Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Let's make it possible for more people to live a carfree life if they want to

When I first moved to Seattle after getting out of the Army, I was determined to make a difference. I felt that I had done enough harm to myself, my soul, and most importantly the world around me that I had a lot to make up for.

I was raised in a rural West Virginia community, protecting the environment had not been viewed as a global initiative, but as the work of a community whose food and water came from the earth they worked in their farms.

Environmental protection wasn't an ideal; it was a necessity. If you didn't protect the earth, it didn't yield its fruit. Arriving in Seattle, one of the areas in my own life I had wanted to improve in was to lessen my impact on the environment.

I decided one of the most important things I could do was to get rid of my car. A number of factors led to it, but in the end the health and environmental benefits of biking and transit were just too good to pass up.

Besides, my father had always taught me that changing the world started with changing what was in your heart and in your actions.

When I took my first trip on the #54, I discovered that transit has many benefits. I can read, listen to music, and not have to deal with the raised blood pressure that comes from rush hour driving. Of course, there are downsides: Sometimes the bus doesn't show, is late, or goes past my stop without taking on new passengers because it is overcrowded. I've also been in unpleasant situations where an intoxicated rider was threatening the well-being of the people around him.

I was determined, however, and I decided I would begin biking so I could regain control of my commute while still helping our planet.

I hadn't been on a bike since I was twelve and had wrecked it while trying to impress a local girl with various stunts I'd made up, so even starting had its own challenges. Still, with the help of a friend who had just given me their old bike, I began to realize my goal of biking downtown to work.

The first time I made it from West Seattle to downtown was amazing. Just the thrill and sense of accomplishment, combined with the view of the rising sun over Puget Sound and the smell of the ocean, was enough for me. I was hooked.

Unfortunately, it only lasted a couple of months. While waiting for the light to turn green at 3rd Ave and Virginia St, I was hit from behind by a car whose driver was too busy on their cellphone to even realize he'd hit me.

The force of the blow actually turned my bike sideways and into incoming traffic, completely warping the rear wheel well and damaging the chain.

My bike was done and I was back on the bus. At least when it came to getting downtown from West Seattle. Inside of West Seattle, I was determined to walk to my destinations. I was a scout in the Army, and walking was what we did; it couldn't be that difficult to pick up again, especially without all that weight to carry.

Two weeks after the bike incident while crossing a crosswalk in Westwood Village a woman determined to go right on red was concentrating on the light and failed to notice me until I was on the hood of her car.

I was fine and only suffered some minimum bruising, but obviously walking was not all that much safer than biking. I am reminded of the perils of crossing the street every time a driver waiting at a red light blocks the crosswalk in front of me and forces me to walk into the intersection.

Thankfully, as anyone who knows me can attest, I'm an incredibly stubborn person and I kept at it. I still walk the majority of places I go and occasionally I borrow my roommate's bike. I wasn't going to give up (and I haven't!), but these experiences left me wondering how many others had been forced to.

In a city and a part of the country that prizes both environmental protection and alternative forms of travel, there really aren't many options. We have plans to expand transit, build more sidewalks and bike paths, yet we don't put our money where our mouths are. We still spend most of our transportation dollars on roads.

Yes, Sound Transit 2 (which NPI fought for) is a start. But more is needed.

Yes, these are tough times, and yes, money is tight at all levels of government. But it's times like these that give us the opportunity to show ourselves what we're really all about. If we really believe in making our streets for everyone, then let's use our common wealth to accomplish that goal.

Let's do it, not just talk about it. Start small and go from there.

Organizations like the Streets For All campaign are already beginning to call for specific investments into alternative transportation. But bike advocates and transit activists can't do all the legwork themselves. They need help and support from a larger circle of riders and casual cyclists to bring about change.


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