Transit User’s Christmas List

 Holiday trolley, 2002

With today the last “shopping day” before Christmas, I was thinking what the best gifts for transit users would be. I don’t mean conceptual presents, like streets clear of snow so we can get around, or a transit system that runs on time; I’m thinking about what items every transit user can use and would make a good gift. These items came to my mind quickly:

  • MP3 player.  Everyone likes i-Pods, though I like my Zune because it has the radio and a subscription service.
  • Books or even an eBook reader. I love to read on the bus, though an eBook reader may be too nerder even for me.
  • Gloves or an umbrella. Perfect for Seattle riders.
  • A backpack or messenger bag. For carrying all of the above.

Anything else come to mind?

A Glimpse of a More Sustainable Seattle

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

(via joshc)

Here is a question posed by Diane Sugimura (Director of Seattle DPD) a few years ago at the Urban Sustainability Forum. What do you think a sustainable Seattle will look like? Answer, a snow covered one. It might sound odd but think about your experience over the past few days.

When it snows Seattleites go out and walk as a means or transportation. They say hi and look each other in the face. They stop and talk to their neighbors. They are kind to each other, helping out random strangers. Life slows down. Seattleites shop at local stores. Seattleites reclaim the streetscape, transforming it into open space for life, joy and people, not a car. The city becomes peaceful. People walk to work. They walk to see friends. Cars are parked. Everyone stays closer to home.

Essentially we are forced off carbon intensive transportation. If you can’t walk there it is probably too far. This includes buses too. They help but transit really isn’t the solution, land use is.

This was the scene on Capitol Hill and lots of other neighborhoods around the city. Hugeass and the SLOG already touched on this. Snow blurs the streetscape and allows for a more democratic allocation of space. Cars are forced to slow or stop and people take over. People stop simply passing through space but rather become participants in that space. They engage the space and become invested in it. Everyone is forced to question our obsession with hybermobility.

Yes I know the analogy doesn’t completely hold true but I think it is very instructive in how we need to think about sustainability and transportation. The boundaries need to pushed even more. Next time you think about these topics ask yourself, is this something that I could imagine in a snowy seattle?

If I was the Bus Czar

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Just consider this me backseat driving our bus system…

By perhaps the 2nd or 3rd day of snow and only after a painful learning curve, buses in Seattle seem to have settled into a comfortable routine. Sure it’s a routine where half of the buses aren’t running, and most routes are unpredictable in terms of pickup and travel times, but at least the routes have settled down. However, these routes don’t look much like their published adverse weather routes (for example the 13 adverse weather route – had planned on still making it up the hill). And during the first days of snow people were stranded without even knowing which bus stop to wait at or which bus to take.

I humbly submit to the Internet my weather plan for the next snow season.

1. Find the most level, drivable route to serve a neighborhood. One way of doing this is to look at the routes as they exist right now. Now name these routes something easy, like #1S replacing the #1 (S for snow).

2. At the first hint of snow, announce to every media outlet you can that Seattle will be switching to snow routes. This shouldn’t be hard, since news reporters love this sort of thing. And don’t overlook the “first hint of snow” piece of this – buses are no good to anyone if they’re broken down on hills.

3. At every stop list directions to the nearest snow route stop, the snow route number, and a phone number to call if you need assistance (for those that can’t walk down a snow-covered hill).

4. Every non-articulated bus that serves a route that is canceled should now join these snow routes. This is critical, since we need to keep frequency high on these now overloaded routes.

5. 4×4 shuttle buses can ferry people up and down hills where required.

6. I’d have the city send someone around to shovel snow off of at least a few walking routes from each hill.

Yes, this will result in people that live on hills having to do a little more walking in the snow. But I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking an extra 10 minute walk to a reliable and predictable bus beats the current system hands-down.

Tuesday’s Snowpocalypse Open Thread

img_0037Another day of terrible transportation news. The roads are icy, the airport is just sorting out things, and transit is not very reliable:

The snow was cool until it made me miss Christmas with my family…

News Round-Up

Bellevue Buses in snow
Image by Oran via the STB flickr pool.

I hope you’re holding up. I’m, personally, getting a little stir crazy locked at home. With a sick newborn at home, I’m on a short leash.

Monday Morning Snowpocalypse Open Thread

3120045218_e3cd6fd834The snow keeps on coming to Seattle and life as normal just seems to halt entirely. Here’s your list of links:

So, basically, expect delays. And a lot of walking on icy sidewalks. Aren’t things looking lovely, though?

Not Transit Related: North Highline Annexation

This has nothing to do with transit, but I think it’s an interesting story that does not get as much press as it deserves. The Seattle Weekly reports that Burien and Seattle have come to an agreement on the North Highline annexation. I’ve been following this for a little while, and if you’re not aware you can read the back story and what might happen in the future below the fold.

Continue reading “Not Transit Related: North Highline Annexation”

LaHood Again

I think Martin misses the source of some of our disappointment in his post on LaHood. Here’s Martin:

I’ll take the opportunity to state that I’m not expecting a huge push from the administration to end the nation’s  emphasis on roads, make the car obsolete, or any of the other more radical goals of public transportation advocates.  The postwar consensus  in favor of the auto is a bipartisan one, and there are only so many transformations of American society that one administration can successfully execute.  It’s clear that the emphasis will be on the economy, the wars, health care, and climate change.  I’d expect Obama, Biden, and LaHood to help out at the margins with appointments and such, but those who are really disappointed in the LaHood pick should probably modulate their expectations.

Part of the disappointment with LaHood is the realization that we are not getting a real transportation progressive. LaHood has a bad record on  environmental issues, and he has voted for off-shore drilling and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. He got a 66% from highway builders, and has supported Amtrak a couple of times and bicycles a couple of times. Fine so he’s a moderate.

But another huge part of the disappointment was the realization that Obama is not taking the transportation department any more seriously than previous presidents who used the department’s cabinet position for political purposes. At least Norman Mineta, George Bush’s token democrat in his cabinet, had transporation experience as chair of various house transportation committees and subcommitees. The problem with LaHood is that not only does he seem like a purely political appointment, he has shown little interest in transportation in his time in the House. Obama has said he wants to appoint the best people for the job. Is Ray LaHood the best person for this job, even among people who share his view?

Rail on its Knees, Too

All this info is via Brian Bundridge.  Frozen track switches have done everything in.

Seattle Streetcar – cancelled until further notice.
Portland Streetcar – 10-20 minute delay
Tacoma Link – 0 to 10 minute delay
Sounder Commuter Rail 0 to 30 minutes late
Amtrak Cascades – cancelled until further notice
Amtrak Coast Starlight – cancelled until further notice
Amtrak Empire Builder – cancelled until further notice
Portland MAX – Blue line – 20-30 minute delay; No delay for Red line; Yellow line replaced with buses
Portland WES – Scheduled testing is delayed upwards of 10 minutes.

There’s been a fair amount of rail triumphalism the last few days, apparently a bit premature.  On the other hand, it seems like there’s a much more obvious fix (heated switches) for this than for the fundamental constraints of buses, and the more heavily used lines in the region seem to be operating fairly well under the circumstances.

While the fix to frozen switches is obvious, I’ve held back from writing a post making a lot of “never again!” demands of the transit agencies, because this is a very rare occurrence and to some extent it’s just good management to cut costs in your preparations for rare events.

On a somewhat related subject, check out Erica C. Barnett’s interview last Friday with Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond.  He reveals there’s basically one plan for inclement weather, and if that collapses it’s completely ad hoc.

It looks like Monday is going to be just as bad as Friday.  It’s a good bet to stay home.  If the Metro website crashes again, check here for a mirror of their last published situation.

Photo courtesy of STB’s own Brian Bundridge.

Text updated to reflect the observation that the Metro website has actually stayed up over the past week.

BNSF Railway Closure Cancels Amtrak Trains in the PNW; Update

Here is the latest information reinstating passenger rail service between Vancouver BC and Eugene, Oregon

December 21, 2008
9:00 p.m. ET

BNSF Railway has informed Amtrak of plans to restore most passenger train service to and from Seattle, following a major winter storm that suspended nearly all Amtrak service in the Pacific Northwest on Sunday, December 21.

This service restoration plan is based on best-available information. However, passengers in the affected area are advised to contact Amtrak at 800-USA-RAIL or check train status on before traveling on Monday, December 22.

Trains in the Pacific Northwest are expected to operate subject to significant delays on December 22.

Amtrak Cascades

Service is planned to operate on December 22 for the full route to and from Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., via Portland, Ore., and Seattle, with the exception of Train 500 between Eugene and Portland. Train 500 will originate in Portland rather than Eugene, with passengers directed to departures later in the day as alternate transportation.

Empire Builder

Trains 8 & 28 are planned to originate in Portland on December 22, with alternate transportation planned from Seattle for Train 8 passengers ticketed from Seattle and intermediate points to Spokane, Wash.

Coast Starlight

Trains 11 & 14 are expected to operate over their full Seattle-Los Angeles route on December 22, subject to significant delay in the Pacific Northwest.

Amtrak regrets any inconvenience. This information is correct as of the above time and date. Information is subject to change as conditions warrant. Passengers are encouraged to call 800-USA-RAIL or visit for schedule information and train status updates.

Seattle Streetcar is FREE until Dec 26th

Just a heads up for the masses, after the Seattle Streetcar has exceeded over 500,000 riders! Congrats to the City of Seattle! With that wonderful news, Mayor Greg Nickels has annouced that the streetcar will be free from December 12-26th. It has so far, ran delay free since the winter weather has hit the Seattle region.

Also, Tacoma Link has been running delay free.

Portland MAX and Streetcar are dealing some frozen switches but are otherwise running on-time, except for the Yellow Line which is running with buses until the afternoon. Portland Aeriel Tram has been 100% up.

Sound Transit is the twelfth man

Sound Transit is the 12th Man

Apparently, Sound Transit is a huge Seattle Seahawks fan. Link hasn’t opened yet and it’s already being the twelfth man (upper half). The new Sounder destination signs are proclaiming their support, too (lower half). There will be Sounder service to and from the last home game of the season tomorrow if weather doesn’t force any delays or cancellations . Come next year, we’ll welcome Link Light Rail as well as Seattle’s brand new Major League Soccer team, Seattle Sounders FC. Will we soon see a “Sounder to the Sounders” train?

Stimulus, LaHood, Obama

The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently submitted a project wish-list to the President-Elect. Ignore the Seattle Times‘s idiotic focus on solar panels and look at the document yourself.

Since you probably don’t want to sift through 607 pages:

  • Our two Amtrak requests are on page 242.
  • Washington State street projects begin on Page 501, and  some of them are transit-related, including BAT lanes on Aurora and the Spokane St. Viaduct.
  • The list of explicitly transit-related projects begins and ends on page 525, and it’s kind of pathetic.  The big fish are $150m for the D & M street rail bridge for Sounder and Amtrak, and $30m for a new “transit-oriented garage” in Auburn.  Also: BAT lanes on Rainier Avenue in Renton!

New Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was formally announced today.  The relevant sections of Obama’s remarks are after the jump.

Continue reading “Stimulus, LaHood, Obama”

City Looking For Streetcar Engineering Firm

South Lake Union Trolley 002
Here’s the DJC:

The Seattle Department of Transportation is seeking statements of qualifications from firms interested in providing on-call facilities engineering services for Seattle streetcar network development.

SDOT hopes to use the same consultant for all phases of streetcar network development.

The submittal deadline is Jan. 12.

I would say this is an encouraging sign that we could see streetcars in the infrastructure stimulus, though obviously this doesn’t gaurantee anything.

Google Transit Requirements

Manifest Destiny has an interesting and technical post about the struggle to get WMATA (Washington, D.C.) transit data loaded into Google Transit.  Basically, Metro wanted to make sure riders got fare information and so on, which they can do on the agency site but not on Google.  More importantly, there was some wrangling about who would pay for the labor to convert all the data into Google’s format.

This all has little to do with Seattle-area transit, except that it lays out what has to happen for Community Transit or Pierce Transit to get into the database.  I’m sure someone out there is industrious enough to take all the route data and convert it into GTFS format.

Via Megan McArdle.