Saturday, December 15, 2018

Bus Driver Appreciation!




Her profile is distinctive. Short, compact, fit, young spirit in an older body, with that angled hair at the front. Yeah, it’s gotta be her, driving the 14, heading south on Third. Tracy. I’m right behind her in my own bus, pulling into Union. Seeing another driver you love and respect out on the road, experiencing the same madness you are, can really bring you up. Getting that wave, or just seeing them in action out here in the vortex, can reorient you, remind you of the better sides of yourself.

On a whim, while we’re all stacked up here at the zone, I decide to race up to her open door and yell, “Traaaace!”
“Nathan! What’s up?” Excited, but then concerned. Drivers don’t run up to other drivers for no reason at all… except when they’re me!
“I have nothing important to say,” I explain animatedly, “I just wanted to say hi!”
She starts laughing. We reach across the doorway for a handshake. “Aw! Love you!”
“Love you back!”

I note her bus number as we trail down Third, making a note of it so I can wave if I see her later in the night. 4112. Great. At Fifth and Jackson, still behind her as we now sit out a red light, I realize that yes, I actually do have something to say to her.

I race up there again, wanting to feel real and valid and useful, to exercise that hunger in you to be unique, to somehow prove to the universe that yes, your presence here makes a difference, and it was worthwhile to show up to work today, because your actions might cause thoughts and feelings in others which wouldn’t have become manifest otherwise. We want to assert the specificity of our existence in this world and prove, perhaps a little selfishly, that we are special. Right now I want to make a few people smile.

A liquid haze of these ideas is running through me as I bound up the stairs, going all the way inside her bus this time. Jackson can be a long red light, thank goodness. She speaks first upon seeing me.
“Nathan Vass! I told them all about you!”

I think I just like yelling people’s names. Then I turn to the passengers inside, full house of commuters right now, and address them in a stentorian voice– as if what I’m about to say is of pressing urgency.
“Excuse me everyone, I have a very important announcement to make. Your driver today is the best bus driver in the system. She’s the greatest! Say hi to her on your way out! She’s gonna be Driver of the Year one day! Yeah. So on and so forth!”

I can still remember individual faces, looking up with delighted surprise. There’s only a few drivers I’d do this for, but Trace is definitely one of them. I remember her looking up at me, wondering what I was up to and then a little shy but excited too, and there was a latent magic in the air that bubbled up spontaneously, as one person cheered and then another, and here we were now, all clapping, making it a round of applause we never knew would happen a minute ago.

I returned to my own bus and continued on, where things were much quieter. I couldn’t conceal my smile though, a remnant from the buoyant celebration a moment ago, slightly silly and a little wonderful, still echoing in my memory and permeating out in the texture of my greetings and announcements.

“You seem very happy today,” a departing commuter said quietly. “I like that.”

ICYMI: Brenda Completes Tunnel Work to Roosevelt


Brenda is kicking butt on the deep bore tunnel trail. Yesterday, the tunnel boring machine (TBM) cutterhead broke through the station box wall at Roosevelt Station. Last year, Brenda began boring work in July to make the 1.5-mile journey south from its original launch point at the Maple Leaf Portal (near NE 92nd St and I-5). There’s still 2.8 miles more of earth to be dug by Brenda before reaching the University of Washington Station (via University District Station). Sound Transit says that the TBM will need some refurbishment and maintenance before she sets off for boring the next segment (Roosevelt Station to University District Station).

King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair, Dow Constantine, cheered the progress of the tunneling: “This machine churned through hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of earth to reach Roosevelt Station. Now on to the U-District Station, and then to Husky Stadium.”

Roosevelt Station prior to Brenda's arrival.
Roosevelt Station prior to Brenda’s arrival.

The second TBM, named Pamela, was launched from the Maple Leaf Portal in November. Sound Transit expects that Pamela will reach Roosevelt Station sometime this summer. All tunneling work from the Maple Leaf Portal to University of Washington Station is anticipated to wrap up by mid-2016. Additional tunnel work like cross-passages and tunnel finishes will continue through early 2018. The full line from Northgate to UW will enter service in 2021.

For the tunnel nerds out there, Sound Transit gave some details on the tunnel boring machines saying that:

Each tunnel boring machine weighs 600 tons and is more than 300 feet long including the trailing gear. The cutterheads are 21 ½ feet in diameter. By the time tunneling is finished, a total of more than 500,000 cubic yards of soil will have been excavated and over 7,200 concrete rings used to line the tunnels.

Redmond’s 152nd Ave NE Needs A Road Diet


The sections of 152nd Ave NE that currently have bike lanes are green, red is the area in need, and blue is the SR-520 trail.

152nd Ave NE is a street in Redmond that links Microsoft’s Overlake campus with the Bel-Red area of Bellevue. The street is the central part of Overlake Village, a neighorhood and area undergoing significant urban redevelopment in the City of Redmond. East Link’s Overlake Village Station will also be located at the end of the street, right on the side of SR-520.

The street is divided in two main segments: one from the roundabout at NE 31st St to NE 24th St, and the other from NE 24th St to Northup Way (NE 20th St in that section). The 4-block section between 24th St and Northup Way has undergone a road diet as recently as 2013, and now it’s time for the other section to get one, too.

The part of the road between 24th St and 31st St uses an outdated design with four lanes (two in either direction) with no center turn lane or on-street bike lanes. What the street needs is a typical road diet, which will provide a center turn lane, bike lanes, and reduced speeds to make the street safer for all users.

Today, that section of 152nd Ave sees relatively little use with just 8,100 vehicles per day. In large part, this has to do with the lack of on-ramps or off-ramps from the street to SR-520. That traffic is well below the threshold for a road diet, which is about 16,000 vehicles per day, or almost twice times the volumes on 152nd Ave.

The road diet that 152nd Ave NE needs.

Many businesses call 152nd Ave home, and thus have driveways leading to the street. However, turning left across the street can be challenging and scary as there is no center turn lane yet two lanes of traffic to cross. With a road diet, a center turn lane would be provided, giving a better place for left-turning cars to wait, reducing traffic delays. There would also be only one lane of traffic to cross, which would improve safety.

The road diet also gives an opportunity to add bike lanes to the street. With the SR-520 trail nearby, bike lanes on 152nd Ave will connect many local neighborhoods to the SR-520 trail, providing an easy connection to Microsoft’s campus, Downtown Redmond, and beyond. With bike lanes on the southern segment and near the roundabout, it also makes sense to link both to provide a network of bike facilities rather than discontinuous pieces of infrastructure here and there.

Won’t traffic get worse?

It won’t. Many similar projects in Seattle have yielded excellent results, keeping traffic flowing, and sometimes even allowing for more vehicular capacity. Safety has also increased on those streets due to fewer collisions and the reduction of speeding by significant amounts. 152nd Ave isn’t any different. A road diet will work.

What about growth?

With the ambitious Overlake Village plans in the works, it might seem a little bit risky to go for a road diet. However, when the Overlake Village project is complete, 152nd Ave will become much more of an access street than a thoroughfare. Naturally, this means that more turning movements will occur along this stretch of street, which bolsters the case for a center turn lane pockets. It should also be kept in mind that with the proximity to light rail, many residents and employees will choose to use it for other modes of transportation besides automobiles. Bike lanes will help people bicycle more safely on the streets, further increasing the modes of transportation available, and reducing the number or cars on the road.

A road diet will work wonders on 152nd Ave NE, and will help maximize the potential of Overlake Village and the light rail station. The City of Redmond now needs to step up and make it happen, like they did for the 20th St to 24th St segment.



Picture 3


That guy is sleeping on the cement again, next to the comfort station at the Rainier Beach terminal. What food do I have, I think, cycling through what I brought for dinner. Today it’s cinnamon swirl bread. I grab the loaf from my bag and walk over there.

After he nods in greeting from his prone position I say, “hey, you want some cinnamon bread?” I look at the package, reading off the official name. “Soft Cinnamon Swirl?”
“Aw naw, I don’t go in for bread.”
“Oooohhh,” I reply in disappointment. “There I was, thinkin’ I had somethin’ for ya!”
“Yeah, people be givin’ me peanut butter jelly all the time at the Mission, can’t tell you how many folks come by wit’ bread, rolls, buns, but I just cain’t go for it.”
“Shoot.” To be homeless and wheat-intolerant all at once– shoot indeed.
“Thanks though.”

“I’ll take it,” says a voice, seated nearby. “I’ll take some bread.”
This man is younger, shivering on the bus stop bench with his arms inside his sweatshirt and the whites of his chocolate brown eyes contrasting against the black night all around us. He seems like one who doesn’t speak up much, but the situation here has compelled him to be heard.
“Oh, cool,” I respond as I walk over to him. To be too reverential might strike one as pity, which I try to avoid; the better to talk to him simply as another peer, helping out without too much emotion and no great expectation of gratitude. “This is good,” I tell him. “It’s got cinnamon. It’s my dinner though, so I gotta keep the rest, but here.”
“Thanks,” he mutters.

I say goodnight to our friend on the ground and step into the bathroom.

In the comfort station I think to myself, I don’t need all these. I’ll be off in three hours. Why am I even eating this stuff? Soft Cinnamon Swirl bread? I’m usually the guy chomping on things like lettuce and kale and spooning out rice and beans!

Stepping out, I ask him, “Hey, you want some more?”
“Oh yeah,” he says in his quiet voice. “You right, this stuff is pretty good.”
“Yeah. it’s awesome. Nice.” I load him up, taking out two slices for myself.
“Thanks man.”
“Always. Have a good night!”
“You too!”
“Thanks man!”

I walk away, both of us smiling to ourselves, enjoying the taste of the same food, the delicate flavor of cinnamon against the cold night, and the sensation of being acknowledged as an equal, considered and loved, unjudged and cared about.

Transit App Rolls Out Local Update


IMG_2054The Transit App gave the Puget Sound a very quiet, but welcome update last week. The long-awaited—and constantly requested—integration of scheduled data for Community Transit was finally dropped into the app service. You won’t see any real-time data for Community Transit buses just yet, but you can find out when the next scheduled departure is expected along with the convenient trip planning that the Transit App supports. Transit App developers say that they are still perfecting the data integration, but it’s pretty reliable from personal experience.

One interesting feature of the new Community Transit data are the color swatches in the app’s Nearby Mode. The Transit App differentiates each service type of Community Transit by color unlike the King County Metro-operated routes–which are universally blue. Community Transit routes are easy to pick out with baby blue (local routes), green (Swift, also has emblem), orange (commuter routes), and navy (Sound Transit Express buses operated by Community Transit).

To take advantage of the update, users of the Transit App need only open their app. Data for new services is automatically pushed out to the app. Essentially, the app is localized for users so that they automatically get every service and route presented to them based upon their current region. For instance, if a user is in Seattle, but pans all of the way across the US to DC, the app will automatically present data from the DC region.

This update adds dozens of more routes in the Puget Sound region making an already comprehensive multi-modal app service just that much better. Community Transit joins a long list of local transportation organizations that are already providing public data to Transit App. On the transit side of things, the Transit App is integrated with King County Metro* (buses, ferries, and streetcars), Pierce Transit*, Sound Transit* (buses, commuter rail, and light rail), Intercity Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Washington State Ferries data. The app service is also plugged into three local transportation sharing services: Pronto!, Car2Go, and Uber.

There’s still a few other Puget Sound transit agencies that we hope developers at the Transit App will include in the future. Our ranked wishlist includes the following: 1. Whatcom Transit Authority, 2. Everett Transit, 3. Skagit Transit, 4. Island Transit, and 5. Amtrak Cascades. Adding these five agencies would fully round out the local public transit agencies to give local Puget Sounders seamless data from the Canadian border to the State Capitol.

On a final note, Community Transit is still in the process of perfecting their real-time data system before launching their own Bus Finder app and service. Presumably, this will eventually lead to developer-accessible real-time information, too. But whatever the future holds there, it’s great to see an agency like Community Transit provide scheduled data for their buses now. Today’s riders get the benefit of open data from services like the Transit App who can transform those pieces of data into a consumable way that highlights a variety choices on-the-fly. That’s a huge win for all.

*Service providers providing real-time arrival information on buses, except those operated under contract by Community Transit.

The Gateway Project: Unions Need to Oppose Sprawl, Support Density


Tensions are flaring between progressive interest groups in Seattle. Groups representing labor and environmentalists recently have found themselves on opposing sides of the decision to lease one of Seattle’s port terminals to Shell. The Sailor’s Union of the Pacific supports this agreement, while environmentalists are pursuing a lawsuit. Dave Freiboth, the executive secretary of the King County Labor Council, captures this problem well, articulating how pitting progressive interests against each other is a lose-lose proposition.

The Puget Sound Gateway Project

The needless fracturing of progressive interests doesn’t end at Seattle’s port. The transportation proposal by Governor Inslee outlines $1.9 billion in funding for the Puget Sound Gateway Project, but the most optimistic estimates reveal few benefits from this highway expansion project.

To summarize, the project would widen lanes on two highways in segments that cut through Puget Sound urban areas. The first part of the project would add capacity on SR-167 in Tacoma:

Port of Tacoma’s SR-167 extension plan, courtesy of WSDOT.

At first glance this project seems somewhat reasonable. It adds capacity to a direct route between the Port of Tacoma’s Commencement Bay operations and SR-167. But on closer examination, this project is a huge waste of money. There already are several direct, quick connections between the Port of Tacoma and SR-167. Google Maps shows three different options from Point A (the Port of Tacoma Road and SR-509) to point B (SR-167 and SR-512), all taking 15 minutes or less. It seems unlikely the new project would save more than five minutes.

Google Maps routes from the Port of Tacoma.

The second part of the Puget Sound Gateway Project would expand SR-509 and extend it south of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. This project is the brainchild of the Port of Seattle, which hopes to connect SR-509 to I-5. SR-509 currently terminates at S 188th St., but would be extended as far as S 200th St. to reach I-5. The rationale behind this extension is clear: to link Port of Seattle facilities in the Duwamish to Seatac and other facilities south of the airport. The proposal would essentially change a city-sized street into a highway cutting through Burien, but the benefits are as negligible as the Port of Tacoma portion of the project.

Sunday Video: Coyotes


Coyotes by Modest Mouse on Youtube.

Filmed in Portland, this video is basically one big tribute to the city and Trimet, the local transit authority. Plus, the tunes are great!

What We’re Reading: Pedestrian Streets for Capitol Hill?

What Pike Street could become, courtesy of CHS.
What Pike Street could become, courtesy of CHS.

Bike lane biz: The full business case for making bike lanes by taking over parking spaces.

Ch-ch-changes: The STB continues their look at potential Metro bus changes for light rail with Capitol Hill and First Hill, SR-520/Crosslake, and Downtown/SLU/Uptown.

Street safety: West Seattle will get safety changes on SW 35th Ave, but bike lanes likely won’t be part of it.

Reparked: What you could fit in 93,000 parking spaces in Atlanta? ATL Urbanist has a few ideas.

Family sized: DC is looking at incentive zoning to get more family sized units throughout the city.

Successful parklets: A look at why some parklets work better than others.

Deliver it: New York City has been encouraging late-night deliveries for freight, and it’s been hugely successful for parties of interest. DC wants to be next in piloting a similar program.

Brand new house: SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole is cleaning house and overhauling the department.

Get your culture on: There are a host of St. Patrick’s Day events and Jewish films this week.

Keeping it affordable: Capitol Hill Housing has managed to make an agreement for 50 years of affordable housing at Squire Park PlaceThe Stranger talks about what we could do right now to help low-income renters.

Rain messages: Next time you’re walking in the rain, you might just see a message appear on the street.

Microhousing Korean style: Who knew? Bubble tea inspired this microhousing project in Seoul, Korea.

Maps of the week: Watch the railway system in the US disappear overnightsee the historic travel times across the country by train, and find out where all the global super rich are.

Cap Hill green street: The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce wants to explore an option to make a stretch of Pike/Pine pedestrian-only.

Now testing: CHS has details on testing for the First Hill Streetcar.

Suburban economics: Auto costs and home costs are one reason why the suburbs are so appealing, but it’s probably more nuanced than you think.

More convention space: The Washington State Convention Center is planning a big expansion which could top $1 billion.