Monthly Archives: March 2006

Moving to the ‘burbs to reduce your cost of living?

Not so fast! It’s difficult for folks to afford to live in this region, suburbs or not, but Seattle is one of the few cities in the country where it is possible to get a location-efficient mortgage (LEM). If you buy in a community that provides strong alternative transportation options, the money you will save on commuting is counted as income, and you can qualify for a larger mortgage than you otherwise would have.

On a related note, I found this on Detroit’s Transportation Riders United Web site:

Common mortgage-lending practices make urban living artificially unaffordable. Most homeowners devote about 55 percent of their income to housing and transportation costs combined. Families in suburban areas spend 30 percent on their homes and 25 percent or more on their cars. Those in urban neighborhoods with good transit spend a mere 10 percent getting around but 45 percent on their homes.

But mortgage bankers rarely allow housing payments to exceed 30 percent of income, so urban abodes are “mortgage unaffordable” for many buyers. The mortgage industry’s view steers buyers to the suburbs, indirectly increasing air pollution, traffic, and sprawl.

Patrick H. Hare

It’s not that community college in Tacoma, but it does offer classes

Today, I met with Rachel from Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC, for the sake of my weary fingers) at Red Line on Capitol Hill. Seattle doesn’t have a red line, but we will if the folks at Rachel’s organization have anything to say about it. (OK, maybe not a red line: Check out this funny article about LA’s subway-color debate.)

As is my custom, I digress.

TCC is a nonprofit organization that advocates for true transportation choices–not just public transportation, but also better infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians–in Washington State. TCC works with legislators and government agencies to influence policy. It also works directly with citizens–by educating them about transportation alternatives and by keeping them abreast of policy decisions.

That’s where Rachel comes in. She is the fabulous field manager of this fabulous organization, and boy does she ever know her stuff! In a one-hour conversation with her, I learned more about how regional transportation is funded and run than I have learned in months of independent Internet research. (OK, so I’m not a big fan of ginormous .pdf files, but still.)

And here’s the best news: You can learn from Rachel, too, and you don’t even have to meet her at Red Line (though you’ll be missing out on the delicious hot sandwiches). All you have to do is sign up for TCC’s traveling (go figure) “Transportation, 101” course. Here’s the description:

Transportation 101 will answer these burning questions and more…

Who are the major transportation players in the Puget Sound region?

What decisions will be HOT in 2006?

Is Sound Transit going to the ballot this year? What about Metro?

How can I get involved?

Most of these events are done brown-bag style over lunch, but we can also do morning or evening. Invite your fellow employees or community groups – no size is too big or too small. All you need to do is invite your folks and bring your lunch – we’ll take care of all the materials. This is a great opportunity to get all your transportation questions answered, as well as learn about what’s on tap for the next year or two.

For more information, e-mail Rachel.

Metro buses eat their veggies

King County recently announced plans to significantly increase the amount of biodiesel fuel used by Metro buses. Metro’s current biodiesel blend contains 5% biodiesel and 95% Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel. The goal is to increase the percentage of biodiesel to 20%, in support of the county’s intention to “cut pollution, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and encourage growth in the domestic clean-fuel industry.”

No word yet on a timeline, but your friendly neighborhood bus chick is on the case.

Friday was a 234

This week was a week of obsession with numbers. I think it had something to do with the release of Prince’s 3121, which I am listening to as I type. I apologize to my neighbors for the liberties I have taken with the volume control on my computer speakers.

But I digress.

I have taken to keeping track of all the buses I ride in a day and (for reasons I cannot fully explain) adding up the numbers. I assign the final sum to the day–a sort of reverse numerology. A higher number usually means that it was a fairly busy bus day, but not necessarily. Suburban routes are three-digit numbers, so they add up quickly. In the days when I worked in Redmond, it would have been possible for me to ride to work and back only and still “earn” a 1090. Yesterday, on the other hand, I ran around from morning to night and earned a paltry 234. Here’s how I did it:


I also did a fair amount of walking. Which reminds me: So far, today’s been a zero. On sunny days when I don’t have to go to work or anyplace in particular, I like to rely on my feet.

Not that kind of transportation

My parents recently moved to a condo on Harbor Ave., the main drag between the West Seattle Bridge and Alki beach. Despite the fact that two buses–the 37 and the 53–stop mere steps from their door, it is nearly impossible for me to visit them.

Of the two routes, only the 37 goes downtown. Unfortunately, it runs to downtown only in the morning, from downtown only in the evening, and only eight times a day each way (twice a day each way on Saturday). The 53 goes to the Alaska Junction, which is a transfer point to buses that go downtown, but it does not run at all on the weekend and runs once an hour–between 8 AM and 4 PM–on weekdays.

Every time I have bused to my parents’ new place, I have been forced to take the 55 to the Admiral District at the north end of West Seattle. This gets me close enough to walk or meet them somewhere. Yesterday, when the 55 I was riding was stopped at the intersection of California and Admiral, a city worker on a Segway scooted past my window on his way to check the gas meter.

While I am sure that (expensive) personal transportation devices help city employees work more efficiently, I find it impossible to believe that more efficient gas-meter-checking can rival the impact of, say, improved bus service in commonly visited areas of town (it’s the beach, for heaven’s sake). Perhaps we can start directing some of those “discretionary” tax dollars toward Metro.

…and chocolate for energy

Back when I was considering going car-free, I feared that becoming a bus chick would also cause me to become a homebody. I knew I could get to work and to my regular haunts on the bus, but what about a party in Renton on Saturday night, or a reading at an obscure bookshop in Ballard? I worried that I would decide events like these were not worth the trouble and give up the active life I had grown used to.

I am happy to report that, three years into this experiment, my life is as active as ever. This is largely thanks to:

1) Metro’s Trip Planner. All I have to know is where I am and where I’m going, and Trip Planner does the rest.
2) Flexcar. I rent a Flexcar only about once every other month, but when I use it, I need it. (Sometimes, you just can’t get there on the bus.) If I didn’t have the option of borrowing a car from time to time, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to try living without one.
3) A bus pal. My fiancé, Adam, is also car-free. Having a partner to wait with on those cold, late-night, and out-of-the-way excursions makes all the difference.
4) Bus ruts. I tend to ride the same routes over and over. After too many weeks of this, I get bored and look forward to any excuse to try a new number.

On Sunday, armed with my bus pal, a laptop, and an itch to get out of a longer-than-normal bus rut, I went from my home in the Central District to church (also in the Central District) to the University District to run an errand, then downtown to run another errand, and finally, to West Seattle to visit my family. That’s at least as much as an average person accomplishes on an average Sunday, but I got exercise and talked to strangers and felt the sun on my face, and I didn’t have to fight traffic or pay for parking.

American convenience, Bus-Chick style

Much as I love my life on the bus, errands can sometimes be a hassle. Take grocery shopping. I like to buy produce from local, organic farmers, and back when I had a car, I always did. These days, my success rate isn’t quite as high. Though my favorite co-op is less than a mile and a half from my house, I have to take two buses to get there, and sometimes (a lot of times) I decide it’s not worth the trouble. As a result, for the past few years, I have found myself either a) not eating much produce, or b) trying to find something organic at the nearby, for-profit grocery store.

Yesterday, I signed up for Pioneer Organics, a service that delivers local, organic produce to your door. Though I generally avoid excessive use of delivery services (What’s the point of me not having a car if I pass the driving on to someone else?), I made an exception in this case. Pioneer delivers to each neighborhood on a specific day of the week–much more efficient from a fuel-use perspective than the on-demand method of most grocery delivery services. Also, since most of the produce sold at chain grocery stores is shipped from far away, and since Pioneer only buys its produce from local farmers, I figure that ordering Pioneer’s delivery actually burns fewer total fossil fuels than walking to the Red Apple down the street.

Of course, I’ll still have to head to the co-op every once in a while–that is, unless Pioneer wants to throw a box of laundry detergent on that truck.

Taking the “community” out of community meeting

As promised, my trip report from tonight’s public meeting:

Let me start by saying that, though I would like to see the city reexamine its focus on a car-centric infrastructure, I certainly understand the need to maintain (and even upgrade) our roads and bridges. This is not a public transit nut’s rant about the amount of money spent on roads. This is an ordinary (well, not exactly ordinary) citizen’s rant about being blatantly manipulated by the people she has entrusted to run her city.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a flyer from SDOT in the mail. The front of the flyer said, “Transportation Priorities Open House” and had several pictures: people walking, people biking, people driving, people waiting at bus stops, buses stopping at bus stops, etc. The back of the card said, “Mayor Greg Nickels, Councilmember Jan Drago, and the Seattle Department of Transportation are hosting a town hall meeting in your community. We want to hear from you. Attend this meeting to share your transportation priorities and help us improve our aging transportation infrastructure.”

Of course I was down.

Part of it was my fault. I assumed that a meeting about transportation priorities would include everything that fell under the transportation umbrella. It did not immediately occur to me (and it probably should have), that there is a difference between Seattle’s transportation priorities and the Seattle Department of Transportation‘s priorities. (SDOT only handles maintenance of roads, bridges, sidewalks, and bike paths.) Still, even after figuring this out (mind, only because I took the time to read the information on the Internet), I still wanted to go. Buses use the roads, too, and besides, I wanted to hear what my neighbors thought about the issue.

Folks, I could’ve had a V8.

First, let’s talk about the survey. I tried to fill it out online last night (after I had foolishly encouraged you to) and found myself unable. The questions were leading and worded in a way that could be used to support almost any agenda. Here’s an example:

How would you rank the value of a good transportation infrastructure/network to your day-to-day life?

Very important Somewhat Not important

I would rank a good transportation infrastructure as crucially important, but that doesn’t mean I think we should build more roads and highways. There was no way to indicate this in the survey.

Here’s another:

Were you aware the City of Seattle has lost critical funding sources (totaling over $20 million dollars per year) that were dedicated to transportation?

Hey! I thought this survey was about me telling them stuff.

On to the meeting. Here’s what I gave up my evening to do:

1. Arrive. Sign in. Pick up a slick brochure with the mayor’s face on it.
2. Find my house on a map of the city and put colored pushpin there.
3. Fill out a paper version of the same lame “survey” that’s on the Web.
4. Look at some displays with pictures of the dire condition of our roads and bridges while waiting for the mayor to arrive.
5. Eat cookies and drink coffee while waiting for the mayor to arrive.
6. Sit down. Listen to: a near-endorsement of the property tax levy the mayor has apparently proposed to fund our transportation “priorities” by the evening’s moderator, a gushing introduction of the mayor by said moderator, a speech by the mayor, and a testimonial about the importance of transportation funding by a Greenwood resident.
7. Watch a PowerPoint presentation by an SDOT rep, complete with scary pictures of deteriorating streets and ummarked crosswalks.
8. Sit in openmouthed silence while the moderator adjourns the meeting and politely invites audience members to stay after and “ask questions of” any of the nice SDOT reps stationed around the room.

The end. There was no public discussion, unless you count this:

Citizen who took time out of his life to attend the meeting: “I’m very confused about this meeting. I was given the impression that this was you coming to the Central District and asking the Central District, ‘What neighborhood priorities do you have from SDOT?’ Instead what this seems to be is a way to say, ‘Oh gosh we’ve got a huge problem here. We need to kind of build up public support by showing all these deteriorating crosswalks and sidewalks and everything, so we can have a funding increase.’ I don’t understand. I got the impression we were going to say, ‘Well, we need to have a street repaired here,’ and that sort of thing. And that’s not what this meeting is about at all.”

Moderator: “The purpose of the meeting was to come and show you the problem as they see it–both the mayor and the Department of Transportation–and to have you and ask questions of city staff, and to put your funding priorities on those green and yellow sheets. We hope you will let your views be known on all of that–both the levy and the funding priorities.

Citizen who took time out of his life to attend the meeting: So there’s no community discussion of priorities, then?

Moderator: “Not as such right now, sir.”

Sound off

If you have an opinion about Seattle’s transportation priorities (Is it possible that you don’t?), you are invited to attend any of a series of public discussions — hosted by the mayor, Councilmember Jan Drago, and the Seattle Department of Transportation–on the subject.

It appears that the discussions are going to focus on which highways to repair and upgrade, but I intend to attend the meeting at Garfield Community Center (tomorrow at 6:30) and raise my voice in support of a strong public transportation infrastructure. I hope to see some of you there.

If you don’t have time to attend one of the meetings, you can come back here for my report about the Garfield meeting. Also, make sure you take this survey.