41 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Rio Commute Hell”

  1. Non-profit organization Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) has been a long-term progress-pushing force via education and technical assistance for better bus service in South America and Asia. As reported here in earlier posts over recent years, ITDP likes “real BRT” with dedicated lanes and came up with the gold-silver-bronze rating scheme for BRT.
    Interestingly, despite us in Seattle not having the train on rubber tires that ITDP likes, this outfit just wrote a celebration of King County Metro bus service updated July 5 at https://www.itdp.org/seattle-grows-bus-ridership/ . Interesting read.
    This ITDP essay recalls that the historical Forward Thrust subway elections in King County were in 1968 and 1970, two years apart. I would add that the Sound Move and ST2 programs are constructing a Puget Sound rail network that more than equals the Forward Thrust network in track mileage. No new taxes needed. Let it be the test ride we were promised in 1996.

    1. “buses continue to serve as the backbone for the region’s transit,”

      … because rail reaches only a few places. In cities with extensive rail systems, people take the trains first because they’re faster, more frequent, and more reliable. They have trains to the equvalents fo Ballard and Wallingford and Lake City. Seattle doesn’t, so many people have to take the bus. Before U-Link opened, people had to take a bus to UW. That doesn’t mean Seattle has a better transit network than cities that have trains to all these places. (Not shared-lane streetcars, which are as ineffective as a bus.) It doesn’t mean that buses are the most popular mode because people like them better; it means they’re well-ridden because they’re the only choice available. The article recognizes this at the end: “While Link will be a welcome addition to the transit system, it will take decades to build out to the region. In the interim, buses will continue to be the vital foundation for sustainable transportation that increases access and gives the people of Seattle freedom to travel without a car.” In other words, the buses are an interim stopgap in the main corridors. They’re not the end goal.

      Yes, high-level BRT is theoretically possible. But it requires dedicated rights of way. Creating transit lanes on existing roads is exactly the problem the RapidRide+ lines are having: there’s not enough political will to create them throughout the city. If you can’t replace parking or GP lanes, then the only alternative is a new right of way. That is expensive, to the point that it’s most of the cost of rail, so we might as well put trains on it since trains are higher capacity.

      1. Yes, high-level light rail is theoretically possible. But it requires a commitment to proper stop spacing, a huge investment, or very good bus integration. Creating such a system is exactly the problem that Link is having with ST3: There is not enough political will (or the politicians are too stupid) to build what makes sense for the region. If you can’t figure out how transit systems work properly, the only alternative is to try and fool them into believing that trains on brand new right of way without proper spacing (or proper connections) will be worth the money. That is expensive, and you might as well extend such a ridiculous system to low density cities that lie beyond the reaches of even the biggest subway lines.

      2. +1 for creativity

        I just draw a distinction between ideals and what can get through the current political climate. I’d rather that something get through rather having to stick with the status quo.

    2. Seattle “grows bus ridership” because people have no choice if they want to work in downtown Seattle. It’s as simple as that. The hourglass makes the Seattle CBD at least vaguely reminiscent of Manhattan Island. Of course nowhere near 78% of trips to the “classic” CBD in Seattle are made on transit. It’s just 42%, one of the highest in the country. Yes, the bus lanes on Aurora, 15th West and the busway are great facilities, but to call them a “significant mileage” is a bit of a stretch. They invariably end just when the congestion starts because Great God Car can’t be inconvenienced.

      When you start advocating for cameras cameras front and aft on the buses, a significant police presence on Battery in the afternoon and queue jumps at any intersection where there’s room to add a short lane for a route segment that has ten buses per hour total, you’re just running the ol’ bait-and-switcheroo.

  2. Question, John. When I drove for Metro, my first route had me on the first order of MAN articulated buses, which I think were more authentically German than the later ones. They had no wheelchair lifts, but somewhat firmer steering and suspension, which I liked.

    For most of my time there, I specialized in the”artics”, especially the electric ones on the Route 7. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, which a dozen of us ATU members were called on to help design was a lifetime present to me. Metro almost wired the Route 7 into the Tunnel, via the I-90 bus lanes. But ramp would cost $12 million. Wish you could have helped me put some pressure on them.

    Shame Breda trolley motors were as strong as their diesels were weak, and their carcasses, I mean coach bodies heavy. Well, as an old Roman saying says “Speak no ill of the (Living) Dead!” Since they couldn’t do freeway speed downhill with a tail-wind, it wasn’t that hard to maintain the very Metro’s savagely enforced following distance. Same for ten mile an hour max through trolley wire “special work.”

    One 60′ coach length for every ten miles an hour would meant six hundred feet between tails and bumpers. Do the math on a theoretical platoon of maybe six at top speed, however well reserved the lane. And compare the passenger load a coupled train can carry in the empty air between buses.

    True, buses can be coupled. This morning couldn’t find any pics of the beaten-up forty footers Moscow used to run. Russians take pride in the beating everything Russian can take, especially themselves.. But maybe to get even for the trouble we’re giving him over Crimea- where they have a fifty mile long trolleybus line- Vladimir Putin might give us some historic coupled Skodas.

    Possible to do, but standard buses just aren’t framed out for coupling. So while there’s certainly a very large part for reserved-lane buses in this region, I think anything hauling heavy enough to run underground needs trains. But since I really loved Tunnel driving, I’d really appreciate any advice to me and Transit to as to how I can finish my life doing it. Though it has to have joint use with trains.


    1. Mark says “Since they couldn’t do freeway speed downhill with a tail-wind…”
      Actually they could when put in neutral. I got one up to 74 going down the Southcenter Hill one evening, flying by another one headed to the base.
      The look on that extra board drivers face was worth it.
      I also flew under the Golden Gate Bridge in an Army Otter, but that’s a different story..

      1. Brings back embarrassing memory, Mic. When I was about five, maybe five years after the end of World War II, I had a favorite Saturday morning radio program about the adventures of a bomber crew.

        Their plane was called “The Dragon Wagon”. So I envisioned this wicked looking plane that looked exactly like a dragonfly, shiny black with a 100′ wingspan, four wings, and a curving tail with a stinger at the end. Forget if that had a tail gunner in it. Probably depended on the mission-related variation.

        So you got me again! A cute graceful ship with sleek brown fur and webbed landing gear. Perfect for diving under bridges and coming up with either a very large salmon or a whale (technically against wildlife rules, but what fish and game official is going to want to go on Section 8 by reporting the event?)

        And even worse, with a Breda, a decaying vehicle so fast they probably used it in that Brad Pitt movie where the zombies actually ran around- without a single limb falling off. Unlike the time my accelerator pedal did northbound at University Way and 42nd.

        I hope the Brad Pitt one wasn’t real, because, since you had to get sick for the zombies not to see you, Metro’s health plan probably had to pay for a lot of bogus doctors’ visits. So curious whether the smell of a Breda would immunize you.

        Anyhow, early warning on how lame television was in comparison with radio. I already knew what a B-17 looked like, and they were all olive drab, same color as an army blanket. Why would the enemy be scared of that? So I’m begging everybody, especially those interested in military aviation. Do not go online for the Army Otter!


        BTW. Too bad you didn’t hit that defective Chinese pillar on that other bridge.


  3. I work in downtown Bellevue and took a walk at lunch one day this week. On that walk, I was struck by how much dense growth is occurring and how far away much of that growth is from the East Link stations.

    The core of downtown Bellevue is bounded by Main Street, 100th Avenue NE, NE 12th St and 112th Avenue NE. Existing, under construction and planned density is spread throughout that core. Meanwhile, the two Link stations are pushed to the far southeast corner of the core (Main and 112th) and the eastern side (NE 6th between 110th and 112th). Much of what would be walkshed for the stations to the east is consumed by I-405. As sited, the stations are 1/2 – 3/4 mile from the western portion of the core and are unlikely to be widely used by people living, working and shopping in that area. In addition, we are investing significant funds into a tunnel through downtown Bellevue, but then have placed the tunnel too far east and not even put a station into the tunnel.

    Looking back at the various route and station alternatives that were proposed and discarded along the way, it is frustrating that the end result is so far from optimal. While a line approaching downtown via Bellevue Way instead of 112th would have been ideal, even the selected 112th approach could have led to a decent path. Instead, death by a thousand cuts and concerns over construction impacts led to stations that are too far east for much of downtown and in the shadow of I-405. That’s a shame for infrastructure that is supposed to last for generations.

    1. Dense growth is occurring in SLU, which is twice as far away from a Central Link station as Bellevue’s dense growth is from its two future East Link stations. Personally, I’d like to see a few elevated and enclosed high speed movable walkways branching-out from the BTC to, let’s say, Bellevue Way and 8th, Bellevue Square, and Bellevue Way and 4th. Instead of moving the mountain to the people, move the people to the mountain.

      BTW, cores move. Who’s to say 50 to 75 years from now Bellevue Station/BTC won’t be the center of Bellevue’s core? It’s very likely, by then, parts of 405 will be covered and the entire area east of 405, (116th to 120th, and NE 8 to Main) will become dense, as well, making the transit stations located more in the core than it is today.

      1. Excellent idea for one place I’ve visited briefly, Sam.

        Exactly what you’re proposing could connect Tukwila International station with the car rental facility newer and much nicer than the Airport. Which is presently reached only by buses that spend a lot of time in terminal traffic.

        Necessary and affordable. Port of Seattle and ST…Just do it!


      2. Freeway interchange damage is, if not permanent and total, certainly persistent and severely limiting. Consider downtown Seattle: though many steps have been taken over the last half-century to minimize the disruption of I-5 and bridge the city across it, so that it’s less physically disruptive than 405 is in Bellevue (particularly when interchanges are considered), it’s still a defining barrier. So though cores move, and transportation infrastructure is one of the major things that moves them, taking steps to move the eastside’s biggest walkable downtown core closer to the freeway was just bad planning. ST’s general strategy of refusing to have an opinion about the way its stations will shape local development is a recipe for this sort of bad planning — at best it leaves our development aims to chance, and even chance has no chance faced with an opposition that is certainly willing to name its aims.

        The worst way to compound this error would be to excessively limit growth or enforce auto dependence several blocks west of the stations. Downtown Bellevue needs beautiful, walkable blocks whose sidewalks are often full of people anywhere it can get ’em; infill is incremental and some of the blocks that are closest are over by Downtown Park. In a decade they’ll be closer to regional transit than almost anywhere else in the region, including most of the U District, Capitol Hill, and SLU. Other things distinguish Old Bellevue from these areas, of course, but a kilometer’s walk to regional transit shouldn’t hold it down completely.

    2. “I work in downtown Bellevue and took a walk at lunch one day this week. On that walk, I was struck by how
      much dense growth is occurring”

      Imagine there’s no parking
      It isn’t hard to try
      Building entrances the shortest walking distance
      A car’s more trouble than it’s worth
      This i-i-i-s what Bellevue could be

      1. Give it a few more years and Bellevue won’t have any surface parking (except street parking, but that’s the case in any city on most streets). But most people will still drive, since unless you live in Seattle, driving will still be substantially faster for most people than transit (405 traffic is bad, but it’s not that bad).

        As for fixing the lack of stations problem, maybe they should convert 6th St. into a streetcar corridor (perhaps a loop with one of the other streets). There are no cars anyway and you can link up all the dense development for anyone who doesn’t want to walk.

      2. No much, but a few minor streets have spots. It’s all free as far as I know, but subject to 2 hour limits.

      3. @David: If SLU has proven anything it’s that buildings with parking underneath look a lot like normal buildings from the helicopter vantages typically used in design renderings, but at sidewalk level they don’t work too differently from buildings with parking lots behind them (or worse, if the parking entrance is on the “front” side). In Bellevue, just as in SLU, the surface streets can get quite congested in addition to the freeway. But any time they are the sidewalks outside those parking garage entrances are very stressful to walk. If parking is available and cheap your driving mode-share will be bounded below by the ratio of people that choose the traffic stress over the walking stress. Individual choice is wonderful (the expansion of meaningful individual choice is one of the hallmarks of our civilization’s rise), but when both kinds of stress (and several other ills, local and global) are imposed by one of the choices we need to recognize it, and make some different collective choices.

        (also Mike Orr’s song interpretation below)

      4. Re street parking in Bellevue: There’s not any on the big arterials, but just north of 8th or just south of 4th there’s plenty of street parking. Even in some cases between 4th and 8th there’s some limited street parking.

        @Al: Yes, I agree 100%. I used to work right next to the transit center there and the whole area is a mess during rush hour (apart from 6th St, which is a great pedestrian plaza). But the only way to limit the number of cars going into Bellevue is going to be convincing the large employers to restrict parking through some sort of monthly fees. My wife works in the building next to the one I used to be in, and her employer did not provide free parking (free transit pass or a subsidy towards parking). A number of people in her office used buses. My employer provided free parking, and a lot fewer people used buses even if they were directly on the bus routes. Unfortunately I don’t expect many employers to start charging for parking.

    3. Interpretation of song: if parking garages weren’t built or were deemed superfluous, we could infill the space with workspaces and housing and recreation: people-space instead of car space. Because people are mostly walking, they would want the shortest distance between activities, so buildings would be designed to lessen the walking distance. Bellevue is getting dense but not ideally dense, instead it’s Los Angeles dense.

      Growth is occurring in SLU and Ballard, nowhere near a train, or a bus with transit lanes. Ideally we would build the transit and buildings at the same time, or the transit first, but instead we’ve let the buildings go first and not made a firm commitment to trunk transit. (“Maybe someday, maybe.”) Some of the buildings were built anticipating the monorail. When it became clear that the monorail wasn’t happening, they kept building anyway, crossing their fingers that something would happen, or resigning themselves to a San Jose-like car-centric future. Some people relish the car-centric future of course and aren’t bothered by it. But the point is that the lack of high-capacity transit feeds directly into an even greater insistence on 1:1 parking for every unit, which leads to the kind of apartments Ballard is getting and the design of downtown Bellevue.

  4. Apologies, John. But your side can relax. This morning’s pre-noon math, and 20 year memory, will make sure I never finish probation on your system.

    Sixty SECONDS for every ten miles an hour. Please somebody wake up and check my math. The WASL will make my school go Charter.

    Still, resulting standing-loaded air space will at least make air conditioning unnecessary for a lot of passengers there. Thanks for joining us. Think of your role as human Liquid Wrench.


  5. At the other end of the spectrum, intercity bus travel is vastly better in Brasil than in the USA. Most of these are overnight buses designed for that purpose with reclining seats that don’t quite turn into beds but are pretty comfortable to sleep in.

    1. Same, I’m told, in Turkey. Definitely in Thailand. I think what destroyed the really good travel experience that Greyhound used to give our country was airline deregulation. Most of Greyhound’s passengers could suddenly afford to fly. Ones that couldn’t afford that- one ride story tells sorry self.


      1. I think what makes it work in Brasil is the concentration on overnight trips, plus hotels that are willing to let you check in in the morning when you arrive. It means travel time can be used for something other than travel.

  6. I think John Niles mentioned riding RapidRide D although I can’t find it now, John, as a BRT fan, what would you recommend in that corridor to make it “as good as rail”. People are complaining that the D often takes 45 to 60 minutes at rush hour to get between Pine Street and Market Street, and that it’s heavily unreliable. So they want reliability and good travel time. Assume a target travel time between Pine Street and Market Street of 10 minutes is excellent, 15 minutes good, 20 minutes tolerable, and 25 minutes bad. What would you do, what would be the most likely opposition if any (not from rail fans but from others), and how would you handle the opposition? Would it look like Curitiba? If not, how would it be different?

    1. I’m no spokesman for John, but that one is easy. Start with the WSTT. Then give the bus every bit of treatment that was originally planned for the train (before ST decided to switch to elevated) between there and the Ballard bridge. If need be, build a new bridge. My guess is you could spend that kind of money on something that is a better value, but either way, you would still come out way ahead. You wouldn’t have to run rail, and all the buses that cross the bridge (18, 17, 15 along with the D) would be able to take advantage of that improved corridor, which would have as much right of way as the train.

      Of course, the biggest improvement is on the other end (the C). This is because you could leverage the existing bridge. You also have more corridors (towards Delridge, Alki, 35th and Fauntleroy). All those surface corridors, of course, could have improvements as well (just as streets like 24th NW and Ballard Avenue could have improvements).

      From a capital standpoint, it would be much cheaper. From an operations standpoint, it might be more expensive, but only because you would be providing a much better value. Rather than running trains every ten minutes, you could be running buses that happen to run along a shared corridor every minute.

      1. At the very least, even under the current plan, it would be good to build both of the new bridges for both light rail and buses. Except for the unfortunate delay the streetcar has due to the switches, Tillicum Crossing works very well as a mixed bus and light rail bridge.

        Among other things, if buses need to operate a bus bridge for Link it means they have a dedicated crossing. In the case of West Seattle the bridge could operate as a bus bridge first to eliminate two transfers people would otherwise have to make.

    2. It was a challenge for John, whether he’d support a RossB-like plan, and furthermore whether he’d actually vote for it if such a plan came up. The problem with BRT fans we’ve had is that they say “we should have BRT instead” whenever a rail proposal comes up, but when a BRT proposal comes up they say no we don’t need anything or water it down.

  7. Since on weekends, Link is running all 3-car trains all the time, it creates the unusual case of Link having more capacity all day on weekends than off-peak on weekdays (which are the same frequency but with only 2-car trains). Does this mean that previously, Link was exceeding target load 60% of the time on weekends?

    1. It’s because most large events downtown tend to happen on weekends, rather than weekdays, while everyone who is at work can’t go. Seahawks games, Sounders games, Husky games, pax, bumbershoot,comicon – there’s nearly always something going on that draws big crowds. Weekdays, of course, get crushloads too, as a result of people traveling to and from work, but those tend to be during rush hour, not in the middle of the day. Even rush hour is often not as bad as the temporary crush when 50,000 football fans all exit the stadium at the same time.

    2. It is possible that if Central Link had a built in opportunity to remove 3-car trains from service on weekends they probably would. On weekdays they add 3 car trains with the 6 trains sent out for peak periods – and removed when they drop to off peak frequencies. On weekends all trains stay out all day. It would be labor intensive and would create service disruptions to switch to 2-car trains outside of the peak ridership trips (middle of the day and before and after events).

      Mid-day weekdays are seeing Saturday level loads which begs the question: Why not leave the 3-car trains put out during morning peak out until the afternoon peak period ends? That would add capacity with very little budget and no service disruptions.

  8. Question: why are there no shelters at the bus stops around 3rd & Pine? It’s rather strange and pathetic, considering it’s basically the central hub of the region’s transit network. (Is it just to discourage homeless people?)

    1. I’m not sure as to the official reason, but I’d guess its a matter of the sidewalk not being wide enough, and there are overhangs that provide shelter from the rain.

      I’d guess if Metro put anything in, it’d be one of the pass through shelters with just a roof, but no walls on the long side.

      1. There used to be shelters there (at least on the Pine side). I thought they pulled them because the sidewalks were too crowded. There might also have been something about ne’er do wells lingering there and smoking when it was raining.

      2. Hmm, I guess that makes sense if the sidewalks aren’t wide enough. It just doesn’t look very much like a bus stop at first glance, other than the sign and realtime information. And the store awnings didn’t look very protective from the rain in some parts.

  9. I’m curious if anyone has a list of the prerecorded announcements for King County Metro that a driver can trigger? (Like the “please exit from the rear door” or “move to the back” ones..)

    I’m specifically interested in the ones that might be summed up as “please behave yourself in the back” as I’d like to contribute some advice back to another non-transit geek discussion board..

    1. Advice always appreciated, Nick. But from my Route 7-driving and passenger days, recorded announcements quickly get tuned out. But ones about behavior would worsen it well past the time the driver gets killed. There is something inherently, and dangerously insulting about being addressed this way.

      Recorded apologies for routine and preventable delays my own worst behavior control problem.

      Public address use is one of many extremely important skills in which average driver gets no training at all. Since average person has trouble with public speaking of any kind, having to deliver a comment on a passenger’s behavior is the hardest. And often the most critical to get right for anything but a bad result.

      The worse the likely conflict, the more important are plain good manners. Combat-avoiding meetings between two armed enemies were how manners were invented. Passengers are always best addressed as “Sir”, “Ma’am”, and “Ladies and Gentlemen.” And instructions on behavior are always polite requests.

      However, there is a set of underlying preparations before the driver says anything. Without letting anyone see you reach for the phone to control, and quietly give coordinator your route and run numbers, bus number, location and direction of travel. Then brief description of the situation. And any weapons in sight.

      Don’t know if coordinators are ignorant enough to do this anymore, but never accept an order to stop and hold the bus until the police to arrive. Proven way to get the crap beaten out of you, or have it happen to someone else.

      But politely request (whole communication is recorded) that the police be waiting ahead of you. Very often the police themselves have overheard whole conversation on scanner. What happens when you pull up behind the squad car is in their job description. Only polite requests are in yours.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Reminds me of a ride on Link once a few years ago. A guy caught the door before it closed and got on. The Link driver played the “Do not hold the door, holding the door delays your train” three times in a row. The second time it played, the guy started talking back, and on the third time it played, he started really yelling and screaming in general. Uncomfortable all around.

  10. Nick, driver response to passengers violating other passengers rights is a much longer discussion. One that I always wished the company would have with drivers a lot more often. Including a lot of drill.

    Problems classed as “behavior”- loud music, smoking, bothering others- that can be corrected with a request are one thing. When a policeman’s request simply carries the authority yours doesn’t.

    Physical violence is something else. Habits and moves for calling in trouble are the same, only more urgent, and details more critical. These should be intensively trained into every driver before their first run.

    Drivers must be conditioned to watch interior mirrors and listen for developing trouble. And, seriously, be able to smell alcohol. And anything burning. And notify “control” quietly and fast. If a fight breaks out, of course get the coach to the curb and open all doors, so both violence and the innocent can escape.

    And simultaneously tell control your exact location, and ongoing description of the unfolding situation. Especially injuries, and weapons as they appear. Unless your own safety depends on leaving, don’t get separated from your radio.

    After several years’ duty, drivers notice that a lot of past trouble now leaves them alone.The more smoothly and efficiently you handle your coach, the more people sense you’re in control of everything that happens on board. And behave accordingly

    Most worrisome I’m hearing now, twenty one years after my last run, is how many drivers still look at driving as a temp job. For transit driving “Job” is as bad as “temp.” This work is only bearable if viewed as a skilled trade.

    Mark Dublin

  11. The more opportunities I get to ride the hybrid articulated buses the more impressed with them I become. They are powerful but quiet and smooth. What a great invention the powerplant is!

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