51 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: The Impact of Transit Cuts”

  1. Why is there only a flashing red and not a full traffic signal at banner way ne and 5th ave ne ? Seems like the traffic volume would warrant one….

    1. I’ve always felt the same, although there are many intersections out there where I’d advocate the reverse – converting some traffic signals into 4-ways stops.

      There are several obvious intersections in the U-district where this comes to mind – in particular, the lights on campus parkway at University Way and 15th Ave. NE. These intersections each have lots of bus traffic, but not very much car traffic. As it is, the long light cycles delay the buses passing through for no good reason. 4-way stops would get the buses through much more quickly – especially since the buses are already stopped anyway at bus stops in the vicinity.

    2. If I remember right, this is one of a couple of intersections in the city where an SDOT study determined that a four-way stop would actually give higher throughput than a signal.

      Signals are actually a rather inefficient solution for many lower-volume intersections. I have a feeling there are a number of places in the city where flow could be improved by changing signals to intersections where one street flows freely and the other has a simple stop sign.

      In DC, traffic overcontrol was much worse than in Seattle — there, I kept wanting to turn every intersection with one stop sign into an uncontrolled intersection and every signalized intersection of two-lane streets into an intersection with a stop sign.

  2. “…We don’t think it’s fair for someone in Winthrop, Washington to have to subsidize Pierce Transit…”

    The lamest argument ever. This is not an outcome of letting counties self-impose a tax on themselves.

    1. Similarly, I don’t think it’s fair for someone in Seattle, Washington to have to subsidize State Route 20, i.e. the only thing that allows Winthrop to have any freaking economy whatsoever.

      1. Playing devil’s advocate, though, there number of people in Seattle who drive on SR-20 far exceeds the number of people in Winthrop who have ever or will ever ride Pierce Transit buses.

      2. Not per capita.

        Route 20 is really remote. Perhaps a few thousand of Seattle’s 634,000 residents will ever drive along Route 20 east of the mountains.

        If even a single one of the 406 residents of Winthrop sets foot on a Pierce Transit bus once in their entire life, Winthrop has gotten more value out of that than the average Seattleite has gotten out of them.

      3. The section of highway 20 east of the mountains, I agree is really remote. But the section through the mountains (which, engineering-wise, is, by far, the most expensive), serves several hiking and backpacking trails, including a national park. Given that lots of people in Seattle like to hike, I would not think that having driven through that stretch of highway 20 at least once would be that uncommon.

      4. @asdf — Playing devil’s advocate some more, let’s assume that no one in Winthrop rides public transit, but lots of people from Pierce county drive highway 20. So What? If I live in Winthrop, I sure as hell want people from Pierce county to visit. I also want to be able to sell my beer in Pierce County.

        Good God, I’m always amazed at how stupid some legislative arguments are. Can you imagine Dan Evans (a Republican) making this argument? Of course not. He understood that we’re all in this together. If Seattle suffers a big depression, then folks in Winthrop suffer. Want to try a little experiment, Winthrop fans? How about you de-fund the universities and tell the high tech companies responsible for the low unemployment rate in Seattle to go screw themselves. Wait a couple years. Now, with unemployment at 9% in Seattle (and Spokane, and Tacoma, and Pullman) see how many people want to drink Winthrop beer or enjoy the skiing, hiking and other great activities in Winthrop. Oh, poor Winthrop (and Seattle, and Tacoma …).

        Like it or not, we all benefit, or are harmed by the investment in infrastructure that occurs in the state. I sure as hell want WSU to be an outstanding university, even though I’ve never been, nor have any plans on visiting Pullman. For that matter, I want the schools in Yakima to be outstanding. We all benefit when these things happen. It used to be common sense, but I guess in the new world of tribal politics it is easier to point fingers and blame the other guy when thing go bad. Or suggest that we all pay only for the things that we directly use. Personally, I want my refund for the Iraq war, since, as far as I can tell, I haven’t gotten anything out of that fiasco. But I digress.

        The arguments for infrastructure should be fairly simple: is it worth it. This applies to systems in various parts of the state.

      5. Sort of missing the point, the road was built in large part to serve City of Seattle’s hydro electric projects. DOH!!

      6. Good post, RossB.

        I skew those numbers since I have driven that highway 15-20 times; but then again I’ve driven every mile of state highway so I skew all those numbers! (I’ve also spent more than a few dollars in places like Winthrop, Lind, Conconully and Newport–the one on the Idaho border–likely more than anyone from any of those places would ever spend on transit.)

        SR20’s most expensive segment-the one from Seattle City Light’s company town of Newhalem on the west slopes to Mazama on the east was not completed until 1972 or so, some time after the dams were completed. You can bet that the vast populace of Mazama, Winthrop and Twisp pressed hard for that route to be built, even though its utility for anything more than tourism is minimal at best.

    2. Apparently this kid at the think tank needs to do a little better research. Those of us in Pierce County (and the rest of the Puget Sound area) do subsidize lifeline transit service for Winthrop and Okanogan County through grants from the state DOT. I have no problem with that — hell, I’d even argue that every single county deserves a couple of coaches providing some kind of skeletal rural routed service beyond just dial-a-ride. But we’re paying far more into the system on this side of the mountains and should deserve to make decisions for ourselves.

      Aunt Mabel is still getting a lift to the Winthrop Red Apple Market, so there’s no reason why someone in Tacoma or Seattle shouldn’t be able to get home from work.

      1. You should be aware that “Winthrop, WA subsidizing Pierce Transit” actually means “Winthrop paying taxes that go to Pierce Transit.” This is a statement that is so flatly untrue that it is appalling that someone on the anti-transit side would try to use it to scare away people. Even the majority of the land area of Pierce County doesn’t subsidize Pierce Transit.

        I really wish the people who put those videos up would run a basic fact check before showing that garbage to the world.

    3. I’ve never quite figured out whether WPC’s policy hacks are grossly misinformed or actively lying to get their way. I get the conservative idea of pushing for more efficiency and less subsidies but they frequently go beyond that. Saying that Winthrop voters subsidize Pierce transit is simply not true. Either way, I stopped reading their stuff long ago…

      As far as operational costs, I suspect large chunks of the increased costs are related to buses stuck in traffic but I don’t have the numbers to back that up. Paying me to watch people pay cash or look at other vehicles stuck in traffic is waste of resources. Metro has control over over the former and I know they are studying ways to go cashless, however, the latter is up to jurisdictions they operate in and those jurisdictions have similar cost pressures.

    4. FWIW – I am the interviewee who stated that Winthrop shouldn’t be subsidizing Pierce Transit. I said that in reference to the $250 million in operating subsidies to transit in the House transportation tax proposal. Although cut from the interview, I did state that I believed it was fine for King County to vote on a local option, it is their transit district after all.

      1. One question that’s never been answered, or that I haven’t seen answered, rather:

        – Why are roads different from transit when it comes to funding? Why is it acceptable for King County to “tax itself” for transit but it’s imposed on us for roads in other parts of the state? When Garfield County needs a new or improved state highway, why is it incumbent upon my representatives to vote yes? Is it because transit is seen as a secondary service while roads are “must have?”

      2. Because for any statewide bill to pass, it needs support from a majority of the legislators, including some from rural or exurban communities. It ultimately comes down to the fact that the entire state uses roads, but only one part of the state uses transit beyond once-a-day-bare-bones-lifeline service.

  3. Ed Orcutt is equal parts entertaining and infuriating. I think it was great that Joe Fitzgibbon barely addressed him, because that would only legitimize his nonsense.

  4. To: David L., et al.
    Re: “Pass-ups” in Seattle

    Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I decided to brave the epic failure that results from Metro’s disinterest in beefing up core services for major events — even massive events like the Fremont Solstice shindig that attract tens of thousands to a single location and boisterously advocate for arriving by public transit.

    OneBusAway showed that every inbound 40 — effectively running as the old 17 for much of the afternoon — was arriving in downtown Ballard 15 minutes late due to the accumulated slowness of picking up dozens as it crawled down 24th. Sure enough, my chosen bus arrived similarly late and very full. The driver pulled up to Ballard and Market, opened his doors, and announced that no one would be getting on.

    Me: That is unacceptable. You just let a handful of people off the back, so by definition there must be room.

    [Driver says nothing, closes back door.]

    Me: I’m swiping my ORCA [reaching in to do so], and I’d like to please get on the back door.

    [Driver says nothing; back door remains closed.]

    Me: Okay, then. I’ve already swiped my ORCA. I’m getting on the front.

    [Of the dozen people on the curb, two or three join me. One explains that she has an actual job to get to, and cannot risk being passed up again.]

    Driver [softly]: I cannot move until you are all behind the line.


    At this point the crowd compacted, almost miraculously. The center aisle moved into the back, and those in the front area retreated to the middle. The entire dozen people waiting at the stop made it inside without difficulty.

    At the next stop, the driver again flatly refused entry to anyone. I squeezed around an older woman who had unwisely angled herself in a way that bisected the front area, made my way into the small nook between the folding seats on the left, and took a quick census of the available space.

    Again, the driver relented, and five people were able board. At this point, space was very tight, but not obscenely so. One woman thanked me profusely for speaking up; she had been waiting for nearly an hour and had already been passed up by three other buses. (If only any of those three had a proactive driver or passenger.)

    At the next stop — the last on Leary — two people disembarked, allowing the two others waiting to board.

    Fortunately, the bus was able to run express from there: anyone heading to Fremont or downtown from Nickerson had obviously taken a different service or walked. And so it was smooth sailing until we approached the Fremont Bridge, when those unfamiliar with the old 17 route or unable to see out the crowded vehicle’s windows failed to react. A few pulled the stop request and squeezed off, with great difficulty, a stop too soon. The driver made no announcements.

    At last we made it to the stop across from the funeral home, and… nothing happened.

    [Driver opens doors, says nothing. People by the doors don’t budge. A few people start trying to squeeze through.]


    [The bus empties completely.]

    [End scene.]


    Now, in defense of the small subset of competent and solution-oriented Metro drivers, my eventual return trip was the antithesis of this dude’s disaffected idiocy. The later driver, upon request, started letting people on the back door, and he made effective use of his automated “please move in” announcement. Unlike the outbound driver prior to him, who passed up my stop completely despite visible available space in the back, this admirable gentleman left no one behind.

    But, David L., the larger point remains: Even under these unusually high-demand special-event circumstances, my unauthorized total commandeering of the boarding process was able to eliminate the pass-up problem, which you claim is endemic to normal-volume commute routes on a normal weekday. And I did so without taking a chainsaw to the excessively voluminous seats (much as I might have liked to).

    So when you claim daily Lake City pass-ups are “inevitable” under today’s schedules, I simply cannot believe you. Your drivers and fellow passengers just need to start giving a damn!

    1. Bravo. Very well done.

      I would be the driver who would make those sorts of announcements myself, if need be. Alas, I am not a Metro driver.

    2. This is my commute home every single day: standing up for the rights of people to get on the 40 by slowly teaching Seattle that you are not entitled to a ten-foot bubble of personal space. No thanks to most drivers.

      1. I am a Metro driver and certainly understand the dilemma that many riders face. I am one of those drivers who will accommodate as many riders as is safely possible. One problem is that drivers cannot see if there is extra room on the bus for additional riders, so we need to count on riders to compress as much as possible. I frequently use the announcement directing riders to “move to the rear.” I also often load through
        the back door when necessary due to crowding in front.

        h the back door when necessary.

    3. This is why we need a real subway. It could have stopped right next to the parade route, ran a perfectly normal schedule, while still providing the capacity to get everybody where they need to be.

      1. I agree completely.

        Now let’s all imagine what would become of a “rapid streetcar” on Fremont streets on a day like yesterday.

      2. We need to build a $750 million subway to Ballard because d.p.’s bus was 15 minutes late due to a large, once-a-year, downtown Seattle event?

      3. We need to build a subway to Ballard because people getting passed up on 30-minutes-delayed buses is a daily occurrence, and will only get worse as Ballard continues to absorb new residents.

        In a real city, it’s possible to get around large events like the Fremont Fair.

      4. I can tell exactly what the “rapid streetcar experience” would be like. It would be exactly like what happened Saturday. With the tracks going right through the parade area, the streetcar would have to be shut down and replaced with buses for the duration of the parade. And they would be the exact same shuttle routes we already have.

      5. asdf: Yes, that was my point.

        Sam: For the purposes of your corollary snark, it doesn’t actually matter how late I was one particular day (it was much more than 15 minutes; the bullshit I described ate up a lot of additional time beyond its initial lateness), or whether the pass-ups the other 364 days are or could be prevented by squeezing in more.

        The point is that shitty travel times, non-existent reliability, and all-around poor connections to the rest of the city are a fact of life every single day, morning, noon and night, at times when the bus is full and at times when it is empty. And that all of the traffic you see clogging every route into and out of Ballard exists because the majority knows the transit is far too lousy to bother with most of the time.

        Ballard is a major quadrant of the city, closer to downtown, the U-District, or Capitol Hill than to the outer city limits, and yet it takes an unacceptable 25-35 minutes (plus wildly variable wait times) to get from here to anywhere. If you were really the “International Expert on Blah-de-Blah-de-Blah” that you constantly claim to be, you would understand how unacceptable that is.

        Unfortunately, you’re just some clueless, self-satisfied, poorly traveled dipshit on a blog.

    4. Excellent. Good for you for standing up. On a similar note, I’ve yelled to a bus that isn’t so crowded that there are seats in the back. I find this really irritating. You get on a bus that has a good dozen or so folks standing up, while there are empty seats in the back. Someone gets on, assumes the bus is full, and adds to the people standing. I’ll often push to the back, just so I can stand there, only to realize that there are plenty of open seats back there. Common bus etiquette ignored for whatever reason.

    5. Amen and good for you. Back in the years when I rode peak 44’s regularly, the standards for pass-ups were highly arbitrary; many drivers yelled at passengers to make space and filled buses to the gills, others would declare themselves full by Wallingford when every stander still had their nice bubble. There should be a better enforced policy about this, and it should privilege service for all over excess personal space for selfish fools.

    6. d.p., your observations about Seattle standing habits are infuriatingly correct. And some pass-up issues could be solved if people would just move to the back. All the way. Like, there is not a chainsaw that will drop from the ceiling and chop your head off if you stand in the elevated area at the extreme back of a low-floor bus.

      But there are also some situations that are not just a matter of improperly packed buses.

      The 7:00 outbound trip on route 41, which I drove regularly in 2002 and now ride from time to time, is a good example.

      I was a loudmouthed driver who would repeatedly say, loudly, into the PA: “Please move back. People are still waiting to get on.” And people would eventually move back, particularly when the bus didn’t move for a minute or two. But anytime there was any sort of special event I would still leave people standing at 3rd and Pine, and pass the entire waiting crowd up at Olive and 5th (this was before the tunnel was open after 7:00). Today, there is a new 7:15 trip that didn’t exist back then, but even so the 7:00 trip frequently passes people up at Convention Place. The fact that capacity is sometimes not optimally used doesn’t mean there are no legitimate capacity issues in the system. Things like APC data can help sort the wheat from the chaff.

  5. Also I want to run an initiative that would make it legal to evict people from the bus who stand next to the schedules. Metro needs to paint that zone with a bright red box.

  6. D.P.,…as a Metro operator who worked yesterday, I am sorry for what you, and everyone else, went through.

    1. I’m far too exhausted to reply in all of the corollary threads I’d like to, but I’m mustering the last of my energy to say “thank you, Mark.” Thank you to yourself and the best drivers like you, including the extra-conscientious one I described at the end of my story.

      Seattle transit’s systemic collapse at times of peak demand happens at all points on the spectrum. In the broadest sense, the problem is not having real rapid transit to do the heavy lifting in a way that is protected from ground-level occurrences. In the narrowest sense, the problem was my encounter with an exceptionally passive and apathetic driver on my specific bus.

      But along the middle of the spectrum, there are two levels of failure that must also be called out.

      One is Metro’s total unwillingness to add extra supplementary service along established core routes to handle event crowds: every agency in every remotely transit-oriented city does so, aside from Metro. Supplementary regular service is actually far more effective than the separate “event shuttles” Metro will run for Bumbershoot or Seahawks games, because it absorbs the demand spike organically and helps to distribute passengers to connecting services, whereas the “special” services merely send an isolated demographic to privileged far-off parking lots.

      The other is Metro’s disinterest in training drivers for the altered circumstances, in coaching them on how to manage tight loads and instilling them with an urgency to do right by event passengers, who may perhaps be experiencing Metro’s service for the first time. Frankly, only drivers with demonstrated high-volume experience and problem-solving acumen should be allowed to operate near major events; automatons who don’t care whether the bus is overloaded or empty need not apply. But when the agency seems to wish only to do the bare minimum (run a certain number of buses down certain streets) without regard to its success or failure to make the trip work for the actual humans trying to make it, is it any wonder that individual drivers put in bare-minimum effort as well?

      Again, thank you for being an engaged and conscientious driver. I’m genuinely sad to report that only 1/6 of those driving Saturday seem to be like you.

  7. This “personal bubble” thing is one of my pet peeves about Seattle. At the grocery store, it is often hard to know who is actually waiting in line – people are standing so far apart. I remember one time in the Starbucks at 4th & Seneca, which is hardly a small store: there was a line from the counter to the door – with all of THREE people in it!!

    On the bus, when people in the aisle refuse to move back, I just ask them if I might squeeze by – and most of the time they take the hint and DO move back. It’s amazing how often I find empty seats at the back of a crowded RR-C.

    1. …and THAT’S why they need to make off-board payment and back door boarding work on rapidride.

  8. I’m always amazed at how the people in Eastern Washington scream about ‘having to pay for Seattle projects.’ Seattle hadn’t had a new project in more than a generation until the Alaska Tunnel began. Living in Shoreline, I’m more frustrated at having to pay for multiple changes to I-405 thru Tukwila and Renton than I am about paying for roads in Yakima or Wenatchee. Why have there been multiple changes to I-405 in Bellevue but absolutely nothing to I-5 in Seattle? Sure there’s been an increase in traffic in Bellevue, but there has ALWAYS been traffic in Seattle. But, for me, I’d gladly trade all the money for upgrades to I-5 for a faster buildup of LINK to Lynnwood and more busses to feed it. And then politely tell the East Washington screamers to shut up.

    1. In less than a generation, there have been several projects to reconfigure the I-5/I-90 interchange.

      1. Oops, I see Cinesea did mention that, but bizarrely implies that this isn’t a project that benefits the Puget Sound region.

      2. From the few times I’ve using the interchange, I haven’t noticed much difference or benefit from the reconfiguration.

    2. Why have there been multiple changes to I-405 in Bellevue but absolutely nothing to I-5 in Seattle?

      What are you gonna do to I-5 in Seattle; widen it?

      1. My completely-unvetted-by-people-who-actually-know-roads suggestions for capital-intensive I-5 improvements in Seattle:

        1) Rebuild 520/I-5 interchange (similarly to how I-90 interchange was rebuilt in conjunction with the I-90 rebuild). It should have no left on- or offramps, a bus-only ramp between 520 and the express lanes, and a direct-access ramp from 520 to Mercer Street.

        2) Rebuild 45th/50th/Ravenna interchange so there is only one onramp and offramp, on the right, in each direction.

        3) Reconception of eastbound I-90 access to northbound I-5 (and downtown). It’s currently broken both for I-90 traffic and northbound through traffic. I can imagine a variety of cheap and expensive ways to do this.

      2. The I-5/520 interchange was built the way it is because, by the standard of freeway interchanges, it is unusually compact. I don’t see you could physically move the exit ramp to the right without leveling buildings to do it.

        If we are looking for something cheap and simple to improve traffic flow on I-5, my vote would be to fix the express lanes so that half the lanes go in one direction and half in the other, rather than all the lanes going the same way. Preferably, with HOV lanes in both directions.

        Or, even cheaper, make the express lanes point inbound on Saturday afternoons, as there is always much more congestion inbound than outbound at the time and the outbound express lanes are usually almost empty.

      3. Simple solution to a multitude of traffic problems. Either don’t connect 520 to I-5 SB at all or make it transit only. If you are headed to DT Seattle use I-90. On top of that, Make the 520 to Montlake exit HOV/Transit only 7am to 7pm. So simple, so cheap, so never going to happen ’cause obviously we’ve got to get more cars into the area since it’s a traffic bottle neck. Yeah, more cars capacity; the answer to congestion. Works every time, right?

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