An anniversary, a heavy baby, and an(other) angry rant

As of last week, it’s been twelve years since I gave up my car. A lot has changed since my 11-year “anniversary.” For one thing, we have another kid.


Our foster son (Heaviest Baby Ever, or HBE, for the purposes of this blog) is 21 months old, adorable, brilliant, and completely insane. (It is no coincidence that I posted my last entry mere days before he joined our family.) HBE has been with us since he was 16-months old, already well into the squirmy, irrational toddler phase. (On the plus side, I got to skip the busing while pregnant part this time.)

All of us have spent the last four months adjusting to this change and bonding with our delightful—and exhausting—new addition. The grown-ups in our household have also spent it figuring out how to manage busing with three babies.

As you might imagine, I have some STORIES TO TELL—about double the drop-offs, the return to traveling with a toddler, and adjusting to having more children than hands—but I’ll save those for future posts. Today, I’m not particularly interested in sharing the details of my personal experience. Or, perhaps I mean to say, my family’s personal experience isn’t really the point.

Over these twelve years, I’ve come to understand that the fact that we’ve managed to make this car-free life work, despite all the children, route “restructuring,” and sketchy stop removals is not reflective of what is possible for most people. It is reflective of some level of determination and stubbornness on our part—and also of a fair amount of privilege.

What’s on my mind almost all the time (and certainly every time I sit down to write something about transit)? The many people who aren’t managing.

Instead of focusing on the tradeoffs and compromises we were willing to make in order to live near transit and other amenities, I want talk about the fact that most working people can’t afford to live in Seattle at all, with or without tradeoffs.

The cost of housing in Seattle has been a problem for decades. At this point, it has reached the level of crisis. It is the most important issue our city faces, and there is shamefully little being done about it. We can talk all we want about urban villages and walkability and live/work communities, but if only rich people can live these utopias we’re building, we haven’t solved any problems. If anything, we’ve made problems worse, pushing people who can’t afford cars to distant suburbs that require them and moving rich people, many of whom will still choose to own cars (even if we ever manage to provide adequate transit service), into a crowded city that is better off without them.

Rather than regale you with stories of the dozens (hundreds?) of times I walked from one end of Yesler to the other (it’s 32 hilly blocks, in case you were wondering) because the 27 doesn’t run during the day anymore (!!!), I’d rather talk about the reliability and availability of transit in this region. The pathetic frequency of many routes, combined with the fact that buses are stuck in the same traffic mess as cars (but unlike cars, don’t have the option of rerouting to get around it), means that buses simply can’t be relied upon to get folks to their jobs, childcare pickups, and medical appointments on time. The way I have coped is by always leaving early, scheduling appointments at times when buses are more likely to be reliable, and living close to everything I really need to do every day. These are not luxuries everyone has.

Looking at reliability in a broader sense: Transit service in King County has been in jeopardy for years. Riders live with the constant threat of cuts, never knowing if the bus they rely on will be eliminated or reduced. In September, KC Metro cut almost 200,000 of hours of service (my beloved 27 included), and riders were left to figure out how to carry on their lives. In the meantime, the agency continues to raise fares to compensate for lost revenue (props for ORCA LIFT, though), and there is still no statewide (or, for that matter, countywide) transit funding solution on the horizon.

One of the purposes of this blog has always been to, as I said, back in 2009, “present a way of life.” I hoped that it would encourage people to think differently and give them a window into a way of doing things they perhaps hadn’t considered. But these days, encouraging people to depend on transit seems naïve, even irresponsible.

Right now, the region’s got all it can handle trying to make things better for those who already do.

7 thoughts on “An anniversary, a heavy baby, and an(other) angry rant

  1. Kimberly

    So glad to see you back, Bus Chick, but so sad to see you frustrated about the lack of affordable housing and reliable transit. The problems are real, but– at risk of sounding shallow and selfish– I want to hear your personal stories too! My “car-lite” family and I moved to Seattle last summer and your blog has been a fun and inspiring read over the past several months. I can see how the suggestion to ride transit may seem irrelevant or impossible to the many, many people that must live far outside the city, but I think it’s also important to realize that there is value in speaking to those that do have the choice (and can theoretically start generating revenue to expand the bus network to reach those far out places). I also think the situation isn’t so black and white… I’d venture to suggest that many people really can choose to at least make some trade-offs that promote a more walkable/ car-free life (e.g. pick the smaller apartment next to school instead of the bigger one at the top of a hill, live by that bus that runs once an hour instead of in the house with the pretty yard 2 miles away). In moving here, my husband wrote a computer program (serious geek) into which we could feed addresses and see how far away the things that were important to us were– schools, church, library, park, work, etc. We also looked very carefully at transit maps and schedules. It was interesting to see that the most walkable/ transit friendly locations for us weren’t necessarily in the most expensive parts of the city (or even in the city at all). We ended up in Broadview in the northwest corner of the city. Sometimes I hate it for it’s suburban feel, but I’m hating it while walking/biking places or while manhandling toddlers plus double stroller onto the 5 (that’s been crazy!)– not while driving around. Weird as it sounds, I think we’d be more car dependent if we were in some of the closer-in neighborhoods.

    1. BusChick Post author

      Hi Kimberly,

      Thanks for your thoughts. You’re right about two things:

      1) I am definitely feeling frustrated.
      2) Things aren’t as black and white as I paint them in this post. We all make big and small choices within the frameworks and constraints our lives present us with. I do get that. Come to think of it, in some ways, that’s the whole premise of this blog.

      I think my frustration comes from the fact that we’re so willing to let “the market” decide who does and doesn’t have access. The inequity in this progressive bastion is staggering. And, car dependence is as high as it is in places like Los Angeles. We need to stop congratulating ourselves and get to work. Because, unless and until we fix the big issues, we’ll continue to add cars to this already stressed region. It makes me sad. And angry. And tired.

      On a more upbeat note: If you’re in Broadview, it means you live near one of my very favorite places in Seattle: Carkeek Park. Lucky. Also, Chicklet’s favorite bus was the 5 for an entire year–when *she* was five. : )

      Good luck with the twin toddlers. I used to thank the bus gods I never had twins, because that would have made pack-carrying out of the question. But it sounds like you’re making it work. Congrats.

  2. Pete

    I would love to rely solely on transit. I’ve lived in cities (Osaka and Vancouver, BC, to name two) where it’s easy, and I happily went carless,

    In Seattle, even if you have the privilege or can make the sacrifices needed to live in the city (thank you for speaking out on that!), I find the bus system OK for discrete errands but impossible as a way of life. I’m disabled, and walking several blocks in a hilly city to get to or from a bus route is difficult on good days. Having to then stand on that bus (good luck getting someone to give up their seat) when I both can’t stand for long periods and am immuno-compromised and am taking huge risks on a jammed bus in winter months is suicidal. It’s even more special if I need to carry or haul anything. ACCESS is a cruel joke.

    I’m also self-employed, and my time is meaningful; when I can drive somewhere comfortably in 15 minutes I don’t feel strongly enough about saving the planet to spend two hours wrecking my body for the same trip via bus instead.

    WAY too many of the bus advocates in town (present company happily excepted) ooze contempt for car drivers specifically because they’re able-bodied (or young, wealthy, or childless) enough that they can mistake their privilege for moral superiority. Their smugness is appalling. If they were more interested in allies, perhaps the county and state wouldn’t be voting down transit system so often and they’d be more usable for people like me.

  3. Pingback: Hear my bus a comin’ | Bus Chick

  4. guerre

    Hey first time commenting, great post highlighting connection between having reliable affordable housing and reliable affordable transit. These will be big issues during the upcoming city council race, at least for Kshama Sawant as she runs to represent Capitol Hill, the Central District, and Mt Baker. Do you support her campaign, and is there any policies which you think could be used to build collective actions to force the rest of the establishment to adequately address these issues?

    1. BusChick Post author

      Hi, guerre. (Interesting name choice. ; )) Yes, I support Sawant. As for your other question: Feel free to email me (you can find the address in the right column on this blog) if you’d like to chat more in depth about this stuff.

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