My last inbound trip on RapidRide Friday was stuck in heavy traffic on 3rd Ave. It turns out the cause was one of our trolley buses stopped on 3rd after hitting the door of a parked car, presumably after the driver opened it without looking to see if the lane was clear. (This is known as a “Door Prize” and is, sadly, quite common)
I made an announcement to inform my passengers of the reason for the delay and used the opportunity to provide advice on how to avoid such a collision: open your car door with your right hand and check the oncoming traffic before opening it. This advice is so simple and easy and yet it commonly goes unheeded. Interestingly enough, the Washington State Driver’s Guide informs prospective drivers “If parked at a curb, look before you open any door in the path of a car, bicycle, or pedestrian”. This information is contained in the “Space for bicycles” section, but easily could be part of a general safety tips section. After all, buses, trucks, and other cars travel next to parked cars – all of which can do a lot of damage. Checking the oncoming traffic won’t just potentially save a cyclist’s life, it may also save your fingers.
I had the unique pleasure of being at the center of one such incident on Tuesday when my E Line RapidRide bus decided to pop out of gear at the worst possible time: Driving up Aloha St toward Aurora Ave. At the time, Aloha street was being used by SDOT to reroute Aurora Ave traffic during Highway 99 construction. The bus wouldn’t move and restarting it wasn’t helping. Worse, each attempt at getting it into gear resulted in the bus, still full of passengers, rolling back down a steep hill. I was done trying to move the bus without assistance from Vehicle Maintenance. Cars were able to squeeze by my immobilized bus, but all buses that use Aurora Ave had to be rerouted which compounded already substantial delays.
This blockage made an already bad situation worse. I was following the Blanchard/7th Ave/Dexter reroute that all Northbound Aurora Ave buses were using. It was frustrating to see cars parked on Dexter and Blanchard Streets where ad-hoc bus lanes could have been created to give buses priority. Instead, buses were routed into a single lane of traffic with cars and left to sit. Delays were so bad at one point that the control center gave me permission to reroute an E Line trip via Elliott Ave, 15th Ave NW, and N 85th St. (For those keeping track, thats basically the same as driving almost the entire D Line route through Ballard and then using 85th to access Aurora Ave – A very long reroute) Several passengers commented this route was much faster than the previous day’s commute. (And even with a 23 minute wait for the next Southbound bus, was likely faster for passengers making their way to points between Lynn & 85th Streets) As I made my way southbound from Aurora Village Transit Center close to 7:30, I saw a steady stream of E Line coaches making their way north after likely breaking free from the Blanchard/7th/Dexter reroute bottleneck.
In short, this 4 day Highway 99 closure seems like a good case study for how our transportation system breaks down under extreme pressure. Hopefully, we can learn from it.
Recently, the company behind Strava, an app designed to track running and cycling activity for individual athletes and bike commuters, released “Strava Metro”. The idea behind Strava Metro is to aggregate individual runs and bike rides into a product that transportation planners and advocates can use in active transportation planning. On the surface, the heat maps Strava produces are impressive, if not mesmerizing. The chief complaint I have with Strava, however, is that it requires active intervention by the user to collect data. This skews the data Strava collects toward bike “roadies”, “mountain bikers”, and long distance commuters rather than utility/cargo/last miler cyclists. My personal experience with Strava reflects this as I’ve long used Strava to track my bike commutes but often don’t bother to track my short ride to the Park & Ride or the two mile ride I make to the grocery store. Strava also makes no attempt to include walking data which is a huge omission, especially when the goal is to remove impediments to active transportation choices. All this means that Strava’s heat maps are, at best, a flawed and impartial view into how people choose to get around their city.
A better alternative would be an app that tracks all activities throughout the day without intervention by the user. The tracked data would be anonymized, aggregated, and published in maps useful for active transportation planners and advocates. While I have yet to find a source as well presented as Strava’s Heat Maps, a close second can be found in Human Co’s city ranking site. This site presents aggregated movement data for users of Human, a simple app designed to encourage users to move at least 30 minutes a day. The data gathered by Human is still skewed toward a demographic that includes smart phone users and would need to be used with caution, but at least it makes an attempt to gather data on ALL of the ways we move around our cities, including motorized transport. The biggest surprise I found: Washington DC ranks higher than New York in “Active Transportiation” (Non-motorized trips) as well as walking trips.
Let’s hope that Human Co enhances this data and encourages more data collection, beyond their current targeted demographic of people trying to move at least 30 minutes a day.
For anyone undecided on Prop 1, I urge you to look at Seattle Transit Blog‘s coverage, especially if you’ve been reading the Seattle Times editorials on the subject which are weak, lazy, and simplistic. The writers at STB have done the digging and hard work to understand how to make our system more efficient. They’ve been doing this for years and have had a great number of successes. Improvement has been a continual process, which accelerated during the funding crunch that started in 2008 due to declining sales tax revenue.
The funding package is regressive and, frankly, terrible, but it’s the only funding tool currently available to Metro, short of further fare increases. (Which are also regressive, have been done several times, and is also part of this package). Even if the system doesn’t work for you, and it won’t for a great number of trips, please know that the vast majority of buses I drive typically become full, or often overloaded, at key chokepoints. The system really works to keep a lot of cars off of the roads, especially at key chokepoints. Even the (decreasing number of) “empty” buses that critics like to gripe about contribute to the cause, although that is a more complicated discussion (see below).
If anybody has questions about how Metro has been improving efficiency, what changes are coming, and the political roadblocks that are beyond Metro’s control, I am happy to sit down over coffee, beer, or hard liquor to explain what I’ve learned over these years at Metro. (Hard liquor is for the discussions of political shenanigans that arise every time Metro proposes changes to the system – Don’t worry, we don’t need to drive afterwards – I know how to get virtually anywhere in the area by transit )
Streetfilms has a feature on Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPI) for crosswalk signals that I’d recommend watching. In short, before a signal for vehicle traffic turns green, LPIs give pedestrians a head start to establish their presence in the crosswalk. While Streetfilms doesn’t cite safety statistics, virtually all pedestrians can imagine how LPIs might improve their odds. We’ve all likely had the experience of getting a “WALK” signal and stepping out into the crosswalk right as Mario Andretti (or at least his evil twin) takes off from his pole position right as the light turns green as if the green signal releases a massive rubber band holding Mario’s car in place.
The city of Seattle has already started experimenting with LPIs in “a few” locations (Sadly, no mention of where). I stumbled across one on 4th Ave S, just north of Costco and can say that it at least *feels* safer. Going forward, I’ll be interested to see more of these, especially in locations with heavy volumes of turning traffic. Perhaps 4th & Olive, or 6th & University near the I-5 onramp? Where would you like to see an LPI?