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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why People Who Actually Take Transit Support Light Rail

posted by on September 25 at 10:11 AM

Because currently, a ride on an “express” bus from the Rainier Valley—a route that roughly parallels the coming light rail line—means spending 50 minutes on a sweltering, overcrowded bus that runs just once an hour (got a bike? tough shit—if two people got there before you, you’re waiting another hour.) Here’s what it looks like from the inside (sorry for the crappy cell-phone photo):


Light rail, in contrast, will run every six minutes and allow bikes on board. And it’ll get to Capitol Hill in a fraction of the time it takes for the slow, crappy, stuck-in-traffic bus to chug the six miles from Rainier Beach through rush-hour traffic. This may not be obvious to people who drive to work, but having options—that is, options other than sitting in rush-hour traffic on the slow, crappy bus or even in a car—is worth paying a little more in taxes.

RSS icon Comments


What's your take on Frank Chopp's new plan for the replacing the viaduct?

Posted by Clarkj | September 25, 2008 10:20 AM

Yes people who ride transit support more funds for transit to improve the systems they ride or create better alternatives to them. Whether Sound Transit is an effective use of tax dollars compared to other alternatives is a different question.

Posted by Trevor | September 25, 2008 10:22 AM

even in well served areas like Northgate you run into problems of overcrowding and the bike issue you mention, however the speed differential between rail and bus, plus the ability to avoid traffic makes it more than worth paying a bit more in taxes.

hey, you can always sell it to drivers this way: the faster and more reliable rail transit is the faster and easier you'll be able to drive to work if you do choose to drive, and you won't have as many buses in your way.

Posted by pragmatic | September 25, 2008 10:24 AM

" worth paying a little more in taxes."

Worth it to the people who use this route on a regular basis. Not worth it to the hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who will rarely have the opportunity to use the system, if ever.

Posted by joykiller | September 25, 2008 10:25 AM

Joykiller @4: And I assume you feel the same way about the taxes you pay that fund roads you never drive on?

Posted by ECB | September 25, 2008 10:29 AM

Will I be able to put your bike on the train? Or will I be forced to ride it.

Posted by steves | September 25, 2008 10:30 AM

the buses to the eastside run every 10-15 minutes and the buses STILL fill up to standing room only. many people bike and often have to wait 2-3 buses to find a spot on the bike racks (which hold 3 bikes on ST express).

once light rail to the eastside is complete in 2027 or whatever, what a relief that will be.

Posted by jrrrl | September 25, 2008 10:31 AM

Will they have a place for bikes on the train? That would be awesome. I hate riding that thing.

Posted by steves | September 25, 2008 10:32 AM

These crappy, overcrowded, slow-ass buses in the city are the reason I'm back in my car. It takes the 74 "Express" 45 minutes at 7am in the morning to go from my condo to downtown. It takes 50-60 minutes for the 74 "Express" at 4pm to go from downtown to my place. I can do the same trips in my car in 15 minutes and 20 minutes. People get from Redmond or whatever is east of Bellevue to downtown faster than I can, and they live 3x+ further away. The bus system in Seattle proper is bullshit.

Posted by I agree | September 25, 2008 10:33 AM

Ditto #8. What is the actual plan for bikes on trains? None of the officials were very happy about me taking my bike through NY Transit, and there was no dedicated storage.

Posted by Dubcek | September 25, 2008 10:37 AM

The trouble with ST's plan is that it doesn't help us get around the city. Sure, if you live near a light rail line you can quickly get to other places on the line, but look how few stops are planned in Seattle. The sprawling reach of the light rail plan shows that it's not about helping people get around the city but about helping long distance commuters. Since when do long distance commuters deserve a subsidy, whether it be adding lanes to 520 or building a sprawling light rail system?

Posted by Brendan | September 25, 2008 10:37 AM

@4: peak oil will bring the folly of your position to your (and your grandchildren's) door.

the personal automobile & the attendant infrastructure is UNSUSTAINABLE.

go to europe & see rational planning made concrete.

Posted by max solomon | September 25, 2008 10:44 AM

@11: You're looking at one and blaming it for not being ten. Of course it doesn't go everywhere at once - it's the first backbone of the system. If we'd started building these things in the '60s, like, say, Munich, we might have six or seven lines by now that would go all sorts of interesting and useful places. Plus, we'd have gotten more federal money to do it.

Posted by Greg | September 25, 2008 10:49 AM

wait, are you telling me that popular bus routes are crowded during rush hours?

I'm all for more transit, but crowded trains and buses are a fact of life in cities.

Posted by josh | September 25, 2008 10:50 AM

@11 - ST is a regional entity. Regional, which means "not just City of Seattle proper." You want local improvements? That's Metro's problem. Sound Transit's proposals are targeted at the broader King-Pierce-Snohomish County transportation infrastructure. The goal of light rail is, in fact, to connect the region through efficient public transportation. Where do you get the idea that ST is supposed to serve Seattle exclusively? That's never been the agency's goal.

Posted by Hernandez | September 25, 2008 10:52 AM


That sounds great to me. If you only need to go a short distance, there's not much of an issue if the bus is crowded. And if you have a bike, you can just ride the damn thing that short distance. But commuting 40 minutes to an hour on a crowded bus is a bitch.

Posted by keshmeshi | September 25, 2008 11:01 AM

The 800 pound gorilla of all public transit issues is: will there be "whites only" buses & trains for the suburban riders?
A complaint about the time an express bus takes may be valid. Complaints about the "cleanliness" & "safety" on buses may very well be code words for "blacks" & "mexicans".

Do we really think the suburban woman who works downtown will suddenly lose her lifelong fears of black men, AND park her 50K SUV, to ride mass transit? If the sound transit rail system is geared to get these riders onboard, then the marketing campaign may have to use code words like "clean" & "safe", and have their photos display only whites.

Those folks make me sick, but they are also the ones who will foot much of the tax bill, thanks to their McMansions & luxury cars. If they don't ride these trains, there may not be a "second phase" that extends through the city, etc.

(I'm a white guy who has sat in the back on many of my 8,000+ bus trips.)

Posted by Sir Vic | September 25, 2008 11:02 AM

@15 I'm just explaining why it's losing support among everyone except long-distance commuters who happen to live along the line. Other systems start small, and get bigger as several compact lines are gradually extended outward. Tellingly, Democrats in southeast Alaska voted against endorsing the ST plan.

Posted by Brendan | September 25, 2008 11:02 AM

Seattle, not Alaska. (Got that damn Palin on my mind!)

Posted by Brendan | September 25, 2008 11:04 AM

@5 & 12: pretty clever there, implying the alternative to ST is more highways. That's a false dichotomy, and you know it. There are, in fact, people who don't drive to work AND won't benefit a whit from any ST expansion, myself included. But no, it's all about Capitol Hill, Rainier Valley, and Microsofties, right?

Posted by joykiller | September 25, 2008 11:11 AM

got a bike? tough shit—if two people got there before you, you’re waiting another hour.

Or you could, y'know, ride it. Anybody waiting an hour in one place with a bike by their side is an idiot. And if you don't want to ride it that six miles (also understandable), why do you have it with you?

Posted by EmilyP | September 25, 2008 11:15 AM

No one rides the bus anymore, it's too crowded.

Posted by DOUG. | September 25, 2008 11:17 AM


I live on Beacon Hill, and go to school on Capitol Hill. It's less than 3 miles.

I can :

- Walk. But an hour walk to a 7:30am class in the rain is le suckage.
- Drive. But gas costs a fortune and parking on the Hill is a bitch. Plus, CO2 is bad, m'kay?
- Bus. But my options, the 36 (connecting downtown to the 10,11,43,49) or the 60 (direct) are both packed, slow, and incredibly unpleasant during most hours of the day, including the ones that I travel (I have no control over my class times).


I can hardly WAIT for light rail.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | September 25, 2008 11:17 AM

In this post, ECB writes that she wants people to ease the Ranier Valley commute.

And, in other ECB state that she doesn't want to pay more taxes to alleviate congestion for people going to the Eastside.

Ah, hypocrisy, how we love thee.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | September 25, 2008 11:20 AM

22: "No one rides the bus anymore, it's too crowded."

Once no one rides the bus, the bus is no longer crowded...

Posted by Emily | September 25, 2008 11:29 AM

Brendan @11:

The trouble with ST's plan is that it doesn't help us get around the city. Sure, if you live near a light rail line you can quickly get to other places on the line, but look how few stops are planned in Seattle.

The Sound Transit line being built now and the expansion proposed together provide almost as many stops in Seattle proper as in the suburbs being reached. Also, this may come as a shock, but as a Seattle resident, I may actually need to get somewhere outside of Seattle every once in a while. Y'know, like for employment?

Anyway, this is really a classic BS argument. Back during the years and years of debate over the monorail, the critics kept saying, "Oh, but it's not regional." Now that light rail is the target, the critique is, "Oh, but it's not in-city" (never mind how much of the city it actually serves). If you do A, they'll damn you for not doing B. And if you do B, they'll damn you for not doing A.

Unlike Brendan here, I actually do care about in-city transit. I'd actually love to see light rail built in, say, the Green Line corridor. The Brendans here like to make the phony argument that you can't build regional mass transit before you build in-city mass transit when they know damn well that the failure to build the former will be the death knell for the latter. Unlike Brendan, I want to see more light rail built in Seattle, and I know that the fastest way to get more light rail built in Seattle is to start building it where it's already proposed.

Oh, and what Greg said @13.

Posted by cressona | September 25, 2008 11:49 AM

The best way to describe transit usage is the bank teller analogy:

Imagine you're at a bank in a long line. Suddenly, another window opens and you're given the option to either step into the other line or move forward in the space opened up by people who have chosen to move. Either way: you win.

People move onto LRT, local bus congestion eases, more people can ride the bus.

More people ride the bus, local congestion eases, more people are free to choose to drive.

Increase transit's commute share, you reduce parking demand, parking prices go down.

Posted by AJ | September 25, 2008 11:57 AM

@17: it works in the SF bay area. plenty of uptight white commuters ride the train back and forth between their downtown jobs and their homes in whiteyville, northeast bay. i haven't seen a recent plan for sound transit's planned stops, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if the planned route only hit 'white' areas of town - similar to the way the metro's bus routes continue to segregate the north and south ends of the city.

Posted by lindsay | September 25, 2008 11:58 AM

overcrowded? that bus looks empty! try riding my beloved 42.

also, if people would move towards the back instead of piling up in the front, you will have a better ride.

Posted by SeMe | September 25, 2008 11:59 AM

Max Solomon @ 12:

Biodiesel will be made from algae, ethanol will be made from switchgrass, and personal transportation that runs on liquid fuel will be with us forever. To deny that is about as cedible as denying the Holocaust or Global Warming.

But I have every confidence that you will continue to do it -- so much so I hereby award you today's "Insufferable Little Prat" award.

Posted by ivan | September 25, 2008 12:26 PM

Yes, you can have bikes on-board Link.

Other features

Low floors for easy, level boarding
Space for four wheelchairs, strollers and two bicycles
Air conditioning
Trains can be made up of from one to four cars
Reversible operations, with driver cabs at both ends
Double articulated, with three sections riding on six axles
Wheelchair access
A maximum speed of 55 mph
Vehicle design is 70 percent low-floor
Automatic Train Protection MicroCab[R] systems provide vehicle operators with current speed, permitted speed, and overspeed displays, and automatically enforce vehicle braking when required

Posted by Brian Bundridge | September 25, 2008 12:54 PM

@17: Way to paint with an absurdly broad brush. Already thousands of people ride buses from the suburbs (and guess what -- many are African American, Asian, Hispanic...). Sure, there are rich people in the suburbs who will never take mass transit (like many people in Broadmoor, Magnolia, etc.), but your entire post is ridiculous.

Posted by rjh | September 25, 2008 12:59 PM

@5: Dare I point out those roads bring almost every good and service you use into this community?

People don't bike organic produce to Rainier Valley and Capital Hill.

Having said that, the 7 f-cking sucks and we need to do something about it.

Posted by Dawgson | September 25, 2008 3:35 PM

@17: It's not people of color that freak me out, it's the junkies and other unsavory, unstable characters who crowd in downtown -- I've seen so much bad behavior I can understand why people would want to avoid mass transit.

Posted by Dawgson | September 25, 2008 3:40 PM

My post was mostly an open ended question, to see how many others with major time on public transit have noticed the same racial bifurcation that I have. Like white women getting up and moving to a different seat when a perfectly respectable black man sits down next to her(#28), drivers just leaving non-whites at bus stops(#101), or people standing at the front of the bus when there are several open seats in the back (which just happen to be next to non-whites)(#15).

When I hear claims that more transit will lead to fewer cars on the road, I wonder just how many people will never use it. Not because it doesn't go where they want, or that it is slower, but because they are afraid of the "others" that may be there.

It's more about "What is the peak ridership level?". We're talking about reasons why people won't ride (destination & time), but I wanted to see if there may be other reasons. And again, those rich folks in Broadmoor, Magnolia, Mercer Island will probably never ride, but they also have the money & political clout to kill these kinds of projects. The next question is, "How do we co-opt them?"

I guess some demographics have changed: 10 years ago, I was riding the 152 from Auburn to Downtown, and the only black person on the route was the driver*. Don't recall seeing to many Hispanics, but that has probably changed too.

* That driver, Roosevelt, was the best driver I've ever had. When the normal route shakeup happened and he was re-assigned, the regulars got him a card and we all signed it. (Anyone seem something similar? I haven't since.) These were the folks that would probably ride regardless of the racial makeup of the passenger body. Have we maxed out that population, or are there still more waiting for routes to come to their neighborhoods?

Posted by Sir Vic | September 25, 2008 3:59 PM

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