We went to the Valley. We went back through town. We came up here. How hard can this last leg be? Well, as it turns out, it’s never over ’til it’s over. It might all blow up in your face in the last five minutes, and you want to be present and at your best for all of it. Touch your toes, arch your back, hang from the bars, and… let’s do this.

Turning onto 45th

  • So this is one of those turns we might conceive of less as one 90-degree turn than two 45-degree turns. You also have to do this when you pull out from Base, going from eastbound Royal to northbound Airport Way. The wire is shallow in its turn there and here, and so you align the back of your bus accordingly. You’re still rocking and rolling, moreso than in a 90-degree turn because a shallow turn has more blindspots and risk of matching your A-pillar in movement with a pedestrian. 
  • Almost all vehicle-pedestrian accidents are left turns, and not just left turns but shallow left turns. 
  • Are you a pedestrian? Know that any car, truck or bus driver who’s not actively looking around their A-pillar (part of car separating driver window from windshield) may not be able to see you at all. 
  • No deadspot for you, but you still get the satisfying ker-klunk of joining up with the straight wire on 45th, right as your front passes that utility pole on the right.
  • Careful of the concertgoers at the Neptune, standing close to the curb;
  • Similarly, careful of the trees just past them, who have a comparable habit of also leaning into the roadway. Those rebels.

Turning onto 15th

  • This is perhaps the turn on the whole route which most forces you to keep your skills up. We pull up to the stop bar, hugging the left edge of lane 1. Green light; we edge forward until, as per usual, the middle of our front doors are aligned with the curb of the road we’re turning right onto. We’ll be nice and let the college kids cross the street. Yes, they’re distracted, but you remember those heady days. They’re preoccupied with passing their exams, worrying about the future, and impressing each other.
  • We start turning the wheel, but not all the way. Maybe we start by turning the wheel half of the maximum amount it can turn. We inch forward.
  • We work on turning the wheel the rest of the way as we slowly complete the turn, watching the rear wheel and watching our left front corner.
  • Don’t rush; you were never going to make the light at 43rd anyway, that always turns red. Take your time here.
  • Don’t go up on the curb. If you do, do so slowly, especially as you come down off the curb (if you screw up, do so professionally!).
  • Say hi to that driver in the oncoming left turn lane. Yes, very important part of the process…

43rd

  • This is where people can get the 271 or 556 to Bellevue, or the 542 to Redmond, or the 48 to Mt Baker. 
  • Someone will ask you if you go the light rail station. You don’t. At this stop, everything besides for 49 and the 70 goes there. You can also say that you go the Capitol Hill light rail station, even though that’s not what they’re talking about; 
  • I’ve found that answering questions with a tone implying you don’t want them onboard creates issues which don’t arise if you answer questions with a tone implying you’re okay with them joining.
  • It’s all about tone, and the respect implied; people just want to be respected.
  • To hurry people up in boarding, I might say, “come on in!” in the way you’d greet them if you worked at a bakery, rather than “get the beep inside,” et cetera, which can be, erm, less effective.

40th

  • So. Here’s where we trip our right turn signal to get on that right turn wire. It lines up with our front bumper crossing that one small tree and the brown square of landscaped dirt it resides in. Keep it slow through this, as I’ve lost poles here doing the switch too quickly.

Campus Parkway

  • You don’t need to split the turn onto Campus Parkway. You’ve got just enough space to comfortably make it all happen, without difficulty. This is easier than getting from 45th to 15th.
  • A deadspot as you finish the turn–lines up with the 3-minute parking sign.
  • Another deadspot as you cross U Way–lines up with the service doorway in the building on the right.
  • There’s special work about a coach-length nearside the stop bar to Brooklyn.
  • Worried about running early in these pandemic days? Live it up sitting out these massively long light cycles.

Merging onto Eastlake

  • Take control. You’re massive. I began driving out of Bellevue and East Base, the best places to learn how to drive buses because of the easy road conditions, and back in 2007 the freeway stations on 520 were a major challenge to merge out of. You just had to “go bang out into the lane,” as Dean told me, and it’s advice I’ve never forgotten; I never would’ve made it out of Evergreen Point otherwise.
  • You inch forward (or more) in situations like this, but try not to stop. If you stop, it will be harder to get in. I only stop for bicycles, because they’re fragile.
  • But beyond that I try to keep moving as I merge on. Sometimes you do have to wait, but my modus operandi is to “pretend like I don’t care–” while remembering that I very, very much actually do care–because contact with a vehicle here would likely be a Preventable, in that they’ll say you could’ve waited.

Crossing Eastlake Bridge 

  • Much like in the previous direction. 
  • Sectional insulator deadspot as you approach the grating, and after the bridge, slightly after where you think it will be. 
  • Because you have to do 9mph as a trolley on the bridge (I throw my 4-ways on while doing so), you don’t need to split; there’s enough room for you to go slowly. 
  • Merging left here is tricky, but you can do it. You have the significant advantage of size. Wave your arm or flash your 4-ways in gratitude. Everyone likes being thanked.
  • You signal left to get that left wire, slowing to 9mph just as you pass the little green double street sign on the right sidewalk, the one explaining about bicycling distances. That’s where the deadspot is.

Harvard

  • Another sectional insulator as you’re cruising up the hill–lift your foot off the power right as the double yellow line on the left ends, halfway up the hill at the intersection of Gwinn, one of those streets no one knows about.

Roanoke

  • Stay in lane 1, even if traffic is piling up in it. Lane 2 will result in lost poles during the turn.

10th: Angling into zones

  • I pull all the way up to the zone flag at 10th and Roanoke, but leave my back end angled into the roadway. 
  • I often angle into zones, because it’s safer to reenter traffic when it’s busy. I realize this isn’t exactly altruistic, but you’ve got to get your people back on the road somehow. Training won’t tell you to do this, but only because they can’t; but any veteran driver worth their salt will know which is easier and ultimately safer.
  • Make sure your front door is less than 6 inches to the curb, in case someone needs that close access that they can’t get from the back doors; and 
  • As you reenter traffic from this position, keep in mind the back end of your coach will partially block your view in the mirrors until you’ve pulled out a little. Slowly does it…

Miller

  • Yes, the pizza delivery cars are often blocking the zone, or blocking enough of it that I go instead for an in-lane stop, rather than blocking the intersection behind me. Making an in-lane stop is easier than standing around getting angry about it.

Newton

  • A bit before those musical S-curves there’s a sectional insulator.

Galer

  • Between here and where the lane alignment shifts you can hug the right edge to avoid the bumps.

Prospect

  • Flooring it through this dip will result in lost poles.

Aloha

  • The deadspot is just past the small driveway beyond the first house–the big white house with the misleading “For Rent” sign that’s actually only for a parking space–on the right.
  • Are you slowing down to 9mph? Of course you are, because you’re such a swell operator, and you’re not in a rush, of course not!
  • You’re not thinking about how you have to go all the way to Rainier Beach and have over an hour of driving before you; don’t think about that. There is only this block. Think about this block and the next one. Think about the next intersection and next zone. It’s easier to be happy when being present; nothing else exists right now. No need to rush.

Roy

  • Your OBS interior signage calls this zone “Broadway E,” which although technically true, is misleading. You have a whole slew of stops on Broadway beyond this one, and those college kids going out on the Hill for the first time may think this is what they want, but they probably want Broadway and Pine. 
  • This is not at all necessary, but personally I’ll just override the OBS voice and call it out as Roy Street. If you press PA when leaving a zone, it’ll usually stay on long enough (60 seconds) in time to mute the next announcement and allow you to do it yourself. Be mindful that it will pick up your conversation if you leave it on though. If you’re unsure how long the PA will last, you can always press it twice to restart it so you have enough time to speak. For this particular zone, OBS calls it out between Prospect and Aloha; she speaks in almost exactly the same precise locations all the time.

Republican

  • Another rare instance where I don’t pull far forward; here I stop just prior to the shelter, clearing the intersection while ensuring I can get out okay. 
  • Transfer to the 60 to Seattle University and Harborview.
  • I call out the zone at Thomas as Thomas and John, because John is where they can get the 8 or 43 going up to Safeway.

John

  • You won’t make the light at Denny–run this intersection at 9mph for the sake of all that wire up there.
  • Your last piece of special work is further forward than you think–it’s for the wire rejoining the 43 to your southbound lane, and happens as you pass one of the business storefronts–I’m forgetting which one because they’re always changing on this block. Remember when Twice Sold Tales was on this corner?
  • The signal timing has recently been retimed so there’s a delay before it turns green.
  • This is a camera light.

Denny

  • This is where we sit for hours contemplating life. The walk signal has turned on, but your light will stay red for a while longer. If you’re in a rush, you’ll hate everything, including life in general, while waiting this one out. Doesn’t rushing automatically and immediately make everything frustrating?
  • Slow for that streetcar wire as your rear tires cross the tracks.
  • I advertise this zone as the light rail stop if people ask about it rather than Thomas; it’s closer.

Pine

  • OBS calls the next stop, outside the college, as “Pine,” though the stop around the corner on Pine is closer to Pine. 
  • This is where you’ll lose most of the late-night revelers, who are interested in the bars on Pike. Someone will ask you “where all the clubs are at;” this stop or the next are ideal.
  • A prime example of a zone where I angle in; doing otherwise is a lot of work for added risk and difficulty reentering the road.
  • Are you going straight down Broadway, back to Base? Tell the people. I try to let them know all the way back at Campus Parkway–we don’t go downtown, but we do go to Capitol HIll, and First Hill and the ID, but not downtown. Your signage will say “49 Broadway,” rather than the standard “49 Downtown / 49 via Broadway,” but nobody notices the difference (Planners! Help–can it say “49 Broadway Only”? Pretty please?). 
  • Aside from a few smart cookies who know your trip and want to take it to Boren and Yesler or Broadway and Union, most folks will be unaware. Give ‘em a heads up, perhaps back at Denny where they can still get light rail or walk back to a 10. (Although the 11 runs all night, it’s infrequent and unreliable as all passengers know, for reasons outlined in the previous post.)

On Pine

  • I split the right turn onto Pine. Some people don’t, and I have no idea why. Maybe it’s for the sportsmanship element of seeing if you can do the hard turn. I can dig that, I suppose. I like driving trolleys for the challenge, but for some reason I always split this, because we’re all made of contradictions, and because why not. There’s room.
  • You want to hear the click of the wire switching to turn right, and the single deadspot of you performing the turn.
  • People will ask, “do you turn into the 7?” And you get to give the desired answer, saving them a transfer downtown at night, which no human ever wants to do: “yes, number 7!”
  • They’ll also ask for courtesy rides, for which you also get to say yes; as with the reverse, half of these guys will be gone in a few minutes. They’re only going to 5th. The street youth on Capitol HIll are remarkably polite. I do not know why this is, but I’m into it.
  • No need to rush down Pine. Someone will wander out from the pizza place (try the Pesto slice at Hot Mama’s–to die for), or dash out from R Place with their friends, laughing without a care in the world. You save so many lives every night, just by coming to work and deciding not to run over people. You save countless families years of heartache. Gosh. You’re so awesome.

Bellevue

  • The street name amuses me, as this area has nothing at all (on so many levels) to do with the posh environs of the city across Lake Washington; I’m guessing the name is in reference to the original French term meaning ‘beautiful view,’ as there probably once was one here before the buildings came up. 
  • 3 deadspots. The first two are closer together; then the third, then the zone flag.
  • Are they still deenergizing the wire for construction here? Hopefully that’s ancient history, but we’ll include this tip for future deenergizations or other situations requiring ESS: You can press ESS just before you get to the dead wire, and now you merely have to come to a complete stop and the bus will switch to battery mode instantaneously.
  • As you leave the zone your signage changes to say “7 to Rainier Beach,” and you get a moment of the old 7 on Capitol Hill, and isn’t it a glorious feeling? You’re doing the route of all routes, the light rail shadow and the busiest route before it got split and the RapidRides came along. It’s still the most popular route if you combine 49 and 7 ridership. Crossing Boren, drifting down into the vortex that is Downtown, knowing you’ll come out the other end with a motley crew you get along with. Why do any other route?

9th

  • A rare side wire I don’t always use. But it’s there, if you need to hold for time while a 10 goes around. If you will be there a while, pull far enough forward that a coach can service the zone behind you. When not holding I still go as far as I can before hitting the driveway on the right–I think this allows a 40-footer to squeeze in behind you.
  • So you have an opportunity to signal left farside 8th avenue and get on wire that turns you left on 7th, right on Union, onto 2 options of wire: a leftward lane on Union that turns left on 3rd, or a straight lane that gives you 1st avenue (north or south).
  • Most likely you do’t want any of that tonight, so you’ll be sure to not signal left between 8th and 7th, and merely slow down for the special work, getting it down to 9mph for that moment when you pass the 3-minute parking sign on the right. 

5th

  • The zone flag is hidden by a utility pole.
  • Crossing 5th, signal left, because you’re now a 7 and you need to turn left on 3rd (we’re ignoring the 49 turnaround on 2nd and Pike, as that’s easy to do and only happens in the daytime).
  • The split of the 2 lanes of wire is at a wider angle and is thus more prone to dewirement if you’re going too fast; take it slow to make sure you get on it.
  • A deadspot beep means you got on the left-turn wire onto southbound 3rd; no deadspot means you’re on the straight wire for crossing 3rd.
  • Get in the left lane as soon as you can, as the left lane wire is somewhat far to the left.
  • Slowly down this slick cobblestone during the rain…

Turning onto 3rd

  • And we take it deeeep, the better to keep under the wire and the better to see who’s crossing this very busy intersection–the center of the universe, as I call it. Forget Fremont. This block is it.
  • Are you a pedestrian on 3rd between Pike and Pine? You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but just to make sure: the west side of the street is safer.
  • Note the deadspot as you wrap up the turn. Now you can speed up.

Third Avenue Positioning

  • We go over the two flavors of skip-stopping is and how to do each of them here.
  • We cover what doing a northbound 7 up Third looks like in terms of positioning and skip-stopping here.
  • Don’t have time for the above links? Here’s a recap for how to “do” 3rd in three lines:
  1. Is there a bus stop that isn’t yours? Get in the left lane;
  2. Don’t pass buses that use the same stops as you (unless they have their 4-ways on);
  3. The bus in lane 1 (the right lane!) has the right of way.
  • The biggest thing, really, is to not block bus stops that aren’t yours. Using lane 2 is safer, more open, doesn’t annoy other operators, and clears up confusion for passengers what stops you stop at.
  • Does someone want off while you’re in a second lane? I try to give them a gentle no that lets them know I want to but can’t: “I’m so sorry, we’re in the next lane over so I can’t. I want to, but there’s just too many eyes (supervisors) down here.” Or I’ll give them a short negative answer that doesn’t involve the word ‘no’: “I’m sorry. We’re almost there.” Are they being insistent? “I know it’s annoying, and I would totally help you out, but my boss is kinda uptight.” That may not be true, but the line is useful–everyone’s had an uptight boss. This has gotten me out of more than one session of bad vibes when we go from 5th/Pine clear down to 3rd and Union without stopping.
  • And here’s your lane positioning for a southbound 7 going down 3rd:
  1. After turning onto 3rd from Pine, using both lanes of 3rd to do so (you’ll do that without thinking about it; you need both lanes), get in lane 2 and go up to Pike. This way you’re not blocking those RapidRides and 21s stopping at Walgreens.
  2. Crossing Pike we slow for the deadspot that’s aligned with the blue newspaper bin on the right sidewalk;
  3. We remain in lane 2 as we pass the Burien bus stop between Pike and Union, but once we pass their zone flag we merge right, arriving in lane 1 for nearside Union, or farside Union, if you weren’t able to merge before the light.
  4. Do not signal right as your rear wheel crosses nearside Union; there is a switch to turn right onto Union, and you don’t want your poles going that way.
  5. No, you’re not supposed to merge while in an intersection, but if for some reason you have to and you know that switch is up there, use your 4-ways.
  6. Use the side wire at Union. There’s a lot of service going through here, especially dropoffs who want to get around you, and you could be here for ages with loading.
  7. Are you early, or confident you’ll become early as you approach Jackson? Pull forward. The side wire extends all the way to the light, giving you plenty of space to hold. Step out for a second and take in some of the classical music. 
  8. Crossing Union–slow to 9mph as you hit the farside crosswalk; this is where the side wire rejoins the straight wire. Get in lane 2 if you haven’t already.
  9. Seneca–you’re still in lane 2, but you don’t signal left because that would trip the route 2 wire.
  10. Slow to 9mph for the deadspot you want to hear (if you only heard a sectional insulator deadspot or no deadspot at all, you’re on the 2 wire); it should happen by those two manhole covers on the left that are closer to each other than the others.
  11. Is there a 2 turning left, blocking lane 2? I won’t begrudge you the urge to go around him in lane 1–if the walk sign shows you’ll have enough time to clear the intersection and not block the Spring St zone, which isn’t yours.
  12. Still in lane 2 as you cross Spring, maybe letting that C Line to your right get out in front of you–yielding to the coaches on the right as per 3rd Ave rules. 
  13. There’s a sectional insulator after most of your bus has crossed Spring.
  14. Upon crossing Spring, merge right so you’re in lane 1 at nearside Madison, ready to service the zone at Marion. 
  15. Special work as you cross Madison and again right afterwards–one deadspot for the first, and none for the second. A second deadspot means your bus thinks you want to turn left on Marion, which your 4500-series bus is too heavy to do!
  16. After servicing the zone at Marion, immediately merge left so you’re not blocking the Columbia zone. Even if no one’s behind you, it’s just good form. After all, you take pride in your work. Right?

Columbia Street Zone breakdown

  • This has nothing to do with the 7, but it’s important. A quick aside for West Seattle and Ryerson drivers: There are 2 zones at 3rd and Columbia, and they’re confusingly both called Columbia. 
  • The first, nearside Columbia, is for the 21X, and all other routes that use the former viaduct–that is, routes that turn on Columbia, like the C and Central Base trippers.
  • The second zone, farside Columbia, should really be called Cherry (Planners! Help!), and it pains me to see buses pass people there because they incorrectly stopped at the first zone. This zone, nearside Cherry, is for the 21 Local, D and E dropoffs, and Ryerson routes that continue south on 3rd, like the 26/28 family and the 124.

Third Avenue positioning, continued

  1. So anyways. You’re a 7 in lane 2 passing at Columbia, knowing that you stop at neither zone. Farside Cherry, you avoid signalling left so as not to get on the 3/4 turning wire, but you slow down for that special work as you merge right. The work aligns with your front passing the red wood and glass doorway. No deadspot; great. You got it.
  2. You’re in lane 1, servicing the zone nearside James.
  3. Remain in lane 1 as you drift toward Yesler. Oddly, none of these folks loitering outside the Morrison ever want your bus.
  4. There’s a sectional insulator right at the edge of where you’d stop for Yesler’s red light–a little past, actually. I pull past this deadspot to get it out of the way.
  5. Go deep for the turn, checking in advance to make sure you have enough room on 3rd South and won’t block the intersection.

Main

  • The special work is as you pass the wooden telephone pole with the smallish yellow and white bus sign. You should hear no deadspot.
  • This is the one stop you share with the 124, which some folks may want so they don’t have to walk.
  • So you’re crossing Main, and you’ve got your left turn signal on because you want to go leftward onto 2nd Extension. 
  • You’ll hear 1 deadspot–that’s you crossing the old streetcar wire–and immediately after is the switch activating and then tripping you onto the left wire, as you wish. 
  • If you hear a second deadspot, you did not get onto the 2nd Extension wire. Years ago, when this would happen to me I would just continue straight on 3rd South and make a left on Jackson, but with the advent of the First Hill Streetcar that left-turn wire has been removed. You have to get on the 2nd Extension wire in order to head east on Jackson.

5th

  • Gettin’ back to where we started. Use the side wire (Please Lord!) unless there’s a coach up front already on it who’s got his 4-ways on and you don’t have to hold for time.
  • This way, buses going to Base can pass you, and they’ll be thrilled and thankful you’re on the side wire, because they want to go home! 
  • If you’re on the side wire, there’s no deadspot in the zone other than the ones getting you on and off the siding lane (that first one is as you pass the middle doors of Union Station on the right); 
  • But if you’re on the straight wire, there is a sectional insulator that’ll nab you. It’s in the middle of the block, as you pass the staircase railing in between the utility pole and the bus shelter.
  • Are you passing a coach who’s on the side wire, headed straight eastward on Jackson? As you’re passing them and crossing 5th avenue, do not signal right. You will trip the right-turn wire onto 5th and dewire in spectacular fashion. Use your 4-ways to indicate that you’re merging right instead.

And now it’s time to go to Rainier. Maybe you’re excited; maybe you’re nervous. That’s okay. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you just got yelled at. 

But you’ve made it through this before.

And because of that, you’ll make it through this time too. My trainer Gil told us more than once: This system exists to serve, specifically, the very old people, the students, the poor, the homeless, the disabled people. They are your main customers and you should be grateful to them, because they are why you have a job.

Look at all those faces who didn’t yell at you, who are so easy to forget. The hundreds who are nice, or just neutral. The maids, moms, babysitters, gas station attendants, secretaries, orderlies, those who are lost and those who are found… The people with hidden lives, unknown lives, who live with as much richness, madness, peace, uncertainty, dreaming, and questioning as you do. Right now, you are here for them. These are your people.  

Let’s take them down the street.

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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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