Hello Seattle!

Neil from Detroit here. I am working on a project that you all may find appealing. It has a Seattle connection. More importantly, is has broad relevance for the entire public transit space.

The effort is called 15 Minutes or Better. It’s a series of short videos to highlight the fundamentals of effective public transit: coverage, connectivity, speed, span, frequency, accessibility.

To longtime transit enthusiasts, these elements are painfully obvious. Today, thanks to increased academic interest and a chatty internet, more and more people are describing themselves as transit enthusiasts. It’s a positive phenomenon – we need all the support we can get.

However, many newcomers are overlooking the core ingredients of effective transit. Essential service attributes are regularly dismissed as “too technical” – while the conversation drifts toward trendy sub-topics of transit: policy, technology, private financing, real estate development.

Those are all worthwhile matters. Taken alone, though, none can significantly improve the full experience of using transit. As such, 15 Minutes or Better intends to give proper due to the meat-and-potatoes of transit service. We’ll address each “technical” component in a fun, engaging and decidedly non-technical way. In so doing, we’ll equip the growing ranks of transit enthusiasts with a more thorough, more powerful understanding of the issue.

The project starts in Detroit because our transit conversation is astoundingly incomplete. Despite well-documented deficiencies with our transit service, the official discussion is revolving around secondary themes. We talk of apps and websites and TOD and attracting millennials – while practically ignoring route coverage and service levels. We know that other cities have effective transit systems, but we’ve failed to identify – or even ask – what makes those systems effective.

So we’re hitting the road. We are travelling to multiple US cities – including Seattle – to showcase effective transit service in its natural, everyday habitat. In each city, we’ll walk the viewer through an actual transit trip and point out what is working. The message is clear: the elements of quality transit service should not be taken for granted. If you want to improve transit in your city – Detroit or elsewhere – insist on this element!

In Seattle, our particular element-of-focus is connectivity – how transit can downplay political boundaries to link logical destinations. For example, we may start at the Tacoma Dome and travel to UW. Anyone can see why this trip makes sense: a big population center to a big university. In too many other places, transit couldn’t connect these dots because they’re in different counties. But Puget Sound gets it right. Let’s bring that to light – and set it as a precedent for all metropolitan areas.

And – you had to see this coming – 15 Minutes or Better will cost us to produce. We’ve figured about $45,000 to film, edit and compile the whole video series. We are attempting to raise $15,000 of that through crowdfunding – check out the campaign, along with the trailer, at Our first target audience is Detroit. Beyond the Motor City, our findings can help inform the national dialogue. We want to ensure that the transit conversation doesn’t forget to talk about transit.

We’d love your support – a small contribution, ideas for local transit highlights, even your knowledge on-camera as a “local host”. If you have any questions, please contact me directly.

Thank you!

107 Replies to “15 Minutes or Better”

    1. Ha, what an honor! Neil’s a friend of mine and I was the one who suggested he submit a guest post here. On being a host, I sure he’ll find someone who’s better at talking to a camera than I am.

  1. For Tacoma Dome to UW after next March, the choices would be Sounder+Link, 594+Link, or (maybe too slow) 574+Link. (Currently Link doesn’t go to UW so you have to use very overcrowded and unreliable buses.) I have a colleague who commutes from Bonney Lake (off Sounder’s Sumner Station) to northeast Seattle this way.

    An integration video should also mention the common ORCA card and monthly passes, valid on five agencies and the ferries (although the ferries don’t accept the monthly pass). UW has a U-Pass program in which all students pay a ridiculously small fee for an unlimited ORCA pass on their student IDs. That program was set up to allow the UW to expand without increasing traffic congestion in the U-District, and it essentially funds several all-day routes to UW that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Bellevue College doesn’t have that but it has half-price passes.

  2. Tacoma Dome to UW might be easy.. I’m guessing Sounder to King street then a bus, or link when its operational.

    Try living in other parts of Pierce County and working in Seattle, your choices become very limited with Pierce Transits bus schedules and the Sounder – basically if you find something that lines up you’re lucky, if it doesn’t, even by a few minutes Pierce Transit is not interested in your suggestions to improve their service.

    1. …transit can downplay political boundaries to link logical destinations. For example, we may start at the Tacoma Dome and travel to UW.

      Anyone can see why this trip makes sense

      Anyone that is, who isn’t part of the internecine world of Washington State politics. Otherwise, this would be a regular daily, nightly and weekend trip on Sounder.

      Maybe another set of eyes will see what seems obvious to anyone who doesn’t own land or have a taxbase in downtown Seattle…Fast Regional Travel is what is really needed, not more holes in Seattle.

      1. The transit experience in Seattle speaks for itself; dismal the operative term. The Tacoma Sounder trip and streetcar line there are enjoyable rides, but the more commonplace bus rides to Seattle/Tacoma/Everett are noisome bumpy somewhat nauseating endurance tests. Seattle’s Link LRT and Streetcar lines are the nation’s worst new rail starts in terms of meeting expectations and promises. Sounder rates high in Accidents and service reliability. Link extensions should fix shortcomings but insufficient or incoherent TODs and connecting bus service seems no less complicated than the current bus transit routes/schedules .
        The Seattle Metro Map still blows my mind. Seriously. Many more routes than the average municipal transit agency designs. Totally confusing. Worst of all – Seattlers ignore constructive criticism. Seattle is more talk than walk. Seattle is one of the worst-case examples.

      2. It isn’t an either-or question here John. Do we need better regional transit service? Yes. In isolation though, its useless.

        Without better transit in the city (aka, more holes in Seattle) higher service to the suburbs serves little purpose. Saving a few minutes from Kent to Downtown Seattle won’t help you if your destination is Ballard and it takes an extra hour to go the last few miles.

      3. As the post says, “logical destinations”.

        Safeco Field is a logical destination.

        Ballard is not. It is not employment center, or university. It does have nice shops and apartments for residents.

        But the point is with fast regional transportation (the original design of the Elevated Monorail by the way) to centralized points, you can then take the sort of short local trips that buses, shuttles and cabs do well.

        For example, if I can zoom from Tacoma to Freemont quickly, I then do not mind taking a standard bus to Ballard.

        The idea is to break it up stepwise between fast (and by fast I mean whatever modern heavy rail technology allows) and local (and if the regional gets me close enough, then I don’t care about the last few miles even if its a stop and go street for 10 or 15 minutes).

      4. Sorry John, but Ballard has plenty of employment. Swedish hospital is there, and there are lots of nearby clinics. The shops you mention also employ people. There are also a handful of office buildings, and the number is growing. My guess is that a huge number of people driving are doing so because employment is spread out. Not that many people drive downtown. But work in Ballard or Fremont or Kent and you will probably drive. All of that clogs up the roads. It is a bit crazy to think we will have a “one stop” system to everywhere (a Lake City to Kent express bus will never happen). But we can a very good grid along with bi-directional service to places with less contiguous destinations. While a trip to Kent from Lake City might mean a couple transfers (first a bus, then a train, then a bus) the transfers should be minimal because the frequency should be adequate. The reverse should be even easier (since a lot more people are headed that way).

      5. Ok, you convinced me.

        Easy answser: Just build that North Sounder Station in Ballard and it be a reverse node, taking traffic away from 45th, by letting those commuters speed directly into downtown, and then take LINK south, Sounder South, or ST Buses East.

      1. There it is; there is a Tacoma – UW route. I was trying to think of what went to Tacoma Dome and couldn’t come up with one.

    1. You have to start somewhere, and cities that don’t have a 15-minute standard (like Seattle!) should start there. Then work up to 10 minutes, and then 5. Trying to jump to 10 minutes all at once is a huge goal requiring a lot of money, and it may be so big that nothing happens. Look at the state restrictions on our property tax. We can’t build Seattle Subway all at once; we have to go piecemeal. We can’t make Metro match Chicago’s or San Francisco’s frequency in Seattle all at once, so we have to do it in steps, of which Prop 1 is one (and a temporary one). And smaller cities like Spokane and shrinking cities like Detroit may not justify widespread 10-minute service at present, but they would certainly benefit from a 15-minute network.

  3. Welcome and good luck with your project. I’m not sure if I would agree with your assessment of the Tacoma Dome to the UW as being very interesting. The UW is a major destination — lots of people live there and lots of people work, visit or go to school there. It’s the second biggest destination in the state (after downtown Seattle). On the other hand, the Tacoma Dome is sparsely populated most of the time. My guess is buses go there simply because it makes for a decent hub (close to the converging freeways and highways). There are lot more densely populated parts of Tacoma. You make a good point, though, in that agencies did cooperate to deliver decent city to city transit, and that part of it is interesting. But that it is all that is (better than the Greyhound, but not much better).

    If your focus is on what works well, you came to the wrong city :) Seriously though, I think most folks here (myself included) whine a lot about what doesn’t work. This is natural, really. Even in jobs that people like, it is easier to focus on what is wrong. Ask someone in town about the Seahawks and the first thing you’ll get is a complaint, despite the fact that they went to two straight Superbowls and won one of them. So I would be curious as to what people think of our transit system overall — what do we do really well?

    I would say the transit tunnel (that is slowly transitioning from a bus tunnel to a train tunnel) is probably our biggest achievement. No other piece of infrastructure has saved more people more time than that. Some have argued that it has been too suburban focused, but it does serve the UW and it also serves as a good mechanism for getting around downtown itself.

    We have a pretty good network of HOV lanes in the area, along with bus only ramps and freeway stations. I think this has saved a lot of suburban riders a lot of time. Unfortunately, the state has done little to adjust to the fact that they are now congested, and should be switched from HOV2 to HOV3.

    In Snohomish County they have a very successful BRT system, called Swift. I haven’t ridden it, but everything I’ve read has suggested it is quite good. I think this is interesting, as Snohomish County does not have big pockets — thus the system could be a model for a lot of other places.

    For King County and our bus system (which is confusingly called Metro), my first thought it that coverage is very good. You can take a bus from almost anywhere to almost anywhere. Unfortunately, it will take you a while. If you are headed to downtown or to the UW, then you can expect very good service (often faster than driving). But for everywhere else it takes a very long time. Part of the problem is that we have a system that is largely hub based, through downtown. Frequency is very low, which means that if you do have to transfer, it will take a long time. Metro may change things pretty soon (as our subway gets to the UW).

    You may wonder why our subway (called Link) goes to the airport, instead of the UW. If you looked at an employment map, or a census map, you would scratch your head. The short answer is politics. The long answer is covered in a Wikipedia article, but I’ll try and summarize it here: Initially, voters approved a light rail line from the UW to the airport (after several failed attempts stretching back dozens of years). The folks in charge realized the line would be more costly than expected. They almost abandoned light rail, but decided to build part of it — the safest part (avoiding the riskier dig under the ship canal). Thus we have had a lightly used line to the airport for years, while a subway connecting “the three largest urban centers in the state of Washington”* is not yet complete (but will be soon).


    1. If not Tacoma Dome, then where? Tacoma Dome is interesting for this illustrative purpose, even if locals would say it’s not the most convenient regional commute. Downtown – UW is too mundane (most cities have this), Bellevue doesn’t showcase a regional inter-county route, and the Snohomish County – UW routes are more of a historical accident (Metro had Snohomish County – downtown expresses long ago, and the tradition just continued).

      Our transit network has a lot of shortcomings but it does have some good things, which are worth mentioning for their own sake. Our transit is less comprehensive than Chicago or San Francisco or the northeastern cities, but it’s more comprehensive than most of the US including Dallas, San Diego, San Jose, Atlanta, Phoenix, Houston, Charlotte, etc, as you’ll see if you try to get around those places without a car.

      Swift is also an excellent thing, and terminates at an intercounty transit center. It’s too bad King County doesn’t have anything like it.

      1. Downtown Tacoma, maybe, where the 594 and Tacoma Link both run? Or some residential neighborhood near TCC, or another built-up part of Tacoma.

        Also, I’d recommend that Neil not take the 586. It’s a one-direction peak-hour-only route that’s almost certainly going to vanish in the next several years as Link is extended, which makes it a very bad choice to showcase the regional system.

      2. It’s unclear whether Link will be extended to Tacoma, or whether the Tacoma and Federal Way express buses will be deleted or pruned down. It’s clearer on the Eastside and the north end: the I-5 and I-90 buses will be truncated, and the 520 and 522 buses reorganized. That only works because Link will be as fast as the express buses there. It won’t work in the south end where Link will be slower, so it’s premature to predict what will happen. The best compromise would probably be to keep the expresses peak hours but delete them off-peak and raise their fares.

      3. I agree the 594’s probably not going to go away; I was talking about folding the 586 into the 594 when Link is extended to the U-District.

      4. I mentioned those good things Mike (and a few more).

        But if your goal is to showcase a regional intra-agency bus (or rail) route, my guess is there are better options across the country. Again, that’s really not our strength. If I had to pick a showcase for our city, I would pick the bus tunnel. It wasn’t that expensive, it wasn’t that flashy, but it has saved a huge amount of time for a huge number of people. But if someone asked me to mention the best inter-county routes, I would probably mention the Snohomish County ones. Who cares if they are an historical accident?

    2. Sorry I missed this one, Ross. Agree with you a hundred percent about our kickoff of regional transit with the progression from buses to joint use to rail. I’ve always thought that this was the most original thing to happen in the US transit industry since at least the Second World War.

      Bus and joint-ops always could have, and can still be run better. Which it could be a good idea to think about, because at least some joint use could continue for awhile. And also because the way that “it’s only temporary” has been an excuse for slack operations for going on twenty five years.

      Still on- everybody involved in creation and operations deserves a lot of credit. Wonder how much of the transit world even knows about the Tunnel, or the story behind it?

      Tacoma Dome Station: Freighthouse Square has one very necessary attraction for me: The Little India Express in the food court section. Frequent lunch and supper stop. Just across street from Tacoma LINK terminal.

      Station parking structure is, unfortunately, my usual gateway to Tacoma right now. Wish I could use IT or ST592, but both of them are just too slow. And worse, anything evening in Seattle is a really risky southbound transfer.

      North of Tacoma, I’ve got three choices: the 594, the 574/LINK, and Sounder.

      Especially with morning getting earlier and weather warmer, general ride in from Olympioa will be 6:10 Intercity Transit 603 to Historical museum, espresso stop at the Anthem cafe, LINK to Freightouse Square, and 8:00 Sounder in to avoid traffic.

      But really do wish we’d get ST straight down I-5 from Olympia, ’til we can get Sounder in there. Tricky because main line is so far out of town. But terminating at Dupont will give us a lot of passengers who now hardly have any kind of service at all. And make for a shorter bus ride out of Olympia.



  4. I’ll echo some of the thoughts already shared: Transit service from an actual neighborhood (not a massive parking lot called Tacoma Dome) in Tacoma will be difficult at best. Pierce Transit just does not provide any sort of reliable service. Heck, even service in south King County is pretty terrible. Any of you folks ever try to get around Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, or Renton by bus? You could spend all day just riding and transferring. Seattle & Bellevue are a different story. The actual contrast in the good service offered in Seattle to the terrible service in South King & Pierce Counties would show him what kind of transit system we actually have. Great for the wealthy who can afford the outrageous housing costs in Seattle, but terrible for the working class.

    1. Good transit needs density to be good, unless you have unlimited resources. Even in the communities you mentioned, one can choose to live in a node where transit is genuinely great. However, if you are blue collar, middle class, and want a big house and yard, then I don’t see how you can expect particularly good transit since you’ll be living way, way, way out.

      1. Kind of a chicken and egg situation right now. Transit only pays if more people live where they can use it. But nobody will make any effort to use transit that isn’t there at all- or just barely.

        Back in streetcar days, transit line owners, in those days generally private, built housing developments at their terminals precisely to provide ridership. And also to sell the houses.

        Might be good thing for somebody to try again.


      2. Even if density isn’t enough to warrent high-frequency service, it is not unreasonable to expect an agency to at least get its act together when coordinating schedules.

        To date, I have only once attempted to take local transit through Federal Way beyond the transit center. The result was 35 minutes of waiting at the transit center because King County Metro didn’t think to coordinate the schedules of the 187 with the 578. The time in question was 5:30 on a weekday afternoon – not exactly an unusual time for people to be out and about. (And yes, even with 35 minutes of waiting, the 577 was still faster than taking the A-line to Link).

    2. Unfortunately, density has been more embraced in higher-income cities, which is why Bellevue and Redmond and Kirkland have the highest income and the highest density and the highest all-day transit ridership among the suburbs. (More or less: not forgetting the busy 150 and 169, or the sparse 540 and Kirkland’s zoning restrictions.) The lower-income cities have been the most hostile to density, and that also includes Tacoma and Everett. They allow one or two small quasi-dense neighborhoods near downtown, and that’s it.

      Somehow what happened is that detached houses and cars were luxuries for the rich, so they became highly desired among the working class, and as prosperity grew and working-class people could afford these things, they jumped on them, and now three generations later they’ve become their American birthright and they won’t give them up unless you pry them out of their dead hands, and they don’t want to hear about transit or condos, they just want their subsidized highways and gasoline and low taxes. So we get into the paradoxical situation that the middle and upper classes jump on trains and frequent buses and into dense apartments, while the working class by and large says no and joins the nimbys to block it.

      1. Mike Orr, I don’t think that it is okay to make broad-brush statements about classes. You’ve gone a bit off-topic. A single family home isn’t my “birthright”, and multifamily housing (condos/townhomes) simply isn’t even offered (aside from rentals) in the parts of the county that are most affordable.

        Neil, I am glad you are making this documentary, and I just wanted to be sure you understood that the crossing of county lines does present a pretty vast difference in level of service here. I don’t think that doing a Tacoma Dome to Seattle commute is very well representative of most Pierce County commutes, unless you make a base assumption that you arrive at the Dome by driving a car from your house a few miles away. Same thing could be done at transit centers in Lakewood, Federal Way, Auburn, Kent, or Tukwila, with varying levels of difficulty finding a parking space because the lots & garages fill up so early in the morning.

      2. What’s your explanation for why Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland have taller and more widespread density than Renton, Kent, Burien, Tukwila, Kent, Des Moines, Federal Way, Auburn, Lynnwood, Tacoma, and Everett? The condos/townhomes and walkable apartments don’t exist because they weren’t built, and they weren’t built because of the policies of those cities’ governments.

      3. But Mike, building higher is always more expensive. There has to be demand to justify it. That is why, even though it is allowed, much of the Rainier Valley remains undeveloped. Meanwhile, the East Side is booming from an employment standpoint, and the building (allowed in only a handful of areas) followed suit. It isn’t like Bellevue, an area that recently passed a law limiting the number of people that can live in a house in a single family neighborhood, has fully embraced density.

      4. It doesn’t cost a lot to have 2-4 story buildings close together within walking distance of a bus stop and supermarket, and not overwhelmed by parking in front and open space on the sides. That’s all it would take to non-downtown parts of these cities more walkable and easier for transit to serve. Most of the housing cost is in land and location, not the building. (Reviving the dingbat style and outdoor hallways would also make new apartments less expensive.)

      5. A good chunk of the cost is definitely the land, but most of that land is not an empty lot. Again, I can point to plenty of places (including some downtown) that are not being developed, despite the zoning laws allowing it. Sometimes the land is a parking lot. It is still making money. Sometimes it is a house — again, still valuable. We can’t oversimplify things. A lot of land in Wallingford sits with low density because people aren’t allowed to build more housing (even an ADU or DADU) but lots of land sits in other areas of the county because it just doesn’t make financial sense to do so. Tearing down a perfectly good house and replacing it with a two or four story building only makes sense when you can get good money for the apartment. If rent is less than a grand in the area, then you are probably better off sticking with the house.

        The East Side is more densely populated mainly because Microsoft decided to locate there (which caused other tech firms to follow suit). Let’s not pretend that the East Side cities somehow embraced “urbanism” or density, because as we have seen recently, they haven’t.

    3. There is a stark disparity between frequent Metro service on the eastside (Metro even made a map of it), and frequent Metro service in South King County (120, 150, A, F). This disparity does not seem to be due to ridership. Something else is at play…

      1. Well, what is there on the Eastside? 245, 271, 255, B, 234/235. I’m not counting ST routes because you aren’t either. (That’d add 545 and 550 in East King, and Link in South King.)

        That doesn’t seem like such a stark disparity to me; it’s that South King is spread over a wider area. and thus four frequent routes (plus the 164/168 common trunk you don’t mention) can’t serve as much of it as five frequent routes can serve the Eastside.

      2. Could the disparity be that one has undergone a significant restructure, while the other has been politically resistant?

      3. Quite possibly. Prior to 2011, I don’t think the eastside had a single frequent route outside of rush hour, with the possible exception of the 545 and 550.

      4. South King has a larger population too. Larger than Seattle.

        There was a restructure around Southcenter and Des Moines a couple years ago. Nothing earthshaking but some minor crosstown routes going in all directions were created.

  5. Hi all. Neil here, the guest post author.

    Great feedback and discussion. Thank you!

    To clarify, we fully acknowledge that transit in Seattle or Tacoma or Everett or Issaquah isn’t -perfect-. Just as anywhere, there is room for improvement.

    But, even with holes in the system, there -are- attributes that -do- work. Our goal is to pick out these specific attributes. Then, to acknowledge them, explain them, and make the case for expanding them. It’s all part of an effort to unpack the fundamentals of great transit — one feature at a time.

    Here in Detroit, our buses can’t even cross county lines. Never mind the frequency or speed (we’ll feature those in other segments of the video series…), we just need to emphasize the importance of -connectivity- itself.

    By isolating and exploring key features, we hope to improve the popular wishlist for better transit. Rather than blanket complaints that “transit isn’t working”, we’ll equip viewers with better tools to insist on better solutions. And -specific- solutions.

    Again, obvious stuff to those of us who already love transit. Not always so obvious to new transit supporters…



    1. You might try visiting Vancouver BC. It has a transit system that is at least six times more successful than ours, and one of the most successful in North America, despite the fact that the city isn’t much bigger than Seattle.

      1. The City of Vancouver and the City of Seattle have similar populations with Seattle just a bit larger, but the Seattle metropolitan region is far bigger than Vancouver. The 2014 census estimate of the Seattle MSA is 3,671,478, and the 2011 census of the Vancouver CMA was 2,313,328. The CMA is a more restricted definition than the MSA so it’s reasonable to combine the Vancouver CMA with the Abbotsford CMA, 170,191, for a total metro Vancouver population of 2,483,519. Yes the Vancouver stats are a bit older, but Seattle is a good million people larger. But I don’t think any of this makes the “six times” any worse. Actually transit boardings per capita in Vancouver (Translink service area) seem to be about three times higher than in King County.

      2. OK, thanks for the correction. In my head it was six. Sometimes I get huge numbers confused. Still — three times! That is enormous.

        One article that confirms that number is this one ( which says

        [Vancouver has] by far the highest per capita transit use among other cities our size in North America – three times more than Portland, the next highest city

        But not only that. It also says this:

        [Vancouver has] The third-highest per capita transit use in North America, after only New York and Toronto.

        Why you would want to study a city that is bigger (according to your math) and much, much worse seems crazy to me. Might as well study the New York Knicks instead of the San Antonio Spurs. I bet the Spurs have three times the victories over the last ten years (but not six times).

      3. Also, I ran across a very interesting article:

        If you read the article and compare it with the other information, there are two striking facts:

        1) Vancouver has very high transit ridership.
        2) Vancouver has relatively low “rapid transit” ridership.

        This is unusual, but exactly what the author wanted to find. Vancouver is not dependent on one mode (rail). It manages to get lots of people on buses and boats, as well as trains. There aren’t huge numbers of people taking the train, but the train allows the city to build a really good bus network, that compliments it. Vancouver is not Washington DC (with its kick-ass subway that everyone rides). Vancouver manages to build complimentary systems that work well enough to serve everyone, even if many riders skip the most expensive piece (the rail).

      4. That Pembina study referred to in the CBC story about rapid transit ridership has some fairly arbitrary definitions of “rapid transit” that make it suspect. The Spadina Streetcar is “rapid” while the 99 B Line is not. Neither are rapid transit in my definition, but certainly the Spadina is no faster nor more frequent than the B Line. And this study also compared just the core of metro Montreal and just the City of Toronto with the whole Translink service area. The City of Toronto has a population of about 2.6 million, but the metro area equivalent to the Translink service area would be twice that.

        The Pembina Institute is also an LRT partisan in the subway versus LRT debate in Toronto and would probably like Toronto to be more like Portland than Vancouver. Obviously I don’t think that this makes sense.

      5. I should clarify that the Spadina Streetcar is a streetcar line in Toronto that has an exclusive right of way in the median of Spadina. The 99 B Line is the main Broadway bus in Vancouver that is limited stop, all door loading, very frequent, but is otherwise an ordinary bus line. However it does get 50,000 weekday boardings and still has a serious pass up problem.

      6. Oh, I agree. Anytime you start saying “this is rapid” and “this isn’t” I think you run into trouble. If I take a bus and goes almost as fast a car, then it is rapid to me. But my point is that Vancouver managed to get a pretty good transit system by focusing more on interoperability — choosing systems that work — instead of focusing on one mode (high speed rail). That is a very good model (in my opinion) and one that the author of this piece seems to focused on.

    2. Glad you made it, Neil. Curious: Where are you staying? From age ten ’til college, 1955 to 1965, lived just past the Zoo out Woodward- general readership, check out Mapquest. Spoked layout of Detroit used to make for some excellent transit.

      Also drove cab night shift early 70’s. Expected that this country would never leave a major city in ruins like that. Check me out on that one- my inside info tells me City was shutting off poor people’s water height of last summer because they couldn’t – not wouldn’t- pay their bills.

      And last week, radio news note that people were having homes of many years foreclosed on for taxes they’d been gladly paying for all the years they still had work in Detroit.

      So seriously interested in what you’re seeing in Detroit- but like my comment below, make sure you see all if it. Serious about locating a restoration of on-shore transit-machine manufacturing in Detroit.

      And making a large amount of things with greater tensile strength than derivatives. Work that large numbers of working people can get. And live in Detroit. And that’ll let people whose work built the place finish their lives in their homes there.

      But for immediate wide-spread public transit city-wide- tell me why large-scale public and private van service wouldn’t be a good re-start. Ten minute head ways easy. Bet. Or do you think – is it still DSR- can do better?

      Any any other thoughts from places in Detroit where the Woodward Avenue streetcar is never going to go? Very, very curious.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Hmm. A key purpose of the project is to debunk a lot of the issues/misconceptions you raise. Personally, I’m not a great fan of the Woodward streetcar. Yet it dominates the local conversation.

        Instead of complaining about it, we’re trying to paint a much better picture of the whole issue — and set better terms for the discuss.

        We’re from Detroit — we didn’t just single it out as a curious study topic. I’ve lived in the city and the ‘burbs, so am definitely familiar with the frustrations that you raise. Our intent is not to get bogged down in the morass, but rather provide useful reference points to have a better, more action-focused convo about transit.


  6. Mike: Off-peak and ordinary day, northbound 594 plenty fast but rush hour and game day stick coach in traffic south of Spokane/Columbian exit. So 574 to LINK better on that account.

    Weasel: IT out of Olympia somewhat better than Pierce re: connections. But both systems need to be made regional-grade. Intersystem dispatch communication could provide Olympia to Sea-Tac connection at SR512 P&R no sweat.

    John: Right on re: regional and Seattle holes. Tacoma to Seattle faster and easier than IDS to Ravenna.

    Wells: Behind worse frustration than yours, over at least four decades, to a lot of us, Seattle seems like a place that, when compared to other systems, should have better transit than it does.

    Also, maybe personal pre-rust belt prejudice, but since timber and Kenworth went down, industries here- including Amazon, Microsoft, Amgen, Expedia, and Boeing- have no feel and a lot of fear for dirt, heat, shock, and rough handling- the essence of ground transit.

    But to be fair, two main problems: One, hardly any inherited transit-suitable right of way to convert. Vancouver BC got a perfect tall-profile freight tunnel through Downtown, and miles of existing railroad land wide enough for pillars.

    And two, it’s been a very short time that we’ve had the population to both press and pay for the kind of civil engineering the above requires. Historically, rapid transit requires- well, like I-5 is now getting to be.

    But Neil, when you get to Detroit, suggest that before you go, make some contacts who know their way around, to accompany you within the city limits. When you escape from your handlers.

    And after you’ve been there awhile, like the first fifteen minutes, tell us if you don’t agree that what Detroit needs first about transit is an entire set of industries to start manufacturing streetcars, trains, and buses.

    And work fast. And better work fast. All that that destroyed and foreclosed property, the empty space left by their dispossessed occupants, and the miles of existing utilities will make an excellent gated community- with a river to save the fence on one side.

    Which a streetcar line up Woodward Avenue will connect above with the rest of surrounding Oakland County. Ask with the County Executive up there what he help he’s willing to give to rebuild Detroit.

    The amount of money needed to bring the city back into the United States, which effectively seceded from Detroit forty years ago, is fairly on the level of
    what it cost to rebuild Berlin and Tokyo from the consequences of a war their countries started.

    Which we accomplished a lot quicker and more willingly than similar help for the city that helped us win that war. When we’re done, Detroit will once again employ a very large workforce to build the transportation this country most needs.

    And while you’re at it, get a streetcar map for 1950 and before, and also check out the trolley routes on Gratiot, Grand River, Forest, and Warren.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Wow. Quite the tall order!

      In the way of context, we say “Detroit” to refer to the whole metropolitan area. True, the city is in rough shape physically and the region is in rough shape politically. Still, there are real demands for transit at the suburban level, the regional level, and even the inner-city level.

      We shouldn’t expect transit alone to resurrect the city. Nor should we wait for a resurrection to justify transit improvements. Regardless of the city’s condition, there are real people here who have real, everyday transit needs. And those needs are -not at all- being addressed by our transit conversation.

      15 Minutes or Better has a somewhat cautionary side for other cities: if you get too giddy about the secondaries of transit — TOD, technology, etc — you’ll eventually lose sight of why good systems actually work. And how weak systems can improve.

      The whole project aims to remind/educate transit stakeholders — near and far — that efforts to improve transit need to be rooted in the transit service itself. It sounds so obvious, but in a world of politicians and pundits, it’s a critical truth that sometimes gets lost!


      1. Hate not being able to control order of comments here. I last saw Detroit- and environs- almost thirty years ago, so I’m only going on second hand information. Which all tells me that the devastation whose beginning I watched first-hand has only gotten worse.

        “In the way of context, we say “Detroit” to refer to the whole metropolitan area. True, the city is in rough shape physically and the region is in rough shape politically. Still, there are real demands for transit at the suburban level, the regional level, and even the inner-city level.”

        Under the old regime, and probably right now, Soweto, was in rougher condition than the rest of Metropolitan Johannesburg. My guess is that a lot former Boer security officers still admire the way Southern Michigan created superior apartheid without a single Pass Law.

        Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson’s office at the county seat in Pontiac is a local call. Or a good regional ride, if transit still crossed the county line. Ask the Exec whether he thinks Detroit is is in the same country as his office.

        Answer should give excellent perspective of exactly how rough things are in the whole Detroit metro area and the rest of Michigan. And politically- a good deal of why.

        I’m not disrespecting your mission or your efforts. You’re there, and I haven’t been for a long time. Though for more reasons than transit, I’m long overdue for a visit. I have people there who never left, and for whom I will do a lot to be sure they’re not forced to leave.

        But from, what I can make out about Detroit from here, we’re not just talking about a slow economy with a transit system that could be better. Like Everett or Tacoma. We’re talking about a place whose economy was trashed out and abandoned decades ago by the industry it had mistakenly made its sole source of support.

        Your work will become part of the eventual rebuilding of Detroit. So I really am very seriously interested in the situation you find there, and the lessons you can really learn. STB has permission to give you my contact info.

        Mark Dublin

      2. 15 Minutes or Better has a somewhat cautionary side for other cities: if you get too giddy about the secondaries of transit — TOD, technology, etc — you’ll eventually lose sight of why good systems actually work. And how weak systems can improve.


      3. And that’s the gospel truth.
        Less monument building and more basic service that works should be Job #1.

      4. 15 Minutes or Better has a somewhat cautionary side for other cities: if you get too giddy about the secondaries of transit — TOD, technology, etc — you’ll eventually lose sight of why good systems actually work.

        This is particularly a problem, in my opinion, with the whole Transit Oriented Development thing.

        This is a particular problem in the city where I live.

        The first MAX line was planned and built pretty much entirely by the transit agency that would be operating it. It has its problems, but it accomplished its goal of increasing transit use and decreasing the cost per passenger to a fraction of what could be done with buses.

        Soon after that, an alphabet soup of agencies decided to get involved for “regional transportation planning” and “land use planning” and “urban revitalization” and various other purposes that have little to do with actual transportation. We are told “light rail is a perfect land use planning tool” with apparently very little concern about how well it could serve actual existing transportation corridors that really need better service.

        While our transit district has some say over how and where these lines are built, for the most part the bulk of the planning is being done by those that will not wind up operating the line for the next 100 years, or who is responsible for operating connecting bus routes to it.

        We get “Light rail is a great urban revitalization and redevelopment tool” rather than “Light rail can be great transit.” Light rail won’t bring urban revitalization to a place on its own unless it also serves a transportation purpose. Otherwise whatever urban redevelopment happens will not have its root needs met and you will wind up right back where you started.

      5. Yeah, I agree, Glenn. From what I’ve seen, TOD is a myth. OK, I’m sure it has some influence, but consider the areas that have terrible or mediocre public transportation: Ballard, Fremont, South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne, Lake City. They’re all booming. But Rainier Valley (where our fast, frequent train can get you to downtown or the airport of many other places very quickly) is not doing much. Roosevelt is booming (in anticipation of Link) but how much of that is Link and how much of it is just because they eased the zoning laws. I’m sure if the eased zoning in Wallingford it would boom, too.

        These things work together. Areas have to have some momentum in order to grow. But rarely, from what I’ve seen, has good public transportation been the thing to provide that. More often than not, it is simply an amplifier. An area like Ballard or Lake City might grow a lot faster with good transit, but it will still grow fairly well without it.

      6. I think “transit oriented development” can work well, but only if you don’t forget the transit part of things. You need a service that people can use. If you build “transit oriented development” and have terrible service you will tend to have everyone drive anyway because the transit part of the transit oriented development doesn’t hold up its half of the bargain.

        The tram lines in Europe that have the best practices operate at speeds that are competitive with driving for local service. Connect those with tram-train operations, metro/subway and regional rail operations, and those services are competitive with or faster than driving for their equivalent distances as well.

        Once you get to this point, transit becomes something people really want to live next to because it makes their lives better. They can get places in a reasonable amount of time without having to drive.

        Here, we seem to still be stuck in the 1950s thinking of “Transit will always be slower than driving, so why bother trying?”

        Instead, we wind up with walking speed streetcar transit through dense development, call it “transit oriented development” and are surprised when huge parking problems persist.

      7. Where should the MAX lines have been compared to where they are?

        Transit-oriented development at its core means walkable mixed-use near good transit, or where good transit could potentially be (“transit-ready development”). It’s the same concept that was simply considered the only sane construction practice before automobile suburbs took over. What’s different in contemporary TOD — and why some urbanists object to many examples of it — is the current fashion for large boxy buildings, with many units, and somtimes covering a quarter block or entire block. Part of that is driven by developers’ preferences and Wall Street financing, and part of it is zoning laws that make it difficult or impossible to build a small 4-6 unit building. But the primary issue for “transit-oriented development” is not the size or shape of the building, but how many steps you have to walk from the front door to the transit stop and everyday errands and neighbors’ homes. That’s what makes something transit oriented.

      8. “From what I’ve seen, TOD is a myth. OK, I’m sure it has some influence, but consider the areas that have terrible or mediocre public transportation: Ballard, Fremont, South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne, Lake City. They’re all booming.”

        It’s all more walkable than what was there before or what low-density bullshit could have been built. Of course it could have been designed better than it was. The fact that high-capacity transit is not there is a crime because it has been needed for thirty years. Ballard was expecting a monorail. The fact that this “transit-ready development” has thrived in spite of inadequate transit does not mean that TOD is unnecessary; it just means it would thrive more strongly with fast/frequent transit.

        “But Rainier Valley (where our fast, frequent train can get you to downtown or the airport of many other places very quickly) is not doing much.”

        Rainier Valley is still recovering from redlining. Transit helps, but it’s a huge job to recover completely. As long as half the suburbanites are still afraid to go there or live there, it will not be as booming as Ballard or Uptown, transit or no transit. But we should still have transit and TOD there anyway, to make it easier for more people to live there and get around conveniently.

      9. Okay, but all you’re describing is a city functioning better as a city.

        That’s quite far removed from the way the term “TOD” is abused and paraded around by dittoheads, to celebrate everything from an isolated single office building (with mega-garage) in Angle Lake to the overblown “streetcar catalyst” effect in SLU or the Pearl.

        The TOD false-attribution thumpers can be dangerous, as they double down on nodal thinking that ultimately fails to reflect how people move around in their daily lives, and winds up endorsing grossly density-misweighted cities, along with failed nodes in the boonies where everyone still drives in and out of garages all day.

      10. >> Rainier Valley is still recovering from redlining

        Right, but the Central Area has recovered just fine. I have to explain to people that not too long ago, a lot of these places that they consider “nice Capitol Hill” where as much a ghetto as any place in Seattle.

        I still contend that transportation plays a very small part in it. Rainier Valley’s biggest problem is that there is no “there” there. Part of the problem is that it focused too much on transportation — running two big thoroughfares right through it. It is hard to recover from that, but redlining played a small part in it. Lake City looked very similar and way more African Americans live there now than lived there before. But Lake City has prospered in part because they changed the roadways — they slowed everyone down and forced cars (and buses) to go slow through Lake City. The next thing you know, it got a little momentum — people walked to more shops and more apartments were built. Now it is thriving. The rest of Lake City Way is still junky (of course) but transportation had nothing to do with it. Quite the opposite. It is probably slower than ever to get anywhere (by transit or car) but people move there because it is decent place to live (just as they have moved to Ballard and the Central Area and plenty of other places that have mediocre transit).

        In other words, if you really want to make a place to develop, focus on making it a nicer place to walk. Of course you want good transit, but the first is a lot more important (as anyone from Ballard will tell you).

      11. Yes on walking. If we start there everything else will fall into place. I’ll have to take your word on Lake City because I haven’t been there enough to notice those changes. All I’ve seen is a fancy median on LCW north of 125th, the large apartment buildings around it, and perhaps the library has moved (?).

        The part about slow-speed placemaking is addition and subtraction. Are the number of people attracted to the place greater than the number of people who hate the change and maybe moved away?

      12. There are signs of life in Rainer Vally. Columbia City and Hillman City are nice with storefronts and some interesting buildings. It is no accident much of the development in Rainier Valley has focused in those two areas. The Rainier Ave road diet and complete street should help even more. It is too bad neither area is really served all that well by light rail (especially Hillman City). The Columbia City station is in the middle of nowhere from a pedestrian POV.

        There has been some new development around Othello as well along with junky old buildings getting cleaned up a bit. The rail station calmed traffic a little and brought pedestrians to the area. There still is a long way to go with much of the commercial development being auto oriented and fronted by parking lots. The same goes for the area around the potential Graham station.

        Mt. Baker and Rainier Beach are the biggest messes. For Mt. Baker you have a huge car sewer and lots of auto oriented development that is going to take a while to turn over into an even moderately pedestrian friendly environment. With Rainier Beach you have the same issues compounded by no plans for complete street or traffic calming along Rainier andthe newer development being mostly auto oriented commercial structures. Having the rail station be even further from the commercial center of the neighborhood and even more in the middle of nowhere doesn’t help any.

      13. Try looking at MAX Cascades Station or Clackamas Town Center stations on Google satellite map view and call them “transit oriented development” with a straight face.

      14. @ Ross–I’d hardly call Lake City “walkable”; there has been little or no effort to add sidewalks even in areas that have had apartments for decades (i.e. SE of 125th and LCW). The city would be well advised to add sidewalks to every street in the “valley” that is central LC, i.e. from 35th west to the base of the hill west of the library, and from about 120th north to 145th. I’d even extend that south as far as 115th if the Bill Pierre property ever gets redeveloped, which I’ve heard for years is in the works. Getting the car lots out of there and developed will help a great deal.

        LC is actually a nice place to live if you’re looking for somewhere affordable that’s still in the city, and it’s being developed despite a woeful lack of infrastructure in its core. The rental rate I get on my Meadowbrook property has been strong but reasonably priced for an in-city neighborhood. (Plus I noticed a large brewery going in at 130th/LCW….) :-)

  7. Two different-sized but equally [OT] elephants:

    Detroit, fact that the City of Detroit is in a period between two periods of existence, former and future.

    Seattle, fact that strong transit primary is being treated as tertiary or worse: narrow arterials mean that sooner or later, present general traffic lanes will have to become transit only lanes. With permanent signal-pre-empt.

    Both curable. But first have to become mentionable.


  8. Hi Neil. This sounds like a great project. For the funding campaign, have you considered working with a non-profit organization, so that individuals who wish to donate are able to do so tax-free?

    1. Hi Jon. Great thought!

      We shopped the idea around to numerous established non-profits. Alas, it was taking too long for anyone to “get it”. Here in Detroit, there is tremendous misunderstanding about transit, and our requests were met with a lot of, “but we’re already supporting M-1 streetcar! There! We love transit!”

      At last, we decided to just give it a go — sans partner!

  9. Neil,

    When you say you want to use Seattle to show connectivity what are you trying to show:

    -A trip that crosses county lines on a one-seat ride?
    -A trip with transfers using multiple agencies?
    -Multi-modal connections (commuter rail, light rail, streetcar, ferry, bus)?
    -How a gridded transit network works? (For this one Vancouver BC, LA, or Chicago might be better examples)

    FWIW we have one of the better US examples of BRT in Community Transit’s SWIFT.

    1. Hi Chris! Great points. We’re interested in all of those things!

      Above all, the one-seat ride across a county line is -really- important for us. That’s basically impossible in our metro area. Except for a few routes during weekday peaks, you have to transfer to keep going straight. It’s terrible. Even worse, people have been “hard-wired” to think that’s the only way it can be.

      My ST 586 example really got panned here! Maybe we feature ST 510 instead — something that shows the incredible usefulness of transit across county lines.

      Then, to your second and third points, we show how other transit systems and other route types hook into the regional route. Even if you don’t have direct access to a regional route, you’re likely a short ride away on a local route. That, too, is connectivity!

      Any specific suggestions, we’ll take ’em. Thanks! NG

      1. ST 510-512 is a great corridor you should look at. They really improved inter and intra county connectivity by consolidating the 510 Everett with 511 Lynnwood into one frequent route 512 during non-peak/weekends.

      2. I agree with Oran. That is a very interesting route. Not only does it provide good service by itself, but it feeds into a lot of other routes along the way. It isn’t quite an express, but it isn’t a local either. It does have a weird mid-day express routing (I don’t know why that it is) but in general it is no commuter run, either. It is fairly bi-directional and has enough stops to be more than a replacement for Greyhound (i. e. a city to city express).

      3. How about looking at a corridor that has both Metro routes and Sound Transit routes? Something like State route 522, where Metro routes 312 and Sound Transit 522 duke it out, along with the 372.

        Perhaps consider a UW Bothell, UW, UW Tacoma trip.

      4. The 574 between Lakewood and the airport is worth a look as well.

        The Metro and Pierce transit routes that cross county lines tend not to go very far, usually only to a transit center on the other side of the line. The all-day Community Transit routes follow the same pattern though CT has a fair number of commuter routes serving King County.

      5. The ST 512 corridor is interesting, in that the 512 actually operates frequently all-day with an almost-rapid-transit-like stopping pattern, and there are lots of easy connections at each of the stops. Unfortunately, it is crippled by some time-consuming deviations to transit centers (for example, serving Lynnwood Transit Center lengthens the trip time by 5-10 minutes), as well as stop-and-go traffic southbound on I-5 in the afternoons, due to the lack of an HOV lane. :( With regards to inter-county connections though, it is still probably the best in the region in terms of frequency and connectivity.

        In my opinion, the 550 is probably one of the best routes in the region, although it doesn’t cross a county line. Large parts of it run in grade-separated busways or HOV lanes, and it is very fast and frequent (despite still making useful stops along the way). The one negative thing, of course, is that it is usually extremely packed in peak hours, even despite 5-6 minute frequencies.

      6. 512 would be a good choice. The Lynnwood Transit Center is the primary transfer point in Snohomish County, and will be Link’s terminus in 2023. That would future-proof your video. Lynnwood has zoned for a major city center next to the station, like what Bellevue already has.

        The 512 is 15-minutes weekdays and Saturdays, 30-minutes evenings & Sundays. The 510 and 511 are peak-only. Originally they were all-day but that has been combined into the 512. The 4xx and 8xx routes go to downtown and UW peak hours. Off-peak the 512 stops 10 blocks from UW at a freeway stop. No regional buses go to Northgate at all, which is a major hole in Snohomish – north Seattle transit. The 512’s other stop at 145th is useless because of no connecting buses or destinations there. Link will run every 4-8 minutes from Lynnwood to downtown, including Northgate and UW, and then half the trains will go south and the other half east.

  10. In Seattle, our particular element-of-focus is connectivity – how transit can downplay political boundaries to link logical destinations.

    Some of the best examples are well outside Seattle, because the smaller agencies have to cooperate sometimes to make any sort of useful service.

    As an example, Seattle to Port Townsend. Jefferson Transit (the transit agency in Port Townsend) has put together a set of directions on how to use various regional connections to get to various places, and there are instructions on their home page about half way down the page.
    In the case of Port Townsend to Seattle it is only about four times per weekday that it works, but those particular times that it does work it seems to work quite well.

    If you really want to, you can make an entire loop from Port Townsend all the way around the entire Olympic Peninsula and all the way out to the city of Neah Bay and then down highway 101 and a few lesser known roads to Hoquiam, and then back east to Olympia by transit. The buses may only run a few times per day, but those are some pretty remote communities, and it is really good that those that need to get places can do so.

    Another place that used to have good connections, but unfortunately today is less so well connected, is the Everett – Mount Vernon – Bellingham – Anacortes – Oak Harbor area. This involves three different counties and agencies. From south to north, Skagit Transit would operate an express bus from Everett to Mount Vernon. This had a closely scheduled connection at Mount Vernon to a bus operated by Island Transit, that connected Mount Vernon with Oak Harbor. That bus had a timed connection with a bus just outside the March’s Point refinery that would connect that bus route to Anacortes. This connection was extremely well planned so that, e.g., people coming from Anacortes would be able to make a cross-platform transfer to a bus going either to Oak Harbor or to Mount Vernon. North from Mount Vernon an additional express route operated by Whatcom Transit would provide a link to Bellingham.

    Unfortunately, while these connections are still possible today, there have been significant issues at Island Transit and so the connections are a little more complicated now. However, up until 2013 that’s how things were organized.

    Skagit Transit has a bit about their cooperation on their web site:

    At one time it was also possible to get to Snoqualmie Falls east of Seattle using transit. The best routing from Seattle on Saturdays was to use an express bus operated by SoundTransit with a timed transfer at Issaquah to a bus headed further into the mountains that went right by the falls on its way to the city of North Bend. However, that whole system was restructured about two years or so ago and it no longer operates this way. Today it is a 12 minute transfer, which isn’t too bad compared to what it might be at 9 am on a Saturday morning. However, the bus is now routed so it doesn’t go near the falls.

    1. Impressive! Thanks for the info, Glenn.

      We also plan to visit Portland on our Pacific Northwest trip — if this all comes together, that is.

      Psst, the trip to Portland is kind of a trick. Our viewers might think, ‘oh, Portland. They’re going to show me light rail and streetcars.’ In fact, we’ll take ’em to 82nd Av so they can see how frequent the Line 72 bus is!

      The point? Even in a place celebrated for its rail, lowly bus routes play a vital role in the -whole transit system-!


      1. Just a few days ago on a post here I mentioned the 82nd Avenue MAX station, and while that is in the middle of nowhere TOD wise it is an extremely busy station thanks to the bus connections.

        Now if only we could get someone at TriMet to think about a second elevator and staircase so people could make that transfer without getting killed while crossing 82nd Avenue…..

        It’s not bad considering how horribly transit hostile development along 82nd Avenue is, especially at the southern end.

    2. The 208 is about a 10 minute walk from Snoqualmie Falls. So it’s not right there but nearby. The Snoqualmie Valley Transit shuttle stops at the Falls where Metro used to. The shuttle is not coordinated with Metro on the Snoqualmie end, but it is a timed transfer at the other end in Duvall. So you can take ST 545 to Redmond, Metro 232 to Duvall, and a built-in 10-minute transfer to the shuttle. It’s a long trip, 2 1/2 hours from Seattle, but no long layover if you time your trip to the shuttle schedule. Weekdays only.

      1. Thanks very much for the information.

        I have walked the distance so I know it’s not far, but the location beside the road isn’t one I would recommend others do.

    3. Neil, this may be too rural for you, but the Snoqualmie Valley Transit Valley Shuttle is another example of integration. There used to be Metro routes to the furthest small towns in the county: Snoqualmie, North Bend, Fall City, Carnation. Then the urban growth boundary came and they were put outside it. The bus routes always had weak ridership and were expensive to run and infrequent (1-2 hours). The only ones left now are the 208 from the Issaquah Transit Center to Snoqualmie and North Bend, and the 232 from downtown Redmond to Duvall. To avoid cutting off Carnation and Fall City completely, Metro partnered with the Snoqualmie Indian tribe and a senior center to run a weekday shuttle from Duvall to North Bend. I think Metro provided the vehicle and some operating money, and the senior center operates it. It’s free if you transfer to/from Metro, or a $1 donation if you travel only within the rural area. It’s also scenic: woods, farms, and river.

      1. I got that wrong when I was planning my trip in December too, but fortunately found the 224 schedule in time. Metro’s neighborhood-route list is broken for Duvall, it lists the 232 but not the 224; that’s why I keep making this mistake.

      2. Apparently so; I haven’t been out there, but it’s listed on Metro’s website.

    4. Some other interesting examples would be the ability to take a bus from a neighborhood in Thurston County (well any within the Intercity Transit service area) to at least Everett and further if it isn’t a Sunday. (Also good examples of freeway routes).

      Another I used to do as a commute was Poulsbo to the Bainbridge ferry terminal via the Kitsap Transit 90 then WSF to downtown Seattle. The Kitsap end is very rural except for Poulsbo and the Winslow area on Bainbridge. But the 90 has OK midday and Saturday service for a rural route. During commute times there are buses meeting every boat and they run both directions. One guy I rode with was using JT to commute all the way from Sequim to Seattle every day,

      1. Mark Dublin does that Olympia – Seattle trip all the time and has written a lot about it. It takes 2+ hours each way, 2-seat ride, daytime only but including weekends. Half an hour of that is dilly-dallying between Tacoma Dome and Lakewood. There’s an end-to-end express as a pilot project but it’s northbound AM peak, southbound PM peak, so useless unless you live in Olympia. Olympia is outside the Sound Transit district so it would take Thurston County funding to extend ST Express or Sounder full-time to Olympia. (Or the state legislature could do it, since it is the state capitol and connecting it to the largest city. But that may be a negative in some rural conservative legislators’ minds.)

  11. Well you’ve probably learned a lot about how much we love to argue here.

    I think your focus on a cross-county trip makes a ton of sense. Seattle has well-known dispersed employment centers (Microsoft in Redmond and the constellation of eastside tech companies that formed around it; Boeing sites spread all over the region). So does Detroit (automakers all over the region), and so does the Bay Area. But in 2015 even cities like Chicago, where it’s commonly imagined that, “All da jobs are in da Loop,” employ many people in suburbs and exurbs. To a one, these centers built up on cheap land far from established urban centers and transit infrastructure.

    In Detroit the car commute was part of the point. Chicago and the Bay Area have regional agencies that exclusively run trains — Chicago used its wealth of old rail lines to operate Metra while the Bay Area used proceeds from its growth to build BART — and have ended up missing the boat on employment growth almost axiomatically. Seattle has a regional agency whose purpose is to chase the riders. This has its pros and cons, but generally we try to meet suburban employers where they are. While the Bay Area’s stupid and dysfunctional city governments do all they can to keep major employers away from transit infrastructure, then watch rich tech companies operate private shuttles that don’t provide anything to general regional mobility, Metro, Sound Transit, and sometimes even WSDOT have got involved in operating services and building transit infrastructure for public benefit. They’ve thus managed to get private funding for some infrastructure, build HOV lanes and sometimes even bus lanes with major public buy-in, and operate lesser-known programs like vanpools… making our long suburb-suburb commutes less car dependent than they might otherwise be.

    Unfortunately this approach has not always worked out for all-day spontaneous mobility; despite a 15-minute network that looks impressive for a American city our size our off-peak ridership is not impressive — with no grade-separated transit at all, inner-city travel times are abysmal just about all the time. And then there’s the terrain, which makes a mockery of any attempt to build a grid of buses like Chicago or Portland have. Sometimes it seems dumb that Redmond, Kirkland, and Lynnwood are easier to get to on transit from more places than Ballard, Capitol Hill, and UW… but it is what it is, one thing we’re uniquely good at here is running buses on freeways.

    1. Hi Al:

      Oh, they’re not so much -arguments- as they are “informative disagreements”. Every single response to my guest post has contained a worthwhile point.

      Thanks for recognizing two key features of 15 Minutes or Better:

      1. We’re collecting examples from across the country. Apologists for weak transit like to say, ‘eh, transit might work in New York or Boston, but it will never work -here-.’ We intend to show that effective transit doesn’t require a 150-year legacy of rail infrastructure or pre-built density. There are ways to serve lower-density areas with transit — even if they’re not perfectly transit-friendly.

      2. Freeways. Right. That’s something that Detroiters can definitely relate to. Despite our extensive freeway system, transit routes make very, very little use of high-speed roads. Again, freeways are not ideal for transit. But if you have long distances to connect, they shouldn’t be ignored. I’m a city guy, so don’t love what freeways have done to the urban landscape. Regardless of what -I- think, (most) freeways aren’t going away. So let’s put them to work for transit.


  12. Capitol Hill to Bellevue isn’t exactly across county lines, but can be a nice 2-part ride that works in the mornings because frequencies are < 15 min. I'd be happy to demo that! There is good coffee at the start, a nice view in the middle, and photogenic ridership along the way.

    For an example of one of Seattle's many breakdowns (cross-county either isn't so bad or I've never heard about it), the airport to Capitol Hill is one that shows bad inter-modal connections.

    1. Fortunately a year from now that airport-to-Capitol Hill trek won’t be quite so big a problem! :)

      (now if they would only extend service a bit so that those of us who take the early flights or arrive on the late ones can take the train without worrying that a slightly late flight will leave a much more difficult or expensive return home….)

      1. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But it isn’t nearly the disaster that it was before car2go existed, or before ST agreed to keep Beacon Hill open for back-to-base trips, with a run of the 36 coordinated to meet the very last train.

      2. Yep–the Beacon Hill fix made it easier, although as the 36 doesn’t help me much I don’t use BH for airport trips. (The 36 does at least have late runs even on Sunday, so getting downtown is still reasonable.)

        Cap Hill with the various options there will make it much easier to consider. Making the night routes more legible and sensible as has often been discussed here would also be of help. car2go should also be even more available around that station.

        The train is such a cost savings over parking at/near the airport or a shuttle/cab that I prefer to take it when I can, but with arriving Sundays at 11:45pm often (most of the late flights from the East Coast arrive around then) it’s a roll of the dice that I usually don’t take.

      3. I simply won’t take the evening JetBlue on a Sunday. I’ve taken it many times the other six days of the week, and only twice has it been a problem (once when they were futzing around with the evening scheduling, and once when the plane was hours late leaving Boston).

      4. I’m usually either on the late Delta from Atlanta or American from Dallas (my trips take me to the Southeast often); they are usually on time but both get in around midnight, which misses the last train. Were schedule not an issue I’d arrive on a different day or time, but the airlines love me because I’m usually that “peak” Sunday evening traveler. $$$ :(

        (I love the Alaska service to Boston but especially because it’s not a bad bet to get an upgrade. JetBlue is a good flight as well normally–like you say, if not on a Sunday.)

  13. Add me to the list of people scratching their head over using the Tacoma-UW trip as an example. Sure, it’s great that we have bus routes that let people travel in a straight line without needing to transfer at the county line. But at the same time, you should be careful about what your examples imply about your priorities.

    The University of Washington is 35 miles from the Tacoma Dome. That’s a long distance for a regular trip! In a world with limited resources, when you optimize your transit system for long trips like Tacoma-UW or Everett-SeaTac, you inherently limit the amount of money you have available to improve more local trips that more people are going to take more often.

    That’s exactly the struggle we’re having here in Seattle, where Sound Transit looks to be dead set against spending any money in Seattle that it doesn’t absolutely have to. In a sane world we would absolutely be building a 130th St station on the line to Lynnwood, and there would be three or four in-city lines built before the line to Lynnwood even got put on the drawing board.

    1. +1

      I know that Detroit will have particularly acute concerns about employment access, with so many of the remaining area jobs flatly inaccessible to city residents without cars.

      But as sprawling as Detroit is, I don’t think you’re talking about 35-mile daily commutes. And you are clearly not advocating for worsening in-city connections so as to explicitly subsidize long-distance travel. Seattle’s model should throw up a few red flags for you on those counts.

    2. also +1

      I don’t think many UM folks are taking transit from Detroit or Dearborn to Ann Arbor, which isn’t much further than Tacoma–UW. Maybe I’m wrong (I don’t know the area well), but it seems to be about a 4 hour transit trip probably due to the cross-county issues Neil mentions. That said, that trip probably shouldn’t be a priority much for the same reasons Eric posts about above; it’s not a good one-seat route especially with limited transit resources.

      (A UW Bothell–UW main campus rapid line of some sort would make a bit more sense if only because it is shorter–about 12 miles–and there are population nodes in a line between them, making it possible to live in a place like Lake City or Kenmore and easily access both campuses. Someday this will probably happen, ST 6 or whatever.)

      1. Hi Scott:

        There is a -lot- of daily commuting between Ann Arbor and Detroit — a similar distance as Tacoma/UW.

        I chose that as my original example… to show that longer-distance, inter-county transit trips might not always be so obvious. I know ST 586 isn’t an “exemplary” bus route by anyone’s definition. Yet it proves a point that’d be downright shocking to Detroiters: somewhere in the country, such a commute -is- possible by transit. Maybe not perfect, but possible.

        That’s what we have to start with — as transit systems in Ann Arbor and Detroit don’t even touch. Never mind it being a four-hour ordeal to take transit between the two — it’s not even do-able!


      2. Curiously, there was a pothole closure of I-5 a few days ago. 3/4 of the northbound lanes closed around Kent. Half an hour after they finished fixing it I took my bus from downtown to the U-District. The freeway was so sparse it looked like a Saturday morning. Even if the backed-up crowd hadn’t reached that point yet, shouldn’t there be a lot of people from south Seattle and central Seattle driving north? Or is it really true that most of the northbound cars come from Des Moines and further south?

  14. When I read the brief for “15 minutes or better” I sense an attitude of “one size — 15 minute or less headways — fits all” — and worse, “what it costs doesn’t matter.”

    I’m a former Detroiter, 18 miles on a public bus each way to Cass Tech High from a suburb, and the bus came by on 30 minute headways. Worked just fine. Every 15 minutes would have cost twice as much. The trade-off between frequency and cost matters.

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