Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Express bus vs light rail on my commute

I rode the King County Metro #355 bus to downtown again this morning, proudly wearing stickers for Mike McGinn and Mike O'Brien.

I got to thinking last night about exactly how long my morning commute took using various transit combinations, door to door. When driving and without significant traffic, it takes about 30 minutes plus another 5 minutes walking from one end of the parking lot to my office, though traffic often makes it worse. By comparison, yesterday it took me about 85 minutes to do the same trip using a bus/bike/light rail combo.

Yesterday's commute seems to me to have been about 15-20 minutes longer than it should have been, mostly because I perceive the light rail segment of the trip to be so much slower than a King County Metro #150. But it may also have been because my #355 bus was about 4 minutes late, which caused me to miss the connecting bus downtown.

So this morning I tried a direct comparison to yesterday's bus-LRT trip (with bike connections in between and on each end), this time substituting the King County Metro #150 for the light rail leg. The bike portion of the commute would be very similar, with a flat 3.3 mile bike ride at the end of the trip today compared to yesterday's 3.2 mile ride with a long downhill, though yesterday's ride had me waiting at one traffic light for more than a minute.

The first difference was that this morning's #355 bus didn't have a working Wi-Fi connection, unlike yesterday's. Must be a different bus, even though it ran at the same time, with the same driver. So unfortunately I couldn't post this as it was being written. Oh well.

Status halfway: my #355 bus was three minutes late from Greenwood, almost exactly like yesterday, which would again make me miss my connecting #150. The #355 made good time to the south end of downtown, and when I biked from its first downtown stop to the International District tunnel station and reached the top of the stairs leading down to the platform, I saw my #150 bus just then pulling out. Argh. It was also three minutes late, however.

Three minutes later, a light rail train arrived, giving me the same choice I had yesterday: take light rail or wait seven more minutes for my next bus. Yesterday I chose the train, today I waited for the bus.

The next #150 bus to arrive was also a couple minutes late, but I climbed on. With all the delays, my guess was that I would get to work at about the same time today as I did yesterday.

However, even while starting seven minutes later than the train plus a couple minutes of delay, I still arrived at work 10 minutes earlier today than I did yesterday (74 minutes today vs 84 minutes yesterday), with the only significant difference being that riding the train took a lot longer (more than 15 minutes longer) than riding an express bus, with all other factors being almost exactly equal.

Political Endorsements

Yes on R-71
No! on I-1033
Dow Constantine for King County Executive
Mike McGinn for Seattle Mayor
Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, Mike O'Brien, and David Bloom for Seattle City Council
Rob Holland and Max Vekich for Seattle Port Commissioner

The Seattle Transit Hat Trick

After riding the bus on the first leg of my bike+transit commute yesterday, from North Seattle to downtown, and riding Central Link light rail on the second leg (from downtown to Tukwila, followed by a 3+ mile bike ride between the Tukwila station and my office), I looked into riding Sounder on the first leg of my commute home, from Tukwila back to downtown.

Alas, northbound afternoon Sounder options are very limited, only two per weekday, at 5:04 PM and 5:39 PM. And I wouldn't have been able to catch one until about 6:00 PM.

No matter, I rode the King County Metro #150 bus from Tukwila instead, which is actually a more convenient option (except that it lacks Wi-Fi) since it continues up through downtown rather than stopping at King Street Station, south of downtown.

While riding all three commuter transit options available to Seattleites into and out of our fair city would have been fun, it would also have been a "Quat Trick" for alternative transit when my use of the bike on the same trip was considered.

Anyone else ever ride the bus, light rail, and Sounder on the same commute day?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back in the saddle

Speaking of Central Link light rail, I rode it the rest of the way to Tukwila on my Monday morning bike/transit commute. I got on at the International District station.

Oddly, there was no operative Wi-Fi network on the train, whereas there had been on the King County Metro #355 bus on my earlier leg. This is the opposite of the usual circumstance.

When I boarded, five people got off the train, with a dozen people remaining on the first vehicle in the train, which I boarded. The first bike hangar in the vehicle was unoccupied, so I took it, my bike sticking way out into the aisle (I'm a tall guy, and my seat and handlebars stick way up). At the next stop, a woman in a KC Metro jacket and her own bike saw me sitting there through the window, shrugged, and headed farther back, I assume to the bike rack in the rear vehicle. A Transit Security guy got on, too, then asked everyone for proof of payment once we got underway. This seems to be the usual drill now. By the time we reached Rainier Beach station, there were only seven people left in the vehicle.

As I've noted in the past, this is abysmal ridership, down even from last month's disappointing totals, with no prospect of improvement before the #194 bus line closes early next year and not much prospect for improvement even then (except for people now riding the #194 plus a few more because an incrementally larger number could be expected to ride light rail who wouldn't ride a bus, even though the bus is faster), since the light rail line really doesn't have much built-in ridership, and won't until more residential development occurs around the four stations in the Rainier Valley (plus the Beacon Hill station).

Unless, of course, Sound Transit gets serious about providing fast, safe, and convenient feeders between those light rail stations and neighborhoods that are nearby but more than a quarter-mile walk away, and which by-and-large are already well served by King County Metro buses. The Personal Rapid Transit demonstration that Sound Transit committed to funding and building during the same Sound Move vote in 1996 that brought us Central Link light rail in the first place (and which has been ignored ever since) would go a long way towards demonstrating Sound Transit's commitment to serving a constituency beyond the big-money developers who will benefit most from what the light rail line is now and will be until additional segments are completed (University Link will be first, to open no earlier than 2016): development-oriented transit (as opposed to transit-oriented development).

Postscript: When I got off the train at its current end of the line in Tukwila, only four other people got off the entire train with me. Abysmal ridership indeed. But on the plus side, the Park and Ride Lot there was full, a few cars driving around in it and clearly looking for a parking space, so at least a few hundred people a day are able to use light rail to commute from there to downtown. I wonder what the people looking for a parking space there ended up doing, however.

Post-postscript: On the return to downtown on a King County Metro #150 bus from Tukwila, with about 20 other people on board with me, we came even with a light rail train heading in the same direction at the Stadium Station. It had 10 people on board.

Abysmal ridership indeed.

A bus to Boston

OK, not ALL the way to Boston

Last weekend I flew to Boston with my kids. My cousin was getting married there and I wanted to bring as much of my family as I could. Unfortunately my wife had other long-simmering out-of-town plans, so she couldn't join us, but at least my daughter and two sons were able to come.

We had an 8:50 AM flight. If we wanted to arrive at least an hour early, we had to be at the airport by 7:45 AM. Driving to Sea-Tac would take about half an hour, plus at least a few extra minutes to park. Taking a bus to downtown and then a transfer onto the King County Metro #194 would take about twice that long, but would save us at least $70 in parking costs for our four-day weekend, and as much as $140 if we parked at the airport garage. Taking the bus would mean we would have to get out of the house before 6:45 AM, no small feat with three easily distracted children and only one parent (me) to ride herd.

It was doable if the kids had everything packed and ready beforehand. Not that this would have been remotely possible under normal circumstances, so I fudged our usual rules and threw in some incentives. A buck for everyone who had their bag packed and ready and who was in bed by 8:00 PM, not a minute later. Another buck for everyone who was at the front door by 6:35 AM, bags in hand, and breakfast already eaten. And a third dollar if everyone could do it.

My second son, the one who rode home from SAFECO Field with me this summer when a lot of yelling and shoving broke out on the bus next to us, took a little convincing, but on assurances that this experience wold be nothing like that one, he went along in the end.

Well, only my daughter was able to get to bed by 8:00 PM. One son almost made it but couldn't tear himself away from his computer game in time. My oldest son -- the preteen -- announced that he didn't care one way or the other, and so got chased into bed by 8:30. But next morning, with the example of my daughter's successful evening in front of them, everyone was ready to go on time and with a minimum of fuss.

We walked two blocks to the nearest King County Metro #355 bus stop, arriving with five minutes to spare. The bus flew south on I-5, made its three stops in the U-District, and rode the express lanes the rest of the way downtown. We got off at Jackson Street, walked two blocks downhill to the Pioneer Square station of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, and a #194 bus came by five minutes later. Then it flew the rest of the way down the busway and I-5 to the airport, dropping us off a short walk from the terminal. I showed the light rail line to the kids as we passed under it and then rode alongside, explaining that in a couple more months, not long after the light rail station at the airport was opened, the #194 bus we were riding would be discontinued even though it's quite a bit quicker from downtown to the airport than light rail will be. So this would very likely be our last trip on the #194 even though it has been a tremendously useful and (relatively) cost-effective service for us and for many others in the past.

Our trip went off without a hitch, including the long flight to Boston. On our return to Boston's Logan International Airport, because a couple of my sisters wanted to bring my daughter to a doll store in suburban Natick, and my sons had exactly zero interest in that. I'd hoped to take a train ride from there to the airport, but plans changed when we had a horrific traffic jam waiting to cross the Sagamore bridge from Cape Cod, so time ran out for the luxury of a train ride on Boston's fabled "T", which I've ridden on several occasions before but my kids had never heard of. My sons and I went to the Apple Store instead while my daughter visited the doll store with her aunts. Now my oldest son wants a new iPod shuffle. Great.

My wife, who drove to Sea-Tac airport and parked at a remote lot the day after our trip to Boston, returned there an hour and a half before we did, so we had an easy ride home without having to wait for a late-night Sunday bus, which would have been a much dicier trip than our Thursday-morning departure.