As I’ve written previously, Seattle’s bus network is fantastic for commuting in to the region’s major downtowns from the suburbs, assuming you work a traditional 9-to-5 job. For other uses, like evenings and weekends, or getting from neighborhood to neighborhood without first going downtown, there’s work to be done.

An interesting report in The Atlantic Cities suggests that transit networks focused on commuter trips may be implicitly biased towards men over women. Clare Foran writes that the city of Vienna studied men and women transit users in 1999 and noted that the women had far different transit usage patterns:

The majority of men reported using either a car or public transit twice a day — to go to work in the morning and come home at night. Women, on the other hand, used the city’s network of sidewalks, bus routes, subway lines and streetcars more frequently and for a myriad reasons.

“The women had a much more varied pattern of movement,” Bauer recalls. “They were writing things like, ‘I take my kids to the doctor some mornings, then bring them to school before I go to work. Later, I help my mother buy groceries and bring my kids home on the metro.'”

Women used public transit more often and made more trips on foot than men. They were also more likely to split their time between work and family commitments like taking care of children and elderly parents. Recognizing this, city planners drafted a plan to improve pedestrian mobility and access to public transit.

With the news that less than 50% of Seattle residents now drive alone to work, I’d like to suggest that the heavy lifting is done when it comes to converting 9-5 commuters to transit use, at least as far as the city is concerned. A good chunk more will likely convert to transit if and when Link arrives in their neighborhood, and we should absolutely continue outreach and education programs to downtown workers, but otherwise any more effort to provide better bus service to downtown-bound commuters is likely to have a high cost and a relatively low return.

Obviously Seattle and Vienna are different cities.  But it does seem as if the low-hanging fruit, when it comes to our transit network, is improving the sorts of trips that the women of Vienna wrote about in the study above: going to the doctor, buying groceries, taking the kids to school, and visiting friends and relatives. It’s all possible, and can be done for relatively little money. It just requires the sustained commitment of voters, politicians, and businesses. You know, the kind of commitment we’ve given to commuter trips over the last 40 years. As a bonus, making these sorts of trips better will likely help commuters as well, since a fair portion of the 49% who still drive alone probably work in the urban villages outside downtown. It’s win-win.

Apologies to Ian Betteridge for the headline of this blog post.

53 Replies to “Are Seattle Women the Key to a Better Bus System?”

  1. Less than 50% drive alone, but how about trips to the supermarket, recreation on weekends.

    What is the trend there?

  2. I think our bus network is great for traveling from the suburbs into downtown and evenings, weekends, and going from neighborhood to neighborhood. One can say there’s work to be done about anything, but if we’re just talking about county public bus systems, Metro is one of the best in the nation.

    And without having read the study, why is it men vs women and not worker vs non-worker?

    PS, fully 1/3 of Americans are not in the work force. That’s 100 million people. I would wager that if you take peak trips out of the equation, most people riding the bus during are not on their way to or from work.

    1. If you’re comparing with US cities only, then Seattle does decently, I guess, although the US in general is so bad at transit that it’s hardly worthwhile to make that comparison. Just because the rest of the US is even worse at transit than Seattle is doesn’t change the fact that Seattle has one of the lowest transit modeshares in the entire industrialized world.

      For example, take a look at this table
      As you can see, Seattle’s* transit use numbers are absolutely terrible, even when compared to small Canadian cities that are a fraction of Seattle’s size. (Seattle apparently has lower transit use than Oshawa, Hamilton, Victoria, Edmonton, Quebec City, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary, despite none of these cities even being half of Seattle’s size! Seriously??? Comparing with Vancouver and Montreal is even worse…) Density isn’t really a good excuse for this either, as most of the Canadian cities also have sprawling low-density built forms (such as Calgary): this isn’t Europe. I’m not sure how anyone can look at these numbers and claim that there isn’t SIGNIFICANT room for improvement in our transit system.

      I also wouldn’t refer to a bus network with most lines running only every 30-60 minutes (especially on weekends and evenings) and most trips taking several times longer than driving would as a “great” network.

      I know you’re trolling, but I think that it’s important to clear up the misconception that Seattle somehow has a “good” transit system and that we can be complacent about it. By any objective measure, Seattle’s transit is extremely inadequate.

      *The metropolitan area, not the useless and arbitrary city limits.

      1. On your advice, I just checked out the Edmonton Public Transit website. I was all prepared to become awestruck at their superiority, but low and behold … Not all their buses have bike racks. More than half of their bus routes end in the early evening. Those routes that do run past early evening, the majority switch to hourly service. Many routes don’t run Sat or Sun night. But nice try.

        And no, I wasn’t trolling. It’s called disagreeing. I disagree with this particular assertion: “Seattle’s bus network is fantastic for commuting in to the region’s major downtowns from the suburbs, assuming you work a traditional 9-to-5 job. For other uses, like evenings and weekends, or getting from neighborhood to neighborhood without first going downtown, there’s work to be done.” Will all due respect, I believe this to be mostly untrue.

      2. Also, I specifically said, “if we’re just talking about county public bus systems, Metro is one of the best in the nation.” So why bring Canada into it? And why bring cities into it? If you are going to refute my statement, do so with examples of other American county public bus systems. As one of the world’s leading transit experts, I maintain Metro has one of the best county public transit bus systems in the US.

      3. I actually agree with you that Metro is one of the best county public bus systems in the US, excluding very large and dense cities like SF or NY. However, I don’t think that this is an excuse to stop improving transit because transit usage is still so low (on a worldwide level). Comparing to US cities is a bit like comparing yourself to the lowest-performing people in a class and then finding that you are performing marginally better than those people–i.e. it doesn’t mean that you’re really that intelligent, just that the people you’re comparing to are even worse. If Metro is really that good, then how come only 8% of commutes, and even less non-work trips, are on transit within the metro area?

        Setting aside comparisons to other cities for a moment, I find your claim that transit on evenings and weekends cannot be improved bizarre. There is definitely room for improvement when many lines run only every 30-60 minutes on evenings, weekends, and even daytimes, and transfers are not coordinated.

        (Regarding Edmonton: it’s hardly a shining example of public transport compared to its peers Calgary and Ottawa, but it still achieves a higher modeshare for commutes (and probably other trips as well) than Seattle does despite being 1/3 of the size. Also, Edmonton was one of the first cities in North America to use the timed-transfer concept, ensuring short waits for transfers and thus allowing convenient travel from anywhere to anywhere, not just downtown. Seattle has very few examples of this, with the result being that you could have to wait up to 30 to 60 minutes for a single transfer. Finally, judging from this map ( it seems that Edmonton’s late-night service after 10pm covers the entire city, which is incidentally not true for most Seattle suburbs)

  3. OK, this is off the cuff, and could easily be a bit sexist, but here are my thoughts:

    1) Women dominate the medical field. This is a fast growing field that will continue to grow in the near, if not distant future.

    2) Hotel and motel workers are primarily women.

    3) I’m guessing that women make up about half, if not more, of the restaurant workers. The same is true for teaching.

    4) Law is about 50/50 (or trending that way). The same (I would guess) is true for banking or business management and quite a few white collar jobs.

    5) Software is dominated by men. It is ridiculous. Articles have been written, many companies have tried really hard to overcome the problem, but I don’t see things getting better anytime soon.

    The last two jobs tend to have regular hours. The first three don’t. Here is a different consideration:

    6) Women tend to more concerned about security then men. Maybe I’m exaggerating this point based on anecdotal experience, but I know women that refuse to transfer downtown (on third) because it is “too creepy”. I have no hesitation (I don’t like it, but I can deal with it).

    7) It is much easier to maintain security on a big train then it is to maintain the security of several buses. A cop can pass way more people on a train than he (or she) can on a bus. Similarly, transit centers are much easier to secure than streets.

    8) Trains run back and forth — they can serve the odd hours. If I want to get to Tukwila in the morning, I might have a hard time on a bus. However, the train serves the exact same stops going into town as out.

    All of this suggests that we are on the right track (so to speak) with our plans for rail. It also suggests that streetcars add value that isn’t obvious. I’ve generally been opposed to streetcars (or at least thought they were a waste of money) but it is obvious that they can provide many of the same sorts of advantages that light rail does. They can provide secure transport at all hours of the day. This makes a difference if you are trying to work the night shift at the nursing home.

    It also suggests that bus to train transfers can be made better. A worker might feel comfortable walking from home to the bus, or walking from the train to work, but if the worker doesn’t feel comfortable during the transfer, then the whole trip is a problem. This should be a major consideration with every station where bus to train transfers are expected to be common.

    Many of the jobs that are done by women (such as the first three types I mentioned) are not “downtown jobs”. To be fair, there are a lot of medical jobs on pill hill, but there are probably more scattered throughout the city (U.W., V. A., etc.). As the author mentioned, improving the routes so that they can serve these “out of the way” places without requiring a downtown transfer would really help things.

    9) Nerds tend to be men — especially transit nerds. It is impossible to be sure (or course) but from what I can tell, most of the comments on this blog are from men and all of the authors are men. Rather sad, really.

    1. First, some anecdata that intersects 5 and 6 (Tech, Women->Security):

      One connector-riding friend has noted that the connector has near gender-parity some days, i.e. the sample proportion is higher than the population proportion. This is the Seattle-Bellevue (Bing) route, which stops on the same block as the 545 — closer to Pine than Olive Way, on Bellevue Ave.

      It could just mean that the women of Bing who live in Southwest Capitol Hill are slightly closer to Pine than Olive, but could also indicate some disinclination against transfers and crowding.

      More generally:

      The tautological story of ‘designing “for women” (“for your entire market, not 50% of your market”) = better design for all users’ applies to transit as well as it does to anything other system.

      I noticed an example of this in a mall in the outskirts of Copenhagen. The mall might’ve had ordinary escalators or elevators (that I didn’t notice because those are ordinary), but it also had these sloped moving walkways.

      Mothers of young children benefit from these walkways because they don’t have to separate from their friends to use the elevator (always at one end of the mall) and miss parts of conversation, or go through the hassle of folding up the stroller, carrying the child, etc. at an escalator. With the sloped moving walkways, they can change floors alongside nonparous friends.

      But these walkways work for everyone — people with trolleys, wheelchairs, walkers; merchants, whose displays can still be ogled by people who can change floors without changing context (going up an escalator bank, or into an elevator).

      So, in equally-long-wintered Seattle, if we can make the system “better for women” — more reliable transfers, handholds on buses that don’t make you flash the bus if you’re wearing a short dress, etc. — we make it better for all riders.

      1. +1 Designing for all users benefits all users. Buses that have room for strollers end up being more accessible for everyone.

      2. It could just mean that the women of Bing who live in Southwest Capitol Hill are slightly closer to Pine than Olive, but could also indicate some disinclination against transfers and crowding.

        The converse is that, due to fundamental geometric laws, a network of infrequent one-seat rides is implicitly biased in favor of men.

        If you only ride the bus twice a day, then the frequency doesn’t really matter. You arrange your trips such that you spend very little time waiting on either end.

        But if you’re making lots of small trips throughout the day, then the frequency matters a ton. If you have five different destinations to go to, and 3 hours to go there, then it’s largely not possible with our current transit system. You can do it if you’re willing to walk a lot, but that’s a tall order if you’re carrying lots of purchases, or if you have young children, or if the area where you’d have to walk doesn’t feel safe (e.g. shady characters, no sidewalks, etc.). But with a car, it’s trivial.

        A network based on transfers between 15-minute routes will just never be frequent enough to attract these kind of trips. In places where transit is part of daily life, rather than just a commute option, the important services have headways that are significantly shorter than 10 minutes. If we want that for Seattle, then that’s the kind of service we need to provide.

    2. The typical US transit system has between 52-55 percent female riders.

      That’s based on seeing the results of dozens of on-board surveys over the past several decades.

      1. Ah, but I wonder if there’s survey biases. I suppose that depends partially on the gender and orientation of the survey takers. And partially on the interest in passengers to talk to survey takers.

  4. I’d be interested to see what the current percentage is of women riders on rush hour commute-oriented routes in Seattle. I would wager it’s very close to 50%.

    Seattle’s bus system does a reasonably good job of moving people during the commutes, which is likely when the greatest demand on the system exists. So there’s no need to blow up a generally successful system. When it comes to the commute routes we need more and faster service. Rail on the key corridors is essential, but so are things like bus only lanes, queue jumps, etc.

    It does also make sense to add on top of that successful system an all-day network that also meets the needs of people who have multiple destinations, which may or may not include downtown. But there’s no need to get there by cannibalizing a successful commuter model. We can and must have both.

    1. I agree we don’t need to take apart the existing system, its quite good for getting people to and from downtown, especially during peak hours.

      Its also true though that the system has very limited capability to get people across town, especially further north or south you get from downtown.

      This does keep a lot of people using cars, because it becomes quite difficult to get to places on the way back from work if it does not sit right in the middle of your existing commute. People can put up with an extra hour delay or so from transfers when they are going somewhere on the weekend, but on weekdays when time is generally more constrained, the time savings of using a car to work and the ability that gives you to do multiple things on the way back from work is very tempting.

      Having lived in a few places with strongly integrated transit systems, I know that this does not have to be the case… we just need more investment, and not just in 9-5 commuting corridors.

      This is an issue for people who want to use transit for every day needs vs those who just want a fast way to get to and from work. Neither of these groups are just men or women.

    2. Right, yes, we all love transit. More for everyone! I would love to see David’s plan overlaid right on top of the current system. I would love to see the overlay just as an experiment. Run the additional “you have to transfer more” routes and see how they compare to the old ones. My guess is that the old ones would fall off pretty quickly, once people got used to the new ones. Then let the cannibals have their way.

      But we only have so much money. We really can’t afford to have duplicate systems, if only for a little while. Having a bit of both will only make for a screwed up system (a bit like the old picture of the cat halfway between the boat and the shore). The high frequency, high transfer routes only make sense if you commit to it fully. If the frequency for many of the routes is too slow, then it makes sense to keep the old model (and just assume that lots of people will continue to avoid mass transit because it is too slow — unless they are heading downtown).

      Furthermore, the addition of the light rail really is a game changer in this regard. For example, the 41 is one of the most popular buses in the city. It transports people from Lake City to Northgate to downtown. However, it just won’t make any sense in the future, especially if we get a station at 130th. Riding a bus from Northgate to downtown is unnecessary. Furthermore, riding a bus from Lake City to Northgate won’t make any sense either. The main reason the bus goes to Northgate is because the bus can get immediately onto the express lanes. With the new system, the train is the “express lanes”. So, if you are in Lake City, you will take a bus to 130th. This will take very little time compared to the current route (which gets bogged down in Northgate traffic). The 41 should be cannibalized. It should be replaced by a route that travels more frequently to 130th, and then continues on to Bitterlake. This adds additional service to Bitterlake, and connects to communities (as well as related areas, like those along Aurora) much, much better. The overall cost is nothing. This is very important to keep in mind.

      1. Agreed; as light rail goes further north, the 41 becomes more and more redundant.

        I am interested in knowing what they plan to do with the 41 when it loses the bus tunnel though… It seems that the buses will be out by 2019, but Northgate will not be open until 2021, so it will lose a big piece of its express quality before the light rail is ready to replace it.

        Do they re-reoute to UW and truncate there? Do they run the 41 through downtown on surface streets instead? It seems to me that the surface street option is most likely at this point.

        Its going to be an interesting transition period.

      2. “Furthermore, riding a bus from Lake City to Northgate won’t make any sense either.”

        Other than the two rather large shopping centers containing a bunch of restaurants, stores (a Target!), and services. We still have only one major grocery store in Lake City, ya know…

      3. Good point, lakecityrider, I expect there will be a way to get to Northgate from Lake City. I just don’t think it will be as common or as convenient as it is now. Most of the folks who go from Lake City to Northgate are just passing through, so the buses should reflect that.

      4. Fair point, though in the vein of this thread I’ve noticed that the 41 between Lake City (specifically, Fred Meyer) and Northgate is quite popular with women and children. Once it gets to Northgate TC, the ridership becomes 70/30 male. As a compromise, and even to improve access, send the 41 across 130th to 130th/Greenwood and then pull the 40 all the way to Lake City Fred Meyer. If Metro can’t get a somewhat-frequent (20 minutes?) one-seat ride between adjoining neighborhoods to pencil out, I suspect a lot of riders (including eponymous me) will be quite disappointed.

      5. There will be two ways from Lake City to Northgate under any logical reorganization. The first will be a one-seat ride along the route served today by the 75. (My plan extends the 40 to serve this purpose; the “luxury” version has RR D extended to Northgate and Lake City instead.) The second will be a very short bus ride along 130th with a transfer to Link. I would say there should be two routes that cover this ground: an extension of the 75, which would continue along 130th to Bitter Lake, and the end of a more frequent, truncated 522.

      6. What do you think the odds are that whatever ST routes do get someday truncated to Link, that the savings will actually go into a more frequent all-day network, vs. some combination of more peak trips and an increased all-day range (e.g. 522 to Monroe or 554 to Sammamish)?

  5. [This will be interesting: a male dominated blog trying to talk about women and transit.]

    Seattle is not Vienna. True, Seattle’s transit system is good at transporting 9-5 workers to and from their job sites, but try to pick up your kids at daycare after work and then do a little shopping on the way home using the bus system. You will quickly head to the suburbs, buy a car and thank the heavens for the acres of convenient free parking. Students also make out pretty well with Metro as most routes that don’t radiate from downtown seem to focus on serving the local colleges and universities. But try being a mom with a couple of kids and you’ll see how inefficient, time consuming and expensive it can be to try and live without a car. Are any of Seattle’s transit planners women? Look at the proposed “technocratic” model for public transit in Seattle: walk up to a quarter of a mile to your nearest bus route (with 2 squirming kids!), pay 3 fares, ride a few blocks then wait up to 15 minutes for a transfer to another bus all while carrying a couple of bags of groceries.

    According to the urbanist theory on this blog we should all thank God that these new condo towers are going up in downtown Seattle and SLU because that means there are a whole lot of other properties that are now becoming more affordable for the rest of us. But won’t most of these newly affordable properties be located away from downtown and in areas that aren’t scaled to foot traffic, like the cul-de-sac suburbs and cheap, falling apart apartments we built in the latter half of the 20th century?

    1. Maybe its time to start pushing for more foot traffic friendly development in parts of the city that are not downtown? If enough people in a given neighborhood organize and let the city know they want density, your neighborhood may get new codes to allow more density.

      There are certainly parts of town that have apartment towers and expect their tenants to drive to find their shopping, but that is changing.

      I see a lot of new first-floor commercial going in with apartment buildings in North Seattle, and usually they don’t have a parking lot for the business. It seems to take a while to fill that commercial, but when the apartments fill (which doesn’t take long at all) the businesses do seem to follow.

      1. Take a trip to Vienna–it’s an old world city that was mostly built before the automobile drove development practices. Most first and second floors are commercial properties. The ground floor is usually devoted to retail uses and second floor is used by professions. Everything above that is living space. How far does on have to walk to get groceries or to see a dentist? Not very far. How far away is your job at the accountant’s office? Not very far.

        In Seattle we’re trying build a transit system that resembles the European models (rails, frequent service and good span of service), but we don’t (yet) have the land use patterns that will make the European model work efficiently.

      2. One thing about Vienna; there are no fare collections. No one fumbles on the bus for change or waits behind someone at a barrier to get into the Metro. The entire transit system is on the honors system. I presume most people have transit passes. The central city is very dense with all forms of transit, frequent and convenient, as a means of minimizing car traffic, and basically it works. I was there a week and the only time I needed a cab was a very, very early trip to the airport. Other than that, and use of the bike share (which is also essentially free if you bike less than half an hour), I took public transit everywhere and never had an issue, any time of day. I’m sure there is a lot more subsidy for it than in Seattle, though.

    2. I don’t think any “techocrats” expect very many people to actually make multi-bus trips to the grocery store with kids in tow. If you live in the middle of one of our massive swaths of single-use zoning, where there’s nothing but housing for a mile in any direction, you’re going to drive for essentially all your errands, no matter how dense the housing is. We have a lot of people living in these areas and that probably isn’t changing soon.

      I think it’s pretty realistic to think that additional housing in downtown and SLU helps prevent Cap Hill and First Hill housing from going through the roof, and maybe helps keep Greenwood and Beacon Hill housing remotely affordable. And, in time, as the buildings age, they’ll become more affordable themselves. And then there are plenty of neighborhoods on the outskirts of Seattle that currently don’t have great urban amenities, but have good local street networks that could support neighborhood retail.

      1. I don’t really buy this captive-rider-vs-choice rider argument because there so many ways to get groceries home that don’t involve the bus, yet cost a fraction of the price of owning a car just to do grocery shopping. The two most obvious solutions are walking and biking to the store if it’s close enough, or ordering groceries online if it isn’t.

        Also, considering that virtually every neighborhood in Seattle has at least one grocery store, I would expect the number of people who do not live within a one-seat all-day ride to some decent-sized grocery store to be vanishingly small.

    3. Look at the proposed “technocratic” model for public transit in Seattle: walk up to a quarter of a mile to your nearest bus route (with 2 squirming kids!), pay 3 fares, ride a few blocks then wait up to 15 minutes for a transfer to another bus all while carrying a couple of bags of groceries.

      I apologize, but I have to disagree with virtually every word that you wrote.

      [a] To a first approximation, the walkshed of David’s FNP is the same as the walkshed of the current network. The number of people who will have to walk further for a bus in the FNP is vanishingly small. Most of the buses that David proposed to delete are either completely redundant (i.e. they have no unique stops), or completely empty (like the 61). No one is proposing that large numbers of people should have to walk further than they’re already walking.

      [b] I wager that most of us “technocrats” would like to see universal proof-of-payment, and ideally with no need to tap on or off if you have a monthly pass. So it’s more like “pay 0 fares”.

      [c] I don’t know why you assume that trips in the FNP would be shorter or less efficient than trips in the current network. Right now, if you want to get from Greenwood to Ravenna, you have to take the 48 a few blocks, then transfer to the 71. This is a trip that would basically be a straight line in a car.

      [d] In the current network, if you live anywhere but downtown or the U-District, then to a first approximation, the only two places you can get to without a transfer are downtown or the U-District. These are both huge destinations, but I guarantee that if you look at the total number of trips in the city — especially if you exclude work commutes — the number of trips to and from these destinations is dwarfed by the number of trips to and from the collection of other neighborhoods in the city. This isn’t because downtown and the U-District are bad places; it’s just because we live in a big city with dozens of neighborhoods, and downtown and the U-District are just two of them.

      [e] You’ve completely left out some of the biggest ways that transit isn’t appropriate for running errands. How about the fact that our buses don’t have nearly enough room for strollers or utility carts, and if you want to use one, you have to use the ramp (best case) or the lift (worst case)? How about the fact that getting between two random neighborhoods generally requires a long wait at super-sketchy 3rd and Pike? How about the fact that frequency is so low on most of our routes that stopping mid-way for a 2-minute errand might add 30 minutes to your trip? If anything, the FNP would make this way better, though obviously it doesn’t help with respect to the capital investments.

      1. I think most of the problems we experience with transportation aren’t because we have a faulty transportation system, but rather because we have a very inefficient pattern of land use.

      2. Also, when doing bus travel with small children, restrooms at major transfer points makes a huge difference. There is nothing like waiting 10 minutes at a bus stop with two five-year-olds screaming about how they have to go pee that will drive the parent into car travel forever, whenever children are involved.

      3. I think most of the problems we experience with transportation aren’t because we have a faulty transportation system, but rather because we have a very inefficient pattern of land use.

        Yes and no.

        If you have a large sea of low-density SFH, the best kind of transportation is… the personal automobile. I know, it’s heresy. But cars do a bang-up job of serving a huge number of destinations, each with relatively low demand.

        Transit can still play a role, as a social service. But it’s not going to attract “choice” ridership here, and that’s okay.

        But when you start throwing density into the mix, then you need transit. The reason is simply space constraints. Above a certain level of density, there isn’t enough room for everyone to have a car. You’ll just get crazy congestion.

        As someone who likes living and working and playing in dense urban neighborhoods, I wish that Seattle had more of them. But from a transit perspective, Seattle’s biggest problem is that we don’t adequately serve the places that are already too dense for everyone to drive.

      4. Assuming that the driver will even let you use the lift — In the past I’ve been told they are “for wheelchairs only”

    4. Taking buses with kids is just hard. There’s no two ways about it. You make using a grid-based frequent network with kids sound seriously unpleasant. But the old kind of network is just as bad for most trips… Wait at a bus stop for up to 30 minutes. Spend 30 minutes riding to downtown or the U-District, then wait again up to 30 minutes (an amount of time you can’t control, because transfers are random) for a bus traveling back toward the direction you came, on which you have to ride another 30 minutes. At least with the grid-based frequent network those trips are likely to be way shorter and traveling in the correct direction.

      1. Absolutely. With impatient kids, time is of the essence, and the time saved by being able to travel in a direct route without long waits in the middle is a huge deal.

        That being said, however, I do wonder – are children inherently impatient when traveling? Or do they simply become so as a result of being driven around in a car for every trip? Do kids in a car-free family tend to be better behaved on the bus that kids of the same age riding the bus on a one-shot occasion, who normally get driven everywhere by their parents?

  6. We should think of the gender issue not just in terms of system design. Of the regular commenters on this site, how many are women? 15-20% would be a pretty generous estimate I think.

    This is in no way a criticism of any of the writers here, but I think we all as transit advocates should think of better ways to engage women in our movement.

    1. Much of the internet[*] is one giant debate. STB’s good comment moderation makes for constructive debates that often lead to further inquiry and insights, but from only those who are socialized to embrace debate — usually men.

      Then, there’s the risk aversion to participating in public forums: “Is this really worth posting?”

      [*] Spheres characterized as “feminine” — tumblr, pinterest — BY DESIGN make it hard to comment / reply to comments / engage in debate. You can only reblog or repin, i.e. ‘agree’; listen to conversations among women: there’s a /lot/ of agreement and not a lot of sparring.

      1. Woman here (Tally = 1)

        I agree that women are less socialized to debate, but I would say STB’s exceptional quality of debate makes it at least more friendly to women than other internet forums. Plus in a male dominated field it can be nice to hide behind the anonymity of the internet (although I’ve just outed myself).

  7. I’m a woman. And a mom. And I don’t drive–I have never had a license. My husband drives, and so he does a lot of the errands.

    Security is a big issue for women on buses. Some points:
    1. I am scared to wait for the bus in certain places. If I have to wait in the dark with a bunch of drug dealers/pimps (like in my neighborhood, Bitter Lake) I’m very uncomfortable and I wish I could get in a car instead.
    2. It is very expensive to find a family-sized home in a walkable neighborhood that doesn’t have the above-mentioned pimps/drug dealers. Which means, you don’t do a lot of walking around your neighborhood, because it’s too scary. You don’t go for a jog in your neighborhood because it’s too scary–instead, you drive to a gym.
    3. Sexual harassment on buses happens. True story: I was on the bus with my oldest when he was a toddler and I got hit on by a probably mentally-ill smelly man in a wheelchair. Like, he told me I was beautiful and tried to give me a watch. I have tons of sympathy for the mentally ill, but it still doesn’t make that a pleasant experience. If I were less committed to not driving, stuff like that would make me more inclined to avoid the bus.
    4. During rush hour, the normal-boring-commuter to drug-addict-prostitute-or-pimp ratio favors the commuters and things stay relatively calm. During non-rush on the 358, the ratio favors the sketchy people. As a mom, I don’t want my kids learning the words one hears on the 358, and I sure don’t want them seeing a fist fight break out.

    In addition, as a parent, there’s the problem of jugging kids/strollers/stuff on the bus. It’s not a positive experience most of the time. It gets easier as your kids get older, but until they’re about 4 or 5, it can be a total disaster taking a bus with your kids. Be kind to any parent you see with kids on transit–no matter how annoying their kid is to you, I guarantee they’re having a worse bus experience than you are at that moment.

    1. A few questions for you, if you don’t mind:

      1. How do you feel about riding trains, compared to buses? Personally, one of the things I really like about trains is that, when I get rude comments, I can just walk to the other side of the train, and exit from a different door. It’s harder to do this on the bus, especially Metro buses, because of how narrow the aisles are and that there’s only 2 doors.

      2. Imagine that all buses were low-floor, and that every bus stop had a slightly raised platform (with a ramp), which was at the same level as the bus. That way, you could just roll on with scooters or utility carts, instead of having to ask for the ramp. And also, imagine that the aisles on the bus were much wider, with subway-style seating instead of the current 2×2. Do you think that would significantly improve your experience?

      1. I am new to the conversation, but will respond anyway. I am a committed part time transit rider and a mom. I cannot take transit for work (really, really, contractually can’t). I drive my kids to school, but do as many outings as possible by transit. This is normal for my kids and they enjoy it, but I will not attempt every trip this way.

        When my oldest (now 7) was a baby, we lived in Portland, and she screamed bloody murder every time we put her in a car. Fortunately we lived 1 block from a frequent service bus and less than half a mile from light rail. So we ended up walking or taking transit as much as possible. When we moved to the eastside area here, we mourned the train. My 2 year old said “No like the bus mommy. Bus is bumpy. Train is better.”
        Trains and train style boarding with level floors are vastly superior with stroller age children. Even if you have the lightest and most collapsible stroller possible (and I do). Unloading the kid, folding the stroller, carrying and cajoling stroller bag and child on to the bus when stopping (while not dropping your orca card in a puddle) is a huge task. Then you get the joy of traveling through a narrow choke point on a lurching bus trying to figure out where to sit and stow stuff without hitting anybody is great fun.
        My husband, who likes driving less and rides transit more than I do, will not attempt this. The very idea gives him panic attacks. Trains reduce the physical barriers and the pressure of blocking/ fighting other passenger traffic. The single best improvement to transit for me in the last 5 years was when I stopped having to do this dance fighting our way to the front of the bus on sound transit to pay while exiting. Thank God I can exit out any door now.

        Now there are a few ways around the stroller dance with children. It helps to carry babies and toddlers in front or back carriers, though this does mean sore shoulders carrying them and everything else you have all the time. With slightly older children (3 at minimum, 4 more realistically) a well connected frequent network is enormously helpful because it makes it means less waiting and less walking, which makes it more likely they can travel under their own power off the bus.

        As for kids on the bus, my kids usually know that riding the bus means they get my attention. They know I can read to them, talk, snuggle, play I spy, etc. It is a skill they and I have learned. The only caveat is that when things go badly (and they do on occasion) we cannot politely remove ourselves to the car. Kids will cry, occasionally tantrum etc. Understanding, rather than dirty looks is great. They need to pee. Bathrooms at transfer points really are critical. Benches and sidewalks that are not 2 feet from heavy traffic are essential. Busses that SHOW UP are essential.

  8. I am a woman, a commuter, don’t have a car (but can drive) and post every so often.

    At the time I was partnered, my ex had a car which I could use. Still it was 2 people, 2 commutes, 2 lives, 1 car household. To prevent fights in this situation, one person is generally the car user, the other the transit user. I don’t see this so much as man/woman, more like car-owner/not car-owner.

    1. +1 for the more nuanced look at this. I am a male car owner, and though I do use transit, its not generally as a commuting tool. (I am in that funny bicycle group since my work is so close).

      I still use my car when the transit system is just too impractical to use for the task at hand. I think that is more of the issue than the sex of the particular user.

      If we want to reduce car trips, we need to make more trips that are currently only practical by car more practical by transit/bicycle.

      The safety concerns the358 raised above are also very relevant to expanding the transit user base past the first 50% but that may be a bit more complicated to solve.

      1. So now the nuance. :) If you are alone in the only car in your household, you have, by extension, “driven” other members of the household to transit.

  9. Woman here. Interesting to see you take up the issue of building a better system for women.

    Want to know what I really hate as a female rider?


    When riding alone, I sometimes feel vulnerable waiting at stops depending on the time and place of the transfer.

    Worse is riding with my kids.

    Transfers often occur on arterials. Standing in the rain on an arterial with a baby and a toddler and trying to keep hold of both while waiting for a bus is stressful. Nevermind the hassle of trying to get on and off the bus repeatedly with a double stroller.

    Also walking long distances to stops is an issue with little kids, as is crossing arterials without stop lights to get to a bus stop. I’m sure we all know that Seattle has some serious barriers to pedestrian safety in many neighborhoods. Missing or poorly maintained sidewalks are an issue as well. In some cases, sidewalks along arterials are extremely narrow. I worry a lot about my kids accidentally veering off overgrown sidewalks into 35 mph traffic.

    In general, I’ve found this blog advocating against my interests by promoting removing my local neighborhood line and advocating for a fewer lines on arterials with the expectation of lots of transfers and long walks for me and my kids to the bus.

    I’m not interested in arguing, I’m just laying out the truth of my experience. Do with it what you will.

    1. Is the one destination your neighborhood route connects to the only place you ever want to go on the bus?

      Unless it is, you’re already transferring now. And of course you hate those transfers. They take forever, because the bus only runs every half hour. And every minute you’re waiting at a stop with your kids feels like ten minutes.

      The kind of network I and others have advocated would make the transfer process much quicker and more pleasant.

      1. While I think that reducing waiting time is an important part of making connections less painful, I think that you’re underweighting the other problems that Iris has noted.

        In terms of personal safety, even one minute at 3rd and Pike can be too many, for many people.

        Crossing two arterials with kids, as some connections require, is not fun.

        Getting kids on and off the bus can be exhausting, and that’s multiplied by the number of times you have to do it.

        Getting strollers on and off the bus is difficult, especially on high-floor buses. Even for low-floor ones, it can be awkward to have the entire bus staring at you as the ramp is extended, thinking about how you’re making them late.

        The thing is, we can fix these problems. We can build level boarding platforms along major bus routes, so that you can roll on and roll off without a ramp or a lift. We can run buses along inverted couplets and “neighborhood-commercial” streets, to ensure that you never have to cross arterial traffic to make a connection. We can build bus shelters that feel safer and more secure, such as by providing better lighting, posting guards/police, or even playing classical music. We can change the interiors of buses so that there’s wider aisles and more space to park strollers. And, of course, we can build streetcars, for which everyone seems to understand that these improvements are important.

        We just have to recognize that these problems actually matter, and that it’s worth investing in the fixes.

    2. The two responses to Iris’s excellent points illustrate why our transit system is not oriented toward women. The two responses assert an ideological preference to discount the lived experience of a female transit rider.

      I don’t know what else it will take to convince people on this blog that a transit system built around lots of transfers will be politically unpopular, in part because it is not very helpful to women. We can have a great transit system that meets the needs described in this post without sacrificing commutes (and women make up about half the commuting population on Seattle bus routes) and without cutting service for some to give more to others.

      Transit advocates should be in the business of listening to transit riders and those who want to ride transit and giving them what they want. Instead transit advocacy is increasingly becoming dominated by ideological theories that are wildly unpopular with the general public who will be asked to fund them. It’s a sad situation to see and I can only hope that reason will return to transit advocacy sooner rather than later.

      1. Will, I don’t see how you can take my reply as an ideological preference for anything. Iris wrote up an interesting comment about her own personal experience. I asked her opinion about a possible way to improve the system. In your world, are you not allowed to ask people questions to find out more about what they want?

        In contrast, when you say:

        I don’t know what else it will take to convince people on this blog that a transit system built around lots of transfers will be politically unpopular

        I don’t see how you can say that’s not an ideological preference.

        By the way, the article I linked to was about a transit station in Vienna —

        the very city that is being praised in the original article

        . But I guess that doesn’t count?

  10. Back when my son was younger and his primary activities were sleeping and nursing, my wife would often bring him to work with her. Since she had to cross the 520 bridge, she ended up taking the bus a lot. She would jog there with a stroller, and attempt to take the stroller on the bus. She has plenty of anecdotes of how Metro utterly failed to accommodate her when using a stroller:

    1) The Montlake bus stop requires going down a flight of stairs. This was a nuisance (and dangerous) when she biked, as she would carry her bike down the stairs. With a stroller, it was a massive hassle. Many times people helped her carry the stroller down the stairs, but relying on the kindness of strangers is not good transportation policy.

    2) She had bus drivers shake their head and refuse to pick her up. This happened several times. She managed to catch up with one driver who got stuck at a light (she merely had to jog up to it). When the driver opened the door to finally let her on, he explained that he didn’t want to have to deal with the stroller as he was already running late. Wtf?

    3) Metro seems has a policy of not allowing a baby to remain in the stroller. It doesn’t matter if the stroller is strapped down to the bus (in the wheelchair area), and the baby is strapped into the stroller in a 5-point-harness. So, even if the baby was sleeping soundly, she would have to wake him up and hold him while on the bus. This was clearly much less safe then having him strapped into a stroller that was strapped down to the bus. It also made everyone crankier, as he would scream about being woken up.

    4) Many of the bus drivers were ill-tempered when dealing with her in general. I get it, the stroller’s bulky, and it’s annoying having to wait for it to get loaded, and then having to tell her to take the baby out of the stroller. But you know what? It’s your *job*.

    There were also plenty of really nice drivers, of course, but a few rude ones really soured her on the experience. As a result, it didn’t take very long before she decided the hassle wasn’t worth it.

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