PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Riding buses, streetcars, trains and ferries
March 15, 2013 at 7:01 PM
Sketched Feb. 27 and March 5, 2013
I’ve yet to talk to a person in Seattle who didn’t love the George Benson waterfront streetcars.
Since 2005, they’ve been stored at a facility in Sodo where Metro kindly let this newspaper artist roam around.
As I was sizing up the cavernous room, I stumbled upon a “RIDER ALERT” sign still glued to a streetcar door. Talk about a blast from the past: “Beginning Saturday, Nov. 19, the Waterfront Streetcar will be temporarily replaced by Route 99 bus service, pending construction of a new streetcar maintenance facility.”
Why that new facility was never built seems beyond the point now that eight years have passed. My question is: Will I ever ride one of these?
Streetcar advocate Tom Gibbs, a retired transit executive, is optimistic. about the future of the 1.6 mile line that first opened in 1982 along Alaskan Way.He said the 1.6 mile line that first opened in 1982 could be linked to the First Hill line, which is scheduled to open early next year. And a barn for the new streetcar line planned at 8th Avenue South and South Dearborn Street could also be expanded to accommodate the beloved trolleys.
Since Metro considered selling them last year, 966 people have signed an online petition at saveourstreetcar.org to restore the legacy of the late City Council member George Benson. Gibbs assured me there is a lot of support out there.
I hope he is right.
The five streetcars date from the 1920s and were used in Melbourne, Australia, before they were shipped to Seattle.
This is one of the waterfront stops that is still standing.
October 18, 2012 at 4:35 PM
Sketched Sept. 20, 2012
You’ll remember Metro bus rider Reginald Millender from last Saturday’s post. The first day I met him, he was assigned to bus route 124, which goes from 3rd Avenue and Pike Street to Tukwila International Boulevard Station.
Despite not being rush hour, the articulated bus was standing-room only for about half of the journey. Millender said many people were going to the food bank at St. Vincent de Paul MIssion, which is open every Tuesday and Thursday. I drew the sketch above –except for the color– while standing on the front of the bus. Jason, the young fellow with the tie, said he was coming back from filling out a job application at McDonald’s.
Below is another sketch of Millender that I didn’t include in my post last week. I drew it while he enjoyed his routine of drip coffee and raspberry bar at the 4th Avenue and Union Street Tully’s before his shift.
October 12, 2012 at 9:25 PM
Sketched Sept. 20 and Oct. 9, 2012
Driving isn’t my cup of tea, much less driving other people around, be it my kids to their school-bus stop every morning or anyone else. That’s why I have special appreciation for the job that bus drivers do. I can’t imagine dealing with the hundreds of passengers they transport day in and day out.
Take Reginald Millender, one of Metro’s 2,700 bus drivers. In 23 years on the job he has dealt with all kinds of situations: a woman who spilled 20 pounds of rice and started to cry; a deranged passenger who grabbed the steering while Millender drove Route 5 over Aurora Bridge; and a happier day when someone wanted to bring a Christmas tree in the bus — “I tied it to the bike rack, and the whole bus clapped,” he said.
So I understand when Millender asks Metro riders to be patient about the service changes that started two weeks ago. For those who are finding the new RapidRide service not rapid enough, the friendly driver has this piece of advice: “Give it a minute, it’ll catch on.”
Millender said people may think the new red and yellow buses actually move faster, but that’s not the case. Here’s the way it works, in his words: “Pay outside, hop on the bus, the bus takes off … It’s not that the bus is going to be faster, it’s just that the buses are going to come more frequently.”
Have you taken RapidRide yet? Here’s what some commuters I met riding the D line from downtown to Ballard had to say:
Keith Kentop, the fellow reading the news on his iPhone, said he doesn’t take the bus every day but it is a good option when he has to go see family in Ballard. He said he liked that he only had to wait four minutes before a bus came. David Love, the man sitting next to Kentop in the back of the bus, said RapidRide buses come much faster to the stops. “You don’t have to wait more than 10 minutes.”
Kara Foster commutes daily from West Seattle to Ballard for work. She said the new C line out of West Seattle has been really crowded since the service changes started — as Times’ transportation writer Mike Lindblom has reported here and here –, but she’s “hopeful that it’ll all work out.” Foster likes that the new RapidRide buses are sleek, have wi-fi and are finally “to the level of Sound Transit.”
The first words out of John Shearer’s mouth after stepping on the bus: “Who do I complain to?” The 75-year-old Ballard resident was really upset that Metro has eliminated the bus he used to take to Fremont. He now has to walk four blocks to reach the stop, and this bus wasn’t even going to take him where he wanted to go, he said. After a few stops, he got off the bus and turned around. “I give up,” he said. “I’m going back home.”
To catch the RapidRide C line bus in West Seattle, Teddy Jacke also had to walk more blocks than he did when he took Route 54, one of the routes that has been discontinued. Jacke, who was taking his son to Seattle Center for the day, said the changes are not convenient for him.
RapidRide stops are easy to spot with their red signs and Orca card readers. While not all Orca card readers are active yet, I found the electronic signs displaying wait times really useful. This stop is next to the Safeway supermarket at NW Market Street and 15th Avenue NW in Ballard.
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places and people to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!
September 27, 2012 at 9:39 AM
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Barcelona, but I prefer public transportation over driving. In all the cities I’ve lived since, I always had to pay to ride the bus or subway. When I moved here six years ago and learned that bus trips within downtown were free, I thought it was quite a perk.
Come Saturday, though, there won’t be any such thing as a free ride. How do you feel about that? I posed the question to a few random bus commuters I met Tuesday afternoon on my way to a sketching assignment.
Kathina Moreno said it’s been really convenient not having to pay to get around downtown during the three-weeks she’s lived here since moving from Denver. What now? “I guess I’ll just have to pay,” she said.
Nadia Flores, of West Seattle, said she feels bad for the people who use the bus but can’t afford to pay the fare. She works at a downtown restaurant and commutes by bus daily from West Seattle.
Traci Brady, a University of Washington student from South Seattle, said eliminating the free-ride zone is not going to address the real problem: Metro buses are old, not to mention smelly. “I call this the garbage can,” she said pointing to an articulated trolley bus that went by.
Frank Sheldone was sitting in the back of bus 7 when I introduced myself and asked if he’d mind being sketched. His take on the issue: “I pay for my fare,” he said, but “the ones who can’t afford it will be upset.”
About the sketches: These 7″ by 10″ ink sketches are as as raw as my work gets. I had no time to color them on the spot, and even decided to skip color all together for the sake of posting them sooner. You can also see I didn’t even crop out my notes in the margins. Sorry if you can’t read those. I don’t even understand my own handwriting sometimes!
September 17, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Sketched Sept. 10, 2012 [Click on the sketch to see a larger version]
A usual scene for us bus commuters. Sketched on one of those mini pocket sketchbooks I’m really digging lately.
June 27, 2012 at 10:08 AM
Sketched June 26, 9:03 p.m. [Click to enlarge]
Fifteen-minutes pencil sketch while riding the bus home last night. Drawing fellow bus commuters is what got me hooked on urban sketching when I moved to Seattle in 2006.
Staedler Mars-780 leadholder with HB graphite lead on 8″ by 6″ pocket sketchbook spread.
May 22, 2012 at 6:04 PM
Sketched May 21, 2012
Sarah Haije saw me holding my sketchbook and asked if I was an artist. We were both waiting for the 358 bus at Aurora Avenue and North 130th Street, right across the pedestrian bridge where I sketched neighborhood activist Richard Dyksterhuis a few years ago.
Haije said she was an artist too and we quickly started talking about the type of art we like and showed each other drawings from our sketchbooks. Her pencil drawings of fantastic images drawn from imagination very really good.
Haije, who was kind to let me do this sketch of her, said she takes the 358 every day to get to Ingraham High School, like many other kids who showed up as a pack to get on the bus a few minutes later.
I have only taken the 358 to get to some sketching locations in this area a few times, so I don’t know well who the usual riders, but it seemed to me that many may not be taking the bus by choice, like me, but because they don’t have a car or a driving license.
Haije said she’s seen “drug fights” break out between passengers. “It’s a pretty dangerous bus.”
March 23, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Sketched, March 13, 2012
When the South Lake Union streetcar opened in late 2007, I wondered who would ride those brightly colored cars.The dormant neighborhood of warehouses and light industry didn’t strike me as a destination. But since Amazon opened its campus here, I’ve seen more people riding the 1.3-mile line.
Amazon employee Guhan Venkatesan, who lives in Sammamish, said the streetcar is really convenient to reach his office after busing downtown. He admitted he could sometimes walk instead, “but I would have to walk very briskly.”
Venkatesan wasn’t the only Eastside commuter I met on the streetcar.
Joe Schulman (left), a young fellow wearing a stylish hat and reading on a Kindle, commutes from Bellevue by bus and takes the streetcar at the Westlake Hub. His stop arrived before I could ask him many questions, but he later sent me an email with his feedback. He wrote that the streetcar is only practical if he gets lucky and catches one. Otherwise it takes him less time to walk the mile than it does to wait and ride. But “if it ran twice as frequently then I would never consider walking,” he wrote.
Lindsay Stratton (below, left) a biologist at Fred Hutchinson, also takes a bus from Bellevue to downtwon before hopping on one of the streetcars. She said she appreciates the service, especially on rainy days, and that it gives the city a European vibe. “It looks more like Amsterdam,” she said.
The current scene in South Lake Union makes it easier to picture more streetcars cruising through another employment hub, First Hill, in the spring of 2014. Construction of that line between Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill begins next month.
I visited the streetcar maintenance facility on Fairview Avenue a couple of days after drawing the sketches posted above. Coincidentally, the same purple car I had drawn while holding my umbrella at the Westlake Hub was now parked indoors for a routine inspection.
Operations chief Dale Lewis shared more technical facts than I could retain as I quickly outlined this sketch under the front bogie of the parked car. But a few things he said stuck with me, like the fact that these cars came from the Czech Republic. Lewis said that Czech engineers used to be the go-to technicians for the streetcar lines of all former Soviet countries and the central European nation has become a leading manufacturer.
Lewis worked with several Czech engineers here during the first years of operation. He said a team of two or three were always on deck during the first two years –while the cars were under warranty– and they all shared an apartment in Green Lake.
Streetcar maintainer Lou Swan is a 32-year employee of King County Metro, the agency that operates the city-owned line. Streetcars are not new to this veteran mechanic, as he was assigned to the Waterfront Streetcar in the early 2000s.
Streetcar operator John Nolan told me about some of the challenges of driving the 60-foot long cars through busy traffic and distracted pedestrians who pay more attention to their cellphones than to the street. Since steering away is not an option, he has to do a lot of honking and ringing to alert them.
“People take it the wrong way, but I just don’t want to hit them,” he told me as he was getting ready to turn the car on and drive down Westlake Avenue.
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places and people to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!
March 9, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Sketched Jan. 23, 24 and Feb. 13
The Seattle Monorail never became what its creators intended 50 years ago. After the World’s Fair, it was meant to be either expanded or dismantled; the concrete columns were bolted to Fifth Avenue so they could be easily removed.
In a way, it was a failed project. But consider the lives touched by the 1.2 mile ride between downtown and Seattle Center. Think of the fun it brings to nearly 2 million tourists every year and to those who commute on it every day. And think of what it means to the people who work there.
For Abraham Abei, David Guet and Joseph Deng, all in their early 30s, the monorail has provided jobs and a path to education — tuition assistance is a perk of working for Seattle Monorail Services. These three are among the thousands of “Lost Boys of Sudan” who escaped the atrocities of their country’s civil war in the late ’80s. Their reactions to the monorail when they first saw it: “I thought it would fall off,” said Deng. And now: “It’s the best thing I ever had,” said Abei.
Jayme Gustilo, 61, a cashier and a 23-year monorail veteran, said: So what if a ride on the monorail doesn’t take you very far; “The journey is more important than the destination.”
Originally from Minnesota, Eno Yliniemi, 34, came to Seattle to do a Ph.D. in biomechanics, thinking she’d graduate to a job specializing in equipment to treat neck injuries. Instead, a temporary consulting job to help assess the monorail’s mechanical problems in the mid 2000s led to her current job as chief systems engineer for Seattle Monorail Services.
General Manager Thom Ditty credits her work supervising an overhaul of the trains in 2008 with saving the monorail when everyone thought it was doomed following a fire in 2004 and a crash in 2005. Yliniemi, however, takes the compliment in stride. She attributes the monorail’s longevity to flawless design by German builder Alweg. She said she has yet to find an error when she browses through copies of the original blueprints.
Bill Humphreys, 65, above and below, calls the monorail “a bus and a train combined.” It’s powered by electricity, but it runs on 64 tires. Sixteen tractor-trailer size “load tires” go on top of the rail and 24 run sideways on each side, guiding the trains along the track. Humphreys, a native of Texas, said he’s worked for the monorail for 12 years.
The magic of the monorail is hidden under its shiny bumpers. Technician Ryan Menor was doing routine maintenance of the brake system while I drew this sketch, where you can see one of the tires that runs perpendicular to the concrete beam.
I met Russell Noe inside a windowless office at the monorail’s Seattle Center station. To celebrate the monorail’s birthday, replicas of the original ALWEG signs have been created and now grace both trains. He held one for a few minutes so I could do my sketch.
Driver Abraham Abei, 31, enjoys meeting tourists from all over the world and when the kids run to sit across from him in the front of the monorail. “I’ll let them play the horn and they love it.”
After four years of daily monorail commute Char Bagley, 44, said the drivers and cashiers have become family. “They’re always smiling. They’re always fun. You don’t get that very often.”
David Guet, 31, worked at the Space Needle and at the airport before joining the Monorail full-time last year.
Like his colleagues Guet and Abei, Joseph Deng, 33, also came to Seattle as a “Lost Boy of Sudan,” he told me during one of his late shifts as a cashier at the Westlake Center station. He loves his job at the Monorail because “they treat their employees like their own kids.”
“It’s like a big family,” said Deng, who is studying international relations at South Seattle Community College.
Operations supervisor Milete Haile makes sure the monorail trains run on schedule and supervises the crew of drivers and cashiers. The monorail makes about 75 round trips every day.
“Have you ever thought of expanding it?” “How does it get to airport?”
The things tourists ask monorail employees like Gustilo may sound funny to locals who lived through five votes on the monorail’s future. But they speak of that potential that never materialized.
Gustilo said the monorail represents hopes, dreams and regrets. “It’s a reminder of our imagination, our ingenuity … of our own ability to create new ways of mass transportation.”
World’s Fair Anniversary
I plan to do occasional posts related to the World’s Fair 50th anniversary over the next six months. I invite you to send me your suggestions of places and people to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.
More Seattle Times coverage of the 50th anniversary at seattletimes.com/worldsfair.
March 22, 2011 at 8:01 PM
Sketched 10:15 a.m.
Moon Hyun Woo is spending a year away from his hometown, Seoul, studying English in Canada. I met him on the light rail this morning as I was headed to Beacon Hill.
Moon apologized for his English, but he didn’t need to. At 24, his English was better than mine at that age. After five months in Victoria BC, he said he was going to spend three months in Toronto. What was he doing going to SeaTac I wondered?
“It was cheaper to fly from Seattle,” he said. “It’s my parents’ money.”
By the time he gets to Toronto, Moon would have taken a boat (the Victoria Clipper), a train (the light rail), and three airplanes: He has to connect in Philadelphia and New York before arriving to Toronto.
I think Mr. and Mrs. Moon should be proud.
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