Tag Archives: carfree travel

Car-free “vacation”: Yakima

This summer, I was invited to a statewide public transportation conference in Yakima, hosted, oddly enough, by WSDOT. Since my participation was limited to one panel discussion, and since the Bus Fam almost never has an occasion to visit the south-central part of our state, I decided to bring the entire crew along for a mini vacation.

I learned from Ryan, the facilitator of my panel, that there is an airporter from Seattle to Yakima—incidentally, run by the same company that operates the bus we took to Anacortes in 2007. Upon further investigation, I learned that the Yakima airporter has a stop downtown–at the Washington State Convention Center–and one at the Yakima Convention Center/Red Lion, where the conference was being held.

So, early in the morning Sunday before last, we packed our bags and hopped the 27 downtown. We made it to the Convention Center in time for a pit stop, which is a good thing, because, as I learned when making our reservation, the Yakima airporter does not have restrooms on board.

The ride was quick and reasonably comfortable, other than a slightly overzealous air conditioner. The shuttle made four stops between convention centers–Seatac, North Bend, Ellensburg, and Cle Elum–and the trip took roughly four hours, including the wait at the airport for everyone’s baggage and a group pit stop in Cle Elum.

Our adventures in Yakima turned out not to be very adventurous. The Yakima Red Lion is pretty near the center of town, but there wasn’t much—other than hotels and fast food restaurants—in the immediate vicinity. The weather was a bit warm for wandering, and, since we were there on Sunday and Monday (and only a small part of Tuesday), there wasn’t a whole lot to wander to.

Yakima does have transit service: 11 routes, all of which stop running before 7 PM, and many of which offer hourly service for most of the day. But, it was hard to find the stops; there were exactly zero on the main drag through town. Also, the schedules and maps were confusing for us, since we don’t know the city, and they were definitely optimized for folks who know where they’re going. After several attempts, I did manage to ride the 6 to the visitor’s center, but that was the extent of my Yakima busing.

The stop where I caught the 6:
Waiting for the 6








Chicklet and Busling approved of the transfer color.
Pink transfer!








One of the drawbacks of traveling to a predominantly rural area without a car is that many of the places you’d want to visit are not accessible by transit. I would have loved to visit the Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center, but it was 20 miles away in Toppenish. Google claims that it is possible to get there using transit (if you’re willing to walk two miles), but the service is very limited—running only once (?) per day and taking over an hour each way—and was not feasible for a Monday afternoon, post panel.

In general, being in a place that essentially requires a car for mobility reminded me of how marginalizing it can be to try to get around without one. When I was in college (and for a few years after), I lived in Houston. For most of that time, I could not afford a car. Bus service in Houston was terrible, and a significant part of the city had no sidewalks at all. I regularly found myself walking in ditches, stranded for long periods, and generally unable to carry out my life. Being back in Seattle, in a neighborhood with sidewalks and passable transit, I had forgotten what it feels like to experience that level of vulnerability and stress just trying to get around. This trip was a good reminder of what life is like for so many people who don’t have the means or ability to drive a car. It was also a depressing foretaste of what life will be like in my own world in just a few months.

I digress.

We did manage to have some fun on our short trip. For one thing, the scenery was beautiful. (You’ll have to trust me, since my phone photos don’t do it justice.) And exploring the city on foot, even in the heat, was fascinating.

Proof that there’s one in every city:
MLK Blvd in Yakima






At the restaurant where we had dinner on Monday, I spotted a woman I recognized from the 27. (!) She was with a large group, so I was too shy to say hello. But Bus Nerd, ever the extrovert, marched over and introduced himself. Turns out, she’s also a hardcore bus chick and was also in town for the conference. So, now I have a new friend in my neighborhood. (He-ey Theresa!)

The best part of Yakima, by Chicklet and Busling’s standards, was the hotel pool. Let them tell it, the best part of every trip we’ve taken–ever–has been the pool. This, despite the fact that they’re not big on actual swimming.

Again, I digress.

We headed back to Seattle Tuesday morning, shortly after breakfast.

Bye, Yakima!








Father/son bus bonding:








The return trip was slightly shorter than the trip there, since the airport passengers were being dropped off, and we didn’t have to for wait anyone’s luggage. It’s a good thing. Thanks to a barely missed 27 and an excruciatingly slow 3 ride, the trip from the Convention Center to our house took an hour, door to door.

Yes, our two-mile trip within Seattle took more than a quarter the amount of time of our 150-mile journey back from Yakima.

Welcome to my future.

Bus Dad: Portland lover, “transportation expert”

My dad‘s family has been in Seattle since the early 30’s. My grandparents originally settled in a home mere blocks from where I live now. Dad was born at Harborview, grew up in Seattle and its environs, and raised his family here. And yet, I get most of my (considerable) Seattle love from my mother, a Northwesterner by marriage.

Truth be told, my dad is a bit of a Seattle hater.

To be fair, his hateration is less about the place, which he reveres, and more about the culture. Let him tell it, it’s lack of leadership and foresight that has led us to the current sprawling, transit-deprived, farmland-encroaching, treeless mess we’re in. There is also some complaining about the lack of a “scene.”* Tough words, coming from a guy over 70. I digress.

Every time my dad visits Portland (which is a lot, since one of his closest friends lives there), I have to hear about what a great time he had, and which jazz clubs he visited, and how much better Portland is than Seattle and blah, blah, blah. (In case you missed it, I’m a bit sensitive about such comparisons.) He called me last week, after his most recent visit, to rave about the street fair his friend took him to.

“Do you know they have a street fair once a month down there?”

“But Dad, we have those, too. Remember? Seattle Summer Streets?”

“Yeah, but all they do at those is…ride bikes and stuff.”**

It’s usually a good idea to attend an event before making those kinds of judgments, but hey. Who am I to disrespect an elder? He continued.

“And you want to talk about public transit…”

I braced myself for the long list of Pdx’s PT virtues, but was instead treated to the tale of how he’d made it all the way from his front door to Portland without setting foot in a car: Short walk to Seacrest Water Taxi dock>Water Taxi to Pier 50>Longer walk to King Street Station>Amtrak to Portland’s Union Station.

The car-free adventure ended there. Dad opted to have his friend, who lives right in the city, pick him up. The streetcar apparently doesn’t run close enough to his friend’s house, and he wasn’t up for dealing with the less discoverable and predictable bus. Go figure.

I was impressed with my dad’s adventure*** despite its anticlimactic ending, and I told him as much. I even offered to come up with a catchy nickname for him, like “Train Dad” or “PT Traveler,” but he’s not so into nicknames.”Just call me the transportation expert,'” he said. And so I will.

*Oh, and he does tend to hate on Seattle sports teams, which used to make me mad, back before Clay Bennet and David Stern stole my Sonics. These days, I’m numb. But that’s a discussion for another venue.
**I think he appreciated the commerce at the Pdx version. He got very exicted about the booth that sold old records for $1.
***I should note that my dad has had many more officially adventurous adventures (hoo boy–has he ever!) than taking the train to Portland, but hey. He could have just hopped in his car and headed down I-5. I think it’s cool that he didn’t.

Transit envy, part II

Last weekend, Chicklet, Nerd, and I got our Vancity bus (and Skytrain!) on and loved every minute of it. We rode lots of shiny new trolleys, eavesdropped on Canadian conversations, and walked our tails off.*

As promised, the highlights:

Creative digital displays:

Sorry bus
Polite Canadian bus drivers apologize when they can’t pick you up.
Bus root for Canucks
Guess this one didn’t work out so well.

These messages alternate with the standard stuff: the route number, “out of service,” and et cetera. I imagine that the Canucks messages are annoying to some people, since it means you have to look longer to see which bus is coming, but we tourists enjoyed them very much.

Amazing views**:

View from Vancouver bus
Not a bad view from the C21
Vancouver bus stop
Not a bad place to wait for a ride.

Shelter ads:

Vancouver bus shelter ad
Vancouver bus shelter with advertising

The ads are tasteful and attractive (as ads go), provide additional light (and thus, improve safety), and most importantly, provide an additional source of revenue to Translink.

Metro has a demo shelter ad in the International District, but it’s the only one in the county. Metro can’t sell shelter ads because of city sign ordinances that prevent advertising in the public right of way. These ordinances were written to prevent billboards and absolutely need to be revisited. Surely, some sharp lawyers and legislators could craft language that would allow for this particular exception.

Lots o’ true transit geeks:

Ikea run
Bus chicks like Ikea, too.
Plant on bus
And bus nerds occasionally purchase house plants.

Folks up north are apparently not shy about transporting stuff on the bus. Methinks (and this is just a guess) it is because a fair number of people who live in the city live without cars.

Next time we visit, we’re staying for longer than 24 hours.

*Chicklet also got lots of beach time, and (while Chicklet napped in the Ergo) Nerd and I saw a cool exhibit at SFU about black communities in BC. Thanks for hipping us to it, Paulette.
**Of course, for this bus chick, Seattle’s views are number one on earth, but Vancouver is just a hair behind.

A bus-chick-friendly holiday

The Bus Fam has just (as in, 30 minutes ago) returned from another car-free mini-vacation to Vancouver. (More on the trip sometime next week.) The Friday train up there was sold out, so we had to take Amtrak’s overflow bus (so not the same). We did get to ride the train home today, which was especially cool, since it happens to be National Train Day.

A poster for National Train Day at King Street Station
A poster at King Street Station

Not a bad day to travel for a family of transit geeks. They gave Chicklet a sticker and everything.

But don’t take it from me, part II

I’m not the only one who takes bus vacations.

From today’s Seattle Times:

Riding Metro’s Route 255 from Kirkland, I’d begun my “travel-by-bus vacation,” an experiment inspired by Rick Steves, Edmonds’ budget-travel guru, whose guidebooks extol using public transportation in European cities to save money, see the sights and meet locals along the way. It works there; it could work here.

After one trip, I was hooked. The journeys were as interesting as the destinations. Routes wound through neighborhoods I’d have never found on my own. It was continuous sightseeing.

Even paying full adult fare, the trips were incredibly cheap. I paid more for a double-tall latte at Snoqualmie Falls than I did for the round-trip fare to get there from my hometown of Kirkland. And not a single stop for $3.75-a-gallon gas.

This writer’s local travels included: Ballard (one of this bus chick’s favorite places to visit), Snoqualmie Falls (I told you!), and Vashon Island (a bus + ferry excursion). When she’s ready to move to Level II, we’ll hip her to Hike Metro.

Thanks for the link, Matt.

Just in time for spring…

One of the most common reasons Seattle people give for not getting rid of their cars is that they need to drive to get out of the city*. It’s one thing to give up driving to and from work and for the odd errand, but it’s hard for Northwesterners to imagine a life without hiking, camping, skiing**, snowshoeing, or just getting closer to some of the beautiful scenery that surrounds us. Fellow transit types, I have good news. I have just been introduced to my new favorite Web site (OK, so it’s not my all-time favorite, but I’m prone to hyperbole), Hike Metro. As the name implies, it provides a comprehensive guide to hikes in Western Washington that you can reach by bus.

An excerpt from the introduction:

Despite the limitations of the current transit system, it’s quite possible to use public transit right now to get to the outdoors. This guide shows you how to make use of King County’s extensive bus system, as well as other transit options, to get out and enjoy many hikes without a car. And these hikes aren’t necessarily all just strolls in the park, although some walks through city parks in Bellevue and Seattle are included. Full day outings are emphasized in this guidebook, and quite a few of the hikes are strenuous. Some multi-day backpack trips are included as well. These trips are real wilderness adventures, and proper wilderness skills and equipment are needed to accomplish them enjoyably.

This is a great resource. It includes lots of day hikes (some right in the city), and even multi-day excursions for those brave enough to bring their gear. Our little bus family will definitely try one of the day hikes this summer. The longer ones will have to wait until Chicklet can carry her own pack.

* Though Bus Nerd and I have always rented a car for our annual pilgrimage to Tahoma, we have managed several car-free out-of-town excursions (Mount Vernon, Friday Harbor, and a fall foliage tour of the Cascades, to name a few).
** I posted a few resources for bus-based skiers back in December of 2006.

More on car-free travel

According the American Public Transportation Association, lots of folks who travel to major U.S. cities this summer will use public transit to get around those cities. From a recent press release:

In its Green Travel Forecast, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) estimates that 90 million American adults will travel to large American cities this summer. On average, one out of three people surveyed said they will tour green by using public transportation (34 percent)… A ranking of the top ten city destinations and their transit use among visitors follows:

• New York City (48%)
• Washington, DC (46%)
• Boston, MA (43%)
• San Francisco (40%)
• Philadelphia (34%)
• Chicago (31%)
Seattle (30%)
• Las Vegas (26%)
• Los Angeles (26%)
• Atlanta (22%)

I love taking public transit in unfamiliar cities. Yes, there is the anxiety associated with learning a new system–how and when to pay, where to get off, etc. (thank God for the Internet)–but that is easily offset by the adventure factor. Plus, you learn a lot more about a city on a public bus (or train) than you ever would on a tour bus.

Here are some of the reasons the people surveyed are choosing to ride:

Sixty-two percent said it would be less expensive than taxicabs or rental cars, followed closely by 61 percent who say they won’t have to worry about finding a parking space for their vehicle. Another 48 percent say they will use public transportation when traveling because it is easier to use, while 42 percent like not having to drive around an unfamiliar city…

For those of you who are planning to travel to another city this summer, APTA has put together this guide: “Green Travel Forecast, a Consumer’s Guide to Touring American Cities in a More Environmentally Friendly Way.” The section on Seattle isn’t all that informative (it doesn’t really explain the relationships among the agencies or distinguish between commuter and city service), so I’m not sure how useful the stuff about the other cities is. Still, at the very least, it’s a good place to start for links.

Car-free vacation: Friday Harbor/Victoria

Last week, Bus Nerd and I took a little vacation, the majority of which we spent in one of my favorite places on Earth, Friday Harbor, Washington. We also spent one night in Victoria, BC.

It was a perfect trip, spent reading, resting, and enjoying the beautiful views. Here’s how we managed it, sans voiture:

Friday Harbor:

1. We took the 27 from our house to 3rd & Pike, the closest stop to the Convention Center.

2. We took a shuttle (operated by Bellair Charters) from the Convention Center to the Anacortes ferry dock. (Note that we could have taken public transportation but decided to simplify for this trip. For those hardcore bus nerds who’d like to try it, here’s the Human Bus Schedule‘s suggested itinerary:

• From downtown Seattle, take Sound Transit route 510 to Everett Station.
• Transfer to Skagit Transit route 90X (I’ve ridden that one before). Get off at Mount Vernon Station.
• At Mount Vernon Station, transfer to Skagit Transit route 513 (westbound). Get off at 10th Street & Q Avenue.
• At 10th Street & Q Avenue, transfer to Skagit Transit route 410. Get off at the Anacortes ferry dock.

Also note: From the beginning of July to the end of September, you can take the Victoria Clipper directly from Seattle to Friday Harbor.)

2. We took a (Washington State) ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor.

3. To get around town, we walked. Friday Harbor is one square mile, and (aside from some strange crosswalk issues near the ferry dock) very walkable.

4. To get around the island, we used San Juan Transit‘s shuttle. The name is a bit misleading, as it’s optimized (and priced) for tourists, but since we were tourists, we found it extremely useful. We took it to Lime Kiln State Park (aka Whale-Watch Park) every day we were there. (Sadly, we didn’t see any Orcas this time.)


1. We took a (Washington State) ferry from Friday Harbor to Sidney.

2. A few blocks from the ferry dock in Sidney, we caught a Victoria Regional Transit bus (a double decker!) to Victoria’s Inner Harbor. The bus stopped about two blocks from our hotel.

3. To get around Victoria, we walked, but we could have purchased VRT day passes and ridden the bus.

Back to Seattle:

We took the Victoria Clipper to Pier 69, walked up to 3rd Avenue, and took our beloved 27 home.


• The scenery on San Juan! To this bus chick, the Pacific Northwest is paradise.

View from Lime Kiln


Lime Kiln View


View from Lime Kiln

• The San Juan Transit shuttle driver who shared his knowledge about the history of the island on the way to Lime Kiln.

• Cool Sidney bus stop signs. They included full schedules and maps. (They also included ads. More on that later.)

Bus-stop sign in Sidney

• The double-decker bus we rode to Victoria. Talk about great views!

Sidney double-decker bus
A VRT bus just like the one we rode

• Sidney bus (stop) luh:


Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria. The carvings (especially the masks) were exquisite.

• Tea at the Empress. (Yes, I know the place is designed to separate tourists from their money, but I liked it. Sue me.) I would fight someone for another one of those curry sandwiches.

Pittsburgh to Chicago for $1?

Yep–on Megabus. Saw this article last week:

The Chicago-based company, which began operating in a number of Midwestern cities last year, plans to launch the new service April 2 in Pittsburgh; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Mo., and Louisville, Ky. It already offers service between Chicago and Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Toledo.

“We’re really trying to get people out of their car,” Dale Moser, president and chief operating officer of Coach USA, the domestic subsidiary of Scotland-based Stagecoach Group PLC, which runs Megabus. “We think that’s the real big advantage.”

A Megabus

Prices aren’t always a dollar–they’re based on how far in advance you book–but they don’t go above $43.50. That’s cheaper than most (if not all) Greyhound rides. How does Megabus keep prices so low?

Megabus uses online ticketing and sidewalk stops instead of ticket counters and bus terminals. Passengers do not buy tickets, but instead give drivers reservation numbers they receive when booking online.

The low-cost model was imported from the United Kingdom, where Stagecoach introduced a similar service nearly four years ago.

Given our comparative scarcity of major cities, I’m not optimistic that we’ll see this kind of low-cost service in the Northwest anytime soon, which is too bad. Trips this cheap might be enough incentive to get the otherwise bus averse out of their cars. And anyway: How cool would it be to take a trip to Portland or Spokane for less than the cost of a trip across town?

Car-free vacation: Vancouver

This weekend, Adam and I took the train to Vancouver for a short vacation. We were in the city for only two days, and though we used TransLink (Vancouver’s public transportation system) quite a bit during those two days, we didn’t have enough time to get a feel for what it’s really like.

For what it’s worth, here’s my quick and dirty assessment:

What I liked:
• The fare system: One ticket buys you passage on all the TransLink services (the SkyTrain, the buses, and the SeaBus). Tickets are available at convenience and grocery stores, and at SkyTrain stations.
• Mini-buses: The buses for some routes were smaller than standard buses (picture an airport shuttle). Instead of limiting the frequency of routes with lower ridership, TransLink limited the size of the vehicles.
• Rail: Public transit that’s not dependent on traffic or gasoline and always runs on time? Yes, please! As it happens, construction on Vancouver’s newest rail line (the Canada Line) begins this month.
• Hybrid cabs: We saw these everywhere.

What I didn’t like:
• Signage at bus stops. The bus schedules were often incomplete and confusing.
• Feeling like a newbie. I love riding public transportation in other cities, but, as a self-proclaimed expert on Seattle’s bus system, I’m always slightly uncomfortable in the role of ignorant newcomer.

What I’m still trying to figure out:
The SkyTrain honor system: Both times we rode the SkyTrain, we bought tickets but were never required to use them. We got the impression (from the text on the back of the ticket) that someone from TransLink might board the train and ask people to prove they had paid, but I find it difficult to believe that this is really the only method used to ensure that folks actually pay the fare. Is there anyone out there from Vancouver who can shed some light?

Even with a limited knowledge of Vancouver’s public transit system, I am convinced that it is relatively painless to live there without a car. The city (not by accident) is small, densely populated, pedestrian friendly, and (mostly) freeway free. There are grocery stores, pet stores, dry cleaners, and pharmacies in almost every neighborhood. We took public transit because we wanted to see how it worked, but we could have easily made it to all of our destinations (with the exception, perhaps, of Stanley Park) by walking for 10-15 minutes.

We enjoyed every minute of it. When you’re in a busy, vibrant, international city (that just happens to be surrounded by stunning natural beauty), walking is not just a method of getting from A to B; it’s part of the experience.