Category Archives: bus chick tested

Multimodal Monday: Sounder to the fair

Heading to the train

Let me begin this post by telling you how much I love the Sounder train. It is delightful. Truth be told, I enjoy the train a heck of a lot more than I enjoy the Puyallup Fair. Last year, Sounder was easily the best part of the entire fair adventure, and the fact that Sound Transit was running a fair shuttle again this year is a good part of the reason we decided to go.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out quite as well for our 2014 Puyallup pilgrimage.

The schedule for the shuttle is very limited this year; it only runs on September13th and the 20th, with three trips to the fair–leaving from Seattle at 10 AM, 11:45 AM, and 12:40 PM–and only one trip back, at 6:30 PM.

Since our only return option was on the late-ish side, we decided to take the 11:45 AM trip down. By the time we boarded the train in Seattle, it was already packed. After several minutes of wandering, we were able to find two seats in separate areas of the same car. Each of us ended up with a kid on our lap, but we were more fortunate than the riders who boarded after us, who did not find seats at all.

During the trip down, ST employees (or maybe fair people?) walked through the cars selling tickets to the fair, which was a great way to streamline the experience for riders. (They’re also selling train/fair “express packs” online this year.) We took advantage and bought our tickets on the way down.

Pierce Transit provided a shuttle from Puyallup Station to the fairgrounds (definitely an upgrade from the school bus ST used last year), but per usual, we opted to walk the half mile. It’s actually a very pleasant walk through downtown Puyallup–past the library and Pioneer Park–and it got us there faster than waiting for the shuttle would have. And, thanks to our ticket purchase on the train, we were able to bypass the line and walk right in.

The fair itself was the same as always. We ate. We listened to music. We saw draft horses and piglets. We rode some rides. We ran into friends.

Because we anticipated extreme crowding on the ride back (three trains’ worth of folks trying to fit onto one train), we headed back to Puyallup Station at about 5:50 PM. By the time we arrived, at around 6:00 PM, the line looked like this.

Sounder line

Sounder line

Needless to say, we didn’t make it on board. When the train finally pulled away from the station at a little past 6:30, it was so full the driver could barely get the doors closed. The hundreds of folks left behind milled around, confused, until word got around that buses were coming. A few minutes later, they arranged us according to destination.

Bus destinations

By this time, Chicklet had to use the bathroom. Unlike the Sounder, buses don’t have restrooms, and there was no way she was going to make it through a 45-minute ride without one. An ST staffer directed us to a porta potty, and we managed to make it there and back just as the bus to Seattle was pulling up.

The ride back to Seattle was lovely. We had seats together, fair scones (ST staff handed them out while we waited for our buses), and gorgeous views of The Mountain. We leaned back, relaxed, joked, and relived our experiences while the sun set outside the bus windows and the driver apologized for the inconvenience over the PA.

By the time the bus dropped us off at 5th & Jackson, both kids had to use the restroom. (It wouldn’t be a bus fam adventure without a trillion trips to public restrooms.) We hustled to King Street Station, took care of business, then full-on sprinted for the 14. By 8:30, we were home, exhausted and grateful.

There is no doubt that Sound Transit botched the planning for its fair service this year. They didn’t even do a very good job of managing communication during the drama. The day probably wasn’t the best advertisement for public transportation–either for the folks crammed on the train or for those left stranded at the station after a long day.

On the other hand, thanks to some scrambling by ST staff–and off-duty drivers who were willing to help out on short notice–everyone made it back where they started. And, if I may inject a bit of perspective: Trips to the fair are one thing. Until we adequately fund transit, people with far more important destinations will continue to be passed up and left behind.

Here’s hoping for a smoother experience next year. Or, maybe we’ll just go back to riding the 578.

Car-free “vacation”: Yakima

This summer, I was invited to a statewide public transportation conference in Yakima, hosted, oddly enough, by WSDOT. Since my participation was limited to one panel discussion, and since the Bus Fam almost never has an occasion to visit the south-central part of our state, I decided to bring the entire crew along for a mini vacation.

I learned from Ryan, the facilitator of my panel, that there is an airporter from Seattle to Yakima—incidentally, run by the same company that operates the bus we took to Anacortes in 2007. Upon further investigation, I learned that the Yakima airporter has a stop downtown–at the Washington State Convention Center–and one at the Yakima Convention Center/Red Lion, where the conference was being held.

So, early in the morning Sunday before last, we packed our bags and hopped the 27 downtown. We made it to the Convention Center in time for a pit stop, which is a good thing, because, as I learned when making our reservation, the Yakima airporter does not have restrooms on board.

The ride was quick and reasonably comfortable, other than a slightly overzealous air conditioner. The shuttle made four stops between convention centers–Seatac, North Bend, Ellensburg, and Cle Elum–and the trip took roughly four hours, including the wait at the airport for everyone’s baggage and a group pit stop in Cle Elum.

Our adventures in Yakima turned out not to be very adventurous. The Yakima Red Lion is pretty near the center of town, but there wasn’t much—other than hotels and fast food restaurants—in the immediate vicinity. The weather was a bit warm for wandering, and, since we were there on Sunday and Monday (and only a small part of Tuesday), there wasn’t a whole lot to wander to.

Yakima does have transit service: 11 routes, all of which stop running before 7 PM, and many of which offer hourly service for most of the day. But, it was hard to find the stops; there were exactly zero on the main drag through town. Also, the schedules and maps were confusing for us, since we don’t know the city, and they were definitely optimized for folks who know where they’re going. After several attempts, I did manage to ride the 6 to the visitor’s center, but that was the extent of my Yakima busing.

The stop where I caught the 6:
Waiting for the 6








Chicklet and Busling approved of the transfer color.
Pink transfer!








One of the drawbacks of traveling to a predominantly rural area without a car is that many of the places you’d want to visit are not accessible by transit. I would have loved to visit the Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center, but it was 20 miles away in Toppenish. Google claims that it is possible to get there using transit (if you’re willing to walk two miles), but the service is very limited—running only once (?) per day and taking over an hour each way—and was not feasible for a Monday afternoon, post panel.

In general, being in a place that essentially requires a car for mobility reminded me of how marginalizing it can be to try to get around without one. When I was in college (and for a few years after), I lived in Houston. For most of that time, I could not afford a car. Bus service in Houston was terrible, and a significant part of the city had no sidewalks at all. I regularly found myself walking in ditches, stranded for long periods, and generally unable to carry out my life. Being back in Seattle, in a neighborhood with sidewalks and passable transit, I had forgotten what it feels like to experience that level of vulnerability and stress just trying to get around. This trip was a good reminder of what life is like for so many people who don’t have the means or ability to drive a car. It was also a depressing foretaste of what life will be like in my own world in just a few months.

I digress.

We did manage to have some fun on our short trip. For one thing, the scenery was beautiful. (You’ll have to trust me, since my phone photos don’t do it justice.) And exploring the city on foot, even in the heat, was fascinating.

Proof that there’s one in every city:
MLK Blvd in Yakima






At the restaurant where we had dinner on Monday, I spotted a woman I recognized from the 27. (!) She was with a large group, so I was too shy to say hello. But Bus Nerd, ever the extrovert, marched over and introduced himself. Turns out, she’s also a hardcore bus chick and was also in town for the conference. So, now I have a new friend in my neighborhood. (He-ey Theresa!)

The best part of Yakima, by Chicklet and Busling’s standards, was the hotel pool. Let them tell it, the best part of every trip we’ve taken–ever–has been the pool. This, despite the fact that they’re not big on actual swimming.

Again, I digress.

We headed back to Seattle Tuesday morning, shortly after breakfast.

Bye, Yakima!








Father/son bus bonding:








The return trip was slightly shorter than the trip there, since the airport passengers were being dropped off, and we didn’t have to for wait anyone’s luggage. It’s a good thing. Thanks to a barely missed 27 and an excruciatingly slow 3 ride, the trip from the Convention Center to our house took an hour, door to door.

Yes, our two-mile trip within Seattle took more than a quarter the amount of time of our 150-mile journey back from Yakima.

Welcome to my future.

27 + Link = Seahawks!

Despite the fact that my Sonics are long gone, Nerd and I were still able to witness a Detroit/Seattle matchup this weekend. I am, of course, happy the Hawks won (What about them Seeeeeahawks?!), though sad for my beloved that his team lost. Then again, given the mood of the Hawks fans in the first quarter (and Nerd’s prominently displayed Lions gear), it’s probably best that things turned out as they did. I digress.

Is it just me, or is Link’s Stadium Station not the best stop to use to get to Seahawks Stadium? Of course we loved having an excuse to ride Link, but, given the amount of walking (backtracking north, that is) we had to do, it would probably have made more sense for us to get off at the ID station–or just to have walked the entire way from Pioneer Square.

Regular Seahawk/Sounder Link riders, what say you?

Link: Our first “real” ride

On Saturday evening, I finally caved to Nerd’s nagging to ride Link again, and we decided to head down to Columbia City for something to eat. It was our first time riding for real–as in, not on a opening/celebration day–and I am happy to report that (despite the rumors I’ve heard about empty trains) we had tons of company on our ride. If anything, we had too much company; we had to stand for the first several stops.

We also hit our share of new-travel-mode snags. For example:

• Payment was confusing. When we got to Pioneer Square station, we first thought we had to use our Orca cards in the ticket machines upstairs. We struggled to figure out what to do until a nice ST employee (who was servicing one of the machines), told us that we didn’t need tickets. We only needed to swipe our cards on the card-reading machines–once before boarding and once after debarking–inside the stations. He also warned us that if we forgot to swipe on the way out, our cards would be charged $2.50, which is the cost of the most expensive ride.

Soon after we boarded the train, the ST fare police came aboard and asked us to demonstrate proof of payment. Everyone in our car held up their tickets; we held up our Orca cards. It’s not clear how the guy knew we actually swiped them, and it’s really not clear how this proof of payment system will work as more and more riders get Orca cards. Maybe I’m missing something?

• The train had “technical difficulties.” Midway through the climb to the Beacon Hill Station, our train stopped at a little booth-type thingie, and two official-looking men with orange vests got on. They stomped their way through the train for about five minutes (without explanation), then left. The train continued to Beacon Hill Station, at which point the driver came out of his booth and kicked us all off with a short, barely intelligible explanation. One of the other passengers told me that the bells were not working, so that train could not be driven with passengers.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long for the next train (after all the drama, ours was only a minute or so ahead of the one behind it), and the rest of our trip went smoothly–except, that is, for all the stops at lights.

We decided to skip the train ride home and instead opted for the trusty (ahem) 48. The ride was without incident, except that when I swiped my Orca–a little over an hour after paying my fare on Link–I was charged the full $1.75 fare. Guess the “transferrable fares” part isn’t up and running quite yet.

Link opening: a recap (or, Bus Chick rides the train)

I haven’t been posting moment-to-moment updates on the light rail opening–in part because STB has you more than covered in this area, and in part because my life has (yet again) been getting in the way of my blog. (More on that in a future post.) If I’m honest, I’ll also admit to some residual negative emotions related to the way the line was implemented in the Rainier Valley, which, though they have not prevented me from vocally advocating for light rail in Seattle–and for this particular line–have tempered my giddiness somewhat. I digress.

So far, I’ve ridden Link twice: once, on a Friday afternoon preview ride* from Westlake Station all the way to the end of the line in Tukwila, and once (actually, more than once) up and down the in-city part of the route on opening day. Folks, I was excited to ride the train–so excited that I sat through an hour and a half of self-congratulatory speeches just so I could participate in the preview ride Friday–but I could not possibly have anticipated how amazing it would feel to actually ride it. It was so ridiculously cool to zoom through my beloved city on a train (a train!) and imagine what it will be like when future lines are built. My daughter, who, at 20 months, has already decided that Seattle is not a train town (Bus Chick: “We’re going to ride the train today.” Chicklet: “In Vancouver!”), will have to be disabused of that notion.

The preview ride was nice. I was able to experience the line from beginning to end: the tunnels, the views, and all of the stations. (Pictures to come later this evening.) Riding on Saturday will go down as one of the highlights of my life. Zipping from one station to another–stopping to get a bite or play at a park or cool off at a library–without ever once checking a schedule was absolutely liberating. If it hadn’t been for Chicklet, Nerd and I would have ridden all day.

The trains were cool (which reminds me: it’s about time to chat about buses and AC), comfortable (even standing is better on Link), and clean (which doesn’t mean much when a system is brand, spanking new, but still). A very nice voice** and LCD sign kept me apprised of where I was, so I could concentrate on managing Chicklet, calming down Bus Nerd (as you can imagine, he gets a bit excited about trains), and keeping my eyes peeled for an open seat.

Now that I’m finished gushing (see? my giddiness hasn’t been tempered that much), I’ll move on to the stuff that’s less than ideal:

• I’ve heard all the reasons why the section that runs through the Rainier Valley is surface, and I still don’t like it. Four lanes of traffic plus a train makes MLK way too wide, and crossing that street is nothing short of an ordeal. If you’re lucky, you’ll make it across before the light changes. If not, you’ll be stuck waiting again (sans barrier), right next to the tracks. If the goal of all the street improvements that accompanied the track was to make Rainier Valley’s neighborhoods walkable, it hasn’t been achieved.
• The Columbia City stop is a really long walk from the main business district.
• There is no stop at Southcenter.*** This would make the line about a bazillion times more useful, for folks who need to get to jobs and for car-free types like me who need to get to a mall from time to time. I don’t know the details, but my understanding is that this was blocked by the City of Tukwila. I cannot imagine why.
• I’m still not sure about how the payment stuff works. I get that I can use an Orca e-purse or pass. What I don’t understand is how much I’ll pay if I transfer from Metro to Link or vice versa.

Final verdict: Except for the occasional airport run or sporting event, I won’t be using light rail much. It doesn’t come to my neighborhood, and when I go to Columbia City or Rainier Beach, it’s a lot easier for me to catch the 48 right in front of my house than it is for me to go downtown and get on a train. This is unfortunate, since my little two-day taste has me dreaming of daily rides.

What’s more important than my direct benefit, though, is Link’s long-term impact on our region, which I truly believe will be phenomenal. I am so grateful that we’re finally on our way.


*The preview ride was for VIPs. I was included as a member of the press. (Thankfully, ST defines the term quite loosely.)
**I was a little jarred, though, when I heard the exit instructions. The voice says, “Exit to my left/right.” Is the idea for us to believe that the train is talking to us?
***Yes, I am aware that this issue (and the one about surface rail in the Valley) has been covered ad nauseam, but hey. The way I see it, there’s a reason for this.

A nice ride if you can get it

This evening, we Saulter siblings (well, three of us, anyway)–along with our respective SOs and Chicklet–convened in our original neighborhood of West Seattle to celebrate our father‘s 70th birthday. The plan was to meet at a restaurant on Alki–as good an excuse as any for Bus Nerd and I to try the Water Taxi shuttle for the first time. (Yes, I’ve been riding the Water Taxi for years, but since my dad lives across the street from the Seacrest dock, and I only ride my favorite floating bus to visit him*, I’ve never had occasion to use the shuttle. I digress.)

Some advice to Water Taxi riders who have to get somewhere (for example, a restaurant that doesn’t hold reservations and won’t seat a party until everyone has arrived) by a specific time: Get your tails off the boat and to the shuttle stop ASAP, or have a backup plan.

We were somewhere in the middle of the pack of passengers disembarking, and by the time we made it to the shuttle, it was full. The driver told us she only had room for one more person, and–oh yeah–hers was the last shuttle run that evening. Have I mentioned that bus service from Seacrest to the beach is all but nonexistent? Back in the old days, Nerd and I would have probably just taken a cab, since we didn’t have time for a long walk, but, of course, we had Chicklet in tow and no car seat.

Fortunately, we had a rarely available option: nearby family. I rode the shuttle with Chicklet while Nerd hightailed it to my dad’s place to hitch a ride with him. The reservation was preserved, and a good time was had by all, including–and especially–the guest of honor.

P.S. – For those who are wondering: We took the 56 home.

*I usually ride the bus to other destinations in West Seattle, since riding the Water Taxi tends to take longer. Pier 55 is a decent walk from 3rd Avenue, and the WT schedule rarely lines up well with the schedules of the buses I ride downtown.

Transit envy, part II

Last weekend, Chicklet, Nerd, and I got our Vancity bus (and Skytrain!) on and loved every minute of it. We rode lots of shiny new trolleys, eavesdropped on Canadian conversations, and walked our tails off.*

As promised, the highlights:

Creative digital displays:

Sorry bus
Polite Canadian bus drivers apologize when they can’t pick you up.
Bus root for Canucks
Guess this one didn’t work out so well.

These messages alternate with the standard stuff: the route number, “out of service,” and et cetera. I imagine that the Canucks messages are annoying to some people, since it means you have to look longer to see which bus is coming, but we tourists enjoyed them very much.

Amazing views**:

View from Vancouver bus
Not a bad view from the C21
Vancouver bus stop
Not a bad place to wait for a ride.

Shelter ads:

Vancouver bus shelter ad
Vancouver bus shelter with advertising

The ads are tasteful and attractive (as ads go), provide additional light (and thus, improve safety), and most importantly, provide an additional source of revenue to Translink.

Metro has a demo shelter ad in the International District, but it’s the only one in the county. Metro can’t sell shelter ads because of city sign ordinances that prevent advertising in the public right of way. These ordinances were written to prevent billboards and absolutely need to be revisited. Surely, some sharp lawyers and legislators could craft language that would allow for this particular exception.

Lots o’ true transit geeks:

Ikea run
Bus chicks like Ikea, too.
Plant on bus
And bus nerds occasionally purchase house plants.

Folks up north are apparently not shy about transporting stuff on the bus. Methinks (and this is just a guess) it is because a fair number of people who live in the city live without cars.

Next time we visit, we’re staying for longer than 24 hours.

*Chicklet also got lots of beach time, and (while Chicklet napped in the Ergo) Nerd and I saw a cool exhibit at SFU about black communities in BC. Thanks for hipping us to it, Paulette.
**Of course, for this bus chick, Seattle’s views are number one on earth, but Vancouver is just a hair behind.

Carfree Sundays, part III

The third and final carfree Sunday took place in my original neighborhood of West Seattle, so I didn’t mind the two-bus ride (4 + 56) to the festivities. (Then again, what’s two short rides compared to an unobstructed view of the Sound and the Olympics? I digress.)

West Seattle’s event was fun, but not as fun as Columbia City’s. (Thanks to the weather, Capitol Hill wasn’t even in the running.) Some reasons why:

• It wasn’t really car free. The far east lane of the street, which was separated from the activity with cones, remained open to all traffic. It wasn’t nearly as freeing or novel to play in the street with a line of vehicles inching by a few feet away.
• There wasn’t a concentrated point of activity. The street was closed (well, sort of–see above) from Seacrest Park on Harbor Ave all the way to the mini Statue of Liberty near the end of Alki Ave. Most of the activity was happening near the south end, so folks who jumped in farther north were likely disappointed.
• There was no music. This made a huge difference in the atmosphere and (my) general enjoyment.
• The majority of attendees were riding bikes. Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing but love for my bike nerd brothers and sisters, and I certainly don’t begrudge them the chance to take advantage of a chance to ride–free of worry–in the street. As a pedestrian, though, I was somewhat ill at ease. It felt more like I was walking in the bike lane than attending a street festival.

Of course, all those issues are minor and can be worked out on future carfree days. On to the photos:

Carfree Sundays poster
“If Seattleites drive every vehicle 2,000 miles less a year (about 20 miles a week), we can meet our current climate pollution reduction goals.”
Open street
Street skateboarding
Street hula

I didn’t see the Undriving folks from Sustainable Ballard this time. (Maybe they decided one trip to West Seattle was enough for this year.) The “Yes on Prop 1” folks were out in force, though.

Mass Transit Now!

Despite the concerns of its manager, business at Duke’s didn’t appear to suffer:

A crowded patio at Duke's

The best thing about the West Seattle carfree Sunday was, of course, the view. There’s something about the combination of water, mountains, and sunshine that inspires romance.

Carfree Sunday street art
Carfree Sunday street art
Bus luh
Waiting for the Water Taxi shuttle: bus (stop) luh

Me? I’m having a romance with my city. I’m proud of our first attempts at carfree days and looking forward to more next summer (or sooner!).

Carfree Sundays, part II (or, Now this is more like it)

The sun did, indeed, shine on Columbia City today.

No cars allowed (except police cars, that is)

For a few minutes after I passed the barricade, I stayed on the sidewalk (30+ years of conditioning are hard to overcome)–until I realized I didn’t have to. What an exhilarating feeling to step off the curb and stroll down the middle of the street!

Columbia City Bakery's sign
Carfree Columbia City

Hoops, hopscotch, and hula hoopin’:

Street b-ball
Street hopscotch
Hula hoopin' en masse

Dancin’ in the street:

Dancin' in the street

Props to the excellent DJs, who quadrupled (at least) my enjoyment.

A bicycle-powered blender:

A carbon-free smoothie

A streetwalk cafe:

Nerd and Chicklet eat in the street

Folks clamoring (as usual) for undriver licenses:

Undriver licensing

Except these two, that is:

Driving on carfree Sunday

Street art:

Street art in Columbia City
Street art in Columbia City
Street art in Columbia City
Streets are for people