Category Archives: multi-modal

snOMG, pedestrian edition

One of the things I appreciate about living in the city is that I’m never far from basic necessities. So, times like now (when even buses are down for the count), I can still walk to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the library, and et cetera. At least, theoretically I can.


Slippery sidewalks in Seattle

Slippery sidewalks are bad for bus riders

Don’t even get me started on the hills.

Several of my readers have asked me to remind Seattle folk that property owners are responsible for clearing the sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses. (In case you care, the requirement is spelled out in section 15.48.010 of the Seattle Municipal Code.) I happen to think this is impractical for several reasons*, not the least of which is the fact that (if we are to judge by the condition of the sidewalks) no one seems to know this.

But, in the absence of any concerted campaign by the city to inform citizens of this rule, we pedestrians must take matters into our own hands.

Psst! You have to shovel your own sidewalk. Pass it on!

*Who’s in charge of the bus stops? The sidewalks in front of parks? The stretches of sidewalk with no adjacent homes or businesses? Those folks aren’t doing any shoveling!

Transportation safety, part VI (take 2)

The Sightline Institute is still plugging away on its informative Sustainababy series. (OK, so I’m not in love with the name, either, but they’re sure covering issues worth reading about.) Installment 25 is by Jennifer Langston, a Sightline employee and mom who tried transit with her toddler for the first time this summer.

Like many parents, Jennifer had been avoiding PT, in part because of the perceived danger of taking her daughter on a vehicle that doesn’t have child safety seats. But then she and her daughter had a great time riding the Seattle Streetcar for a preschool field trip.

“Bus” was one of her first words. [ahem] She startles strangers on the street by yelling it at the top of her lungs whenever she sees one. Yet she hasn’t actually ridden on one yet. And as I saw how fascinated she was by the streetcar–looking at its reflection in buildings, watching the floor joints move, trying to lick the windows, I found myself asking why I hadn’t done this before.

So, she decided to look into it. Here’s what she found:

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2007 found that, statistically, you’re far more likely to be injured or killed riding in a car than a bus. In fact, riding a bus is safer than walking, bicycling, driving a car, or hopping on a motorcycle. Whether the reason is that sheer size of a bus distributes the crash forces differently or that they travel more slowly, the raw numbers are pretty compelling.*

Here are the annualized injury rates (based on 100 million person trips in the US):
• Motorcycle: 10,336
• Bicycle: 1,461
• Car: 803
• Walking: 216
• Bus: 161

And here are the comparable fatality rates:
• Motorcycle: 537
• Bicycle: 21
• Walking: 14*
• Car: 9***
• Bus: 0.4

Thanks for the informative post, Jennifer, and for trusting transit with your precious cargo. See you guys on the bus!

*I assume they don’t have stats for trains because they aren’t really part of “traffic,” but I’d still like to know what they are.

**The walking and cycling stats aren’t especially encouraging. As the study points out, “…most bus occupants are also pedestrians during some portion of their journeys (e.g., during the trip to and from the bus stop)…Measures to promote pedestrian safety should also consider the routes that provide access to public transportation.”

***So, if 40,000 people die in cars every year, and there are nine deaths per 100 million person trips, that means we’re taking a lot of car trips.


On a Wednesday morning walk to Chicklet’s preschool, she requests to be carried. Per usual, I decline.

“You don’t need to be carried, you’re a…”

Chicklet, who has apparently changed her tune since our recent discussion of the topic, anticipates my response and cuts me off.

“I’m not a bus chick!” hollers my little Link-obsessed darling. “I’m a train chick.”

Here’s hoping.

And for the record, I was going to say, “big girl.”

Walk like a woman

My current* bus read is Helena Andrews’ new memoir, Bitch is the New Black. While the book isn’t exactly my flavor (no disrespect), there’s no doubt about Ms. Andrews’ talent; the woman is hilarious. She’s also a total bus chick–well, minus the buses, anyway. Peep it.

From chapter 10, “Walk Like a Woman”

In the face of my driver’s license deficiency and an abhorrence for the close body contact [ahem] prevalent on most Metro systems, I’ve learned through pluck and circumstance to use the legs God gave me. People, I’ve walked across state lines–multiple times–without getting winded or wreathed. Never thinking twice about the damage being caused by the thinning skin above my smallest three toes until it was too late. I average five, maybe six miles a day without even trying. Pedometers are for [censored].

Except for the lack of driver’s license (I do, in fact, have one) and the distaste for transit (um, hello!), this could totally be me. I am an absolute walking fool. Once, when I was pregnant with Chicklet, I talked Bus Nerd into walking from our home in the Central District to Pier 55 to catch the Water Taxi. After the ride, we walked from Seacrest Park all the way to Pepperdocks on Alki and, after a quick lunch with my brother, Joel, and some friends, all the way back. Did I mention that it was August? Nerd (a man who’d rather get there already than “enjoy the journey”) still hasn’t forgiven me.

Chicklet, it seems, is embracing her inheritance. Last week, when I declined to pick her up during our morning stroll to her preschool, my little chip off the big chick didn’t even protest. Instead she puffed out her chest, two-year old style, and announced, “Bus Chicks know how to walk!”

A bus chick and her chicklet walking in the city (Photo credit:



One more reason to be proud of my city

It’s been a minute since I’ve posted, and that’s too bad, ’cause there’s a lot of stuff I’ve been meaning to tell you about. For one thing, I’ve been hitting my stride busing with two babies (more on that later) and having many fun adventures with my little BCiTs. I’ve been expanding my Orca repertoire (more on that later as well) and meeting all kinds of interesting fellow riders. I’ve also been collecting cool and funny bus and train photos that folks–OK, mostly Bus Nerd–have sent me over the past few weeks.

But all that will have to wait until after I tell you about (Does linking to a press release count as “telling”?)* the initiative Mayor McGinn announced today: Walk Bike Ride. Here’s what the has to say about it:

We are at a turning point in transportation. We cannot sustain the financial, environmental and health costs of a transportation system that is overly reliant on automobiles. We need a new balanced approach that creates a transition. We are prepared to commit to that path by prioritizing walking, biking and transit in how we use our streets, how we spend our dollars, and how we collaborate with county, state and federal governments. [Can I get an amen?]

Walk Bike Ride will:

• Create an equitable transportation system for all by providing more affordable travel choices
• Focus on the places where people want to be and add qualities that make them want to stay
• Prioritize right-of-way space to emphasize walking, biking and riding

Read the rest

We so need to do this. Thank you, Mayor McGinn, for showing leadership on an issue that is so important to the future of our city–and our planet. Here’s hoping it results in real changes in the way folks get around this town.

*There’s analysis and discussion of the details (what few are known at this point) over at STB.

What’s better than a walk-up window?

As I’ve mentioned several (perhaps too many) times, one of things I love about our home is its proximity to many of our regular destinations. Who needs a car (or, for that matter, a gym membership) when so much of your life is within walking distance? If you remove commuting from the equation, we Chick-Nerds walk at least as much as we bus–probably more.

Case in point: Our pediatrician’s office is a mere block away. (As My Gail put it when she visited after Chicklet was born, “not much farther than a trip across a parking lot.”) This is reassuring and convenient, and I can’t think of anything* I’d rather live a block away from.

So it was appropriate that last week, after we walked our baby Busling to the doctor for his two-month check up, I found this at the registration desk:

A walking map? Of my neighborhood? Whaaat you say!

In addition to the basic street and landmark information, this handy little resource** shows all of the bus stops, bike routes, Zipcar locations, and staircases (helpful for folks who travel with strollers or wheelchairs) in the area. It estimates how long walking trips between popular destinations will take, lists phone numbers to city offices where you can report problems (hello!), and even provides a little neighborhood history.

Every neighborhood should have one of these. Thanks to Feet First, many already do.

Next up: Ped-friendly maps for mobile devices.

*Well, except perhaps the library, and we live even closer to it.
**As a walking veteran, I have a lot of this information in my head already, but it’s nice to have it all laid out in a handy, portable pamphlet.

Transit envy

Last Friday, Bus Nerd, Chicklet, and I headed to Portland (on the train!) to participate in the Towards Carfree Cities conference. (Actually, I was going to participate in the conference, and Nerd and Chicklet were going to hang around Portland. Minor detail.) It turned out to be a bad day to attend the conference (most of the good events happened earlier in the week) but a good day to learn more about getting around Portland. (Disclaimer: I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been to Portland–and on one hand the number of times I’ve been as an adult. Forgive me if this is old news to you Oregonphiles.)

I’ve been known to roll my eyes when folks start going on about how fabulously bikeable, walkable, and transit-friendly Portland is. It’s not that I don’t believe it; it’s just that I’m a bit of a Seattle partisan, and all that Portland love brings out the hater in me. Mostly, though, it makes me wish that my beloved hometown had grown smarter, with transit and biking as a focus, instead of ballooning into such a bloated, sprawling mess. But I digress.

I have to give credit where credit is due, and Portland deserves some credit for thinking outside the car. For starters, their train station is actually clean and inviting. (When is King Street’s interminable “remodel” going to be finished, anyway?) And, of course, there’s the bike thing. I could tell almost immediately that Portland is much more bikeable than Seattle (bike paths, bike parking, and bike nerds everywhere!), but I didn’t try to get around by bike while I was there (hey, I know my limits), so I can’t really speak about it.

Portland's train station
Portland’s train station (the inside ain’t half bad, either)
Bike parking at Powell’s

On to transit:

I’m extremely impressed by what Portland has going on. Though I was only there for one day, and I didn’t really venture beyond the downtown/waterfront area, I can say with confidence that Portland’s system (TriMet) is much more usable (and useful) than Seattle’s. Some reasons why:

The website! I could write an entire post just about this. It is clearly organized, with easy access to the information riders need (trip planner, how to ride, maps, etc.). To find out how to get to the conference location, I typed “Amtrak Station” and “Portland State University” into the trip planner entry fields on the home page and (immediately, without errors or a list of obscure locations I might have meant to enter) got several useful itineraries, complete with fare information, links to maps, and detailed information about the stops, including the stop IDs. All transit websites should be this good.

• The bus stops. At the big stops, the shelters tell you the intersection where the stop is located, so you don’t have to walk to the corner and try to read the signs. The signs tell you: the stop ID (which, unlike in Seattle, you can use for TriMet’s version of Tracker or the automated phone system), if you’re in the Fareless Square, and if the stop has frequent service.

A Portland bus shelter
A Portland bus stop

• The streetcar. Getting around the center city on that thing is a cinch. Since it’s a fixed route and there are maps available almost everywhere, you can (and we did) use it to get from the waterfront to PSU to Powell’s without knowing a single thing about Portland or its transit system. No asking the driver of whatever route happens to show up, “How far do you go down 3rd?” No hassles trying to figure out how to get from one corner of downtown to another without a long, uphill walk (favored by bus chicks but few others), a transfer, or a cab ride.

(Note: I might get my bus chick credentials revoked when I admit that I haven’t yet ridden the SLUT, but there it is. Yes, Chicklet keeps me pretty busy, and blah, blah, blah, but the truth is, it doesn’t go anywhere I need to be–or, at least, it doesn’t go anywhere I’ve needed to be since it began operating. I’ll check it out before the summer’s over, but to clarify: This is not a comparison of Portland’s streetcar and Seattle’s [except perhaps to suggest that Portland’s is more useful to a larger number of people] but rather, a comparison of how easy it is to get around the cities’ downtown areas.)

Chicklet learning about the Portland streetcar
Portland Streetcar: So easy, a baby could ride.

• Digital signs inside vehicles. We saw these on the streetcar and on buses. They are very helpful if you don’t know a city (and don’t have a husband who uses a personal GPS device with his nerd phone), are in an unfamiliar neighborhood, or can’t see out the window.
MAX light rail. I didn’t ride it, but it’s there. Enough said.

Other stuff of note:

• The streetcar had audio ads over the automated PA. They went something like this: “State street station, brought to you by the State Street Grill.” It was kind of creepy, but interesting nonetheless; I’m always keeping my eyes out for new ways to fund transit. Most of the ads I heard were for new condo developments. And speaking of…

A condo ad on the Portland Streetcar
“Forget the car. Live in the Pearl.”

• We ran into Vic and Julia from Sustainable Ballard/Undriving Ballard (he-ey, ladies!) on the streetcar. They were in town for the conference as well. Julia even presented earlier in the week.

Portland isn’t perfect, by any stretch. Like most (OK, all) US cities, it still feels very car-dominated. I’m also aware that, despite their proximity, Seattle and Portland are very different cities–in part because of differences in size and geography, and in part because of better planning on Portland’s part. Still, what I wouldn’t give to have a little of what they’ve got around here. How about we start with a new and improved website?

More about walkability

Now that's my kind of sidewalk. There's even a bench.Last week I posted a link to, a website that calculates the walkability of a given address based on the number of stores and other amenities within–you guessed it!–walking distance. It’s a cool site (and probably accurate in most cases), but I’m hoping it will eventually evolve to something a bit more sophisticated. The thing is, walkability is about a lot more than how many stores are in your neighborhood. For me, it’s about the safety, convenience, and general pleasantness of actually getting to them.

My house, for instance, scored an 86. I’d give it about a 75. (Note that Bus Nerd would strongly disagree with me on this. He thinks walking around here is perfectly fine.) Much as I love being so close to a library, two community centers, two parks, lots of schools, and six bus routes(!), I do not love the narrow sidewalks, speeding cars, and pedestrian-unfriendly street crossings. There are several stores nearby, but they are almost all in strip malls, and to actually get to any of them, you have to cross huge parking lots (full of speeding cars).

Not that any of that stops me. I love walking. I walk to church, to the grocery store, to the beauty shop, to the coffee shop, to the park, to the pool, to the video store, to the drug store, and–at least a couple of times a month–all the way downtown. Truth be told, I prefer walking to riding the bus. If the weather was always nice and I had all the time in the world, I’d walk everywhere I needed to go–well, within five or so miles. (Once, I talked Bus Nerd into walking all the way to Pier 55 to catch the Water Taxi, and then from Seacrest Park, where the Water Taxi dropped us off, all the way to the end of Alki to meet my brother for lunch. Oh yeah, and then back.)

But enough about me already. What do you think makes a neighborhood walkable?