42 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Sadik-Khan on Reimagining New York’s Streets”

      1. I know it’s old. I was first going to assign one of the STB bloggers to write an original piece on the level of stigma of riding public transit in various American cities, as I have lately been pondering the issue, but then I thought I would look around the internet first to see if there’s something already out there, and I ran across that article.

    1. Sam, for once in your otherwise very privileged life you can enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of having me agree with you. The bus is a normal means of transportation here. In many other American cities it is considered something strictly for the desperate.

      There is an equal difference in the views of bus drivers. Here, people in all walks of life are accepting of Metro drivers. When I describe my work history to people in other cities who have always been privileged (money, all the “right” schools, professional employment), they often react with a mix of shock and poorly concealed horror. The difference points to one of the characteristics I love most about Northwest culture: while imperfect, it is a good deal less hierarchical than many other cultures.

      1. As the article notes, the only public transportation method that has a stigma is, apparently, the bus. I’ve noticed that people of all stripes will ride DART’s light rail system without a second thought and many people praise it, but they’ll only drive to a park-and-ride and the other end of the trip had better be within walking distance. If a bus is involved at either end (or at all), deal’s off, they’re driving or just not going.

      2. I agree, David — I think that is one of the nicest things about Northwest culture. I think the book Skid Road, by Murray Morgan, talks about that (by the way, the book is a nice easy and interesting read — I recommend it). If I’m not mistaken, he talks about the Nordstroms, and how casual they are, despite their wealth (which is kind of funny, since the clothing store is a bit hoity-toity now).

    2. I think whether or not there’s a stigma to taking public transit, especially buses, in various cities in this country, and others, is much more a factor of class than race. Does anyone have any theories as to why in some cities there might be a stigma to riding a public bus, and in other cities, there is none? Does anyone know of any foreign counties where there is no, or very little stigma, or conversely, a city or country where there’s a great deal of stigma to riding public buses?

      1. The American adversion to buses seems to be unique in western countries (European or Anglophone). This is doubtless due to our unique problems with inequality and race, and the way cars are symbols of the American dream and our constitutional freedoms, and the fact that transit is so minimal it’s often a significant inconvenience to use, and the fact that in many cities only “the poor” who absolutely can’t get a car take the bus. The causes and effects in that go multiple directions. My own experience in e.g., Britian or Canada or Russia is that people prefer fancy subways but they don’t dislike buses — and in some cases they love their buses (e.g., sentimental memories of London double-deckers on traditional routes).

        And someone on STB said that in some European countries people are equally satisfied with buses or subways or trams or commuter rail. That would be more likely countries like Germany where the same regional entity runs them all and has a common pass and often common fares. This allows the entity to deploy rail wherever it’s needed for capacity or trunk spines, without people demanding rail in their neighborhood or disparaging the buses that remain or refusing to live near bus routes. Maybe the Netherlands and Scandinavia are like that?

        The rest of the world I’m not as familiar with, but some Asian countries are so dense that transit is the only practical way to get around, and some other countries are poor so most of the population has to rely on transit.

        Latin America has generally been a mostly bus-only place, with tons of buses everywhere, and only a few railroads whose routes reflect more former colonial needs than the current population distribution. A few capitals have subways, and Latin America has been the world leader in BRT quasi-subways.

      2. Stigma or no? In Singapore, the government makes it much easier to use public transportation and at the same time, makes it very expensive to own and use a private vehicle. They are even raising the rates that taxis charge to encourage more public transit use, although the MRT is already near capacity. There is no stigma about using the MRT, LRT or busses there. Everyone from all walks of life are seen using it. When I’m there, I may use a taxi to get to the airport if my flight is very early or I have lots of luggage. And when my wife lived there, she would use a taxi if she was coming from a grocery store with more than one or two bags.

      3. In Bangkok there is a lot of stigma (IMHO) about riding the bus. The buses are old and many lack air conditioning, buses are dirty, fares are kept low for the poor (Non-A/C buses 6.5-8 THB, appx 20-25 cents, A/C buses are 10-23 THB, appx. 32-72 cents), signage is extremely poor (i.e. out of date or missing), limited English information, confusing routes, no transfers, lack of bus lanes, vandalized bus shelters, etc. One thing benefiting the system is the use of conductors to collect fares, significantly reducing dwell time at stops. In 1992, bus ridership was over 4 million per day, in 2012, it was just over 1 million per day. Many bus riders have been poached by vans (I guess this is pretty analogous to the situation in parts of Brooklyn or Northern New Jersey) because of faster speeds and better service.

        Many wealthier people will simply use taxis (they are everywhere) or drive by themselves. Bangkok is very motor-centric city, and even poor people would rather use a motorcycle than take the dysfunctional bus system.

        There is also a subway/elevated train system. It isn’t too comprehensive (yet), but covers the main business districts, tourist areas, shopping malls, and the airport. Fares are a bit higher than the bus (10-52 THB, 72 cents-$1.62 USD) and the trains are a lot cleaner and welcoming to foreigners, and this certainly shows in the ridership. The demographics of the riders is obviously a wealthier class than the bus riders, especially those who have to take the non-A/C buses.

        I would imagine that the situation is fairly similar in other parts of S(E) Asia. Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines probably have the same issues with urban bus systems.

  1. I’ve had some spare time this weekend (partly due to a hardware failure of my work computer, which has prevented me from doing much work for my actual job). I’ve used it to play around, based on a suggestion some time ago from Mike Orr, with a modified and expanded version of my Frequent Network Plan. The goal was to identify a level of funding at which we could have a bus network that would serve the entire city without major compromises.

    I’ll be either making a post on this network or posting more about it in future open threads. (I haven’t decided if it’s worth an actual blog post, because it’s hard to paint as any sort of realistic medium-term proposal. Also, I’m not totally done with the maps.) But the surprising part is how little extra money it would take to get to essentially where we would want to be. I think we could have a network that would make for relatively time-efficient trips anywhere in the city, and prevent long waits, for around a 30% increase in service hours in Metro’s Seattle/North King County subarea. Coverage would be considerably improved over today’s network, and every single all-day route would run at least every 15 minutes — every route on a busy corridor every 6 to 12 minutes.

    Combine this with Jarrett Walker’s proposed Bellevue network under a 30% increase and Sound Transit’s long-range planning, and it’s possible to see a meaningfully improved transit future for King County. We don’t need untold billions, just an easily defensible increase in resources and some good planning.

    1. What about South King? My understanding is that it is currently the least well served subarea, and the subarea least able to support the transit has, let alone the extra transit it needs.

      1. Thankfully, Metro doesn’t use a subarea formula to apply sales tax to the politically arbitrary area from which it was collected.

      2. I haven’t even finished my resource-neutral proposal for SKC yet, but it’s definitely a harder nut to crack than Seattle. A 30% increase there would do a world of good, but I don’t think it would make the network as useful as well-planned +30% networks would be in Seattle/North King/Eastside.

    2. I look forward to this. I especially love the maps — there is nothing quite as nice as a great idea expressed on a map.

      I also have an idea with regards to Magnolia. I thought of it a bit after your initial post, so it didn’t make sense to add it there. I’m not sure where to suggest this, so maybe I’ll add it to your updated post.

    3. This is similar to what Kevin Desmond said at the UW’s panel on the metro cuts. He said that while Metro is contemplating a 17% cut, it actually needs a 17% increase to keep up with the ridership growth that has occurred since 2008 (leading to crowded buses) and fix its undeserved corridors (leading to unnecessarily long waits) and keep up with future growth.

      There’s a gap between Desmond’s 17% and David’s 30%. I’m not sure if that’s because David is aiming higher or they’re just calculating it differently. Desmond’s number includes all subareas together.

      1. I think Mr. Desmond and I are looking at the network from different perspectives (with respect to that statement of his). He’s focused on keeping up with population growth. I’m focused on designing a network that truly works for travel in the city (and the rest of the Seattle/NKC subarea).

        A significant chunk of the growth in my proposed network is used to give crowded corridors the capacity they need, but much of the rest is actually directed toward coverage service.

      2. I’m wondering if Desmond is looking at the network in terms of finding the most politically achievable means of improvement, i.e., sheer dollars. Designing a network that is optimal for travel in the Seattle area will potentially require battling more political obstacles–nimbys, big real estate, more dollars for the optimal travel routes vs. simply asking for dollars.

    4. We need a vision of what we want Metro to be and how much resources it would take. It’s more critical now than it was when you published the FNP, now that the cuts are going into effect, the Legislature is stalled, and King County is ready to go with Plan B. We need to make sure Plan B not only fills the cuts but addresses some of the underservice issues. For that we need an illustration of what the underservice is, how much it would take to meet it, and how it could be split into phases if it’s too much to ask in one step. The TMP defined some goals but did not address the overall bus network, much less calculate the cost. Your FNP essentially does that. And if I understand what you mean by expansion, you would fill the holes where you had to compromise on frequency and coverage.

      Once we have such a goal, I’d like to see STB interview Metro on the differences between our goals and theirs, and then push the county to take a step toward such expansion next year.

      The cut scenario mixed good reorganizations and bad reorganizations together. I’d like to see Metro identify which are which. For instance, the 2/3/4/13 and the 66/70/71/72/73 look like good reorganizations that Metro has hinted at doing anyway, and more service hours would fill in the coverage gaps to make them better. But the 21/50/125/128 looks like a bad reorganization. Moving the Alki tail to the 128 makes some sense (and is what I originally expected), but I don’t see how putting the 50 on 35th SW could ever be beneficial or would ever be done without the cuts. Is that how Metro sees it, or is there some benefit I’m not aware of?

      1. I could only see the 50 being useful to the effect of taking people northbound to a transfer point for Rapid Ride on Avalon since I don’t believe it will be going downtown at all.

      2. Mike, I’d love to draw Metro’s planning staff out in that kind of depth, but I doubt it will ever happen. (I’d love to be pleasantly surprised!) They are operating in a world where virtually anything they say will be held against them by someone, and so they very logically deal with that by saying publicly only what they need to — that is, only official communications of expected cuts or restructures, after all the internal discussion has already happened.

        Even my “FNP + 30%” (which has more to it than that label implies; I’ve had the chance to think through a lot of refinement since August) would involve some pain for some people, because it is still designed to be a gridded network based on transfers between frequent routes, and many one-seat rides would be lost. Thus I doubt that I would be able to get Metro to publicly approve of its ideas, or for that matter put forth competing restructure ideas outside of the formal process.

        We have to satisfy ourselves with knowing one more fact than we did before I started this process: that 30% is enough to make really dramatic improvements and to give everyone in the city 15-minute frequency. That helps us set realistic goals for political advocacy and intelligently evaluate budget proposals in the relevant jurisdictions.

      3. I wasn’t expecting Metro to comment on one tradeoff vs another; as you said, Metro doesn’t want to talk about specific street reductions unless it’s actually about to make that change. But there are higher-level issues such as the general level of service citywide or even in specific quarters of the city, where Metro might be willing to discuss what it sees as the unmet needs, how that compares to your assessment, and what kinds of expansions it would like to do or what trip pairs to add — without getting into thorny issues like which coverage routes it would be acceptable to modify under what circumstances.

        E.g., if we assume full-time frequency is desirable on Queen Anne Ave, Fremont Ave, Jackson Street, and Jefferson Street (which Metro proposed last year and your FNP also aims for), I wouldn’t expect Metro to say what threshold it has for reducing the 2N or modifying the 27, or commenting on whether your idea of replacing the 27 with the 2S is better or worse than some other idea. Or the controversy about moving the 5 to Dexter, which would benefit some trips and inconvenience others. But beyond all those issues, there’s the general gap between what Metro has now, what Metro wants to increase, and what your FNP wants to increase, and that’s where I think there needs to be more engagement and specific ideas between we the public, Metro, the county, and the city — because that’s the only way to get from here to there. Or I may be wrong on that, of course.

        We’re perhaps framing the discussion wrong when we talk about coverage tradeoffs. The first issue is where we need to increase. Trimming down coverage routes is a secondary issue. It only matters to the extent that (A) the redundancy is too glaring, or (B) we need to shift hours to core routes in a no-expansion environment. The point is not to get buses off Seneca Street or Yesler Way; it’s to get more buses on Madison Street and Jackson Street. Moving them off Seneca and Yesler is just one possible means to that end, but there may be other means too.

        Re the 50, in West Seattle it’s clearly a way to avoid removing all service on 35th when the 21 is deleted, by replacing a downtown route with a non-downtown route. But for those on the east half of the 50, it’s hard to see that they have any compelling desire to go down 35th. But the only other way to serve 35th would be with the 128, which would create a U-shaped route and reduce north California’s service (unless it goes to Admiral and backtracks!), so that’e even uglier. That’s what I mean by a bad reorganization that would probably be dropped like a hotcake when more funds become available. But then… does that mean the 50 would go back to serving Alki? Or would it stick with the 128?

    5. Looking forward to seeing the proposal. It’s good to be fleshing out what expanded service options look like. The only point I’d make here is that people who oppose transit funding don’t do so because they don’t think it’s a good use of money or that Metro isn’t efficient enough. They’re just ideologically opposed to transit funding. To win at the ballot box we have to reach the less frequent voters who strongly support transit funding. Showing them how a ballot measure can improve their transit service is one of the best ways to turn them out to vote.

  2. Has ST ever considered ordering Link trains with overhead luggage racks or compartments? I can see some disadvantages, but they would improve capacity and comfort on trips to and from the airport.

    1. I agree. Let’s outfit the cars with luggage racks. Since Central Link is essentially an airport shuttle on rails, let’s go ahead and stop pretending it’s not.

      1. First come first served. Yet, people with luggage instead use the accessible areas where signage indicates a big no-no instead of using the available space.

      2. The “first come first served” rule is sort of ridiculous for actually letting bikes use the space. Especially when the northernmost stop is next to all the hotels and the southernmost stop is at the airport.

    2. Yes, yes, yes. Doing so would allow more space for bicycles and would particularly help in the summer months northbound when so many travelers head to downtown from the airport.

  3. I saw the Kenmore city manager today. According to him, the city sent a letter to Sound Transit pushing for an upgrade to BRT in our transit service, with an eye on light rail in the future.

    I’m curious how the service would be implemented. Dedicated lanes will be no problem north of 145th (for the most part they already exist). South of 145th it gets a little more difficult, particularly in Lake City, Maple Leaf and of course I-5. That’s a very long stretch prone to congestion and without bus lanes. Of course, it may end up terminating at a light rail station.

    I don’t know if the other cities along the corridor have the same idea.

    1. I think it makes sense for buses to turn on 125th, and head towards a rail station at 130th. With that in mind, I think almost every part of Lake City Way could have a bus lane. The only problem area I see is between 127th and 125th (in Lake City). There are bulbs there, which make that particular area much quieter. A lot of work went into that area to make it nice — and this would be a step in the wrong direction for pedestrians. However, it might be worth it. An alternative would be bypass the area by going on 130th and then 30th. However, that would mean three 90 degree turns. I think the best bet would be extend the bus lanes as far as possible (127th seems plausible) then put in traffic lights that give priority to the buses merging into the regular lane (like they do on Montlake). I think that would be fast enough, especially if the lights are timed well. If you did all that, I think you force the bus to spend at most one light cycle getting from Lake City Way and 130th to 125th and 30th (which isn’t bad at all).

      Of course, we also need priority for buses on the traffic lights. That right there (if it doesn’t exist already) would speed things up considerably, I imagine. Oh, and full off-board payment.

  4. Do we read anything into the Sound Transit person that Murray has chosen to be part of his transition team?

  5. Don’t be in a hurry to change the 50 routing! At long last much of the Alki/Admiral population now has a two-seat option to SeaTac Airport. The proposed change would require a 3-seat ride with luggage or going north into downtown (during peak hours only) to get to the Link for the Airport. The ST 560 option from Alaska Junction to SeaTac is gone now too. It’s about 700 feet to walk from the end of the C line to the ST 560 start point at Westwood Village. SeaTac’s only 15 miles away and we would be needing at least an hour and a half in regular traffic to get there by public transportation. Route 50 is also a great connection between crosstown neighborhoods. It’s still fairly new, and being a crosstown route, ridership data is not so easy to capture. In looking for performance data for this route I found it’s not easy to find in the reports on Metro’s website. I was told it will take a public disclosure request to get the ridership data for the 50. My observation from riding the 50 route weekly to Beacon Hill from Alki (departing around 8am) is that the bus has only a handful of empty seats (27-seat bus) by the time it reaches Alaska Junction at which time there are usually only three or four riders getting off and an equal number getting on. People stay on this route well past the Junction and continue to ride to Starbucks HQ (average about 8 get off there), SODO Link Station, the VA Hospital where I get off, and some stay on for points beyond where I presume it again starts to fill. Metro should not be so eager to destroy what they created just over a year ago. It was one good thing they did for West Seattle in that big restructure. Guess I had better start a petition among my fellow riders.

    1. I would think it would be quicker to take the 50 to SODO or Columbia City to get to the airport.

      1. I think that’s what Kathy is saying. She can take the 50 now to SODO to the airport, but not if the 50 is rerouted in the cut.

      2. I tend to agree with Kathy that swapping Alki service from the 50 to the 128 feels a lot like change for change’s sake and, unless you can come up with a significant reason why the new is better than old, it’s better to leave well enough alone. There are real people out there who choose where to live based, in part, on which neighborhoods are served by the bus that goes by work, and each reshuffling of service leaves such people, at least is the short term, in the wrong position – where they would be forced into a slower trip and/or an extra transfer. In the long run, of course, leases expire, people move, and things sort themselves out, but if we’re constantly reshuffling routes that have just been reshuffled, such sorting out never has a chance to happen.

        I am not implying that we should be stuck permanently with a transit network designed for the 1970’s, or even the 1930’s – occasional restructurings are necessary for any growing system – but making a random decision to swap the Alki tail between one route and another route doesn’t seem to buy much to justify the change. As long as some bus is still serving the area, you still have to pay the cost for the service, regardless.

        That being said, when tinkering with schedules, I don’t think airport trips should get any special consideration. The number of airport workers living in Alki is probably tiny and the transit modeshare of such workers is probably tiny, with or without the 50->Link connection. For travelers, airport trips are infrequent enough so that even getting to Link or the 560 in a taxi would cost a negligible amount compared to the plane fare one would have to pay to fly virtually anywhere.

    2. Kathy, I think everyone including Metro would agree that the 50-to-35th swap is a very ugly solution. Part of the issue with the cuts in West Seattle is that, in addition to losing the same CRC funds as the rest of the system, West Seattle will also be losing mitigation money from the state for the tunnel construction project. Thus the cuts in West Seattle are particularly brutal.

      Metro is having a public event about the West Seattle cuts tonight (Tuesday) at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center between 6 and 8. I highly encourage you and all other West Seattle bus riders to show up.

  6. What a great video. I wish the Seattle City Council was as gutsy as NYC to create bike lanes and pedestrian areas. Instead we’re seriously contemplating creating a brand-new 8 lane stroad through the heart of downtown.

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