two weeks, so the next installment will be on the 30th. Until then, happy riding!
In case you want more information about King Count Transit.

Day #2 and Day #3 of the Ballard to Seattle Transit Commute

Yesterday I made the #17 at a spot on 7:53am. The driver was awesome, had a great attitude, and just put smiles on the passengers faces as they boarded. Also he worked diligently informing the boarding passengers that the ORCA card reader was busted, and to keep moving. All the while with a big grin, and a jovial retort. My gal and I did notice he was a bit heavy footed on the gas a break. I did notice as he handled the bus, that it was more out of precision and stupid drivers on the road than him being heavy footed.

People in America drive cars horribly, it is that simple. If you think you drive well, you’re most likely wrong. With automobiles we tend to kill each other at a higher rate than most developed nations too, a stat that I’d rather us not have. But I digress.

Today I boarded the #17 Express again. This time the bus was spot on at 7:47am. Unlike day 1 when I mistakenly thought it should arrive at 7:43am, which only made the bus about 6 minutes late on Monday (thanks Jeff, work on your delivery though, you come off as a complete asshole online, but a teddy bear in real life). As soon as we arrived at the turn on Denny into the Belltown area, we hit some sluggish traffic.

At 8:06am we finally pulled into the Belltown 3rd Street bus corridor. On this street things always seem to move along well. Day 3 commute started well, and with that I’m off to the work day.

The Existing Commute, The New Commute

On the 15th I’ll start a new commute route for a new job.  I’m pretty stoked, as this one is more what I like.  I used to have a commute in Portland like this:

…or like this…

Then I changed that one for greater opportunities in Seattle and my commute turned into this:

…and I’ve again made a move for a great opportunity and an awesome urban commute of this:

…or this one.

Needless to say I’m looking forward to spending 10-15 minutes getting to work each day versus the hour long commute each way before.  I’ll have more about these locations in the future.  For now I just wanted to post these commute maps for reference.  Interesting changes that I’m really stoked about.

I still, have the big wopper of a blog entry coming on Vancouver, BC.

Another Way Home

I set out on a very round about alternate route home today.  Events and scheduling of the day had lined up perfectly for such an alternate trip.

My normal trip home from Redmond, Washington is to board the #545 at Overlake Transit Center bound west for Seattle proper, once there I just walk about towards home, sometimes from the downtown core or sometimes down Denny or through South Lake Union.

Today I’m heading south from Overlake Transit Center on the #566 headed for Auburn, Washington.  The bus takes a trip south down through Bellevue, then on down I-405 toward Kent.  From either Kent, or a stop before then, I intend to transfer and hopefully catch a north bound Sounder Train.  Since this is a rather spontaneous effort, I could be stranded at any random location.  However, I’ve no fear, so “meh” I say.

I ended up realizing I wasn’t going to make the Sounder, so decided to get off at the Renton Transit Center in downtown Renton.  It seemed I had good timing as I got off the bus and walked right into the Renton Farmer’s Market!  Kettle corn was smelling great, freshly cooked up, and all sorts of tents offering various things.  I love these bits of community, absolutely great!

I however skipped out on the farmers market and went into a local establishment called Best Burger.  It was located directly across the street from the transit center.  Further along 3rd the Italian Joint almost caught me, but I wanted something along the junk food line of American Burger.

Route #106

Afterwards I scoped out a return trip to Seattle proper.  I ended up with deciding on the Metro #106 Route.  It has a winding route from Renton, by Rainer Beach a ways, and up and over Beacon Hill.  Unfortunately it doesn’t pass by the actual Beach, I’m still curious to see the area.

The bus wound up over steep hills, twisting and turning through the streets.  We left Renton without much to notice we did and onward toward Rainier Beach Area.  The skyline was beautiful, with trees reaching up broke the spears of sunlight.  Each ray of light flashing as the trees gave relief to those sitting by the windows of the bus.  However several people still shielded their eyes from the brightness.

Once the bus made it to the top of the hill, one could look back and see off into the distance as we turned.  The bus stops seemed like they were every block or two now.  If you’ve checked out the link for the #106 route, you’ll see that there are a great number of stops along this route.  This is one of the reasons that I chose it, as I knew the run would be a bit slower, making it easier to take in the view of the route.

Moving along the spine of the hills we entered Skyway.  Once on this rode I knew I had picked a gem of a route.  This part of town was pretty sketchy.  Businesses along the way were open, but just as many were shuddered.  Some of the single level buildings, and some two story buildings weren’t shuddered, but could easily have been mistaken for being so.

We rolled further along the route through residential and commercial districts.  Along the decline of Skyway I looked out and could see the southern stretches of Lake Washington.  Highway 90 was in the distance, with cars the size of ants zipping across.  The water looked smooth glimmering in the sunlight.  The tree lined shores of the island broke the water with vertical ease.  With the sun and blue  skies this was a rare sight for this area I’m sure!

A little further along the route intersected with the Link Light Rail at the Rainier Beach Stop.  From this intersection the route zigzagged back uphill.  Some of the views down on Lake Washington are awesome from up here on this route.  At this point, I’m glad I decided on this one!


After a bit further a plane came SCREAMING overhead!  I bound across the bus to see where it was in bound for.  Sure enough we were by the Boeing Airfield south of downtown Seattle.  We pulled up at the first stop in Georgetown and I saw a cool music shop and next to it a coffee shop.  I then commenced to walk along the street in Georgetown and be wowed and the coolness of the area.  Absolutely loud, being sandwiched between an air field, the Interstate, multiple rail lines, and other industrial nitty gritty, but awesome atmosphere for rock n’ roll, biker bars, and the like.  Very rock star is what I’m saying.

I walked around for about 45 minutes and then headed onwards toward downtown.  That was my commute home for today, slightly different than the norm.  :)  Cheers!