Monthly Archives: November 2009

Metro’s new and improved snow response plan

As much as we all enjoyed guessing which routes were running (and where) during last year’s big snowstorm(s)…

A snow-disabled 14 in December of 2008

Metro’s developed a new plan to improve predictability and communication during severe winter weather. From a KC Metro press release:

This season, customers will be able use the Internet to quickly see which buses in the Metro system are on snow route based on “geographic area.” Just as congestion is measured by color on congestion flow maps, the use of green, yellow or red on Metro’s new online snow map will give riders a snapshot of bus operations in each of seven geographic areas of the county. Green will indicate buses are operating on normal routes, yellow will signify minor reroutes (primarily in higher elevation areas), and red will alert customers that buses in the entire geographic area are on snow route or are being significantly impacted by snow.

If a major snowstorm spanning several days strikes, Metro will activate a newly designed Emergency Service Network for its fleet. When the network is activated, Metro’s regular routes will be replaced with 70 pre-identified “priority” snow routes across the county designed to be reliable in severe weather conditions. Metro will make every attempt to keep service operating on these routes as long as transportation service providers are able to keep roads passable.

…Customers are also being encouraged to sign up online for enhanced Metro Transit Alerts being launched today that will deliver email or text messages about widespread service disruptions or weather events impacting their individual bus route.

Hallelujah. (I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for targeted alerts.) And about those impassable roads…

Based on lessons learned last winter, Metro has revised and simplified snow routes and has closely coordinated with other public works and transportation agencies to make sure bus routes are identified as priorities for plowing and sanding. Agency leaders also negotiated a separate agreement with the city of Seattle to exchange staff during weather emergencies for improved coordination and to help the city plow streets, if necessary, in an effort to keep buses moving.

I can’t say I’m eager to test the new system this winter, but–should the unthinkable happen (again)–here’s hoping for clear sidewalks, so folks can actually make it to the routes that are running.

“Public transportation is paying for my Porsche.”

You don’t have to be a car hater to understand the benefits of transit. From a recent Slate article (via: Streetsblog Network):

In spring 2007, my wife and I sold our Volvo and committed to public transportation. Since then, it’s been no traffic jams, no mechanics, no gasoline, and no insurance bills. With the money we saved, I started a “hot rod” bank account dedicated to making driving fun. Public transportation is paying for my Porsche.


Like many Americans, I love to get out and drive. But in and around major cities, “driving” usually means idling in traffic while trapped in cars as utilitarian and uninspiring as washing machines. It’s soul-sucking and dirty. It’s also expensive. According to AAA, if I were to commute 20,000 miles in a Toyota Camry, I would burn through $9,100 a year in fuel and ownership costs that include insurance, maintenance, and depreciation. If a dash gauge measured money per mile, the needle would be pegged at 45.5 cents. And, according to Department of Transportation statistics, that much commuting would release more than 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A Prius cuts that almost in half–a green boost for sure, but nothing compared with pairing public transportation with weekend joy rides in a classic car.

And I thought I was the only transit geek with a weakness for old-school, gas guzzling rides.

On buses and swine flu

This week’s “Getting There” might be of interest to the gazillions of bus riders (of which I was one until this morning*) who have not yet gotten access to the H1N1 vaccine.

This flu season I’m more concerned than ever about air flow or lack thereof on public transportation. As I ride the bus daily to and from work, I’ve always been concerned about the air quality and if I’m breathing in the germs for the person standing next to me. Is there anything that Metro and Sound Transit can or is doing to mitigate this problem? Do they sanitize the bus between runs, by spraying or wiping down the grab rails?

Read the response…

Germy poles are nasty, I admit, but really no nastier than most mall door handles, library books, church hymnals, or communal party snacks. Besides, you can remove the germs you touch with regular (in my case, obsessive) hand-washing. Unfortunately, hand-washing won’t help with inhaled evils. Swine flu aside, I’m pretty creeped out by bus coughing.

Am I alone?

*I’m still working on finding one for Chicklet–stalking pretty much every health website and flu hotline in the area.

What I’ve learned in my second year as a bus parent

My little Chicklet turned two today, which means I’ve officially logged two years as a bus parent. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

Ride time matters

In my child-free, car-free days, I could justify bus trips that took longer than driving by using my rides effectively.* I spent my bus time reading (meeeemories!), napping, working, checking messages, and et cetera. Lots of times, I just stared out the window, but even that I could justify as my quiet/thinking time.

When I travel with Chicklet, longer trip times are harder to justify. In the first place, I can’t use the rides to do something productive. It’s true that the time I spend with my daughter on the bus is usually quality time** (more about this shortly), but it’s work keeping her entertained on a 35-minute 4 ride up the hill from downtown–and even more work keeping her entertained (and safe–given her decreased tolerance for sitting still) during long waits between transfers.

And then, there’s the issue of her schedule. Until very recently, Chicklet’s naps did not interfere with our outings. She could easily sleep in her carrier and would regularly nap on the go: in the middle of a shopping trip, at a bus stop, on a long walk. These days, I’m too big to carry her in a pack, so naps outside of the house are close to impossible. (She sometimes falls asleep–with a little help–on the bus, but this cannot be counted on.) This means that our outing opportunities are relegated to two to three hours in the morning (assuming that we get out of the house very early) and about two hours in the afternoon (assuming we’re willing to deal with peak-hour crowds on the way home); we don’t have a lot of time to waste on late or long bus rides.

Chicklet rides in her own seat
What’s not to like about the 27?

The ride is entertainment enough (or, Who needs a minivan with a DVD player?)

I always bring a small number of books or toys on our outings, but I only use them on trips that last over 30 minutes (see above). There’s so much to keep Chicklet entertained on the bus! She helps to swipe my Orca card. We talk about what the windshield wipers do. We describe what we see in the pictures on the indoor ads. We watch the cars, boats, and trains*** as they pass. We point out her favorite landmarks. (Pratt Park! Space Needle! Mount Rainier!) Every time someone rings the bell, she looks up at the lighted “Stop Requested” sign, calls out all the letters she recognizes, then tells whomever will listen what’s going to happen next. (The driver will open the door, and “the people will get off.”)

Chicklet’s favorite bus pastime is talking to (and, unfortunately, about) the people who share our rides. She has something to say about nearly every person who crosses our path. So far, the statements have been benign (That’s a mommy and a baby. /He’s reading a book./ She has candy.), but I assume it’s only a matter of time before she inadvertently insults someone.

Chicklet waiting for the 48
Awaiting our chariot, aka “Metro’s Heavyweight”

Of course, along with all the enriching education that takes place on the bus, there’s also that other kind. In her two years of life, thanks mostly to the 4, Chicklet has heard more curse words (and more unique combinations of curse words) than most seasoned sailors. Miraculously, despite the fact that she regularly repeats, verbatim, conversations she overhears in transit, she has only once attempted to repeat a naughty word. Fortunately, I was able to convince her that she had misheard the young gentleman, and that he had actually said, “spit,” but sooner or later (preferably sooner), I’ll have to develop a more sophisticated strategy for dealing with the less desirable side of her bus education.

“Stuff” is still an issue

Though I rarely pack more than a few books and snacks, water, and hand sanitizer for our regular outings, there are (not infrequent) occasions when I need to transport items in addition to Chicklet and her bag. Most often, this is recently purchased (or borrowed) children’s clothing, but the examples are nearly infinite. To put it succinctly: Toddler + bag + stroller + stuff +bus (+ umbrella?) = misery.

There’s more, of course, which I will get to in due time. I still very much enjoy busing with my kid, and I’m still committed to my choice to be car-free. But, bus parenting is not a cinch, and certainly, it’s far more of a challenge than the car-free single life. We shall see what lessons year three (and baby number two!) will provide.


*Once, I had to give a talk in Kent. I spent the notoriously slow 150 ride to my destination writing my talking points. So, no time lost.
**This is an audio link. The interview starts at 43:00.
***Have I mentioned that Chicklet is obsessed with trains? Every time she sees a Link vehicle, or even a picture of one, she hollers, “A light rail!” and then begs to ride.