Energy Blog: Why I Take the Bus: It’s Safer, Creates Community, Provides Quality Time

By Andy Silber

Why I’m taking the bus

I’m starting this blog entry as I ride the bus back from my new job at Microsoft. My new commute has gotten me thinking about transportation in King County. Usually it’s pretty obvious whether or not I’m going to take the bus or drive to work. Sometimes there has been a good bus route and expensive parking (downtown/U-district) and in other cases there was an easy drive with free parking and no good bus options (e.g. Kent from West Seattle). The one exception was when I worked in Lynwood, when the options were a bad bus commute or bad driving with free parking.

At Microsoft my option was a soul-sucking drive and free parking or two express buses and an only slightly longer commute time. I also factored in the carbon emissions and the cost of driving. The fact that I’m typing this on the bus tells you where I landed. What tipped my decision was that the 545 I take from downtown to Redmond runs so often that you never need to wait more than a few minutes for a bus. That, and the soul-sucking nature of the drive. Also an NPR pledge drive was upcoming, which really made the prospect of driving inconceivable. But this also has me thinking about some other issues about taking transit here.

Induced Demand and dedicated right-of-ways

My two buses (the 21X and 545) have lots in common: they run often at rush hour and they’re packed. The fact that they both run often is critical to my decision not to drive. If you have to change buses and they only run every 20 minutes, a bad day might mean an extra 40 minutes getting home.

Induced demand is the traffic version of “If you build it, they will come”. It’s usually discussed in the context of roads and that you can’t build your way out of congestion. But what is less discussed is how it can work for transit. Imagine a route with a bus that runs every 30 minutes and is somewhat crowded. If there are sufficient numbers of people going where that bus is going, most will say that the bus doesn’t run often enough, so they drive. If you add more buses, some people will decide that the bus is convenient enough. This is even more critical if you need to take two buses. Imagine a system where every bus ran every 5 minutes. You wouldn’t care much that it took two, since you would never have to wait for a bus or check the schedule.

The other issue is dedicated transit corridors. Several of the reasons that my bus commute isn’t much longer than driving are the dedicated right-of-ways on the West Seattle bridge, 3rd Ave. downtown and westbound SR520. Still, my bus spent 20 minutes today fighting it’s way out of downtown because sometimes the buses have trouble making the right turn from 3rd Ave. onto Columbia.

Orca card

Another thing that can slow the buses is when someone pays cash, which is common at the stop I use in the morning. It takes on average about 20-30 seconds to pay. The regular commuters all pay with an Orca pass, which takes basically no time at all. How much does this fumbling for change cost? Let’s say a sitting bus costs $100 an hour; that’s for the driver’s time, the value of an idle asset (the bus) and the value of the time of everyone sitting in the bus (that’s valuing their time at less than minimum wage if the bus is full). So a minute of time is worth $1.67. The cost of paying $2.75 is about $0.80, counting only the time everyone is sitting and waiting. We have a perfectly good solution to this, the Orca card. So why isn’t everyone using it?

For those who don’t know, the Orca card is a debit card that all of our region’s transit agencies are using. I think it works great and many employers (including Microsoft) provide one to every employee for free. They come in two flavors:

  • A pass for unlimited rides up to a certain cost depending on the type of pass you buy
  • A purse that holds money like a standard debit card and the cost of your bus/boat/train ride is subtracted from your account.

The Orca Pass saves you money if you take the bus more than 18 roundtrips a month. If you ride less than that, you’re better off buying individual tickets or an Orca purse. If you use the Orca card as a purse you don’t save any money vs. pouring change into the fare box, it’s just more convenient. We have created no incentives to get an Orca purse other than convenience and a weak incentive to get a pass. For comparison Boston’s equivalent, the CarlieCard, gives a 15% discount when used as a purse and you break even on a pass if you ride transit for only 14 days a month.

There is a reason to create a strong incentive to buy Orca cards beyond keeping the buses moving. People who have passes are more likely to take transit. Should I drive from my house to the Junction, where there’s free parking, or take the bus? If I have a pass, I might take the bus. If I have to spend $5 round trip, I’ll drive. If someone occasionally takes the bus, they’re not going to buy a pass. But once they have a pass, they are much more likely to move from being an occasional bus rider to a regular bus rider. The same with a purse: If they have $20 in their Orca card, they’re more likely to take the bus. We need to increase the incentives for everyone to participate in the Orca card program.

Here’s an out-of-the-box idea: how about a property tax assessment to pay to get an Orca card for every resident in Seattle. The cost for a business is about $200 a year, but I’m guessing the city could get a volume discount.


One of the reasons to take the bus that people don’t think about is safety. I’ve often heard people cite personal safety as one of the reasons they don’t take the bus. But statistics actually argue the opposite. Taking the bus is over 10 times safer than driving. An attack on the bus gets lots of news, because it is so rare. A fatal car accident is only news if it ties up traffic.


One of the things I like to do is take the bus with my son. It’s quality time for us to talk or read. When I’m driving he often wants me to look at something, which is generally a bad idea. On the bus, it’s perfect.

I’ve met lots of my neighbors on the bus. This morning I chatted with a neighbor who I rarely talk with other than on the bus. I can’t tell you how often I’m at an event and someone recognizes me from the 21.

Why drivers should support transit

As I sit in a crowded bus, I wonder how we can fund more transit. Looking at a broader view of how to manage our limited resource of road space, I think drivers should pay more to support transit for their own selfish reasons. I have as much right to put my car on the road as John R. Public (you can guess what the R stands for). But by choosing to take the bus, I improve his commute. This is just another variant of the tragedy of the commons, where the road takes the place of the cow pasture. How much is he willing to pay to improve his own commute? Part of the funds from the SR520 toll will be to support transit in that corridor. That is in the best interest of drivers, as well as those who sit in the buses. Someone needs to quantify how much each dollar of transit support speeds the commute for those left in their cars for whatever reason. That would help us gain more support for transit via tolls, or at least weaken the arguments of those who want to end all support for transit.

Why do you take the bus (or rail)? I’d love to hear in the comments section. I promise to read all responses while sitting on the bus.


Mandatory Workshops Now Required for Match Fund Large Projects ($100K)

Need funds to support your neighborhood project?

Come to a Neighborhood Matching Fund workshop to learn about applying to the Large Projects Fund which provides matching awards of up to $100,000 to neighborhood groups for community-building projects. Attendance at one of the workshops is required in order to submit an application in July.

At the workshop attendees will get an overview of the Neighborhood Matching Fund, learn about the new Large Projects Fund application process and requirements, and hear from other city of Seattle departments and Seattle Public Schools.

Interested applicants can choose from one of the following workshops:

Central Area

  • Thursday, April 19, 5:45 pm to 7:45 pm
  • Douglass Truth Library, 2300 E Yesler Way (E Yesler @ 23 Ave., 2 blocks South of Garfield High School)

North Area

  • Tuesday, April 24, 5:45 pm to 7:45 pm
  • Greenwood Library, 8016 Greenwood Ave N (Greenwood Ave N @ N 81st St.)

South Area

  • Saturday, April 28, 10:00 am to 12:00 noon
  • Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW (across from Delridge Skate Park and Delridge Community Center, Delridge Way SW @ SW Genesee St.)

For information contact Mercedes Tenuta at 206-233-0093 or email

Continue reading “Mandatory Workshops Now Required for Match Fund Large Projects ($100K)”

COWS Community Orchard of West Seattle

The Community Orchard of West Seattle is in it’s second year and is now a project of Sustainable West Seattle. In it’s first year COWS converted a narrow strip of unused land on the north end of the South Seattle Community College into a working community garden and a growing orchard for the near future. The narrow strip that was available truly resembles in size and layout what most folks would call a lawn. Last year COWS donated approximately 300 pounds of fresh organic produce to the local food banks and this year plans for an increased yield.
For the most part COWS is a volunteer operated and self revenue operation after receiving it’s initial grant to get started. Every Tuesday between 2pm and 4pm COWS hosts the weekly Health and Harvest work party. This is a great opportunity to learn some advanced gardening techniques and get in some spring exercise. Other events include an annual seed sale and plant sale. Volunteering is very rewarding!
COWS website



Please join us!

City Seeking Tree Lovers for New Steward Program

Do you love trees? Do you want to see more trees planted in your neighborhood? More attention paid to existing trees? Are you interested in volunteering in your community and learning more about urban forestry? The Tree Ambassador program is for you!

Applications are being accepted through April 16.

The Tree Ambassador program empowers residents to become stewards of the urban forest and serve as resources for their local community. Tree Ambassadors are trained in the basics of urban forestry and community organizing. Tree Ambassadors work in teams to develop neighborhood projects such as tree walks, invasive species removal workdays, and/or tree plantings.

Currently 23 percent of Seattle is covered with tree canopy. The City has a goal to reach 30 percent canopy cover by 2037. The 2011 Tree Ambassador cohort cared for 113 street trees in Capitol Hill, developed a Tree Walk around Greenlake, produced brochures on conifers and ivy, staffed tables at many local neighborhood events, and more! What will 2012’s cohort do?

You can learn more about the program and apply by visiting Applications are being accepted through April 16 for teams of two to four people to serve as local neighborhood advocates for urban trees. Individuals may apply, but they would be expected to form a team with people who live close to them. Tree Ambassadors must live in Seattle.

Seattle’s urban forest needs you – apply today!

For more information go to, or contact Jana Dilley, Seattle reLeaf Program Manager, Seattle Public Utilities, via email at or by phone at 206-615-1668.


April Community Film & Forum: Young Farmers & Their Stories of Success & Learning

Join Sustainable West Seattle at our next Community Forum  for a screening of The Greenhorns,  Monday, April 16 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm at the Senior Center of West Seattle.

The film explores the lives of America’s young farming community – their spirit, practices, and needs. The filmmakers hope that by broadcasting the stories and voices of these young farmers, a case can be made for those considering a career in agriculture.  The film aims to embolden America’s young farmers, to entice them, and to recruit them into farming.

Following the film, SWS will have  a panel discussion comprised with new farmers who will tell their stories of success and learning.  We’re focusing on urban farmers who have made a go at making this a career in the Seattle and Puget Sound areas.

Panelists include:

Becky Warner of City Grown Farms

Clarice Swanson of Blue Valley Meats

This film presentation is sponsored by

SWS will be hosting an organic seed sale before and after the forum. Price will be one dollar ($1) for each organic seed packet, with proceeds benefiting the Community Orchard of West Seattle. After the forum go home and start planting.

8th Annual Gathering of Neighbors @ Chief Sealth International High School

Join your neighbors Saturday, April 21 at Chief Sealth High School for the 8th Annual Gathering of Neighbors.

Make connections with dozens of local businesses, community groups, non-profits, and social service providers from across the West Seattle Peninsula, discover hidden resources right in your own neighborhoods, and learn more about how you can get involved in making our community an even better place to live!  Sustainable West Seattle will be there, look for us.

The public event kicks off at 11:00 am with the Neighborhood Resource Fair, featuring a special themed area this year on “Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery.” One section of the information tables and vendors will feature children’s activities and prizes, a demonstration hub, and preparedness speakers on how your family and your home can Be Prepared for when disaster strikes.

Hear from the Neighborhood Emergency Communication Hubs, City of Seattle Office of Emergency Management, King County Public Health Reserve Corps, West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network, West Seattle Amateur Radio Club, Seattle Auxiliary Communication Service, Washington State Animal Response Team, and City of Seattle Home Retrofit Program! PLUS, other community groups, government agencies, and local businesses…

The fair continues through 3:00 pm featuring local food and entertainment from 1:00-3:00 pm. Come gather with your neighbors and share in food trucks, dessert fundraiser tables, and fine performances you won’t want to miss! Local performers will include a musical duo, martial arts demonstration, and students from the Denny/Sealth Music department.

Location for the event is the new gallery space at the main, SW Thistle Street, entrance to Chief Sealth International High School.


Wastewater Division Sets Community Meetings for Barton Combined Sewer Overflow Project

King County invites the West Seattle community to attend one of two public meetings on the Barton CSO Control Project.

The first meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at the Westside School, 7740 34th Avenue SW, from 6:30-8:30 pm.

The second meeting will be held on Saturday, March 31 at High Point Community Center, 6920 34th Ave SW, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm noon. The same information will be presented at both mee


At these meetings, the project team will share information about the following:

  • Streets selected for detailed evaluation
  • Process used for street selection
  • Next steps
  • Opportunities for community input

For more information or to have questions answered, contact Kristine Cramer, Community Services and Environmental Planning, Wastewater Treatment Division by phone at 206-263.3


184 or email at, or by checking the project website at


How Design Impacts Our Lives: Presentation @ Mt. Baker Community Club

Interested in great design?  Interested in how design can change or impact our lives?  Then there’s a great event just for you: the Living Principles, The next 25 years of design in the Northwest.

This is about purposeful action. Come hear top panelists speak on creating positive cultural change. Chase Jarvis, Joshua Berger of PLAZM and Liquid Agency, and Brian Geller of Seattle 2030 District share how their own businesses, projects and life are reflected in the environment, people, economy and culture and its relation to art and design.

We’ve built in social and network time before the event, come be inspired on how design and designers are taking purposeful action in their career and lives.


  • Thursday, March 22
  • 6:00 pm until 9:00 pm
  • Mount Baker Community Club, 2811 Mt Rainier Dr S

A short in-city commute, the Mt Baker Community Club is located between the Madison Park and Seward Park neighborhoods near beautiful Lake Washington.

Tickets are available from Eventbrite at

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Solar Washington Monthly Meeting: Solar Permitting in Washington

Join Solar Washington for their next monthly meeting,at their new meeting venue! Our meeting venue has permanently changed to the Mountaineer’s Club in Magnusson Park, 7700 Sand Point Way NE.

This month’s topic is Solar Permitting in Washington State: Standardized? Streamlined?

Solar Washington is working with the Department of Commerce and local jurisdictions to explore the potential for streamlined, standardized permitting of rooftop solar PV across the state. Join us for a discussion with John Backman of eGov, an online permitting platform used across multiple Washington jurisdictions, as he talks with installers and building officials, to hear how we might bring Washington’s patchwork permit system into a business-friendly standard.

A big thanks to our Gigawatt sponsor Sunergy Systems for hosting this month’s meeting!

See you at the Mountaineers Program Center, Magnusson Park. To attend the meeting by Webinar, using our all-new webcast system, click here.

West Seattle Garden Tour Benefits West Seattle & Nearby Organizations

The West Seattle Garden Tour celebrates “The Art of Gardening” for its 18th year on Sunday, July 15, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. This year’s self-guided tour showcases nine fabulous residential gardens, including a former winning garden in the Pacific Northwest Gardens competition, and includes a noontime lecture by Lorene Edwards Forkner. Ticket books are $15 per person (children 12 and under are free) and are available in June at Seattle area outlets. Ticket vouchers are also available online from

As a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, net proceeds from the tour benefit local educational and horticultural projects and community gardens. Our 2012 beneficiaries are: The Bloedel Reserve, Neighborhood House YELS, Highline Botanical Garden, Kubota Garden, Barton Street Community Garden, Community Orchard of West Seattle, Seattle Chinese Garden and ArtsWest Theatre.

Visit for additional information on ticket book outlets, the gardens, lecture, our beneficiaries and sponsors and this year’s raffle items.