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 )
Cash payment on Metro buses has been steadily declining for years. This is good news since it improves system efficiency, given amount of time required to accept cash on buses. (Anybody who has stood in line behind a group of passengers paying cash knows exactly what I mean) A relatively pain free way to encourage more ORCA adoption would be to shorten the cut for paper transfers by 30 minutes. Current Metro policy is to cut transfers between one hour and 30 minutes and one hour and 59 minutes after a trip’s arrival time at Pike, Pine, or Union streets for Inbound trips or the terminal for other trips. In addition to this generous amount of time, Metro also directs drivers examining transfers to allow for headway time between coaches which could add, in theory, up to two hours to a paper transfer. These generous terms make paper transfers more valuable to passengers in most cases, not to mention the possibility of hoarding them.
To figure out when a transfer should be cut, I look at a trip’s arrival time at Pike/Pine/Union/Terminal, add two hours, and then round down to the closest 30 minute cut. So a 4:57 arrival time at 3rd & Pike would have a transfer expiration cut of 6:30. If the passenger is transferring to a route with 30 minute headways, the expiration time would actually be 7:00.
Long term transfers should be discontinued and a cash surcharge imposed to keep cash payment as an option but drive it to the lowest level possible. London’s bus fare structure is a perfect example. In my most recent trips to London I traveled by bus extensively and honestly don’t recall seeing a single person pay cash.
It has been a while since I’ve driven Metro’s trolleys. (I love driving trolleys, but for a Part-Timer there isn’t much variety in the work available at Atlantic base so I tend to pick work elsewhere.) Our trolley system has been around a long time and functions well, especially when you consider how old it is. That said, there is one design choice I’ve always wanted to change – The pull-out wire in the busier bus zones.
In this picture, there are 3 trolleys. The 1st coach has just finished loading a wheelchair and has been blocking the other two from proceeding for several minutes. (I first noticed these coaches while walking Northbound on 3rd Ave a block from where I took this picture). This scenario occurs often because you don’t always know to use the pull out wire. If there is a passenger who needs the lift hidden in a crowd waiting at the zone or on your bus who doesn’t let you know they need the lift early enough, for example. In these instances, your poles track to the outside position, thus blocking all of the trolleys behind you. (And, in this case, any diesel coaches that need to service the zone because it is full of trolleys).
I’ve long felt that a better option would be to reverse the pull-out wires. If the default behavior is to be on the inside track, then coaches behind you still have the option of passing if you need to use the lift. (We communicate delays downtown by turning on our 4-way flashers. Drivers to the rear can also see the lift coming out and generally know whether they will be able to pass or not) This system would require training and wouldn’t be perfect but on balance, it would leave open the possibility for trolleys to the rear to pass the lead trolley – the current system only allows passing if the lead trolley driver knows in advance that they will be delayed.
Two zones come to mind as ideal candidates for a trial: Jackson & 5th/4th and 3rd & Pike. I’m sure there are many others but I recall these zones as having the most issues with coaches blocking.
Has this been tried before? Do other drivers/supervisors out there think this is a good idea?