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Monday, June 25, 2007

“Better Transportation Than Your Stinking Bus City”

posted by on June 25 at 17:27 PM

Last September, Savage and I tried to convince star summer intern Sarah Mirk to quit school and become a full-time staffer here. She wisely shot us down, but decided she’d help us out by extending her stay in the newsroom thru December—forgoing a planned fall semester in Ecuador.

Wondering what Sarah was up to this summer—her last summer as a college student—I caught up with her over e-mail this weekend.

Well get this, she finally made it to Ecuador. And here’s one thing she had to say:

“They have better transportation here than your stinking bus city—electric ‘trolebuses’ with dedicated lanes. On weekend nights the whole trole reeks of cheap men’s hair gel, but it can get me and thousands of other people all the way across messy Quito in a half hour.

Quito is a city of about 1.5 million.

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Muy interesante.

In Seattle hay muchos problemas del transporte publico -- including a lacking of the broad streets or avenues -- many are only one or two lanes of traffic each way (like Bwy., Jackson, part of the W Seattle bridge (overriding the hill to WS just two lanes), 45th, California, etc.)
How to have dedicated troles there??
If you put in dedicated bus lanes you take away the capacity for the cars. Is enough left?

Seattle formerly had many miles of street cars and they were taken out.

In Curitiba my opinion is the right of way is very very broad so the dedicated busway works pretty well. Like perhaps 6 lanes broad I think?

Perhaps in Seattle you need the rapid transit out of the street because our streets just don't have enough room.
If you don't have that broadness of the right of way, the transit needs to be above or below the traffic, no?

Does this Quito trole leave only one lane of other traffic going along the main drag down there? Or is it a broad avenida?
Mas informacion por favor.

Posted by Juan | June 25, 2007 5:45 PM

How far is "all the way across" the city of Quito? How many stops does the trolebus make? What is the city's topography and its housing density?

Lots of legitimate questions conveniently left unanswered.

Posted by Creek | June 25, 2007 5:57 PM

It's really not that surprising, considering that Quito is almost three times the population of Seattle's wussy 580,000ish. Quito's a bit bigger in land area it's true, but not three times bigger; besides if you talked on the extra 80 km2 to Seattle, you'd have to draw some pretty damn curvy lines to get it much higher than 700,000, I'm willing to bet.

It's not like the US has any cities of that size that don't have decent mass transit (besides Houston, and that's because of ridiculous laws about annexation that permit it to be so physically enormous.) I think it's a short list anyway: New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia....

Posted by John | June 25, 2007 6:12 PM

Jeez, ya say one thing and it's off to Ecuador!

Posted by Original Andrew | June 25, 2007 6:23 PM

Also see this on Quito's transit.

Posted by Ryan | June 25, 2007 6:25 PM

she must have left the Stranger before she was ingrained with the paper's default hatred of bus rapid transit.

Posted by josh | June 25, 2007 6:33 PM

God, I hope Ron Sims is not reading this. I mean, there are already enough Latin American countries without a substantial middle class (trying to be euphemistic here) whose transit systems Sims aspires to emulate. Meanwhile, behind the scenes Sims tried to kill the monorail project because, y'know, why the heck would we want to emulate an affluent country like Japan?

josh above:

she must have left the Stranger before she was ingrained with the paper's default hatred of bus rapid transit.

I'm inclined to agree with Dan that "bus rapid transit" typically is an oxymoron. But you know, if anyone in Seattle seriously proposed doing some BRT that actually was BRT, it would die a quick death. Because let's face it, the only appeal of bus rapid transit here is that we can pretend to do rapid transit simply by sticking the name "rapid transit" on conventional bus service without having to make the huge infrastructure investments and the controversial right-of-way takeovers that come with real rapid transit, whether it's with buses or with rail.

This is why I think Venus Velazquez has a very appealing campaign sound bite. When asked how to solve this city's transportation problems, she can say, "Not rapid transit. Bus rapid transit."

Posted by cressona | June 25, 2007 7:06 PM

Big fucking deal. We already know Dan "doesn't do buses" "all the way across" even this city. Even the express ones that go to the airport. So why should we give a shit about Quito?

Posted by JW | June 25, 2007 9:08 PM

Quito's metropolitan area is also smaller than Seattle's. And the public transportation system has much better buy-in; there's 2 million people in Quito's metro area, and the public transportation system sees 1.8 million uses per day.

Posted by supergp | June 26, 2007 6:58 AM

I love it when Seattle gets their panties in a wadded uproar over mass transit. Does anyone reading this really think that we will EVER have any form of rapid transit in our life times? I have lived here since 1995 and the only two things that they have done has been the rail that comes into Seattle from Tacoma in the mornings and from Seattle to Tacoma in the evenings. (Though that may have changed by now) and we are still building light rail to the airport. Oh and the magical street-car that Mayor Lard-Ass is proud of that will help so many people who live in the South Lake Union area who need to go to downtown...... (okay three things of which only one is currently up and going)

It just goes to show you how sad we have become when we are looking with great envy at QUITO ECUADOR for inspiration and hope.

Posted by Just Me | June 26, 2007 7:22 AM

I'm interested in Quito. I heard it's one of the most affordable big cities in the world.

Posted by Gabriel | June 26, 2007 7:49 AM

Yeah, and we don't have an equator either. Sucks to be us.
It's easy to provide mass transit in the third world. With all that famine everyone is skin and bones, and you can fit a lot more people in one bus. In the CD or Shoreline - not so many people in one bus.
Oh, and I feel compelled to note that *quito* means *I take (it) off*.

Posted by kinaidos | June 26, 2007 8:34 AM

When I was traveling through Russia via the trans-siberian railway - I was horrified by the fact that every shitty little village on the tundra had a trolley system that took me everywhere I wanted to go.
Made Seattle look even more ridiculous.
(yea - I realize these trolleys are the result of the communist system which had many flaws, but they still managed to provide cheap and effective transportation for the people)

Posted by blitzo | June 26, 2007 9:48 AM

Here is a little triva for all of you wishers and dreamers or rapid mass transit. At the turn of the 20th Century Southern California had started to build a trolly system in and around the L.A. area. But a certian company (General Motors) was not a huge fan of this since they wanted to build roads for that new fangled thing they were selling called the automobile. GM BOUGHT up all of the trolly system and ripped it out and it was replaced with wide open spaces.

I hope for the day when GM goes under.....

Posted by Just Me | June 26, 2007 10:29 AM

The fact/myth of GM, Satndard Oil, and Firestone tire conspiracy to get rid of the streetcars actually was for the promotion of the new fangled buses. Aparently this conspiracy first came public in a 1974 testimony to the Senate. Those streecars were built by private land developers and then operated at profit until they got old and people had built further from the lines and the new shiney buses that went closer to their homes made the rail systems run at a loss and they were given or sold to municipalities that closed them down.

But both sides have plenty to say - go to "Streetcar Myth" Google search and read both sides.

Quito is beautiful, compact and at 10,000 feet a chore to walk uphill. Everyone that couldn't afford to open a restaurant in their own country seems to have gone to Quito and put together great eateries.
The vans that run around the country provide cheap and fast trips to places like Otavalo the Inca town to the north are fab. A truly magical place.

Posted by whatever | June 26, 2007 3:16 PM

Trollybuses-- not rapid dedicated-lane ones, but rather slow standard versions-- run in San Francisco.

+Plus: They are very quiet compared to buses and streetcars (which rumble due to the weight). There's a bit of a whine when they pull out, but otherwise they can drive past your bedroom and not wake you up.

+Plus: They can navigate about 10 feet left/right on an electric tether, making them more reliable than streetcars, which get shut down by a blocked track.

+Plus: They accelerate quickly, due to the light weight and electric motors. I don't remember a train ever knocking me off my feet by pulling forward... but a trollybus sure can.

-Minus: The electric tethers can come off the wires easily, and take a few minutes to get put back. This happens a not infrequently at crossings.

-Minus: They can't re-route like an ordinary bus can for a blocked street. I remember one morning a wind blew up, and half the trollybuses seemed shut down by tree branches on the road, or worse, taking down the wires. They also can't pass each other-- a dead bus shuts down the entire line until it gets towed.

-Minus: the economics are similar to buses, in terms of drivers/passengers.

Posted by eclexia | June 26, 2007 7:00 PM

Where's Baron von Hausmann when you need him most? *sigh* (Apropos to @1's comments about wide boulevards.)

Posted by treacle | June 26, 2007 11:00 PM

yes, Quito and Curritiba has wonderful metro-like BRT systems. They were willing to devote the right-of-way to transit. ROW is key. It can be given to transit through politics, by taking it from general-purpose traffic or car storage (parallel parking) or it can be manufactured (e.g., new ROW through tunneling Link LRT north and Beacon Hill or elevated tracks as in Vancouver SkyTrain, the imagined SMP monorail, or south first Link LRT in Tukwila). Note that in Vancouver most of the SkyTrain ROW is in an old freight rail line, even the two downtown stations.

instead of modal envy, Seattle should have ROW envy.

our elected officials have not been willing to take ROW from either travel lanes or car storage. Along MLK Jr. Way South, ST expanded the ROW rather than taking a lane.

Seattle has choked bus transit ROW over the past 20 years as many arterials have been converted to a three-lane profile with a two-way left-turn lane (e.g., California Avenue SW, Delridge Way SW, Beacon Avenue South, Madison Street, Broadway, North 45th Street, Phinney-Greenwood avenues North, 24th Avenue NW north of NW 65th Street; soon, Stone Way North and 24th Avenue NW between NW Market and 65th streets will be converted). One cannot find many in Vancouver.

The upcoming efforts to provide three arterial BRT lines in Seattle by Seattle and Metro will be a challenge to this history. Grade-separated transit ROW is quite costly. Arterial BRT may be what is affordable for the time being.

I suspect Seattle has pushed the three-lane profile too far and choked down transit flow. This while asking more to ride slower and slower transit. Perhaps Seattle should consider more creative arterial profiles with parallel parking on only one side and bus bulbs; replacement short-term parking might be provided on nearby perpenticular local streets. bus bulbs could allow in-lane stops.

The electric trolleybus (ETB) is authetic to Seattle. Seattle, Vancouver, and San Fransico Muni have large systems. In Seattle, they are not provided much priority through traffic, except for the 2005 changes on 3rd Avenue. Between 1940 and 1963, Seattle had a more extensive ETB system, as West Seattle, Ballard, Wallingford, Phinney Ridge, University District, and Aurora were under wire. The ETB climb hills well.

Posted by eddiew | July 1, 2007 2:37 PM

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