Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bike/bus wave-offs

OK, there's at least one issue that hasn't been working perfectly on my bike/bus commute to Tukwila: wave-offs.

That's right, even in March I'm already experiencing wave-offs, where a bus I hope to take from Seattle's bus tunnel already has two bikes in its bike rack and I get waved off to wait for the next available bus. I've already been waved off once from the International District Station, and nearly got waved off a second time there.

The actual wave-off occurred all the way back in February from a southbound King County Metro #150, which drove up with two bikes filling up its bike rack. The bus driver shrugged his shoulders and said the next bus would be along in 15 minutes, then closed the door and went on. Fortunately for me, a King County Metro #101 came along just one minute later and I'd done enough research beforehand to know that even though it took me down a different route and would require a 3-mile bike ride to my office rather than the 1-mile ride after getting off the #150, I could still do it. So this didn't cost me much, though it would have been a lot more difficult for someone who hadn't done their homework ahead of time.

The near-wave-off also occurred with a King County Metro #150 bus, which this time was preceded by a #101 bus, and so I would indeed have had to wait for 15 minutes for the next bus. Three buses came through the tunnel one after the other. The first was a #101 with no bikes on board. The third was a #150 with one bike on board. All three buses stopped in a line, with the first two opening their doors. I had my bike clearly visible to all three drivers close to the actual stop, where I'd been waiting for about five minutes. Another bicyclist came down the stairs and immediately moved toward the #150 bus, but the driver waved him forward to the actual stop. As the other bicyclist moved forward, the two lead buses moved out and the #150 bus came to the actual bus stop, where I mounted my bike into its rack and boarded, so the other bicyclist probably had to wait that 15 minutes instead of me.

I have been very fortunate in my bike-commuting in not getting waved off often, other than when I was attempting to board eastbound buses from the Montlake Freeway Station last year, when this started taking me 20-30 minutes of waiting even in March and April, and so I eventually quit trying to do so entirely, bicycling all the way around the north end of Lake Washington instead. Two (or three) bikes per bus really isn't enough, especially with wave-offs already occurring fairly frequently, with Seattle attempting to increase its number of bike trips by a factor of 3 over the next 9 years, and with even Central Link light rail unable to accommodate very many more bicycles per train (I understand from a presentation I attended last year promoting Sound Transit's failed East Link proposal that each light rail vehicle will be able to accommodate only 2 bicycles). One thing I like so much about Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is that each vehicle can carry a bicycle, and system capacities are expected to be in the neighborhood of 30 vehicles per minute, meaning up to 30 bicyclists and their riders can be carried every minute (= 1800 bikes per hour) by each PRT line. Compare that to 3 bikes per bus every 6 minutes (= 30 bikes per hour, maximum), or even 2 bikes times a maximum of 4 LRT vehicles per train every 5 minutes minimum (= 96 bikes per hour at a theoretical maximum) for Central Link light rail, and PRT looks like a huge boon to enabling human-powered transportation, especially when you consider that PRT vehicle headways are expected to eventually drop to just a half-second, quadrupling the number of bicycles that could be accommodated from the two-second PRT headways mentioned above.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bike/bus commute conversations

I'm bike-commuting twice a week these days, except during weeks with lots of rain like last week. I haven't ridden the bike for an entire 45-mile round-trip yet, but I'm working up to it. Yesterday was typical, where my bike ride on the morning leg was minimal -- I piggybacked on two express buses, only bicycling 1-2 miles at the beginning, end, and between the transfer bus stops, but I rode the bulk of the way home (16-17 miles), only catching a bus for 5 of the last 6 miles on the uphill finish.

I really don't have many complaints about the express bus/bike piggybacks except of course that they continue to take roughly twice as long as driving -- it's really quite remarkable that they work as well as they do: for all its imperfections King County Metro seems like a remarkably competent organization.

My one-sided conversation with another bus passenger yesterday afternoon reminds me that I've been having similar interactions on most of my last few bus trips with people who are either in trouble or who have some sort of disability. Whether it's my bicycling garb (wearing shorts in the winter?!) which makes me seem more approachable than the usual bus commuter is something I may never know.Yesterday after bicycling from Tukwila to the north extent of the downtown ride-free zone to catch my express bus home, I made my way back through the bus towards the back when a young man started chattering at me. He had an empty seat next to him (unusually, there were still quite a few empty seats, even though this is one of the busiest routes in Seattle) and looked harmless, so I sat down with him. This seemed to rev him up even more, and he started nattering on about some of his bodily functions and speculating on his own interspecies genetics, dropping the occasional f-bomb. He did notice that I was sniffly and sneezy (spring is hay fever time for me, which bicycling exacerbates), and so asked a few questions that allowed me a few words to contribute to the interaction, but it was mostly a nonstop stream of words from him that I (and the people around me) didn't really need to hear, though friendly enough.

Two weeks ago I got lectured by a man with Down Syndrome (for the second time) about nutrition and proper health maintenance. I let him augment my conscience on health issues, about which he is frankly rather well informed, now substituting fruit for a scone upon my arrival at work most days. I enjoy talking with him, actually, and I'm sure I'll do so again.

Also two weeks ago I sat across from two men who were discussing their rehab, love lives, and some of their near-term dreams, like buying a bed or a TV. One may have been advising the other as part of an AA-type group. The other discussed his girlfriend's jail time and the possibility that he might have some soon, too, if he ended up having to 'do something crazy' in order to pay his bills. There but for the grace of God, I suppose.

Between all these interactions, I can see how riding public transit could be an off-putting experience for some, certainly. I am large enough that I generally don't feel unsafe in these situations, but others might not, especially after dark. I keep in mind at times like this the experience a similarly large friend of mine had 15 years ago when he moved to Seattle and tried taking one of these same buses to his job downtown: when he got home he said he wouldn't be doing that again, I presume because he encountered some similar people on his trip and felt more deterred than I do.

Some years ago I read that the last time in modern America when all the classes mingle is high school. Well, as more people start riding public transit again, that may change. For the better, I sincerely hope.