From Two Transit Cities, Lessons for Seattle
As I prepare to leave Zurich and return to the US, let me share a few final impressions and thoughts about this wonderful journey of discovery.
The people of Zurich have an extraordinary attachment to their tram system. They believe the tram is an integral part of their city’s identity and they have developed deep feelings of ownership and pride in the high quality service the tram system provides. Now I, too, share this feeling. The number 15 tram (see photo) became my tram. It stopped one block from my hotel and I took the 15 to the city center and several key transfer points where I could catch other trams to my destinations. (Two other tram lines also stopped by the hotel and I used these occasionally to access other parts of the network – overlapping lines providing choices yet without redundancy)
Riding the 15 (or, to be honest, any Zurich tram) I experienced the city going by the tram window in an up close and personal way, and I enjoyed a smooth and quiet ride without doubting that I would arrive on time to my destination.
On this day, however, what really got me to the airport is the commuter rail S-Bahn train (see photo of red train) from the main station – Hauphbahnhof . The ride took only 12 minutes, and delivered me directly to the terminal.
After numerous security checks and after settling into my seat for the flight to Amsterdam (first leg of the trip home), I have the opportunity to reflect upon some of the lessons learned from Munich and Zurich. Both cities have demonstrated that it is possible to live in a modern and highly developed city without a private car IF the city has the density, mixed-use development, walkability/bikabiity to support high ridership; AND provides a transit system that takes you where you wish to go and when, is frequent, reliable, safe and comfortable; AND dramatically reduces incentives to drive such as free parking. Munich and Zurich are such cities.
Seattle can be such a city.
How? In a nutshell, we must keep doing what we are doing but do it more assertively and raise the bar of success. Specifically, Seattle must:
- Continue to direct housing and job growth to achieve higher densities.
- Manage future growth and take a strong and clear policy stand on behalf of the absolute necessity of using public transit to move people.
- Commit to implementing an assertive system of transit priority measures, wherever feasible, using person delay and transit speed and reliability as the primary evaluation criteria.
- Advocate for new, locally-generated, dedicated and ongoing funding for in-city and regional transit services and infrastructure.
- Use the Seattle Transit Master Plan guidelines to achieve desired service frequencies.
- Provide real-time information technology or actual schedules at all stops for all lines.
- Advocate for a system of one ticket for all modes and for all regional service providers (“Ein Ticket fur alles”).
- Work with city’s transit partners to develop and implement a creative, systemic and ongoing public outreach, education and marketing campaign to grow ridership and “brand” public transit as the preferred mode for most in-city trips.
- Make walking and biking the ways to get to transit.
I’ll end here with a heartfelt thanks to the German Marshall Fund in America for its generous support of my fellowship and the opportunity to meet and interact with so many capable and dedicated transportation professionals in Munich and Zurich. It has been the engagement and participation of these individuals who have made my time abroad so fruitful and satisfying. I offer them my sincerest gratitude and respect.
Tony Mazzella is strategic advisor at the City of Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). Tony recently visited Munich and Zurich to study how each city has prioritized surface-running transit—mainly by implementing transit-only lanes and traffic signal priority at intersections– over general-purpose traffic. Tony interviewed transportation professionals, elected officials, community and business stakeholders to understand the policy, political and technical evolutions which occurred that have each city to develop high-quality transit systems. He also observed the operation of transit priority measures in each city and reviewed the data associated with their performance. He will use the results of his fellowship to help develop transit prioritization policy initiatives and implement engineering solutions that help create the frequent, reliable and well-designed surface transit system that Seattle aspires to.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.