Where were we. That’s right. We’d just come all the way up from Rainier, and are now in the middle of the right turn onto Pike from 3rd. You activate the switch as detailed in the previous post, and are now ready to do the deed.

Turning onto Pike

  • There are 2 deadspots in this turn; if you don’t hear the first one as the left corner of your coach crosses the north-south crosswalk on Pike, stop immediately, because you’re not on the turning wire. Check yourself in the right exterior mirror. 
  • The positioning of this first deadspot is tricky–you have to choose a moment without pedestrians crossing such that you can accelerate and then coast through this deadspot without hitting or near-hitting anyone. This is where we work for that paycheck!
  • The 2nd deadspot is when your turning wire joins back up with Pike St wire, and it lines up with a particular window in the Ross building that’s either very near the doors are actually at the doors, if I recall correctly.
  • Look at that big crowd waiting to get on. You’re loving this. Only someone like yourself could take this crew up the street with the professionalism, patience and easy touch you have. I believe in you.
  • Questions you’ll get: 
  1. “Do you go the college?” Yes. 
  2. “Do you stop at Boren?” No. There’s a 10 in a few minutes.
  3. “Do you stop at Salvation Army?” No. That’ll be the 10.
  4. “Do you go straight?” Not really, this is your last stop on this street. There’s a 10 coming (there really is; that has 15-minute service til midnight, daily).
  5. “Can I just get a courtesy ride up the hill?” Sure, no problem. It’s like inbound Henderson; half of these guys are gonna be gone in ten minutes. 
  6. “Where’s the 11? Have you seen the 11?” The 11 famously has one of the worst schedules in the system, and ever since Metro turned it into a live-loop route, has become torture to drive and woefully unreliable for passengers. It has no bathroom at the Madison layover, and no break on the downtown end, and a schedule that’s never heard of the 2nd Avenue turnaround. Meanwhile, they could be laying this thing over at Virginia between 2nd and 3rd (Planners! Help!), because no other service outside of peak lays there. Basically, passengers are always wringing their hands waiting for it because it’s always late. Tell them: “Yeah, it’s coming. The 11 is always late, but it’s coming.” You can even mention the 11 has a tight schedule. 
  • Do you drive the 11? I feel your pain. I try to let you go first so you can get the heck out of here instead of sitting around watching my rear end slow down for special work. Feeling the call of nature? Know that there’s a comfort station inside Westlake Station, by the old customer service stop, and if you pull far enough forward at the 4th/Pine zone (pull all the way up to 3rd), you can park and run down there. This makes more sense after hours when things have quieted down downtown. Yes, you’ll become late. But wasn’t that going to happen anyway?
  • Are you a passenger reading this? Now you know why those 11 drivers are so miserable. They want to stand. They want to urinate. Or even eat. You know, simple pleasures. Be extra nice to them. You might blow their minds.

5th

  • This isn’t your zone, but it’s time to signal left to stay on the straight wire. It’s counter-intuitive. The wire splitting off to the right (for the 10) is the default wire, even though it’s breaking off from the main line at an angle. To remain on the main line, which eventually turns left on 8th and is what you want, you have to signal left. You should hear a click, but no deadspot beep. 
  • Special work crossing 7th; once you clear the landscaped rocks on the far right sidewalk, you’re good.

8th

  • You don’t need to split this, but you can if there’s a rideshare vehicle poorly parked on the left side (which seems more often the rule than otherwise), or a big charter bus parked on 8th, though in my experience the latter will pull just far enough forward to give you clearance.
  • Sectional insulator after you’ve completely finished the turn. It’s in between two of the bike lane protectors on the left.

Pine

  • You don’t need to split this. The curb is cut to give you a lot of trailing room. Remember not to signal left as you approach Pine, or you’ll trip the left turn wire. 
  • Splits in the wire always have a default lane of wire that you stay on if you don’t signal; here, the default is to turn right. Perfect. You signal right, but only because that’s the thing to do as a nice person who turns right, not because it’s doing anything up above.

9th

  • Sectional insulator as you approach the zone–it’s just after the bushes and lines up with one of those black stumpy chair things. Forgive my lack of outdoor seating terminology.

Boren

  • You’ve felt these; 2 sectional insulators between 9th and Boren. As with all sectional insulators, you don’t need to slow down for them, but you do need to coast through them.
  • The first is as your front passes that mid-sized windowless grey standalone single-story concrete structure on the right; 
  • The second is between the bike lane “sharrow” painted on the roadway and the beginning of the 2-lane markings painted on the roadway, nearer to Boren. 
  • What do you do nearside Boren, where the lane randomly splits into two unmarked lanes even though there’s only one farside? I’m existentially confused. What am I looking at? Is this supposed to be a straight lane and a left-turn lane, or a straight lane on the left with a huge bike lane on the right? I guess they want us to embrace life’s enigmatic side. If there’s a bike on the right, I split these to give them space. Or you can sit in lane 1; never mind that a car in lane 2 will pass you. You’re a bus, and you were never going to outpace them anyway. Just keepin’ the stress down and taking our time out here… 

Bellevue

  • Someone will ask you for a Night Stop at nearside Melrose. Remember, Night Stops are legal, and described in the Book, even if they’re no longer taught in class. You can do this starting at 8pm and know that you’ll be scot-free from any discipline. Just make sure you’re stopping in a safe location. Barely anyone knows about the Night Stop program though, so this request will be intermittent at best.
  • Crossing Bellevue–I take the whole thing at 9mph, due to the 3 pieces of special work, the last of which is a deadspot right as you meet the farside crosswalk. Yum. Don’t you love that sensation of clearing a deadspot, and now you’re good to go?

Summit

  • The stop is actually at Belmont, despite OBS calling it out as “Summit.” Adorable. In any event, this is one of the few zones I don’t pull as far forward as possible on, because the layout seems designed for killing people. Which I don’t want to do. People get off and want to cross in front, and if you’re too far forward, you have very little time to react if they cross as you begin to roll forward. 
  • Also, cars may pass you on the left, accelerating to quickly get out of straddling the oncoming lane, and are thus primely positioned to run over pedestrians in the crosswalk (also something you don’t like), because you’re blocking their view. So I stop a little bit back here.

Harvard

  • I call this out as “Broadway.” OBS thinks it’s Harvard, which technically yes, it’s farside Harvard, but no one cares about Harvard. They care about Broadway. Tell ‘em to have a good night.
  • Do not signal right as you enter the zone, or you’ll get on that straight wire. Use your 4-ways instead. (Where does that right lane of wire go? Just to satisfy your curiosity–it can turn you right onto SB Broadway (an extremely difficult turn requiring epic setup), or continue straight up Pine, like the old 10 used to, all the way to 15th and north on 15th to where the 10 runs now.)
  • Check your time. Do you have to wait? Is the 11 behind you and wishing to service this very popular zone? You could consider pulling forward, past the alley, so (s)he can fit in behind you. But then you’re also technically blocking an alley, so I don’t blame you if you have second thoughts about it. 
  • Don’t pull too far forward–remember, you need to stay on the left-turn wire. 

Broadway

  • I can’t get enough of this turn. Go deep. Yeah. Take it out there. So deep it almost looks like you’re going to turn into that bike lane. Why? 
  • Because the wire above wasn’t built by Metro but by a company in connection with the Seattle Streetcar, and it’s flimsier. It’s structurally weaker, and it is also harder to visually decode; Metro builds its wire so the deadspots are visible and easy to comprehend the location of (the big “suitcase handle” over the wire, as you know), but whoever built these streetcar wire intersections didn’t have the first idea about that. You can’t see the deadspots at all. You can’t see anything. It’s a zoo up there. Plus, the breakability–this is why supervisors are so touchy about your speed crossing the streetcar on Virginia and Stewart. It’s just too fragile. 
  • Anyways. You’re taking this turn deep because you want to keep your poles roughly above the back end of your coach, since staying under the wire is the best way to stay on the wire. 
  • You have no deadspots until the very end, where you get a cute little “beep” right as your front doors pass the sign on the store window that’s just past Jimi Hendrix and says “Blick Art Materials.” 
  • The next light usually turns red before you can get to it. No worries.

John

  • When I was a teenage passenger, a driver announced this as, “This is John–or Olive, depending on how you roll…” which I’ve always remembered and found amusing, given the pansexual fluidity of the neighborhood. The robotic OBS lady calls the street John, and hopefully that makes her happy. 
  • Note the 3 pieces of special work–another place to take the whole intersection at 9mph, majestically drifting across the intersection. Doesn’t that feel great? 
  • If you’re coming from driving diesels, it may seem strange to slow down so much, and in such unexpected places. But the crowd is used to it. Buses have been slowing down for special work in Seattle for over a half-century. Just keep it smooth for the people. 
  • ​This is a camera light.

Nathan on Ubers and Lyfts

  • Let’s talk about this. Talking it out is good, right?
  • First we’ll admit the unvarnished truth: They “drive.” They drive in a manner absurdly inconsistent with standard American driving behavior. They don’t follow rules. They follow Geoffrey Rush’s dictum on rules from Pirates of the Caribbean 1: “They’re more like… (wink wink) guidelines.” 
  • Taxi drivers get defensive driver training: they also drive like maniacs, but they know what they’re doing and know the city very well. The same can’t be said for U & L drivers. The training isn’t there, and it shows. 
  • I don’t advocate for GPS driving, because, as you know from whenever you’ve ever been behind anyone who’s following their GPS, they don’t look far enough ahead. Increase your following distance so you have more time to react.
  • Now, for the macro-level existential analysis:
  • What do we really mean when we say “bad driving”? Do we have different ideas of what constitutes skilled maneuvering? Why do people think women can’t drive, when statistically they get into less accidents?
  • I was once riding a bus with an operator from Kenya driving. In Kenya he also drove buses. Now he was driving through traffic in Seattle. As I sat there being thrown around and hanging on for dear life, I was convinced this was the worst bus driving I’d ever experienced. Then it dawned on me: this is probably how you have to drive to get through traffic in Kenya. If Kenyan traffic is anything like the traffic I’ve experienced in Mexico City, Napoli, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, then I can attest that it is insane, and his methods wouldn’t just have been helpful, but essential. And old habits die hard. Most Uber and Lyft drivers hail from places where there’s a significant difference in driving style from what we’re used to. So there’s that. Plus, they’re driving around drunk frat boys in their personal vehicles, who might vomit on their own car seats at any moment. Also, they have a different incentive than us in that the faster they operate, the more rides (money) they can stand to make. We’re lucky; we don’t have to rush.
  • Speaking of which: Metro colleagues, please don’t drive these things like they’re Ubers. They aren’t. A 4500-series trolley costs $1 million per unit. It’s worth more than your house. Don’t risk lives and your livelihood racing down 3rd Avenue with it. If you kill someone it isn’t just that you’ll be terminated from employment; wherever you go, you’ll be doomed to think about it every single day for the rest of your life, and you don’t want that on your hands.
  • So we’ve covered the bigger picture of why Ubers and Lyfts think differently. What to do about it? They’re still blocking your zone here at northbound John (or Olive). 
  • I recommend scanning the zone for wheelchairs. If there are no wheelchair-bound passengers, make an in-lane stop.“Guys, we’re gonna stay in the lane here, watch your step.” Passengers always, without fail, will take your side in the bus-Uber conversation. They get it. 
  • As you’re approaching, preparing to stop in-lane, they may freak out a little thinking you’re passing; give them a wave to acknowledge their existence and they’ll put it together. Kneel the coach to show your goodwill. I don’t kneel at every zone, but doing so in this scenario just makes sense. 
  • While stopping in-lane, make sure you are blocking the Uber from being able to leave the zone. Not out of spite–he has his job to do, and you have yours–it’s just business–not out of spite, but out of safety. You don’t want him peeling out while your doors are open. Angle in a little, or pull up enough that the next parked car prevents his moving.
  • I do the above because it means I don’t have to honk, get stressed, or lose time trying to get them to move. An operator once told me they honked at a blocking Lyft by laying the horn on for 4 full minutes; do not do that. That is legally classifiable as road rage, and you can lose your CDL over it. Also, it’s like jaywalking in uniform except worse–it just looks bad. Take some pride in your work. 
  • You may find yourself thinking you should honk to “educate” them, so there’s one less driver who stops in bus zones. Without telling you how to think, I can say that’s a pointless task to assign yourself. You’re never going to be able to educate enough car drivers about how to drive to make even the slightest difference in road conditions–except to stress yourself into oblivion. Just like you can’t teach all the passengers, you may as well go with the flow. You want to have less ulcers as you age, not more. That’s the micro level. That’s us. The macro level is voting for someone who’s in a position of power to effect the change we don’t have the power to as individuals. The micro level is avoiding ulcers.

Mercer

  • Check your time. 
  • Where does that left wire go, which you’re careful not to accidentally activate, perhaps by using your 4-ways as you leave the zone? It swings over to Aloha St, allowing you to turn around onto the southbound wire back down Broadway. It’s helpful to know the wire network in case of accidents or closures or reroutes; things you can do while staying on the wire. 

Galer

  • Maybe you’re doing the “lovely ladies” trip. You got them all at Pike, and now they’re getting off for the women’s night shelter across the street at St. Mark’s. More on the lovely ladies here. 
  • On a Breda, this was an experience, requiring cycling the lift 6 or 7 times and usually putting you a full 15 minutes down. I would encourage the rest of the crowd to get on through the back and “pay me tomorrow,” so we didn’t spend all night at 4th and Pike. I mean, I like it there, but…
  • Yes, I also feel like I need dental work done after going through this section–the “paving” from Galer to Howe. Can you believe this is what the entirety of 10th Ave East and 15th Ave NE in the U District used to be like? At night I’ll try to situate myself somewhere where it’s infinitesimally less bumpy, and while that works on other stretches of 10th, this short stretch is Seattle’s equivalent of the winds of Gibraltar.

Miller

  • Remember the Book: never go down a hill faster than you would safely go up it. I look at that nice park beyond Roanoke and wonder, who will be the first bus to lose control on the bridge, perhaps due to ice, and go flying straight into that bucolic landscape? Who will be the first to make history, careening over bushes and mauling trees and dogs? Will it be me?
  • Hot trivia: if you’re ever in a jam and for some reason need to use the wire on the opposite side of the street, it will work. Put one pole on each lane of wire just as you would normally. Ah, magic.

Roanoke

  • Turning left off of 10th–you can do this entire turn in lane 1, but go slowly. Whipping it around will drop your poles (not to mention some of your passengers!).
  • Turning right on Harvard–I split Roanoke to do this. When traffic is heavy I’ll stay in lane 1 but use my 4-ways for the turn–those cars in lane 2 will not be expecting you to go deep before turning right. Splitting is much safer.

Eastlake

  • As Nathan the lane-splitting bus driver, by now it’s no surprise to read: I split the turn from Harvard to Eastlake, sitting in lane 1 more than lane 2. 
  • Of course, there’s no right on red here. 
  • Slow down for the special work and deadspot that happens as your front crosses the midway point of the driveway on the right, after the turn.
  • Crossing the bridge: in a diesel I split (like a broken record, sorry) and cruise over it, because there’s no slow order in a diesel. 
  • But you’re a trolley. Don’t go over 9mph–including the moments just before and just after the bridge. 
  • The wire is slack at these two locations, because the bridge is a historical object and it’s hard for Metro to get permission from the city and others to build further support structures. When I drove the 70 in 2008 I was told they’re “working on it.” No hard feelings; we get by meanwhile. It’s at these two points, before and after the bridge, that you have the greatest chance of losing poles. 
  • Keep it at 9mph through the whole thing, noting the sectional insulators as your front bumper approaches the grating, and after the bridge, around the moment your front clears the horizontal metal-tipped gap separating the bridge from the regular roadway. You don’t want to lose your poles here and have to go reset your poles on a bridge with no right-side clearance you can walk down–not to mention a bridge that’s made out of metal.
  • There it is: a sectional insulator as you approach Campus Parkway, about two coach-lengths before the turn.
  • You know you’re supposed to turn onto Campus Parkway. There are two off-ramps in short succession. Which one is it? Follow the wire.

Campus Parkway

  • During the turn–be mindful of how that left lane can receive traffic quickly from southbound Roosevelt; the curvature is awkward, but it always works out. A car may be parked in lane 1, forcing you to split into lane 2, and it’s good to already have an idea of what’s going on or about to happen in lane 2 because you scanned it and southbound Roosevelt’s turn lane while making the turn onto Campus Parkway.
  • After 10th between Galer and Howe, this is the bumpiest road this side of postwar Europe. We might thus run it a little slower, knowing we can’t stop as quickly.
  • The light at 12th has a counter on the pedestrian crossing on the other side of the street, which depending on foliage may be visible; however, the light will hold green for a short bit before turning red. 
  • The lane 1 cars blocking are often just quickie dropoffs that will evaporate by the time 12th turns green again, given how massively long this light is.
  • Speaking of which–all the lights on Campus Parkway are downright interminable. No wonder people jaywalk like crazy here. As you’re sitting nearside Brooklyn, pondering your college days and so glad that you don’t have to study for exams anymore–is that a 65 or 372 coming up alongside? Or a 75 coming north on Brooklyn preparing to turn right? All of those routes want the zone in front of you, nearside University Way. You want the nearest zone on the block, farside Brooklyn, and maybe you’ll let that 65 on your left go first so she can get in her zone.
  • Is there a 70 or another 49 behind you? If there are no 65’s (etc) about, please consider pulling forward enough so they can fit behind you in zone 2. This means pulling forward such that you’re bleeding into the back of zone 1, allowing room for a 60-footer (maybe that’s me back there!) to fit. It’s just so nice to do!
  • As you leave zone 2, try using your 4-ways rather than your regular left-turn signal, as there’s a switch just after zone 2 that sets you up to do a U-turn. 
  • Incidentally, there’s another U-turn on the inbound side, allowing you to drive in a full circle while remaining on the wire if you wish. Have I done this in the late hours when I had no passengers (or only sleepers) out of sheer giddy excitement? Out of the civic duty of keeping the switches alive by occasionally using them, and pleasure of seeing unused wire sparking up a show in my rear mirrors? Don’t ask me. These are questions where we drivers nod silently at each other in understanding, confirming nothing, denying everything. Only the birds and trees know.
  • Remain in lane 1. If you choose to use lane 2 (to pass a parked 75, say), be aware that the bumpy road plus the positioning of the wire between Brooklyn and 15th may result in you losing poles. Hug the right edge of lane 2 if you have to use it.

15th

  • It’s easy to lose poles turning left here, but it’s also easy to avoid doing so. Go from lane 1 to lane 1 and go deep, and remember to not accelerate until your poles have gotten onto the straight northbound wire–that is, after your entire coach has completed the turn. 
  • You can see that there’s a lane of wire from northbound 15th to westbound Campus. Are you going to accidentally get on it, since your left turn signal is on as you turn left onto 15th? No, as that turning wire is only accessible from an activation switch earlier on northbound 15th. You can’t trip that wire from the wire you’re on. 

42nd

  • Pull far enough forward that a 2nd coach can fit behind you and clear the crosswalk. This means going well past the zone flag, by at least fifteen feet.
  • I don’t do this here, because this isn’t steep enough for it (nor is anywhere else on the 7/49), but we may as well talk about hills, in case you have to drive up the Counterbalance or James. How do you stop on a steep uphill? What if you’re going slowly and have a full load? Using the service brake would be a jerky and dangerous experience, potentially throwing passengers around. Instead, I recommend applying the power pedal as you slow down, gradually less and less power but still going forward, until the moment the bus it as a complete the bus is at a complete standstill. The microsecond the bus is completely still–boom, pop in the hill holder. This takes practice. I observe the coach’s movement by looking at the pavement vs. the windshield edge. Once both are still–there we go. Hill holder to the rescue, and you’ve made an impossibly smooth stop. Again, this isn’t necessary anywhere on this route, but it’s very helpful elsewhere in the network.
  • Pulling out of the zone you get in lane 2, slowing down for the work (which lines up with that tree on the left), remembering not to signal right for the 70 wire. You’re the default. 

45th

  • I wait a little further back, maybe six feet shy of the stop bar. You know why; to be nice to all those inbound 44s and 49s coming around the corner, who will appreciate the extra space. You wouldn’t think they’d be there in the brief minute you’re waiting for the green, but, incredibly, they always are. The 44 is 10-minute service during the day, while the 49 is every 12; that’s 11 trips an hour, plus 542s and deadheads. Someone is always making that turn and needing that space.
  • Maybe your first trip is during peak, and it’s busy. Look at what traffic’s doing after the turn on farside 45th. Do you have room? You may not have room. Hold, and let the light cycle out. Maybe everything will be hunky dory in 90 seconds. Is everything exactly the same all over again, after you’ve given up one full light cycle? If the cars from the previous cycle are completely gone, I would go for it, because that sounds like traffic’s moving, even if you have to embarrassingly block for a little bit. If traffic isn’t moving, I’d hold for a bit more to see what’s going on… but you probably don’t have this issue, because it’s 9 o’clock in the evening and the living is easy.

12th

  • Slow down for the special work crossing this intersection, which lines with, I believe, the second tree in the sidewalk landscaping on the right.

11th

  • With 3 lanes to use on northbound 11th, you don’t need to split this turn, but you can. Either way, stay hard to the right as you finish the turn; the wire is further to the right than you think.

47th

  • Use the side wire. There are a few trips throughout the day that will need the straight wire to go around you; it’s unusual, but not a bad idea to stay on the siding just in case. 

​Phenomenal. You did it. you just drove the 7 all the way from Rainier Beach to the U District in one piece. You can do anything in life. See you on the trip back.

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Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.

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