Seattle, We Have a (transit) Problem…

In the interests of balanced reporting it is necessary not only to post my positive Fueled By Beer experiences but also those instances that did not go according to plan. A recent Friday evening for instance; when I dragged my poor unsuspecting spouse and daughter halfway across Seattle by bus on a miserable rainy night. Our destination was the previously unexplored Greenwood neighborhood, the location of Naked City Brewery & Taphouse.

On paper it seemed OK: leave our car at Evergreen Point park and ride around 5:30-ish, when spaces would be opening up; take a one-stop ride across Lake Washington to the University District (5 mins); transfer to the #48 to Greenwood (35 mins). Simple plan I thought; the Google Maps transit feature made it look OK, and the Metro bus schedule validated it too. I figured we’d be sitting down to dinner and I’d be sampling my first Naked City pint by 7 pm.

Did I say it was raining? Yes, in fact Seattle’s rainfall record for September 17th was broken, but it’s not the reason things didn’t go according to plan. We got through the Bellevue traffic to Evergreen Point around 5:40, got our bus across the lake with no problem, and our Greenwood connection arrived within a few minutes. According to my Orca card we boarded the #48 at 6:00 pm. So far, so good.

Now let’s break the #48 trip down on a map. Total distance is 5.0 miles: 35 minutes according to the bus schedule. For the first 4 miles through the U District, under I-5, and through Green Lake, the bus stayed pretty much on schedule. Now notice the short stretch of N 85th Street between Wallingford Avenue and Aurora Avenue; it’s less than 1/2 mile, only 7 blocks. At this point we learned why regular riders call this bus the forty-late: we crawled for 30 agonizing minutes to reach the Aurora intersection.

At first I presumed some horrendous accident, firetrucks, ambulances, mass carnage, but no, it was simply the stupid traffic light sequencing at N 85th & Aurora. Now I do realize that Aurora (SR99) is a major north-south arterial out of Seattle but 85th Street carries heavy peak hour traffic too; it is fed less than a mile to the east by north and south I-5 off-ramps. The green light for 85th lasted only 10 seconds, barely enough time for 3 to 4 cars to pass, and nowhere near enough time for a pedestrian to make it across Aurora before the crosswalk light changes. Seattle traffic engineers, we have a problem!

By the time we arrived at Greenwood our #48 bus trip had taken not 35 minutes, as scheduled, but 70 minutes. I don’t expect transit to get me from A to B in the same amount of time I can drive; for me the longer journey times are more than compensated by having someone else drive, particularly to unfamiliar destinations, and avoiding the hassle (and potential cost) of parking. However when a 15-25 minute car journey takes 70 minutes by bus, I have a serious problem. Yet beyond my own inconvenience, what bothers me most is how this experience provides ammunition to people who insist on driving solo, citing unreliable transit performance as their excuse.

Now I need to rant a little: If we are ever going to remove single occupant cars from city streets drastic steps need to be taken. To make transit the preferred way of getting around for the majority of people we have to make it the best choice among all options, and that means we have to find ruthless, even militant ways to make non-emergency solo driving more expensive, less convenient, and in every way possible less desirable than transit.

For starters this means giving transit priority on all roads – just as we already do for light rail through the Rainier Valley. I want all single occupant cars to be squeezed into less and less space so they experience more and more congestion, while transit passes by without any obstruction.

To achieve this, from every 4-lane or greater arterial that buses use, I want to take one lane in each direction and make them transit/car-pool only lanes – with stiff enforcement for violators. I want all 2-lane streets that transit routes run along converted into transit/car pool and resident-only use, again with stiff enforcement. I want single occupant cars forced to use adjacent non-transit streets where they must park a block or two from their destination and walk the rest of the way – whereas if they went by transit they could get right to their destination.

Eventually a pattern will emerge where transit can take people all the way to most of the places they want to go fastest whereas single occupant cars cannot reach their desired final destination, only most of the way there, and slower than the bus. I know this can work: I saw these kinds of things implemented in my home town and in London as early as the 1970s.

Today vehicular access to downtown Reading is heavily restricted and much of the area is pedestrianized. Open the map below: the area inside the A329 Inner Distribution Road is accessible only to buses and taxis; service, emergency and disabled vehicles; and residents with permits. Also, the surrounding arterials have dedicated bus-lanes which, during peak periods in particular, make the bus the fastest way to get in or out of the downtown core. Keep in mind this downtown core dates back to medieval times, with all the challenges such an environment presents to modern developers. If they could do it in Reading, they sure as hell can do it in Seattle.

OK, so I’ve gone on long enough about getting to Greenwood, what about our reason for going there in the first place: Naked City Brewery & Taphouse? Well, here’s the other thing that didn’t go according to plan. I had heard good things from several people whose opinions I trust so I was looking forward to visiting, despite the logistics of getting there by bus from Bellevue. The website gives the impression it is kid-friendly – they have kid items on the food menu for example. However, when we arrived all we found was disappointment.

The taphouse is not very big:  except for the narrow strip along the side wall, where perhaps 8 or 10 small tables are set, most of the space is off-limits to minors. It’s a seat yourself place and when we arrived all the tables except one appeared to be occupied by guys just drinking beer, and not ordering food. After the long bus trip, and with the rain coming down, we were in no mood to wait – besides it didn’t look like anyone was getting ready to leave anytime soon anyway – so we left.

All was not lost however – we went across the street to Romio’s Greenwood Pizza & Pasta restaurant – it was busy but we got seated right away, and received great service throughout. Romio’s had Redhook ESB on tap and the spouse was able to have a nice glass of wine. We ended up having a really nice meal there – with the unexpected bonus that Romio’s Greenwood gives a 10% discount to patrons who walk, bike, or ride the bus to their restaurant – nice! It’s also worth noting that Romio’s Greenwood is known for having one of the most extensive vegetarian and gluten-free menus in Seattle.

It was a little over an hour later when we walked back across to Naked City – it was still filled as before with mostly drinkers. I’d really like to give their beers a try but it isn’t such a kid-friendly place. And since their weekday hours are from 4pm it isn’t somewhere I can go on one of my weekday solo trips. So that basically leaves a Saturday when they open at noon – perhaps the spouse and daughter will be willing to forgive and forget – and make another trip over to Greenwood with me.

Note to self: next trip to Greenwood, take the #5 from downtown Seattle – unlike the forty-late it doesn’t have to cross SR99 Aurora Avenue.


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