Photo courtesy myurbanist.com

The whole Bellevue Link alignment dispute has inspired admirable inquiry into the sources of anti-transit opinions. There are obviously a multitude of reasons that people might oppose new transit projects, and some of them are easily refuted. I would never be selected as their spokesman, but if I were to make a charitable attempt to understand the mindset it would go something like this.

About 64% of King County households never ride the bus at all. This number is 44% even in the well-served Seattle/Shoreline area. Although some may be waiting for improved service, many others simply cannot imagine themselves voluntarily taking transit. This doesn’t mean they oppose the existence of Metro, but they do see transit as a social service for people who simply cannot drive. If you can’t picture yourself using the service, the externalities (like noise) are more significant it it’s coming to your neighborhood.

For virtually any social service, I think you’ll find that non-users are generally pretty disinclined to invest heavily to improve quality. You may support public housing, but probably would be miffed if they started building public housing with marble floors and gold fixtures.* In the case of Metro, they do an adequate job of getting you there, as the slogan goes; the route may be unpleasant, or circuitous, or slow, but it exists for the vast majority of King County homes and jobs. In this view, improvements in quality — better Metro routes, or the quantum jump to light rail — are frivolous spending.**

Needless to say, I don’t find this line of argument convincing. Quality transit can get people to use cars less, and that has various positive externalities. Moreover, a lot of us are interested in making cities denser; car-dependence is an obstacle to that and will not scale as well. However, I think it’s more valuable to understand this view of the world than casually dismiss concerns as racism or unfathomable ideology.

* There are some issues with the public housing analogy, but you get the point.

** Viewed this way, faux advocacy of BRT is not so much insincere and cynical as an attempt to bargain rail fans down, i.e., “yes, the train is nice, but would you take half as nice for half the price?”

160 Replies to “The Anti-Transit Argument”

  1. They also may be some people who couldn’t care less about the train line itself but don’t want the construction.

  2. Then there are the people who may drive themselves, but see transit as a way to get workers into and out of downtown Seattle and Bellevue without them turning into Manhattan, and thus believe in investing in it…..

    1. Gordon,

      I think two years of $3.00 plus/gallon has lifted the “OMFG!” barrier to more like $4.50 or $4.75. Maybe even $5.

  3. I wonder if a better response to the people who see it as a social service would be to emphasize the social utility to people like them (except that they’re willing to take transit). For example, some of the ST2 commercials had middle-class commuters from Tacoma talking about how they loved Sounder because they could read or whatever. Maybe doubters who wouldn’t be swayed by hipsters or hourly mall employees would listen to a Bellevue neighbor who takes the bus now and wants the train.

    1. Also, one would think there would be a way to spread the viewpoint that people who don’t ride transit themselves benefit from transit, since effective transit speeds up traffic for car drivers and reduces demand for parking in downtown areas.

      Unfortunately, I suspect that people who view roads and transit as two unconnected, unrelated services for two radically different classes may tend to discount that argument, preferring instead to add lanes for cars…

      1. Since nearly everyone in America owns a car, and the vast majority of them use it to get to work, “add(ing) lanes for cars” is VERY popular. The only limitation is really the cost and the destruction to existing neighborhoods that they levy.

        Since most of the poorest areas of cities have already been hashed up and spit out by the freeway builders, the only areas left for “more! more! more! is cul-de-sacville and nobody wants a 24/7/365 tire noise factory next door to their suburban dream. So it’s a problem.

        The only thing that will stop the insanity is for China to take over the middle east and take all the oil for themselves. Then Americans will be face to face with the simple fact that those McMansions in cul-de-sacville were really stupid idea!

      2. Non oil dependent cars will bolster suburbia to heights never before imaginable. It is just a matter of time.

    2. I’ve sometimes wondered if we could analogize transit and road quality in public debates. Say buses are like dirt roads: cheap but slow, high-maintenance and bumpy. Rail is like an interstate: costs a fortune to build but it’s smooth and low maintenance, but unlike a real interstate, won’t be a parking lot during rush hour.

  4. One of the problems I think we have with promulgating mass transit in our region centers around the question of transit certainty. We often identify reliability as a complaint and benchmark with respect to rail and buses, but the ‘certainty’ that a bus route will never be axed, altered or changed in any way does not exist in the minds of most folks. Metro changes its schedules three times yearly as part of a delicate dance between service provision and often elusive financial accountability. Metro likes to show that it is a responsible financially astute agency that is unwilling to run empty buses in neighborhoods where demand barely exists or is infrequent.

    This is all very laudable but it strikes at the heart of certainty and it messes with any idea of a consistent network of mass transit available options. People don’t follow the buses with respect to their choice of area to live, but buses follow the people and if the people move or move around by other means then the buses either move (if they can) with the people or drift away from the neighborhood altogether. Oftentimes, though, starved by financial constraints and a lousy economic framework, there isn’t even the means to follow the people and the buses stay grounded in the well worn neighborhoods that are densely populated and where there is a known transit pool of riders.

    There is no simple answer to this conundrum because finances are always so restrictive that Metro indeed cannot afford to run loss-making routes even if they are or could be subsidized by the more profitable ones. Even the profitable routes have to be subsidized because fare box revenue doesn’t cover enough of the expenses involved. So we have a trickle down subsidized method of paying for our buses and as a result, certainty and consistency of any route are largely unachievable objectives. Metro is always having to challenge itself and has less energy to spare to recruit more riders to the system. Because folks cannot rely on a route being around for all time or not on a reliable regular schedule, they keep to their cars as a way of bringing a consistency and certainty to their lives that the buses can only partially offer. One of the many reasons I like Light Rail and streetcars is that both challenge the public to ride them, rather than the other way around and with fixed dedicated corridors, people have more reason to expect and hope that they will always be there on a consistent, visible, certain basis. Then the only concern is reliability. It is a fair assumption I think that light rail is not going to be ripped up anytime soon.

    Yet, the net result of the uncertainty of some bus routes, is that confirmed car users and potential transit riders alike fall back too easily into relying on their cars which they know are in their garages available for use on demand.

    More rapid ride travel will surely help in the future on the busier corridors, but as a community, we need to decide whether we want a truly mass transit network of integrated trains, buses, ferries, streetcars, roads and anything other type of people mover and are equally prepared to fund all of its various components or do we instead want a patchwork quilt of options that at anytime can unravel and be pulled apart by opposing and often self-serving interests. Thus we have cars vs. buses, trains vs. cars, neighborhood vs. neighborhood in a ever condescending spiral of rancor. I hate it as it is not a well-balanced approach to what we need in the Puget Sound.

    For what its worth, in Los Angeles where I have been stuck for too long, there are lots of buses running around, but most of them are completely empty. Down here, hardly anyone even knows of a bus let alone takes one. At least in Seattle, talking about transit is a favorite sport and passion – even if it doesn’t always lead to good results and the process of determining what should go where and how and with what drives us crazy sometimes.

    1. The relation between where transit goes and chooses to go (and what mode it is) and where people live and choose to live is not as straightforward as you make out — there’s feedback in both directions. I moved from Phoenix a bit over six months ago where the busses are, for the most part, just like the ones in LA. I chose to live in Downtown primarily because I looked at a bus map and saw that most of the lines went there.

      Being young and single and not owning property, I was free to see which way the wind is blowing (gas getting more expensive, the inner city — contrary to stereotype — not being a dump) and make the optimal choice in where to live. If you’ve been told all your life that a big house and big car in the suburbs are the certificates that you’ve made it, and you go out and get these things, and then some upstarts come along and tell you that no, busses and the city are where it’s at now… well, you’d be upset.

      I’m not suggesting that everyone in the suburbs thinks like that — one of my colleagues commutes from Redmond and was complaining about “too much democracy — just build it now” when he read about the fuss in Bellevue.

      As for what to do about this. I think the best plan is to build an high-capacity, high-frequency urban transit network in and between the places where it’s possible to be carless. For everywhere else, build commuter service. Those people aren’t going to give up their cars, so why bother driving empty busses around their neighborhoods after peak hours?

      Commuter service is the thin end of the wedge. Even people who love their cars hate to commute, and (at least for me in Phoenix) commuting accounted for a majority of my annual VMT, and it accounted for the vast majority of the VMT that could have been satisfied by public transit — most of the rest was camping etc.

      1. “As for what to do about this. I think the best plan is to build an high-capacity, high-frequency urban transit network in and between the places where it’s possible to be carless. For everywhere else, build commuter service.”

        Where’s STB’s “like” button?

        BTW, unlike Phoenix, there are vast swaths of Los Angeles with surprisingly good transit service. L.A. is denser than many think, and a 10% modal share is still a whole lot of people using it.

      2. Phoenix has two little islands of walk/bike/transit friendliness, around downtown Tempe/ASU (where I lived) and downtown Phoenix. Other than that, there’s just the Metro Light Rail corridor and maybe two or three bus lines with frequent service and solid ridership. Even there, before my job moved to another part of town, I don’t think I made it more than five days without driving.

    2. I was just down in LA, and my experience was that there were a ton of people taking the bus. However, there appeared to be very few middle-class people riding. LA has such a huge population of low-income people that a lot of people rely on transit, and a lot of people take transit, even while a large part of the city doesn’t even know it exists.

      1. That may be so in parts of Los Angeles, but out in the San Fernando Valley, I see little activity anywhere. Nice looking buses too so it is a shame, but you are right, few, other than the lower income denizens of Los Angeles, know of the existence of mass transit options.

      2. The only bus I rode in the Valley was the Orange Line, but it was packed for the first few stops beyond North Hollywood, even though it was a Sunday afternoon. But I’m guessing that’s an exception.

      3. MetroRail gets used heavily even by the middle class. In the San Fernando Valley they seem to drive to the Red Line station, though. That mountain bottleneck is horrific in a car, so it does give strong incentives to take the Red Line.

      4. Bus use in L.A. is decidedly an income-related issue, with few notable exceptions such as the Orange Li(n)e, which ought to have been a surface rail extenion of the Red Line, but was shot down by the NIMBYs.

        Why ride a bus when parking is easily available, multiple routes are available between a very poly-centric urbanized area, and the busses have few abilities to prioritize themselves in the heavy, heavy traffic conditions? This is not the situation in Seattle, BTW.

      5. Nothing wrong with that provided the ROW is fenced off and you have no grade crossings. I think part of BART is like that.

    3. there are about 1.1 million daily bus riders on MTA in LA. some of them must not be running empty.

      1. There are at least 17 million people (perhaps much more depending on how or if undocumented persons are tabulated) in the greater Los Angeles Area. How does that compare with the ridership/population ratio in Seattle, Portland or Vancouver?

      2. I’m not sure about ridership, exactly, for Seattle. I’m not sure if ST’s data is broken down by subarea, and Metro’s is broken down by county subarea.

        I did see a stat on here recently that there was a twenty-something percent mode share for all alternative methods of commuting. That was based on the American Community Survey, so a different measuring methodology altogether.

  5. “yes, the train is nice, but would you take half as nice for half the price?”

    That is not even close to the question we face in our area. The cost of Central Link light rail was approximately TWENTY TIMES the cost of SWIFT bus service. And, I would argue that SWIFT is very close to being as “nice” as Link light rail. Certainly, I think it would be difficult to argue that Link is “twice as nice” as SWIFT. At any rate, I expect that, if given the choice between taking a SWIFT bus on the same route as Link light rail, very few people would pay twice as much to ride Link as SWIFT every day (say $5.00 on Link between downtown and Tukwila vs $2.50 on a SWIFT-style bus route).

    So, here is how I come up with Link capital cost being about twenty times that of SWIFT.

    Link cost about $2.6 billion for 15.7 miles. It operates 8 2-car trains (24 Link cars) per hour during peak hours.

    SWIFT cost about $30 million for 17 miles. It operates 6 articulated buses per hour.

    To get the same capacity of Central Link would require about 24 articulated buses per hour, or about 4 SWIFT routes. That would cost approximately $120 million vs $2.6 billion for Central Link. Therefore, Central Link cost about 20 times what 4 SWIFT-style bus routes would have cost.

    I would contend you could have achieved what Central Link has achieved with four SWIFTp-style bus routes: express to the airport (194); downtown to Tukwila (174); downtown-SeaTac down the Rainier Valley (42 extended to the airport); downtown-Tukwila down the Rainier Valley (42 extended to Tukwila). This would give a bus down MLK Jr Way every 5 minutes. And an express bus to the airport (or Tukwila) every 10 minutes.

    So, if you are genuinely honest about wanting to have this debate, how about starting with honest numbers? “twice the price”? Really? In our area? Would you care to defend that number? Because if Central Link had actually cost only $120 milliion, instead of $2.6 BILLION, I don’t think there would be nearly as much opposition to it.

    Just think how many more people would be using transit each day in our area if that $2.6 billion had been spent on SWIFT-style bus routes instead of Central Link.

    1. Just think how many more people would be using transit each day in our area if that $2.6 billion had been spent on SWIFT-style bus routes instead of Central Link.

      Nobody would spend $2.6 billion on SWIFT-style BRT. $2.6b for non-separated BRT-lite? That, like all bus service, will be pared down in times of financial strife, and then have to claw its way back through public opposition?

      No, instead the public chose to spend $2.6b on a permanent rail investment that operates in its own right of way and sets the groundwork for a real honest-to-goodness rapid transit network.

      Your entire post is one gigantic logical fallacy, Norman.

      1. Your entire post is one gigantic logical fallacy, Norman.

        Oh come now, you didn’t expect something sensible from our Norm, did you?

      2. I dunno, I think it’s an interesting thought experiment. Let’s assume for a moment that you could have indeed convinced the tax payers to spend that 2.6b on a comprehensive network of well integrated SWIFT-quality BRT for the region. Presumably we could have blanketed the whole region with such an investment. Arguably, although this provides inferior service for one specific corridor, it provides vastly superior service for the vast majority of people in the region than the current system (with Link) does.

        Also, I’m not entirely sure I understand the financial stress argument. If the busses all already have dedicated lanes and stations, those won’t just magically evaporate when there’s less money going around. Really the only lever anyone would have is to reduce frequency and span of service–something that could just as easily be done to light rail in hard financial times.

      3. The other lever would be opening up the bus lanes to other traffic because not enough buses are using it.

      4. @Stephan There’s actually an STB reference post in the bar to the right that summarizes the arguments against BRT. The biggest part of the cost in building rail systems is getting the dedicated, (mostly) grade separated ROW; for Central Link this means tunneling and elevation. For the relatively small additional cost of track and signaling, you get electric traction, vastly quicker loading and unloading, and the ability to scale up the number of cars to the length of the platform at minimal marginal cost.

        To put it differently, if we had built Central Link (and were building U-Link) as a busway like DSTT is now, the extra money would NOT suffice to blanket Seattle and the Eastside in high-quality BRT. It might have paid for a number of BRT-lite RapidRide lines that would slightly increase ridership over current local bus lines, which is not much of a win.

        And in 20 years, this system would be at capacity, and the moaning minnies like Norm would be trolling the STB of the future, asking why we didn’t build light rail in the first place, and denouncing BRT a gubmint waste and choo-choo busses.

      5. What are you talking about? SWIFT cost about $1.8 million per mile. For $2.6 billion, you could have had around 1,400 miles of SWIFT buses, oompared to 15.7 miles of Link light rail. You don’t think anyone would spend $2.6 billion on 1,400 miles of SWIFT-style bus routes?

        Or, you could have had 4 SWIFT routes instead of Central Link, and saved about $2.4 billion!

        Pared down in times of financial strife? You mean like Link cutting back to 1-car trains instead of 2-car trains in off-peak hours and weekends because of “financial strife”? Have you not read of all the subway and light rail systems around the U.S. which are being “pared down” in times of financial strife? How are trains any different from buses in that regard?

        Your entire post is nonsense.

      6. “The cost of Central Link light rail was approximately TWENTY TIMES the cost of SWIFT bus service.”

        is this true??? is it fallacious?

      7. Norman,
        You aren’t comparing Apples to Apples. A light rail/streetcar line where you simply slap rails down in a lane, string overhead, and build stations is a much fairer comparison.

        Unfortunately in much of the region you can’t make the transit lanes exclusive because of constrained ROW. At the very least you’d have to widen the ROW like was done on MLK and that isn’t cheap.

        Please tell me what the cheap option for 100% grade separated transit ROW between Downtown, Capitol Hill, The University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate is? Heck just tell me where you can put HOV lanes/transit lanes between these points. How do you make your $1.6 Million/mile BRT take only 13 minutes between Westlake and Northgate even during the peak of evening rush hour?

        Exclusive ROW costs money, grade separated ROW costs even more. It doesn’t matter if you are building rail or BRT, the costs are roughly the same.

        I remember when the DSTT was being built and all of the complaints about how much money it cost. People like you were saying we really didn’t need to grade separate buses downtown. Or at the very least the benefit wasn’t worth the cost. Though there were an equal number who thought it was silly to be spending that amount of money and not building rail instead.

        I’m sure that if the Central/U/North Link corridors had been covered with BRT instead Norman would be right out in front complaining about the costs and all of the “subsidies” transit riders receive.

      8. Swift is on a wide 45 mph highway. There’s nothing like that in Seattle except Aurora from Denny Way to 73rd, West Marginal Way, Airport Way, and perhaps part of East Marginal Way. That portion of Aurora already has Swift-like service (at least in terms of stop spacing and traffic lights). The other roads are too far from population centers. I-5 is not an option because it’s overcongested.

        Building BRT comparable to Link would require either new roads or at least semi-exclusive ROW. Anything less is not an improvement.

        Link is equivalent to a new freeway, both in terms of its capital costs and how it functions. Of course it’s expensive. It has to be expensive in order to work.

    2. I always wonder why we can’t build something like Eugene’s BRT system. Five or ten million dollars per mile, half of it dedicated right of way. They have operating costs of just $1.15/ride. 100 miles of this would revolutionize transit in Seattle at an affordable price.

      http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2011/01/11/better-transit-even-on-the-cheap-doesnt-always-come-easy/

      http://www.ltd.org/search/showresult.html?versionthread=6d517154d17fc3e09be84a0ee196bd7b

      1. There’s less city in Eugene.

        It’s always easier to build transit when there are fewer existing obstacles to work around. :-( Sadly, very few places have planned transit into their initial city plans.

      2. of course Eugene is less dense than Seattle which makes it easier to get the row. But density is a huge advantage for transit. A little investment on Madison, 23rd, Pacific Place, and 15th could make for a great brt route.

      3. Jeff,

        It’s not possible to reply to your reply. So this is that.

        Where in the world are you going to put investments on Madison, 23rd (presumably 23rd East) Pacific Place and 15th (presumably Northeast)? Not a single one of those streets has parking on it anywhere (well, Madison does out at the end in Madison Park, but that’s not where you’re posting about). They are all hemmed in by close set houses and storefronts.

        There is no possibility to do anything, not even bus jump queues anywhere except at Pacific and Montlake. That’s why grade separated transit was unavoidable in the downtown to UW corridor.

    3. Or to be more exact, you could not build a 20x the amount of SWIFT-quality BRT service in Seattle that you could for the amount of money it cost to build Link.

      1. SWIFT cost $30 million for 17 miles.

        Central Link cost $2.6 billion for 15.7 miles. That is 87 times the cost of SWIFT for slightly fewer miles.

        Central Link has about 4 times the capacity of SWIFT.

        So, how much more per mile did Link cost than SWIFT?

      2. While you’re comparing completely different modes, Norman, are you going to throw in the per-mile cost of the runways at SeaTac?

    4. Norman,

      I’d argue that Link is also more than twice as nice, but then I didn’t mention Swift. As usual you’re ignoring the point to quibble about figures of speech.

    5. Norman makes a valid argument, at the wrong point in history. Central link is a done deal. Ulink and probably East and North are beyond that point also.
      Those debates occurred in the early 90’s to no avail by many people of good intention. This region was going to get its rail system and that’s that.
      History may eventually prove the brilliance of the people who stood there ground and demanded a rail based system over building many more miles of a BRT system at a much lower cost, even with lots of opportunities for dedicated ROW.
      I think most of us have given up on the philosophical debate and are just waiting to see how things turn out.

      1. No, Norm’s arguments are not valid and haven’t been at any point in the last 20 years. A bus tunnel from the I.D. to Northgate is going to cost you only a little less than a rail tunnel of the same length and has a much lower capacity. History will look back at Norm’s incoherent rantings and LOL.

      2. I don’t think that’s quite true Mike, we’ve made some of the biggest investments in bus infrastructure in the country. There was no guarantee that the bus tunnel was ever going to be converted to rail, in fact the tracks were just an afterthought added at the insistence of one man. We have more bus transit centers, HOV lanes and freeway access ramps then anywhere else I’ve seen. It’s not as if the region has shunned improvements in the bus system in favor of rail.

      3. Bruce: You’re just being silly now. Why on earth would you dig a tunnel to Northgate for buses, just because Link decided to do it for rail. There are perfectly good reversible lanes that do the job. Enhanced ramps in and out of Campus Pkwy to feed the Univ is not unreasonable.
        Additional bus only lanes from Spokane St. to intercept I-5 HOV lanes at Michigan, as proposed by some at Metro, would have eliminated a major chokepoint for buses from the south. Bus only lanes up to SeaTac would have finished the job. These are all nickel and dime projects compared to Link costing hundreds of millions per mile.
        But like I said, the fat lady has sung, so “it is what it is”

      4. No, Mike, those nickel and dime projects will not suffice. They would just delay by a few years the inevitable need to build proper high-capacity express transit through the Downtown-Capitol Hill-U-District corridor and to South King; and once that were build they would be totally obsolete.

        Link provides a couple of orders of magnitude more capacity and more reliability and safety over anything you’re mentioning there. The initial investment is a couple of orders of magnitude bigger, but then the O&M costs per rider in the future will be drastically less (ST’s cost per boarding is already lower for Link than busses — and the two busiest, most important stations haven’t even opened yet.)

        You seem bewitched by the FUD and nonsense that anti-railers are spewing. Look at the facts, for example how many people you can move per hour with U-Link vs 60′ busses on the freeway, and at what cost and risk.

      5. Sorry Bruce, but stating incorrect information only weakens your case, not make it.
        Look at Link cost per boarding against the service it replaced. Metro 194, 42 primarily. It’s more, not less.
        Now, add in the depreciation and ammortization of the debt to build it, and your close to $20 bucks a ride, or way way more than Metro.
        So maybe you get points for capacity, but certainly loose a fair amount on efficiency.
        You should quit while you’re not too far behind.

      6. Mike, you have been deluded by the anti-railers. Consider Link’s efficiency *in five years*. Ping! You just beat the crappy buses!

      7. My figures come from ST’s most recent quarterly ridership reports and are not false. I don’t know what the cost per boarding of Metro’s 194 two years ago was, as I can’t find that information readily in the internet, so I quoted the closest comparable statistic available to me — ST’s regional express bus service.

        I can guarantee you, though, that the O&M cost per boarding will be less than any bus ride of comparable length by the time the system is built out from Northgate to S 200th St, and it’ll be faster and more reliable to boot.

    6. The thing is, Swift and Link are completely different standards of service, so it’s ridiculous to compare them like that. Swift is some nice bus stops and some nice buses and some bus lanes on the side of the highway. Link involved very high-quality, large stations that are set up for future service, a lot of grade-separation, and lots of investment in the at-grade areas.
      If you built a busway to the same standards as Link, with gated crossings on dedicated ROW through SODO, a large dedicated maintenance base with a little bit of elevated guideway next to it, the Beacon Hill Tunnel, a center-running busway along MLK, and elevated through Tukwila and SeaTac, all with stations like Link’s, it wouldn’t cost much less than Link. If you went with your proposal for a few Swift-quality bus lines, you would get far fewer riders because it’s very hard to get middle-class people to ride buses (as evidenced by this post), and because all the routes except the Downtown-Airport one would have way higher travel times than Link, all while having far higher operating costs. Both modes have a place, but comparing them is comparing apples to oranges.

    7. Norman you are not comparing apples to apples because with Swift you are using a pre-existing right of way and with LINK we have to build and acquire one.

      I happen to think that BRT is a good way to go where we already have a 4 lane road and with some paint can make one lane exclusive for BRT, but cost wise it isn’t 20x more to build a Light rail than to grade & pave a road.

      But I also happen to think that taking residential streets and making bicycle blvd’s out of them make for an even greater transit boom for even less cash. Lower the speed limit to 20, add end of road blockers to force cars out onto the arterial and allow bicycles to pass through. Add some signage and you are done.

      1. We’ll see if Ryu’s bill gets through this year. Then we’ll actually be able to set limits to 20.

  6. I totally buy the argument that quality can get people to drive less. My anecdotal evidence is personal: for two years I’ve been driving my daughter to and from her school in Kirkland from Ravenna (long story). I detest the 520 commutes during rush hour, but have held my tongue as my daughter does homework in the back seat. When I heard about the new tolls, I decided to do some research on transit options, just to see how much I could save. I found that the ST 540 would take us nearly door to door from UW (where I work) to her school in the same amount of time it takes us to drive and cost mere dollars compared to a daily $20 in tolls, gas, and UW parking. I was a bit skeptical that it would be nearly as comfortable, but after doing it twice with my daughter in the past week, we found the 540 both quiet and comfortable (much more so than Metro buses), and a great opportunity to chat and do homework. I never would have thought that it would be an improvement in our commute, but it’s been great.

    Just yesterday however, I needed to get my daughter to school a bit earlier, so we had to take a Metro 243 then transfer to the ST 540. The 243 was cramped, bumpy, and loud, and a decidedly less comfortable experience. I wished we had driven!

    Here’s to hoping the 540 still exists in a year and continues to be such a high quality experience, and here’s to hoping we can increase funding to transit to improve the experience.

    1. While we at the Seattle Transit Blog are mostly frequent transit users who can’t imagine not dealing with cramped, bumpy, and loud conditions, it’s good to hear from people like you. Most people in the Seattle area, like you, would ride transit if it were higher quality, and it’s important to remember that we need to accommodate that if our transit system is to become more accessible to the general public.

  7. I recently met someone who commutes from Ballard to a certain large employer in Redmond. He was well off and certainly had been so his entire life (Eastside lifer). He asked how I get from Northgate to my job in the CBD. I said I take the express bus, I’d be a fool to pay $250/mo in parking! He was incredulous, how could a young woman be riding the bus with the unwashed masses? Literally, he said the people on the bus smell and extrapolated it to all buses. And yeah, I get it, there are some choice routes where you’re going to get all kinds of interesting folks. Whatever. I ride a very pleasant express with just a bunch of people going to work. I liken it to riding the school bus but with adults going to work. There’s young and single 20-somethings to near-retirees. Even if I transfer to the 41, during commute hours it’s pretty low on the riffraff. (Save for the smoking teenagers on the bus on MLK Day… but it was just an amusing story when I got home.) Somehow this “unwashed masses” stigma needs to change with people who’ve never rode transit, or tried that one time that there was something chaotic going on. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they’re afraid of experiences in Portland when the MAX was taken out to the affluent suburbs that it just made it easier for the riffraff to come to their neighborhoods to commit crimes.

    1. Its sad when people make those kind of comment because they probably never ride the bus. On most commuter routes the riffraff is pretty lower. When I use to ride the 306/312/522 it was not uncommon to see people wearing suits on the bus. Yea the riffraff is going to be higher at during non rush trips but wounldn’t expect people like the person that you met to be riding the bus for non work trips. I think that it would be cool if the area agencies, as a promo, make all rush hour trips free for a couple of days to try to get more choose riders like the one you mentioned

      1. As several commenters here have noted, almost anybody will take a bus, if it’s decent service. Extremely expensive light rail is entirely unnecessary to get people out of their cars.

      2. Well a huge proportion of people won’t ride the bus under any circumstances because of their perceptions of it, but they would be perfectly willing to ride light rail. That’s just fact.

      3. I only road the bus when I first got out of Basic and was just about to go over and then when I came back from Iraq and my car was still in Alabama. After a couple weeks my then girlfriend, now wife, loaned me her car (she had a company one). I haven’t ridden a bus again.

        I’ve ridden Link every time we’ve gone back since it’s been built. Proximity to Light Rail is the first requirement for our new house in Seattle. I will be selling Black Betty here in N. Carolina and taking Amtrak back come April 18, 2012 (Emancipation Celebration Day) and will hopefully never have to own a car again. I would never do that with a bus.

        Proof enough?

      4. My 1st months experience. I’ve been back in Seattle since mid December and my experience in riding transit in this region finds that Metro buses are often LATE! Which means, connections are unreliable. And because many routes in Seattle are not frequent e.g. 30+ min headways, if you miss your connection, you’re screwed, often having to wait in the cold rain. East/West transit is almost non-existent.

        Sound Transit express buses are pretty cool. They’re kitted with comfortable seats, and their quiet and some routes are frequent. The Metro Rapid Ride A line was alright. I appreciated the wi-fi. The witnessing of drug deals I could have done without.

        I’m puzzled by the trip planners – both Metro/ST and Google seem to be actively ignoring Link as a viable connection e.g. Link only occasionally appears as a connection . I charted several journeys both with the planners and then manually and often discovered significant time savings by including a Link segment.

      5. The way to solve the “riff-raff” problem is buy new buses for the express services, charge a premium for a premium service, and make ordinary passes invalid on the expresses. That’s exactly what we do in Vancouver and you would be amazed at how many middle-class women ride them.

        It’s one very good reason that nearly everyone in Clark County — even reliable pro-transit commute riders — are dead set against the Yellow Line coming to downtown.

  8. I am hoping to get a response from Martin on a couple of points, since he wrote this article.

    First, you wrote, ““yes, the train is nice, but would you take half as nice for half the price?”

    One of the fallacies of this (other than that Link cost a lot more than “twice” what a SWIFT-style bus service would have cost), is that, for the RIDERS, Link light rail does not cost twice what a bus ride cost. So, from the riders’ perspective, that is not the choice. In our area, Link riders are given light rail for the same fare as a bus.

    So, Martin, if you think Link is twice as nice as a bus, are you advocating that Link riders should pay twice the fare that a bus would cost? Let’s say $4.50 each way on Link between downtown and the Rainier Valley versus $2.25 on a Metro bus? If not, why not? If Link is twice as “nice” as a bus, shouldn’t Link riders pay twice as much to ride Link?

    And, if this were actually the case, if Link were “twice the price” to ride as a Metro bus, how many people do you think would choose Link at $4.50 per trip over a Metro bus at $2.25 per trip, even those who think that Link is “twice as nice” as a Metro bus? Would the average person who rides Link now pay twice as much as they are currently paying for that “nice” trip on Link?

    1. Since when have fares been set based on the “niceness” of a service? If they were Metro fares on some routes should be somewhere around 25 cents.

      1. If you fly on a plane, it costs more to fly first class than coach, does it not?

        If you take a train from Seattle to the east cost, it costs more to have a compartment in a sleeper car than to just ride ina regular seat, does it not?

        It costs more to take a taxi to the airport than the airport shuttle bus.

        If light rail is really “twice as nice” as buses, why isn’t the fare on light rail twice as high as on a bus? Could it be that almost nobody would ride Link if the fares were really twice as high as bus fares?

      2. Since when have transit fares been set based on the “niceness” of a service? Metro service hasn’t become “nicer” since 1995, but the fares have gone up 300%. Maybe Link fares are already twice what Metro fares should be if the quality of the service is the only factor considered when deciding what the fares should be.

    2. I think it makes sense to price things so as to divert people to service with excess capacity, especially when farebox recovery.is better.

      1. Fare box recovery on Link is half what it was on the Metro 42 and 194, and less than on SWIFT. So, what exactly are you talking about?

      2. “And why build excess capacity in the first place?”

        Same reason they didn’t build I-5 as a two-lane highway.

      3. Excess capacity is built when you expect future growth. :eyeroll: It might well be inappropriate for shrinking Detroit to build excess capacity, but it’s probably a good idea for Seattle.

  9. “You may support public housing, but probably would be miffed if they started building public housing with marble floors and gold fixtures.”

    This is a good analogy. But it’s not just about being “miffed” that people who can’t afford to pay for their own housing would be getting “luxury” housing at taxpayer expense, although that is a factor. From a puely practical point of view, how many people could you house for a given amount of money in houses with “marble floors and gold fixtures” compared to ordinary, low-cost housing? In other words, the less it costs to house each person, the more people you can get off the streets for a given amount of money.

    If you had $10 million for low-income housing, would it be smarter to house 10 families, each in a $1 million house, or 50 families each in a $200,000 dollar apartment? The million-dollar houses might be “nicer”, but what about the 40 families who don’t get any housing at all because 10 families got luxury housing?

    So, what about that perspective, Martin? Is it better to serve a lot more people with “ordinary” buses, or a small percentage of that number with “nicer” (in your opinion) light rail?

    1. I reject the idea that you could actually get the same investment in bus service. Number one, we have shown zero regional capability to create ultra high quality bus service, and voters will be skeptical. Two, people like you will use the opportunity to make the package smaller rather than invest the savings in transit.

      1. What do you mean “we,” Norman? You had nothing to do with it. The only reason you like Swift is because it gives you something to compare Link to, and it probably wouldn’t bother you one bit if Swift didn’t exist. Please quit acting like you actually care what transit improvements are made.

      2. Norman, RapidRide is well on its way to become the poster child for “bait-and-switch” BRT. It masquerades as true mass transit while providing near-imperceptible improvements over existing service.

        Thanks for giving us permission to blame you and your empirically disproved rhetoric for it!

      3. The 545 is an incredibly effective bus rapid transit line. When we have to give up some auto capacity we don’t do so well.

      4. Jeff, the 545 has been addressed in a few other threads.

        It’s a reasonably effective node-to-node express service.

        It does not serve a corridor in any reasonable sense of the word; it fails to serve any significant non-commute function; it wastes time circumnavigating transit centers.

        It is not “bus rapid transit.”

        (And it gets stuck in the I-5/520 mess, which makes it a less-than-perfect express bus too.)

      5. (That might have sounded snarkier than intended. But it’s a problem to conflate node-based express runs, most of which have a pretty bad cost-to-benefit ratio, with a BRT system. Just as it’s unhelpful to sell barely-better-than-a-regular-bus service as a BRT “solution.” One lacks the flexible usability of real rapid transit; the other lacks the speed.)

    2. Light rail can hold more people and attract far more riders…
      Recently I saw a bunch of headlines about how more people take the bus in London everyday than the Underground (about 6 million compared to about 3.5 million per weekday). I remember a couple of these articles using this to trumpet something like “the rise of the bus.” However, what these articles didn’t mention is that the Tube carried those 3.5m daily riders on just 250 miles of track and 270 stations, while the buses serve 6m daily riders at 19,000 stops and on 700 routes. It’s just not comparable.

    3. So, what about that perspective, Martin? Is it better to serve a lot more people with “ordinary” buses, or a small percentage of that number with “nicer” (in your opinion) light rail?

      We are doing both, and advocate more of both.

      Of course, your answer is neither. You advocate levying fares at the cost of service, which would cause transit to fail even at its basic mission of moving those unable to drive.

      So you are of course, the perfect example of “bargaining down”, trying to get us to accept lesser service because you really just want to spend as little as possible on transit.

      1. Norman, you don’t want the most bang for the buck. Your goals are not pure. You are not a transit advocate – you are an automobile advocate. That is why in past posts (not to mention your website) you talk about hydrogen or electric powered personal automobiles.

        Buses are the least intrusive to anti-transit types. They offer the lowest capital cost and promulgate the building of roads. Buses happen to fit into your vision because they use public (shared) roadways which can also be used by automobiles. When you start advocating dedicated bus lanes on these road ways, I’ll start listening.

        Ubiquitous individual car ownership, large shared public surface roads, extensive grade-separated limited-access freeways and massive amounts of parking are undoubtedly the most expensive way to move people around a region. Expensive dollar-wise, expensive health-wise, expensive environmentally and expensive foreign-policy wise. Cars enable sprawl on a scale previously not possible, which is why the US has sprawled so much since after WWII.

        Stop pretending you’re a transit advocate. You’re not. If you really wanted society to get the most bang for their buck, you’d advocate lower car ownership rates and less individual vehicle miles-traveled. The total cost (public & private) of an individual automobile-centric transportation system is vastly more than the total cost (public & private) of a tiered, well-designed shared public transportation system.

  10. “For virtually any social service, I think you’ll find that non-users are generally pretty disinclined to invest heavily to improve quality.”

    well…i guess everyone uses the roads (a social service?)

    if 36 percent do ride the bus (and higher in some areas) if they all took to cars and cabs would car drivers have to expend more time commuting?? how much of an increase in car traffic would occur if transit riders hit the streets?? would many employers have greater difficulty getting employees to work?? in many areas this might not matter but an area near 2 million people and some densities around 7000 people per square mile transit may make congestion just congestion instead of gridlock.

  11. Martin, did you place a bet with someone regarding how many comments you could squeeze out of Norman with a single post? If so, well done.

    1. Yes, it was nothing but hopeless optimism to think that this thread would turn into anything but disingenuous advocacy for BRT.

      1. Disingenuous b/c I have yet to see you say anything about BRT that wasn’t in some way an attack on Light Rail.

        You continuously fail to recognize that we have an ‘expensive’ Light Rail system B/C THE TAXPAYERS VOTED TO BUILD ONE.

        Want an expanded BRT system? Get the taxpayers to vote to build one. But you won’t. B/c you don’t really support BRT on it’s own merits, only as a way to attack Link.

      2. If this thread did turn into a war over Link versus Swift then it is because the posters and commenters of this site would rather flame away at Norman than actually discuss how we could implement high quality BRT in the region.

      3. No-one is flaming Norman, he is trolling us.

        Moreover the argument about BRT vs LR specifically in the case of the corridors where Link is being built seems to be a settled question in favor of LR amongst almost everyone who has approached it with an open mind. I certainly don’t have anything against BRT in general: its a useful option in some cases (like Eugene.) This isn’t one of them.

      4. jeff,

        I think our record of advocating for more bus funding, more bus service, and better bus quality speaks for itself. Moreover, if there were a measure next election for more bus funding to implement BRT, we’d vote for it. Norman wouldn’t, because he thinks more people driving in SOVs is awesome.

      5. Yes you consistently support better bus service. You also have a good record of feeding the trolls :) But I have only seen a post here saying that brt is superior to light rail in the 520 corridor. I think it is hard to argue that there aren’t number of brt corridors that would give you more bang for the buck than U link, let alone Central Link. I guess I am being hopelessly optimistic to think that someone who is on a commission to envision what transit in Seattle will look like 30 years from now would do one post on what a well thought out brt system in Seattle would look like.

      6. Jeff, newsflash, Central Link are done deals. East Link, North Link and South Link pretty close to done.

        Imagining Seattle in 30 years with BRT lines instead of LR would be a giant waste of time as WE WILL ALREADY HAVE THE LIGHT RAIL. STB is correct to focus on corridors that don’t already have LR service already or planned.

      7. Of course it is wasting time to constantly reconsider the decisions we have already made. But considering cost effectiveness for future decisions is vitally important in a time of limited resources. But as a brt advocate (who volunteers on some rail measures) I continually get the sense that this site treats brt as mostly a way to water down transit rather than a key component of our system in corridors where light rail doesn’t make sense or we can’t afford it now.

        Investing in real brt now doesn’t need to divert from light rail in the future. If done well it will make a lot more transit friendly voters who may be willing to open up their wallets for the pricier light rail lines. (Done wrong you wind up with rapid ride.)

      8. Don’t forget that Seattle has a successful example of BRT. It’s called the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. By diverting buses from general traffic, and switching to a limited set of stops in downtown, it managed to significantly speed up many downtown bus routes.

        Of course, like any real BRT investment, the DSTT was expensive. Grade separation always is. And, like any real BRT investment, most of the infrastructure could easily be reused for rail when the capacity was needed — which, as anyone who’s ever ridden the 70X-series can tell you, it is.

        That’s the kind of BRT that all of us would like to see, but we’re not getting it. The Ballard-QA-Downtown corridor (aka RapidRide D) has the demand to justify reserved bus lanes. Instead, we’re painting buses like hot-dog stands and getting rid of schedules.

        On 520, where many of us have advocated for BRT, WSDOT is currently involved in coming up with a rebuild plan that will make transit connections even worse than they are today, and many of the “BRT” routes that Sound Transit was supposed to run are being shortened to peak-only.

        Our region has endorsed, designed, and (partly) built a light rail system, which, so far, is looking like it will be very successful. In contrast, every project that’s been labeled “BRT” has been watered down until it’s almost meaningless.

        So forgive us if we ever sound skeptical when other people propose BRT. It’s just that actions speak louder than words.

      9. Instead, we’re painting buses like hot-dog stands and getting rid of schedules.

        I want that on my tombstone.

    2. I was getting ready to chime in with one of my panache comments again, but I decided there wasn’t really any point to baiting Uncle Norm, so I held off

  12. Norm it’s necessary to supply a lot of people with mediocre busses until we can build a great lightrail and street car system.when that happens we can use the buses as feeders. If we build rapid ride everywhere it’ll just be at capacity in 20-25 years. Rail is a lot easier to expand capacity

    1. I would consider BRT as a stop gap measure that services an existing transit corridor that will be ready for Light Rail in the future. And frankly, RapidRide isn’t real BRT. If Metro wanted to do RapidRide closer to a BRT standard, they would have fewer stops on the A line and have feeder and circulator buses to fill the gaps between stations. The signal priority seemed to work well but I only did my observation on a Sunday. Don’t know how well it works during real traffic but I would bet not as well.

  13. Do you think choice riders (perhaps whatever portion of that 64% or 44% who live near transit) could be swayed into more transit use if they were given a free pass to use it for a month (or some limited period of time)? The marginal cost to Metro or ST to give out some trial transit passes would be nearly zero. Either an unlimited pass or a book of passes would work.

    Perhaps this has been done in the past – or maybe there is even an existing program I don’t know about. It is fraught with potential for waste & abuse, but with a little bit of thoughtful design, that could be minimized. Nothing like changing the way people think about public transit than getting them to actually use it instead of continue on with their existing (mis)perceptions.

    Even if you didn’t convert many of these folks into riders (regular or occasional) you might increase the percentage of the population who are support of improving our existing service and adding new service.

    1. I seem to remember getting a couple of free paper tokens in the mail a few years back. Not a bad idea, especially if it was used alongside a plan to promote specific routes.

  14. i dont know about the so called quality issues. if a bus can get one to where they want to get better and quicker, with less walking etc. than a rail placement the so-called bus quality may be better.

    from a transit-provider perspective, i assume its a point of view of relieving car congestion at lowest cost and not so much a ridiculously subjective view of quality or rubber wheels over metal ones.

  15. do most large densly populated cites have rails and extensive bus services??? if so, why??

    1. Well they have both :-) But rail services provide the high-speed high-capacity backbone around which bus services operate.

      1. From a technical perspective, rail simply becomes efficient at high volumes.

        At low volumes, it becomes much less efficient, mostly because *AT LOW VOLUMES* the signalling system, tracks, switches, electrical supply, driver, etc. end up costing more than an asphalt road to maintain. At high volumes the roads get worn out fast and the rail is more efficient.

        This analysis applies to freight; with some straightforward modifications it applies to passengers too. Basically, if you can’t fill one bus during peak, you have no business putting passenger rail into the area; if you can’t run more than one or two truckloads a day, you have no business putting in freight rail. On the other hand, if you can get *volume*, you can’t beat rail.

      2. in seattles case, what areas have the highest employment denstiy to attract transit riders?? a radius out from the ferry terminals for instance?? u of w and maybe a hospital or two??? is that how the Links are structured…to those areas??

      3. Employment density is just one part of the equation: you have to look at residential density, and you also want to serve regional destinations and other transit hubs like SeaTac, the Ferry Terminal and the Amtrak station.

        Major regional employment centers include Downtown Seattle, Lower Queen Anne, SLU, First Hill, the U-District, Bellevue, Overlake and Everett. Major residential centers include Belltown, Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne, Bellevue and the Ranier Valley. I sure I’ve forgotten some, especially the residential areas outside of Seattle which I’m less familiar with.

        As you can see, Link hits or passes close to all of those.

        For your viewing pleasure, I am linking a chart of Link’s expected ridership between stations and a map of Seattle’s residential and employment density.

        https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/DSCF2046.jpg
        https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/map1.png

    2. On a slightly different tangent. The value of a mass transit system can sometimes be measured by the consequence of it (suddenly) not being around. For example, the one day strike by New York MTA employees a few years ago produced disruption and transportation paralysis of such a scale that the estimated value of lost productivity to New Yorkers was measured in the billions of dollars.

      This is also the answer to those that suggest that a transit system must always recover its operating cost at the farebox. It is better to have a commons that serves all comers from the wealthy deal maker to the modest income worker who would be non-productive otherwise. If you wish to toll every segment and extract the actual cost of providing that segment, then you will be faced with the requirement to pay workers a wage that reflects their cost of living in this environment. But naturally, libertarians would oppose any agitation for wages and instead argue for more wage arbitrage with external markets. The result is social and political instability and a race to the bottom economically.

      1. “If you wish to toll every segment and extract the actual cost of providing that segment, then you will be faced with the requirement to pay workers a wage that reflects their cost of living in this environment.”

        that i am not sure about.

        what areas do employed people pay full cost already in their lives…beer? coffee ? cigarettes? cable??

        if it was full cost is it likely the big deal maker would have their money going somewhere else to benefit the modest income employed person?

  16. faux advocacy aside, some advocates of some BRT see the cost effectiveness argument; for the same funds, one might be able to provide several BRT lines and attract more ridership and provide more benefit than a single LRT line. both BRT and LRT have a continuum of service characteristics and costs.

    I like the Duke attempt to consider the opponents point of view.

    1. ‘for the same funds’… Provide more miles, yes. More benefit though.. You’re gonna have to expand on that.

      However, that is beside the point. We didn’t vote to spend billions on BRT we voted to spend billions on LR. Do you think a BRT vote of that magnitude would pass? If so, them put it on the ballot. If not, please drop this fallacious argument.

    2. eddiew,

      You are one of the few wonks out there who would legitimately support more funding for buses, but not more funding for rail. You are part of a very exclusive group.

      1. Actually Martin, there are plenty of us in the bus but not rail camp. Once you look at time to travel and realize that station dwell time eats the time, then the average speed while moving goes way down the more stops the vehicle makes. Thus a bus which starts at Issaquah P&R stops at Eastgate, and Downtown easily beats a Light rail train which stops all along the route.

        I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for fixed rail systems, I’m just saying that Light Rail because it stops everywhere is worse than a direct bus. (given that both have a dedicated Right of way.)

      2. martin,
        I am a strong supporter of north Link. we will be waiting many years to overcome the 2001 ST decision to build south first.

      3. Gary,

        While your analysis is correct, it assumes that your objective function is to minimize the time from boarding a train to disembarking.

        The objective function I prefer to use is minimizing the time from *deciding that you want to travel somewhere* to arriving at your destination.

        The reason I like this function is that it’s the most easily comparable with other forms of transit. If you drive (or walk or bike), there’s never any waiting; you decide you want to go, get in/on your vehicle (if relevant), and head out. For cars, it forces you to account for the extra time of parking. For transit, it forces you to account for the time lost due to low frequency.

        As a rule, point-to-point express buses (like the one you describe) will have a much higher cost per passenger than local or rapid service. Thus, with few exceptions, those express buses will never run as frequently as local stop service will.

        For commuters, where you depart at the same time every day, it’s hard to beat point-to-point service. But for spontaneous trips, the loss of frequency from having to run point-to-point buses just can’t make up for the travel time savings from making fewer stops.

    3. “for the same funds, one might be able to provide several BRT lines and attract more ridership and provide more benefit than a single LRT line.”

      One might, but in the real world one can’t. The main problem is that the main costs in either case are in grade separations; those actually cost *more* for BRT, and there’s a well-documented passenger bias towards rail, so you end up getting less ridership for more money. Real-life examples include Ottawa and Pittsburgh.

      If you are building a mostly-not-grade-separated system (== taking lanes away from cars, so it’s just paint) — *and* you don’t have enough volume on any one line to benefit from trains (max out at less than one busload per 15 minutes, say), then BRT sounds good… except that’s really not BRT. It’s just bus lanes. Bus lanes are good things. London has lots of them. They don’t call them “BRT” or pretend that they’re a substitute for rail.

  17. I was aboard LINK through the 11/22 ice storm. The line wasn’t just the only ground transportation moving in the region. It didn’t even “slow order.” Four hundred people per train, 55 mph. The only way you could have duplicated that performance with buses would have been a comparably-reserved right of way the whole route, with some serious plows.

    And do the math. How many bus drivers would be needed? Even if you went non-union, which might not be so good for work that intense, that’s a lot of work hours.

    The main limitation of busways is that buses can’t be coupled- meaning faster speed means longer following distance. Standing still, an equivalent passenger load of buses is probably about the same length as a light rail consist. At sixty miles an hour, the bus platoon is about a quarter mile long.

    The Eugene busway is nice. But Eugene isn’t very big or very crowded. They also lucked into a generous boulevard past the university campus, which looks like it might once have carried streetcars. And even on pavementg specifically designed for heavy buses, which the average King County arterial lane is not, ride quality is still worse than rail.

    One thing maybe that some of us can agree on: the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel was a good example of right of way well-designed for rail that has also worked well for buses for the two decades until the trains arrived. Could we say that every time you build a busway- at least “block out” the sub-pavement for tracks?

    Mark Dublin

    1. I wish that had been done in Pittsburgh, which actually removed extremely valuable rail lines in order to build the East Busway, which is not rail-ready. Stupid stupid stupid people.

    2. Tunnel “designed for rail”… what a crock. They had to close the tunnel for two years, dig up the floor and lay the rails. Even the curve in the tunnel is just barely the right arc to allow a train to go through.

      1. Because the rails were a last minute addition and weren’t designed for proper insulation. Train and bus technology also changed from high-floor to low-floor level boarding in the twenty years that passed. One of the original designs for the tunnel included removable pavement blocks for quick conversion to rail but of course it didn’t happen. We had to insist on installing unusable rails.

        The curve is a physical constraint. How can you increase the curve radii without pushing the stations farther apart or doing some complex tricks?

  18. I’m curious about something. How many of us are transplants from somewhere else? I’m pretty sure my rabid pro-transitism comes largely as a result of growing up in Philly, which aside from all the murder and pollution has a really, really extensive transit system. One I’m not sure I fully appreciated until I moved here.

    Am I an outlier on this, or do a number of you have similar backgrounds?

    1. I moved here six months ago. I grew up in rural England and then lived in Phoenix for a decade. I moved here because it was the first city I visited that felt like a real city, was reasonably affordable, had lots of jobs, had good public transit and was within a couple of hours drive of true natural wilderness. I had grown to loathe the endless, flat, boring suburbanism and total car dependence of Phoenix.

    2. Well, there are only a couple of hundred people in total (besides me) who WERE born and raised here…

      1. Well is this about being a “true” Northwesterner? In Vermont they had a saying, “A cat could have kittens in an oven, but you wouldn’t call them biscuits!”

        I’m a transplant and a transit wonk. And my views have changed over time as I looked closer as to what makes good transit and why.

      2. Yeah, it’s not quite *that* bad, but definitely not a lot of us who remember 20-35 years ago in Seattle, compared to the folks who’ve moved here since. The “natives who take transit” community needs to represent :)

    3. I’m from Seattle. Lifelong Seattle resident (my family has been in Western Washington since 1882). Spent years relying on public transit while living in a terrible suburban-style location (Lake City, which is in the city but not at all urban), but moved further into the city as soon as I could get out of my parents’ house.

      Have supported every possible rail proposal since I’ve been old enough to know about them. Never got to experience any city’s rail system until I was 31 in 1996, when I visited Atlanta. (I was in Vancouver before that for the Expo but didn’t ride SkyTrain.) Since then I’ve ridden quite a few more rail systems including London’s Underground and the Munich system. Using good train systems made me even more frustrated at Seattle’s lack of such. Being old enough to have a very good idea how rapid and negative our sprawl has been in this region makes me even sadder and more frustrated.

      It’s possible that riding Seattle’s Monorail from an early age had a lot to do with my support of grade-separated train transit. (Yes, monorails aren’t trains, but in my head, I group them with trains as opposed to cars, buses, etc.) I saw how rapidly the Monorail whisked us from Westlake (which, back then, was very different… with a triangular Bartell’s building where the park is now, and I think there was a food counter in there where we used to eat. Was that the Frankfurter or was that part of Bartell’s? The Monorail track and station shadowed the area quite a bit but I loved it anyway) to Seattle Center. Buses over the same trip were slower and motion-sickness inducing. There was no question the Monorail was better. The only question to my mind was “why haven’t we expanded it yet?!” I still feel that way. More monorail, more light rail, more Sounder, whatever. Just more of all of it.

      Now I live in one of the most transit-friendly neighborhoods in the whole city, with Link access and trains on Beacon Ave every 7-10 minutes during the day too. But we are still lacking walkable amenities up here. I hope that changes soon.

      So Brian, I didn’t come from elsewhere. Plenty of locals feel the way I do. Visiting elsewhere as an adult only reinforced my pro-transit perspective.

      1. Monorails = Elevated fixed rail with rubber tires.

        When you think of them like that then you can see they aren’t all that different from Light Rail, or heavy rail or buses.

        Bus = rubber tires, but use wide surface/elevated right-of-way that can be shared with cars.
        BRT = remove cars
        Light Rail = (Light Capacity) steel wheels, Elevated, tunneled, surface but heavy cars as they must resist side impacts from auto and truck accidents while on the surface.
        Heavy Rail = (heavy capacity), but the cars are lighter due to not mixing with auto traffic.

        When you look close what ruins all transit systems is not having a dedicated right of way. (Bicycles included!)

    4. I’ve lived here since I was six. Growing up in Bellevue, I thought hourly buses that ended at 9:30pm and covered only a few lucky streets were normal. (You could go from downtown Seattle to Overlake until 11:45pm but not the other way. And the 280 night owl was running, for what whopping good it does on the Eastside.)

      In junior high I visited a friend who had moved to the end of the 2 on Queen Anne. Half-hourly trolleybuses that ran late, wow! There’s always a bus leaving in twenty minutes, and it’s almost silent! (ETBs then didn’t have a continuous fan, then made a quiet whine when they moved, and a chugging sound every few minutes when the battery charged.) And on QA you can walk to a corner store or a friend’s house or Seattle Center. That more or less began my lifelong interest in frequent transit, trolleybuses, rail, and walkable neighborhoods.

      I don’t know official statistics but my impression is that the native population is around 25% max. Maybe 50% or more are transplants who have either decided to stay or at least don’t plan to leave at the first layoff. And the other quarter have been here a few years and may stay a few years longer.

      I do hear people say, “I’m from Philly or Boston or NYC or Chicago or DC or San Francisco, and other cities have frequent, comprehensive transit and extensive night owls, so why is Seattle so behind?” The answer unfortunately is that these six cities are not the American average; they’re way, way above the average. The average American city has one anemic light rail line (mostly surface, and maybe in frequent in the evening), half-hourly or hourly buses even to city neighborhoods, no night owl, and sketchy suburban coverage.

    1. I don’t know how it started, but one prominent example is Curitiba, Brazil. It essentially has a bus subway, with buses coming every minute using dedicated lanes, three-part articulated buses with lots of doors. I’m not sure if it has traffic crossings, but if it does it’s more like an expressway than a regular street. This installation popularized the concept of BRT, although it has since been built to lesser standards in other cities. “The popularity of Curitiba’s BRT has effected a modal shift from automobile travel to bus travel.”

  19. with rail completion will bus service be cut or just some routes cut and more miles added to other or new bus routes with the same or more overall bus service (milage, iow)???

    1. Sound Transit bus routes that totally overlap with rail routes will eliminated if rail provides comparable travel times. So the 550 will go away when East Link reaches Bellevue, but the 577 is unlikely to go away (although its service might be reduced) when South Link reaches Federal Way TC. Some bus routes like the 554 are up in the air: ideally, that route would be truncated at Mercer Island and people going from Downtown to Issaquah would transfer, however, that might upset lots of people, so it might continue all the way downtown.

      King County Metro is an independent agency and doesn’t necessarily do the most sensible thing as it is much less insulated from political pressure than ST. Case in point: route 42 from Downtown to Columbia City, which provides no service that couldn’t be better provided by either route 7 or Link, still exists thanks to a political pressure from a group of people who wanted their own private bus.

      That said, Metro generally does and will presumably continue to eliminate and restructure routes that are superseded or affected by Link. The the 41X, 66X and 71X-75X routes are the most obvious.

      These changes invariably free up service hours (the basic unit of bus service — what you are calling mileage) which are then redeployed elsewhere in King County. Where exactly they end up is, again, something of a crap shoot, but I hope in the case of U-Link and North Link that they end up being used to provide better service to the north-east quadrant of of Seattle up to Lake city, where good bus service seems to lack somewhat.

  20. I found that taking transit here from Kent East Hill using the 168 (stops right outside my apartment complex) to Kent Station (a beautiful Metro center with bus, rail, shopping education (Green River College)) and then the 180 bus to SeaTac (just a sky bridge away from all the terminals.

    Ok, did I say “light rail” even once? No, because in my situation, trying to get down a hill, into a valley, and back up the West Hill (from what y’all tell me here) light rail is an impossibility.

    Thus, the STB dictum of TRANSIT=LIGHT_RAIL does not serve my basic “transit” needs.

    1. I think the “STB dictum” is more “BEST_HIGH_CAPACITY_TRANSIT_MODE_FOR_OUR_REGION=LIGHT_RAIL.”

      1. Then pray tell me, how is light rail capable of helping in the trip I described several times here…going from Kent East Hill (98030) to SeaTac using the 168 and 180…unless you’re planing to dig a tunnel 500 ft down from 104th street.

      2. The corridor from East Hill to SeaTac does not need nearly as much capacity as the corridor from Downtown-Capitol Hill-U-District. That’s why rail is appropriate for the latter, but buses work just fine for the former.

    2. You build an east-west line in the place with the highest existing traffic patterns: Burien-Renton. That happens to be flat too, how convenient. Then you double the frequency of the 169 and extend it to SeaTac station, so that it has a Link station at both ends. You also consider straightening out the curvy route (Canyon Dr, Tablot Rd), although that would necessitate another route from Renton to Valley Medical Center. You also make Kent Station a more pedestrian destination, like add a supermarket or something.

    3. Who ever said “transit equals light rail”? Please point out one post or comment where anyone has ever said that all transit should be light rail.

  21. I agree with Norman, Swift is not some cheap imitation. As a long-time on this corridor, I was skeptical of how much better BRT would be than what was there already, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Swift, of course, stops at every station, but that allows riders who like to semi-doze off, like me, some certainty in knowing where our stop is, vs. having to have the timing down (on a regular bus, the stops are irregular). Swift buses pause at each station for a short time, and as one who has ridden rail in Vancouver, BC; the Bay Area, Washington, DC; Atlanta; and overseas, the feel is, outside of traffic lights, similar. Since bicycles now load as fast as passengers, rolling in onto their on-board racks, they don’t slow down the service as with regular buses. This has made a huge difference in now always making a tight transfer. Eventually, automated stop announcements, “next bus” signs, and transit signal priority over the full length will make Swift seem even more rail-like. Hopefully, someday a third lane will also be present throughout. What would be great would be an exclusive bus lane, for then many buses could benefit, but that’s unlikely in these parts. What’s there now, however, is a fine addition to the transportation options in the region. One can take a bus from Skagit County to Everett, then from Everett to anywhere along the Swift line or a bus to Seattle or the Sounder to Seattle. Someday, maybe the BN rail line will take one from Everett down the east side, offering folks from anywhere along the Swift line a connection to the Woodinville, Redmond, Bellevue, all the way to Renton and Tukwila perhaps, and visa-versa. I agree, there shouldn’t be only one option, but a combination of options, and connectivity needs to be smooth.

  22. Martin,

    You have the [ot] tag for “off topic”. Why not just apply the “[os]” (off site) tag to all of Stormin’ Norman’s and John BailOut’s posts?

    Block their IP’s. This doesn’t have to be a “democracy”. Trolls need not apply.

    1. Nah, they are often rude and insulting but they also provide the leaven that gets people passionate around here.

      Also, Norman, while often wrong in which “facts” he chooses to support his arguments with, it is clear that he truly believes his stuff. The value that I see he brings is it requires the transit enthusiasts to be really clear on what they are advocating for and have a strong rational basis.

      What I see is that people like Norman don’t value the role of common assets and think any government or quasi-government investment is theft. And if the government is going to build something it should be the least amount of money spent to accomplish the specific task e.g. transport people who cannot otherwise transport themselves.

      What this transit enthusiast believes is that government plays a role through community processes to shape the future of our community through investments in infrastructure that spur development and achieve over all societal goals such as living sustainably, reducing fatalities and disability from accidents, lowering our impact on the environment, higher quality neighborhoods including reduced noise, increased access to quality food, and walkability.

      What I think is really being argued are two very different world views on how we shape our society and the role of government.

      Norman calls me an idiot for putting words in his mouth in 3..2..

Comments are closed.