Saturday, January 18, 2014

A bus from the Rose Bowl

Then a train and another bus
Then an airplane
And then another train and another bus home

This post is in two parts, the first started on my way home from the Rose Bowl two weeks ago, and the second on Wednesday's King County Metro commuter buses.

Part 1: written between downtown Los Angeles and LAX Airport

I'm beginning this on board an LAX FlyAway bus that I caught in downtown Los Angeles, after taking a Gold Line light rail train from downtown Pasadena, which I reached from a parking shuttle that brought me from the Rose Bowl, where I sent most of my day after driving my family there.

I have to head home to Seattle this evening, so my wife will drive back to her parents' house with the kids while I (hopefully) make my way home two days before them.

When I left the the tailgate party, Stanford and Michigan State were tied at 17, but Michigan State scored while I was boarding the parking shuttle to downtown Pasadena, and as I walked to the Gold Line station I walked past a sports bar and peeked through the windows to see a line of TVs showing Michigan State still up 24-20, though they had just punted the ball back to Stanford with a little more than 3 minutes to play. My wife and her family will be bummed if Stanford loses. I haven't had internet since I left the tailgate, so I don't know who won yet.

The parking shuttle was a nearly continuous stream of buses, most apparently empty, which hardly anyone was waiting to board (granted, this was before the end of the 3rd quarter) and flew the two miles or so to downtown Pasadena but took about 10 minutes just to navigate the final block to their destination because so many were stacked up. Then it was a 3-4 block walk to the Gold Line station, a light rail train ride to Union Station in downtown L.A., and a roughly two-block walk to the other end of that station where the FlyAway bus to LAX awaited. All in all, not bad -- I've spent a little more than an hour and a half in transit, and I'm nearing the airport now. This is roughly what I normally expect when using transit -- it takes about twice as long as driving, unless your destination is downtown and you have no transfers, in which case transit can take roughly comparable time as driving in the absence of traffic, which is probably not a good assumption at the end of the Rose Bowl. The shuttle bus was free, but the Gold Line and FlyAway buses were not, though they were quite reasonable.

I expect to take another train and bus home from Sea-Tac airport at the other end of my journey, too.

Part 2: written on commuter buses I rode Wednesday between Seattle and Tukwila

The Rose Bowl tailgate party my wife's family organized was on the golf course just north of the stadium. It gets turned into a parking lot when there's a big game and I've read that it's the most desirable place in the Rose Bowl environs to have a tailgate party.  It was easy to see why -- lots of space between rows of cars, all of it well-groomed grass, and continuous beautiful Southern California sunshine in a gorgeous arroyo. Each school organized a gigantic (and expensive!) official party on opposite sides of the arroyo, but we steered clear of those and like many other people, threw our own. Occasionally we would get a visitor but mostly it was just our family and friends. I was a little surprised to observe that the Michigan State fans seemed to outnumber Stanford fans about two to one. My sister-in-law and her friends brought a flat-screen TV, a satellite dish, and a generator, so we had the Rose Parade and lots more football to watch before the big game, plus a propane grill and plenty to cook on it. We must've been there for 5 hours before most of our party started making their way to the game. I stayed behind with my two younger kids because I would have a plane to catch back to Seattle, and we watched the game from there, with frequent breaks to throw a football. My unfortunate wife had to leave the game early in the 3rd quarter to relieve me in looking after our two kids while I walked to the shuttle that would take me to Pasadena. See above for that story.

The full trip, all three bus rides and two train rides with an airline flight in the middle, went off without a hitch, though it took a while for a light rail train to get to the Sea-Tac airport station, and I was surprised to be unable to find a "next train arrives in X minutes" display there like I've gotten used to seeing in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Transferring between that train and a bus back to my neighborhood couldn't have been better scheduled … the bus pulled into its stop above the University Street tunnel station just as I walked up, even at that late hour (I arrived home at 12:15 AM). Seattle really does have an outstanding bus system.

By the way, while my trip home, though 7 hours long, was without incident, my wife's flight two days later got caught up in all the "polar vortex" delays that swept the nation, and she ended up not returning to Seattle until three days after that, with two of our kids missing a day of school. You would think a flight between Los Angeles and Seattle would not be affected by bad weather in the East and Midwest, but in the case of her airline you would be wrong, as many of the airplanes she might have caught on that West Coast trip first had to get to Los Angeles from cities in the East or Midwest.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What's with all the hit-and-run drivers lately?

Is it a symptom of broader economic woes, a backlash against the expanding bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the more forward-looking American cities (too often I see badly misinformed comments in newspaper articles that bicyclists and pedestrians "don't pay" for these facilities), or something else?

I had my first experience with a hit-and-run driver this summer, fortunately while I was driving my car to work rather than bike-commuting. I made a right turn on a green light and a driver to my left ran a red light, plowed into the side of my car, wobbled a bit as if deciding whether or not to pull over, and kept going. I believe he was doing about 40 mph when he hit me, and there were no signs that he attempted to brake beforehand.

Fortunately for me, the driver who'd been right behind Mr. Hit and Run saw the whole thing and returned to the scene as a witness by the time the police detective arrived to investigate. Unlike me, he also supplied a full license plate number (I only got the second half of it -- which was probably wrong -- from the rapidly receding car). I haven't heard yet if they caught the guy, but they should have enough information to do so if more important police investigations don't intervene.

My sincere condolences go out to those who have not been as fortunate as I was in my hit-and-run encounter (while my car was nearly totaled, I was unharmed). I will be very happy if some of the hit-and-run drivers who killed or injured people in the Seattle area this year get caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law before the idiot who ran into me. But still, it would be nice if some of the drivers who're impaired, angry, or distracted enough to cause a collision get taken off the road before it's too late and they hurt someone far worse than they banged up my car.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A bus padiddle

My wife and I play padiddle sometimes. We used to play more often, when it was just the two of us before the kids came along. When either of us saw a vehicle without a working headlight, we would call out "padiddle!" and if we did it first, the other person had to give a kiss. We very rarely saw a bus padiddle. This week I may have figured out why.

On my return bike/bus commute, I arrived at the Tukwila Park & Ride a minute before my bus arrived to ferry me to downtown Seattle, but there was a maintenance truck parked in the bus pullout just ahead of where the bus would normally stop.

A man was standing there and told me "hang loose, I have to change a headlight".

"How long will that take?" I asked, wondering why he 'd told me that.

"A couple minutes," he replied.

Then the bus arrived with only one headlight working, and as the maintenance guy pulled down the bike rack, I realized why he'd asked me to hang loose … mounting my bike on the rack would put it partially in between him and the headlight he was replacing.

There wasn't very much light for him to work by, so I leaned my bike against the rack out of his way and took my bike headlight off my handlebar to illuminate his work area for him.

The bus driver came out after a minute. Maybe he was concerned about me standing close by the maintenance guy -- I understand that the biggest concern bus drivers have with their job is their safety with passengers they usually know nothing about, at least in some other parts of the world -- but neither of them said anything.

It only took him a couple minutes to unscrew the frame, replace the headlight, and put everything back the way it was, as advertised, and he wished me a good night.

Pretty cool to have a headlight changed while en route, I must say, and no wonder it's been so rare for me to see a bus padiddle.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Transit on summer holiday 2010, Part 1

Our family traveled a lot in July. Texas, Nevada, Eastern California, and Washington D.C. And yes, I tried to use transit whenever possible. Here's part 1 of what worked and what didn't.

First, North Texas. To get to Sea-Tac Airport, I took an express bus with my 12-year-old son from home to downtown Seattle, then caught Central Link light rail to the airport. No problems there, though light rail is slower than the #194 express bus it replaced (to say nothing of taking twice as long as driving), and drops you off about 3/8 of a mile from the terminal, but it still saved us a bunch in parking costs.

From Amarillo, Texas to a farm 100 miles north was a transit vacuum. There was no expectation that any such thing was possible, and it would have been foolish to try -- there are places where transit works and where it doesn't, and one of the places public transit simply does not work is in rural areas. Interestingly, I was able to attend a wind farm presentation there -- North Texas is home to some good-sized wind farms, with more on the way once the grid gets upgraded to accommodate them.

Then it was back to Seattle for a week in the office (heading home from the airport on light rail and an express bus, of course) before driving to Reno and then to Mammoth Mountain in Eastern California, where the rest of my family had gone while I was working back home. They flew there from Texas, but driving to meet them gave us increased mobility plus the ability for everyone to drive home without having to pay for return flights.

Reno has a bus system, of course, but its service to my parents' part of town is very limited, and frankly I would rather bike. Reno has remarkably extensive bike facilities despite not much usage that I've observed. In any case, I was only there for a couple days visiting my parents, so didn't get out of the house much or beyond their activities at all. I played a bunch of guitar and listened to a lot of good music over copious quality libations with my Dad, though, so it was a wonderful side trip.

I usually find a way to use the bus system in Mammoth on our vacations, and this trip was no exception, though even at 8000' altitude the bus still has to compete with the ease and convenience of bicycling. With my younger kids, though, those free buses can be very handy. There's a Mammoth Jazz Festival that coincided with our visit, and there were some complicated transfers of kids that happened around it, involving our minivan, my bike (which I'd brought on our rack along with one belonging to my kids), and the bus, which is configured to look like a trolley with all the windows removed, a big hit with my kids. The difference in the feel of riding around in a bus without windows vs the closed-in feeling of riding transit buses is remarkable, but I don't know how easy it would be to translate that experience to Seattle.

More on the second, more transit-intensive portion of our July trips next time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Seattle Transit Quat Trick

OK, nearly a year after I first wondered about this, conditions finally aligned last Friday so that I was able to go ahead and use a bus, light rail, Sounder commuter rail, and my bike on the same commute day. Like a hat trick, but with four goals instead of three. I'll call it a "Quat Trick".

In the morning I rode a King County Metro #355 express bus from Greenwood to south downtown, loading my bike on its rack. Then I biked from 5th & Jefferson past the International District tunnel station and down 6th Ave to the Sodo Trail, where I barely missed my usual connecting King County Metro #150 bus to Tukwila. My backup bus, a KC Metro #101, had been just in front of the #150 bus. So I had a choice to either wait 15 minutes for the next #150 bus, bike the rest of the way to Tukwila (which takes half an hour longer than piggybacking on a bus) or get on Link light rail instead. Light rail is less direct and 10 minutes slower than my #150 bus, but if a light rail train came by soon, I could still get to work more quickly than by waiting 15 minutes for the next #150 bus. Sure enough, the light rail train came by 3-4 minutes later, so I walked my bike over to the light rail station and hopped aboard. I actually had to move someone's luggage out of the bike slot.
About 30 people were aboard the first vehicle with me, with most of them still on board when I got off at the Tukwila International station.

A big red & yellow RapidRide (Bus Rapid Transit) bus was pulling into the parking lot just as I pulled out. No passengers were aboard -- they must be testing the new equipment before opening the first RapidRide line this month.

From the Tukwila International station it's a sharp downhill to the cartopia that is Southcenter Mall, without any bike facilities after the first downhill mile, another reason I generally don't like biking this route.

I had to get home earlier than usual on my return trip. This put my departure into the same window as the two daily afternoon northbound Sounder trains from their Tukwila station. I ended up leaving my office early because I'd misread the Sounder schedule, but the train was early too, pulling into the station just as I did, so I was thankful for the ORCA kiosk they put in since my last Sounder ride -- I just swiped my card on my way to climbing into the lead train vehicle. About 20 people were aboard, leaving well over half the seats empty, but this is still significantly better ridership than the last time I rode Sounder months ago, when it was typical to see no more than 5-6 people in that first vehicle. From King Street station I ended up biking the rest of the way home, including straight up Fremont Avenue into the Phinney neighborhood, always a fun climb.

But I did it, the Seattle Transit Quat Trick, nearly a year since first entertaining the idea. I'll go back to using a straight bus/bike commute whenever possible, of course … faster, cheaper, and usually more convenient.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


First, let me say that after months trying to add credit to my ORCA card, much of it the fault of that system, I was finally successful thanks to some help from ORCA telephone support when all other forms of advertised support had failed, where I spoke with an someone who said she gets calls like mine all the time. Many thanks to her not only for applying the credit that their system recognized, but also the earlier credit that had been invisible to them, even though they charged my credit card. See earlier chapters in my overlong saga here:

ORCA again
ORCA, Part 3
ORCA, Part 4

The fix finally happened a few months ago, and I've been using my ORCA card largely without trouble since then. I sincerely hope that disappearing credit purchases like mine are an ORCA card issue of the past, and that people don't continue to see them going forward!

However, ORCA card usage is still not entirely smooth sailing. I spent most of July on vacation, taking three separate long trips, two of which had transit components, one of them significant. More on that in a later post. On two of those trips, I took a bus/light rail combo to Sea-Tac Airport on my way out of town. Both times I saw new and unexpected behavior from light rail and from my ORCA card.

In a previous post I wrote that every trip I've taken on light rail I've seen transit cops go through the train and verify that every passenger had paid for their trip. Well, on one early-morning trip to the airport last month, that didn't happen. I paid for our whole family to get on a bus to downtown using my ORCA card, with the bus driver manually indicating to his console that I was using it to pay for multiple people. But there were no transit cops on the light rail trip from downtown to the airport. No big deal, right?

Except that on my next trip on light rail to the airport, I learned something else interesting. I took a bus to downtown with my son, paying for both of us with my ORCA card. And then on the light rail train from downtown to the airport, when a security cop took my card to verify that we'd paid for that trip, he told me that ORCA cards can't accommodate transfers on trips made by additional people. It recognized my personal transfer just fine, but apparently I was supposed to pay for my son's trip on light rail separately, even though it should have been a simple, no-additional-fare transfer for him as well as for me.

Major hole in the ORCA system here, it seems like.

On the return, my wife used my ORCA card to pay for her trip from the airport to downtown on light rail, knowing from me that she needed to buy separate tickets for the kids, which I believe were recognized as transfer slips by the King County Metro bus driver who drove her the rest of the way home from downtown.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two flats, two apologies, and one close call

On Bike-To-Work Day last month I biked to work and most of the way back. I would've biked the entire 45-mile round trip except that I got a flat tire about halfway to work, which made me late, which made me stay later at the office, which made me have to piggyback on a bus for part of the way home at an hour early enough for our family's evening plans to stay on track.

Otherwise, Bike-To-Work Day was as fun as it is every year, though a bit chillier and wetter. I stopped at three commute stations along the way and got some of the usual swag and registered for the usual giveaways that I won't win. I missed Mayor McGinn's ride to downtown from the Fremont Bridge by a few minutes, but no big deal -- at that point I still had a long way to ride and more swag to pick up along the way.

My flat was due to a tire failure; a belt in my tire snapped, with one end of a metal wire then protruding into the tube and the other out through the tire. I had a patch kit and all the tools I would've needed to patch the tube, but I went flat right at the Tukwila Park and Ride, and decided the better course was to ride the bus from there to within half a mile of my office, and in the afternoon see about heading to REI for replacement items -- tube and tire. Which made me late getting home, as previously mentioned. Not the best Bike-To-Work Day I've had, but not too bad. I ended up riding my bike about 27 miles on my commute that day.

The following Monday I biked to work again, on my road bike this time, and sure enough I got another flat. Unfortunately I left my frame pump on the other bike, and so I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to finish my morning commute. Fortunately this was not in short supply, and not long after I started taking my bike apart in some unknown company's parking lot right off the sidewalk, a woman drove in, asked if I needed help, and when I said I needed a pump, she brought me inside and introduced me to another bicyclist there who had one. Turns out the unknown company was a Parks & Recreation office, which seemed highly appropriate. Many thanks again to all our Parks & Rec employees and all the great work they do!

2-3 miles further down the road in South Park I had one of the closest calls I've ever had on a bike. I was cruising along a wide, quiet residential street when a medium commercial truck pulled up to an intersection a little ahead of me -- he had a stop sign and I didn't. The driver didn't see me and pulled out to make a left turn in front of me. I hit the brakes immediately and started a guttural shout that began rising in pitch: "aaaaAAHHHH!"

About the time I reached the front of his vehicle, dodging into the oncoming lane to postpone it the collision, I'd slowed to walking speed but the driver would've hit me if he hadn't finally seen me or heard me, or used whatever sense he finally used to tip himself off to my presence. I stopped a car length away, seething. The driver seemed amused, sharing grins with his passenger. "I didn't see you, sorry," he said.

I could've given him an earful at this point, telling him to watch for all road users and not just the ones that could damage his truck or threaten his own life, but said only "Be careful." And I hope he does.

Another few miles down the road, along the Green River Trail in Tukwila, approaching the same Park & Ride where I'd gotten my flat the previous work day, there was a Parks & Rec truck sitting in the middle of the trail, taking up nearly the entire path. As I wasn't able to see anyone and there was space behind the truck for someone to pop out, I dismounted and walked the bike past it. Sure enough, the driver was behind it. He apologized, pointing to a graffiti-ed warning sign on a pole. "Sorry about that," he said, meaning he was sorry for taking up the whole trail with his truck.

"No problem," I said. "Have a great week." And I hope he did.