212 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Why Rail Service Isn’t Very Good”

  1. I wonder what the graph would look like if you went back to the establishment of the major urban rail systems (NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc).

    Also similar graphs for Japan, France, etc would be interesting.

  2. Why rail service isn’t very good: 1–(Heavy) rails aren’t very good. They are old, poorly maintained, and mostly shared with freight systems that, by and large, have the right-of-way over passenger service. 2 — When the rail is blocked there is often not an alternate route. 3 — As just written, tracked systems are limited access and fixed route. In order to use them you have to have reasonable access to embark and your destination needs to correspond exactly to the debarkation point.

    Bus systems are more flexible. Auto systems are far more flexible. That’s why rail service isn’t very good. Maybe next week we can write about the merits of rail systems. There are a couple of good points. to be made.

    1. The graph shows roughly $2.5 trillion more spent on highways vs transit over the past 50 years. Somehow I think say half that amount of money would have helped with rail maintenance and acquiring additional right of way to help with these issues. If bus systems are so flexible, why have Seattle’s core bus routes stayed about the same for 70 years? I am very glad we have or will soon have a high capacity rail alternative.

      1. Bus systems are more flexible not because they DO change routes, but because they CAN change routes instantly when conditions warrant.

      2. I did utilize some of that “flexibility” this week when an accident in the express lanes caused a huge traffic jam. I used the regular SB lanes instead of the express lanes and made my way into the tunnel via Stewart St. My passengers were thrilled. That said, Metro gives us practically no training on “self-rerouting”.

        Now, if we just could get the political muscle to take a lane away from general purpose traffic and put HOV/HOT 3+ lanes *EVERYWHERE* we might have something to talk about when we say that our road system is “flexible”. That idea would be relatively cheap, would have a built-in revenue stream, would make vanpools even more attractive than they already are, and would improve the productivity of every single bus system in the region.

        Sounds like a good old fashioned “conservative” idea to me. But what do Republicans want? Dino Rossi wants more roads, even if he has to take scarce public funds away from “schools, medical care, social services, colleges and prisons”.

      3. Dino (long “i”) Rossisauer is joined at the hip with the concrete cartel. If he’s sent to Washington it will give new meaning to “The Senator from Concrete (Wa)”.

      4. yeah just what you want when youre waiting for a bus.

        down in portland a few weeks ago, a major urban bus line was without prior announcement cut back a mile. buses, here today… gone tomorrow.

      5. One persons flexibility is another persons inconsistency. Just try using a bus for any sort of special event. It took an additional hour over normal to get home from both the Seafair parade in Mountlake Terrace and the Torchlite parade in Seattle. In the former case the bus driver decided to use his flexibility and just not drive down the normal route to pick the 20 passengers up waiting. They did this for an hour after the street was clear and traffic had resumed. We caught the very last bus home. At the latter we waited for an hour for a 30 minute bus (358) to come down 3rd which was blocked off to other traffic and then out of desperation took the ST 511 to Lynnwood from which we had to walk 2 miles to catch the Swift. It took us 3 hrs to do a 1 hr trip.

        Is this the sort of flexibility you’re referring to? Trains don’t need to be flexible, they run on schedule and aren’t affected by variables such as street fairs. Streetcars however, are just ridiculous. I don’t see how a train that gets stuck in traffic can be of use to anyone.

      6. Oh, we HAD the ROW – look at a rail map of the 1950s and one for today; the number of route miles has shrunk by at least 40%, and many of those were what was then called “duplicative” and now we’d call alternative ROWs. The SPL have Rand McNally Railway atlases for examination.

      7. That’s the thing. During the height of rail, the Government encouraged the building of multiple redundant lines. It wasn’t “mass transit” in the sense we think of now, as in running a solitary trunk line that carries high capacity traffic…it was designed to go to every town and village — much like what we use cars for today! (The book “Carnegie” describes some of the Government “pump priming” in wonderful detail. http://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Carnegie-David-Nasaw/dp/1594201048 )

        So, you see that automobile didn’t really replace a “mass transit” train — it replaced very local, very specific train lines. You also have to remember that this country at one point was 90 percent rural — and it was about 50/50 urban/rural just before the 1920s. Again, all those train lines weren’t just people taking an Amtrak sightseeing tour!

        As such the comparisons that most of you make here are completely wrong. What you should be comparing is the infrastructure of bringing a few people on a steam train versus a car that leaves when it wants and takes about only those passengers who want to go to that destination.

      8. The trouble is we didn’t just remove minor branch lines when it came to rail.

        We pulled out major trunk lines: the situation where rail excels and cars suck.

      9. So, the argument that “bus routes can change, so people won’t invest in development along bus routes, like they will along rail lines” is false, since core bus routes in Seattle have not changed in 70 years.

        In Seattle, bus routes are more permanent than the streetcar routes, which all disappeared in the early 40’s (although the waterfront streetcar disappeard in the 2000’s, after existing for only a couple of decades, I believe).

      10. This is a fair point. Under certain conditions I do think “bus oriented development” can work (or even bike oriented development, see parts of the Burke-Gilman Trail such as near Blakely). Hopefully it will work for Ballard RapidRide. However, the question of cost per passenger mile and total capacity remains–if you want to serve a high capacity corridor like UW-downtown over a long period of time, rail is the best bet.

        Our current pseudo-BRT system with the 71/72/73 express buses (and the streetcars that preceded them from roughly 1890s-1940s) are very wasteful at this point. The U-District has become significantly more dense over the past couple decades and that is expected to continue (it’s one of the few places you still see cranes at work). The buses are often at capacity and frequently get stuck in traffic. Building dedicated ROW would be even more expensive than the Link tunnel, and even then it would require more operators than a multicar Link train.

      11. “The buses are often at capacity.” Add more buses. This is not rocket science.

        More buses means that people who now have to drive, because there is no room on the buses (they are often at capacity), can then take the bus, removing cars from the roads, and freeing up space for the buses. One bus can take dozens of cars off the road, meaning less congestion.

      12. Yes, that’s true. But if you had ever tried to keep a 44 on schedule during rush hour you’d be screaming at the top of your lungs that Ballard needs rail RIGHT NOW. I’m a pretty efficient driver but about 50% of the time I drove the 44 the control center would call and tell me to blank my signs and only drop off passengers because my follower was catching me.

        Buses are great and I love driving them but they have their limits, Norman.

      13. @Norman. How do you figure that’s transit oriented development? Because there’s a bus stop than people are building businesses there? It’s IN Seattle, it’s very hard to build a business without being close to a bus stop. Put a bus stop in North Bend and see if businesses come.

      14. How do you figure anything built along Link is “transit-oriented development”? Just because there’s a Link station there than people are building businesses there?

      15. It’s very well discussed on this site why you can’t just throw more busses at the UW/Downtown route.

      16. The TOD in Ballard was spurred by the coming of the Monorail. When we citizens voted to approve the Monorail, the zoning in Ballard was changed to allow for higher density development and the local real estate market went crazy. That was back in the days of the expanding real estate bubble. Today, now that the bubble has burst, those buildings are coming onto the market and finding very few buyers. I’ll predict that the Ballard building boom will look like a bust in the next few years. Meanwhile, I’ll predict that the TOD around the Link stations in Rainier Valley will continue and that in 10 years Rainier Valley/Beacon Hill will be much more desirable and workable neighborhoods than Ballard.

        Even with the coming of RapidRide, Ballard to the CBD will be a tough ride during rush hours: the Ballard Bridge will still be 4 lanes only and the routing through Lower Queen Anne won’t have transit-only lanes. I’ll also predict that the 17 Express will be quicker to/from Ballard than the RapidRide during rush hour.

      17. Of course, this just shows that what spurs TOD is not putting in little trains — it is just changing the zoning. Changing zoning costs a fraction of what putting in rail lines costs, and achieves the same result — greater density. In fact, there will be more TOD in Ballard withOUT the monorail, because instead of monorail stations, there will be mixed-use development on the lots that were going to be used for the monorail stations.

        I have seen almost no development going on around the Beacon Hill Link station. Why don’t you share with us some pictures of all that development taking place since the Beacon Hill Link station was built.

      18. Of course, you can add more buses to the UW downtown routes. And that would cost a fraction of the $600 million per mile being spent to put Link trains between UW and downtown.

      19. On Saturday I had to wait 20 minutes in the bus tunnel for an express to UW that is supposed to come every 10 minutes. Adding more buses wouldn’t have helped, because they would still have gotten stuck in traffic on the surface part of the route.

      20. Adding more buses would take cars off the roads, reducing congestion.

        Adding more buses also increases capacity, so that more people could use buses, instead of driving. Posters have written that those buses are often full. So, increasing the number of buses would increase the number of people who could take the bus, instead of drive.

      21. Changing zoning gets you more density.

        When you have more density, you need rail, because the buses end up bumper-to-bumper, caught in traffic (even *with* bus lanes), and running at 2 miles per hour.

        It’s much cheaper to put in the rail *before* you put in the dense buildings.

        Conclusion: if you’re planning to upzone a lot, put in a rail line.

      22. Most of the building around BH station has been replacing single family residential with multi-family units. There hasn’t been much building of commercial/condos on top of the hill, but would you like to see what’s happening around Mt. Baker, Columbia City and Othello? That didn’t happen because of Route 42.

      23. Nothing is happening around Mt. Baker, Columbia City and Othello.

        Did you see what has already happened in Ballard? That same thing has happened on Queen Anne, in West Seattle, and many other neighborhoods without any little trains.

        You can get around Ballard just fine by bus. No need for trains or streetcars.

      24. Nothing is happening by those rail stations, … except a lot of multi-story construction.

      25. “A lot”? In total, along the entire Link line, not nearly as much as there already is just in a few block area in Ballard.

      26. Not counting the dozens and dozens of mid-rise townhouses east of MLK, the construction going on around Othello Station, and the stalling tactics on the upzones by pro-sprawl NIMBYs, you might have a point.

        But, a casual ride on Link through Rainier Valley shows that you don’t.

        It also shows that a lot of people are riding Link. This must annoy you to no end.

        But, to be fair, I think the size of the buildings is more a function of zoning restrictions (If the city allows it, it will be built) than of careful planning around transit. Environmentalists have had to push to get development allowed around stations, and butted heads with a handful of well-intended housing advocates who don’t get it that their NIMBYism is keeping down the housing supply and raising the cost of housing (not to mention, creating pressure to pave over the last of our precious farmland).

        I hope John Fox is reading this. Someone needs to call him on his counterproductive tactics. As a renter trying to increase the housing supply, I wish John would cut it out with the opposition to high-rise housing, especially around rail stations that make it possible to live without a car and thereby significantly reduce the cost of living. (When I say live without a car, that does not cut off the option to rent a car occasionally, nor does it imply that I think everyone should live that way.)

      27. BTW there is substantial development planned near the Beacon Hill station. El Centro De La Raza wants to put mixed use buildings on the North end of their lot. Unfortunately under the current zoning what they propose requires a variance. A small vocal minority which at times includes Mr. Fox and friends is trying to block ANY zoning changes in SE or Central Seattle.

    2. Part of the reason why rails are old and poorly maintained — massive highway investment subsidized a method of freight transportation that competed directly with the freight railways.

      1. No no no no…the rails are generally very well-maintained. We have a quantitative problem (inadequate frequency, capacity, and speed), not a qualitative one. Ride quality is generally very good. There’s not much jointed rail left on the mainlines.

      2. Well maintained on the busiest mainlines of the class 1s, but what about the shortlines and regional railroads? How about the parallel routes that have seen a drop in traffic? Why would it cost hundreds of millions in track upgrades to restore the North Coast Hiawatha or the Pioneer? Why is the Southwest Cheif suffering a 60mph slow order in Kansas? Why does the state invest in freight rail infrastructure in the eastern part of the state?

      3. AW,

        The NCH certainly would need track rehabilitation between the Quad Cities and Auburn and probably on the MRL. But the UP main between Pocatello and Portland is first class all the way. They run lots of stack trains that way, and those tall heavy cars simply must have a stable trackbed.

        Now the stretch between Ogden and Pocatello might need some work since UP now routes all traffic between the northwest and anywhere west of central Texas via Roseburg. Before the UP/SP merger southern California traffic took the Pocatello to Ogden route so it was a near-primary route.

        I think the costs of re-establishing the Pioneer are mostly operating. It never attracted all that many people because Chicago to either Portland or Seattle was lots faster via the Builder.

        When they tried the straight shot across Wyoming to Denver it improved the travel times significantly, but that route didn’t last long enough to rebuild ridership. And the local traffic from southern Idaho to Salt Lake City was disrupted.

        The Pioneer won’t be back.

      4. Why does the state DOT invest in freight infrastructure in the eastern part of the state? It could probably be summed as equity: $ for passenger rail in western WA, and $ for freight (i.e., getting farmer’s crops to market) for eastern WA.

      5. Because we need to deliver our agricultural products from eastern Washington and and port traffic needs to use it to deliver goods to most of the rest of the country?

      6. Railroads remove trucks from the highways and trucks cause lots of damage to the roadway and that damage has to be repaired with tax dollars. So if trucks can be replaced with trains, there will be less road damage to repair.

    3. “Auto systems”, aka roads, are more flexible to the extent that they have had *vastly* more capital investment poured into them for the past 60 years. But even then, road networks have their limitations. Twice in the last week Southbound I-5 was a mess because of accidents – a lucky few may have been able to peel off and use 99 or some other alternative – however, the vast majority of cars just sat in traffic.

      The Chinese have gone all gonzo with roads for the past decade or so only to find out that they have underinvested in rail. A contributing factor in this massive 19 mile multi-day traffic jam was all of the trucks being used to transport coal. Except at the minehead, I doubt you will find a single place in the United States that transports coal by truck.

      FYI: Our freight rail system in the US is apparently the best in the world. This article asserts that high-speed passenger rail would ruin the US system. While I don’t entirely agree with the premise, it brings up many valid points to consider.

      1. “Twice in the last week Southbound I-5 was a mess because of accidents – a lucky few may have been able to peel off and use 99 or some other alternative – however, the vast majority of cars just sat in traffic.”

        This happens to trains, also. Something blocks the tracks (fallen tree or mudslide in our area, often, sometimes collisions) and all trains are blocked for hous, or even days. If there weren’t for buses on highways and streets, train passengers would be stuck in place for days, sometimes.

      2. “This happens to trains, also”

        Yes, it does, but far less frequently than an accident brings I-5, I-405, or I-90 to a crawl. Many of the rail delays are a symptom of underinvestment in in the rail network. As good as it is, there are spots where retaining walls need to be build or bypass tracks put in to get around congested areas.

        Norman, I think you and I might possibly agree on the HOV/HOT network that I envision. That said, I wouldn’t build a single new SOV lane until a comprehensive HOV 3+/HOT system was in place to speed buses, large carpools/vanpools, and those willing to pay for it along.

        Where we differ is that you think that’s all we need. I’d argue that we also need rail in key corridors.

      3. How many times a day are there outages for trains? How many times a day is traffic backed up on I-5 because someone rear ended someone else? I’ve been looking for statistics but so far I can only find one time the Sounder (97.87% ontime) has lost service but Sound Transit buses have an 88.35% on time percentage.

        Unless you give buses their own dedicated lane they will not equal a train with right away. Even then they won’t because what do you think will happen if there’s an accident on the freeway? They’ll move traffic around it in the bus lane and the bus will have to wait. unless there’s a guardrail separating the bus lane the bus will get stuck.

      4. When Sounder trains are blocked, they often totally stop service for two complete days or more. When there is an accident on I-5, it might slow traffic for a couple of hours.

        How many people take Sounder trains each day? Over 1 million vehicles use I-5 between Everett and Tacoma each day. And there is more than one person in each of those vehicles.

        What you should compare is the number of delays per vehicle-mile. Comparing a dozen or so Sounder trains per day to over 1 million vehicles per day is foolish, unless you adjust for the difference in numbers of vehicles. You would expect fewer problems with a dozen trains per day compared to 1 million motor vehicles per day, would you not?

      5. The Seattle to Tacoma rail lines are very modern and efficient. There is enough capacity to operate Sounder and keep the freight trains moving at the same time, but that’s because hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested. Mudslides are a problem on the Everett to Seattle portion of Sounder and the state has applied for HSIRP money to address that issue. Grade crossing incidents are very rare on the Sounder line, again because of the investment in upgrading the crossing. There has been a problem with tresspasser getting smacked and causing delays. But those accidents are preventable–stay off the tracks The delay is due to the necessary police investigations and time needed to relieve the crew, but usually other Sounder trains and the freights are able to maneuver around the incident.

      6. What provisions does Sound Transit make to accommodate travelers when it cancels a Sounder run or the train has become severely delayed due to mechanical or other problem?

      7. I seem to recall a similar endless traffic jam during hurricane evacuations a few years ago out of Houston. Noteworthy because our Interstates were specifically designed for defense purposes in particular quickly evacuating people out of cities after a presumed Cold War attack.

      8. There are not enough trains to evacuate a city quickly. How many Sounder trains are there? Each holds 1,000, or so? How many trips would they each have to make to evacuate Seattle? How long would that take? And where would they take everyone? To Tacoma and everett?

      9. yeah but trains arent intended to. while with interstates that was the whole selling point.

      10. Sure there are. Just let them hitch on the thousands of shipping containers we have in the Port of Seattle and take them over to Eastern Washington.

        In an emergency, people are willing to take drastic measures.

      11. “Cattle cars”? Has that ever been done in the U.S.? How about giving us some documentation of that. I have never heard of this being done. And, there have been instances of cities in the U.S. being evacuated. But, never in shipping containers, to my knowledge.

        I suspect there are very good reasons why that, in fact, is not possible, and is just another figment of a poster’s imagination.

        Highways can, and have been, used to evacuate cities, and they can use all lanes in the same direction for evacuations, doubling the capacity.

        At any rate, evacuations of U.S. cities are very rare, and nobody would design any transportation city with that in mind, since the vast majority of that capacity would be unused virtually all the time.

        I-5 can carry 2,000 vehicles per lane per hour. Using all ten lanes of I-5 in the same direction for evacuations gives 20,000 vehicles per hour in one direction. At just 5 people per vehicle (and in evacuations, people would certainly pack cars to their capacity, which is at least 5 per car), that gives 100,000 people per hour per direction. If people evacuated Seattle both to the north, and to the south, on I-5, that would be 200,000 people per hour leaving Seattle to the north and south combined.

        I-90 could handle around 16,000 vehicles per hour, or 80,000 people per hour evacuating to the east.

        520 gives another 8,000 vehicles per hour, or 40,000 people per hour evacuating to the east.

        So, that is 320,000 people per hour capacity heading out of town on I-5, I-90 and 520, combined.

        That’s pretty good, don’t you think, in an emergency?

      12. The cattle cars are my imagination but it takes imagination and creativity to solve and survive a crisis. It is not impossible. People are smuggled across the ocean in shipping containers, spending weeks at sea. Never doubt what people will do in order to survive. If 5 people, strangers or otherwise, are willing to cram themselves in a car which is something they don’t usually do (never mind their possessions), what makes you think they won’t hop on a 40-ft container?

        Largest evacuation in recent U.S. history, from Houston, during Hurricane Rita from Wikipedia:

        On Wednesday, Houston mayor Bill White urged residents to evacuate the city, telling residents, “Don’t wait; the time for waiting is over,” reminding residents of the disaster in New Orleans. [21] After heavy traffic snarled roads leading out of town and gas shortages left numerous vehicles stranded, he backed off his earlier statement with, “If you’re not in the evacuation zone, follow the news,” advising people to use common sense.[21] However by 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, the freeway system in Houston was at a stand-still. [22]

        Average travel times to Dallas were 24–36 hours, travel times to Austin were 12–18 hours and travel times to San Antonio were 10–16 hours, depending on the point of departure in Houston. [30] Many motorists ran out of gas or experienced breakdowns in temperatures that neared 100 °F (38 °C). Traffic volumes did not ease for nearly 48 hours as more than three million residents evacuated the area in advance of the storm.[13] This was the largest evacuation in U.S. history. [31]

        Keep in mind that the usual travel time from Houston to Dallas is about 4 hours. It took well over 48 hours to evacuate 3 million people in all directions from a city with many huge freeways (Seattle is not). In light of that, do you think your numbers are realistic? What about evacuating New York City?

        I-5 can carry 2,000 vehicles per lane per hour.

        That is under a very specific set of conditions. When traffic flow breaks down because of a very high density of vehicles, as seen during rush hour and in Houston’s evacuation, actual capacity of a lane is less.

      13. Thank you Oran, it was Hurricane Rita. We had so many hurricanes around that time, I lost track which one it was. Good point about the tunnels.

        That was certainly not the “whole selling point.” LOL

        It was certainly one of the most key selling points, once you had the military saying it was for national defense it made the construction of the system go from a future dream to urgent priority (just like the moon project as defense against the Russians). Most of us can see it was a load of shit, but it at the time with all the cold war paranoia and hysteria it was a critical selling point.

        National Interstate and Defense Highways Act

        On June 29, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The bill created a 41,000-mile “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” that would, according to Eisenhower, eliminate unsafe roads, inefficient routes, traffic jams and all of the other things that got in the way of “speedy, safe transcontinental travel.” At the same time, highway advocates argued, “in case of atomic attack on our key cities, the road net [would] permit quick evacuation of target areas.” For all of these reasons, the 1956 law declared that the construction of an elaborate expressway system was “essential to the national interest.”


      14. They evacuated 3 million people in 48 hours on highways? I would say that is an incredible success story. How many days or weeks would it have taken to evacuate 3 million people from one city on trains?

        “Highway advocates argued…” And this is your proof that the interstate highway system was built mainly to be able to evacuate cities? Your sentence in quotes is the official reason for building the interstate highway system, and it does not even mention evacuations.

      15. For a city and country with a highly developed and far reaching rail network like Tokyo, more than 20 million people (not trips or boardings) use it everyday. One of their stations alone has over 3 million people using it daily.

        London during WW II: “In the first three days of official evacuation, 3.5 million people were moved” The primary mode was trains because they had a lot of them.

        If they had a lot of highways they’d use them in addition to what they have.

      16. This is a bizzare conversation. Even if we were really concerned about evacuating cities quickly, wouldn’t it be far more cost effective and space efficient to set aside thousands of empty rail cars than build massive freeways? We could even add redundant rail lines for far less money than a highway. If our cities had good mass transit, then getting to the train station (and away, at the next city) would be quick and efficient.

        But I agree with Oran. Forget about the extra rail cars, use freight cars and you can move people by the hundred thousand. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime inconvenience, and I think it’s ok to make people sit on the ground for a few hours if their life was on the line (and if not – we could stockpile folding chairs!).

        Oh, and these guys say the best way to evacuate hospitals is by rail.

      17. The defense argument was a smokescreen to justify spending the billions of dollars of federal funds.

        In any case, if evacuation were the goal, the freeways have not kept up with the population increase. The freeways back up with even a routine disruption, and that’s not 100% of the population moving.

        More to the point, where would millions of people evacuate to anyway? In the case of a localized disaster like Katrina, you’d go to the nearest undamaged city. But in case of invasion or air raid or nuclear attack, one city is as unsafe as another. “Look, three million people migrating, let’s attack them rather than the empty city.” You’d really have to hide all those millions of people underground, and freeways aren’t going to help with that.

      18. London’s deep Tube stations provided refuge for people escaping the Blitz above. Perhaps we can try to sell the Deep Bore Tunnel as a gigantic civil defense shelter and get more federal military funding. Singapore designed all of its underground stations to function as fully-contained, self-sufficient shelters.

      19. From widipedia, a pretty good discussion of why the interstate highway system was built:

        “The Interstate Highway System was authorized by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956[8] – popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 – on June 29. It had been lobbied for by major U.S. automobile manufacturers and championed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was influenced by his experiences as a young Army officer crossing the country in the 1919 Army Convoy on the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America. Eisenhower also had gained an appreciation of the German Autobahn network as a necessary component of a national defense system while he was serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II.[9] In addition to facilitating private and commercial transportation, it would provide key ground transport routes for military supplies and troop deployments in case of an emergency or foreign invasion.”

        Could you really imagine the U.S. without an interstate highway system? The highways in the U.S. are critical for just about everything.

      20. Could you really imagine the U.S. without an interstate highway system? The highways in the U.S. are critical for just about everything.

        Believe it or not there was an America before the Interstate Highway System. It was a lot more rail based. Yeah now we think Interstates are critical and cant imagine life without them but if we hadnt disposed of most of our alternate ways of moving people and goods, i.e. the rail system that wouldnt be so dependent on Interstates. Now not surprisingly its pretty much the only way to travel.

        100 years ago almost everything/everyone went by rail, they managed just fine without highways.

        And there are afterall the 1920s highways, the white shield highways, so you can still have a national road network without ‘Interstates.’

      21. 100 years ago, the Model A Ford had not even been invented yet. The first Model A came out in 1928.

        There has been enormous improvement in motor vehicles since 1910.

      22. Even without the Interstate system the US Highway system (the white shield highways) would still provide a road network better than exists in many other countries.

    4. Actually, Jay, everything you wrote is bullshit — or more accurately, to the extent it’s true, it’s true only because people like you have given roads far far more money than rails for years, without good reasons. For the obvious counterpoint:

      1 — roads aren’t very good. They are old, poorly maintained, and mostly shared with large trucks, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, and god knows what else. 2 — when the road is blocked there is often no alternate route. 3 — Expressways and buses are limited access and fixed route. In order to use them you have to have reasonable access to embark and your destination needs to correspond exactly to the debarkation point. Ordinary roads which lack parking are also limited access and fixed route for cars and trucks. :-P

      1. 1. Wrong. Most highways in our area are very good.

        2. When one road is blocked, there are always other roads you can take.

        3. Expressways have numerous exits and onramps to take you where you want to go. There are many bus ruotes for every train route. Bus stops are generally around 1/4 mile apart within cities. How far apart are Sounder and Amtrak stations? I can get in my car right outside my door and drive it to within walking distance of whereever I want to go. A one-seat ride the entire way. In much less time than it would take by train.

      2. Again, this is entirely due to prior spending of money. So you’re saying “roads are better because we spent more money on them”. No argument there.

        That money was inefficiently and wastefully spent, after a certain point. Rails are simply more efficient for high-volume, longer-distance applications.

  3. Seattle serves as a great ‘micro-model’ of what’s been happening since 1956 in the graphs(Grist). Total spending is an allocation of government funding to the different modes. The needs always exceed the supply of money. Transit has been carving out higher funding levels over the years, but it still comes down to limited resources.
    Seattle is wrestling with two failing bridges (AWV, 520), freeway congestion, and trying to fund both rail investments and bus systems, with little spare change to fund anything. Through in a 3rd runway, HSR, and ferries, and it’s a mad house.
    Each of these modes makes their best case to voters and decision makers as to why their mode should get funded, and each presents it’s own set of metrics to make the case.
    As long as transit continues to fund projects that perform miserably against other modes, it will probably be left to picking up scraps of meat off the floor.

      1. but people are more efficient with their transit trips…

        you might, say, take a single 5 mile round trip downtown via transit, where your office is and do all your errands (visit doctor and pick up dinner) there by foot and be done.

        whereas a motorist will make many trips a day, 15 miles in this direction to the office, over lunch go 9 miles in that direction to the doctor, then back another 9 miles to the office, then 7 miles in the other direction to the supermarket, then 18 miles home.

        no wonder it looks skewed.

      2. Offhand it seems this statistic may be somewhat skewed – many transit trips are very short (say 1-4 miles) whereas many SOV trips are rather longer (5-30 miles). I’m not disputing that this is sobering, and it is certainly indicative of how our cities have evolved with the construction of *lots* of roads, effectively subsidized fuel, and creative ways to finance personal transportation.

      3. You can say anything with statistics. For example that says that a 1 mile trip on a bus from capitol hill to downtown is only worth 10% of a ten mile trip from say Bellevue to downtown Seattle. Whether that is the correct measures to use is a value judgement but any conclusion you come to has to be cognizant of that implicit value judgement.

      4. Blind usage of “passenger-miles” also values a rural trip across Alaska higher than any short trip in a city.

        And the fact is, roads are pretty appropriate for those diffuse rural passenger trips through low-density areas. The place where trains shine is where there are a *lot* of people travelling.

        If a two-lane road (one lane each way) isn’t getting congested, you certainly don’t need mass transportation in that area. It’s silly to mix that in with all the congested-area traffic.

      5. its the same with counting vehicles not people. it skews it to favor cars and trucks. obviously a bus with 60 people onboard when counted as a vehicle comes out as 1 vehicle. traffic engineers are only concerned with moving vehicles.

    1. But rail transit projects generally perform much better than other modes. So….uh… that can’t be the reason why it keeps getting scraps….

  4. I saw this on NWCN yesterday: Watch: Climbing all of Seattle’s stairs, one step at a time. About half way through the clip they talk about some stairs made from old trolley parts. The treads were made from the old concrete sleepers and the rails were cut up and used to support the hand rail. Anybody recognize where they are. Just before showing the stairs there’s shot of a Link train so I’m thinking it must be somewhere in the RV. Do the stairs lead to a Link stop?

    1. I’ve seen the rail banisters on most of the stairs around north Seattle, which is where I do most of my walking. IIRC Fremont Ave N & N Bowdoin Pl and 43rd & Palatine have them. Here’s a Street View shot of some stairs from Magnolia Blvd to Perkins Lane that shows them. It looks like all the rail-supported stairways have those wide white rails, which would make them pretty easy to identify from Google Street View. But using Google maps & OSM, it doesn’t look like there are many stairways (at least not of the old variety) around Link stations. The closest I can find is the one at Cheasty & Hanford, about a block away from Mt Baker Station, though I can’t tell from Street View if that one has rail banisters or just regular poles.

      I wonder how one would distinguish concrete sleepers from just regular concrete treads?

      1. I would thing there might still be evidence of how the rails were attached to the sleeper, dunno? Also, I’d think regular concrete stairs would have been poured in place. Wonder if any of the rails or ties from the Burke Gilman have found a similar reuse along the line?

      2. I think there’s some near Ivar’s on the Burke-Gilman. And on the Fremont end of Lake Union near Westlake Ave N there is a short segment of Interurban tracks by a houseboat cluster.

    2. There is a stairway with banisters made of streetcar tracks going up the hill between the U Village and the U District. Looks like it’s a long 52nd between 20th and Ravenna Ave.

    3. “Old concrete sleepers” from trolley lines? Concrete ties did not exist in the 1940’s. The announcer said “the concrete railbed“. That’s what we call “panel track” these days.

      1. OK, the report wasn’t very clear. A google search didn’t really turn up any pictures of what this looks like. Did they pour long “curbs” and then fasten the tracks to that or was the entire roadbed concrete replacing what would be ballast on a typical railroad? The stair treads looked pretty uniform and busting up that much concrete seems strange. I’m surprised they didn’t just pave over it like they did so much of the brick and cobble roadways.

  5. There had been some comments in the past week or so that Link’s 2 minute “warning system” was down to one minute. The half dozen times I was in the DSTT this week I only heard two minute warnings.

    1. I have also heard 3-minute warnings, lately. But, I agree, since I heard some 1-minute warnings acouple weeks ago, they seem to have gone back to 2-minutes.

    2. It seems to be doing 2-minute warnings in some places and 1-minute in others. I haven’t seen anyplace where it does both 2-minute and 1-minute.

  6. I’m curious for information that compares the degree to which capital investments are pushing demand as opposed to trying to keep up with it. Maybe a reasonable piece of this is represented by capital dollars invested per potential customer (ie per capita in the travel shed).

    A yet more useful frame might be the marginal economic value of the dollars spent on the two modes, although this could be innappropriate if either mode is in a dysfunctional (ie woefully inefficient) state and at a terrible location on its supply curve. For me, this leads straight to the question of what rail system strategy should try to achieve.

  7. Random observations/complains about LINK:

    Beacon Hill Station is leaky. Does anyone know if this can/will be addressed? It leaves ugly white stains against the blue tunnel walls and there are *constantly* wet floor signs on the platforms.

    On some trains the automatic announcements kind of cut in and out. Has anyone else noticed this? Does anyone know if it will be addressed? Its not really a big deal, and the announcements are backed up by the scrolling signs, but I think it might be a slightly bigger deal to first-time users.

  8. Another picture I found on Flickr: Rush hour on the tube. Man, does this bring back memories. They have since added an extra car to the Jubilee line along with more trains. During rush hour the Jubilee line has trains arriving every minute or two.

    If you ever wonder why I have quibbled about crush load estimates so vociferously, this picture should explain it. Regardless of what the capacity of a Jubilee line car is, it *feels* like there are 200 people on there with you :) (And don’t bother comparing the two – Different seating pattern, curved roof, and the cars are only about 53 feet long.)

    1. I had an experience like this when I was in London a few years ago. I have never been claustrophobic but I was borderline at that moment.

    2. London’s tube trains are notoriously small — modern subways are *always* bigger inside. Link is bigger.

    Am I nuts, or is rapid ride going to be slower than the 174? Trip times between TIBS and FWTC say up to 2 minutes slower than the current schedule. What happened to RAPID, and what ‘bang for the buck’ did signal priority, new shelters, signage, Orca readers, POP, and 3-door buses gain. Sure service is doubled, stops are fewer, but riders per something is going to go way down as the metric. Please tell me I’m wrong!

    1. I looked at the RR-A webpage and took the roughly the average time they show for each segment and it came out to 45 minutes. I think the schedule for the 174 says 47 minutes. But I don’t know if the 174 is actually able to keep to this schedule. But, it sure looks like the trip time is a wash. The RR-A says there are 50 stops. I counted the scheduled stops an came up with 49. I think there’s more stops than what they show on the schedule but there isn’t always someone getting off or on at each stop. So, number of stops looks to be a wash as well. I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.

      One thought, what if they used some sort of odd/even stop spacing. One bus serves stops 1,3,5, etc. along the line and the next one comes by and hits 2,4,6… Yes, I know this puts the headways back to 15 minutes to 1/2 hour making service exactly like the 174. But for people that are roughly half way between stops they have a choice of which one to go to. And the busiest stations would be “all stop”. Another stratgy would be to have “Express” buses (RR-AX) stop only at Stations and “local” stop at Stations and Stops.

      1. I dunno, I don’t think skip-stop service is good along a major corridor like that. It is really confusing for people and, like you said, makes headways half of what they would be. Better to just have reasonable (1/4 mile at the minimum) stop spacing in general.

      2. From what I can tell the stop spacing is pretty consistently 1/4 mile (4 blocks on the county grid). Counting the stops on the map I come up with 26. So I guess they’re counting NB and SB separately when they say, “The A Line serves 50 stops.” So, now the question becomes, with less than half the stops and all the fancy stuff, why is the schedule almost identical to the 174? Or is the 174 schedule way off?

    2. Good catch. The run cards for next shakeup have route “671” on them which appears to be Rapid Ride A work. Here is a quick comparison between the 174 for this shakeup and the 671 for next shakeup:

      Northbound Rapid Ride A:

      Federal Way TC Tukwila Int Blvd Time
      4:45am 5:27am 42 min
      6:45am 7:30am 45 min
      8:40am 9:27am 47 min
      12:45pm 10:29am 44 min
      4:10pm 5:01pm 51 min
      7:15pm 7:58pm 43 min

      Northbound 174:

      Federal Way TC Tukwila Int Blvd Time
      4:43am 5:21am 38 min
      6:50am 7:30am 40 min
      8:51am 9:33am 42 min
      12:44pm 1:31pm 47 min
      4:06pm 4:53pm 47 min
      7:02pm 7:40pm 38 min

      The routes appear almost identical to me although I’ve never the 174 and don’t know the area – somebody else can comment if there are substantial differences in the routing. Assuming they follow the same path does the Rapid Ride stop at every station like light rail does? Or do the buses have a bell and only stop when requested or picking up passengers? That’s the only thing I can come up with but it’s a pure WAG.

      1. The website says that all the stops will have strobe lights for passengers to activate. So presumably RapidRide buses will not stop unless someone wants to get on or off.

      2. No different than today. When you get close to the zone, look for bodies showing some interest in what your doing. Facing the houses, yaking on your cell phone, and shaking your head from side to side will probably get you left behind, unless the strobe is on.

      3. So with all the fancy stuff to build RR-A, and a lot fewer stops, it’s going to be a longer trip than the 174 was.

  10. The railways paid for the building and maintenance of the railway tracks, in addition to the rolling stock and stations. Bus companies only paid for their rolling stock and bus terminals or stops. Bus stops are very expensive compared to a train station, not. Fuel taxes don’t even come close to covering the cost of highways.

    1. Well, the railways sort of paid for it themselves. In the 19th century the big ones got land grants that gave them ROW plus revenue by selling land and establishing depots and towns. And honestly Americans probably wouldn’t have been so excited about the auto if many of the railway companies hadn’t been run by “robber barons”.

      1. The only land grants were as follows:

        Pennsylvania Harrisburg to Pittsburgh
        Illinois Central Galena to Cairo
        Union Pacific Council Bluffs to Ogden
        Kansas Pacific Topeka to Denver
        Union Pacific Southern Branch (Missouri-Kansas-Texas) Junction City, KS to Denison, TX
        Central Pacific Sacramento to Ogden
        Southern Pacific Sacramento to Sierra Blanca, TX via the San Joaquin valley
        Southern Pacific Mojave, CA to Needles, CA
        Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Atchison, KS to the Kansas-Colorado border (state grant)
        Atlantic & Pacific (AT&SF) Los Lunas, NM to Needles, CA
        Northern Pacific Duluth to Sandpoint, ID
        Oregon-Washington Railway and Navigation Company Portland to Sandpoint, ID
        Oregon and California Railroad Portland to Sacramento (forfeited)

        Yes, these grants provided the capital to build the lines and land to sell to farmers to grow crops for the trains to carry. But in trade, the railroads had to carry military freight for a penny per ton-mile. That lasted through World War II when the rails were racking up millions of ton-miles per hear of war material shipments.

        The government did provide funds for CTC installations on many western lines at that time, but the government got a very good deal for the grants. 0

        None of the other northeastern, none of the southeastern, and very few of the midwestern lines received any land grant. So please be careful about parotting a widely held misconception that has led to lots of un-justified resentment of the rails.

      2. Darn. Forgot the other half of the southern line.

        Texas and Pacific Ft. Worth to Sierra Blanca, TX

      3. Anan – thanks for providing this – I’ve mean to look all this up every time someone says how the railroads “made out like bandits” in the 19th Century.

        The miseries for US passenger service started in the 1920s with the “Good Roads” movement, and accelerated after WWII with the rise of the (subsidised, “land grant” – 1000s of square km’s) highways and the (subsidised, “land grant” – 1000s of square kilometers) airports and the subsidised oil extraction on federal lands.

        To erase those 6-8 decades of misery will require probably close to a trillion dollars in investments over a quarter century at least. Is there even ONE national level politician that has the guts to say this?

      4. @Anandakos Are you saying that 90-175 million acres of land (depending the source) were NOT given to the railroads in the 1800s?

        “So please be careful about parotting a widely held misconception”. Do you have any proof of your lack of parotting because I’m not finding any.

      5. So none of Washington’s railroads were land-granted except the part of the Empire Builder between Sandpoint and Portland?

      6. Nope, Anadarkos, I’m pretty sure you left out quite a few land grants — not to mention the state-owned railroads. North Carolina Railroad, for example?

        Did you make sure you included all the STATE and LOCAL land grants as well as the federal ones?

      7. It is correct that very few Northeastern railroads had government support or subsidies.

        This is of course why the New England railroad routes are appallingly terrible, detouring around individual farmers who wouldn’t sell. :-P

  11. Has there been any thoughts ever of running a historic streetcar or two on the South Lake Union Streetcar perhaps on weekends as additional service? Or even the First Hill Line?

    I’m certainly aware of the situation with the Waterfront Streetcar line and that that is likely where any future historic operation would go but that shouldn’t necessarily prevent other lines from running historic equipment (given that normal ADA accessible equipment also run). At least now the waterfront streetcar has spare cars (though I recall them being trolley pole).

    1. Our historic streetcars are 600v, while the modern streetcars run on 750v, so it would require extensively renovating the historic streetcars, which there isn’t money for right now.

    1. Yeah, real deep understanding…

      “Source: Adapted from The Public Purpose, Wendell Cox Consultancy.”

      1. Um, call me a skeptic but i’m a little cautious of a random graph on a random website that has wendell cox as a source, given that he is a famous paid anti-transit shill.

        we all know there is a huge drop after the war, the question is how much it has recovered. some cities have had huge recoveries while others are currently at their all time low. i personally am very interested in seeing ridership numbers for various transit systems over the decades. it hard info to find and it hard to compare a current day regional system like in seattle with a pre-war mostly urban system limited to the city limits of the largest city. there is a lot of subjective interpreting of data to compare apples to apples and no, i dont trust mr. cox to do it.

      2. The graph is a made-up piece of zero-credible-reference nonsense. By the way, you are actually an Martian, and you have no information to dispute that. :-) Learn some reasoning skills please.

  12. When the railroads abandoned their right-of-ways, very few of them have been reconverted back to use by any sort of rail (heavy, light, or even bus). Some have been converted into bike paths, but not much spent on upkeep or connections for bike use.

    1. A startling number were converted to roads. Miserable traffic sewers, usually, like I-690 (IIRC) in Syracuse, NY.

  13. Open thread starter:

    I spent much of the last week in New York with someone who wasn’t able to easily use the subway.

    As in many cities with comprehensive rail systems, the bus tends to be viewed as an adjunct and superfluous system to be avoided unless you’re heading somewhere without a rail option. As such, with the sole exception of the Harlem-to-Laguardia lone, I had never before used New York City buses.

    So imagine my shock… they’re actually quite good, and quite expedient!

    The 2nd Ave Express (stopping every 1/2-to-3/4 mile, y’know, like RapidRide and Link should but aren’t) was a particular revelation. But even the locals were a pleasant surprise. Every single bus journey we undertook — each was about 2.5 to 3 miles — made better time than any in-city Seattle route of equivalent length I could think of.

    All in spite of heavy traffic, bottlenecked intersections, and all-around superlative Manhattan-y density.

    So what was different? There was no separate right-of-way (except a few token blocks on 2nd), no off-board payment, no light preemption.

    Following are seven major observed contrasts. Some of these serve as indictments of Metro policies and operational habits. Others point to SDOT as a major impediment to our transit mobility:

    1. NYC bus drivers, like NYC cab drivers, are willing to drive like it’s as important to them to get there as it is to you. I can’t possibly overstate the effect of this. If there’s any chance that they can make a light, they will. If they need to weave around stopped cars, they will. The effect on travel time is cumulative!

    2. Nowhere in New York, even at the busiest intersections or when crossing the signal-synced boulevards, do red lights last as long as they do in Seattle. Period. You’ll never wait 3 minutes at a single red light — something that happens, for example, in 3 places between Ballard and downtown.

    3. Total Metrocard adoption. I didn’t see one single person pay cash on the bus, and even large groups boarded quickly. Having no paper transfers certainly helped with this.

    4. Front door entrance; rear door exit. Always. There are frequent audio reminders, and 99% obey them because they know it makes the bus faster.

    5. Contrary to my expectations, NY still has many high-floor buses in service. The ramps and lifts work exactly the same as ours do… but move 3 times faster! The wheelchair hookups require much less awkward fidgeting as well.

    6. When a vehicle or some other intrusion blocked the bus stop, bus drivers didn’t dandily maneuver around them, making their laborious way to the curb only to have more trouble pulling back out than usual. They just stopped in the travel lane, blocked the offender in to make sure people could safely get to the front door, let the passengers on, and kept going. The message: the behavior of a motorist will inconvenience other motorists before we allow it to inconvenience transit users.

    7. It’s mass-transit, not lowest-common-denominator transit. You can’t just refuse to pay. You can’t be disruptive. You’re encouraged to be quick about boarding and moving into the vehicle. You’re discouraged from being colloquial or social to the detriment of speed.

    All these things make a huge difference. None of them cost much money to implement, and the resultant efficiency saves money. It’s long past time for Seattle to learn a thing or two.

    1. Most of those things I didn’t experience when I was there last month. I did experience the drivers being more aggressive (or “willing to drive like it’s as important to them to get there as it is to you” as you say), but I don’t think that has to do with the transit agency itself, but rather with the general culture. Drivers in NYC in general are way, way, way more aggressive than those here in Seattle. In New York, and the East Coast in general, right-turning cars will push their way through hordes of pedestrians crossing the street, while here in Seattle, the other day I saw someone in the middle of the night wait to turn right until someone was entirely across the street. I certainly experienced some instances of long lights, just like there are some instances of long lights in Seattle. However, the vast majority of lights in both cities change quickly. I definitely saw people pay in cash, and didn’t experience drivers stopping in the travel lane (not that that’s something I’d want them to do, it’s much safer to pull up to the curb). So I’m not saying buses in New York are bad, just that they’re really not much better than Metro. And on the plus side for Metro, we have very nice seats, ETBs on many inner-city routes, and very nice and helpful drivers.

      1. Sorry, Alex, but I have to call you out on the seats. I’ve had to do more unanticipated loads of laundry thanks to substances on Metro seats than I can possibly count. I no longer sit at all on Metro if I can help it. Never had quite as bad experiences in New York or L.A., which, unlike Metro, have actual cleaning departments.

        Of course, thanks to the hugeness of those disgusting seats, arranged 2×2 all the way down the bus and jutting out into the impassably thin aisles, there isn’t really any standing/passing room on Metro buses — another thing that slows them down! The only logical place to stand is in the rear door area, even if it annoys the driver. (Of course, I’d still rather the rear doors were getting used.)

        I’ve never encountered a fast-moving transit system anywhere with such a disproportionate seat-to-aisle ratio. I consider it a big part of Metro’s problem.

        And call it a cultural disconnect, but I’d rather have a fast driver than a nice one!

      2. The “nice seats” are the soft padding on both the back and bottom. I’ve never seen another city bus system with those (not counting regional expresses like ST Express with charter-coach style seats). The seats make Metro more comfortable and pleasant to ride on. Some cities have hard plastic McDonald’s style seats with maybe a pad at the bottom or maybe not. Others have some kind of padding but not as soft as Metro’s. I was alarmed at the hard seats on one of Metro’s new demonstration trolleybuses, but I haven’t seen that kind again for the past several months. As for those who say, “Who needs seats? You can fit more people on the bus if they stand”, that may be OK for short 10-minute rides, but not for 25- or 45-minute rides like most of them around here are. How can you read a book if you’re standing?

        As for dirty seats, that’s specific to certain neighborhoods. I find the seats clean most of the time, and I suspect most routes are that way.

      3. Um… exactly.

        Metro needs to speed the heck up so that more of the rides that should be 10 or 15 minutes actually are 10 or 15 minutes.

        Lower seats-to-standing-room ratios yield faster boarding and exiting, especially when combined with all-hour rear-door usage and elimination of paper transfers. So it is, in fact, vital to speeding up our service to the point where seats become less “necessary.”

      4. Why do we still have paper transfers?

        I bet the cost of offering those, between lost two-fare revenue, added operational time, reduced dependability, and lost ridership due to the slower travel time, is far more than the cost of the Free Ride Zone and “fare evasion” combined.

        Has Metro done the math?

        We need to cut somewhere, and hopefully in a way that simultaneously improves service.

      5. “Why do we still have paper transfers?”

        Probably because because Metro has the largest number of poor riders of any transit agency here, and they’re the most resistant to going to ORCA. You can add the $5 fee and the lack of places to buy it:

        The fee is an actual dealbreaker only if you can’t scrounge up $10 for the card and some initial fares, but it’s a psychological barrier if you don’t have much spare income and ride the bus only occasionally. (Many people in service jobs are in this position.)

        As for the lack of places to buy ORCA, many locations are ten miles from a TVM. Poor people don’t have computers in their home and don’t have credit cards to buy it online anyway. (You can get free computer use at the library, but how many people want to devote their limited 1 hour a day on getting an ORCA card?) And even transit fanatics have trouble with the website, so imagine the problem for those who don’t understand the transit system much.

        I know several people who have stopped riding the bus since ORCA was introduced, even though they have freebie ORCA cards that given to them or distributed at banks during the transition. They’re just so mad at the transit agencies (for reasons involving ORCA, Link, and eliminated bus routes). One woman doesn’t think she has enough money to prepay the e-purse, and so she walks everywhere now.

        My mom isn’t anti-transit but she has stopped riding it too after ORCA, because she finds the transfer regime confusing (even when I tell her to just get the reduced-fare ORCA and transfers will be free). She actually rides the 255 because it’s cheaper than the 550. I am very glad for the 550 and ride it over any Evergreen Bridge bus, but it just shows how even 50c makes a difference to people with little money.

      6. Boston planned on charging $5 for CharlieCards eventually as well. Clearly they decided at some point that pervasive CharlieCard adoption created a tangible public benefit that justified reneging on the plan and making the cards as easy as possible to procure.

        The ORCA agency consortium needs to do the same. For all the millions Metro and Sound Transit spend building “transit centers” — which are generally a horrible idea in that they force buses to make half a dozen 90-degree turns to reach a single stop, often mid-route — there’s absolutely no reason not to have ORCA machines at each.

        Meanwhile, I’m not sure an agency that has just jacked the fare up 50% in the last three years would be in a position to say that it’s retaining a massively counterproductive operational policy “for the sake of the poor.” (Unless it were implicitly endorsing the “soft” fare evasion that often comes with transfer slips.)

      7. d.p.,

        Metro’s slowness is explained by the 3 S’s they teach in driver training; Safety, Service, then Schedule.

        You have it better than the most of the county by living near 2 of the few frequent service routes Metro has. Elsewhere, punctuality is more crucial because of how limited the service is. Miss a connection and you end up waiting 30-60 minutes. I don’t understand how a bus with low ridership, running on low traffic streets can be so late and yet make no effort to stay on schedule. I don’t care how nice the drivers are if their inability to be punctual, within their ability and safety, causes me to be late to work or an appointment too many times. People will stop riding if they find transit unreliable. And don’t tell me to leave earlier. You mean you want me to leave 30-60 minutes earlier and double my travel time? No wonder ridership on the Eastside is dismal (not the only reason but one I experience often).

        That said, the 236 driver was nice today to try to catch up with the 234 at Kirkland TC. That 234 was running 3 minutes early.

      8. “And don’t tell me to leave earlier. You mean you want me to leave 30-60 minutes earlier and double my travel time?”

        Thank you, Oran!! It makes my blood boil every time I read that particular “suggestion” here!

      9. Service: Being gracious to change fumblers, because making people get ORCA cards is elitist — but try telling that to the bus riders who made the effort to get an ORCA card, and still have to spend an extra twenty minutes a day watching the change fumblers.

        Maybe a handful of people don’t have easy access to get an ORCA card. But the vast majority *can* get a card, if they but make the effort. It’s time to set a deadline and put paper transfers out of our misery. If Metro can’t even pick this low-hanging fruit, then the legislature has every right to laugh at them when they ask for extra revenue authority.

      10. I still don’t get why bus drivers can’t just have a stack of ORCA cards to hand out. The common argument is that drivers shouldn’t have anything of value to protect the driver’s safety, but an ORCA card with a preloaded transfer isn’t worth any more than a transfer slip…

      11. The card is theoretically worth $5. But if Metro/ST declare a free-ORCA month right after paper transfers go away, and then operators hand cash payers a card, with detailed directions in multiple languages attached, instead of a paper transfer, nobody will have an excuse for not having a card.

        Of course, they’ll still need to go to a TVM or go online to register and load the card.

      12. The agencies should have gotten bus drivers into the free ORCA card distribution scheme. A driver could make a brief announcement about ORCA and then say anyone who wants one can pick one up as they exit through the front door. Or have someone on-board to hand them out. Or it doesn’t need to be free. The people without cards would be easily targeted and soon most of who ride that route will be converted. Now that’s service!

        If Metro stopped giving out paper transfers ORCA card adoption would rise as seen in neighboring transit agencies.

      13. Oran’s about as pro-transit-at-all-costs and as level-headed an individual as you’re ever likely to encounter.

        So when your way of doing business starts to make him angry, you should know you’re doing something wrong!

      14. In Boston, not only are CharlieCards given out like candy, but the fare is actually 15% lower with a card than with cash. And there are no paper transfers.

        If they tried to design the current system to discourage ORCA use, they couldn’t have done a better job…

      15. It looks like the Charlie Card has essentially identical functionality to ORCA:


        My follow-up question, then, would be: Has Boston Metro managed to virtually eliminate change fumbling? After that, out of curiosity, what are the other bottlenecks that slow down or randomize boarding and deboarding time there?

      16. Brent,

        “Has Boston Metro managed to virtually eliminate change fumbling?”

        Essentially, yes. Of course, even before CharlieTicket/CharlieCard, a very large percentage of riders had horizontal-stripe-swipe monthly passes (like our old PugetPasses); I can’t remember cash payment ever being as prevalent there as it is here.

        CharlieCard tends to work even better than ORCA — people can just swing a backpack at the reader and it tends to ping it. The only adverse consequence has been with CharlieTicket, which works great in the subway gates but requires a counterintuitive angle of insertion into bus and trolley fareboxes. Now that they’ve made CharlieCards so easy to procure and are beginning to move 7-day and commuter rail passes from CharlieTicket to CharlieCard, the former should disappear.

        “What are the other bottlenecks that slow down or randomize boarding and deboarding time there?”

        Bunching on the Green Line and on the buses has more to do with external factors (mostly traffic) than with any specific boarding procedures. But, of course, when you get an exceedingly overcrowded bus or train — Boston experiences rush-hour, weekend evening, and post-Red Sox crush loads that would send most Seattleites into fits of claustrophobia — it takes more time than one would like to squeeze in and out, even through multiple doors.

        Seattle’s a long, long way from having packed-to-the-gills vehicles on routes with <7-minute headways, but with our gigantic seats and tiny aisles, we still make entrance and egress more difficult than it should be. It would be a good idea to shake people out of their "I need a seat to settle into for the inevitably long haul" mentality.

      17. Thanks for the intelligence from Boston Metro.

        Link has a good way to minimize the post-game crushload: A few extra trains apparently queue up to start some time around the end of the game. They’ve been able to do 5-minute headway or better.

        The buses? As I’ve pointed out, they have a bad habit of getting stuck in the crowd. A lot of those buses going south could come out of Rainier Beach Station, and easily beat the buses wading through the crowd.

        But that’s down my wish list from simple things like getting the buses to serve UW Station and getting rid of paper transfers.

      18. Green Line trains run near-constantly for about an hour after Sox games. Literally just come one after another after another after another after another. A critical mass tends to be reached thanks to the seriously antiquated signal system in its tunnels (three branches converge near Fenway Park).

        But they still manage to run about 10 times as many trains as Link does after events, all packed to squeeze-your-body-sideways-against-the-doors levels. (Well over 50% of game attendees come by train.)

        This is why I scoff at the notion that the DSTT will be “at capacity” once ST2 comes on-line and trains average ever 2 or 3 minutes. It takes a lot more than that to overwhelm a single tunnel with no junctions. (After-7:00 cash-payers on tunnel buses is another story. Just one bus can f* the whole thing up!)

      19. “Metro should just give drivers a stack of ORCA cards to give passengers.”

        Excellent idea!

      20. d.p.,

        I take it that Boston’s 1-seat anti-rail whiners have given up and accepted the poor service involved in dedicated ROW and a faster 2-seat ride with a “forced” transfer.

      21. Brent, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

        Something related to the Silver Line, presumably, and its weird mantra about a “one-seat ride from Dudley Square to the airport” (in spite of the fact that Dudley Square is not an area, demographically speaking, whose residents need access to frequent business or leisure air travel).

        The MBTA is an agency whose operations people tend to be very good, but whose long-term planners tend to be very bad. And the experience of the Silver Line succeeds in refuting pro-BRT forces on two fronts: the tunneled segment was as expensive as a train but is still slower and less comfortable; and the surface corridor was implemented with virtually no BRT features and is indistinguishable from many regular buses.

        But in general, nobody in Boston thinks in terms of one-seat rides in general (the way Metro still does). Everybody uses the T, everybody transfers all the time, and major routes run extremely frequently so transfers are never a big deal. Even the Silver Line planners, regardless of the dumb mantra above, spoke extensively of transfer connectivity.

        The “one-seat vs transfers” debate doesn’t exist in cities with real transit. You have to go to parochial backwaters with pervasive 1/2-hour headways to find people still having that argument.

      22. DP: “Metro needs to speed the heck up so that more of the rides that should be 10 or 15 minutes actually are 10 or 15 minutes.” (and lower seat capacity because standing passengers can enter/exit quicker)

        Most routes like the 30 and 43 couldn’t get down to 15 minutes even under the best circumstances. Only very short trips like downtown to Broadway fit that model. So eliminating seats on all routes because “short trips will be improved” would actually make most trips worse. Of course, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t have special few-seat buses for the downtown and Capitol Hill circulators, as long as those buses didn’t continue to the U-district as though everything were normal.

      23. Mike,

        Why do you presume that most people are riding routes end-to-end? The 43 is a fantastic example of a bus that’s currently 30-35 minutes but under speedier operating circumstances would be 20 (with few riding more than 10 to 15)!

        The fact that you describe “downtown to Broadway” as fitting the 10-15 minutes model reminds me just how low Metro has sunk Seattle’s expectations. That’s one mile! It should be 5 minutes of the route, not 15+ (as it so frequently is)! That the bus hits Broadway, and 50% of its packed-in occupants disembark… slowly! I’m so glad we put all that seating there so that they couldn’t squeeze by!

      24. I’m sorry to get riled up, Mike, but you really do need to travel more.

        You and Metro seem to have the same logical blockage: you defend the status quo with statements like “so eliminating seats on all routes because ‘short trips will be improved’ would actually make most trips worse” — but you fail to see that improvements to any part of a route benefit through-riders the most!

        There is nothing more frustrating than experiencing a mid-route chokepoint every day of your life on a part of the route that you never even get on or off; you just feel your life slipping away needlessly. (I live in Ballard; the Dravus St. bus stop and light cycle in Interbay is my nemesis.) You really don’t think 43 riders would give up their “luxurious” (disgusting) padded seat in exchange for not slowing to a crawl between downtown and Broadway? On any within-Seattle route I can imagine, the it’s the furthest riders would benefit most from faster boarding operations!

        And contrary to your “make most trips worse” belief, trips requiring transfers would be even greater beneficiaries: there would be far fewer missed transfers, and the so-called “transfer penalty” would be mitigated because riders would see their trip as “two short hops” rather than “two long slogs.”

      25. It’s not the size of the seats that makes the 43 slow to a crawl, it’s “pay as you leave,” change fumblers, de-wirings, slow lifts, 90-degree turns and the horrible condition of the pavement on Bellevue Ave. that slows the 43 to a crawl. The size of the seats are the least of it’s problems.

      26. Zed,

        You woul think the size of the seats wouldn’t matter. Until you see:

        – The only person getting off a crowded bus at a particular stop take 60 seconds to squeeze up the aisle to the door. This happens all the time at rush hour, and really does add up!

        Or even worse:

        – A person on an empty bus who doesn’t bother to stand up until the bus has come to a complete stop, then ambles lackadaisically from back to front, keeping everyone waiting for another 45 seconds. This happens surprisingly often too. As I’ve said before, big seats and lack of standing room encourage the mental assumption that one is “settling in for the long haul.” Slow rides are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        And of course you’re certainly right about the pay-as-you-leave, the 1-door policy, the change fumblers, the slow lift, the routings, etc.! Many of these were addressed in the original NY buses comparison.

        Mike took particular issue with my mention of seats-to-standing-room ratio, which is why we’ve been back-and-forthing on the minutiae of that matter.

      27. Oh, and after the first quick ride, I really started paying attention to the light cycles as a pedestrian as well.

        There’s no question that NYC signals simply cycle through all directions faster than Seattle’s. Don’t believe me? Try walking from 1st Ave to 5th in downtown Seattle without jaywalking or running to make a light. It could take 10 minutes. And you don’t get that patronizing b.s. where the “don’t walk” turns solid 10 seconds before the cars get their red.

      28. Know what’s worse? Crosswalk lights like in front of the WAC where you push the button, and it takes what seems like several minutes for the light to even turn yellow. Hello? You have a person waiting patiently, trying not to break the law, yet although there are no cars in sight you give theoretical cars more than a minute of extra time?

        Pedestrians should always come first – we’re the ones stuck out in the rain, and you know I’m here since I pushed a button.

  14. I lived in NYC for 13 years, and if you wanted to get anywhere FAST you took the subway, period. This comparison of buses vs rail because of “flexibility” is hogwash. An effective commuter system isn’t “flexible” it’s one that gets you from point A to point B fast, consistently and without any surprises. If you are using a mode of transportation that is dependent on cars running freely too, you’re SOL. Secondly, no one seems to ever discuss the PERCEPTION and QUALITY OF RIDE EXPERIENCE that different types of public transportation convey, and that, my friends counts for A LOT in this country. When people are paying 20-50K on an automobile, the alternative ride better have some cache, and that is where buses fall flat. Don’t ask me why, but trains are perceived as a much cooler mode of transport. I’m always surprised that this psychological element isn’t discussed and addressed more seriously when public transportation issues are being debated.

    1. And yet, Greenman, note my surprise (above) at how even the buses in NY run much better than they do here.

      1. Do they, though? Cause I rode some and they gave generally a much lower quality of experience than Metro… Unless you mean in terms of frequency, but it’s hard to compare that between the most populous, densest city in the country, and Seattle.

      2. Aren’t they like $6 each way during commuter times? You could park here for $10 a day.

      3. The ones with premium fares are express buses, Matt, along the lines of an express to Issaquah (which probably should cost $6).

        The 2nd Ave bus is more accurately a “limited-stop” bus; my apologies for using the confusing term “express” for it. All the buses referred to in my posts are standard city buses with the standard fare.

      1. Sam:

        Link is far from perfect, and one might question the time-savings of using Metro+Link to the airport from other parts of Seattle, but yes, Link is absolutely the best route from downtown itself.

        It’s about 15 minutes slower than driving in absolutely no traffic. Are you willing to spend 16x as much on a cap or on airport parking to save 2/5 of your travel time?

        Park offsite, and the time savings is gone. Take a hotel “airporter,” and waste those same 15 minutes shuttling between hotels before even heading to the highway — not to mention that it’s 3x less frequent than the train.

        Miss the old 194? The 33% greater wait time more than offsets the 5 minutes it saved by going express (again, with no traffic) and thereby serving a limited function.

      2. “cap” = “cab”

        (and while I’m at it, “Harlem-to-Laguardia lone” = “Harlem-to-Laguardia line“)

      3. Totally agree that Link is superior to the old 194 from downtown to Seatac: runs much more frequently, especially weekends and evenings when the 194 was 30 mins at best and ended by 9pm; and there’s enough room for your bags.

        The only problem is it needs to start earlier and run later, especially on Sundays.

      4. We need the overnight Link shadow route.

        The marginal cost of keeping Link running 24/7 is too prohibitive, at least until U-Link opens.

      5. The 194 was 10 minutes faster than Link, Westlake to the SeaTac terminal, and the 194 dropped you off at the terminal, while Link drops you off 1/4 mile (a 5-minute walk) from the terminal. Running the 194 at the same frequency as Link would havc cost of fraction of what Link cost.

        Also, you didn’t have to wait in a line at a TVM to buy a ticket for the 194, like you often have to for Link. I am sure people sometimes spend more than 5 minutes in a line just to buy a ticket to ride Link. Then wait for the train. Then have a 10-minute longer trip. Then have to walk 5 minutes to the terminal from the Link SeaTac station.

      6. Almost all wrong. Link is closer to United & Alaska than the bus stop. The 194 often took 5 minutes stopped at Seatac stop while people paid – and this penalty was incurred in both directions (pay as you exit arriving, pay as you enter leaving). With an ORCA card, I have no wait to get on a train. Link is better on every score.

        And though the 194 had a 30 minute headway and a timetable, it wasn’t unusual for it to be 15 minutes late, so what good is the timetable. The consistency of Link is a major improvement.

      7. YOu are good at making stuff up, but all your points are inaccurate. My information is correct.

      8. Link goes to lots of places that aren’t the airport. Increasing frequency on the 194 would probably not have been operationally cost-effective without the extra stops, and adding the extra stops would have made the ride much slower.

      9. Tired of arguing these points, but will point out the time I almost missed my flight using the 194 thanks to traffic. Nothing more fun than sitting on a bus completely stopped on I-5, knowing even if your bus starts moving right now you’ll probably miss the flight (it ended up being delayed).

      10. I use link for going home, but not to, the airport (my wife does as well). However, I do agree that LINK has some issues, if they made a express route, with 2- 3 limited stops, that would be all she wrote, and LINK would get a lot more ridership for the airport crowd.

    2. This has been debunked over and over. All you have to do is give buses a more modern design, and different paint job, and the public perceives them to have a higher “quality” and more “cache”, than “regular” buses.

      This is one of the ways in which BRT is perceived as being superior to “regular” bus service. Different styling and paint, wider doors, wider aisles, off-board payment, etc. — many features which are the same as light rail. And, the experience around the U.S. is that BRT attracts the same riders as light rail.

      1. Norman,

        It’s true that a sufficiently high-quality bus service can increase ridership in much the same way as rail. But in this context, high quality generally includes dedicated ROW and/or grade separation.

        In Boston, the local bus 49 was replaced by the Silver Line BRT service. The route has dedicated lanes for about 80-90% of its route, and a next-bus countdown timer. When the 49 stopped running, its daily ridership was about 7,000; today, ridership on the Silver Line is about 14,000.

        The total capital cost for this project was $27.29 million, plus an additional $19.23 million in road costs that were paid by the highway department.

        For all this, we get 16 buses an hour (at rush hour) which can seat 68 people (90 including standing). That’s a capacity of 1,440 people per direction per hour. For safety and reliability reasons, increasing frequency (and thus capacity) further would require significant capital investments, including extra reserved lanes and/or full grade separation. Suffice it to say, this could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. (Underground tunnels are no less expensive because you don’t lay steel tracks.)

        Now, let’s compare with the recently-completed Canada Line. For a capital cost of $1.9 billion, they added over 100,000 riders to the system virtually overnight. The line has a capacity of over 15,000 people per direction per hour. And unlike the Silver Line, the Canada Line’s farebox recovery is over 100%.

        I like buses. I think they’re great for getting cheap coverage to places that don’t (or never will) need very much capacity. But buses simply cannot match the capacity of rail without a similar capital cost and much higher operating costs. There’s no free rides.

      2. What does the Canada Line have to do with Link? Link cost a lot more than the Canada Link, and carries a fraction of the people the Canada Link carries.

        You do not need dedicated ROW to increase ridership with BRT compared to regular buses. SWIFT has very little, or no, new ROW, but they expect SWIFT to increase ridership significantly over the precious bus service on that route.

        SWIFT cost about $30 million for 17 miles of BRT. Link cost about $2.6 BILLION for 15.7 miles of LRT. Link cost about 87 times as much as SWIFT, but is carrying only about 7 times as many passengers per day.

      3. Not arguing against SWIFT here. All buses should be like SWIFT.

        SWIFT is in a low-density area where traffic is not a serious issue. It would have been a grotesque failure in an actual city, like Seattle.

      4. SWIFT would have been perfect between downtown Seattle and the airport, and down MLK Jr Way. And it would have cost a fraction of what Link cost.

      5. Is it not possible for people to separate capital expenses from operating expenses? Trains have a higher capital expense but lower operating expense (due to the multiple-train coupling, rail inertia, hydropower, electric motors, etc). It’s like the saying, “You can give a man a fish, or teach him to fish.” One has a temporary benefit (low initial cost), the other has a lasting repeated benefit.

        So adding the capital cost to the operational cost is not fair. All residents pay the capital costs (because the fact that the system exists benefits them), and riders pay (part of) the operating cost. It’s the same with car infrastructure. Taxpayers pay for roads (because the gas tax is insufficient), rather than a $10,000 road fee being added to the price of a car.

      6. This has been debunked over and over. Give buses a more modern design and a different paint job, and people perceive them as “buses with a new paint job”, and they prefer trains — even give them exclusive lanes and off-board payment, and people still prefer trains. The ridership statistics don’t lie; convert a really good bus route to a *slower*, more expensive train route — as in Portland Streetcar — and ridership goes *up*.

        The facts, unlike Norman’s fantasy world, show that BRT attracts a fraction of the riders of light rail, at higher costs. You can dig up all the retrospectives at lightrailnow.org, or ask people in Boston, Pittsburgh, or Ottawa, which got the BRT bullshit.

        Can Norman be banned yet?

      7. For another example: Minneapolis was forced by the federal government to use a ridership model for the Hiawatha light rail line which assumed that there was no ridership “bonus” from being a train rather than equivalent buses.

        This caused a massive underestimate in ridership. They are having to increase the train lengths by 50% to accomodate it. That’s how strong the “rail bias” actually is in Minneapolis.

      8. The STB moderators don’t need to banish Norman, you can do it yourself. Someone just needs to write a Firefox/Chrome/Safari extension that allows you to hide comments by a person of your choice. Then create a Troll-free RSS comments feed.

      9. “The facts”

        LOL, yeah right. There are facts but their interpretation is a matter of opinion.

      10. I think allowing the trolls to post serves a purpose: It shows us what the know-nothings are saying, so we can counter the common arguments.

        Nevertheless, it should be noted that this is a privately-run blog involved in advocacy work, not a free speech zone. It’s not as if we get to post on any Kemper Freeman websites, or sites of employees of his.

        Just wait until Link gets Wi-Fi. Then, Kemper will probably hire someone to ride it all day to take opportunistic pictures when the rail car or station is most empty, and to post on enemy blogs over and over and over, with the same already-refuted arguments.

      11. Look, Norman isn’t hurting anyone or anything by posting here, as he usually stays within the rules.

        If you find it entertaining to argue with him, do so. If not, don’t.

      12. It was kind of rhetorical. The trouble is, allowing people to continuously spread misinformation *does* mean that someone has to respond to the misinformation; “don’t feed the trolls” is not helpful in this situation.

        What *would* be helpful would be a catalog of debunkings, so that when this sort of nonsense comes up one can just drop a link to the “Frequenty Trolled Questions”.

    3. NYC bus routes may be better than Seattle’s, but the real comparision is the actual ride vs the ideal ride. In NYC, the subway is twice as good as a bus re travel time. The only reason the 2nd Avenue express bus exists is that the 2nd Avenue subway is not built yet. The 2nd Ave express bus may be faster than a local bus or a Seattle bus, but do you really think it will compete when the subway is opened?

      1. I couldn’t agree more, Mike. Trust me, my rail bias is very, very, very stong!

        But the point of my post was to communicate the sheer shock of discovering how much better New York’s bus service operates than Seattle’s, despite all the traffic, despite the myriad obstacles and bottlenecks, despite the sheer density… and to communicate my dismay that Metro (and its defenders) never seem to learn anything from the examples of others.

        You’ll also note that I didn’t address frequency, which would have been unfair given the gross discrepancy in scale. I addressed only speed of ride and quality of service, areas in which New York won hands down. And much of what I described applies to the locals as well — they still managed faster service than any Seattle route that doesn’t hop on a highway.

        That particular express bus may disappear years in the future when the 2nd Ave subway runs the length of the island, but I imagine that the locals will still be running as strongly and effectively as my friend and I discovered them to be. Which is good, since the new subway can’t solve the problem of limited disabled access to the older lines.

        Lastly, I was reminded today when out and about Seattle just how wrong Alexjonlin is about the light cycle comparison. The default here seems to be for SDOT to pick a “primary” arterial at any given intersection, and give it a ridiculously long green at the expense of everyone else. Red lights, in the unlucky directions, are routinely over a minute, frequently approach 2 minutes, and in a few circumstances are 4 minutes or more. I struggle to think of anywhere in New York where you have to wait more than 30 or 45 seconds to go.

      2. They don’t always pick a primary arterial. Sometimes, like at Fremont and 46th, both directions get the 2-4 minute red. ;)

  15. Here’s yet another blow against trains:


    Apparently when you ride a train, completely within the U.S.A., Customs and Border Patrol boards tains and demands to see your papers. There’s a 40 man unit in Rochester NY which has no border crossing that harasses train and bus riders in the middle of the night.

    What hypocrisy by the Obama administration – sue Arizona but run an agency doing the same thing. (Note, I don’t support the Arizona law, and I support reigning in obnoxious Customs and Border Patrol agents.)

    1. When I rode the Empire Builder in April 5 DHS goons drove in two SUVs to Havre, MT from the Canada/US frontier (100 km round trip?)to walk the platform and harass the pot-smoking teens in the bushes at the west end of the station – a reminder of the pervasiveness and uselessness of this multi-billion dollar no-benefit cost to the tax payers.
      The DEA and DHS can, and will, stop you anywhere – in your car or on the train or the ‘hound.

    2. I’m not defending the policy, but the point of the Obama administration’s lawsuit was not what Arizona was doing, but that Arizona was attempting to usurp authority from the federal government.

      Cars do also go through Border Patrol checkpoints on highways going between American cities. This isn’t really different, except it could be done in a way that is less exasperating for everyone else on board. Buses and trains have stations. The Border Patrol could choose to do their searching there.

      (Again, I’m not saying I’m pro-Border-Patrol, but within the reality that they have been given marching orders by the federal government, they could be smoother about how they do their job.)

    3. The same thing happens on the San Juan ferry from Sidney. People traveling from the islands on that ferry have to take a passport even though they never leave the US, so I hear. If they don’t want the border guard scrutiny, they have to take one of the runs that doesn’t go to BC.

  16. Someone should seriously draw out private investment in rail, roads, shipping, etc before the 50s. The 50s, the dawning of MASSIVE Government subsidies and control over infrastructure and such at a Federal Level saw the near eclipse of all private investment in most infrastructure. Where as during the railroad booms of the 1880-1900 we saw private investment exceed what the Feds have ever spent on roadways. Meanwhile they’ve skewed the actual market and demand for transportation so much by commodotization intercity and inner city travel. By doing so the sad part is, simply, we will NEVER have transit options like the US did between 1860-1940.

    This graph is just the tip of this whopping iceberg of an issue. The Government will never be able to spend us back to great infrastructure like what existed previously. It may help get us there, but somehow, someway if we want seriously capable transit options again (i.e. timely, efficient, green, etc) then we absolutely have to get people more involved (kind of like this blog does). However not just involved and pushing for more Government involvement, but we the people need to have more involvement in private and public ways. In other words, we have to make transport to and from and in cities more friendly to those that would and want to invest in things like Streetcars (have you checked lately, you can’t buy one nor operate one in most US cities), invest in bus routes (they’re commonly put out of business by the local authority if they’re too successful or the laws don’t align right).

    …anyway, enough of that digression.

  17. /facepalm/

    Does anyone know what’s going on with the Taylor/Garfield S-bound stop on the 3/4 routes? According to Metro’s website on the stop consolidation, this stop was to remain in service (http://metro.kingcounty.gov/up/sc/plans/2010/053010-03-04.html).

    About two weeks ago, the bus stop sign was chopped down and when I had inquired about it, they said that a 3rd party contractor accidentally removed the sign and that it would be back up in a few days and, in the meantime, they had put a temporary bus stop sign there. Today, after two weeks of having the temporary sign and buses stopping there again, it’s removed and my bus driver said they’ve permanently nixed the stop.

    While I’m OK with them axing a stop (and I’m glad they grew balls to do such), what they forgot to do was to communicate! I’m awaiting a response from them again, but figured someone on here might be privy to some info.

    1. Got some more info from them from Twitter: “Taylor/Garfield is fully operational, reinstalled this morning. Sorry about the confusion, but not Metro that’s been closing it.”

      Makes me wonder who keeps on removing this stop and painting over the red/yellow bus markings on the curb. Someone must really hate this stop :)

      1. Can’t say I’m a fan of it, either. I typically catch the bus at 7:17am and it’s always the same driver. Methinks that if Metro would communicate that this stop is open to its drivers, then at least you would know. For the passengers, not so much until a new sign is put back.

        Interesting new tweet from @kcmetrobus: Apologies, the irritating saga of the stop at Taylor/Garfield continues. Closed again this morning, hopefully open again this afternoon.

      2. (off topic)
        Reminds me of the opposite of a This American Life story. A hospital that caters to people with Alzheimer’s kept having patients wander off. Their solution was to install a fake bus stop outside the hospital, and just check every now and then for people sitting on the bench waiting for the bus.

  18. Good lord… This is sad. Depressing. Pathetic. Oh America, such idiocy with your planning.

    1. Can You Find All 19 Workers in the Photo – standing around BS’n with each other.
      At least someone should pick up a shovel and dig.

  19. More on bus vs rail wrt TOD.

    Norman wrote above that light rail does not encourage TOD more than equivalent bus routes do, and what really encourages TOD is zoning changes.

    Both sides are partly right on this. People respond to any frequent AND rapid transit, whether train or bus. However, trains have other advantages unrelated to TOD (capacity, energy efficiency, better ROW). The better social image of trains is also a factor, although how much that justifies the price tag is hard to say.

    The idea that the main purpose of light rail is to unleash a flurry of housing development is misguided. Seattle had development coming out of its ears during the boom, with or without rail. The problem is that the new housing is too expensive for the non-rich, but rail has nothing to do with that.

    The Ballard developments were based on the promise of a monorail, and when that failed, that some kind of rapid transit would eventually come. But some of the development would have happened anyway, both because of the demand for in-city housing, and because zoning now encourages mixed-use, walkable development, with greater height limits. So you can’t say it’s all-rail or not-at-all-rail. Some of the building would have happened anyway, but some of it was inspired by the monorail. RapidRide alone would not have encouraged that much development, because it’s not that big an advantage over existing service.

    In Europe and Canada, the transit planners have much more influence over where rail and bus go, so it’s tied more to geographical needs than to anti-train NIMBYs vs pro-train yuppies. Rail is added where it’s needed, mainly on high-capacity, high-congestion, and core routes. Most cities have a core network of rail lines between the city center, largest neighborhoods, and airport. Buses fill in the gaps. As a result, people don’t have a negative attitude toward buses; they see buses and trains as roughly equal value. Some cities go further and treat them as the same in their fare structure. The agencies see buses and trains as part of one unified system, not as two competing systems. (However I, as an American, still choose the trains because that’s what we don’t have here.)

    But even if buses can encourage TOD, in Seattle they haven’t for the past seventy years. The streetcars encouraged neighborhood businesses on Woodland Park Avenue, which is now residential. The outer parts of Seattle and all of the suburbs have huge residential-only areas, without even a corner convenience store. The parts of Seattle that do have corner convenience stores were all built in the streetcar era. Hillman City on Rainier Avenue was a neighborhood commercial strip, but now the businesses are few and decaying, even though the 7 follows the old streetcar line. So the end of the streetcar era coincided with the retreat of neighborhood-business districts, and buses are at least partly responsible for that, even if not fully responsible.

    Our current needs are for frequent rapid-transit corridors of any kind. But rail is needed to cut the travel time of longer-distance trips to a reasonable level. I think of it as a 30-minute and 60-minute transit circle around any location. ST2 Link will at least double or triple this, at least for the neighborhoods it serves. An equivalent bus line would require new lanes and tunnels and stations: you can’t just say ST Express and RapidRide are equivalent, because their transit circles are smaller.

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