33 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Helicopter Commutes”

  1. When I last visited the Statue of Liberty a few years ago, the large amount of helicopter traffic was definitely a disappointment. Within seconds after one helicopter left, the next one would arrive, to the point where you basically can’t visit the Statue of Liberty anymore, without being constantly bombarded by helicopter noise.

    Until new technology can make helicopters much more quiet, they really should be outright banned from most tourist areas, or at least restricted to certain hours and days so that people can plan around them.

    1. One of the least appealing things of living in North Edgewater (aka Walmont) was getting buzzed by helicopter tours several times a day, probably getting a close-up of Green Lake. It was worst between April and October, but even in the winter there’d be a couple fly-bys. The seaplanes were also kind of annoying, but at least they’re fulfilling a transportation niche.

      Now I live in Wallingford a bit further down the hill, and hardly ever notice the helicopters or the planes.

  2. I skimmed the Metro service report, and a few things stood out for me:

    * I was surprised to see some of the routes listed as “over-crowded”. Some make total sense (C, D, E, 255, 312), but others are very unexpected (24, 33, 232). In the case of the 24 and 33, I would be curious to know when and where they’re overcrowded, given that the 19 in Magnolia relieves some over-crowding at peak going to downtown. On the weekends, they’re nearly empty, and I’ve rued the times I have accidentally walked to the 24 rather than the 33 in Discovery Park, though it certainly is a very scenic (and very slow) way to downtown.

    I occasionally have taken the 232 as well, when I’ve needed to run an errand on the Eastside and want to meet my partner when she leaves work at Overlake. Going east, the bus is full (almost every seat taken) but has almost never had people standing. Going west, I have sometimes been the only person on the bus.

    * On the reliability front, I notice that the 62 and 26/28 all need investments for service reliability, but it’s kind of surprising that the 26/28 each appear to need almost as much investment as the 62, despite running half as often. It’s also telling that the 131 is the only connected route that needs investment (not the 132), so I wonder if this is a sign that Metro might consider splitting the routes, or at least the 26/131.

    In better news, I’m thrilled to see that Metro’s investments in the 44 have finally paid off. It only took living here for over 10 years to be able to depend on its reliability at all.

    1. I’m guessing the 24/33 overcrowding to be a rush hour thing. Although weekend ridership on those routes is not nothing. I can recall at least one trip when I was actually standing on the 33 on a Saturday afternoon, although that was back before prop 1, when the 33 ran once per hour, so capacity was half of what it is today.

      232 is a peak-hour express. The crowding is happening in the peak direction, and you are riding the empty reverse direction, which exists primarily to get the bus in position for an upcoming trip in the peak direction. At least the Overlake->Bellevue part of the 232 is duplicated by both the 566/567 and various Microsoft shuttles (for employees only), which may partly explain the 232’s low ridership for that segment.

      1. A couple of times a month, I take the #24 leaving 28th and Blaine at 7:27AM. It is always jammed, and sometimes passes people by at the last two Magnolia stops. It is always a 40′ bus, so using an artic would doubtless help – but getting an artic would probably result in some other run being downgraded to a 40′ bus, leaving it jammed – just shifting the pain.

        I suspect making it an artic regularly would increase usage; but probably not enough to jam the larger bus completely.

    2. Could sudden rapid population increase in Ballard have something to do with attention the 44?


      1. Ballard’s population boom is certainly why Metro can justify 8-minute peak headways on the 44, and 12-minute Saturday headways and 15-minute Sunday headways. Just 10 years ago, I remember the 44 was 30-minute headways all day, which often translated into 2 buses coming back-to-back 30 minutes late and SRO, and nothing for an hour or more.

        It doesn’t hurt that SDOT discovered some creative and cheap solutions along the route, but there certainly are still room for improvements, mostly in the west-bound direction (left-turn of doom on to 15th, and out-of-lane stop at Latona). It does beg the question what Metro/SDOT hopes to do if Ballard keeps growing at this pace, since 45th as it is really can’t support much more than 8-minute headways. Bring back the 46 as a 44X? Actually do RapidRide treatment to the 44 and have dedicated lanes and off-board payment (sacrilege! war on cars!)?

        As for the 232, it would make sense if the portion past Remond was higher ridership, though the 232 is a lot more convenient and timed better for me, since it stops right outside the Bellevue library while the 566/7 get right onto 405.

      2. “Ballard’s population boom is certainly why Metro can justify 8-minute peak headways on the 44, and 12-minute Saturday headways and 15-minute Sunday headways. Just 10 years ago, I remember the 44 was 30-minute headways all day, which often translated into 2 buses coming back-to-back 30 minutes late and SRO, and nothing for an hour or more.”

        The frequent headways aren’t because the population was previously too low and now it’s high enough. It’s because Metro’s policy changed to emphasize full-time frequent service rather than thinking 30-minute evenings was sufficient, and ballot measures in Seattle that are funding the frequency. If Metro’s attitude had been different in the 90s and early 00s, and if more of the countywide Metro measures had passed, and if Initiative 695-equivalent laws weren’t in effect, we could have had full-time frequency thirty years ago, like San Francisco and Chicago and Vancouver have had it this whole time. Then transit would have a higher mode share now because people would be more comfortable trusting it, and maybe it would have been easier to decrease parking minimums earlier.

      3. Was the 44 really just every 30 minutes 10 years ago. Sounds believable enough on Sundays, when almost nothing ran better than that.

        As to how to improve, I think there is still low-hanging fruit that could be made, but it would require trade-offs regarding the throughput of private cars. For instance, the pullout stop on 45th on top of I-5, just before the traffic light could be made in-lane, and moved to the far side of the intersection. Approaching Fremont Ave., one of the traffic lanes could be converted to bus/right turn only. Same for approaching 15th Ave. to get out of Ballard.

        I also think some sort of peak-hour express version of the 44 may be in order. But I’m conflicted whether it would be best to follow the regular 44 route with limited stops, or to resurrect the old 46.

      4. I believe that the 44 has been 15 minutes or better weekdays since it was the 30, but only west of 15th NE.

      5. The 44 got 15-minute evenings some time ago, maybe with the 2012 restructure, but the 43 was 30-minute evenings all the way to the end if I recall.

      6. EB Market ST does NOT need two turn lanes onto NB 15th Ave. Take one left turn lane and stripe two through lanes and a dedicated right turn lane. EB Market St across 15th Ave would have some goofy striped lane tapers, but it would greatly improve traffic movement through there. With some creative striping, you could probably get a 100 to 150 ft right turn pocket, which could handle most queues outside of rush hour, especially since you could have a dedicated right turn arrow during 15th Ave’s long left turn cycles. Might need to eschew AASHTO guidelines, but it would be worth it.

        Currently, you have to hope your bus driver is gutsy enough to drive in the left through lane and merge right back over.

    3. There are several employers along Elliott such as F5, Big Fish Games, and the Amazon Galaxy building. If you are commuting into downtown and from downtown to work in the morning the 33/24 are the closest option to being dropped off right at work so they are crowded. Another option is to take say 1, 2, 13, or D and get off at Key Arena so you can grab Starbucks on your walk down from Lower QA to Elliott (my personal pet name is Lowest QA). You can also take the D past Key Arena and back down to Elliott but have to walk about a mile along Elliott back to the south or hope to catch another bus coming south.

      In the evening the 33/24 are the only convenient option to get back downtown. Otherwise you are walking up the steep hill to lower QA or downtown. You can also walk about a mile north to catch the D to downtown but then you might see the 33/24 pass you by and you ask yourself is it really worth it. After work the 33/24 can be very crowded as it goes up Western. Until the bus gets to roughly 3rd and Vine it is not uncommon to have several people getting off at the rear door just so they can let other people off the bus and then hope they can hop back on before the doors shut on them.

  3. An e-mail newsletter from TriMet says the Hop Card sales network has increased significantly. Soon, only the passs will be available from retail stores and retail sales of paper tickets will stop.

  4. Personal choice:



    A spark from a repair mistake got the Hindenburg. 36 killed, 97 survived. Compare that with average jetliner crash. Think record jumbo-jet collision took record at five hundred to zero, but without word one about grounding these things permanently. Planes fought weather better than lighter-than-air, and could lift many times more, end of story.

    Curious: Does German aviation even have a term for “Cheaping-Out-On-Maintenance-and-Operating Hours” or Sub-to-the-thousandth-power-Contracting? Did I miss mention of “Labor Unions” in the video? Because we’re not talking planes here. Subject is share-holders and Risk Management. How many survivors to we have to pay off?

    Same question for price of Congressional cooperation to write laws keeping our CEO out of jail. So can we the most likely victims at least wait ’til we have an Administration that doesn’t use shredded safety regulations for jet-fuel? The girl who got killed when that ‘copter fell apart wasn’t even a passenger.

    Also, can we have the sequel I know is out there about (make the music and the presenter both twinkle like Tinkerbell on Prozac!) how automated helicopters are ALMOST HERE? Probably too late for a Federal Reg that every company executive has to fly pilotless for a year.

    Video depiction of future vehicle, one ray of hope. See them every day around the mall corner from BestBuy computers.


    “DARPA” invented them, so probably designed as a buzz-kill (literally!) for the use of officers and officials whose kid won’t let them use his sling-shot to shoot down his birthday present. And by now everybody knows what an AR15 sounds like. Shotguns only legal in season, and Game Department has strict limits.

    No hardship for passengers. Drone-Retriever (all named GOOOOD Boy!) can just lower the net on a long-line right in front of local LINK station. And then go rotoring away to snag driverless (OK, pilotless) helicopter on its vertical way down for unscheduled connection with ST 574, to catch flight at Sea-Tac.
    Leaving problem of what happens when that gets tangled in the net.

    Now, to get back to the needs of a transit blog with the foresight to reconcile its present preoccupation with real estate, and a future of proven maintenance -deferred ,out-contracted transit modes all starting with the word “Driverless” or “Unpiloted”.


    In Boston a really bo-ring number of years ago, had a talk with a “T” mechanic aboard a Boeing Vertol light railcar in a tunnel underneath the shops. How was it working out?

    “Same as if the Brill Car Company had built a helicopter!”



    Julian Assange is still really ticked he didn’t know that in 1972 you could hack things with a 1926 Remington. But could’ve been worse. Good thing the mechanic didn’t say “American Locomotive Company.


    Because we were having a hell of a time getting a tail-rotor on it.

    Mark Dublin

  5. Heli-commuting was once an issue in Seattle. There was a rich businessman, Thomas Stewart, who wanted to heli-commute from his home on Vashon to his office in Delridge. Seattle denied him a permit for a helipad in Delridge and eventually Stewart moved his business to Arizona because he didn’t like the tax laws in WA. Then, a few years later, Mr. Stewart’s name popped up in the news again. He and his family were killed when his helicopter malfunctioned and crashed in Arizona.

    1. Helicopters are usually not too bad in Seattle, but they can be problem occasionally, when there’s any kind of protest going on downtown, and the news stations decide they want an eye in the sky to record it. Those are actually more annoying than charters for rich people because they hover in place for an hour or more at a time, rather than passing by in a few seconds. Fortunately, these kinds of things usually happen during the daytime, not when people are trying to sleep.

    2. Stewart was definitely one of those rich people that thought they could get away with anything, because they were rich. He would give his employees a raise, with the stipulation that they donate 100% of the raise to conservative causes. He did tend to contribute to his local community, which won the hearts of his neighbors, despite being a terrible human being otherwise.

  6. https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/27342658139/in/dateposted-public/

    Isn’t South Lake Union bad enough without razor-sharp gravel like shrapnel when one of these preying mantis imitators brings in ten tons of whatever? I guess “prop-wash” sounds more pedestrian friendly than “air burst.”

    But might be worth putting up with what’s really the only way to get the Route 8 across I-5. And maybe we can settle some of the BAT-lane conflicts, like ten miles of driveways. But I’d give anything to fly Fare Enforcment missions. Love the blue instant citation mechanism on the fuselage!


    Hey, something else! Maybe Joint Base Lewis McChord will help us with HOV lane priority if we change the ST color scheme. Have to be careful on the “Camo”, however, because motorists don’t need another excuse to pretend we’re not there.

    Advertisers might also start to self-select. When Convention Center hosts Saudi Arabia, dozen African dictatorships, and other Freedom-loving thugs to boost to our sales, I mean National Security, “wraps” will make it inadvisable to spark, or stop, in front of dying bushes.


  7. Should read “park”, not “Spark.” Because, unless your time on a meter runs out, less likely than a possible muzzle-flash to move your illegally parked car with a three-day blizzard of spent uranium.

    Especially, knowing Seattle climate if weather forecast just calls for leaflets that are really ORCA cards. Using your plates to send your bill for $5. And your final warning for failing to “Tap Off!”


    1. Very, very cool!!!! I love how the cabs adjust automatically for slope!

      I so wish a First Hill — Downtown connector would be designed with a level vehicle floor mechanism assuming the new Link station ends up at Fifth and Madison. This is one way to do it that would allow for different slopes on different segments.

  8. http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/business/article189660864.html

    Debbie Cockrell, Today’s Tacoma News Tribune, Local Section, Page 6B
    “Good, bad news: Seattle buyers like our homes”.

    Same appetite fires in Southern California bring to dry brush. But worst thing isn’t the obliteration of thirty years’ land use planning. It’s helpless lack of response from the whole Sound Transit Area to the impossibility of building any transit at all for forty more.

    [Topic] that needs to be permanently switched [On] in these pages is what we’re going to do about it. Having nothing-headed-to less to lose by any fighting-back at all.

    And same in spades for perennial wish for a Beautiful Wall around Seattle to save ST from the State of Washington. Defensive portals become blocked exits real fast.Exactly like the United States of America vs. the Rest of The World, with same sole possible cure:

    Re-group and re-engage. Much sadistic satisfaction to think of transit’s enemies watching themselves minoritify (Mark, you used to listen to Yogi Berra, and you ain’t one!) as their rolls fill up with former-Seattle buyers who like homes they don’t have to spend whole nights getting back to.

    I care even less about rules limiting transit’s participation in property acquisition and development than I do about criminal court for missed tap-off’s. Two policies that Aren’t Going to Change until somebody at least Dies Trying.

    Other demises that also aren’t a waste. I know I’m not the only one reading this with ideas that don’t violate the Shoreline Management Act act by pretending to personally make a salmon hatchery out of your car. What do we do?

    Mark Dublin

    1. What was that about wanting to revitalize the Hilltop? It may play out like Rainier Valley: the train arrives and apartments are built a decade after people start being priced out.

      1. Mike, agree with you a hundred percent about the Hilltop, which is pretty much my trip Downtown. Same with my favorite trolleywire the length of Rainier Avenue, especially through Columbia City. Some of my passengers are at least forty now, doubtless with children. I wonder where they CAN afford to live now?

        I wish problem were only an unfair division of wealth, but it’s worse than that. It’s less about how much money a family, actually has, and no matter how much in permanent credit card debt, than how long they’ve been in the habit of having it.

        Including unthinking assumption of a college education. Despite how far both they, and increasingly their children, have to go and stay in debt to afford. Because increasingly, most Considering the historic danger of this exact situation, “Class” is too mild.

        Better word is “Caste”, for permanence of the divide. Have heard, and believe, that our country now has the lowest level of social mobility in the industrial world. And among the governing classes, the most firm resolution that nothing can be done about it.

        No question a very large amount of lawful prejudice has been eliminated since the 1960’s, at the cost of many good people’s lives. However, cold but truthful…this resignation to permanent social division counts as the equivalent of racism, misogyny, and gender intolerance combined among people who pass laws against these other evils.

        And as is resignation’s habit, too listless to take hold of the political opportunity of a lifetime. To young people whose family’s factory jobs went away forty years ago, add an entire generation of young people of college age and inclination who’ll spend the rest of their lives in debt for a certificate with no guaranteed worth at all.

        Tell me a time this mix ever did not result in a flower-free revolution. Or did not give tremendous power to whatever political organization helps it get to where it can write laws. Any reader active in the Democratic Party: can you find me Word One about taking the lead of a fury-fueled generation with potential lifetime of Congressional seniority in view?

        Send me a link. And forgive me for my espresso and computer desks in Rainier Valley and Hilltop, Mike. Tacoma Dome is my most usual ST 574 to LINK ride to Seattle. But am meeting very large number of generation I’m talking about, and they listen with the kind of respect that means action. Like the 2018 election, here for the taking…


  9. We are a long ways away from the Jetsons. But I must say damn it would be nice to see 50-passenger Chinook helicopters lift off from Paine Field, Bremerton, Tacoma and Downtown Seattle to drop folks at SeaTac. At least in 2017 you can get on the sexy light rail and be at Westlake Station in 36 minutes, University of Washington in 42 minutes. At a lot lower price than even a seat on a 50-passenger Chinook would cost you.

    So somehow I don’t see helicopter commuting working for the masses. Except as a joyride. Oh that’s right see https://www.seattlehelitours.net/flights for yourself.

    1. Couple of questions, Joe.

      One, aircrews often talk about being “Stacked Up” over an airport waiting for permission to land. What’s your assurance that the 20 mile long line of roaring metal-clad frustration now stuck on I-5 every rush hour won’t go from crawling like a worm to a buzzing vortex of angry helicopters in the mood to sting all the others?

      And two- who exactly is going to do, and inspect, the maintenance of all these ships? And see to it that share-holders’ claim on revenue comes behind people in mortal danger from rushed impatient flying and deferred maintenance?

      Sorry, man, but rush hour traffic is bad enough in two dimensions without adding a third one.


  10. Don Benton, former State Senator from Clark County, was so opposed to the HOV Lane that the FHWA paid for back in the aughts that he claimed he could transport people to Portland by helicopter more cheaply than C-Tran could on its express buses.

    Hence “Helicopter Don”.

    He’s now head of the Selective Service System, which seems the perfect Peter Principle position for him.

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