London Eye Twilight April 2006 via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t forget that tomorrow during lunch Jarrett Walker and Darrin Nordahl will be debating their opposing views of what transit needs to do to attract more riders. If you’re not able to make it to the lunch event, there will also be a debate at Town Hall tomorrow night as well starting at 7:30. Get tickets for that event here.

Personally I’m confused why this is even debatable as ferris wheels are fun but they don’t get you anywhere, just like driving isn’t fun, at least for most people, but can get you just about anywhere. Last time I checked most cities weren’t overrun with ferris wheels, if you get my drift. Regardless, it should be a fun a lively debate. Details below the jump.

Transportation Choices will be co-hosting a lunchtime discussion with national transit authors Darrin Nordahl and Jarrett Walker. If you can’t make it to the town hall in the evening or want to discuss these issues in smaller setting, this event is for you. Space is limited so please RSVP.

Authors Darrin Nordahl and Jarrett Walker discuss public transit from two different ends of the bus route: technical simplicity—and fun. Most everyone agrees that public transit is a powerful tool for addressing a range of urban problems, but while Walker, author of Human Transit, believes that transit can be simple if we focus on the underlying geometry that all transit technologies share, Nordahl, author of My Kind of Transit, argues that when public transit is an enjoyable experience, tourists and commuters alike will willingly hand in their keys.

This event is co-hosted by Transportation Choices, Banyan Branch, Downtown Seattle Association, Commute Seattle, Cascade Bicycle Club, The Seattle Transit Blog, VIA Architecture, Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Feet First, GGLO, Washington Environmental Council, and Undriving.

42 Replies to “Reminder: Utility Vs Fun”

  1. Cool. I didn’t realize there was a lunch event too. I couldn’t make it to the evening event.

    Re: Ferris Wheels. Hey, we have one popping up right now.

    Not exactly the London Eye, but I have a feeling that even without going anywhere they’ll be able to charge more than any of our region’s buses and still have better ridership per seat.

      1. Must be a hills, terrain, bodies of water and old glacier till thing that d.p. was talking about.
        What kind of ridership are they projecting/promising in 2020?
        Subsidy levels? Will Real Time arrival of the next car be running?
        Is gas tax being used to build this boondoggle?
        I heard ST is behind all this to divert attention from Fed.Way.
        WE NEED TO KNOW.

      2. I thought I’d point out, here, that the latest studies from Chicago’s Navy Pier Ferris Wheel show that, on Ferris Wheels, instantaneous speed actually has no measurable effect at all on aggregate speed! This study on its own suggests we should look to improve aggregate speed through stop spacing and aggressive measures to combat boarding delay. But then the studies out of London show that even shortening the time of the trip between A and A has, and I quote, “no effect at all on the aggregate speed of the journey“.

        It really rocks the foundations of my thinking, and not just on transit. If time has no effect on speed, have we been fundamentally down a developmental dead-end since the invention of clocks? Or sundials even? Anyway, we may be able to measure this sort of effect more precisely with the Large Hadron Collider, so we can determine whether we should press on in our quest for speed, or whether it’s futile, and we should end time forever.

      3. That study did include a stop spacing analysis. Interestingly, to improve trip time you will need to reduce stop spacing. Perhaps Metro should take a look at this for Really Rapid Ride.

      4. The R&D boys in the lab have come up with a process where the Ferris Wheel is connected to a generator, thereby creating not only it’s own power, but some you can sell to City Light.
        The Rapid Ferris Wheel ™ should really up the ante. I can visualize whole Ferris Wheel farms sprouting up in urban centers.

  2. ” just like driving isn’t fun, at least for most people, but can get you just about anywhere”

    Let me refute that, if it wasn’t fun people would flock to alternatives. Now I admit that even things that are fun, are often not fun after a long time, ie driving across country vs flying. But give me an open country road with good sight lines, smooth road, and a good sports car and no speed limits and I’ll have a blast!

    But what I think you meant is that sitting in traffic going 5mph in a car designed to go 100mph, on a road designed to be driven on at 70mph and yeah, it’s no fun.

    But then there are bicycles….

    1. Yeah, but it seems a lot more sensible to refer to the vast majority of the driving people do (urban/suburban, traffic lights, traffic), which is most certainly not fun. People don’t buy cars because they like driving down country roads with good sight lines. They buy cars because they need to get around. Other considerations are secondary or tertiary, unless they happen to have a lot of extra money lying around.

    2. You think driving in Seattle traffic is fun?? And exactly what “alternatives” are people going to flock to? Metro? Hardly much of an alternative, at least for a lot of us.

      That is why we need to fully build out LR and Streetcar as quickly as possible — because right now we have no good alternatives to driving.

    3. I Actually love driving on downtown streets more than open country roads, downtown streets have traffic to mingle with/weave around, corners, acceleration and deceleration constantly. Its tremendous fun IMO. Though I think I’m probably in a minority, I know for sure my driving style is, I’m up there with a chicago cabbie in driving style.

  3. Someone should build some rise rise condos, accessible only from an adjoining ferris wheel.

    Or maybe, just put the condos on the ferris wheel itself…like a ferris wheel of trailers.

    Everyone gets a view then…every few minutes. Kind of like the Space Needle restaurant..only sideways.

      1. I once envisioned that my idea home would be like a containerized cargo trailer…or similar to those IKEA modular homes.

        However, I would like it to be truly transportable, like a mobile home.

        So what we would have are basically all kinds of “hookups” with a standard interface for water and electricity.

        I would then be able to take my whole house, get it taken up by a tractor trailer and put on a freight train or cargo ship and relocate to anywhere I want.

        The foundation would be just a concrete slab that the container would go on. Of course, there would have to be very strong windows, and much of the furniture would be built in. But for a relatively ascetic, utilitarian guy such as myself I would not mind.

        These containers could be stakable to as in the case where you want some density, or just as easily dropped on the corner of a hundred acre farm.

    1. This is like the rotating house concept. I forget the details but it would turn at a speed that puts the front door at the driveway during commute times, at the back garden during the evening, and moving toward the front while you sleep. You could even have three or four different outdoor environments along the different sides, that the house would rotate between throughout the day.

  4. It’s a mix. If you ask most people why they don’t ride a bus, it is because of the time. The bus they want to take is too infrequent and is too slow. On the other hand, the ferry is extremely popular, despite the fact that it is infrequent and slow. Then there is also cost. All of these should be taken into account when trying to woo people onto public transit.

    In general, that is one reason why I am a big fan of elevated, grade separated (Chicago style) rail systems. Not to the point of absurdity (if it is much cheaper to dig a tunnel, then dig a tunnel) but just in general.

    1. 1. The ferry, excluding wait times, is often faster from ferry terminal to ferry terminal than driving or taking a bus. Taking the direct route has its benefits. The problem is that you’re usually not starting or ending your trip at a ferry terminal, and the ferry can’t really go anywhere else. So even if the ferry was fast and frequent, there’s just a pretty hard cap on how useful it can be. This low ceiling is why you just wouldn’t spend much money to improve the ferry.

      2. It is probably never cheaper or faster to dig a tunnel — quite the opposite! The reason you don’t see many new elevated train lines is neighborhood opposition. Elevated trains are cool to ride, but they’re loud and they affect people’s views of everything. In many Chicago cases the original train lines were built out before the neighborhoods. And then Chicago tends to have a more centralized power structure than we have here… But even in Chicago neighborhood groups have got sections of the L torn out (not long ago part of the Jackson Park branch of the South Side L). And the sections that you think of as “Chicago-style”, with trains running on steel elevated structures over alleys and streets, are really just the oldest parts of the system. Newer additions have been underground (the State and Dearborn Street subways and part of the O’Hare extension), in freeway medians (the Dan Ryan branch, most of the O’Hare extension, the new Congress branch), on embankments (most of the Midway branch, the outer reaches of the North Side Main Line and Lake Street L, not to mention almost all the commuter rail in the city), or at-grade in alleys (the outer reaches of the Ravenswood and Cermak branches). There are only a few examples of new L trackage in Chicago. First, the connection between the Midway branch’s embankment and the South Side L, to get it to the Loop; it has no stations. Second, an outer segment of the Midway branch, elevated in a surface freight ROW. And, finally, the rebuilt Paulina Connector, allowing the Douglas branch to be turned into the new Pink Line and connected to the Lake Street L and the Loop instead of the Dearborn Street Subway; the connector itself has no stations along it; it’s actually an old route that once had stations along it, but was in such bad shape it had to be rebuilt to restore revenue operations. Today its surroundings are mostly parking lots. So even Chicago doesn’t build ’em that way any more.

      1. Chicago hasn’t made any significant extensions since the 50s.

        They’ve kind of gone back to building elevateds, though, since the Midway line worked out fine. The Paulina Connector was rebuilt recently. However, nobody builds the old steel structures; they’re all concrete pillars now, including the rebuilt Paulina Connector. Less noise, less vibration for neighbors.

      2. Well, sorry, I guess the Midway line counts as a “significant extension” and that was the 1990s. It’s actually largely L, though over freight rail mostly.

      3. 1. I think you miss my point. People live in places like Bainbridge because they like taking the ferry. They could move to Lynnwood, but then they would spend much of their time on a bus, not a ferry (which is a lot less fun). It is a trade-off between convenience versus fun.

        2. My understanding is that the route from downtown to the U-District would have cost more if it had been elevated. Getting up to Capital Hill might have been impossible, so there would have been some digging. Then a big bridge could have been built (next to I-5, presumably) which would made things really expensive. The land is also expensive. So when all was said and done, it made sense to just tunnel.

        North from there it would probably have been cheaper to go above ground. As you suggested, it was the neighborhoods that pushed for underground.

        I think all of this is important to consider if they ever build a line from Ballard to downtown (via Interbay). As it gets close to downtown, it probably makes sense to tunnel. So, what are the costs of building a bridge, running a line above the tracks, then going into a tunnel (around Mercer or so) versus just tunneling the whole way. My guess is that above ground is much cheaper, but if it goes into a tunnel in Ballard, maybe not. As far as neighborhood objection is concerned, I would expect few complaints. You really wouldn’t be blocking any views at that point. If the rail line is attractive, then it could add something (similar to a nice looking bridge). Likewise, the noise is similar to what the neighbors endure from the existing railroad.

        Again, I would sure like to see more elevated rail. Some of the best views of the city are gained simply by driving, and this is a shame. Of course, the classic view (from the viaduct) is going away soon. Yes, I know I can get some of those views from a bus, it just seems a shame that as transit moves underground, fewer and fewer people will experience those views.

    2. Well most people that commute via ferry don’t have an alternative… and the reason they put up with a long commute is for the “quality of life” of living on a rural and natural island.

    3. Don’t forget many people live on the islands and don’t commute. They like spending their week in the island community. When they do go to Seattle it’s for shows, visiting people, or church.

  5. How about if we set a really giant wheel sideways into Capitol Hill near Denny, with half of it arching into the sky and the other half in the ground. So half of the experience would be a spectacular ride through the air, and the other sort of a sideways subway ride.

    The underground part could have digital projectors along the walls, showing 3D action displays of various underground themes, like Mordor in Lord of the Rings and that great transit movie “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.”

    It’d be interesting to compare cost and capacity to proposed gondola system. The “cars” could be actual buses, which roll onto platforms at one end, and off at the other.

    As for the enjoyment versus efficiency debate, anybody who was nine years old in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia or Boston, especially a little boy, can tell you there’s no way the two ideas are in conflict.

    Transit is fun because it’s fast. If it’s not fast, it sucks for a long list of reasons, especially length of time ’til you can go to the bathroom. Everybody knows kids’ main travel question: “Are we THERE yet?”

    Also, travel modes that in addition to being slow are jerky, dirty, and smelly are never fun.

    So, make transit simple and efficient, which first of all means getting other things out of the way of it, and both goals are served. While you’re building the elevated structures and boring the tunnels, a network of all-day transit only lanes and signal pre-empt for transit vehicles would definitely make every route in the system more fun to ride.

    This afternoon I know that my fellow passengers and I on the streetcar southbound on Westlake were having a lot more fun than the people on the northbound car, which was blocked by a truck parked too close to the track. Being aboard transit subordinate to parking is not fun at all.

    Maybe the fun motivation could be served by putting parking into giant slow-moving ferris wheels all over the region, where parking is timed by length of time it takes for the wheel to revolve. Drivers could either leave their car and ride transit, or stay in the car and watch the scenery, for the same price.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Driving isn’t fun.

      I mean, yeah, driving on an open country road is fun.

      But how often do you get to do that?

      Driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic is only fun for crazy people.

    2. Since when is commuting in traffic fun? That is what driving means for 99% of us. Decidedly not fun.

  6. When somebody goes on a quaint “Sunday drive”, do they head straight for 4th Avenue South and hope there’s a crowd going to a ballgame at that time? No, they go to the open streets that have lots of scenery and few people. Driving for pleasure is a distinct pastime from getting from point A to B, even if they sometimes overlap or a if few people enjoy driving in traffic in traffic.

  7. “just like driving isn’t fun, at least for most people”.

    These kinds of statements are not helpful to the purpose of this site and only alienate people who support your cause but also enjoy driving. Life is not black and white.

    1. Fil this isn’t Motor Trend this a transit blog for Seattle. I would challenge MT to write a story about how enjoyable driving in Seattle or any other major city in the US is… even they would have a hard time with that. I don’t see the world as black and white which is exactly why I added “at least for most people”.

      Driving can be fun, I love a country road as much as the next person, but that isn’t what driving means for most people… it means stuck in traffic going nowhere fast.

      1. “but that isn’t what driving means for most people… it means stuck in traffic going nowhere fast.”

        Again, these kind of generalizations are not helpful. I ride transit, bike and drive my car 15K miles a year around seattle and I’m rarely in traffic.

        I enjoy this blog and I hope that it continues to try to add to our transportation options while not taking away any options from anyone.

      2. I used to drive to evening work regularly and rarely ever get stuck in traffic. That doesn’t mean I enjoy it. I don’t enjoy having to fill gas and pay insurance. I’d rather much take a bus and do something else but the bus trip home takes way too long (over 4x driving). Compare that to my downtown bus commute where I can read or nap.

        Adam’s “most people” description is right. During the commuting period is when most people are on the roads and in traffic, not when you and me drive. No one here is disputing the utility of the automobile.

      3. It’s legitimate to talk about what the majority of people do and feel. In Seattle as in most metropolitan areas, most people drive at least twelve times a week to work, groceries, and errands, and they get frustrated at congestion and aggrevated at the near-misses. They find the overall experience tolerable rather than enjoyable. If they drive for pleasure, it’s much less often.

        In small towns like Arlington and Wenatchee, among people who don’t commute to a city, the overall driving experience may be different.

    2. Is having a heart attack fun? Is having a stroke fun? How about cancer, is that fun?

      The American Petroleum Institute in 1948 put the minimum safe dose for benzene at zero. If a society forces people into a mode of transportation that increases the risks of heart attacks, strokes, and cancers though known poisons, would you still find it enjoyable to drive, knowing the harms you cause to yourself, your family, friends, and neighbors? Or would you treat it as a necessary evil, and minimize it accordingly?

  8. I attended the event this evening and found it interesting and informative. I came to the conclusion that both speakers “were right”. Saw a few STB’ers there. The presentation was broadcast on the Seattle Channel so hopefully it will be available online.

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