Monthly Archives: January 2007

January Golden Transfer

Golden Transfer

This month’s Golden Transfer goes to Donna Moodie, mother, restaurant owner, nonprofit board member, and newly minted bus chick. When I met Donna a few years ago (at her amazing restaurant, marjorie), she told me she was making an effort to ride the bus more often. In the past year, we’ve started to hang out outside of the restaurant, and she’s been true to her word.

In July, our mutual (and fabulous) friend, Tony, organized a group outing to the Maya Lin exhibit at the Henry, and Donna arrived sans voiture. Last fall, I met her for dinner at Lalibela, an Ethiopian restaurant at MLK & Cherry. She made the trip on the 3, with her seven-year old son, Max (and one of Max’s friends), in tow.

In 2007, despite recently moving from the Market to Interbay, Donna has become even more serious about changing the way she gets around. Here’s why:

Basically, I decided to ride more often because I started to think about my role as a citizen using a car, using resources that are limited, and changing the way I think about my right to all those resources. I saw An Inconvenient Truth, and it really rang clear with me that simple, small steps would be better than none at all. Taking the bus to and from work, with the exception of one errand-running day; making sure I get up in time to get Max on the school bus, so that I don’t think about driving him … trying to enjoy my bus time: reading, knitting, listening to music, and working on playlists for the restaurant.

So far, Donna is enjoying her “car-lite” lifestyle, despite challenges like riding home late at night, after the restaurant closes. She certainly has great stories to tell about her adventures. My favorite is the one about the friendly 18 driver who politely but firmly kicked two guys off the bus for cursing. “This is your stop, gentlemen,” he told them, even though it wasn’t, and they weren’t.

What I find most remarkable about Donna’s lifestyle change is the way she has approached it with her child. Max likes the bus (what seven-year-old doesn’t?), but sometimes, he’d rather take the car. At those times, she reminds him of the reasons for her decision, and that driving less often is an investment in his future. And when they ride together, they read stories, something, Donna says, “we both adore doing.”

The dynamic duo
Speaking of the future… Donna and Max, after a bus trip to the CD Forum’s MLK Day celebration

So thanks, Ms. Moodie, for making an effort to live your values, and (especially) for passing them on to your son.

I’m officially over bus wireless

Let me start by saying that, as cool as I find the concept, wireless access on buses is not high on my transit wish list. It’s not in the top 10–or even (I’m guessing, since I haven’t made a list this long) in the top 50. I dream of: more shelters, bus-tracking information at major stops, more frequent and comprehensive service, a really good system map, light rail. Wireless access while I ride? Merely a nice-to-have.

Except, so far, it’s not that nice to have.

I don’t know if we’re officially out of pilot stage yet (if not, it’s been a really long pilot), but if this is the way it’s going to work long-term, I would advise Metro and Sound Transit to invest the money and resources in something else. On the rare occasions I actually manage to connect to an access point (usually on the 545–perhaps twice on the 48), it’s forever until I actually get an IP address. Assuming I manage that, the connection is so grindingly slow that all the applications that are trying to connect start to hang, and pretty soon, my laptop becomes completely unusable.

I’d rather read a book or take a nap (shoot, even eavesdrop) than fuss with my laptop for 30 minutes just to send one e-mail. It’s just not that deep. For now, if I just have to get on the internets while on the bus, I’ll wait for a long traffic light and connect to one of the gazillion unsecured personal networks (can you say “Linksys”?) out there.

There’s something about a man in uniform (who doesn’t carry a weapon)

Lately, I’ve noticed a marked increase in a certain kind of driver-passenger interaction. It started on a Saturday in December, on the 48 ride home from an open house (in Ballard, of course) for my friend Rachel’s jewelry business. An attractive, middle-aged woman (well, maybe not middle aged, but far too old to be as drunk as she was at 3:00 in the afternoon) got on a couple of stops after me–near the beginning of the route. The driver, who had been distinctly sullen to the rest of us, perked up when she chose the seat closest to him, and immediately started chatting her up. From what I could tell, he didn’t get the digits, but before we’d reached her stop (somewhere around 85th & Greenwood), she’d told him most of her life story, and they’d set a date to meet up at the Drift on Inn for dancing and conversation the following Thursday night. (Not bad. The bus chick pick-up artist could take a lesson.)

Since then, I’ve witnessed three blatant driver-on-passenger bus macks: one on the 55, one of the 4, and one on another 48. In two of the cases, the passengers seemed receptive, but no actual dates were set. In all three cases, the drivers were men and the passengers were women.

I got hit on by a 48 driver (What’s the deal with the 48?) a few years ago–the man actually left his seat to come talk to me–but I didn’t think it was common until now. Anyone else witnessed or participated in a driver-passenger (or passenger-driver) mack situation?

The new answer to the ultimate question (Hint: It’s not 42)

In Friday’s Seattle Times, our County Kingpin weighed in on the viaduct issue. His take: Any solution, whether it’s a tunnel, a rebuild, or his (and my) preferred surface option, must include transit improvements.

The folks at Metro have identified 49 strategic investments that, if implemented, would reduce car trips on the viaduct by about 35,000 (roughly 30% of current trip levels). Said Sims:

Removing 35,000 trips helps make the “tunnel lite” option viable, which saves more than $1 billion from the original tunnel estimate. Removing 35,000 trips should allow for a smaller rebuild, which should save many hundreds of millions of dollars. And transit that absorbs 35,000 trips is essential to seriously contemplating any surface option.


And more:

Therefore, rather than simply wait for the March vote on the viaduct options, we should all work together during the legislative session to take whatever steps are necessary to make these 49 investments a reality.

Yes, please! And to the folks in Olympia: If you get on a roll, don’t feel obligated to stop at 49. I’m good with 59, or 79, or any of the fast-food-value-menu numbers.

(Note to self: Never write a blog entry after reminiscing with an old friend about your broke college days.)

Montlake: a pedestrian’s nightmare

To get home from the Eastside in the evenings, I usually take the 545 to Montlake and then transfer to the 48. I say “usually” because sometimes I ride the 545 all the way downtown to transfer just to avoid the tedious and time-consuming trip from the bus stop on 520 (where I get off the 545) to the bus stop on Montlake Blvd. (where I catch the 48).

I am OK with walking all the way up a long hill from the freeway stop to Montlake and then down the block to the corner of Montlake & E. Lake Washington (see black line below), but what’s with the crosswalk situation? There is no crosswalk directly across the street to the southbound bus stop (green line), so I have to either:

• Cross three times–and wait for three separate lights (orange line), OR
• Walk down a few flights of stairs to the eastbound side of the 520 (see label), walk a block or so west, and then walk up a couple more flights of stairs to the west side of Montlake.

Neither option works well when one is in a hurry to catch the bus, and missing a forty-late can mean a 30-minute wait on an isolated island surrounded by cars. No likey.

Three lights to cross one street: no likey

(Click the picture for a larger view.)

I was hoping that Greg Nickels would add this insane intersection to his list of streets that need improvements, but I think it will probably be left alone until we figure out what we’re going to do with 520. On the plus side: Stair climbing is good for your glutes.

Northgate gets a makeover

Sorry for the delay between posts; it’s been a rough month.

Today, I finally got around to reading the latest issue of Transportation Today (y’all know I like to keep up on my transit agency news) and discovered that some transit-friendly changes are in store for the neighborhood that boasts nation’s first mall.

King County is part of a four-way partnership to redevelop the area near the Northgate Mall in Seattle as a major urban center complete with transit, housing, commercial and open space. And, Metro Transit’s Northgate Transit Center is the lynchpin for connecting several separate projects together to make it all work.

The county plans to consolidate parking and move it much closer to the transit center, create a pedestrian walkway between the transit center and residential and commercial property in the area, and sell one of its old park-and-ride lots for redevelopment as a public park.

I don’t know much about parking and riding (obviously), but I’ve heard from car-owning types that the current location of the lots makes parking at Northgate and riding downtown a bit of a hassle. I do know much about getting around on foot, and I can tell you that the situation in the Northgate area is, well, less than ideal. I’m optimistic that these changes will make a difference.

I’ll miss the view from the 55, but…

A couple of weeks ago, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat made a suggestion: Let’s tear down the viaduct before we make a decision about how to replace it. After all, between the time the viaduct is torn down and the time a replacement is built, we’re going to have to make a lot of changes to the way we move vehicles through this city. These changes might work well enough to make us think differently about what’s necessary.

Westneat reminds us that most Seattleites, even transportation experts, expected the September, 2005 bus tunnel closure to snarl traffic downtown. It didn’t. In fact, thanks to many little changes (what he calls “a thousand little things”) traffic has actually improved on some streets.

From the column:

If we’d known back in the ’80s that we could get superior results by making a series of little changes to street use rules and signaling, would we have spent $480 million and ripped up the heart of downtown for nearly four years?

It’s a moot point now. On the plus side, at least we have a place to put light rail.

But the tale of the bus tunnel has me wondering again about our other tunnel, the one not yet built. What to do with the Alaskan Way Viaduct is down to two choices: build a new elevated one or a tunnel. It’s the big ugly or the big costly.

Do we really need either one? What if we did a thousand little things instead?

The Transportation Choices Coalition, a longtime advocate of replacing the viaduct with improvements to surface roads and transit, recently released this statement:

A Tale of Two Cities

Seattle – Local environmentalists are speaking out to express their discontent about the mandate forcing the City of Seattle to vote on the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

With the bulk of the conversation on the Viaduct centered around a “gold-plated” tunnel and “big ugly” elevated structure, many in the environmental community are crying foul, suggesting that the 1950’s framework of defining capacity as moving cars from Point A to Point B has provided us no good option when it comes to the Viaduct. They believe that Seattleites have been pushed by the state into a box that no one wants to be in – choosing a structure that is too expensive or choosing to cut off the city from its waterfront for another 100 years.

What many in the community are calling for is a re-framing of the discussion, with a focus on moving people and goods, not automobiles. Outdated, auto-centric transportation planning has no place in a progressive city like Seattle. They want to see our elected officials articulating a vision for the city that will guide our decisions and state support to see that vision come to fruition.
“The new four-lane tunnel, a surface option – these are very encouraging conversations,” said Jessyn Farrell, Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition. “The State has given us a false choice – we haven’t been using the right framework.”

Their charge is that a vote now is premature because all the alternatives – including a 6-lane tunnel, a 4-lane tunnel, another elevated structure, and a surface option – have not gone through a true vetting process.

The environmental community has been staunch in their commitment to fight any alternative that does not reclaim the waterfront. But the aging, compromised Viaduct structure does need to come down as a matter of public safety. The state currently has $2 billion in-hand to start taking down the Viaduct – no matter what alternative is chosen. “After implementing mitigation measures to deal with lost capacity, let’s start taking it down now and have a true discussion of what should replace the Viaduct,” said Farrell. “Only then will we see a reasonable consensus.

I also advocate a surface/transit option, but I see this as a solution everyone can get behind. We have to tear down the viaduct eventually, so why not do it now? If the “thousand little things” work well, we’ll have saved a lot of money to invest in better transportation options. If they don’t, we’ll have more time to make an informed decision about what will.

Readers, on skiing, paying, and saving

From Miles in Everett: another option for car-free skiers.

Another great transit-to-the-slopes option that wasn’t mentioned in your column last month is connecting Stevens Pass shuttle from Sultan. It’s possible to take one of Community Transit’s 270-series routes from Everett Station to the Mountain View Chevron just east of the Sultan Park and Ride, then catch the Stevens Pass shuttle from there. If starting in Seattle, Sound Transit Route 510 runs every half-hour between Seattle and Everett weekdays, and hourly on Sundays. At less than $10 each way, this is, as far as I know, the most affordable option available, and of course the snow at Stevens is often better than at Snoqualmie.

Good stuff–and you certainly can’t beat the price. I do remember reading about this shuttle, but I didn’t take the time to figure out how to take the bus to the Chevron station. I’m glad someone else did.

Miles, who recently moved from Pioneer Square to downtown Everett, also said:

I don’t know whether you’ve been up here lately, but this area is getting to be a great place for a car-free lifestyle: there’s the commuter train to Seattle, of course, as well as plentiful bus options, but a lot of people don’t realize that Downtown Everett itself has become a very pleasant and walkable area that rivals Capitol Hill in terms of having everything one needs within walking distance. Even a food co-op. And, given that there’s no Flexcar here yet, it’s reassuring to know that there’s a Hertz car rental office right downtown as well.

It looks like I have some exploring to do.

From Kevin in Boston: firsthand accounts of the MBTA’s new fare system.

According to Kevin (and the Charlie on the MBTA blog he sent), it’s not working out too well. We should pay attention to this as we explore new options.

From Heidi in Redmond: validation.

In “The real reason you’re broke,” a respected money-management writer (not an environmentalist or transit activist) explains the true costs of owning a car. The main points are:

1. People spend more than they can afford on cars.
2. The percentage of income Americans spend on their cars has been steadily rising since 1995.
3. Good ways to save money on transportation include: giving up your car, paying cash for a less expensive car, and extending the time between car purchases.

Here’s an excerpt:

What’s going wrong
So why are so many people messing up so badly on such a basic purchase? There are plenty of reasons, including:

Viewing cars as a need rather than a want. Transportation is, indeed, a real need. We have to get to the grocery store and to work. But many of us have plenty of options, from our own feet to public transportation to car pools to shared car arrangements …

Treating cars as a status symbol. You can’t watch television for long without being bombarded by car commercials, and many of us have absorbed the idea that we are what we drive. It’s complete BS, of course, but some people have been so brainwashed that they literally drive themselves into bankruptcy.

Failing to consider the overall costs. When buying or leasing a car, many people consider nothing more than the monthly payment. They’re not seeing the whole picture — far from it. Once you factor in insurance, gas, maintenance, repairs, taxes, depreciation and other costs, most cars will set you back at least twice the initial purchase price over five years. …

I really recommend reading the entire article.