The GeekWire team gathers at the finish line in West Seattle after completing The GeekWire Great Race II from downtown Seattle last week. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
We had a ton of fun testing Seattle’s transportation options through rush hour traffic during our inaugural GeekWire Great Race back in 2017.
Last week, a group of GeekWire employees and contributors gathered at the base of the Amazon Spheres near downtown Seattle. We took off at 4:30 p.m., just as the afternoon commute thickened, and headed to our destination in West Seattle at the home of GeekWire Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Holly Grambihler.
GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop zips to the finish line in West Seattle aboard a LINK electric scooter. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
We hopped on and into familiar methods of transportation: personal vehicles, King County Metro bus, and the Onewheel — which took first place in 2017.
But we also added some new modes to the competition:
Shared scooters, which arrived in Seattle last year and have racked up more than 700,000 rides since September, according to SDOT. That compares to 285,100 trips since September for Seattle’s shared bicycles.
E-bikes, which are growing in popularity, partly due to the pandemic.
An old fashioned yellow taxi, which is making a comeback with Uber and Lyft prices rising.
Based on data from INRIX, our specific route via personal vehicle was estimated at 34 minutes, accounting for time of day, traffic patterns, and the West Seattle Bridge being closed. Those riding bikes or bus were able to take a shortcut underneath the bridge that does not allow cars during the day. The Water Taxi also provided a more direct route to what some now refer to as “Accidental Island.”
Google Maps’ proposed route via car for The Great Race II.
We all encountered various obstacles on our respective treks: flat bike tires, bumper-to-bumper traffic, scooters with no battery life.
In the end, it was GeekWire reporter Kurt Schlosser who arrived at the finish line first, zooming in on a VanMoof e-bike. Here’s how the final results ended up:
Some key takeaways:
Yellow Cab not only beat Lyft by nine minutes, but was nearly $20 cheaper.
The three owned/borrowed options that cost zero dollars — e-bike, Onewheel, and regular bike — finished No. 1, No. 4, and No. 6, respectively. They also had zero carbon footprint. Mike, riding his manual bicycle, accrued a fee due to a flat tire that needed repair.
GIG Car Share was the most expensive trip, though the fare was inflated because Laurel wasn’t able to leave her vehicle at the destination. It was out of GIG’s coverage area.
Shared scooters and e-bikes came with complications, such as low battery and unclear app notifications.
Read on for recaps of each transportation method.
GeekWire reporter Kurt Schlosser
Position: 1st place
Time: 32 minutes
GeekWire’s Kurt Schlosser with a loaner electric bike from VanMoof in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Mike Lewis)
My journey from Amazon’s headquarters to West Seattle started in a new electric-bike shop at the base of one of Amazon’s newer buildings, where Amsterdam-based VanMoof has set up shop on 8th Ave.
The 12-year-old company’s only other U.S. shops are in San Francisco and Brooklyn, N.Y., but a store is coming to Los Angeles this fall and a service workshop has opened in Washington, D.C., with another planned for Portland, Ore.
For my ride I was hopping on a test-ride loaner of the company’s new S3 pedal-assisted electric bike, and before even turning the thing on I was immediately attracted to the sleek design. Maybe the Dutch should just make all the bikes?
The S3 retails for $2,298, but the shop’s location on the Amazon campus is noteworthy because employees who pay around $83 a month to lease one can get reimbursed through the tech giant’s bicycle commuter benefit.
After downloading the VanMoof app and fiddling with the bike’s controls, I set off pretty confident that no one in a car would beat me to West Seattle. My ride from the Spheres involved a quick dash west and south through Belltown, past Pike Place Market to the waterfront. I eventually picked up the bike lane along East Marginal Way South — where I only had to avoid one large, dead rat. I stopped to snap pictures of Mount Rainier from the West Seattle Bridge Trail along the lower Spokane Street Bridge and I grabbed a selfie with downtown Seattle as the backdrop across the water from Salty’s on Alki.
Kurt takes a quick pit stop to enjoy the view from Alki.
GeekWire reporter Mike Lewis was leading and hanging with me for the entire ride on his human-powered road bike until he got a flat tire. “That’s part of the race,” he told me as he stopped to make a repair and I zipped off. I cruised up California Way SW at 18 mph, using VanMoof’s “Turbo Boost” mode to make the hillclimb a breeze — and to pass another Seattle e-biker who was going way slower.
I hit the finish line at the top of the hill at 5:02 p.m., 32 minutes after leaving the Spheres, and surprising the post-race party hosts who weren’t expecting such a quick commuter.
Those considering the route by bike should beware of some sketchy construction obstacles along the Seattle waterfront, and you have to be careful navigating a few crosswalks beneath the West Seattle Bridge. But all in all it was a dream bike commute — way better than any hour-long car ride I’ve done to get to the neighborhood during the bridge closure.
The only downside was that it was over so fast, and my VanMoof experience was a short one.
GeekWire Project & Membership Manager Shaun Dolence
Method: Run + Water Taxi
Position: 2nd place
Time: 41 minutes
Cost: $5.75 (Water Taxi fee)
First-place finisher Kurt Schlosser, right, taps on his watch as Shaun Dolence jogs to the finish line in West Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
Running is great exercise, but thanks to advancement in technology, there are far more efficient methods that can be used to get from point A to point B. Without the West Seattle Bridge and increased amounts of traffic around the city, however, maybe there isn’t such a gap in efficiency.
Despite my obvious limitations when it comes to fitness and endurance (this body is not built to run fast or long distances, at least in its current state), I agreed to jog from the Amazon Spheres to West Seattle. I did plan to “cheat” and take the King County Water Taxi. I might be crazy, but I’m not stupid … I think?
Shaun on the Water Taxi, tired from his run.
It’s about 1.5 miles from the Spheres to Pier 50, where the Water Taxi departs. And it’s about 1.5 miles from the Water Taxi to the final destination in West Seattle. Not too bad; couldn’t be much worse than one of those dreadful running days in high school gym class.
The weather was great — it wasn’t too hot and there was a gentle breeze — and having a legitimate competition probably kicked in adrenaline you won’t get on your average evening jog.
Here’s what I didn’t account for, however: the Water Taxi runs every 35 minutes, and the route on the other side is almost exclusively uphill. If I missed the earliest Water Taxi, I’d definitely lose the race. And hills are unavoidable, so pain and fatigue was inevitable.
When I left the Spheres at 4:30 p.m., I had less than 15 minutes to make it to Pier 50. Fortunately, it’s mostly downhill, but I still had to hustle through stoplights and crowds of tourists. I made it to the Water Taxi with only a few minutes to spare, and just enough time to figure out the ticket kiosk (which was unusually slow, and my body had converted to survival mode so even the simplest of tasks proved to be challenging).
I’ve never complained about masks or thought they were an inconvenience. But once onboard the Water Taxi, I realized it was the last thing I wanted to wear while sucking wind, overheated, and out of breath. They’re still required while traveling, though, so I sucked it up — no pun intended. I was thankful for six feet of separation, however, as I didn’t want to sit next to anyone while breathing heavy and dripping sweat.
I will say the break was nice, and the trip across the pond was great. No one has ever complained about taking a ferry on a picturesque Seattle evening in the summer.
Once we reached the other side, it was super easy to disembark. There was a mix of foot traffic and cyclists, but everyone was polite and exited the boat in orderly fashion — quite literally smooth sailing.
If I did this every day I’d be in the best shape of my life, but I would rather get the bridge repaired and have a faster commute via automobile.
I think my body was in recovery and prepared for a post-run beer, but I knew there was still a little over a mile to go. Not wanting to lose too badly and thinking my engine-powered competition was probably already at the final destination, I kicked back into gear and started jogging.
And then there was the hill. I’m not great at geometry, but I’m almost certain I was jogging up a right angle. It felt so steep that I think I moved at the same speed whether jogging or walking. I was definitely fighting gravity and using muscles that have been dormant for years (or at least during quarantine).
At this point, my lungs were burning. I felt good about time, but I definitely wouldn’t want to make this my daily commute. At least not without planning a shower at the finish line.
The hill dog-legged back and forth, which was nice. But without being familiar with the route, I couldn’t tell when the uphill climb would end. Each time I turned a corner, it was depressing to see another significant incline waiting for me.
FINALLY, after struggling for what felt like hours, the route leveled out. Not only did my calves enjoy the break, I felt like I dumped baseball bat weights and was finally able to swing away.
If I did this every day, I’m sure it would get much easier. But at this point, the only thing keeping me going was the aforementioned adrenaline boost from competition. I jogged the last few blocks regretting my decision to not take Lyft before arriving at the finish line to find myself in … SECOND PLACE?!
The total trip with the Water Taxi took me 41 minutes (the Water Taxi itself was only about 10-to-15 minutes). Not bad, and I’m not sure if I’m happy or extremely sad that I beat everyone who commuted with engine power. If I did this every day I’d be in the best shape of my life, but I would rather get the bridge repaired and have a faster commute via automobile.
GeekWire reporter Charlotte Schubert
Method: Bike + Water Taxi
Position: 3rd place
Time: 44 minutes
Cost: $5.75 (Water Taxi fee)
GeeKWire reporter Charlotte Schubert rides across the finish line in third place. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
It’s been years since I’ve ridden my bike downtown, and I had some trepidation about making the trek during rush hour traffic from the Amazon Spheres to the West Seattle Water Taxi on Pier 50.
I was pleasantly surprised by my trip. In 2018 the city finished a protected bike lane on 2nd Avenue that reduced the number of bicycle and pedestrian crashes while boosting bicycle ridership on the street more than 400% in 2019, compared to 2014. I was ready to try it!
At the same time, I only had 15 minutes until the Water Taxi departed, otherwise I’d have to wait another 40 minutes. So I had to balance caution — wanting to live — with catching the ferry.
The trip was made more pleasant by the useful little traffic lights on the 2nd Avenue bike lane, dedicated for cyclists and a protection from left-turning cars. Nice! Near the waterfront, I did a slow roll through some stop signs, the now-legal Idaho stop.
I made the ferry with 1 minute and 35 seconds to spare. Each press of the button on the ticket machine felt like a lifetime. My coworker Shaun beat me to the ferry on foot, but he’s some kind of super-fast elite runner. He also beat me up the hill on the West Seattle side. I took the slower, steady route up the hill, California Way SW — and it was not too bad in the granny gear.
Though many Seattle bicycle projects to increase safety and ridership have been delayed or put on hold, cycling downtown has improved since I last tried it. I made the mistake of looking at Google Maps instead of a handy map from the city like this one or this for the route, so I missed the protected bike lanes on 7th and Pike that may have put me onto 2nd Ave.
As a former resident of West Seattle, I appreciate all it has to offer, from beautiful beaches to an old-school Seattle vibe at places like the Husky Deli and Poggie Tavern. I had not visited since the bridge broke down, but now I think I’ll be back soon!
GeekWire contributor Tim Ellis
Position: 4th place
Time: 45 minutes
My ride from downtown to West Seattle on the Onewheel was smooth and enjoyable. I averaged around 12 to 15 mph, which is well below the 19 mph that the Onewheel is capable of, but is as fast as I feel comfortable going, even when fully geared up with knee pads, wrist guards, and a helmet.
I predicted before the race that the electric bike would win, so I was not surprised that Kurt easily beat everyone else, including me on my Onewheel. I also have an electric bike, and have been riding electric bikes for 15 years. In my opinion, electric bikes are the most efficient way to make short to medium trips around town, while the Onewheel is the most fun.
Though it isn’t as fast, the Onewheel does have another big advantage over an electric bike: portability. It’s easy to throw the Onewheel in the trunk of your car or carry it on the bus — no need to worry about whether or not there is space on the bus bike rack.
The wide wheel is also great for a smooth ride on the uneven Seattle-area roads, and not worrying about railroad tracks parallel to the road, which are notoriously dangerous for bicycles.
Current model Onewheels cost $950 for the more portable “Pint” model with 6-to-8 miles of range or $1,800 for the larger, more capable “XR” model with 12-to-18 miles of range. Not cheap, but less expensive than most electric bicycles.
Tim Ellis finishes on his Onewheel. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
I’ve had my Onewheel since 2017, and it’s the “Onewheel+” model with only 5-to-7 miles of range. That wouldn’t have been enough for the 7-mile ride to West Seattle with a large hill, but I recently added an upgrade kit called the “VnR” from a company called SonnyWheels that allowed me to connect an external battery in my backpack for an additional 12 miles of range.
I did run into one problem about three-quarters of the way through my ride, just as I started up the big hill on SW Admiral Way up into West Seattle when I started getting low battery alerts from the board. I stopped to see what was happening and discovered that the external battery had come unplugged inside my backpack, so I had been running on just the Onewheel’s battery the whole time up to that point. Oops!
Once I actually plugged in the external battery I made it up the hill and the rest of the way without issue. Between that issue and missing a fork in the path from Alaskan Way South to the Elliott Bay Trail, I probably added about five minutes to my overall time.
The route was mostly pleasant, with separated and/or protected bike lanes much of the way. The sketchiest portion was along East Marginal Way South, where the bike lane is basically just a glorified shoulder with practically nothing separating you from the traffic. Thankfully there weren’t many cars on this road since the Spokane Street Bridge to West Seattle is closed for most traffic. There was a dead rat in the lane at one point though, so that was fun.
If I worked downtown and lived in West Seattle I would definitely consider riding the Onewheel as a daily commuter, at least when the weather is nice. The only reason I’d switch to an electric bike in wet weather is that the Onewheel is not officially waterproof. The ride is fun and I got there faster than anyone in the cars. Even though I didn’t win the race, I had a great time.
GeekWire co-founder John Cook
Method: Yellow Cab
Position: 5th place
Time: 54 minutes
Cost: $49.10 (without tip)
GeekWire co-founder John Cook snaps a selfie with Bob, his Yellow Cab driver. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
Sometimes it pays to go old school. That’s the lesson of Seattle Yellow Cab.
When I was assigned with an old-school taxi cab as my transportation option for GeekWire’s Great Race II, a flurry of pre-conditioned negative stereotypes rushed to mind. I imagined a dingy car, an expensive ride and a low-tech experience that would leave me longing for Uber, Lyft or my personal vehicle.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Based on my amazing voyage to West Seattle with a highly capable, knowledgeable and experienced cab driver from India named Bob — Yellow Cab is the way to go.
It was such a positive experience — nearly $20 cheaper and nine minutes faster than my compatriot in her Lyft — that I’ll think twice before using the hip ride sharing apps again.
I am now a taxi man.
I can’t recall the last time I hailed a taxi cab in Seattle, so to prepare for the race I researched Yellow Cab. I thought about really throwing it back and simply calling dispatch for my ride, but Yellow Cab’s website was touting new iOS and Android apps — and since this is GeekWire, I figured I had to give the app a try.
The install process was easy, and the user interface simple enough.
I am now a taxi man.
After booking my ride on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. sharp, I was able to track the progress of my driver in real time as my fellow racers jetted off on bikes, feet, scooters and personal cars.
I figured I had little chance to beat the racers in other motorized vehicles. After all, this was a cab.
Tracking the driver on the Yellow Cab app was not quite as slick as Uber or Lyft, but a minute away from pick-up I got a phone call. It was my driver Bob letting me know he was turning onto 7th Avenue and would be there in a few moments. Even in this era of real-time tracking, a phone call from the driver letting me know he was blocks away was a nice touch.
I knew almost immediately this was going to be a good trip when I told Bob I was headed to the address in West Seattle, and he immediately knew the location without plugging it into a GPS. “That’s over by Alki,” he said as he took off down busy 7th Ave.
Bob navigated downtown with ease, at one point maneuvering past a blocked right lane so as to better position us to enter the southbound I-5 on-ramp. That gained us precious seconds.
On I-5, we settled into a delightful conversation. I learned that Bob had been driving a cab since 1985, including the last 30 years in Seattle. (This experience would later show itself on a few occasions).
He’d obviously seen a lot in his three decades behind the wheel in Seattle, so I asked him what had changed the most in his adopted city. His answer blew me away.
After Microsoft introduced Windows 95, the city changed. The city grew up. It was no longer a tiny company town dominated by Boeing, he said.
About this time we were passing the old art deco edifice that sits atop Beacon Hill and once claimed the headquarters of a famous company.
“Amazon started in that building,” Bob said with the authority of a tour guide as we whizzed southbound. “And now they are all over the world. Now, Google is here. Facebook is here. Apple is here.”
“There are so many tall buildings now,” he added, noting that his favorite part of the city is downtown.
The comment struck me, since it was said with civic pride — a pride you don’t often don’t hear amid the many challenges we face as a society.
GeekWire co-founder John Cook tries to beat out GeekWire reporter Mike Lewis at the finish line. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
About this time, Bob decided to exit I-5 heading into the industrial area of Georgetown, even though my Google Maps directive indicated that we should stay on the highway. But at this time, I fully trusted Bob.
He encountered a backup coming down the Corson offramp, and after quickly consulting the map on his phone made a split decision to head southbound through Georgetown to the South Park Bridge. This was a bold move, but it saved us minutes.
Even though I’ve lived in Seattle for 25 years, I got twisted around on Bob’s route through South Park to State Route 99 to West Marginal Way. But it seemed to be working.
After a major congestion point under the now closed West Seattle Bridge — a spot where Bob would occasionally honk as line cutters (including, I was later told, the Lyft driver) didn’t wait their turns — we emerged in West Seattle.
We arrived at the final destination at 5:24 p.m. Total cost before tip: $49.10.
And while that was a horrifying 54 minutes after we started the race — a testament to the screwed up roadways in Seattle — it was still far better than any other motorized vehicle. We beat GeekWire managing editor Taylor Soper in his personal car by four minutes, and GeekWire’s Beth Sylves in the Lyft by nine minutes.
I’ll ride with Bob at Yellow Cab anytime.
GeekWire reporter Mike Lewis
Method: Human-powered Ibis Cyclocross bicycle
Position: 6th place
Time: 55 minutes
Cost: $3 (flat tire fix)
GeekWire reporter Mike Lewis on the home stretch after fixing a flat tire. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
At the start of the Great Race, I departed the Amazon Spheres at 4:30 p.m., promptly with GeekWire reporter Kurt Schlosser in tow. While Kurt does a lot of cycling around Seattle, he hadn’t ridden to West Seattle through the waterfront reconstruction and bike trail discombobulation, so I led the way.
I would later find out that I could have used any lead I might have earned while Kurt tried to find the ever-shifting bike trail entrance near the Ferry Terminal.
The good news is that this route starts relatively flat which, in traffic, gives regular, non-e-cyclists a fighting chance and provides a big advantage over cars and public transit.
First, it was a quick jaunt in traffic west to the waterfront. From there, we rode along Alaskan Way to the nearly hidden, sometimes-shifting entrance to the short, grade-separated waterfront bike trail and then to the bike lane along East Marginal.
So far so good and we averaged nearly 20 mph. East Marginal Way South connects to the second section of the bicycle trail along Spokane Street. A quick right turn and again this is where bicycles, scooters, and buses en route to West Seattle get another advantage: all are permitted on the low drawbridge.
We were in luck. The bridge was open and we sped across.
— Mike Lewis (@MikeLew65) July 26, 2021
At the end of the bridge, still in a dead heat with Kurt on the VanMoof S3, we made the right turn on Harbor Way along the Alki waterfront. Everything looked good but I worried he’d be quite a bit faster up the California Way hill to Holly’s house and the finish line.
Then, disaster. My rear tire flattened and Kurt took off. Unfortunately, replacing the rear tire tube is always a little slower than the front. Fortunately, I had a spare tube, pump, and tire levers. Five minutes later, I was back on the road but Kurt was long gone. I had no idea where everyone else was.
Back on the road, I made the left up the slow climb on California to SW Seattle Street. From there a quick right on Seattle and a left on 46th to the finish line. Adding insult to injury, I slowed at the end because I saw Kurt and others already there. My tepid closing speed allowed John Cook to bolt from his taxi and surprise me with a sprint by at the finish line.
I guess I deserved that.
GeekWire managing editor Taylor Soper
Method: Personal vehicle
Position: 7th place
Time: 58 minutes
Cost: $3.75 (gas plus toll)
A sun-bathed Ichi relaxing in Taylor’s car.
It’s hard to take an 80-pound dog on a scooter or bike, let alone the bus or an Uber. So, with my chocolate lab Ichi stretched out in the back seat, I started the Great Race inside my Toyota RAV4.
I like driving, but I don’t like Seattle traffic. Sitting in a sea of cars on State Route 99, I daydreamed about being a passenger and having the ability to check email or catch up on news. Biking or riding on the Water Taxi in absolutely perfect Seattle summer weather also sounded nice.
Eventually, the stop-and-go traffic caused by a stalled school bus subsided — until five minutes later, where another long line formed.
There was no way I was winning this race. I needed a flying car to even have a chance.
Eventually I made my way to the finish line, with Google Maps guiding me there.
In the end, I spent about $3.75 for gas and toll fees for the trip. Even though I “wasted” an hour of time driving myself, it was worth it to avoid the outrageous $68.44 that Lyft charged my colleague Beth.
However, $0, zero carbon footprint, and a nice workout would have been better. Looks like it’s time to train Ichi how to run with me as I ride an e-bike or cruise around on a Onewheel.
GeekWire reporter Lisa Stiffler
Position: 8th place
Time: 62 minutes
Cost: $2.75 (bus fare)
Lisa feeling chill on a King County Metro bus.
In a city that loves its technology, an old school bus ride is about as sexy a mode of transit as a bike with training wheels. I, however, think Metro buses are fabulous and the apps available these days to smooth the experience make it easier than ever.
When planning my journey in advance, I entered the wrong starting address, which became apparent after wandering briefly in search of a non-existent cross street. The problem was easily solved when the Puget Sound Trip Planner app used my real-time location and suggested a route.
I was physically and mentally chill.
After a short walk and a few minutes of waiting I boarded a nearly empty, on-time number 57 bus heading down 3rd Avenue. We zipped along, carrying fewer than two dozen COVID-spaced and masked riders. The AC was blowing. I was physically and mentally chill. We bypassed creeping cars as the bus took the Spokane Street Swing Bridge — AKA the Low Bridge — which is closed to personal vehicles.
There was a short delay at the bridge, but the ride still only took 35 minutes. The trip planning app’s map showed our progress and the bus stop, eliminating any worries I’d miss it.
I thanked the driver, disembarked and walked to my destination in about 10 minutes — roughly half the time estimated by the app.
My climate impact was light and so was the fare at $2.75.
GeekWire Senior Sales Strategist Beth Sylves
Position: 9th place
Time: 63 minutes
Cost: $68.44 (without tip)
GeekWire Senior Sales Strategist Beth Sylves jumps out of her Lyft after a pricey but pleasant ride. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
I started my journey parched, so I went into Amazon Go for the first time ever, to walk-in/walk-out with a cold beverage. I was looking for something local, not in single-use plastic, and selected a Starbucks Nitro can — not the wisest choice, and I added two minutes and 28 seconds to my time.
Omar, my Lyft driver, arrived at 4:35 p.m., and was an aggressive driver who took advantage of every open lane and spot, opportunistically surging and merging. Masked in the back seat, I determined it rude to open a can of coffee that I couldn’t reseal between sips. While stopped at a light, Omar rolled down his window and offered a bottle of water to someone in need, so I offloaded the cold unopened can of coffee, too, which was received with much appreciation.
Lyft may not have noted the West Seattle Bridge closure correctly, as I received two “are you OK?” texts as it appeared we’d strayed from our course. We arrived at our destination at 5:32 p.m., not a winner, not a loser, happy with an uneventful journey. I was feeling grateful for Omar’s generosity and compassion, so I rewarded him with a 20% tip.
GeekWire chairman Jonathan Sposato
Method: Personal vehicle (biodiesel)
Position: 10th place
Time: 71 minutes
Cost: $3.75 (gas plus toll)
GeekWire Chairman Jonathan Sposato flashes a peace sign from his 1979 Mercedes 300TD. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
I’ve so got this in the bag. Or so I thought…
Taking part in GeekWire’s 2nd annual Great Race, I opted to drive my car. Easy, right? I even found a plum parking spot directly across from our starting point near the Amazon Spheres that would assuredly give me a head start!
My ride of choice? I used my daily driver, a 1979 Mercedes 300TD diesel wagon running biodiesel. I believe in biodiesel because it is incredibly clean burning with up to 75% less CO2 emissions than gas, and is a renewable resource produced by every restaurant with a fryer. My old wagon has been known to get 33 MPG, smelling of french fries or donuts the entire way.
But just so it wouldn’t be too easy, I opted to use only pre-1979 technology. No GPS. None. I was going to make my way to West Seattle the way God intended: by feel.
I thought, “Hey, I’m a Seattle native. I visit my friends in West Seattle all the time. I can do this.” I merely wrote down our destination address on a sheet of paper.
And with that, I was off. I knew that the key to going to West Seattle was to use State Route 99, so I recalled a route that I often use to get from downtown to 99 which was the 6th Avenue on-ramp. From there, you can go north or south, and of course I would have to go south.
Trouble was, it was after 4 p.m. on a weekday. Rush hour and high noon. And I would have to go north seven blocks or so to just past Harrison, before I could go south. Seattle is known for a lot of great things, rush hour traffic out of SLU ain’t one of them.
And what could be worse than bumper-to-bumper traffic? Bumper-to-bumper traffic in a tunnel.
But at least traffic was flowing, and with my analog FM radio getting surprisingly great reception inside the tunnel, I let the always-energizing music of KEXP fill the cabin as we inched deeper and deeper into the abyss at … 20 mph.
And the bumper-to-bumper grind was pretty much what characterized this entire experience. As we cleared the tunnel and our journey continued on the surface, this is where we faced another Seattle summer traffic trope: road construction! I don’t think the WSDOT has met a right lane they didn’t want to close.
And what can you do amidst forces you can’t control? Just enjoy the scenery. And here, I have to do a shoutout to the Seattle landmark Bemis Building. This is a historic 150,000 square-foot former burlap bag factory located near T-Mobile Park that is now home to painters, photographers, glass artists, filmmakers, sculptors, fashion designers, and architects. Projects like this are heartening and affirm for me that the entrepreneurial spirit has always been a staple in our uniquely frontier and nonconformist region.
Back to traffic. I knew I needed to continue on 99 like I was going to the airport “the back way,” but simply get off the exit to West Marginal Way/South Park. It’s the way we all now have to take to get to West Seattle. But frankly, the bumper-to-bumper traffic in 84-degree heat made me really regret not having fixed the A/C. The car has it, but it hasn’t worked since Bill Clinton was in office. Still, you gotta admire a car that’s still on the road pulling strong at 42 years old.
Jonathan’s Mercedes meets a “friend.”
I then kept right and followed the signs for South Park/Holden Street and merged onto WA-99/2nd Avenue SW which is a lot harder to say or write than simply staying right because you can see that that’s where West Seattle is.
I then took the left hand turn light onto West Marginal Way, and in my mind, I was almost there. Nope — more bumper-to-bumper traffic.
After taking a slight right onto Spokane Street, then using the left lane to get to Admiral Way — a jumbled and confusing mess of lane choices and merges I only knew about because I’ve had to do this multiple times during recent visits — I was well on my way into the true heartland of West Seattle.
Cruising up the big hill of Southwest Admiral Way, my current cynicism about West Seattle’s remoteness began melting away. As industrial areas and concrete overpasses yielded to Belvidere Park views and open spaces, I began to admire those who make this commute routinely as a fair tradeoff to the community feel of the area. Holly G, I see what you’ve been putting up with now. Deep respect to you and everyone in West Seattle who’ve been commuting during your main bridge closure!
I knew Holly lived in a neighborhood off California Avenue just past the famed Admiral Theater. Growing up in Seattle, the Admiral Theater was known as a great second run theater. Missed a blockbuster while it was downtown? No problem, either the Admiral in West Seattle or the Crest in Shoreline had you covered! $1.75 was the ticket price (vs. $4.00+ for first-run theaters at the time).
Once I made that right turn onto California and saw the familiar art deco facade of the Admiral, I longed for many of Seattle’s near-icons throughout the city now long gone: Tower Records, Xanadu Comics, American Eagles Hobby Store, The Cramp, The Crocodile, Mama’s Mexican Kitchen. Those were the places of my teen years and very likely, they now glow much more brightly in my memory than they ever did in actuality.
From this point on it was a simple matter of remembering what I was told — “Left on Massachusetts!” — then finding 46th Avenue as the address indicated. Arriving at Holly’s house turned out to be the nicest surprise of all. As it turns out, hers is a historic neighborhood comprised of some of the very first houses in the Seattle metro area. I love learning about Seattle history and was pleased to find a neighborhood even older than the more popularly known historic neighborhoods on the top of Capitol Hill or Queen Anne.
But frankly, the bigger surprise was that despite going by car, I was far, far from being among the first to arrive, well after many electric, human-powered, and non-car options. Biodiesel or not, if you want to get around fast, don’t hop into your car. WOW! I am officially humbled! I was especially impressed by those who human powered a bike (Mike! Cara!) and still beat me!
GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop
Method: Shared scooters
Position: 11th place
Time: 72 minutes
GeekWire co-founders Todd Bishop, right, and John Cook at the finish line. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
After placing second on rented orange Spin bikes (R.I.P.) in the first GeekWire Great Race in 2017, this time I decided to try the latest trend in shared micro-transportation: scooters.
Looking at the map in advance, I could see that sufficient battery power would be my biggest challenge. Even with the ability to ride on bike lanes under the West Seattle Bridge and across the Duwamish Waterway, the route was seven miles.
My biggest goal upon arriving at the Amazon Spheres was finding a nearby scooter in the LINK or Lime apps with a full charge, or close to it. I hadn’t tried the sit-down Wheels scooters and made a strategic decision not to make the race my first time using them.
Todd pauses for a quick selfie and a nice view of Seattle’s skyline.
Unfortunately, right before the race started, another person started trying to activate the LINK scooter that appeared to be my best option. As it turned out, he was a first-timer and didn’t understand the process. He hadn’t even downloaded the LINK app. So I patiently explained it to him, and after he realized I was in a race, he graciously let me have the scooter.
That set me back a few minutes. But then I was off, using the streets bike lanes (no sidewalk riding allowed on scooters) to navigate toward the Seattle waterfront, past Pike Place Market, where podcast producer Curt Milton cheered me on from the sidewalk as he walked to the West Seattle Water Taxi.
Riding through the city was harrowing at times, with bumpy streets and complicated intersections, and cars coming up behind me. But I made good time to the dedicated bike path along Alaskan Way, and that’s where I saw the defending champion, Tim Ellis, zipping along on his Onewheel. I yelled something about coming to get him, and soon I was hot on his trail.
Just south of Pioneer Square, the bike path took a detour to the right, and I saw Tim ignore it and keep going straight. My first mistake was assuming Tim knew what he was doing. I followed him until we both realized it was the wrong way. But I turned around quickly enough that I was suddenly in the lead as I circled back and got back onto the correct bike path.
About a mile further down the trail, I made my second mistake. Unsure how far one scooter would get me, I saw what appeared to be a mother lode of scooters off to the side of the trail. Surely one of those would have the juice I needed. Turns out it was a graveyard. None of them had anything close to full batteries, and several were completely out of power.
Tim zipped by me. I wasted another five minutes trying to find a scooter that would work. Connectivity problems didn’t help. It seemed to take forever to activate any scooter I tried.
The next setback was the opening of the bridge over the Duwamish Waterway for boat traffic, which delayed me another 10 minutes or more. At that point, I knew that I wouldn’t win, and decided to take satisfaction in making it the whole way via scooter. I made it up the steep Admiral Way hill with the assistance of some old-fashioned boosts with my leg.
My biggest mistake, in hindsight, was underestimating the range of the scooters. Paranoid about running out of battery, I ended up using three LINK scooters and one Lime scooter. If I could do it again, I would ride one to the foot of West Seattle, where there were a collection of fully charged scooters in a shelter next to the trail, then take one of those the rest of the way.
While it wouldn’t be realistic to ride a scooter seven miles to work or home every day, and riding on city streets seems like a recipe for disaster (or at least serious injury), shared scooters do seem like a viable option for transportation over shorter distances on dedicated bike paths.
GeekWire reporting intern Laurel Deppen
Method: GIG Car Share
Position: 12th place
Time: 80 minutes
GeekWire reporting intern Laurel Deppen arrives after a GIG Car Share drive, unable to end the trip on the app because she was outside its service range. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
What better way to get to West Seattle than GIG Car Share? I thought there was no way my coworkers on bikes or scooters could make the trek faster than a car could.
I didn’t realize how much traffic due to the closed West Seattle Bridge would hold me back.
I was drawn to the GIG option because I simply miss driving. I don’t have a car in Seattle, so I’ve done my travel mainly on foot or via the bus, so an excuse to take a joy ride — albeit a slow one in bumper-to-bumper traffic — was welcome.
GIG cars are mainly Priuses, and they stick out in Seattle due to their bright blue decals. The app is run by AAA, so members get a discount. The prices start at $0.44 a minute, or $15 an hour.
At the beginning of GeekWire’s Great Race in front of the Amazon Spheres, the two closest GIG cars were each about a 20-minute walk away. No problem, I thought. I’m reminded of the Greek tragedy concept of “Hubris,” where the hero’s pride is ultimately their downfall.
I found my GIG on Alaskan Way, slightly past Pier 66. By the time I unlocked the Prius, about 20 minutes had passed, but I was still under the impression I would be early. I tapped the address into Apple Maps and was greeted by an estimated 56-minute drive time. Sheesh.
Since I was expecting traffic at prime rush hour, the drive itself wasn’t all that bad. It was nice to take in the view of Mount Rainier from the highway and listen to music.
I got to the West Seattle location at 5:50 p.m. To my surprise, I was not one of the first people there, but one of the last.
I couldn’t end the GIG rental because West Seattle is out of its service range. Throughout the evening, I got texts from GIG noting that I still had the car rented. The texts asked if this extra long rental was a mistake.
After an evening of good food, beer and intense games of Connect 4, three other GeekWire employees and I got into the GIG to make the trek back.
By the time we made pit stops in Magnolia, Fremont and the U. District, I finally ended the car rental after a little over five hours. The total cost was $75.48, which isn’t that bad considering the time and distance involved in travel.
GeekWire Editorial Operations Director Cara Kuhlman
Method: Shared e-bikes
Position: 13th place
Time: 91 minutes
After a long ride, GeekWire Editorial Operations Director Cara Kuhlman ends her Lime-E trip. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
For my first Lime-E bike ride, I went big. But also very slow.
Despite years of seeing the various shared bikes scattered around town, often in my way on the Burke-Gilman Trail and being “parked” everywhere you can imagine, I had never ridden one.
If I’m leaving my car behind, I usually ride my regular bike. I owned a Public M8 e-bike for several years, though, and it made me a much more confident cyclist in Seattle.
However, based on my downtown Lime-E bike experience, it’s hard to imagine that these shared bikes will turn an infrequent bike commuter into a regular one.
For the GeekWire Great Race II, I arrived downtown with the Lime app pre-loaded and my helmet in tow. The helmet factor has always been a tricky part of Seattle’s bike share history but it was a no brainer for me. I will always look like a dork to play it safe.
It took me three tries to rent a Lime-E bike after the start. The closest one was being unlocked by another rider. The next one appeared on the app with a battery range of 21 miles — however, when I scanned the QR code it gave me an error that the bike was offline because of low battery.
That error message didn’t go away. Even when I exited it out of the Lime app it stayed on screen, prompting me to restart my phone. I moved on to another bike a couple blocks away.
Once I had my Lime-E bike unlocked, I headed to the nearest bike lane. The basket was too small to secure my backpack so I wore it the whole way.
In addition to a couple of glitches with the Lime app, the biggest way technology failed me during the race was Google Maps. I will always choose a less direct but more cycle-friendly route but that isn’t what Google Maps typically suggests, even for its bike-specific directions.
If I had followed the suggested route, I would’ve been riding one street over from the protected bike lane with dedicated bike-specific signals. It also would’ve sent me straight into a construction zone. Using Google Maps’ bicycling details layer, I caught that and figured out my own route out of downtown toward West Seattle.
Cara’s trip recap, via the Lime app: $33.00 for 7.8 miles and nearly 22 minutes of riding. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
The bike itself seemed in decent condition but the ride was bumpy and the electric assist felt jerky. Stopping and starting was not smooth but improved as I got the feel of it. I never saw anyone else riding a Lime-E bike as I made my way downtown and toward the West Seattle Bridge.
Along Alaskan Way and East Marginal Way is when I really noticed my slower pace. I was passed by almost every other cyclist while I was at the top of the Lime-E bike’s three gears.
Hills are always challenging for cyclists but on my ride, the Lime-E bike electric assist slowed down or shut off on two climbs.
The first was on the Spokane Street Bridge crossing over to West Seattle. I pedaled the Lime-E bike with all my might up and over the Duwamish River as the bike beeped several times. Later I would see a series of notifications on my phone, which was in my backpack, repeatedly telling me I was entering and exiting a “Low Speed Zone.”
On the other side of the bridge, I navigated a couple busy intersections to reach the Alki trail, a nice flat cruise around West Seattle’s waterfront. This kind of biking seems to be what the Lime-E bike is best at and at my slightly slower pace, I got to enjoy the view.
There was still one more hill to conquer and the heavy Lime-E bike is not one you’d walk up a hill. Turning off the Alki trail, I first tried to ride up Ferry Avenue Southwest. The road looked steep ahead and before I got very far, I heard a familiar beep and the Lime-E bike shut off. This was not a Slow Zone — this was a No Go Zone.
I double-checked the app and didn’t see a red perimeter indicating geo-fencing around the area but the bike was clearly not working. Carefully, I turned the bike around and rode back downhill, the bike came back to life. I then tried another approach: up California Way Southwest past the Hamilton Viewpoint Park. Google Maps very helpfully told me this was a “steep hill” and about 260 feet of elevation.
Riding up California Way turned out to be a breeze. It was at this moment I realized how difficult it had been to ride up and over the bridge and several other moments when the “assist” had been lacking. Especially if I had been riding my own bike, it was the kind of experience that makes e-bikes shine.
The final few blocks flew by but I didn’t see any other shared bikes or scooters once I headed up the hill from Alki. There was a crowd at the finish line, confirming my tortoise race pace. I pulled up out front feeling like I’d just finished a spin class set in industrial Seattle. I locked up the Lime-E bike, ended my ride and walked away.
GeekWire podcast producer Curt Milton
Method: Walk + Water Taxi
Position: 14th place
Time: 119 minutes
Cost: $5.75 (Water Taxi fee)
Last but not least: GeekWire podcast producer Curt Milton is last to arrive. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)
I should have been a contender.
I picked the King County Water Taxi as my method of transport because I had never ridden it before and it seemed like it was almost unbeatable.
The boat cruises at 32 mph and takes less than 10 minutes to get from Colman Dock on Seattle’s waterfront to Seacrest Park in West Seattle. From there, a free Metro DART shuttle would take me up to California Avenue Southwest where I would be just a few blocks from the finish line.
Eat my salt spray, fellow GeekWire Racers!
Alas, what I realized too late was that when you rely on public transit in a race like this, your timing has to be flawless … and mine wasn’t.
I had 15 minutes to make it a little over a mile from the Spheres to the dock to catch the 4:45 p.m. boat. If I walked fast and ran a bit and cheated a few lights, I thought I might just make it. Shaun and Charlotte were also on the same boat, but Shaun was running and Charlotte was riding a bike. They would probably be there with time to spare.
I didn’t see Shaun or Charlotte after we left the Spheres, but it still seemed doable. Even Todd rolled by me below the Market on his scooter.
Walk, run, walk, run. Someone yelled: “You’re looking good!” Down the hill to the waterfront, dodging tourists and Colman Dock construction … almost there.
As I raced up to the dock, the 4:45 p.m. boat was just pulling out. I was soooo close but I was left to whine about how unfair it is that the Water Taxi actually runs on time.
I had to wait 40 minutes for the next Water Taxi, but made up time once onboard with the quick zip across Elliott Bay.
— Curt Milton (@CurtMilton) July 26, 2021
Off the boat, onto dry land and then … my second bit of missed timing: I got on the wrong DART shuttle. Argh!
Realizing my mistake, I quickly got off and had to wait 30 minutes for the next shuttle. But still I thought: People are riding bicycles and scooters and taking cars through heavy afternoon traffic for this event. They can’t possibly be faster than the boat. I’ll probably come in about the middle or late middle of the pack. That sounds about right. I’ll have my feet up, drinking a beer when the last exhausted suckers cross the finish line.
A partial victory seemed to be easily in my grasp.
I was dead last.
Someone has to bring up the rear, I guess. There’s no shame in it … not really. But still: I should have done better.
And, oh yeah … the day of the race was my birthday.
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