Monthly Archives: October 2008

Time for a transit bailout

It appears that the financial crisis is affecting transit agencies directly. From a Washington Post article (via: The Bellows):

[DC] Metro and 30 other transit agencies* across the country may have to pay billions of dollars to large banks as years-old financing deals unravel, potentially hurting service for millions of bus and train riders, transit officials said yesterday.

The problems are an unexpected consequence of the credit crisis, triggered indirectly by the collapse of American International Group, the insurance giant that U.S. taxpayers recently rescued from bankruptcy, officials said.

AIG had guaranteed deals between transit agencies and banks under which the banks made upfront payments that the agencies agreed to repay over time. But AIG’s financial problems have invalidated the company’s guarantees, putting the deals in technical default and allowing the banks to ask for all their money at once.

In essence, the federal government is using our tax money to prop up banks that are demanding immediate repayment of exorbitant sums from public agencies, even though these exorbitant sums were guaranteed by an insurance firm that–you guessed it–the federal government used our tax money to prop up. It’s not clear what we’ve propped, since AIG is no longer keeping its promises, but hey.

So where’s the bailout for the transit agencies that can’t make good on their loans? (For that matter, where’s the bailout for the agencies like KC Metro, that are struggling to keep up with increased costs, decreased revenue, and increased demand?) Leaving aside the fact that I’d rather have my money spent to get people where they’re going than to cover resort vacations for the very folks who got us into this mess, imagine the financial (not to mention environmental) devastation (and general chaos) that would take place if transit agencies in major U.S. cities like Chicago and San Francisco had to drastically cut back service.

Today, senators representing states with affected agencies wrote an urgent letter to Paulson and Bernanke, asking for help resolving the crisis. From a US Senate press release (via: Yglesias Think Progress )

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, along with Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are calling on Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to prevent a potentially crippling financial situation that transit agencies are facing as a result of the credit crisis. The collapse of insurance giant AIG has caused deals between banks and transit agencies to fall apart, allowing banks to demand billions of dollars from the agencies.

“Any reduction or degradation in transit service could mean that our constituents will struggle getting to work or school, squeezing our state economies and family budgets even further,” wrote the senators. “This is a time when we should encourage mass transit use and a financial blow to our transit agencies such as this one is a major setback to that effort”

The senators, who represent states with major public transit systems, called on the Treasury and Federal Reserve to each appoint senior officials to work with the Department of Transportation and large transit agencies in developing a solution that will avoid a fiscal crisis for the agencies.

I, for one, will be writing to my senators** to make sure they’re aware of my deep, deep interest in this issue. Who’s with me?

*I have not seen a comprehensive list of the affected agencies, but I don’t think KC Metro is one of them. (It’s close to midnight on a Friday, so I can’t really check on it.) Update: I have received confirmation that Metro is not one of the 30 agencies. Whew! Lord knows we have enough money problems.

**Contact Cantwell
Contact Murray

Transit planning from the bottom up

Streetfilms recently posted a cool piece about the bus system in Boulder, Colorado. The city’s residents helped to plan–and even brand–the routes, and now they ride them in very high numbers. (The film‘s about six minutes and worth watching if you have the time.)

I’ve never ridden a bus in Boulder, but I have ridden in Aspen, where my bestest friend in the whole world now lives. The buses in Aspen are reasonably useful (at least they were to me, a visitor with limited needs) and FREE. I appreciate free transit for many reasons, but especially for its ease of use.

To the taxpaying gazillionaires in Pitkin County: I thank you.

Transportation in the news

From Salon: “Who Says Americans Won’t Ride Mass Transit?”

The rise in mass transit ridership should be great news. Not since the OPEC oil embargo and energy crisis in the ’70s have famously car-centric Americans been so eager to shell out for a bus fare or a train ticket and leave the polluter in the driveway. Automobile transportation is one of the largest chunks of the country’s carbon footprint, so the more that Americans opt for trains and buses, the more that footprint could shrink.

But the news isn’t all that sunny. In fact, the mini-exodus from driving has exposed significant cracks in the country’s mass transit systems, which are struggling to accommodate new riders. Having spent decades forsaking the bus and the train for the convenience and privacy of cars, Americans are now finding that the buses, streetcars, trolleys and trains that they left behind are strapped for cash, if they still exist at all.

Where to stop for a pre-56 hot chocolate

A coffee, et cetera (actually, more like et cetera and coffee) shop on Admiral Way, west of California:

Coffee shop on Admiral Way
Alki Mail & Dispatch, on Admiral & 47th
Walk-up window
A “walk-up” window

How could I not stop? It had a door–actually, window–bell–and a very friendly owner. That figures. Anyone who designs his business for pedestrians has got to be good people.

On moms, Montlake, and marketing

Today, on our visit to the Montlake library (five stamps down, 21 to go), Chicklet and I met another mother-daughter bus team in the children’s section. I chatted for a while with the mother, who lives in Eastlake, is part of a one-car family, and uses Metro to get around town with her 19-month old daughter. She’s expecting another baby in March, and she and her husband seriously considered buying a second car to accommodate their expanding family.

“But then I saw one of those new Metro ads,” she said. “They say, ‘I do make a difference by riding the bus.’ And that’s what I believe. I do make a difference. That’s me.”

“Actually,” I said. “That’s me.”

SPL + Metro = one happy bus chick

If you’re a library geek like me (libraries might actually beat out buses on my list of favorite things), you surely already know about the Seattle Public Library’s passport program. For everyone else:

The library is issuing passports with a page for every library in the SPL system. The goal is for patrons to bring their passports to each branch to have them stamped, and in the process, to check out our new and improved community resources.

An SPL passport
Douglass-Truth stamp
The Douglass-Truth page and stamp

Cool idea, no? It gets better. Every entry in the passport includes a list of Metro routes that stop at that branch.

Routes 2 & 3 serve Sally Goldmark

This might seem like a small thing, but to this bus chick, it is huge. Every effort to challenge the assumption that one must drive to get around this town is worth recognizing. And since Chicklet and I are participating , the passports can serve as our travel cheat sheet.

So far, we’ve hit up Douglass-Truth (no bus ride necessary), Sally Goldmark (3), West Seattle (55), and Greenlake (48).* Montlake (48) is next on the list, followed by all of the other branches that are served by Metro’s heavyweight.** After that–who knows? I’ve never been to the ID branch, or Ballard, or South Park…

My plan is to coordinate our visits with individual branch story times–to make it worth Chicklet’s while. Then again, she hardly needs encouragement to visit a library. Twenty minutes in the children’s section reading books about farm animals and/or big vehicles, and she’s good.

Participants in the challenge have until January 2nd to turn in their completed passports. And, “…there will be a prize drawing on January 7th for booklover’s baskets full of goodies and lunch with the new city librarian.”

Shoot. That almost rivals partying with Busfather.

* Note that the Greenlake branch is currently closed due to a mold problem.
** Six total: Rainier Beach, Columbia, Douglass-Truth, Montlake, Greenlake, Greenwood

Pardon me … nevermind

Would-be bus (stop) mackers in the ID will have to start getting more creative (but not too creative!) with their opening lines. The time, you see, is available to everyone (everyone who can read roman numerals and tell time, that is), now that the clock at King Street Station is once again functional.

As if I wanted to know the exact number of minutes late my post-TAC 14 is.

More good news on Third Avenue

Yesterday, the bus fam (that is, Chicklet, Nerd, and yours truly) hopped the 4 and headed to Seattle Center to attend a retro birthday party for my friend (and world-famous author) Sundee. Fellow natives of the 2-0-sickness: Remember back in the day, when the Center was the place to hang out in the summer (at 9: ferris wheel! at 13: cute boys!), and those rides and games at the Fun Forest seemed at least as good as Disneyland’s? My perspective has changed a bit since the 80s (about the Fun Forest and Disneyland), but I’m still sad that the park won’t be around for little Chicklet to enjoy.

I digress.

Instead of taking the 4 home from the festivities, we took the Monorail and transferred downtown, because, 1) I was in one of my nostalgic moods, 2) Chicklet had never ridden the Monorail, and 3) we wanted to save time. (The two-minute ride to Westlake beats any bus, and stopping downtown gave us the option of catching a faster route up the hill.)

We used our extra minutes to visit the new(ish) Kress supermarket on 3rd & Pike. I’ve been waiting for about a gazillion years for a grocery store to open downtown, and it was long past time for me to check it out. Plus, we were out of wine.

New downtown Kress
An escalator takes you from 3rd Ave. right to the produce section.

We get our produce (and a lot of other staples) from an organic delivery service, and we live within walking distance of a grocery store, so I won’t be using this Kress for major shopping trips. That said, it’s got a pretty good selection and reasonable prices. And since, like most transit types, I’m downtown a lot, I’ll certainly be using it for quick stock-ups (they carry my favorite crackers!) between transfers–and for grabbing something (chocolate) to share at a party.

Of course, as I learned on my very first visit, I’m not the only bus rider who appreciates the new Kress.

Captain, heading down to stock up on seafarin’ necessities

Captain finished shopping at the same time we did (which is to say, just in time to catch the 27), and all four of us enjoyed a speedy ride home with our purchases.

Upcoming events for transit types

Climate Lab – Transportation Shift

What: A sustainable transportation workshop hosted by Sustainable NE Seattle and the UUC Green Sanctuary Committee
When: Saturday, October 11, 2008, 9:30 am – 2:00 pm
Where: University Unitarian Church: 6556 35th Ave NE, Seattle, WA
How much: Free


MEHVA Fall Foliage Tour
What: “A four-hour trip through the Cascade foothills along the quiet back roads of east King County”
When: Sunday, October 19 (My Gail‘s birthday!), 11 a.m.
Where: The tour starts at 2nd Ave S. & S. Main
How much: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and children 2-11

I went on this tour (he-ey Warren, Jeff, and John!) in 2006 and highly recommend it. Did I mention there’s a stop at a bakery?


Community meetings to discuss south-end route changes

What: Meetings for riders to comment on service changes that are being proposed to accommodate light rail and BRT. Potentially affected routes: 7, 8, 9, 14, 32, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 42, 48, 60, 106, 107, 126, 128, 140, 154, 170, 174, 175, 180, 190, 191, 194, ST 574, and ST 594.

• Thursday, Oct. 16 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Rainier Community Center, 4600 38th Ave. S., Seattle

• Tuesday, Oct. 21 – 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave. S., Seattle

• Tuesday, Oct. 21 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave. S., Seattle

• Wednesday, Oct. 22 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Federal Way City Hall, council chambers, 33325 8th Ave. S., Federal Way

• Thursday, Oct. 23 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Fire District #20 training facility, 12424 76th Ave. S., Seattle (Skyway/West Hill)

• Tuesday, Oct. 28 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Jefferson Community Center, 3801 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle

• Thursday, Oct. 30 – 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
SeaTac City Hall, 4800 S. 188th St., SeaTac

• Thursday, Oct. 30 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Foster High School, 4242 S. 144th St., Tukwila

If you live in southeast Seattle or Southwest King County, I strongly suggest you attend one of these meetings. Don’t wait until the service changes have been finalized to let Metro and Sound Transit know what you need.

Update: If you can’t attend a meeting, you can provide feedback virtually:
SE Seattle questionnaire
SW King County questionnaire