About Rodney...

...and transportation:

Rodney Rutherford grew up in the Renton Highlands. His dad, Frank, introduced him to the bus at an early age, riding the 106 and 107 to Mariners games, as well as to his Dad's office in the Rainier Valley.

In 1986, his family traveled to Vancouver, B.C. for Expo '86. Of course, Rodney was most impressed by the SkyTrain, an automated rapid transit system which is completely grade separated, mostly elevated, propelled by linear induction motors, and makes a really cool 'whiir--whiiiiir--whiiiiiiiiiirrrrr...' noise as it starts. Oddly enough, this childhood experience stuck with him as an inspirational model of efficiency in mass transit. Rodney returned home to his Brio train set, bought a SkyTrain looking train set and a bunch of track elevation blocks, and built his own SkyTrain.

In the late 80's Rodney's dad served on Metro Transit's Transit Advisory Committee. Meanwhile, Rodney recalls Metro visiting his elementary school, telling about the new Transit Tunnel that was under construction in downtown, and sharing pictures of double-articulated buses (which never materialized in Seattle).

In high school, his family discouraged him from driving...and Rodney was generally fine with riding transit, riding his bike, and bumming rides from friends. In the summers, he rode the 147 (now replaced by the 908) to his job at the Renton School District Administration Building as a computer repair tech. In his senior year, his girlfriend's mom pushed him to get his drivers license, and even gave him her mom's partially rusted 1973 Toyota Corona. (The 'To' was missing from the rear nameplate, so I called it the 'yota'.) That summer, he drove to work in downtown Renton almost every day, but also made his first trip to San Francisco...and, as you might expect, was intrigued by the BART.

At the end of the summer of '95, he moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, and Rodney happily left his car at home. He brought his bike along, but bus and foot turned out to be his primary modes of transportation. Rodney would often evoke inquisitive looks and curious questions from fellow riders by taking his string bass on the bus (which was often easier than loading it in a car!). The next summer, he commuted to UW from his parents' home in Renton on the 147 and 167. While walking along "The Ave" he was intreguied by a table laid out for gathering signatures for "Initiative 41" to build a privately-funded city-wide monorail system. He knew nothing about monorails at the time, but was fascinated by the idea...and signed the petition.

In 1997, Rodney began working at RealNetworks, and commuted to Downtown Seattle on the 71/72/73. Later that year, I-41 was approved by voters. Curious to learn more, Rodney attended meetings of the 'Elevated Transportation Company', the public development authority established to explore the possibility of a privately-funded monorail transit system. There, he met Dick Falkenbury, creator of I-41.

In 1998, Rodney moved into the Elektra Condo building in downtown Seattle, continuing to live happily without a car, a convenient 10-minute walk from the office. He'd still often hang out with his friends in the dorms until wee hours, and often rode back downtown on the 7, 43, or even the 83 in the middle of the night. Shortly thereafter, RealNetworks moved to the other side of downtown. Rodney would bike, bus, or walk to the office near Pier 69.

In the summer of 2000, the Seattle City Council repealed I-41, and Rodney became actively involved with the campaign for I-53 "Rise above it all!", which would provide funding and a timeline to create a monorail construction proposal. That summer, he gathered over 1000 signatures while attending several neighborhood festivals, and carried a petition board in tow where ever he walked. At the end of the summer, he brought the petitions to the City Clerk's office.

In 2001, Rodney traveled with his dad across the country on Amtrak as part of 30-day North America Rail Trip to New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Toronto, and Montreal. He rode lots of transit systems, took lots of pictures, wrote lots of notes and ideas, and learned how to sleep on Amtrak in coach...sitting-up.

In 2002, he sat on the advisory board for the 'Monorail Yes' campaign. This was his introduction to big-money local politics. (Note for political newbies: when you hear "geo TV", it has nothing to do with television...rather, GOTV means "Get Out The Vote"!) In September, he attended the 2002 APTA EXPO (American Public Transportation Association) in Las Vegas and learned about many up-and-coming transit technologies. In November, with the monorail votes still being counted, Rodney was invited on a private tour of the SkyTrain system, including the control room...a transit geek's dream come true!

In 2003, one of the last of his contributions that was incorporated into the monorail design was the 'iris' column design which allows for a simpler station configuration (although you won't find his name credited with the idea anywhere, despite having distributed sketches of it to monorail staff following the success of I-53 in 2000).

In 2003, Rodney moved out of downtown and into a new home in Judkins Park; transit and bike path access were key factors in the decision to buy this house, with the 4, 8, 48, 7, 42, the I-90 Rainier flyer stop, and the I-90 bike path just a couple blocks away. However, since it took the bus 50 minutes to travel 3.5 miles to his office, he began riding his bike to work every day, rain or shine, cutting his commute down to 20-25 minutes each way (while also getting some much needed exercise and lowering his blood pressure). Shortly thereafter, he traveled to Europe for the first time, following his fiance to visit her family in Germany. While there, he explored transit systems in Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, and Wuppertal (the Schwebebahn!). He was also very impressed by all the infrastructure for bicycles, especially in Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Upon returning home, the Seattle Monorail Project seemed to be moving along quite nicely, and there were fewer opportunities for volunteers to contribute directly to the project. However, he was enamored by the idea of making the monorail even more successful by advocating for excellent bicycle access to the stations. Ridership assumptions had been built based on a certain walk-up ridership area...but, with excellent bicycle access, the effective ridership area could be multiplied by 10! He had accumulated several other ideas for how to make the Seattle area more accessible to bicyclists, and wrote these ideas into an application to join the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board. He served the board as a volunteer for two years before being formally appointed by the Mayor in 2005 and 2006.

In April 2004, he married his wife, Colleen. For their honeymoon, they cruised the Mexican Riveria, but--much to Colleen's delight--didn't ride any transit systems. (The Mazatlan taxi was crazy enough for us.)

By April 2005, the Seattle Monorail Project had run into trouble, and the project was scrapped. He spent the next year in denial, and is still mourning the loss.

In March 2006, Rodney traveled to Europe again, this time to travel with his sister, Ronda, thru Scandinavia, visiting Copenagen, Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki. Once entering Scandinavia, all sleeping was done on moving trains and ferries. Before returning home, he visited some friends for a bike ride in Bochum, Germany, and rode the Transrapid on the test track in Lathen. That summer, Rodney completed the 200-mile Seattle-to-Portland ride.

In March 2007, Rodney's son, Alex, was born, and he began working at Google in Kirkland. Upon starting at Google, he purchased a Bionx electric-assist system in preparation for the longer commute. When he didn't bike, he'd ride either the 550 and 230 (or 234), or the 48 to the 255 (or 540). Later that year, Rodney moved to the new Fremont office, and Rodney began riding the 42/26. In December, he traveled to Europe again, this time visiting the Google office in Zurich where he took the opportunity to explore the extensive streetcar and bicycle networks.

In November 2007, Rodney read a few articles by Erica Barnett suggesting that transit riders unionize. The idea has simmered on since then with hopes that it will evolve into a organization that gives transit riders clout in the way that Cascade Bicycle Club has done for bicyclists in our region.

In August 2008, Rodney sold his home in Judkins Park and moved to Kirkland, within a mile of the Kirkland office. He continued to ride to the Fremont office on a regular basis, riding either the 277 or the 540 to UW, and then bicycling to Fremont along the Burke-Gilman Trail (or ride the 30/31). A few months later, he moved his desk back to the Kirkland office and has been spoiled ever since with a 1.5 mile commute (25 min by foot, 15-20 by bus, or 8-12 by bike).

In June 2011, Rodney finally incorporated Transit Riders as a non-profit organization and the movement is beginning to accelerate. In September 2011, Rodney handed-off operation of the Transit Riders Union to a new team of energetic activists who ran the "Save Our Metro" campaign, and are rapidly growing the organization.

When riding the bus, Rodney spends a lot of his time thinking about ways to make it a better experience for riders and less intimidating for newbies.

You can contact Rodney at rodney@yendor.org.
Comments