Bussin’ it in the Sea

Taking a page from the Buschick and DBH playbooks, I opted to utilize the Seattle public transportation system to cart me between work, my weekly digital photography workshop and back home each Thursday for the next 5 weeks. I must concur with the sentiments of my Metro aficionados by stating, unequivocally, the bus system in Seattle is excellent considering a tyro like me did fairly well after avoiding the bus like the plague since the intern years (circa 1997).

I visited the Metro Online Trip Planner weeks ago to plan my route. The simple-to-navigate site helped me quickly determine a practically door-to-door route to get from 148th Ave NE & NE 40th St in Bellevue to 12th Ave & E Marion St in Seattle in 70 minutes using 3 buses (242 to 545 to 12).

The first of the five classes for the digital photography workshop I am enrolled in was today so it was time to put my bus plan into action. A few times I considered backing out and just driving myself but I figured it was now or never and a bus adventure would surely provide better blog fodder than being stuck in traffic by my lonesome.

JS, one of my few remaining friends sans blog, dropped me off at the transit center since we had just finished Kickin’ Ittm. After noticing I had apparently missed the 242 (great start to the trip!) JS pointed out the 545 Express departed directly from the same transit center as well. Sure enough the 545 arrived around 4:28PM and I was on my way. Muchos propos (or is that Los propos grande?) to JS for saving me an unnecessary transfer. The 545 whisked me across the SR-520 bridge and I was in downtown Seattle in under 30 minutes.

Buschick told me beforehand the 545 to 12 transfer was unnecessary if I did not mind hoofing it about a mile from 5th & Madison to Photographic Center Northwest (PCNW) located at 12th & Marion. Since I arrived downtown much quicker than originally anticipated, I had time to kill and decided to see just how bad the walk would be. Aside from 99.44% of the one mile walk being uphill it was not too bad since it was a nice (read: not raining) day and the fresh air did me some good. It took me from the time I departed the 545 at 5:03 exactly 20 minutes to arrive at PCNW. This included some unnecessary meandering on my part since I insisted on staying on Marion as much as possible despite it inconveniently terminating into I-5 and Broadway. (I will be sure to take Madison to 12th in the future.)

The return trip was a bit more <ahem> interesting:

  1. The class ended 10 minutes early so I figured I would try to catch the 550 at 9:15 rather than 9:45.
  2. It was now raining.
  3. I was not dressed for chasing buses (slacks, buttoned-down shirt, hard bottom dress shoes, 15lb backpack full of photography equipment).

Despite the reduced odds of making it 1.5 miles (12th & Marion to 2nd & Spring in 25 minutes) created by #2 and #3 I made up my mind to catch that bus mainly because I did not feel like hanging around downtown Seattle for an additional 30 minutes. I called my wife to confirm my route and for a pep talk as I walked briskly. When I made it to 11th & Madison I saw the #12 bus and quickly/correctly realized it could get me to 2nd & Madison much quicker than going à pied. The problem: The bus and I were on opposite sides of the street and the bus was a block ahead. This turned out to be a big problem. I decided to go olskool and chase the bus. I darted through traffic to cross the street and started closing the distance so quickly I actually thought I had a chance. The light turned green and the bus left me about 15 yards back. I briefly slowed to a slight jog peering ahead for the next bus stop and the state of the next stoplight. The bus came to a halt and the light was red so I again broke into a frantic sprint. This time I only got within 30 yards. I kept running undaunted because I was sweating, mad and going to catch that damned bus despite #2 and #3 above.

Somewhere along the line I noticed I was now running downhill at a breakneck pace on a steep decline on slick pavement in hard bottom shoes. More importantly, the 12 was no longer in sight. Glancing at my watch I realized I now had to keep running or risk missing the 550 as well. Great!

I am sure I was a sight to behold in the eyes of the few pedestrians in the vicinity. One guy had headphones on walking away from me and at the last minute must have heard my thunderous footfalls and heavy breathing as I ran upon him since he jumped and spun around as if preparing to defend himself (on guard!). I neither had the time nor energy to laugh so I just kept truckin’. I made it to 2nd & Madison at 9:05, made a left onto 2nd and kept running south hell-bent on making it to Spring to catch that 9:15 bus.

Anyone familiar with the Seattle downtown area will probably immediately notice the error in the previous sentence. For those of you not familiar, let me just say I made it to 2nd & James before realizing something seemed very wrong. At this point saying I was winded would be an understatement just as saying I was pissed would be. I figured, “I should have hit Spring by now” and the dang bus was due to arrive at 2nd & Spring in five minutes. So, what do I do when I don’t have a clue? I used a lifeline and called the boss (you can call her my wife). She flatly told me Spring is north of Madison. Yes, that is right damas y caballeros, I had just run sprinted four city blocks in the wrong friggin’ direction! Even better news, I now had less than three minutes to run back the other way…uphill. :furious:

How did that last screw-up happen? I blame the Seattle city planners. As you can see from the highlight circles in the image below, Spring is south of Madison when walking north on 12th from Marion (which is the route I took upon leaving PCNW). After crossing Broadway, Madison is south of Spring. My mental snapshot of the relative order of the streets I had passed along my journey had worked against me.

The good news is I made it in time to catch the 9:15 bus. The aggravating news is the bus also stopped at 2nd & Cherry but I must have been too preoccupied emulating Lance Armstrong in the Pyrenees without the bike to notice.

While I now fully endorse the idea of bussing it in Seattle, navigating around downtown should be left to the pros.

Street map of downtown Seattle


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