Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No sooner posted than ...

In my last entry I praised the overwhelming majority of Seattle drivers for their attention and their general consideration in sharing the road with bicyclists, pedestrians, and each other. There are bad apples, of course, as I acknowledged at the time, just as there are bad apples in every city, but of all the major cities in this country that I've ever bicycled or driven in, Seattle has some of the most attentive and polite drivers, generally speaking.

On the theory that once you make such an unambiguous judgment the sky is sure to fall in on you, I posted that last entry with some trepidation. But I was mostly concerned with my own responsibility as a driver to stay attentive to bicyclists and pedestrians. I hardly gave my behavior as a bicyclist a second thought. So it was with some surprise that two weeks ago, when I made my last bike commute, just before the first big snowstorm hit Seattle (but after a smaller one from which a little ice was still on the roads), and just before I posted my last entry, I had myself a little run-in with one of those bad Seattle apples. Not so bad that someone got hurt, but certainly what I consider an exception that proves the rule.

I was half a block from home, having taken a bus most of the way back from work, complemented by 3.5 miles of bicycling in between. I rode more that morning, but coming home it was dark as well as cold and still a little icy. I turned right onto my (residential) block, noticing as I did that there was a car coming from my left, which I expected would soon catch up. It seemed to be going a little fast for a residential street, but it was also coming into a big intersection planter that would check its immediate speed, so I was safe in turning ahead of him, and as I reached the unsigned intersection a couple seconds ahead of him I clearly had the right of way.

Because I knew there was ice on the street, and also because I would be turning left into my driveway half a block later, I didn't want this driver speeding past on my left, so I rode down the middle of the street, probably going 12-15 mph. A quarter of a block later, the driver starts honking.

I stop in the middle of the street, placing my bike perpendicular to our direction of travel, turn back at the driver, and give him the universal "slow down" signal by pushing my palm downward. He's driving a BMW. Then I give him the "hang loose" sign, waggling my thumb and pinky finger, and turn to continue home. The driver rolls down his window and starts yelling.

He's not profane, but he's really mad. Doubtless he'd been continuing through the neighborhood faster than the speed limit while bypassing traffic lights on the parallel arterial just one block away. This happens a lot on my block.

I'm really angry myself, to the point where it's hard for me to actually talk. I point to the street in front of me. "That's ice!" I manage.

He's quiet for a moment, then says "I take it back."

Got It?!" I ask, probably unnecessarily.

"Got it," he replies. I continue with him following, and two houses later signal my left turn, then pull over to the left side of the street in front of my house to watch him pass.

He stops, rolling down his window to say "What you're doing is illegal. I talked to a cop about it and he backed me up."

"You're wrong about that," I say, thinking of RCW 46.61.770, "and besides that, this is a residential street," referring to what I expect is his cut-through driving.

He drives off. I can't help but imagine that we'll meet again. I should probably print out a copy of RCW 46.61.770 and put it into my bike backpack in case we do, as I figure he still has no clue about what's legal and what's not, and is probably still feeling aggrieved about being made to slow down for a few seconds that day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Awright, it's friggin' cold

I rode downtown from North Seattle in this morning's 25ºF, wearing sweats over my usual shorts for only the third time this year and even wearing a polypro toque under my helmet for the first time ever. I wore double socks with my usual sandals; thermal socks underneath and thick rag SmartWool socks on top. I've already been wearing fleece between my t-shirt and dayglo vest for the past several weeks. But I didn't wear anything more on my hands than my usual fingerless gel gloves. And my fingers got COLD!. They warmed up again when I could put them into my pocket for half a minute, but simple physics was going to defeat anyone's bony little fingers in this freeze, no matter how good their circulation, especially when I was riding downhill into a stiff apparent wind. I admit to riding one-handed for a minute or two on my half-hour ride, maybe not the safest thing to do, but having completely frozen fingers wasn't too happy an alternative.

I did see about a dozen other bicyclists on my way downtown; not as many as usual but still surprisingly many for such a cold day when the bike lane was icy in many places, forcing me into the regular traffic lane to mingle with cars on several occasions.

OK, I gotta say something about Seattle drivers here: no matter what you might see in the media, and no matter what horror stories you hear from pedestrians and bicyclists (including me) about the close calls they've had, if not the injuries they've sustained in collisions caused by inattentive or outright malicious drivers, Seattle drivers are still, by and large, awesome when it comes to sharing the road. Every day I'm reminded of their acceptance of bicyclists in their midst when those bicyclists aren't abusing their privilege to ride on the same roads with other traffic.

Yes, I've seen drivers abuse their own privilege to use our public roadways, including last week at a 4-way stop when one car at right angles to me skipped right through a four-way stop on the bumper of the car ahead of it rather than wait his turn behind me, to say nothing of more egregious abuses such as the driver in Renton last week, just two miles from my office, who turned left into a bicyclist who, like me, was doing everything right. If that bicyclist had been in a car instead, it would have been a fender bender, but as it was a bicyclist died because of a driver's inattention. It could've been me in his place. It could even have been me in the driver's place, though I like to think that I pay more attention to everything going on around me when I'm driving than that driver did. This is at least manslaughter in the second degree ("when, with criminal negligence, [someone] causes the death of another person"). This a class B felony, and it should be enforced in this negligent driver's case, plain and simple.

But I've seen a vastly larger number of drivers who were happy to cede the right of way to me as a bicyclist when they could see me ahead of time, when I signaled my intentions clearly, and when it was safe and reasonable for them to do so. Heck, I've experienced many cases where considerate drivers gave me the right of way through an intersection when it was clearly theirs, which can make me a bit impatient since it slows both of us down, but I appreciate the intent nonetheless. Whenever it's safe to do so I'm also careful to signal my appreciation for a driver's generosity. I do the same when I'm driving and someone allows me to merge ahead of them, which is something I and many others appreciate when others do it for us. Would that more of us did the same.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Like a full moon

It's getting on toward mid-December, and I'm still bike/bus commuting. A lot of other people are still bike commuting, too, I've noticed. I've waited at stoplights at Mercer & Dexter or at Fremont & Westlake with as many as 10 other bicyclists at a time this past month, and pass or am passed by several bicyclists every day, to say nothing of the bicyclists I see riding in the opposite direction. I saw at least two dozen more bike commuters yesterday, for example, and that wasn't even at peak hour.

I also saw a bicyclist being apparently ticketed by two Seattle police officers, at 3rd Ave right at the entrance to the Pioneer Square bus tunnel station. I have no idea why he was being ticketed, if indeed that's what was happening, though the canary and rose copies of something that one officer was separating and apparently handing to the bicyclist certainly looked like something official and not particularly fun. That bicyclist was young and not wearing a helmet, so that might have been the reason. He wore an expression that told me he thought whatever was happening to him seemed kinda weird.

A couple minutes earlier, while I was waiting at another stoplight further up 3rd Avenue in the left lane behind a line of cars, a bicyclist shot past on my right between the two lanes, followed closely in the right lane by a bus. He promptly blew through the red light. From the direction of the bus driver I heard a woman's voice yelling, apparently at the bicyclist. It might have been the driver. It would've been the first time I ever heard a bus driver yelling at someone, but if anyone deserved it, that bicyclist did.

The two bicyclists might have been one and the same, actually -- I didn't get a particularly good look at either incident.

Exciting morning, nonetheless.

A few minutes before that, I arrived at Westlake Station neatly between two of the buses that I would've liked to ride and a 10-minute wait until the next one, so I decided to ride further downtown and explore other tunnel stations and their entrances for future reference. Which is why I was on 3rd Ave in Pioneer Square to see all this stuff in the first place. I learned a better entrance to the Westlake Station, and also ended up using the Pioneer Square Station for the first time -- it was the last station that I hadn't used yet. Walked myself and my bike right past the two police officers and the kid getting a ticket while I was at it.

Then, on my way home, I missed my return bus in Tukwila. Well, not so much "missed it" as watched it pull up to my bus stop with two bikes already on its rack -- I got waved off. I decided to ride downtown rather than waiting for the next one. A few miles later, while I was riding past a Boeing facility at about 6:30 PM, I passed a woman who was standing beside the trail and having a smoke. The Green River was just on the other side of the trail. She said something in a voice I thought sounded accented as I passed, which I didn't piece together until a few seconds later: "Would you like to date?"

Zowee, I'd been propositioned by a hooker while riding my bike.

I didn't stop, of course, or even respond, but I did start to wonder if maybe there was a full moon. The sky was cloudy, so I couldn't tell. Turns out this month's full moon isn't until Friday.

Two ambulances passed while I was riding the rest of the way home, between downtown and North Seattle. Both changed the light sequence, which combined with the 5-minute wait for the bus that waved me off and the Fremont Bridge being raised just as I approached -- I actually came to a screeching halt as the bells started ringing and the lights started flashing when I was riding up to the gate -- made my 22 mile ride home tonight take quite a bit longer than usual. That said, I don't mind waiting a few extra minutes behind a light changed by an ambulance or two -- I hope they made it in time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Training for the holidays

OK, so I'd been training for Thanksgiving. Bicycling more than usual in November and trying to eat less. This year I was determined that it wouldn't take me half the year to recover from my usual holiday weight gain. So I kept riding through October, and while I gained a few pounds at Halloween, I lost them again by mid-November, and then I went for more, losing another five pounds and, by the day before Thanksgiving, getting to within about 1 pound of the lightest weight I've been all year. I did more bike-commuting in November than in any other month this year except May.

Yes yes, I was very proud of myself (pats own back).

Then Thanksgiving happened. We had more than 20 people at our house, and most everyone who came brought something yummy. Five amazing desserts. My good friend the former chef did the turkey and stuffing, ably assisted by my nine-year-old son. My wife did the ginger-lime yams. I did the potato gatto. There was ham and even Alaskan King salmon, albeit in the Swedish style. There were mashed potatoes and parmesan broccoli. There was homemade cream of mushroom soup. There were cranberries and a traditional (for some) relish tray. We plain forgot to make the green beans, and the carrots never made it out of the fridge. I suspect there were a couple more dishes that I can't even remember right now. There was wine, wine, champagne, beer, everywhere wine. It'll take a month to go through all the leftover libations now that the great day has ended. Way too much of everything, but it was fantastic, possibly the best Thanksgiving dinner I've ever had, and I've had quite a few.

Then, next day, 10 of us drove out to Yakima for a restaurant opening, where there was plenty more good food and drink, and not much opportunity to work it off what with all our kids (and sometimes others, too) to look after. We got back Sunday night, in time for the Gonzaga game, the Old Spice Classic final, but only just. The Zags won. A truly amazing holiday, all around.

Yesterday I weighed myself. I'd gained weight, not surprisingly.

But the good part is, I hadn't really gained all that much, just four pounds. For me, this is a single (large) meal, and I will often lose this much just during the course of a work week. It's where I was two weeks ago.

Now to lose it again in time for Christmas, repeat the cycle for New Years, and then hopefully ditch some of the 50 or so extra pounds I could lose from there.

I biked to work again yesterday, supplementing my ride from North Seattle to downtown with a bus boost to Tukwila on the King County Metro #150, and then, since I stayed late at work, beyond convenient return hours for that bus, biking back to Denny & Dexter on deserted, wet roads and trails before another bus boost on the #358, and then forgetting to have dinner once I got home and got busy helping my oldest son with his writing homework. I might have lost the rest of those four pounds already.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Late in the season

After two weeks of being unable to do my bike/bus commute because of rain and time commitments, many election-related (result: woohoo!), I was back at it again last Monday. I don't recall that in nearly 25 years of bike commuting, I'd ever bike-commuted past the change from Daylight Savings Time, but in recent years as I've geared up with lights and high-visibility clothing, I've started feeling more confident about riding in the dark and rain, though I still don't like riding in both.

So with the switch from Daylight Savings Time in the rear-view, when the pavement's dry and the forecast not looking too bad, I'm still riding. Some others are, too -- I've seen at least 10 other bikes headed downtown each of the last three days I've ridden since last Monday.

Two weeks ago I noticed that there seemed to be a lot more auto traffic on the roads than I've seen for most of the year -- I suspect that as gas gets cheaper, people are getting back to driving. The resulting congestion has been adding about 10 minutes on the occasions when I must drive on my commute between North Seattle and Tukwila. Heck, one day two weeks ago, as I started down Aurora Ave south to the ship canal, I saw that traffic on that road was completely stopped, so I took to the side streets and on getting down to Leary Way in Fremont, I saw that it was totally jammed in both directions toward the Fremont Bridge and Ballard Bridge. So after 10-15 minutes of fruitless driving, trying to get across the ship canal, with the radio telling me that I-5 was jammed, too, I actually drove back home so that I could switch my car for my bike, even with rain in the afternoon forecast, so that I would be able to get to work without sitting in that much more traffic. 'Course, once I got home I learned that traffic on the freeway wasn't so bad after all, so I got back in the car and drove the rest of my otherwise uneventful commute. I learned later that traffic had been stopped on Aurora Avenue due to a jumper on the bridge. Rest In Peace, fellow traveler.

On my bike ride home from downtown last Monday, a Vespa-like motor scooter rode along on the sidewalk/bike lane ahead of me across the Fremont Bridge and in the bike lane through downtown Fremont, skimming past all of the traffic in the lanes, which were packed because the bridge had just opened. What's up with that? Even stranger, when I politely asked its rider to keep it off the sidewalk, her reply quickly rose to full volume, screaming that "MY [garbled] IS BROKEN!". I was already past by that time and starting up the big Fremont Ave hill, and she didn't seem to be in any distress (other than yelling at me), so I didn't stay for details.

Another funny thing is on 3rd Ave downtown during rush hour, where that street is supposed to be closed to everyone but buses and bicyclists during rush hour. Twice last Friday, both in the morning and evening, I was riding there with cars which totally ignored that law, once even when a police car was present. The second time, Friday evening,  it was a pair of motorcyclists. There was a big jam of buses, I think at Pike, which I rode past in the left lane, and when I'd gotten most of the way through I started hearing loud motor noises behind me. When I got all the way past and was looking to merge right again I heard those loud motor sounds get into the right lane and then blow past me. It was a pair of large guys in black leather on large Harleys. One leaned over at the next, inevitable stop light and told me "You're holding up traffic!"

The irony was a bit much. Here he was riding illegally, but going out of his way to tell me that that I was holding him and his buddy up. Friday night, I guess.

"No I'm not," I said back to him, and that was pretty much that. They went tearing away at the next red light, but of course there's lots of traffic on that street so I remained right behind them until several blocks later when I turned right and they went on.

More and more I find that riding as if I'm driving, taking the middle of the lane when there's any doubt about whether it would be dangerous for someone to pass me, is the safest way to go, a few morons on motorbikes notwithstanding, especially when I'm wearing high-visibility gear and lit up like Christmas. And especially when I'm riding downtown, where all anyone is doing is moving to the next red light anyway, so average speeds are very close to bicycling speed.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposition 1 (Sound Transit 2.1)

Proposition 1 is Sound Transit's follow-up to last year's failed measure of the same name. Unlike last year's measure, which I opposed, I have no endorsement on this one. I opposed last year's measure because it had a large roads-expansion component, which this year has been removed, and because it was funded by a regressive sales tax, which unfortunately remains true for this year's measure. However, even though there is less light rail than last year, the cost hasn't been reduced at all, instead most of the light rail expansion is advertised to come online 5 years earlier; in 2022 rather than 2027. This still doesn't exactly live up to the measure's "Mass Transit Now" moniker, alas.

The roughly $20B requested by this measure is an enormous tax increase to be asking of Greater Seattle residents during an economic crisis, and just before a likely Obama administration can be expected to start investing more federal transit dollars than any Republican administration of my adult lifetime. The tax increase is roughly 100 times more than the combined amount asked by the two Seattle Propositions (Prop 1/Pike Place Market and Prop 2/Parks) on the ballot -- a huge tax increase. The reason I don't oppose it outright is that it would at least result in better transit than we have now. The reason I don't support it is that aside from the cost, that $20B could be better spent on more cost-effective transit projects and is funded from a regressive tax. Last year's successful King County Metro Transit Now! measure, for example, provides 50 miles of new Rapid Ride (bus rapid transit) service for less than the cost of a single mile of this year's light rail, and delivers it in less than half the time.

The measure I would like to see on the ballot would be about a third this size (about $6B), would include some funding towards replacing the SR-520 floating bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and would finish the work promised 12 years ago by Sound Move, which created Sound Transit and Central Link light rail in the first place. That measure promised four things:

1. Regional express and local buses, which it has largely delivered
2. Commuter rail (Sounder), though some promised stations were omitted.
3. Light rail, though behind schedule, significantly over budget, and not as much as had been promised, with some stations omitted
4. A Personal Rapid Transit demonstration, which Sound Transit hasn't even begun to address.

I would enthusiastically endorse a measure delivering all of the neglected promises made by Sound Move in 1996, including more regional express buses and
HOV accommodations, light rail to Northgate with more stations between UW and Northgate, more Sounder stations and service, especially the omitted Ballard/Shilshole station, a more extensive commitment to Personal Rapid Transit than was originally made (which was a pittance), with particular focus on providing PRT service in places where Sound Transit's light rail has been abandoned as impractical, such as First Hill, and, yes, some targeted congestion relief on our freeways, in areas where a little will go a long way. I would also love to see a regional commitment to bikeways, and not just a few more painted-on bike lanes and sharrows, but more nearly exclusive-use routes like the nascent "bike boulevard" on Fremont Avenue in North Seattle promises to become, where automobile traffic (and cross-traffic) would be minimized and calmed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Initiative 985

Election time is here, and there are two transportation-related issues on this year's ballot in Seattle: Tim Eyman's Initiative 985, and Sound Transit's Proposition 1 (Sound Transit 2.1).

I-985 is Tim Eyman's latest stupid idea. The best argument (which isn't saying much) I've heard for passing this measure is that it would give Olympia "a kick in the shins", which sounds an awful lot like the argument made by past legislative efforts to "send a message", except dumber. Well, I've voted against every one of this guy's stupid initiatives, and of all those "messages", exactly none has been received, 'cause he's still at it -- this measure wouldn't so much give Olympia a kick in the shins as it would throw a spanner into the relatively sane transportation planning process used by actual grown-ups. Beyond that, it's hardly worth discussing, as it has already been done to death in plenty of other places.

Just say No! to Tim Eyman's Initiative I-985.

I'll get to Proposition 1 in a future entry, except to note that as I write this from on board a King County Metro #150 bus on the SoDo busway, two linked 2-vehicle light rail trains just passed my bus, headed in the opposite direction. Sound Transit must be testing longer train configurations. Heck, I saw three 2-vehicle trains linked together on the elevated track in Tukwila one night last week, though they weren't moving at the time.

Meanwhile, I spent yesterday in my home precinct distributing literature in support of Seattle Proposition 2 (Seattle Parks For All), which I regard as a necessity, especially when considering that it will not result in a tax increase (only the extension of part of an expiring Parks levy), and as a counterbalance to Seattle's increasing densification, which has resulted in a shrinking supply of private greenspace.

Vote smart!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bus drivers and their bicyclist passenger

I caught my bus to Tukwila at the Westlake station Friday morning. Biked downtown to get there, as usual. Reminded me of a couple conversations I had with bus drivers earlier in the week. One had just come back from vacation and hadn't heard the news that all the bus tunnel stations were open to bikes yet. I went up early just to make sure he knew it, so I would be assured of getting off there. He took my word for it and let me off where I wanted. I didn't argue for it, just told him what was up, and he said 'I didn't know that, but I'll go with it'. Bus drivers are nice people, I find.

I did the same drill the next day, except this time dismounting at the University Street station. As I came up early that time, dressed in my usual day-glo vest, the bus driver remarked that 'I would be getting my Seattle bicyclist membership revoked for dressing in clothes that actually made me easily visible'. Then he started a lecture about how so many bicyclists don't, etc etc. I stopped him before he got far, telling him that I wasn't the guy he needed to be telling this to, and that I agreed with him that there were many "ninja" bicyclists (dressed in black, no helmet, no lights, etc) in Seattle, especially in and around downtown. It was a revealing conversation, probably giving me as much insight into what bus drivers think of their passengers (or at least a subset of us) as any other I've had, even though we didn't talk for long. It makes me wonder how much consultation happens with transit operators (or their union), much less the bicycling community, when transit planning decisions are made. Certainly, it seems clear that the bicycling community wasn't in the loop when the South Lake Union Trolley and its bicyclist-maiming layout was being planned.

A recent Portland example may be a good (if ironic) example of how 'The Seattle Way' should be applied more often in urban planning decisions like these: a busy transit center without bicyclist accommodations was being heavily used by bicyclists anyway. Portland's leadership (including their Department Of Transportation, PDOT) then reached out to the bicycling community, and perhaps belatedly, the transit operators, to come up with a design that would make everyone happy. Not just another lame compromise, you understand, but a solution that would actually serve everyone.

It opened last week. I certainly hope that it'll make for safer and more convenient transportation for all its users, now and for many years to come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More adventures in the bus tunnel, and in the rain

Yesterday evening, on my bike/bus commute home on the King County Metro #150, I dismounted at University Street station, as I'd hoped to do last week. Unlike the Westlake station, this was as easy as could be, with the station laid out intelligibly and stairways available for guys like me who didn't want to wait for an elevator. The upper stairway was long, but not too long for a bicyclist in decent shape and accustomed to carrying a bike up stairs, even a heavier steel bike like mine.

I biked north the rest of the way through downtown until I reached the bus stop at Dexter & Denny, where I stopped to see when a connecting bus might come by. It was a bit after 6:00 PM, and I'd missed that bus by less than a minute. Then the sky opened up, and everyone scuttled into the bus shelter, including me with my bike. At first there was room enough for everyone, but when it filled up and a man with an umbrella came near, I moved outside the shelter with my bike to give him space. A bigger bus shelter here would be nice.

Once the bus came a few minutes later, a second bicyclist joined me aboard it, thereby filling up the rack. We passed at least one more bicyclist waiting at a stop, who probably would've liked to come aboard, too.

I dismounted the bike a half-mile from home and rode it the rest of the way. It was still raining hard enough that I got soaked, but I was back at it again today, which was thankfully dry, if not exactly warm.

Meanwhile, yesterday the AP wire carried a story about Personal Rapid Transit and its prospects in the United States, which appear quite good as next year's PRT opening at London's Heathrow Airport nears, with several vendors ramping up plans and/or construction for additional systems behind them, and at least a dozen more cities anxious to build them. CNN picked up that AP story, as did the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, our own Seattle Post-Intelligencer, along with several other major-market news outlets. This may be the most widely distributed PRT story of the past decade, but this is not surprise considering the great coverage PRT got last month from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and, of course, much more to come.

The vastly greater capacity of PRT to carry bikes would've been nice, too, as well as the short wait time for a vehicle -- less than a minute in most cases.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Expanded bike access to Seattle's downtown bus tunnel

The bus tunnel opened up to bikes on September 22nd. Before, the only places one could board transit with a bike were at the first and last tunnel stations, at Convention Place and at the International District station, respectively. With this new announcement, which I understand is provisional, people can mount or dismount buses with their bikes at any station in the tunnel. Today I decided to try.

I rode my usual bike route from North Seattle to downtown, coming south on Dexter/7th Ave, this time to Westlake Ave, then to 5th Ave, and then to Pine St. I have to say that Westlake has gotten to be a terrible way to travel, perhaps excepting the South Lake Union Trolley; because Westlake is diagonal to the grid, it has nearly twice as many cross streets as a grid street would, it has a signal light at every intersection, and every time I've traveled this section of Westlake, I've had to stop for every light. I don't notice a lot of cars driving this part of Westlake, either. The South Lake Union Trolley gets priority signaling, I understand, so travel times might be quicker on that trolley or in its immediate vicinity. The more things change, the more they stay the same

Anyway, When I arrived at Westlake Center, I saw on an information kiosk that the tunnel station was right across the street (underground, of course), but I didn't see a way to get down to it. I still didn't see a way after investigating a couple of building entrances right above where the kiosk said the station was. Meanwhile, a disturbed fellow was yelling at some other people who were looking at that same kiosk that he was going to (paraphrasing) 'forcefully insert a camera into their nether regions'. I think the subjects of his tirade were tourists. I hope they take better remembrances of Seattle with them than being loudly threatened by a crazy person.

A King County Sheriff's car was across the street with a pair of officers inside. Maybe they were keeping an eye on the menacing loud guy. I asked them where the tunnel entrance was and they told me it was underneath Westlake Center, which was going to be the next place I investigated. There were no stairs that I could find, only escalators on which wheeled vehicles were prohibited. So I found an elevator and went down a level, followed a few signs and went through a few doors, then found the southbound lane and went down a staircase to it. My bus pulled up while I was at the top of the stairs, so I hustled. Once I got to the stairs, everything was fine, but I don't think I'll try using Westlake with my bike again -- it's a pain to get to, and who needs waiting for an elevator (which might be full) when you shouldn't have to? If I catch another King County Metro #150 home this evening, I'll try dismounting at another station, probably University Street, and see how that goes.

Postscript: I took the Sounder home instead, as my wife had lined up a babysitting gig that I had to be home earlier to facilitate, so no more tunnel exploration for me today. Ironically, the train was late, so I missed my connection, only getting home at the last minute.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Some downsides to bus riding and bicycling in Seattle

Yesterday morning I caught a King County Metro #150 downtown at the Convention Place station, at the north terminus of the bus tunnel. One or two stops later, a scruffy looking man got on wearing nothing but a very dirty hospital johnny. No underwear. Yes, he put his worst side backwards in full view of everyone on the bus, including the very young girl sitting with her Dad across from me. He got off a couple stops later, I think at the International District station at the south end of the bus tunnel, showing everything to everyone again, this time for longer. Wow. And yuck. But whattaya gonna do? It's downtown. Sometimes stuff just happens there. Right?

Last week I got passed by a bus driver while riding my bike fast downhill, a Sound Transit #511 driver going south from Jefferson on 5th Ave, towards that same ID Station. The driver really didn't need to do that, as I was going plenty fast, but in his haste he wobbled into my lane as he passed me while we were both going around a curve. Then he pulled into my lane just ahead of me, in time to hit the brakes for the stoplight at the bottom of the hill. I had to brake harder behind him, of course. This is really not something a sensible, law-abiding bicyclist should have to deal with: unlike the subjects of this video, this driver definitely knew I was there.

As a partial compensation, on my way home yesterday afternoon I biked past a bus with a full advertising wrapper around it, the wrapper composed of many many progressive bumper stickers. Two said "I share the road with bicyclists". I was a little nonplussed.

It would have been nice if the moron in a huge pickup that drove right behind me while I was zooming down another hill last Friday followed the advice on those bumper stickers. This was on N 80th Street, coming east from Greenwood Ave N. I couldn't see him, as I didn't want to turn around at speed with him on my butt, but I could sure see that the top of his pickup's shadow was taller than my own as I flew down the hill. And I'm a tall guy. I was also following at a quite reasonable distance behind another truck, at very nearly the same speed it was going. Fortunately for all concerned. I had a turn to make two blocks later, and when I signaled my intent to do so, the driver behind me backed off.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit just bought a $250K repair truck that it's going to have to turn right around and sell, doubtless at a loss, because it's too big for the bus tunnel they bought it to maintain. Argh. I wish they'd get around to building the demonstration PRT project they promised when we voted for Sound Move back in 1996.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A bus to the Snoqualmie Valley. Three, actually.

I took a bus ride with my son to the Snoqualmie Valley last weekend. We brought bikes. He'd just turned 11 years old and I wanted to take him on a big summer adventure, far beyond the usual in-city activities. So I sold him on the idea of a two-day bike ride over the Cascades and through the fabled 2-mile-long Snoqualmie Tunnel.

This would be a long ride for an 11-year-old boy, with the worst hills on the route somewhat paradoxically close to Seattle, just beyond the Sammamish River Trail in Woodinville. So I decided to skip past them by busing to the flat Snoqualmie Valley.

It turns out that very few buses go that way in the morning, and the ones that do have relatively complex connections.

The bus that gets to the Snoqualmie Valley is the King County Metro #929, which is the size of a large van. Only three run per day, only one of them in the morning. They start in downtown Redmond.

Not too many buses go from Seattle to downtown Redmond, either, just the Sound Transit #545, which I rode quite often last year. The 545 crosses Lake Washington on the SR-520 floating bridge, and has the luxury of a three-bike rack, but this still isn't nearly enough for the demand, so if we wanted some assurance of getting a spot together, we would have to catch it earlier on its route, from downtown. This necessitated using a third bus to get downtown, the King County Metro #358, one of the most heavily used routes in Metro's entire system, though little-used by bicyclists.

We left early, to compensate for any missed connections we might experience due to wave-offs. I woke up to Christy McWilson and Dave Alvin's cover of Moby Grape's classic "8:05" playing in my head, I figure 'cause that's the time I wanted to get on the road. We didn't quite make that, meaning that we would miss our first bus, but we still had plenty of wiggle room left. We rode up the sidewalk on Aurora Avenue another quarter mile to catch the next bus earlier on its route, then caught it, no problem. There were no other bikes on its rack.

Downtown, we got off at 5th & Wall, then biked over to 8th & Olive, where we would catch the 545. We arrived at the same time as that bus, which had no bikes on its rack, but unfortunately its driver didn't see us waving at him from across the street and left without us. We caught up three blocks later at a stop light, a place where no stop existed, and he told us he would wait for us at his Bellevue Avenue stop a few blocks ahead, God bless him. I don't think English was his first language, as he neglected to tell us that his bus turned right onto Bellevue Avenue and so I churned up the hill, actually beating him to the intersection, and sailed on through. He turned right behind me, where I couldn't see him. By the time I turned around to look, he was gone. I imagine he saw me go through the intersection, waited a few seconds at the stop anyway, shook his head sadly, and went on.

So, we rode back down the Olive Way hill to our original stop to wait for the next bus. By that time, another bicyclist was already there, and when that next bus came along a few minutes later, there were already two bikes on its rack. He got the third one, and we got to wait for our third 545 of the morning. We were actually still in good shape, as I'd allowed plenty of extra time, but I was starting to get concerned.

The next bus came along maybe two minutes later; the two earlier buses must have been late. And huzzah, there were no bikes on its rack, so we mounted up and headed for deepest Redmond. As usual, the bus was pretty well full by the time we got to Overlake where all the Microsofties exited. It was virtually empty by the time we got to downtown Redmond. We were still 20 minutes early for the 929, thank goodness. My son rode around in the skate park next to the transit center while we waited.

The 929 is one of the few buses in the King County Metro system that doesn't require an official stop for people to get off; all you have to do is tell the driver where you'd like to go, and he'll get as close as he can to that spot on his route. I'd planned to get off at the intersection of Novelty Hill Road and the West Snoqualmie Valley Road, but when I told the driver our final destination, he suggested that we might want to get off 1/4 mile later, as that stretch of the West Snoqualmie Valley Road is curvy and narrow. Bus drivers rock! We took him up on it and held up traffic briefly at the light while we took our bikes off the rack, then headed over the 124th Street bridge across the river and picked up the Snoqualmie Valley Trail on the other side. The rest of that ride is another story entirely, and a lot more of an adventure than getting to it in the first place, but at least with a little extra time we were able to get there safely; it took us two hours to bus those 25 miles, of which almost 45 minutes was spent waiting for buses in one place or another, much of which would've been avoidable if the buses' capacity to carry bikes wasn't so limited, but we got there safe, sound, and ready for an adventure.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Buses, bikes, and a hard summer rain

Last month, Seattle got some rain. Not terribly much, you understand, but more than is normal for Seattle in late July. I was oblivious to the forecast one day when I was doing a bus/biike commute; I had no problem getting to work, but about halfway through the day it started to rain. Pretty hard, too. For Seattle. The roads were good and wet by the time I left work and biked the mile to the nearest bus stop, and it didn't take long for me to reach that same soggy state.

I wasn't the only bicyclist caught by surprise by the summer rain; another was waiting at my bus stop even though I arrived 10 minutes before my bus was due. He said he'd been waved off by the previous bus. When the next bus finally arrived, it had one open slot on its bike rack, which the other bicyclist got, so it was my turn to get waved off for the next bus 15 minutes later. I saw many more bikes than usual on bus bike racks that day, I think because those other bicyclists weren't having any more fun than I was bicycling into a horizontal rain. 

When the next bus arrived, it was jammed, but at least it had an open spot on its bike rack. This kind of crowd is unusual for an afternoon #150 into Seattle, in my experience, but it happened again in nicer weather a few days later with me wedged standing into the front of the bus next to a pair of attractive young blonde women in snug white tops, which appear to be in fashion lately. I figured maybe it was because of a big Mariners crowd, but those days only a couple people got off at the ballpark. Lots more got off at Westlake that nicer day, some carrying Nordstrom bags, including the two women I was next to. Maybe there was a big sale? 

I miss King County Metro Transit's 3-bike racks.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Seafair By Bike

I took the family to Seafair last weekend. After 18 years in Seattle I'd never been, but I thought our kids needed some exposure to a little of Seattle's older, more unique traditions. We got a good deal on tickets at a school auction, so we went. I figured traffic would be horrible, so I looked for an alternative to driving there.

Shuttle buses cost $5 for every rider, including kids, which would have added up to more than the admission. A regular bus running right through our neighborhood could have taken us to within a mile of the park entrance, and it looked like it would be no problem catching a ride on that bus since we would get on early on its route, but coming back looked like it could be ugly: everyone getting onto the bus at the same time, and buses only running twice per hour.

So we biked. It would have been a little far for the younger kids, so for the only time all weekend, I used a car, though only for part of the route. We had a good weekend all around, running what errands we need to on foot or by bike. One errand had me wheeling my bike into an auto parts store for a quart of oil. The clerk asked if it was for the bike.

(I don't think he sees a lot of bicyclists there, but some of us bike or use transit when we can, and drive when we have no other choice.)

Five bikes hung or stood on various bits of our minivan to Denny Blaine Park, which I figure was about four miles north of Genesee Park, the main entrance to Seafair. It was far enough away that I guessed hardly anyone else would be doing what we were and I guessed right; there was plenty of parking there even though parking lot was small. Most of the route from there to Genesee Park was on Lake Washington Blvd, which is pretty highly frequented by bicyclists during the summertime, so I figured drivers there would be more careful of us, and especially our kids who don't always move in a predictable line. The plan worked beautifully. There was a little bit of hill climbing to get from Lake Washington Blvd to the main park entrance, but we were in for a big surprise when we arrived: REI was sponsoring a valet bike parking tent. Maybe 40 other people used it, which seemed like a disappointing turnout, but for us it was unbelievably convenient. Sure, other people might have had VIP entrances, and tickets to lakeside tents that required special passes, but we got in and out a lot more easily than almost any of them did. The REI tent even had a free-spin wheel where they gave away yet more swag, and from which we were lucky enough to come away with a pair of bike water bottles plus a few things the kids thought more highly of.

I love REI!

The rest of the way down to the lake was a sea of military recruiters with 18-wheel simulators. I have no idea what went on inside those, and fortunately my kids are all too young to be either interested in them, or of interest to the recruiters staffing them. 

Seafair itself was about what we expected. The Blue Angels drew the most interest, but people grooved on the hydros, too. My kids have seen the hydro challenge on the SAFECO Field scoreboard enough times, plus a few races on TV, but this was the first time they got to see them in person. It was a nice way to see part of an old Seattle tradition, before Seattle became just another dot on the increasingly homogenous U.S. map.

Coming back, my wife flatted and I didn't have all the tools I needed to fix it, which was a good reminder to get my supplies together before our big weekend trip, so my sons and I went on while my wife and daughter got a treat at Starbucks. Then we drove back and picked everyone up. She got her tire fixed the next day, and I should now have everything I need to fix a bike this weekend.

If we ever go back to Seafair again, which may depend a lot on what our kids think of that idea next summer, we'll probably do the same thing we did this year: park at Denny Blaine and bike the rest of the way; no traffic to speak of with free valet bike parking. Nice!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When you miss a bus

This morning, I was late for my bus to downtown. The next one would be 20 minutes later, so I decided to bike there instead. Downtown, I barely missed my connection to Tukwila. I decided to bike there, too.

My commute ended up taking almost twice as long as it would have if I'd caught my  buses, and more than three times as long as it would have if I'd driven. I'll tell you what, though ... there were a ton of other people bicycling this morning, the most I've ever seen on a day that wasn't a Bike To Work Day.

I must've missed my return bus from Tukwila to downtown, too, as I waited more than 10 minutes for it to arrive. I decided to wait for the next bus this time, as I'd been a little tired after 20+ miles of biking this morning, and I knew I would almost certainly have 7-8 more miles to bike between downtown and my house later. I also have a big ride coming up this weekend that I don't want to go into tired.

Next month there'll be a transportation conference in Ithaca, NY, home of Cornell University. It'll be all about Podcars (Personal Rapid Transit). I look forward to a time when U.S. policymakers start following the lead of their European counterparts and begin building truly sustainable public transit that you won't have to wait for, much less wait 15, 20, or even 30 minutes for. And it'll carry many many more bikes than buses or trains can on longer trips like my bike commute!

Two interesting encounters with motor vehicles to report on the way home. Coming northbound across the Fremont Bridge while I was in the right lane (the one with the sharrows) some [person] in a black Jetta came squirting past as we neared N 34th Street and cut me off so he could turn right in front of me. His girlfriend (I assume they weren't married) looked over at me as he did so, I figure because she was concerned that maybe he wasn't doing such a smart thing. I frowned and shook my head, which is about as demonstrative as I get on a bike. Then, further north on Greenwood Avenue, a bus driver did something I've never seen before: I find that on slight/moderate uphills I sometimes travel at roughly the same average speed as local buses. The buses hop from one stop to another while I slog away at a constant pace, but if we start at the same time the bus and I will leapfrog each other. Well, this afternoon I passed a bus that was pulled over at N 73rd Street, but instead of racing past and pulling over in front of me, which is what every other bus driver has done in a similar situation, in my experience, the driver slowed down as s/he approached the next stop and let me continue through it ahead of him/her. I gave a little wave to acknowledge the courtesy, as I try to do every time I see a driver do something nice for a bicyclist, and of course as this was on a level stretch of road where I generally average a higher speed than local buses, I didn't see that  bus again. Regardless, northbound #5 driver at about 7:00 PM on August 4th, you rock.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A bus to SAFECO Field

For my son's birthday, he wanted to take in a Mariners game at SAFECO Field, just him and his Dad. My wife was bummed, 'cause she likes baseball, too, and we both cherish one-on-one time with our kids, which we don't get enough of anymore. They're growing up fast.

I got some good seats for the occasion, 5th-row on the Field level, close to where the ballgirls sit; I thought it would make a special remembrance if he could bring home a foul ball to go with the Felix Hernandez bobbleheads we both got for arriving early (I'm saving the other for my second son's birthday in a few more weeks). He brought his mitt, too, in case we got something hit more directly our way. I was glad because he's a pretty good young ballplayer and might just save someone in our area a nasty little bump. I also bought him a birthday package, which included some nice swag for a good price, plus an individualized  birthday wish on the big scoreboard.

Then came the complication: how would we get there? I would be coming from my office in Tukwila while he would be coming with my wife from North Seattle.

The solution was easy: my wife had some errands to run downtown and could bring him to King Street Station in plenty of time for the game, while I would bus/bike to work and back to the same place. But then it became not so easy: as I was pulling into my bus stop in Tukwila for the return ride, the bus came up from behind and roared past; the driver didn't know I wanted to climb on board, and no one else was waiting there. This would make me 15 minutes late, and probably make my wife grouchy and my son anxious -- I didn't have a cell phone that day.

While I was waiting for the next bus, about a dozen people walked to the stop, many wearing Mariners-branded clothing. I think some were out-of-towners being brought to the ballpark by their local hosts. None had ridden this bus to the ballpark before, and were concerned about whether it was the right bus and whether it would get them there on time. I let them know which bus to get on and reassured them that they would get there in plenty of time. I can see how it would be intimidating for someone who isn't accustomed to buses to make the leap to riding one to the ballpark: you have to do a fair amount of research to figure out the right place and time to arrive for a bus going in the direction you want, and you have to remember the number of the bus you want to ride in case there are several different buses that stop there. King County Metro's Trip Planner is an invaluable resource for this, but for some trips I still find myself having to spend 10-30 minutes figuring out the best connection.

The bus came, there was room for all of us and a lot more, plus my bike, and we did indeed arrive in plenty of time. It turns out that traffic and the nature of her errands made my wife even later than I was; but only by 3-4 minutes, so meeting turned out to be no trouble. I put my bike on our minivan's bike rack, then my son and I walked to the ballpark from King Street Station. My wife could've brought my son's bike along, too, as there's now plenty of bike parking in the SAFECO Field parking structure, but I didn't want us riding 8 miles home in the dark; it would have been my son's first nighttime ride, and downtown isn't the best place for an introduction to night riding.

We stopped for a sausage and a hot dog outside the ballpark and arrived in plenty of time for the game. I had him introduce himself to the ballgirl and let her know that it was his birthday. He was reluctant until he saw someone else do it first.

It was a beautiful evening, my son loved the bobblehead and the nice surprise of the birthday package. But until the 9th inning only two foul balls were hit our way, with the first going to the first boy who'd introduced himself to the ballgirl (the second wasn't hit anywhere close to us, and the ballgirl handed it to someone who was a lot closer to where she got it). By the bottom of the 5th, the ballgirls switched places and my son introduced himself to the new ballgirl all over again. And we waited. Two foul balls were hit in the air to within a few seats of ours, but not close enough.

With one out in the top of the ninth of what looked to be a blowout Mariners win, the second-to-last Cleveland batter hit a foul ball close to our ballgirl. She made a very nice grab (these ballgirls were obviously capable players in their own right), and then, while at least a dozen kids clamored for the ball nearby, she carried it to my son, who was waiting patiently at the end of our aisle about 30' away from where she caught it, and handed it to him. He was practically glowing. Thanks, Seattle Mariners, for hiring such thoughtful and capable people! Best of all, my son thought to compliment the ballgirl on her excellent play, making his Dad one very proud papa. I think the same batter (or maybe it was the next one, as my memory got a little hazy right about then) promptly hit into a double play to end the game with an all-too-rare-this-season Mariners W.

My son and I walked a mile to 3rd Avenue afterwards, waited 10 minutes for a bus that would bring us to within 1/4 mile of home, and got home late but safe and happy. My wife told me later that my son thanked her profusely for the experience, saying he had a really great time. I did too, if it came to that, but I'm especially glad that he went out of his way to tell her so, as I know she wanted to be there with us.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bus transit in California's Sierra Nevada

They say that buses are only practical in higher-density urban areas, right? Well, maybe not; over the past few weeks I've seen a lot of buses in action far from any urban area, in California's Eastern and Central Sierra. I've also seen areas in Idaho that were even more remote, and where no transit went at all, but some discussion of lower-density areas where current transit technology is (relatively) viable is still in order.

I just returned from a 17-day family vacation. We did whitewater rafting, swimming, biking, hiking, volcanic crater exploration, miscellaneous environmental consciousness raising for the kids, and many other mountain activities for young and old. The weather was generally cooler than here in the flatlands, especially at night, though we did get a few hot days, but we could always escape the heat one way or another.

Our longest stop on this two-thousand mile odyssey was in Mammoth Lakes, CA, in the Eastern Sierra. Mammoth has a population of about 7,000, though it fluctuates depending on season, as it's a resort town. We weren't there during the peak ski season, of course, but Mammoth Lakes has been developing summer activities in recent years, with fishing and mountain biking the chief draw.

Mammoth Lakes is served by the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority, both in town and to/from nearby towns (which are at least 30 miles away). Nearly everyone arrives in Mammoth Lakes by SUV, as it's a high-dollar destination for mostly Southern Californians despite being a five-hour drive from Los Angeles. My wife has been visiting Mammoth Lakes since she was a girl, when it wasn't so expensive as it is now. Nonetheless, its in-town bus service is used by many during the summer on four regular routes, two of which terminate at destinations higher up the mountain and several miles out of town, one at the ski lodge. Most Mammoth Lakes buses have a nostalgic-looking trolley appearance, and bicyclists going to the ski lodge are the only people who get charged a fare. One route ran right past our condo.

I'd really hoped to use one of these buses during my week in Mammoth Lakes, but the schedule never quite worked out, as the bus past our condo only ran once an hour, and since we'd brought bikes on our trip, all my 1-2 mile trips into town (and many of those outside it) were more conveniently served by bicycling than by waiting for a scheduled bus. My wife managed one short bus ride, however, from the in-town route that ran every 15 minutes to its terminus 1 mile away from our condo. She biked the rest of the way.

One of the chief attractions of these buses was that the ones going to the ski lodge pulled a trailer that looked as though it could carry about 20 bikes. The ski lodge was the center of mountain biking activity, with a connection to the gondola ferrying passengers to the top of Mammoth Mountain (11,053'). Bike paths honeycomb the slopes, plus one alongside the road between the ski lodge and the town below that I took my two sons on: I biked up 800' to the ski lodge (at 8900') while the rest of my family piled into our minivan to meet me there. We then rode the gondola to the top of the mountain for lunch, then the kids played in some leftover snow at the summit. Later, we rode the gondola back down to the ski lodge, and my sons and I took the mountain bike trail back into town while my wife and younger daughter drove back. We might've used the bus, but the cost of three day permits for that big bike trailer was significantly higher than driving one round trip.

I also saw a few buses heading from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite, operated by the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS). These were fairly expensive, especially for the kids, so rather than use one to get to Yosemite we made Yosemite an extended stop on our way back to Seattle instead. Yosemite has its own network of buses, which operate in some areas of Yosemite Valley where cars are prohibited. Again, I got close to using one, but the kids were having way too much fun on their bike adventures to substitute the paler experience of a bus ride. There were also open-air tour buses in Yosemite Valley, complete with guides, which looked like a great way to see the jaw-dropping sights there, but I've probably seen/heard most of what those guides had to say 20 years ago when I used to haunt this place on skipacking trips. Maybe when the kids are older.

As a regular bus rider user in a major urban area I hear a lot of media talk about how some sorts of transit are suitable in some areas and not in others, and that at least a medium urban density is required for economic operation of a transit network, but as shown by my experience in Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite this month, that ain't necessarily so. Public transit is subsidized to a greater or lesser extent everywhere in the United States, but some systems are closer to paying their own way than others. King County Metro only gets about 20% of its operating costs from fares with the rest subsidized, but some networks, particularly in areas frequented by tourists, can charge more for fares and still be close to a profitable operating margin. The Seattle Center Monorail operated profitably for many years by mostly catering to a tourist ridership, and I must assume that YARTS does the same now, but these are privately run, with relatively high fares. The Morgantown PRT (Personal Rapid Transit), serving the campus of West Virginia University, may be one of the best examples of a public (or at least semi-public) transportation system that operates at close to profitability: its system manager told me two years ago in a phone conversation that his system recovers more than 50% of its operating costs from fares alone, with the fare just 50¢. And this despite construction debt for that system that is far higher than it should have been due to Nixonian bungling while that system was being designed in the early 1970s.

I'm really looking forward to the opening of the PRT system at London's Heathrow Airport next year ... it might just herald a revolution in how people and goods move, all around the globe, promising far more cost-effective and energy-efficient transportation than any currently operating alternative.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Increasing transit ridership

Nice article in today's P-I for first-time bus riders: Gas prices killing your budget? Why not hop on the bus instead? Covers the basics. Includes a pic of the ID station where I get on my bus southbound to Tukwila, mornings. My favorite quote: "Most of all, be prepared for an adventure at times."

And why not indeed?

A couple thoughts on this reported increase in transit ridership in Seattle: first, I've definitely noticed that some of the buses I ride are more crowded than they were a few months ago. Not that they're exactly crowded yet; the 355 used to rarely have a standee a few months ago, and now it seems to have half a dozen, at times. But there's probably room for a couple dozen more before that bus gets what I would consider to be "packed". The 150, going opposite the direction of the commute (Seattle to Tukwila, mornings), still has less than half its seats full. Same situation in the afternoon. Most of the time these days, my bike is the only one on the rack on either of these buses (or the 101, also opposite the direction of the commute). Second, all things considered, the P-I's reported 6% increase since last year really isn't that much, sad to say, though of course any increase in public transit use is to be applauded.

Meanwhile, I drove to Olympia for a Memorial Day get-together with some good friends. The freeways seemed practically deserted. This was amazing ... can that many fewer people really be making elective car trips? It's a very hopeful development.

Finally, after all my griping about the Sounder over the past few months, I've actually managed to catch it a few more times in recent weeks. I am appalled at its minuscule ridership north to Seattle in the afternoon: in four trips on the Sounder over the past few months, I've never counted more than 10 people in my train car, which is what I saw on my first trip. In what, 95 seats per car? The last two trips, I counted just 6 people in my train car, and no more than 60 people (and probably somewhat less) on a train with a seating capacity of nearly 600. There are somewhat more people waiting for the train to go south again, however ... I figure there were something like 100-150 the last time I rode past them to King Street Station.