Federal Way TC, by Atomic Taco

Some of you may find this trivial, but nomenclature can often play a big role in defining how a transit system is marketed and ultimately how it’s communicated to its customers.  Take our transit center, for example– loosely defined as a hub where connecting services converge upon each other to serve one geographic concentration.  Yet, you wouldn’t be able to easily extract this definition from the term itself.

To a non-regular rider, a transit center could convey something entirely different.  In fact, a planner from Ottawa I recently spoke to was confused by our use of the term and wasn’t fully aware that it simply means a place where a lot of transit connects.  Canadians will use ‘transit loop’ or ‘exchange’ to describe exactly the same thing.  The latter is a term I’m personally a fan of because it literally describes movement from one medium to another.  Ask someone what they think of when they hear the word “exchange” and they’ll likely say something about the NYSE or a marketplace of sorts.

Let’s be clear here– transit riders aren’t commodities to be shipped from route to route, they’re people.  But they’re also customers that can cognitively capitalize on the utility of our nomenclature.  If a “transit exchange” can convey things “transit center” can’t, then that’s the better card to play.

51 Replies to “Loop, Exchange, or Transit Center?”

  1. But “Transit Center” is such a beautiful term. It’s a center…center-of-the-action, center-of-town. An exchange sounds like it could be some middle-of-nowhere processing point for moving passengers from one bus to the next.

    1. I second this notion. Transit Center sounds much better to me than exchange. exchange sounds like I’m shopping or trading, center sounds like somewhere where all the human action is, of all kinds, moving about, talking, selling, buying, boarding, deboarding, etc. The center is where you want to be, and exchange, is not.

      This is just my opinion and I don’t speak for the world, but that is how I see it.

      I hate it when I read things like “interchange station” or “exchange point” They make me feel more like i’m on a freeway than a subway/train/bus.

    2. That’s because you’re American. :)

      I’ve seen a couple exchanges in Vancouver and I didn’t think of them as transit centers, just signficant transfer points. Before the Canada Line there was a BRT bus from Vancouver to Richmond, but you had to transfer to an east-west bus to get to the airport. The place they met was an “exchange”, but it wasn’t a transit center with several routes and some kind of building, it was just a bus stop.

      1. Yes, of course, because we are referring to transit centers being built in Seattle. Now if I was building the same sort of thing in Canada or elsewhere, I’d call it what the locals call it so they’d know that it is.

      2. I’m just pointing out that “exchange” has a wider use in Canada than transit centers per se.

    3. Aren’t most transit centers in the US “middle-of-nowhere processing points for moving passengers from one bus to the next”? I mean, clearly they aren’t in an absolute nowhere, but think about it: you could hardly afford to put a big old single-use transit center in the middle of where the action really is.

      Well, except in Portland… and Bellevue… Not that I’m all that knowledgeable about either place, but… as far as I’ve seen, those “transit centers” are a different beast entirely than the typical sprawling freeway-bound thing we typically picture (even though at many transit centers park-and-riders are a minority, parking still determines the form and dominates land use at such transit centers). The bus mall and Bellevue TC are maybe more like Chicago’s Loop Elevated: not a transit center, but transit that’s part of the center.

      1. Precisely, Al.

        Frankly, each of the terms makes me envision a giant concrete and asphalt expanse where buses waste 5 minutes making circles and taking multiple hard 90° turns for which they’re uniquely ill-suited. Because that’s what each of them is.

        Transfers should be made where lines intersect, at junctions or at perpendiculars, with transit vehicles never deviating from the cardinal direction of their route. The idea of spending extra minutes times two just to prevent people from having to cross the big, bad street is one of the most heinous developments in North American transit.

        You can’t euphemism your way out of that kind of inanity.

        This is a “loop” connection. Fast, dedicated, painless. This, not so much.

      2. Morgan, if a connection point/hub/whatever is located in a place with good, mixed uses, then there’s no reason for all the turning and turning and turning and time-sucking bus maneuvers.

        Ever ride through Northgate TC? Was it ever quick? It doesn’t matter how much they improve its surroundings; the facility itself is saddled with horrible placement and horrible design.

    1. A park and ride implies to me a parking lot served by one or two buses serving mostly commuters. A transit center implies multiple buses going different places as well as the parking lot.

      1. King County maintains at least four Park & Rides that have no bus service. They’re designed for Carpools, Van Pools, and Van Shares.

      1. I would think that a “transfer center” could be easily confused with a “transfer station,” which has little to do with transit.

    1. Are you referring to the garbage truck drivers?
      Nope, I vote Transit Center & P&R (if appropriate)

  2. All you have to do is go north to Vancouver and see different terms used. Yes, they do use the term exchange to call what we in the States would refer to as transit centers. In fact, in Canada, they use the term transit center to describe their garages. So yes, cultural differences can shape how definitions and terms are used.

    Usually I think the term transit center in the US does generally refer to locations where buses meet to facilitate transfers and usually include some amenities and capital improvements. Other definitions like transfer center or even enhanced shelters are used to describe transfer locations that do not have as many amenities.

    Each agency will define their capital improvements and the criteria that is needed to justify these investments. If the term transit center is already being used, don’t even think about changing it. It would create too much confusion.

  3. I like the “transit center” term. It lets people know that there are serval routes with all day service that come though there. And for riders, it’s a good transfer point. With Federal Way, Burien, Aurora Village and Redmond Transit Centers, there is parking for those riders wanting to drive to catch the bus.

  4. Problem with this region’s transit centers these last couple of decades is not terminology but location and design.

    Federal Way transit center is at least a quarter mile from I-5, and has to be reached through street traffic with no reserved lanes or signal pre-empt.

    Worse, there is a shopping mall with restaurants and shops literally the other side of the wall to the south, with no pedestrian connection- something no business district in Canada would permit.

    The previous Federal Way transit center had both direct freeway ramps and an espresso machine.

    Present designs for the introduction of LINK to the Northgate Transit Center don’t include any plans for direct bus or passenger access from I-5 either. Transit center, transit exchange, the name doesn’t matter.

    What does matter is that the facility be designed to efficiently integrate the transit system into the community where it’s located. It has to be designed to work.

    Mark Dublin

      1. For the record, Northgate TC has an espresso stand, though it isn’t open at all times. Still, wish more transit centers had that amenity.

    1. That’s true. The Bellevue and Renton transit centers are right downtown, and I though that was a fundamental feature of a transit center, that not only did several local routes meet the trunk routes, but it was also a significant walking destination. I wasn’t even aware that the Mountlake Terrace P&R had been glorified to a “transit center” until somebody here mentioned it.

      As for being directly on the freeway off-ramp, Bellevue and Renton never were.

      I went down to Federal Way a couple months ago and was shocked that the mall was no longer visible and easily walkable from the TC like I remembered. I even started walking toward the mall but I only got halfway when I realized I couldn’t get back in ten minutes when the next RapidRide left. But it was enough to see the ugly big freeway interchange you have to walk to to get to the mall. It almost made me cry.

      1. Based on Google Earth, I think you’re exaggerating a little bit. It looks to me like you can just walk along 23rd Ave. all the way. Yes, it’s half a mile of nothing but parking lots and a busy street crossing that would have been 1/4 mile as the crow flies, but I don’t see a freeway interchange you have to cross.

        Nevertheless, there is a bit of a double-standard going on. A half-mile walk across parking lots is considered acceptable for transit customers or for people walking somewhere from home. But for drivers walking from their parking space to their final destination, it’s considered completely unreasonable.

      2. It’s a lot of concrete and wide streets and only a token sidewalk. It may not be the interchange itself but it feels like one. Go down and see and tell us what you think of it. I’d he happy to be proven wrong, that there’s a shorter and more pleasant path to the mall than I thought.

    2. Not entirely true, Mark. I believe coaches do have signal priority at FWTC, in the form of “I’m almost at the light, please keep it green”.

      The “previous Federal Way transit center” that you refer to is actually the Federal Way P&R. It does not have direct freeway ramps. It is only accessible via the ramp to SB I-5. Coaches coming from the north via I-5 had to take the 320th exit, sit through the light, and continue to the on-ramp before diverting to the P&R. The only way out is to go through 23rd Ave S and loop back around to 320th.

      1. Thinking back, you’re right. I stand corrected on those points. Especially interested in form of signal priority you mention. When I drove buses, really resented having to stop short at a light, especially with a zone just the other side. Being able to hold the signal just a few seconds would save much time and fuel.

        However, I do think that both the transit center and the merchants to the south would benefit by putting a gate in the wall. There’s a really good tofu restaurant there. I think that an important effort in transit development would be to start converting car territory to pedestrian and transit territory.

        Sort of like land reclamation.

        And incidentally, espresso machines are optional, but point is that transit centers should include features that show that passengers are expected to feel like welcome human beings there, not cattle being prodded between trucks-trips.

        News-stands and bathrooms work too. However, I think that even throughout the Third World, you’ll always find food and beverages at the bus station.

        Mark Dublin

  5. “Transit Hub” seems to be a sensible term to me. People intuitively understand hubs, from airplane travel, and so can quickly grasp the way the system works if explained in hub-and-spoke terms.

  6. Yes, better terms include Exchange and Interchange, both of which emphasise the outcome to the user instead of to the transit agency. In Vancouver BC, the word is Exchange, and “transit center” means an operations and maintenance base.

  7. I think “transit center” is pretty good, and fairly intuitive — I’ve never used any of these places, but it was pretty clear to me what they probably were — far better than the alternatives you suggests. Why? I dunno, really, but as somebody pointed out above, “center” sounds like a point of focus, and it’s natural to think that such a place would be where transit connects.

    Using “hub” might be even better, e.g. “transit hub,” as the word hub seems to be in wide use with that connotation.

  8. While retail is nice, I think the most important aspect of a transit center is that it needs to be on the way for everyone going by there. In other words, if a bus has to waste 5-10 minutes waiting at stoplights to pull in and out of the TC, that’s not on the way.

    On the whole, though, I think TC’s are overrated. In most cases, when comparing TC’s to regular stops along the street, transit centers have a much higher capitol cost and usually incur some service delay for everyone passing through the area, including those who aren’t even transferring. They also take up valuable land, which could be better used for homes and businesses. And for all this, you get a bigger shelter to wait for the bus under (you could do this on regular street stops for a fraction of the cost), plus the few riders who are actually transferring there save (whoop-de-do) a 50-foot walk across the street (if there isn’t a safe place to cross the street, again, adding a signalized crosswalk is still much cheaper than building a transit center).

    1. Precisely.

      Every metro-Seattle Transit/Transfer/Exchange/Teacup-Spinning Center, including and perhaps especially the ones attached to Link at Mt. Baker and Tukwila, is worse at its job than a basic street corner would be.

      1. d.p., not every transit center is like that. The center of downtown transit centers in Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond and Renton have bus stops effectively on the street. And TCs with freeway stops, like Eastgate P&R (why isn’t it a TC, it looks like Issaquah TC) and Montlake Terrace have the express buses making a quick stop.

      2. “Between 2002 and 2006 more jaywalkers were hit by vehicles on Rainier Avenue South than in any other corridor in the city. During that period, 61 pedestrians were struck while jaywalking on Rainier Avenue South — nearly double the number of accidents on Aurora Avenue North” – the PI. And International Blvd is one of the top locations for ped/vehicle & bike/vehicle collisions in the city of Tukwila. There’s something to be said for not making folks cross those streets to try and make connections between trains and buses.

        And though both those stations have signalized crossings adjacent, I should point out that there are federal guidelines for putting in signalized and marked crossings, so a DOT can’t just put them in wherever they like, even if it makes the most sense for transit and pedestrians. And signalized or marked intersections are not necessarily any safer for pedestrians than unmarked crosswalks, especially on roads like Rainier and Int’l Blvd.

      3. AW, Bellevue’s/Redmond’s/etc. are “less worse” than most. Redmond’s still requires detouring on multiple side streets away from the route’s logical east-west or north-south paths, and Bellevue’s still requires circling, which is a more or less a problem depending on which direction the bus is coming from or where it’s heading.

        In both cases, it’s certainly worst for through-routes that would otherwise be stopping briefly on Redmond Way or 108th and then continuing along their merry way.

      4. Andreas, if pedestrians crossing streets is a problem, you need to fix the wider pedestrian infrastructure and fix the auto-extolling and pedestrian-marginalizing culture. The culture is actually reinforced by the infrastructure and physical space.

        Off-street, asphalt-plain, auto-protectionist Transit Centers actually contribute to the problem!

      5. @d.p. I agree fully, but as you point out, in order to get to the point where it’s really as simple as just “adding a signalized crosswalk” or leaving it as “a basic street corner” and still get people to cross the street to use transit and also to not die, a hell of a lot more work needs to be done (and it’s certainly going to cost far more—if not economically, then politically—than a P&R). Transit centers as currently designed here most assuredly reinforce the culture that kills pedestrians (and the earth), but as a pedestrian I can’t support not putting in such facilities unless we’re actually willing to do all those other things that are necessary to make just putting in a crosswalk a safe and attractive alternative. And we’re not willing to do that.

      6. I don’t see much danger in crossing many of the streets adjacent to the above-cited transit centers.

        As for the in-city examples, if you can’t start your mental shift at a major intersection near a high school and adjacent to a brand new rapid transit station, where can you start?

      7. Near as I can tell (I’ve never used it, and I don’t know if I’ve ever taken any transit other than the 150, old 194, and Link in the south end), Renton TC is basically just integration with the main streets of downtown Renton.

      8. If you’re taking 2 or 3 extra lefts and rights, and deviating from the cardinal direction in which your route is headed for no other reason than access to the bus bay, then no, it is not integrated into the street grid.

    2. Bellevue TC is doing quite well, thank you. Before the TC, buses stopped willy-nilly on whichever street they happened to use, so one transfer might be across the street, another a block away, another at a different place, and they weren’t time-coordinated so they passed each other at random. It’s a significant improvement to get off at something like a station and walk to any of the next buses, which are all leaving in five minutes. Even though the 5-minute overlap doesn’t always work out, it still works some of the time, particularly for the 550 to 230/253 which has the highest demand.

  9. Michel de Certeau would disagree about passengers being “people” as opposed to “commodities”, and that subways are panoptic systems. Not that I agree with that, yet I digress.

    A friend once referred to Eastgate TC as a “bus depot” (“hey, can I drop you off at the bus depot?”), which made me cringe. Funny how a name can signify such a different experience.

  10. I did a lot of work with the transit agencies in Phoenix and Houston, and both made extensive use of off-street transit centers (in fact, the off-streetness was what qualified them as TCs). While I agree that extensive diversions are undesirable, the expanded seating and shade available for transferring passengers was useful, as was the benefit of pulling all transfers into a single location — where otherwise lines might not cross, or there might be multiple stops spread over a large area.

    I’ll add they also can be very beneficial if the transit agency uses a pulse transfer system, where multiple buses may lay over while waiting for their connections to come in; this doesn’t really work if you’re stopping out on the street.

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