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Willie Weir : March 3rd, 2012

Seattle’s Pedestrian Friendly AMTRAK Station?

I’ve written before about our unfortunate AMTRAK station in Seattle. It has been going through renovations at a glacial pace. And someday, it will be a shining example of alternate transportation. Maybe.

But in the meantime. Wow.

I was coming out of the lobby this evening, after having paid for a couple of tickets to Portland, and I noticed a couple of young women with backpacks, giggling, and taking photos. I was in a hurry, so I wouldn’t have even noticed. Just outside the entrance to the station, there were five pedestrian signs, pointing in different directions. I tried to make sense of them, but realized that these giggling women were right … they were just silly.

I’ve always felt that the layout of this station screamed to travelers, “YOU SHOULD HAVE DRIVEN A CAR!”

Be patient travelers. Someday Seattle’s AMTRAK station will actually be pedestrian friendly. In the meantime … you can enjoy a good laugh.

Willie Weir : April 6th, 2011

Waiting for the #7

There is a moment after a long, grey winter, when, late in the afternoon, the sun breaks through the curtain of clouds, and the colors explode off the pavement. It’s brief. It’s magic. It’s spring.

Willie Weir : April 4th, 2011

Folsom, California shopping center stands as monument to car culture

I gasped in horror. No. That’s not true. I just hung my head in disappointment. Really? This is progress?

I was standing in an enormous parking lot in Folsom, California. I had a speaking engagement at the REI located at the Folsom Gateway shopping center.

A real estate website states, “Folsom Gateway II is one of Northern California’s premiere regional shopping centers.” And later offers this highlight, “Highly visible, prime retail location on the Highway 50 Freeway, viewed by 200,000 vehicles daily.”

Notice how the above description gives vehicles the gift of sight.

And that is appropriate. Because cars, not people, appear to have been the focus of this development.

Cars get the prime real estate. The entire middle of the complex–big box stores on one end of the parking lot–fast food and chain restaurants on the other. The distance between the retail and food is so great, that people get in their cars and drive across the parking lot from one to the other.

The shopping complex has followed building code, I’m sure. There are sidewalks and bike lanes and even a few little benches for people to sit. But they were all empty. The scale is so huge, so spread out, that humans find it daunting.

Does anyone really want to walk the mile and a half along the edge of the big box buildings to the Starbucks? (It’s much closer in your car).

If someone was to consider walking, the intersections are so wide that I imagined rest stations halfway across with water and snacks to prepare pedestrians for the second half of their journey.

The parking lots are clean, with lovely new banners that one would find at the entrance of a Renaissance or County Fair. But no jugglers, musicians or food booths await your arrival. In reality, the banners just dress up a an ugly, ocean of asphalt.

Premiere? Is this the best we can do?

If our goal is to increase the rates of obesity and diabetes. If we want to encourage people to stay in their cars. To walk less. To spend as little time outdoors as possible. Then this truly is a premiere example of how we should move forward.

Willie Weir : December 20th, 2010


Our pedal  into the city of Évora, Portugal was made easy by following a bike trail (ecopista) that runs north of the city about 25kms to the town of Arraiolos. The trail was flat,  mostly through farm land. Away from traffic.  The sun was out. Hoopoes (a delightful bird with a comical crest) flitted from tree to tree. The smell of fall was in the air.

Yet I was just a tad depressed. This trail served as a rail line in its former life. But like so many other rail lines, it had been abandoned.

Rails-to-Trails conversions has provided cyclists and walkers and runners with some of the best trails you’ll find on the planet. But each one also marks the death of a rail line. I want to celebrate each trail, but I’m also saddened with the loss … because I love trains.  Do we have to give up one to get the other?

The only way to have both is to find other huge projects that use public land and are graded for easy use.

I would like to propose a new non-profit group … the Interstate-to-Trails Conservancy.

OK. I might be a couple of decades early, but I’d love to live long enough to see walking, cycling and public transportation become such the social norm in the United States, that our government wonders what to do with these outdated, enormous rivers of asphalt and concrete. Imagine the grand trails and greenbelts stretching for hundreds of miles. There would even be room to run rail lines.  And instead of old rail cars as cute trail-side snack bars and restaurants … maybe we’ll see old converted semi’s and RV’s instead.

Just dreaming.

Willie Weir : October 28th, 2010

A Transit Nerd’s Dream Day in Lisbon

The goal. To ride on every trolley and funicular line in Lisbon in one day.

Kat and I leave our hotel/hostel (no bunk beds, but a shared kitchen and bathrooms) and walk two minutes to the Metro. We descend the steps, buy tickets and catch the blue line toward downtown.

Some of the folks around us have the look of boredom and drudgery of daily commuters. But we are excited. Giddy even. This will be a day filled with transit in a big beautiful city.  I love riding any kind of transit.  Give me a bus pass and I am one happy camper. But trains and trolleys?–I’m seven-year-old-at-Disneyland-happy.

We get off at the Restauradores station and walk less than a block to our first funicular stop. Funiculars (here in Lisbon they are called “Ascensores”, are vertical trains made to climb up Continue reading A Transit Nerd’s Dream Day in Lisbon

Kat Marriner : March 10th, 2010

Where is my carrot?

I just received an invitation to a meet-up with the makers of Pandora (the Music Genome Project)  held at Seattle’s downtown public library, and it was all well and good until I got to this:

Parking: Pandora will provide complimentary parking for attendees at the Seattle Public Library parking garage on Spring Street between 4th and 5th Ave. The entrance is mid-block on the south side of Spring St.   Please bring the ticket from the machine to the meeting and you will be given a coupon that you can present to the parking lot attendant after the event.

Really? Pandora is going to pay people for driving to downtown Seattle? That just strikes me as an old, tired way of thinking which I didn’t expect from such an exciting new company and our über modern library.

So this was my response to their invitation:

Hi Tim,
It would be wonderfully  progressive if Pandora gave an incentive for arriving by public transportation, foot or bicycle instead of rewarding people for driving a vehicle to a downtown urban center. You want to change the way we listen to music. I want to change the way we live in our communities.

Does the Seattle Public Library and Pandora really want people to drive to the event? They offered drivers a carrot…

Willie Weir : October 7th, 2009

First Impressions: A Tale of Two Train Stations

Portland Train Station

Portland's Train Station

Seattle's Train Station

Seattle's Train Station

Two cities. Two train stations. Two completely different vibes and messages.

Portland’s AMTRAK station:
Walk outside the doors and you see the Greyhound station 500 feet away. A light rail train glides by. Bike paths with signage pointing you toward downtown are clear and highly visible. Wide sidewalks too.
The message is clear without a word being spoken. The physical surroundings announce, “Welcome to our city. Come explore. We assume you don’t have your own car. In fact, thanks for not driving.”

Seattle’s AMTRAK station:
Walk outside the doors and … you are greeted by an ENORMOUS parking lot for Qwest field. A few taxi’s are waiting at the curb. Yes. Seattle has bike lanes and local bus service, even light rail. But where are they? I guess you have to be a local to know that the Greyhound station is across town. No easy bus connection and a very long walk with baggage. The bus tunnel and light rail are a couple of blocks away … but that appears to be privaleged information as well.

The physical environment screams, “You’re on your own. Take a cab and remember to drive your own car next time.”

First impressions? As a cyclist or pedestrian, Portland embraces you … while Seattle tolerates you.

Kat Marriner : September 15th, 2009

Think they’ll take bikes on that thing?


Dragon Boats racing along Portland's waterfront

We’d been in Portland only a couple hours and already we had cheered on cancer survivors paddling dragon boats, wondered through a street fair, and wove our way along the Waterfront Park bike path when we came upon Portland’s aerial tram.

A few months ago, when we were eagerly waiting for Seattle’s first line of light rail to open, we took a quick trip to Portland just to ride the rails. We trained and trolleyed, but didn’t have the time to hop on their newly opened tram connecting the waterfront to the hospital complex high on the hill. It was a stone left unturned, and here we were with our loaded touring bikes wanting to take that ride.

Portland Ariel Tram

Portland Ariel Tram

We watched a car come into the station and passengers offload and onload when I asked Willie if he thought we could take  bikes on that thing? He turned to me and said, “They’re not going to take bikes on that thing.” It was said with a definitive, almost scornful tone. So I smiled, walked over to the attenedent and asked the very same question. Just as definitive, but with an incredulous tone that I would even ask such a question, he said, “Of course you can take your bike.”

Welcome to Portland.

Willie Weir : September 14th, 2009

No Box Required

AMTRAK with the New York Times

AMTRAK with the New York Times

No Box Required

Riding a bike is a joy. Traveling with a bike can be a major hassle. Once you stop pedaling, a bike can be a traveling liability. Most buses, trains and airplanes in the US require you to box your bike. But times are changing. More and more city buses have bike racks. You can bring your bike on the Sounder commuter train … and light rail … and even AMTRAK.

Our Portland adventure begins by catching the 7:30am AMTRAK Cascades. Tickets purchased a month ago, along with $5 tickets for our bikes. The baggage car has racks for several bikes. It is a good time to make your reservation early, because the racks fill up, and then you are stuck having to box your bike.

For the next 3 1/2 hours we will glide along the rails (stopping for freight traffic, no doubt), sip our morning coffee from our leaking thermos, and read the Sunday New York Times while the scenery rolls by.

When we arrive in Portland, we’ll grab our bikes off the racks in the luggage department–attach our panniers, and begin our Pedal Portland adventure.

Willie Weir : September 11th, 2009

The Getaway

Heather Pass--North Cascades

Heather Pass--North Cascades

Probably the thing we miss most about not having a car is the getaway. The ability to zoom out of the city and be out on a trail in the mountains. It is possible to do this via public transit, but it takes lots of time. We had an offer of a cabin in Mazama from a friend. It was time to rent a car.

The beauty about a rental car is that everything generally works.  Our Chevy Aveo got around 30 mpg. We used it to transport us (and our cat … he didn’t hike) our gear and way too much food out to Mazama. We hiked a loop trail up the Heather Pass, attended the Winthrop Rodeo, bought 20 lbs of the sweetest, juiciest nectarines this side of Eden and wandered around back roads just because we could.Winthrop Rodeo

Since renting a car for a week is generally less expensive than for three or four days … back in Seattle we took the opportunity to run errands that are normally a hassle on our bikes.

Then we returned the car. No need to worry about whether it needs new brakes or a tuneup. No oil is leaking out into our gutter and out into the Puget Sound. A perfect getaway.