Seattle Commuting Tips for ALAMW13 (and otherwise)

I’m SO EXCITED you’re coming to Seattle! Yes, you! You’re going to have such a fantastic time! Yessssss! Books! WOO! And I’m hoping I might be able to help you out during your time here!

So I’ve been bus commuting a 70-mile round trip pretty regularly for two years now, most of those with cumbersome teacher bags in tow and wearing overdressed teacher clothes. Based on my experiences, I would like to humbly offer a few transportation suggestions if you’ll be coming to Seattle later this month for ALA.

Photo by James Thigpen.

To get around without a smartphone, I cannot help you. Seriously. Sorry. I truly don’t think I would be able to bus commute without my iPhone. I CAN tell you that bus drivers (and most riders) are VERY willing to help you puzzle out where you need to go. So if you DO have a smartphone, you should get One Bus Away and make sure you have the most recent version of Google Maps, which provides directions using public transit.

Black Sun, Isamu Noguchi

A word about Seattle distances: things might seem close, but distances are different than what you’d encounter in a suburban community. I’m from metro Detroit, where driving nine miles for a restaurant wasn’t a big deal. In Seattle, that distance puts you WAY out of the downtown core and up into suburbia. My parents stayed at a hotel that was four miles away from us, and although it was close, it was also six neighborhoods away. I tell you this not as discouragement, but just so you have some perspective.

Next: light rail from the airport. DO IT. It’s cheap, it’s roomy, and you’ll feel good about the environment. If your organization is comping you for transportation (ha?), help a pal out and share a taxi with them, but otherwise, LIGHT RAIL. A word of caution, the distance between the Sea-Tac terminal and the Sea-Tac light rail station is a littler longer than you might expect. Your hotel is probably at the University Street or Westlake Center stop.

You should get an ORCA card if you plan to use public transit any more than once during your time in Seattle. Seriously. Even just having an epurse (loading up the card with money) is cheaper than getting a physical ticket for light rail. You can even do this before you ever leave home!

From the 2010 Bucky Pop Up Party.

Don’t bring an umbrella. Seriously. Coat with hood, yes. Umbrella, no.

Photo from Roger Wilkerson.

Speaking of coats, I alternate between a puffy vest over fleece, a wool car coat, and a rain coat. They all serve me just fine; the only reason I choose one instead of the other is based on my outfit for the day, honestly. I don’t have a multiseason squall, but if you do, you’ll be set.

Boots would be nice, yes, but none of that heavy duty Sorel or L.L. Bean business. Complete overkill. These are the besssssst. For one thing, it’s not that cold here. For another, you probably won’t be walking outside THAT much. And one last thing: if you have sweaty feet, you will HATE YOUR LIFE in boots that long. I usually wear cowboy boots in the winter if I’m not wearing my rain boots.

If you get frustrated with the bus system, keep in mind, Seattle wasn’t really designed to be an enormous city. Our interstate goes underneath the Convention Center and can’t ever be widened, for goodness sake. So although our mass transit system is pretty rad, we’re obviously nothing like New York or D.C. 

Cabs will be easy enough to find downtown, but I lurrrrrve using Uber. They almost always have a deal going on, so run a search to see what you can track down.

Photo by Mr. Schu.

You’ll be close enough to the walk to the legendary Seattle Public Library. You should. Obviously.

A few other caveats, because I always like to hear those when I receive advice. I’m not terribly in shape, but I am pretty slim. Bus commuting for the larger among us, particularly with luggage, can get a little cramped. Nothing to the point where I’d advise you AGAINST it, but again, I know I’d want to know that in advance.

Also, just a friendly general public transit reminder: If I have somewhere I need to be RIGHT on time, I always try to catch a bus one earlier than I’d need just to be safe. That said, unless the weather is awful, time estimates from both One Bus Away and Google Maps are pretty darned accurate.

Any other transit-related questions? Just ask in the comments, or track me down on Twitter!