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.