57 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Making Tracks”

  1. I used the 3rd Avenue Metro ticket machine for the first time this weekend (forgot my ORCA card).

    What a piece of crap. It takes ages to advance between screens, and nowhere does the machine list which credit cards are accepted. So of course it abruptly canceled my transaction when I inserted my AmEx. Had to go entire agonizing process again to use a Visa.

    And by the time I was done, I had two bus tickets that expired at the same time, because it also wasn’t mentioned that they would expire at all!

    Why do these tickets need to expire?! In any sane transit system, you would purchase however many tickets you want, and then insert them into the bus’s ticket reader upon entry. The ticket reader would then hand you back a stamped or otherwise altered form of the ticket that acted as a transfer. In our manual system, the operator would serve that function.

    This whole experience is so terrible that if I weren’t already aware of the organizations’s complete and utter incompetence, I would think Metro were deliberately sandbagging the TVM project.

    1. Silly Boy, you don’t get it. Metro wants to hang onto anything that makes riding buses more difficult, placating it’s true political masters – the car culture. Do you think for one minute SDOT or any respecting SOV driver would stand for a crappy parking TVM.

      1. “Metro wants to hang onto anything that makes riding buses more difficult …” Incorrect. This TVM pilot project is intended to improve riding the bus. You people are always whining about cash-payers slowing the bus down. So, instead of paying with cash on the bus, people can pay their fare at the off- board machine and are given a ticket which they simply show the driver when boarding the bus. Or, not have to show the driver at all when riding Rapid Ride.

      2. Jeeesh Sam, next you’ll be supporting going to Tier 3, selection 7, of our everyday robotic telephone answering machines foisted upon us by business and government.
        It’s become my favorite way to kill time, and I especially like when it hangs up on me.

    2. As far as I can tell, the only thing that happened to you was your AmEx card was rejected and you had to use another type of card. How did you get, “This whole experience is so terrible …” from just that? BTW, stop acting like you are shocked it didn’t take your AmEx card. Many businesses don’t take that card, so you have to be used to it.

      1. Perhaps if on the TVM it listed what was an acceptable credit card e.g. Visa, MC, Discover rather than just asking for a credit card. Yeah, it’s a small detail, but an important one if you wish to buy a ticket. And why do tickets need to expire? Rather than blame the victim how about suggesting a fix for the TVM problem unless of course you don’t use it or never will and just accept that a faulty procedure is just a result of “user error,” Blaming victims always works especially if you have never been involved in the problem that someone else has.

      2. In Portland one can buy multiple un-validated tickets. It IS a nice feature not to have to run one’s card over and over.

      3. You can’t buy those unvalidated tickets from the TVMs any more. You have to go to a ticket vendor (Fred Meyer, Safeway etc.) to get the unvalidated tickets now. This was done a few years back to make the ticket machines simpler and easier for the first time user to navigate.

        Or, for a $2.50 fee you can order the unvalidated tickets through the mail.

        Or, as of not so very long ago, you can load unvalidated tickets into your smart phone and pay GlobalSherpa to confirm their use.

        This cell phone ticketing system certainly has become quite popular, but it also means that at the front of TriMet buses, instead of change fumblers we now have cell phone fumblers.

    3. The criticisms about the slowness of the TVM are valid. If Metro is going to do this, then they need to do it so that these machines work quickly. If my iPhone can move from screen to screen without delay when loaded with Point of Sale software, why can’t Metro get a ticket machine that can do the same.

      As for the expiration and validation…

      Come on.

      While I understand your desire for this machine to spit out non-time constrained tickets, that can be used at will, that’s not realistic.

      In order to do that we’d need to installed paper ticket validators. These are common in Europe, and are actually installed on the SLUT though they are not used.

      Are you suggesting we install those validators?

      Or should you place your ticket issued by the machine into the farebox, and receive a transfer in return?

      Wait, we had paper ticket books that worked just like that already. We got rid of them, for ORCA.

      1. In order to do that we’d need to installed paper ticket validators. These are common in Europe, and are actually installed on the SLUT though they are not used.

        Are you suggesting we install those validators?

        Yes. Our transit fleet should join the 1990s.

        Or should you place your ticket issued by the machine into the farebox, and receive a transfer in return?

        Barring the above, yes. This requires zero capital expenditure.

        Wait, we had paper ticket books that worked just like that already. We got rid of them, for ORCA.

        Great! We have operational experience with this system. That should help us out until the various agencies get their heads out of their asses, drop the $5 ORCA penalty, and introduce disposable contact cards vended from TVMs installed at every high-traffic bus stop and major convenience store in the region.

      2. How about this:

        1) Tap an NFC-equipped credit card on the card reader (or insert $2.50 worth of cash)
        2) Machine immediately prints out a ticket
        3) Done!

        No menus, no fuss, no hassle.

    4. Other people have had the same problem with American Express: it didn’t say until the last screen that it doesn’t accept it, so they had to go through the whole transaction again.

      I’m not sure what to say about ticket validation; we’ve never had that here. When there were paper tickets they came in a booklet and you put them in the farebox like cash. Perhaps Metro needs some signs saying what the tickets are good for, because anyone living here would know they’re for the next couple hours but visitors may expect something else.

    5. And I wish those validators on the streetcars would be disconnected. I hate to see them using electricity all the time when they’ll never be used. Why are they even there? Doesn’t the streetcar model have an option without them? They have to customize everything else like the voltage and the trolley poles and the seating, why can’t they customize a little thing like the validators?

    6. I a world where I can use my credit/debit card to buy a $1.50 item from a vending machine (i.e. Washington State Ferries), why can’t I slide or tap my card on a fare reader to pay a full fare?

    7. Get an ORCA CARD, these work perfectly :) All excuses about the $5 fee for the card are null and void. It’s $5, it’ll soon make up for the time it’ll save you, and perhaps an incentive to not lose it?

      1. Using ORCA means the NSA can track you, everywhere you go. I’d rather pay cash.

      2. I guess you don’t have a cell phone either.

        If you buy an ORCA at a TVM with cash and don’t register it, it’s anonymous.

  2. On the front page of the New York Times today, a story about that little house in Ballard whose owner wouldn’t sell. I like this quote from the story …

    “Do we like to think that we, too, would make a stand even if offered wealth and an unpleasant existence as the construction went on? … Or was the stand really about being intractable and not being able to change as the world around you changes?”

    1. She reportedly had no aversion to change, and no great romantic attachment to “what Ballard used to be”. She was simply old and didn’t f*ing feel like moving.

      Those who impose their pet narratives upon her — which the author manages to refrain from doing, but which nearly every “pilgrim” interviewed does in spades — are the ones devaluing and abusing her legacy.

      1. What is missing in all the discussion of this is that her neighborhood was knocked down 30-40 years ago …

        She was the only one that didn’t sell out then. For many years her house was the only one on the block, surrounded by a garbage truck facility.

        Then that property was sold to the developers, and again, she would not sell her home to them.

      2. I think what the new arrivals are unaware of is that Ballard was formerly home to the “Seattle Curmudgeon” culture. The culture which used to have its own newspaper columnist as an informal representative.

        But it’s not politically correct to call somebody an old sea-hag, now is it?

  3. I don’t know if this is in the purview of this forum but I noticed that the intersection of Broadway E and E John/E Olive there’s now an announcement when the walk light comes on “Crosswalk light is on crossing Olive Way” and “Crosswalk light is on crossing Broadway” with the same voice as used on the onboard Metro announcement. This is the only intersection where I’ve noticed this. Is it available in other places as well? I’m guessing this is another form of alerting sight impaired people to alert them when it’s safe to cross the same as the “shudder sound” or cuckoo sound at other intersections.

    1. Talking traffic signals have been around for a couple of years in Redmond. I don’t believe they have the same voice as the Metro announcements though.

      1. Yeah, but do they ever do the “We apologize for the delay” bit? When they put that on there, watch how many pedestrian crossers rip the switches out with their teeth before they step off the curb.

  4. I have an idea to speed up the freeway buses: Peak-hour HOV-3 lanes. I figure it would be easier to do politically than 24/7 HOV-3 lanes, or at the least be a stepping stone.

    “The location focused on here is Interstate 5 from North Everett to North Seattle. The existing 22.2-mile long southbound lane begins at East Marine View Drive, and ends at the southbound Express Lanes entrance near Northgate Way. The existing 23.2-mile long northbound lane begins at Lake City Way on the northbound Express Lanes, and ends at US 2.

    The HOV-3 hours reflect the times most people are commuting toward Seattle in the morning and away from Seattle in the afternoon:

    HOV-3 5am-9am Monday-Friday
    HOV-2 All other times

    HOV-3 3pm-7pm Monday-Friday
    HOV-2 All other times”


    1. For one, these ideas have already been floated. Enforcement would be an issue. At the current time, WSDOT pays WSP for limited emphasis patrols of HOV lanes. Primarily were HERO calls have been the greatest. My questions are: “Who would pay for it? Overhead sign modifications are NOT cheap…primarily traffic control costs. Who will pay for enforcement? We have roads and bridges falling apart and being hit, how do you justify diverting funds for paving and maintenance to replace signs and enforce HOV lanes?” The gas tax is tapped out.

      The 405 Express Toll Lanes will pay for their own enforcement including “snitch lights” on the toll gantries for toll evaders. …and targeted emphasis patrols. SR 167 HOT Lanes uses toll revenue to pay for enforcement.

      1. Seems like the easiest way to solve this whole problem would be to repurpose every one of these lanes for express buses exclusively- including Jersey barriers to keep ever wheeled thing else out.

        With track-level platforms, and lane access by reserved ramps. Which should enable us to make transit so fast and reliable that Farrel’s wrecking yard will agree to clear both I-5 and SR405 free of charge for all the junk they’ll haul away.

        With car owners cheering as they leap the Jersey barriers desperately trying to flag down the first platoon of buses. Think about it. Is this scenario any less likely than chance that current new lane-scheme is going to work?


      2. Express Toll Lanes allow more cars (HOV-2s and SOVs) in the lanes, and the current problem right now is too many cars in the lanes. Adding HOV-3 restrictions allows fewer cars in the lanes, by removing HOV-2 cars.

        Replacing the signs is indeed not cheap, but it’s the cheapest option for dealing with the increasingly clogged HOV-2 lanes. The infrastructure for Express Toll Lanes is much more expensive, and the “toll” part brings opposition. As for enforcement, it is already an issue for HOV-2 lanes and would be the same for HOV-3 lanes, but most do follow the law.

    2. If the lanes aren’t serving their intended purpose, then the legacy signs are a defect that should fall under basic maintenance. Also, changing the signs is much cheaper than widening the freeways, which is the other alternative.

  5. Together, the English film and the fare machine topic raise an interesting question:

    For all the convenience and advantages of the shift from mechanical to electronic devices….every electronic mechanism and program would work much better if the prototypes were designed by someone designing and constructing a mechanical mechanism first.

    And then using the knowledge gained to convert the result to its electronic form. Coming to industrial design too late in life to machine anything by hand and not lose one of mine, I think that there’s a dangerous flaw in the best virtual-only mechanism.

    From the beginning of life, before anything had hands or eyes- brains came much later with certain STB commenters still waiting- its survival depended on senses of feel, sound, and smell both to adjust to and adjust its surroundings. Meaning that humans’ first creative move is in the hand. With the the nose, ears and eyes engaged.

    Think about it: when you’re talking about any actual object, isn’t your first impulse to describe the subject by gesture? “It’s about THIS big, and shaped sort of like THIS? And it just went THAT way! Hey, COME OVER HERE!”

    You can literally design and build a jetliner on a computer. With CATIA, like Boeing, or SolidWorks for a machine shop, your every keystroke enters information into a file that first learns to many decimal places how much the product weighs, and where it will break.

    Which can then be fed directly to a set of cutting tools that will cut either the part, or the mold for it, without a human having to lay a hand on the material until it cools and the razor sharp edges have been dulled. Max calculating efficiency, product minimum weight and cost.

    But: behind it all, the best any computer knows is the worst information that the stupidest, most misinformed, exhausted human being gave it. And is able to send a disastrous mistake through a worldwide system before any competent human can make a move to correct it.

    Starting with the engagement of our oldest natural mechanisms. As every mechanical designer knows. My SolidWorks program can deliver machining directions for the most beautiful sculptured objects imaginable. A headache and carpal from calculating real-world cutting is better for a human than a lost finger.

    But anything mechanical designed by someone who never touched the material will always inflict similar damage on something else. And same in spades for processes like fare collection. Designers of sidewalk fare machines should have to borrow a body-cam from police to document their time making change and handing out passes by hand as their company’s first “deliverable.”

    Mark Dublin

  6. Some have framed the whole Bellevue boarding house issue as one of banning affordable housing and excluding the poor from certain neighborhoods, when it’s really a question of zoning, and do boarding houses, which are more apartment building than sf house, belong in a sf zoned neighborhood? This made me wonder, when condos and apartment buildings place limits or conditions on the number of tenants per unit, or the ability to sublet, would we still say it’s primarily an issue of being against affordable housing and the poor? Is that our first thought? That the apartment management or condo board is against affordable housing or against poor people? Is that why a condo board wouldn’t allow a unit owner to sublet his 2 bedroom apartment to 12 different people? Because they are against affordable housing?

    1. Wish STB had a mechanism to clear and archive all comments about every half hour. Except for comments pretty much on-topic for the presentation. And also short enough to be written with a quill pen from Scotland. In 1810.

      Oran’s choice this morning magnificently sets forth the skills and knowledge behind building a successful lasting for decades railroad- light or heavy.

      The crusty old “back in my day we didn’t have those durn lasers” guy is a stock character. Who tended to create things we’d consider both overweight and overbuilt.

      However, the triangular level-measuring instrument had this huge advantage over lasers: the user knows what good track feels like. With a few months’ machining experience, to a thousandth of an inch.

      And even more, a good sense, personal and inherited, of what heat, cold, water, and freight trains (goods trains in England) will do to the ride quality of passenger trains.

      In San Francisco when the cable car system was last refurbished, a foreman told me that the mechanisms and materials available to them had to be their best guess at the superior materials and pulleys installed by the Scots engineers who first built the line.

      Gained from a previous generation’s experience in machinery that had to endure brutality that 1800 measuring instruments couldn’t calculate- and that, thankfully, few first-world engineers can really imagine.

      There’s a reason PCC streetcars are still on the rails not only on Market Street, but in countries where renovation is done with hammers and chisels. Which means most of the world.

      Giant exception, of course: every transit machine with the Breda emblem, whatever the wheel-covering. Miserably vulnerable to mechanical failure,
      track and road-destroying tons overweight. Which unfortunately also leaves bodies neither nature nor death can destroy.

      And whose universal low bid inflicts them on systems who ought to know better, including Oslo and Gothenburg. And Seattle, which ignored people ho did know better- but also grouchy in foresight instead of afterthought.

      Okay: back to housing density and lame fare machines.


  7. If anyone wants to know why the maintenance work in the video had to be done on Sundays….

    At one time the Church of England had a lot of political power, and so many things were illegal on Sundays. Up until the 1990s, this included “trading”, meaning such things as shops could not be open on Sundays. For a time it was illegal to run freight trains during the day on Sundays as well.

    So, Sundays were an ideal time to do heavy work.

    Which, when you think about it, is a bit ironic. The Church of England didn’t want anyone working on Sundays, so because there wasn’t much train traffic that is when the work crews could do the heaviest work.

    1. It’s possible that the Church was doing the will of the aristocracy that thought working people smelled almost as bad as shopkeepers.

      An attitude that drove Alexander Hamilton- reputedly the only Founding Father with a ship’s hardware store background, to become an officer in the Revolution.

      So, by this theory, the gentry could enjoy their Sunday in their own dream of paradise: a rolling green land with no reminder that working people hadn’t all been shipped to Australia, or where the worst of them deserved, America.

      By virtue of “transporting” them someplace that didn’t burden the merchant marine.

      Same thing our own present-day equivalents actually did accomplish by sending all our manufacturing work to China. Since the rich hardly ever eat in McDonald’s, worker-pollution problem solved.

      However, when the Revolution comes, first and worst attack of the uprising will be to list Bubble and Squeak, followed by Toad in the Hole, as the only menu item for every overpriced restaurant with a single word for a name.

      With the sound system stuck on La Marseillaise.


  8. Has there been any recent talk of having a Sounder station at Ballard/Golden Gardens and also another in the Queen Anne/Belltown/Expedia area? Seems kind of crazy to have 1 station in Seattle for Sounder especially when it passes through so much of the city anyway including right past these areas. Not that the locations in these areas along the tracks are ideal for Ballard and Queen Anne, but with east-west bus transfers could be pretty good for the transit network. It would drive more traffic to North Sounder which is obviously underutilized HCT. Or better yet just “extend” the Sounder South Line north to Ballard/Golden Gardens and have the North line be everything north of Ballard.

    1. Question would be how much track-work would be necessary to keep Sounder trains out of the way of freights along that section. Also need to now how much time it would add to the schedule to make each additional stop?

      Might be a better use of money to figure out how to get express bus service downtown faster than now. While we also plan and build the subway that’s probably also necessary.

      Some all-day transit lanes along Elliott straight downtown, without diverting to Lower Queen Anne, for example. Best idea would be just to add another Rapid Ride line with another letter designation. Or add an “X”- which is always really super wicked.


      1. At the Northgate Transit Center, I have often wondered why the 66 is listed as ‘Express’ to downtown while the 41 is not. More than once have I steered those who were wondering which one to take, onto the right bus.

      2. The 66 skips several stops along Eastlake.

        But you’re right; it’s very deceptive. In my opinion, nothing should be labeled as an express except when there’s a non-express variant of the same route.

    2. In addition to being very inconvenient to serve via transit, North Sounder is an atrociously unreliable, mudslide-prone boondoggle for a large portion of the year.

      1. Easy one to solve: shift Sounder to the I-5 corridor, then pave the shoreline right of way, and divert I-5 car traffic toward the water and whatever slides into it.

        Bet you it’ll still be a faster drive than I-5 is now.


    3. Assuming north Sounder needs to run at all, a station in the Belltown area makes a lot of sense. Golden Gardens, no. A station there would serve nothing but P&R ride users who would probably find more reliable service on the 17 or 18 express anyway. It would also give Sound Transit an excuse to charge the Seattle area a share of the egregious north Sounder operating costs, which would result in less money for other projects.

      1. Keep in mind we have been shown how advantageous it would be for a subway line to be built from Ballard to the UW Link station. If it could be made to hit the right spot, this could be a good link at the other end.

        However, you would not want to make it part of Sounder North, I don’t think. Instead, if you made it part of Sounder South so that the trains would run through downtown and provide better frequency than what Sounder North does. Golden Gardens would be nice because of the bridge being somewhat higher there, but otherwise it is a bit too far west.

        So, I was thinking of something along the lines of running the thing up the shop and sander tracks by the Ballard Bridge, over a rebuilt Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern bridge (it was just east of the Ballard Bridge and you can see parts of its remains on Google Satellite View) and then onto the Ballard Terminal line. Here, the Fred Meyer parking lot provides a very long uninterrupted section of track where you might be able to cram a Sounder South train.

        Yes, it would raise a ruckus and cost money. However, if you are going to try to get something north of the ship canal, it makes sense to put it into a place where it would connect to a bunch of other services rather than just the 44 like a Golden Gardens station would. It makes sense to put it somewhere where there is some population around it. You could put a station south of the ship canal at the sand towers and other BNSF facilities, but you haven’t solved the problem of the traffic jam on the Ballard Bridge, which any transit connection from the north would then have to navigate. So, you are left with the only large uninterrupted section of freight track anywhere in Ballard, and that is the Fred Meyer parking lot.

        Operating cost would have to be negotiated carefully with the BNSF, because I think such a link would be worth operating Ballard -> King Street as a continuous shuttle when the rest of Sounder South isn’t operating. It wouldn’t be possible at the costs BNSF normally charges though.

        This operating cost stuff is one of the reasons why MetroLink in Los Angeles wound up buying so much track from UP and BNSF: it’s cheaper in the long run to take control of all the services.

    4. In a perfect world !?!
      and if money were no object ?!?

      Not only would there be a SOUNDER Ballard/Golden Gardens Station, but that same station would also be the terminus for one end of an east/west LINK 45th-ish route thru Ballard-Fremont-Wallingford (and especially) on to UW.

      1. The last thing Golden Gardens needs is a park-and-ride. It’s a park. Nobody lives near there, either. Let’s focus on getting HCT, fast transit to the part of Ballard where the people are, not where the creaky freight line is.

      2. There is actually a fair amount of auto traffic in and out of there. As best as I can tell it is generated by people living on boats at the marina. Considering that there is barely occasional bus service there it must not amount to much though.

      3. There’s no bus service there now, just the 48 and 17X at the top of the cliff. Metro has tried several times to offer service on Seaview Avenue NW but it has always failed. Around six years ago the 46 had a reverse-peak shuttle from Ballard & Market which I used for a week week when I had a conference at the yacht club near Golden Gardens. Later Metro proposed splitting the 17 local and sending half the runs down Seaview Avenue but I don’t think that ever happened (it would have made the 32nd Avenue service hourly). Both of these routes have since been deleted.

    5. If there’s any Ballard station it needs to be near Market Street, not Golden Gardens. A Golden Gardens P&R would require dozens of cars to go down the switchback road which can’t handle the volume, or do a mile-long dead-end drive from Market Street. Plus pedestrians would have to go down the stairs or walk the same dead-end mile. Not to mention it would probably be a disallowed use next to the beach and its environmental role.

      1. Years ago, before the north line even started service, there was to be “provisional” funding for a Ballard station. The problem was siting such a station. While it made more sense for a station to the south of Golden Gardens, NIMBY’s were fearful of outsiders parking on their streets. Of course an RPZ would have made that argument moot. Golden Gardens had some advantages, not least of which is a parking lot totally empty weekdays, even in the height of summer. And that no one lives there– which could be considered good or bad or both. At that long-ago time, the Parks Department nixed the idea of a station adjacent the park. In the end, of course, nothing came about and I doubt anything will have changed. Too bad, because the ONLY station stop within Seattle city limits for both Sounder North and South is…KSS.

  9. Yes!
    The Sam and Mark show!
    My favorite time of the week!


    Never change you two!

    1. Hey, c’mon. It’s only practice for every time Big Don weighs in. Still trying to figure out which of the two in the picture is Big Don. The white fluffy one always looks more like he still “lives”.

      Also like he really, like all dogs, thinks polyamory is just great. Wolves, on the other hand, mate for life, and generally with the opposite gender because- I don’t know why. Maybe the wolf dating scene is pretty 1970’s.

      Taking your advice, though and letting the rest of you guys deal with Sam. Just like Dave Ross, who I really miss- think I’ll leave Sam to Luke Burbank.


  10. Thanks for posting this old documentary. Watched it twice. The ‘no train traffic on Sundays’ reference puzzled me; I grew up in Norway during that time period and the only store allowed to stay open on Sundays was the news stand/snack bar at the local train station, since they were serving the travelling public.

    1. The video is not saying that there is no train traffic on Sunday, just that they shut the track down on Sunday to do the track replacement. Assumably Sunday is a low traffic day so shutting the line down causes less disruption.

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