Friday, 29 May, 2020

Cross-Sound Passenger Ferry Service to Return


Kitsap Transit is seeking public comment on its long awaited restoration of cross-Sound passenger only fast ferry service to Downtown Seattle. Among the three routes under consideration, the most obvious candidate for foot ferry service is Bremerton. The current service between the two cities has the largest proportion of walk-on passengers of any route in the Washington State Ferries network.

Travel time on the Bremerton-Seattle ferry route is about an hour, a commute that is only negligibly shorter than the 65 mile trip over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. A fast (about 35 minutes), convenient ferry ride from downtown Bremerton to Downtown Seattle could serve the dual purposes of revitalizing an urban center in sprawl-plagued Kitsap County while providing relief for the malcontents of skyrocketing Seattle housing prices.

Potential Ferry Routes
Potential routes, courtesy of Kitsap Transit.


The story of how Bremerton lost its fast ferry service is long and sordid. Land owners with property along Rich Passage, the narrow stretch of water that the ferries must pass through on their journey, have been suing ferry operators over alleged shoreline erosion since the early 20th century. After years of research, development, and environmental studies, Kitsap Transit is set to finally bring back convenient cross-Sound foot ferry service to Downtown Seattle using a low wake vessel purchased several years ago with Federal grant money.

There is, of course, already ferry service available for foot passengers to Bremerton aboard the Washington State Ferries route. In its current form, the trip is about an hour long in each direction. The difference between 35 minutes and an hour for each direction of a commute to work is significant. 35 minutes is about as long as a weekday morning bus ride to Downtown Seattle from Ballard. Reducing the commuting time between Seattle and downtown Bremerton could have transformative effects on the city, a once thriving industrial and urban center that has been hollowed-out by sprawling development in Silverdale to the north.

The Rich Passage I, a low wake passenger-only ferry designed for the Bremerton crossing, courtesy of The Kitsap Sun.

The data and opportunity at hand

In a recent study, MIT researchers demonstrated that the distribution of commute times for a given metropolitan area is fairly constant across modes of travel, and is largely unaffected by changes in commute distance or in population growth. The study provides more evidence supporting the fact that people change their habits as transportation modes are expanded. It also suggests that the existence of something like a localized form of Marchetti’s constant, a theoretical limit on daily travel time that remains relatively constant at around one-hour for all societies. The mean commuting time for Seattle is around 25 to 30 minutes each direction, and varies between 20 and 20 minutes across most metropolitan areas in the United States.

When a city adds transit capacity that reduces the commute time for a neighborhood below the threshold time people are willing to spend traveling each day, it has essentially expanded the boundaries of its housing stock for a large number of residents. In the case of a Bremerton foot ferry, this would result in the addition of a significant amount of affordable housing. Zillow lists the median home value for Bremerton as $190,900. A quick search reveals that there are over 200 homes currently for sale for less than $350,000 within about a 10-minute bike ride of the Bremerton ferry terminal.

While the problem of affordable housing in Seattle won’t be solved with a passenger ferry, residents on both sides of the Puget Sound should see the restoration of convenient ferry service as a hugely positive development. A passenger ferry has the added benefit of spurring pedestrian activity around the terminal. And, Bremerton is a city desperately in need of pedestrian activity. If public officials provide reliable ferry service and allow smart development to occur in the city’s downtown core, there is a potential for the kind of walkable, transit-oriented development that has been missing from the west side of the Puget Sound for decades, since the days of the Mosquito Fleet.

Passenger ferries departing Colman Dock circa 1912, public domain.


There are two other possible routes under consideration, from Kingston and from Southworth. Neither of these routes has anywhere near the potential ridership of a Bremerton route, which would provide service to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the largest employer in Kitsap County. And, neither Southworth nor Kingston has the same potential as Bremerton for creating a walkable urban center.

If you are a cross-Sound commuter, or if you care about expanding options for transit and affordable housing in the region, send an email to and tell them. In your email, make it clear that the Bremerton route is clearly the best choice for what will hopefully just be the first of more passenger-only ferries returning to the Puget Sound.

Sunday Video: Transit-Protected Bike Lanes


We already have some of these “floating” transit islands that protect bikes by allowing cyclists. These islands give cyclists a buffer between platform and sidewalk so that they smoothly bypass in-street transit. Where are these in Seattle? Right on Dexter Avenue N, and SDOT has considered other locations for the future.

What We’re Reading: Put a Lid on It

I-5 lid study area, via The Northwest Urbanist.

Put a lid on it: Scott Bonjukian takes another look at covering I-5 with a lid.

Climate controlled: Dubai has plans for a the world’s first fully climate controlled city.

Bike lanes on 2nd Ave: Protected bike lanes are likely to arrive just in time for the launch of Pronto!

Giant blob: The Jersey Shore’s got a massive blob of algae blooming off its coast.

Federal funding drama: The House and Senate inch closer to solving the transportation fiscal cliff, but they have a ways to go. Of course, all approaches of the feds are less than ideal, but Oregon is a good model for the future.

New BAT lanes: Pike Street quietly gets some new BAT lanes. Hopefully this means faster bus service!

Big old hole: Yeah, you’ve probably seen that big gaping hole in Downtown at 4th Ave and Cherry St, and there’s no guarantee that it’s going away anytime soon. But a land value tax would likely make it develop quickly.

Legal pot: Marijuana is now legal for sale, and it’s quite expensive.

Post-apocalyptic Detroit: The city is on a rebound, and many think it’s time to invest. However, the city could lose some of its precious artwork.

Gentrification segregation: As the US continues to gentrify, it’s largely happens along the lines of education which leads to wealth.

We want it more: Homeless advocates are still trying to acquire the Federal building in Downtown and push the Seattle Public Schools out of consideration.

Sand Point Crossing: Seattle Subway makes the case for a different cross-lake option, this one via Sand Point to Kirkland.

7th Ave bikeway: The Puget Sound Regional Council is recommending federal funding for a 7th Avenue bikeway.

Musical references: People love to sing about New York City, and luckily there’s a map of all the places they’ve sung about in popular music.

Saving Metro: The Seattle City Council is still considering two options to save Metro, and it has until August to do so.

Scared of biking: People are often scared of biking in traffic, but these cities are showing the way to make it safer.

A report card on Denver: Zach over at the Seattle Transit Blog gives a great transit report card on his experience in Denver.

Northgate Link Webcams


U Dist Station Webcam


Now that the extension of Northgate Link is well underway, Sound Transit has three webcams capturing the progress at University District Station, Roosevelt Station, and the Maple Leaf Portal. The webcams went live back in February. You can track the progress since then and explore the excellent timelapse movies. Images from the webcams are updated every 15 minutes.

Symphony No. 2 in Perfect Grammar



Not all of the conversations I have on the bus are the gleeful bastardizations of syntax which I often record– and which are no less legitimate uses of the English language, mind you.* Here’s a sample of a perfectly grammatically acceptable discourse.

“So what’s playing at the Benaroya tonight?” I ask as we approach Union. He, a slightly older man in a crisp black three-piece, had asked earlier for Seattle Symphony.


“Oh, excellent!”

“Two symphonies, I don’t know them too well. Hey, you’re the friendliest bus driver I think I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh, thanks!”

“I especially appreciate the announcement of the upcoming stop after the next stop.” Referring to how I try to keep folks informed when we’re in the CBD in skip-stop heaven, as in, “the stop after this one is James.”

“Oh, thanks! It’s great to get the feedback. Rachmaninoff, excellent! I’m not as familiar with his work as with other composers.”

“Did you ever see that movie Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeve, from the eighties?”

“Not for ages, but yes!”

“Well, the main theme for that is from a Rachmaninoff symphony.”

“Oh, terrific!”

“But yeah, I dont know these symphonies too well. These were free tickets!”

“Well, there you go! Not a bad way to pass the time!”

“Exactly!” Chuckling.

“Yeah, the last time I was here was for the Ninth symphony, Beethoven. Obviously fantastic,” I say, throwing my hand in the air, as if giving up at the act of trying to succinctly express how great it was. I was raised on Classical music. To me, it’s strange to consider it as a genre, as we consider folk or hip-hop; it’s so much infinitely larger. Classical’s been around for a thousand years. Popular music’s existed for a mere sixty or so. The vast, overwhelming percentage of existing music is Classical music, and some of it is absolutely worth your time. As Grand Puba says in the Tupac Shakur tune, “I wouldn’t be here today, if the old school hadn’t paved the way.”

“Oh, it’s such a great place.” I forget which of us said this. “It is,” the other said. We were both basking in the shared warmth of loving the same thing.

“I have season tickets!” he said.

“Perfect! Well, hope it’s a great evening!”

“Thanks! You enjoy the rest of your shift.”

The color of his tone was sincere, and the last sentence carried with it the implication that my time tonight on the road was as valuable as his inside the Symphony hall, if not moreso. What I loved about the exchange was the undercurrent drifting through all of it, which I felt all the more strongly because it remained unspoken: he, the man wearing a suit probably worth my entire paycheck, spoke to me with not a trace of condescension. A good day’s work and the ability to appreciate culture existed for him on a spectrum which included not just people like him in the narrow sense, but myself and everyone else.

A girlfriend once asked me why I like the LSBW (read the post about her or watch my speech on this legendary passenger if you haven’t already). I remember looking out the window and thinking a moment before saying, “because I have so much more in common with her than I don’t have in common.”

“Really?” she said, listening.

I thought so. Just a few changes in brain chemistry and life circumstances were all that separated us. Mr. Rachmaninoff, above– hopefully he doesn’t mind my calling him that– seemed to have a similar view, and it felt good to be on the receiving end of that.

*”The myth that non-standard dialects of English are grammatically deficient is widespread,” writes linguist Steven Pinker. We can all grasp that language evolves through slang and progresses to new places through colloquial use, but additionally, dialects such as the much-maligned Black English Vernacular (BEV) have just as constructed a framework as the more familiar Standard American English (or SAE, itself a derivation of British English). From Chapter 2 of Pinker’s The Language Instinct: “Where SAE uses there as a meaningless dummy subject for the copula, BEV uses it (compare SAE’s There’s really a God with BEV’s It’s really a God). Larry’s negative concord (You ain’t goin’ to no heaven) is seen in many languages, such as French (ne…pas). BEV allows its speakers the option of deleting copulas (If you bad); this is not laziness but a systematic rule that is virtually identical to the contraction rule in SAE that reduces He is to He’s, You are to You’re…. In both dialects, be can erode only in certain kinds of sentences.” BEV does not allow Yes he is! to contract to Yes he!, as SAE doesn’t allow Who is it? to contract to Who it? Pinker continues, stressing that BEV isn’t all about contraction: “BEV speakers use the full forms of certain auxiliaries (I have seen), whereas SAE speakers usually contract them (I’ve seen). He be working means that he generally works, perhaps that he has a regular job; He working means only that he is working at the moment that the sentence is uttered. In SAE, He is working fails to make that distinction.”

The Transit App 3.1 Update


Bikes on the Transit App

We’re big fans of The Transit App because of its universality and dynamic form, and previously wrote about the big version 3.0 release. Last week, The Transit App pushed out a major update (version 3.1) of their app for iOS users. The update contains two changes: the integration of bikeshare data in select cities and a general user interface revision to the main screen (split incorporation of the movable map and bus arrival information).

The Transit App OverviewThe main screen is an elegant change. Users can now easily see both and realtime arrival of local buses. A simple gesture between the two will either make the screen go all map or all bus times. This removes the extra tapping required in the previous app version to toggle between screens. The map changes also mean minor adjustments in trip planning and dropping pins. The search bar at the top is now universal so that you can both locations and transit lines without evening having to find the nearest transit line in proximity to you.

Meanwhile, the other big change in the app is the incorporation of bikeshare. If bikeshare is a supported feature, it will show up right in the movable map. Icons appear showing how full a particular docking station is, and tapping on it reveals the number of bikes available and the total number of docks at the station. Cities currently supported for bikeshare include: New York City, Chicago, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Miami, Minneapolis, Columbus, Paris, Toulouse, Strasbourg, and Rennes. The Transit App plans to support additional cities for the bikeshare feature in the future, and we would suspect that those cities will be where transit data is already available through the app. In other words, we hope to be seeing Seattle’s Pronto! included down the road. (Of course, it always helps to let them know what cities and services to include.)

No Longer in the Jungle


Picture 7


This guy stumbles on like a rock tumbling through an unstoppable river. An imposing physical presence. We’re somewhere at the bottom of Rainier Valley. He’s clad in a white oversized T-shirt that would be a dress on me, the shirt peeking out from under a puffy black jacket of colossal proportions. He asks if I go to Genessee, pronouncing it “Jensee.”
“Absolutely, yeah. And hey, I’d appreciate it if you kept that closed.” I’m gesturing at his paper bag, which contains a bottle of you know what–something other than pink lemonade!
“Oh, it is.”
“Thanks man, I appreciate you.”
“No probl’m.”

At Genessee, he mosies up , leaning forward, peering into the unknown distance. “I think I go one more.”
“Oh no worries,” I say. “We’ll see if somebody else wants this [bus stop]. Thanks for tellin’ me.”
“Sorry ’bout tha,'” he says after watching me greet somebody getting on.

He’s treading lightly, politely. I see him in the mirror, and in my periphery. Quarterback body, gold necklace, and a trim goatee, hints of jailhouse tats peeking out above the shirt.

“Oh, it’s all good. So kinda right up there, by Safeway?”
“Yeah. Hey, uh, thank you, for doin,’ for bein,'”
Hardcore manliness stops him short from an easy finish to the sentence, but the sentiment is no less real. I know what he means.
“Oh my pleasure man, it’s no worries. I like bein’ out here.”
“Thanks, dude.” He feels more comfortable now, more revealing: “I’m new here. Jus’ come up from California.”
“Oh wha’ part of California?”
“Dude, right on!” I exclaim, preempting the next question all Angelinos ask each other, which is, ‘what part of LA?’ “I’m from LA too, I’m from South Gate!”
To this his eyes light up, all pretense and vulnerability falling away: “WHAAAAA, no way! That’s just up from me, I’m from Lynwood!”
“No waaaayyy! Right there!”
“Oh, you right over there. You in it.”

This happens more often than one might imagine. On the 70 I took a couple toward the airport and discovered we all once lived on Firestone Boulevard in Downey. Recently on the 44 a woman overheard me discussing LA, and revealed that she’d come up from San Diego in ’96. “There’s a lot of us Californians taking refuge up here,” I marveled. “There are,” she responded. “Some folks don’t like it, us bringin’ our LA ways up here…”
“They’ll just have to deal!”

Strangers in a strange land, no longer strangers. My friend looking for Genessee leans back in his chair in a way he couldn’t before. Relaxed now. He’d felt comfortable enough in my space to share that vulnerability, that he was new here, and the payoff was worth it. We pass under the dark trees at Byron, making our own sunshine.

He seems particularly glad that we come from the same mad realm of South Central. The Jungle, as it’s called. Whatever challenges he’s up to here in the Valley, they’ll be easy compared to life in the Jungle, and he knows I know that intimately.
“Out there, you know how they do,”
“Oh yeah!”
We’re in fistpound handshake heaven.
“Be safe!” we say to each other at the end of the ride. It is not a pleasantry for us, but rather a genuine urging, a belief that the other’s life is worth some extra caution. It’s late, and dark, but we’re both glowing.


West Seattle Waterfront Streetcar?


By Charles Bond and Gordon Werner

Potential route for an Alki streetcar.

In the discussions about the new Alaskan Way project and the 1st Ave streetcar, the topic of the old Greg Benson waterfront streetcar often comes up. Since the loss of their home on the waterfront, the cars have been tossed back and forth between the 1st Ave and Alaskan Way plans with each project seeming to assume that the other will take care of them. A new idea, however, is putting the cars somewhere else entirely–like along Alki Beach.

First, a little history

Streetcars used to run along the waterfront from where the Olympic Sculpture Park currently stands to Pioneer Square and the transit center on Jackson St. The streetcar storage barn was demolished to make way for the Sculpture Park and, though promised, a replacement never materialized. In the subsequent years, much of the track for the streetcar line was removed, though many have suggested it be added back to the new Alaskan Way design or for occasional use on the 1st Ave streetcar line. Unfortunately, both alternatives have problems.

The problem with 1st Ave/Alaskan Way

As documented previously on Seattle Transit Blog, in order for the streetcars to be used with the 1st Ave project, the old waterfront streetcars and boarding ramps would have to be modified for ADA-accessible equipment and to accommodate the streetcar floor height, respectively. They would also need to use different track gauge and voltage than they currently do and to allow boarding on both sides of the car. An Alaskan Way-only alignment has the potential to run the cars unmodified, but that would restrict the cars to only Alaskan Way, severely limit the usefulness of the connection, and likely be unable to keep up with transit demand in this corridor.

Why Alki Beach?

If these cars operated on Alki Beach, they could run in a single dedicated lane with passing zones as it originally did on the Seattle waterfront. They could connect the water taxi with the popular parks and shops on the north coast and boost both transit access and tourist appeal to the Alki Beach area. In a dedicated lane, the streetcar could run with relatively high frequency and fewer vehicles than buses generally need. Also, since the 37 bus route is slated to be canceled with the upcoming Metro cuts, this corridor could use some extra service.

Where would funding come from?

This is easily the biggest challenge, but there might be some creative solutions. Since there is a tourism component to this and lot of public support for restoring the waterfront streetcar, there might be some way to scrape up funds for this project using crowd-funding, local tourism boards, or other agencies/cruise lines that might be interested in generating more area attractions.


This idea is not problem free, of course. The aforementioned funding sources may be inadequate, the loss of parking required for exclusive lanes would garner resistance, and this small project does not serve the core transit needs for West Seattle (just some small piece of the transit service likely to be lost with the upcoming metro cuts). The line would also have to be designed carefully not to interfere with the existing bicycle facilities along the Alki trail. Nevertheless, it may be more meritorious to put these old streetcars into service somewhere where they would see daily use rather than relegate them to occasional festival service in the heart of downtown.