Friday, August 28, 2009

Critical Mass goes to SAFECO Field

Critical Mass went by SAFECO Field tonight, not long before the Mariners game started. I was standing near the corner of Royal Brougham Way and 1st Ave S., waiting for my wife to drop off my kids so I could bring them to the ballyard. My cell phone rang; she was on Aurora driving past Queen Anne, and traffic by the stadiums was good. It looked like she would get there in about 5 minutes. And then I saw Critical Mass coming.

I've seen
Critical Mass once before, in fact I even rode with them for a couple blocks downtown this Spring. I came up from the University Street tunnel with my bike, all decked out in my usual dayglo commuter gear, and there they were, streaming past. Several among them asked me to join them. Of course they didn't make room so that I could actually do so, but it was nice of them to ask. Once nearly all of them (and there were about 100) were past, I mounted up and caught them -- they hadn't been riding fast. I don't suppose they normally do. It felt kind of like a rolling party, though they were riding together in a rather disciplined proximity. Then they turned left towards the Market and I continued straight up 3rd Ave, and that was that.

Today, there were about twice as many of them. Nearly half were wearing helmets. I only noticed a few of the bikes before one of the bicyclists cheered at me; I was wearing a baseball cap that one of them thought looked like it came from Roosevelt High (it didn't, but I can see how they might have gotten confused) and she yelled 'Go Roughriders!". Heh. They seem like a nice enough bunch of kids. I was sort of grinning goofily at them the while.

But of course that light at Royal Brougham Way is closely controlled by traffic cops on game days. And of course there were a whole bunch of slow-moving cars. The bikes all streamed between the lanes amidst them. A few cars crossed the light with the bikes, which I don't expect is usual for a Critical Mass ride. But then again there were cops everywhere. No one was particularly misbehaving, unless you consider bikes riding between lanes to be misbehaving, which I guess it is. Then halfway through the crowd of bikes, the light changed, splitting the Critical Mass riders. Normally I think they would "cork" the intersection and proceed through on the red light to stay together, but of course they were surrounded by cops here so they didn't. A sensible move for all, if you ask me.

A police car with lights flashing trailed the main body of cyclists. Then a couple black SWAT SUVs came by, filled with cops in monotone black uniforms. Dunno if they were following Critical Mass, too, or if they just happened to be in the same place at the same time, much as I'd been this Spring.

Meanwhile, traffic had snarled significantly in the immediate neighborhood. I think my wife ended up taking 12 minutes to drop off the kids when it should've taken 5. Big deal, I know, except that the delay meant we didn't get inside the ballpark in time to pick up the freebie DVDs the Mariners were giving away that day ("Mariners Commercials, Volume 2"), which is the reason my kids had wanted to see this game in the first place. Bummer for us.

Anybody have extras that they'd like to trade us for extra "Mariners Commercials, Volume 1" DVDs that we picked up at a previous game a couple months ago?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not-free Light Rail

I missed my downtown bus connection this morning. I'd taken a mostly-full King County Metro #355 from North Seattle to 5th & James, then biked to the International District Station, but arrived just one minute after my connecting bus, a King County Metro #150, had gone past. My next bus wasn't due for another 14 minutes.

The roads were wet from this morning's rain, so I didn't want to take the King County Metro #101, my usual alternate, because it has a pretty ferocious downhill and my bike's rear brake was disconnected -- the rear wheels on both my commuter bike and my road rocket have gotten out of true over the past month, and I would be dropping off my commuter bike at REI for repairs this afternoon, but in the meantime the only way to keep the rear wheel rolling was to unhinge the rear brake, making it non-functional.

A light rail train went by a couple minutes after I arrived. This gave me an idea. I work in Tukwila, after all, even if nowhere near the Tukwila light rail station. I'd scouted a bike route from the Tukwila light rail terminus to my office a couple weeks ago, and while it didn't look great, and I find the Southcenter area notoriously unwelcoming to bikes, I'd heard that bike lanes had recently been painted on Southcenter Blvd, which is the route I'd scouted.

I didn't catch this particular train, as it stopped too far away from where I'd been waiting, but I figured if the next train arrived before my bus, I might take it.

So I did. I hadn't thought about how to pay for the train ride before I climbed aboard, but I had a transfer slip from my earlier bus, which I hoped would be enough. There were a total of six passengers on the vehicle I boarded, which was the forward vehicle in the two-vehicle train. I'd looked into the previous train as it passed, and counted four passengers in its second vehicle, though there were more in its first vehicle.

A couple transit cops got on at SoDo Station, calling for tickets. I pulled out my transfer slip. One cop glanced at it as he passed and thanked me. Sweet, Seattle's light rail apparently accepts bus transfers after all. The two cops got off at Beacon Hill Station. Later in the day I learned that bus transfer slips will be sufficient payment on light rail trains for the rest of the year.

A few passengers boarded while others got off as the train proceeded south. I don't think the number of passengers in my vehicle ever exceeded eight, which I might say is outrageously poor ridership, especially in light of Sound Transit's revelation that its first-week ridership averaged just 12,000 boardings per weekday. But this will improve as more destinations come online, increasing slightly when the segment to the airport opens later this year and more significantly to the UW seven years from now, and as more massive housing developments get built in the immediate vicinity of stations in the Rainier Valley, though of course Sound Transit could drastically increase light rail ridership by following through on its 1996 commitment to build a demonstration PRT system and then extending that to neighborhoods near those light rail stations. That would be nice.

It's also unfair to judge system ridership by counting passengers on two reverse-commute trains even if those counts were taken during peak hours -- I should note that the one train I saw coming into the ID Station while I was waiting there looked like it had considerably more riders, with as many as 2/3 of the seats taken, similar to the 355 bus I'd ridden earlier this morning.

With so few passengers on my train, I felt freer to look around the vehicle, and counted only two bike slots in it-- that's just four bike slots for the entire train, though I suppose additional bikes could still be brought aboard even if they couldn't be stowed properly. My bike protruded halfway into the aisle. The train really has quite a violent shimmy as it speeds along the fast section nearing Tukwila -- I have to think that'll be addressed someday.

When I got off the train in Tukwila, only five other people got off the entire train with me. Yes, this is abysmal ridership, though I feel certain that Sound Transit will contend that ridership is ahead of estimates anyway. Again, it's too soon to make a lasting judgment, but this is not what I'd call a good start.

My bike ride from the station turned out surprisingly well. Southcenter Blvd had a bike lane for more than a mile, all the way to where it crossed under I-5, and traffic after that was light enough that I was able to change lanes as they turned to side roads the rest of the way across Interurban Avenue, where I caught the Interurban Trail, which I rode the rest of the way to my office. I was surprised to see that the ride had taken 10 minutes longer than it would have if I'd taken my usual #150 bus.

I should also say that last Friday, while I was driving with my 12-year-old son to climb Mt. Adams, my wife repeated my light rail trip to Columbia City with our other kids, stopping at Jones Barbeque and having lunch with them there. She says the food is better when it's hot, which it hadn't been after I used light rail to carry a batch up to a ZooTunes concert a few weeks ago.

P.S. A couple transit cops boarded my return #150 bus at Stadium Station this afternoon, one through each door. One walked from the rear to the front, then both climbed off again. In 20 years of bus riding in Seattle I don't think I've ever seen transit cops board a bus like that before. I appreciated it, actually.