As of today, eight years carfree.
From MSNBC, via my neighbor, Casey (and Bus Nerd):
Meet Natalie McVeigh, the auto industry’s latest headache.
At 25 years old, McVeigh lives in Denver and has two good jobs, as a research analyst and an adjunct professor of philosophy. What she doesn’t have — or want — is a car.
A confluence of events — environmental worries, a preference for gadgets over wheels and the yearslong economic doldrums — is pushing some teens and twentysomethings to opt out of what has traditionally been considered an American rite of passage: Owning a car.
Guess that mad man wasn’t so mad after all.
One of the most common objections to getting around without a car (and specifically, to riding the bus) is that it simply takes too much time. Though this certainly isn’t always true (many commutes are faster with PT) I do concede that some–OK, a lot of–trips take longer by bus.*
And yet, I would argue that, compared to the average car-owning parent/professional, I come out ahead in the time department. How is this possible, you ask? Because the amount of time it takes to travel by car isn’t just about how quickly you can get from point A to point B.
Consider that I never have to:
• Shop for a car or insurance
• Search for parking
• Stop for gas
• Get my oil changed
• Buy new tires
• Replace brakes/clutch/transmission/alternator/battery
• Schlep to a dealer for scheduled maintenance
• Wait for a tow truck
• Wait in line for emissions testing/inspections
• Wash, vacuum, detail or otherwise shine up
• Get a ding or scratch fixed
• Deal with insurance drama after an accident
• And et cetera
Consider also that the time I spend traveling is not wasted time. I use it to:
• Spend QT with my kids (with reading, games, and face-to-face talking)
• Exercise (can’t remember the last time I saw the inside of a gym)**
• Catch up on e-mail
• Listen to messages (OK, yes, sometimes I talk on the phone. Quietly. About appropriate subjects. Hey, at least it’s legal.)
• Prepare for meetings
• Look out the window and enjoy my city
But here’s the really important part:
Given that our family saves well over ten thousand dollars per year in transportation costs, the additional money we invest will take years off our working lives.
Now that’s a time tradeoff I’m willing to make.
*Of course, this would be true much less often if buses had dedicated right-of-way, but that’s a post for another time.
**In addition to all the walking I do to and from bus stops, for most trips of a mile or less, I usually choose to walk the entire distance. It doesn’t take much longer than driving, if you factor in loading up and strapping in + searching for parking. Plus (as I mentioned), I never have to set aside time to exercise.
Earlier this month, I celebrated my car-free anniversary. As of March 5th (or was it the 6th?), I’m officially seven years in.
It’s been an eventful seven years. I bought a home, got married, lost my beloved mother to cancer, and had two children. Navigating so many major life events without a car in a city that all but requires one has certainly had its challenges, but it has also integrated the bus into all of my significant recent memories*–and made it impossible for me to imagine my life without Metro. As I wrote in my Real Change column back in 2006, buses have associations for me.
Riding the Water Taxi reminds me of the days I spent with my mother during her last months of life. The first time I rode it to my parents’ Seacrest Park condo the spring after she died, I cried. Sometimes I still do.
The 545 will forever feel romantic to me, since it’s the route Nerd and I rode together in the early days of our courtship. I don’t think I’ve ever looked more forward to a commute–or for that matter, to anything.
The 4 and 27 are my baby buses–the 4 because I rode it to all of my obstetrician appointments–and home from the hospital with Chicklet; the 27 because I rode it to the hospital to deliver Chicklet and home from the hospital with Busling.
And there are many more. The Ballard buses (17, 18) take me to my brother, Jeremy (and also remind me of my rather unfortunate adventure as a ball-gown model); the 55 takes me to my Joelie and the place I still consider home; the 14 is all about TAC meetings, Top Pot (Summit side), and writing group get-togethers at my friend Marchel’s house (Mount Baker side); the 194: Paris, Detroit, and airport goodbyes with Bus Nerd; the 8: Mom again.
And the 36, though it’s not one of my regular routes, reminds me of why I ride: to be a part of my community, and to share my travels with the people I share the world with.
Bring on the next seven.
• Dorea of Carfree with Kids shares her tips for raising good walkers.
It occurs to me, after reading the Portland dad’s arguments and all of the comments on my last post, that is might be worth it for PT-loving parents to collaborate a bit. I’m thinking that–in addition to offering support and sharing information–we could probably come up with a list of best practices to help transit agencies better meet the needs of families.*
*Since most US agencies are in dire financial straits at this point, we probably can’t expect them to take suggestions that cost a lot of money, but I don’t think all (or even most) of the recommendations would have to be costly. Besides, the agencies won’t always be broke (I hope!), so it can’t hurt to put the expensive ideas out there.
I do my best to keep this blog positive, in part because there are enough people in the world complaining about PT (really, there are enough people in the world complaining, period), but mostly because I really do enjoy my life on the bus. There are certainly challenges, but every choice comes with challenges, and I’ll take mine over all of the drawbacks of driving. I digress.
Folks, in addition to keeping it positive, I like to keep it real, and I have to say, I’m feeling pretty challenged right now. The transition from bus parent of one to bus parent of two has been harder than any I have made so far, including the transition from car-owning bus enthusiast to car-free full-time rider–and even from happily childless bus chick to bus mom. Of course, not all of the pain I am feeling right now is about travel; adjusting to parenting two has been tough for me, even (perhaps especially) when we’re in the house all day. Still, I’d be lying if I said that the bus wasn’t contributing to my angst. Peep it:
The first time I rode the bus with both babies, it was for a family outing: Nerd, Chicklet, week-old Busling, and me. Our Goddaughter, Layla, was turning one, and (thanks to the enormous families of both of her parents), her party was held at a community center in the south end. The three-bus trip (48 + 7 + 39) was less than ideal but was doable with two adults, and, despite the fact that Chicklet was a bit antsy during transfers, we managed it pretty well.
The trip home was more of a challenge, since the 39 only runs once per hour on Sunday evenings. Saying our goodbyes and getting Chicklet appropriately bundled took longer than we expected, and we barely missed the bus we had planned to catch. Had we been traveling without children, this would have been a minor inconvenience, but since we were dealing with a toddler’s bedtime, a newborn’s feeding schedule, a post-partum mom’s fatigue, and a party that ended before the next bus was scheduled to arrive, it was a major inconvenience. We ended up taking a cab home, sans car seats. I worried for the entire (thankfully short) ride.
The second time I rode the bus with both babies, it was to meet my friend Kelley and her daughter at a park in Madrona. On that day, I was parenting solo, and, thanks to a morning errand in the neighborhood, arrived at the 48 stop mere seconds before the bus did. I quickly removed Chicklet from her stroller, but when I tried to fold it down, it wouldn’t budge; a stack of papers I had tossed into the storage basket earlier that morning was in the way.
While I squatted on the sidewalk, trying to un-jam the stroller–with one hand on the baby (to prevent him from tipping out of the sling-like carrier he’s riding in until he gets big enough for the real deal) and one hand on Chicklet (to prevent her from running into the busy street we were waiting near)–the bus pulled up, and folks started boarding. When they finished, I was still struggling.
The driver peered out the door and asked politely, “Are y’all coming?” but I was so embarrassed and discombobulated, I shook my head.
“I’ll just catch the next one,” I said, and then watched as he closed the doors and drove away.
The three of us did, in fact, wait the 15+ minutes for the next bus, and when it arrived, I was prepared: Busling strapped to my chest, bus chick bag on my left shoulder, Chicklet on my left hip, Orca card in my left hand (ready to swipe), stroller folded up and ready to be carried on board with my free right hand. I managed to get everyone–and everything–on and off without incident, but that ride only took us part of the way there. (We still had a short 2 ride, which I skipped in favor of a medium-distance walk, to go.) By the time we finally made it to the park, I was stressed and tired, and we were late to meet our friends.
Since that enjoyable trip, we’ve gone on several outings as a threesome, with (thankfully) much less drama. For one thing, I don’t always bring the stroller for Chicklet; she’s capable of walking several blocks on her own. Whether or not I bring it depends on how far we have to walk–and whether I’ll need to contain her–when we get where we’re going. For another, I usually don’t arrive at stops right when the bus does. When I get there a couple of minutes early, I don’t have to rush to get ready to board and am therefore better prepared to deal with any equipment malfunctions that may arise.
Of course, getting anywhere on time (let alone a couple of minutes early) with a newborn and a two-year old is a feat in itself. This is one of the many reasons I am grateful that I can walk to many of my regular destinations. When it’s not raining, we walk to church, to the library (it’s across the street!), to the park, to the doctor’s office, to restaurants and coffee shops, to grocery and drug stores, to community centers, and to friends’ houses. On occasion, we even walk downtown.
And so, here’s hoping I’ll get to reap at least one reward of the bus (or not) parenting lifestyle: A speedy return to my pre-Busling form.
At 6:20 on Sunday morning, we welcomed a new member to our bus family. True to the predictions of the bus ladies (and everyone else), it’s a boy. His stats:
Name: Quincy Tonderai
Birth date: 1/24/2010
Weight: 9 lbs, 5.5 ounces (And we thought his sister was big!)
Length: 21.25 inches
We rode to the hospital in a cab (door-to-door in five minutes) and took our baby Busling home on our family’s favorite route. (It’s a pretty long walk from Swedish to the 27 stop, but we had missed the 4 and were eager to get home to Chicklet.) Like his sister, he took his first bus ride in a car seat, since babies aren’t allowed to leave the hospital without one, but–also like his sister–he’ll soon be taking all his rides in a carrier.
Since the trip home, we’ve been bus free, resting and spending some QT with our sweet QT.
At 2 AM Saturday morning, Chicklet woke up with a fever of over 104. After calling our insurance hotline and talking with an on-call nurse and doctor, we decided to take her to the emergency room. Even if the bus had been running at that hour, walking and waiting were out of the question (for me, anyway–Nerd was down), and there were no Zipcars available in our neighborhood. So, we settled for option three–a cab–and were sitting in the Swedish ER within 15 minutes of the call.*
Fortunately, Chicklet was not seriously ill. She had case of strep throat, from which she has recovered quite quickly. And have I mentioned how grateful I am to have insurance and access to quality medical care? I digress.
The prospect of emergency-illness situations like this was one of the few issues that gave me pause when planning for car-free parenthood. Nerd and I both knew that we’d remain car-free when we had kids and that we’d do whatever was necessary to make it work,** but from the beginning, I’ve felt anxiety about how we would handle the inevitable medical emergencies that seem to arise with small children.
I realize that this is an irrational fear. After all, we’ve chosen to live in a dense(ish), urban neighborhood that gives us easy access to both regular and emergency care. Our home is a block from Chicklet’s pediatrician and within a couple of miles of four hospitals. We also have multiple travel options (Zipcars, cabs, or ambulances, depending on the circumstances) for situations when her pediatrician’s office is closed and a bus is not available or practical. Still, there’s something about not feeling in control and about having to figure out how to get somewhere in a moment of crisis, that doesn’t–or, at least, didn’t–sit well with me.
Now that we have a few Chicklet ER trips under our belt (one by bus, one by Zipcar, and this latest, by cab), I feel more at ease. In every case, we were sitting in the waiting room within 30 minutes of our decision to go, which is faster than most car-owning suburban parents–many of whom live long drives from hospitals–can make it. In fact, if all else failed, we could probably walk to a hospital faster than a large percentage of Americans could drive to one. Shoot, if my parent-protective-fear-adrenaline instinct was activated, I’d run.
*It was actually a good trial run for labor (assuming that ever happens), which will also probably involve a cab ride.
**So far, we haven’t changed much–in terms of our transportation and living situation, at least. We still live in the same–though much more crowded–home, still rent Zipcars about as frequently, and still ride the same routes. About the only thing that’s changed is that we walk in our neighborhood (mostly headed to parks) even more than we did before.
I’ve spent the past 20 months (well, on and off anyway–I know not everyone’s as interested in hearing about my kid as I am in talking about her) telling you how much I enjoy busing with Chicklet. And I really do. I love spending one-on-one time on our travels. I love having extra time to read and talk to her. I love experiencing the excitement of riding through her eyes. I love that I am teaching her many of my values–conservation, equality, community engagement, thrift, to name a few–without having to say a word.
But, you know all that stuff. You also know that I wouldn’t have started this post reiterating everything I love about my car-free, child-full life, unless I was about to tell you about something I don’t love.
There are, in fact, several things I don’t love about car-free parenting. As improbable is it seems (given that most of my life is spent not driving) the issue that causes me the greatest amount of inconvenience, stress, and anxiety is: car seat drama.
You see, although we don’t own a car, there are occasions (about once a month or every other month) when we need to use one. In the old days, this was a cinch: 1. Reserve car 2. Walk to car 3. Drive car 4. Return car.
These days? Not so much. The new routine: 1) Reserve car* 2. Schlep Chicklet, Chicklet’s car seat, and Chicklet’s stuff to car 3. Install car seat in car while ensuring that Chicklet doesn’t push any of the car’s buttons or make a beeline for the busy parking lot where the car is parked 4. Strap Chicklet into car seat 5. Drive car 6. Return car 7. Remove Chicklet and unstrap seat 8. Schlep Chicklet, seat, and stuff back home.
If Nerd is around for the car trip, the process is somewhat easier, since one of us can go get the car (sans Chicklet) and bring it back to our place to install the seat. Still, it wastes precious time that we’re paying for.
And I’m not finished.
On my father’s 70th birthday, the family met at a restaurant on Alki Beach to celebrate. After dinner, everyone wanted to head to my dad’s place–not far from the restaurant, but too far to walk–for dessert. Because the bus service in that part of town is abysmal, there’s no service from Alki to my dad’s place (at Seacrest) in the evening. Pre-child, this would not have been an issue. Nerd and I would have ridden to my dad’s with some family member or other, and, after dinner, walked up the hill to catch the 55 or hitched a ride downtown with my brother, who would have been heading that way anyway. But, since we had Chicklet with us, and since we didn’t happen to bring her 15-pound car seat along on our outing, we missed the after-party.
The next Saulter family gathering was for Father’s Day bowling at West Seattle Bowl. This time, we anticipated a post-bowling trip to Pegasus and so dragged Chicklet’s enormous seat along with us on the two-bus trip to the bowling alley. With two parents and two fairly empty Sunday-afternoon buses, we managed it. Certainly, though, it’s not a reasonable regular practice.
And then there was the time back in November of 2008, when we attended an election party at our friends’ place in Kirkland. On the way home (per usual, we had to leave earlier than everyone else to catch the last bus), we miscalculated the location of the bus stop and missed the route we were supposed to take back to Seattle. Pre-Chicklet, we would have called a cab. That night, we were forced to take a convoluted series of buses and spend a lot of time waiting outside in the dark. Did I mention that it was cold, and we had a baby with us?
I’ll spare you all of my other examples, since I think you get the picture.
Yes, I do know about the car seat/stroller combo (wish we’d done our homework before we bought the one we have), but that only really solves the Zipcar problem. What I need someone to invent (and pronto!) is a collapsible, portable car seat that a bus parent can carry in her bus chick bag–a sort of “car seat for emergencies.” Who’s got me?
* * If the only car within reasonable walking distance of our home is reserved, I skip the trip. Trying to time a rental around a bus schedule and then drag the seat and kid on the bus (and still walk at least a couple of blocks) is just more trouble than it’s worth.
For a variety of reasons, Bus Nerd and I are not especially big on baby gear. Most of what we do have we either borrowed from friends or purchased used. So it is particularly ironic that the one piece of baby gear we bought brand, spanking new–and paid a small fortune for, I might add–is the one we almost never use: Chicklet’s car seat.
Like all parents, we wanted our kid’s seat to be safe, and we were concerned about buying a used one. (When an environmentalist tells you it’s not a good idea, it gives you pause.) But here’s the thing: In order to use the seat, which weighs 15 pounds and is big enough for me to fit in, I have to get it–and Chicket–to an actual car. Let’s just say that renting a Zipcar (the nearest one’s a quarter of a mile from our house) without the help of Bus Nerd is less than enjoyable.
Ah, but if I’d done my homework, I would have known that there is a better option. Car-free parents, behold:
A car seat with wheels?! Who knew?
I learned about this fabulous invention from fellow TAC member–and fellow parent–Tina, who uses it on those occasions when her family takes a cab to the airport, and when they travel to places where they’ll need a car. Tina says the seat’s not especially comfortable, but, given that Chicklet rides in a car an average of once a month, that’s hardly a deal breaker. Did I mention that both of the brands I researched got high marks in the safety department?
Anyone in the market for a (gently) used Britax?