Posts tagged ‘transit’

January 14, 2012

Seeing with New Eyes

Sometimes I Would Like New Eyes, by Andrew Coulter Enright. Used under Creative Commons license.

Taking up biking for transportation has given me the same experience that becoming a mother did. No, not endless anxiety, sleepless nights, and sh**—well, at least not too much of the latter—but rather the experience of learning just how much the world was designed not for you, but against you, by people who do not share your particular circumstances.

You chose these circumstances. You love these circumstances and they bring you joy no matter what. But better design would make it a bit easier to enjoy these circumstances.

Disclaimer: I do not present these thoughts under the assumption that the entire world should be redesigned for new moms and women on bikes (although heavens, what a civilized world that would make).

I ask you only to consider what it might be like for someone whose circumstances differ from yours—to try to look through their eyes a bit and consider whether you can make some adjustments that accommodate more ways of viewing the world. We all wear blinders; can you take yours off?

I have never taken part in one of those days where you take on a particular disability to learn what the world can feel like from that vantage point, the way City Councilman Jon Snyder did when he spent the day in a wheelchair. But wrestling a baby stroller into and out of buildings that lacked automatic doors certainly made me wonder how people in wheelchairs could possibly manage (and probably made me a better Idaho state legislator and later a better grantwriter for a disability rights organization).

When I had my first baby (who’s all grown up now!) I began a voyage of discovery, as Marcel Proust would have it: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” 

Dealing with the needs of a baby or child when surrounded by people who don’t have one, as any parent can tell you, often gives you a new lens through which to view the world.

Riding a bike for transportation has taken me on another voyage and given me new eyes as well. Most parts of this voyage give me great joy. What I get to do on my bike:

  • See my city from a fresh vantage point, without the isolating barrier of over 3,000 pounds of steel, glass, and assorted petroleum products wrapped around me.
  • Make actual eye contact with people out walking, biking, or driving. smile, and connect.
  • Give directions to lost drivers who can’t ask another driver, because how would you?
  • Notice details I never saw in all the years I drove: architectural features on buildings, interesting signage, side streets that offer a different route to my destination.
  • Spot businesses I had no idea even existed that I make a mental note about so I can come back and check them out—or I stop on the spot because I don’t have to search for a parking place so I feel free to make these spontaneous decisions.

If you have never ridden a bike on streets you usually drive, you have no idea what you don’t see.

Then there’s the flip side—the one created by design that leaves you out.

I remember pushing my stroller into a crowded conference room and realizing there was nowhere to stash it—because women with babies were not expected in those particular marble hallways.

Similarly, taking your bike to a destination that has nowhere to lock your bike or store it securely presents you with something you have to figure out. People who don’t have strollers or bikes to deal with don’t see the lack of facilities.

While the vast majority of the time it’s easier to stow my bike than it was to stow my baby stroller (which I could never have left locked to a signpost on the street), I still encounter obstructions, lack of a good fixture to lock to, bike racks installed too close to the wall of the building to be usable, and other design barriers.

That’s just one example.

Then there are the other barriers: The ones not presented by design of things but rather design of events.

If you’re a new mom, is the event held at a location that permits you to step aside and breastfeed discreetly? (Somewhere other than in the bathroom, please—would you want to eat your lunch in the can?) Will the bathroom have a space for diaper changes?

If you’re riding your bike to a destination, did the organizers send out any transportation information other than where to park your (assumed) car? Say, telling you about the availability of bike racks or the transit route and stop that serve the destination? Is the location even served by transit? If there are no bike facilities will you be allowed to bring your bike inside for safe storage?

Is the event meant to go late into the night so you end up with a fussy child or an expensive babysitting tab?

Is the event meant to go late into the night so you’re biking home in the dark? I enjoy riding in the dark but it can present more hazards than daytime riding and not everyone is comfortable with it.

The next time you’re designing something, whether it’s a building or a meeting, take a look at it with new eyes. If you weren’t you­—if you were someone with very different circumstances—how would it work for you?

And if you haven’t gone out to take a look at your world from the saddle of a bicycle, I highly recommend it. That’s a set of lenses you may just never want to take off.

(As for parenthood, that’s a call you’d better make on your own.)

Afterthought: Perhaps this metaphor has particular power for me because I’ve worn glasses since I was five years old. I’m terribly nearsighted–and now have the joy of adding farsightedness to the mix as I get just an eensy-teensy bit older. Being able to see clearly is not something I can afford to take for granted.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • What design issues have you encountered–of places, events, or other things?
  • What parallels between biking and some other activity do you see?
December 20, 2011

We Get to Complete our Streets!

Kudos to the Spokane City Council for the 5-2* vote last night to enact the Complete Streets ordinance. A round of applause and a bouquet of locally grown flowers for Kitty Klitzke of Futurewise, who rallied the troops, circulated the petitions, and kept reminding us when to write, sign petitions, and go testify. More flowers for everyone involved in the Safe and Complete Streets Education Coalition that worked to educate the citizens on why complete streets are the streets we need for everyone. And eternal gratitude to Councilman Jon Snyder, who led the effort that resulted in last night’s ordinance.

I had the honor of testifying at the Council meeting along with around 40 others who showed up in support.** I’ll share (an approximate version of) my remarks here to capture my little contribution to a piece of Spokane history.

I’m a resident of the City of Spokane. I drive. I walk. I ride the bus. I buy goods that are shipped here by rail, air, and truck. And I ride a bike.

I want to tell a story of my own transformation. In 2001, I moved back to Spokane and bought a house on a bus line, which was a deliberate choice.

In 2005, I bought another house. This one was on a bus line and within biking distance of my workplace.

What happened in between was that in 2003 the City of Spokane put a bike lane in front of my house and I started riding to work. Visible bike infrastructure is an important signal, particularly to women, that biking is safe and it is possible.

I only rode once in a while to begin with. And now, when 2011 wraps up, I will have driven my car alone to work a grand total of 16 days the entire year. Every other day of the year I biked or rode the bus.

Home-buying decisions like these are why in 2008, the National Association of Realtors revised their policy statement on transportation to say that transportation planning should include all modes.

And in 2009, CEOs for Cities released a report showing that homes with a higher Walk Score are worth more.

By adopting a Complete Streets policy you can simultaneously increase the value of the single largest asset I will ever own and yield more government revenue in tough times.

That’s the real estate rationale for Complete Streets. It also contributes to workforce mobility and safety, with safer interactions for all users, not just those of us on bikes or on foot.

Richard Florida, who is famous for his studies of the Creative Class, analyzed cities with higher rates of bike commuting and compared them to cities with lower rates. The cities with higher rates of bike commuting were more affluent, better educated, had more knowledge-economy jobs, were fitter, and were happier.

When you add this infrastructure you tell people it’s possible to choose a different way of getting around. Even if they only ride their bikes to a coffee shop on Saturday with a friend, that means less wear and tear on the streets. I’m pretty sure I pay for a lot more street value than I actually use.

Let me close with another story, this one about my dad. Someone testified earlier about not being able to bike or walk because his knees were too bad so he doesn’t think Complete Streets are for him.

When my dad was 92 we finally got the car keys away from him. I can tell you that he should have lost them at around 87. But without his car he had no vision of any other way to get around. The only form of transportation he could imagine was the single-occupancy vehicle, so when that was gone he lost his independence.

I hope that when I’m old and I shouldn’t be driving that I will be able to retain my independence much longer because I know how to ride transit, and I hope you have made bus stops more accessible by completing sidewalks and providing curb cuts.

Complete Streets don’t force anyone to change their mode of transportation who doesn’t want. But they invite us to consider different ways of getting around through design. Complete Streets are a good policy choice for all of us.

* Voting yes: Steve Corker, Richard Rush, Joe Shogan, Jon Snyder, Amber Waldref. Voting no: Bob Apple, Nancy McLaughlin

** Totally extraneous winter biking style note: I wore a knee-length wool skirt, boots, SmartWool tights and extra pair of thick wool socks, blazer, merino turtleneck, and ThermaSilk base layer under that. I got a compliment on the outfit and, “Are you riding home in that?!” per usual. I rode home from the meeting in 25-degree weather with a ski jacket, lobster-claw gloves, scarf, and face mask. By the time I got home (around 3 miles uphill) I was so warm I couldn’t stand it. Still riding!

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • A “complete street” is one that accommodates the various modes safely and provides for their needs. This doesn’t mean a bike lane on every street–individual design accommodations vary. Do you get to ride on any complete streets on your way to work?
November 22, 2011

On a Roll with Betsy Lawrence: On Becoming a Late-in-Life Jock

This piece takes a different approach than our usual Q&A for the On a Roll with series. Introducing occasional guest blogger Betsy Lawrence: community college composition instructor, yoga teacher, and the founder of Belles and Baskets. What she doesn’t mention here that you should know: Her round trip to work is nearly 20 miles.

I was the baby of the family: the cute one, the dancing one, the happy one—NOT the athletic one. That was my big sister. I was the not-athletic one to the extent that my mom went to my grade school to warn the PE teacher (one of those old-school, could-have-been-a-character-on-Glee PE teachers) that I was not like my sister, so don’t expect much.

Mom was right. I didn’t learn to walk until I was two and couldn’t ride a bike until I was eleven. I couldn’t make contact with a ball with my hand, foot, or a bat. I spent my junior high years finding ways to be injured to avoid PE. When I ran out of injuries and had to do a 360 on the uneven bars, three spotters had to push me up and over. When we had to jump over hurdles, I refused. The teachers ran masking tape between rows of hurdles so I would jump over the tape without fear of the hurdle falling on me. Title IX was wasted on this girl.

Once I became an adult, while not an athlete, I was pretty active. I adored tap dancing, old-school aerobics, and weight lifting. In my forties, I began practicing yoga and soon became a yoga instructor. All these activities had something in common—they could be done indoors and didn’t feel like “sports.”

Eight years ago when I began dating Steve Faust, the man who later became my husband, he took me on a bike ride. I unearthed a bike that I had used twenty years prior on trips to the playground with my young children. I expected an easy ride, not the fifteen-mile, Riverside State Park loop that he took me on; it nearly killed me. (How is it that loop is uphill the whole way?) However, I enjoyed riding again, so I soon visited a local bike shop and bought a comfort bike.

In the following years, I came to love my heavy, comfortable bike. I added a rack and grocery carrier and became what I called a “lateral cyclist.” No huge hills for me, but living near drug stores, a library, and several grocery stores, with my bike I could easily accomplish tasks, get a little exercise, and (to my shock) feel a little bit less uncoordinated. I biked nearly every day during nice weather and it made running errands feel like play.

Betsy Lawrence in a Ruu-Muu on a summer Bikespedition to Carnegie Square.

Three years ago, as I became more comfortable riding, I heard about Bike to Work Week. I couldn’t imagine ever getting from my home near Comstock Park all the way to my work at Spokane Community College, but just to get involved, I volunteered at the BTW wrap-up party. I marveled at those spandexed folks who seemed to easily commute by bike. Even though I was daunted by thoughts of the trucks, the roads, the distance, the helmet hair, I vowed to ride to work during the next year’s BTW Week.

I began preparing for this task by gathering lots of information. Friends who bike commute explained routes that are commonly used, and I learned that I could avoid streets that frightened me. I found that those in the cycling community are thrilled to educate those who want to give commuting a try.

The next step to becoming a bike jock occurred when I rode in Spokefest the following September; there was a bus with a kind STA driver who demonstrated how to put my bike on a bus rack. Learning that easy, two-step process was the key to opening up the whole town to cycling. On a Friday in May, the last day of Bike to Work Week, I was ready. I rode to work and downtown to the wrap up party, put my very heavy bike on the bus for a two-mile break up the hill, and was proudly able to join the ranks of bike commuter.

No longer only a fair-weather rider, Betsy sets forth on winter roads.

Since that day two years ago, I have biked to work dozens of times. Last summer I decided it was time for an upgrade and bought a lighter bike that makes riding all the way up the South Hill easier. Bike commuting makes my work day a lovely experience. Sure, my hair isn’t quite as fluffy as usual, but after enjoying views of the river, saying “hello” to runners, yielding to geese, and smiling at truck drivers, I enter my work place much calmer than I would after driving. I am very proud to mention that I rode 1,000 miles in 2010—a huge accomplishment for the girl who took years to learn to ride a bike.

This piece first ran in Out There Monthly, Spokane’s fantastic free monthly publication featuring all things outdoors. It’s such a great story that we had to repeat it here to inspire those of you who think you can’t possibly ride a bike for transportation. Our thanks to OTM publisher Jon Snyder for permission to republish here and for being a sponsor from the beginning of Spokane Bikes/Bike to Work Spokane.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • Were you athletic as a kid?
  • How has Bike to Work Week affected you?
October 21, 2011

Car, Bike, Bus: 3 Transportation Perspectives

A Spokane Transit bus and a woman on a bike next to it.I’ve already written about the shift in perspective I’ve experienced that makes me view driving as a nest of factors that cost me time, money and frustration. I thought I’d break down my bike ride into a few more comparisons that come to mind once in a while on my morning or evening pedal. Your mileage may vary.

Red Lights

In a car: Damn it! I almost caught that yellow light. I would have been able to arrive at work a full 120 seconds earlier if I hadn’t gotten stuck at this stupid light.

On a bike: Oh, good, a chance to catch my breath.

In a bus: Light? What light? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book.

What It Means to Go Fast

In a car: Am I pushing the speed limit so much I’m going to get caught? Those tickets are expensive.

On a bike: I feel so strong! I’m flying along at almost 25 miles an hours and doing it all myself. This is exhilarating! And I’m not even going downhill. Well, not much.

On a bus: Speed? What speed? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book.



In a car: Smells? What smells? All I get is the exhaust from that oil-burning smoke bomb in front of me. He needs to get that looked at.

On a bike: The lilacs are in bloom! And the coffee roaster must be doing her thing today—I can smell the beans when I pass that block. Last night’s rain sure made everything smell fresh and clean.

On a bus: Smells? What smells? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book. Although that girl next to me really needs to learn the meaning of the word “subtle” when it comes to perfume.

Snow on the Ground

In a car: Dang it! First I had to shovel the driveway just to get out. Then I had to shovel off the car and scrape the windshield. Now I’m not sure I can stop at the bottom of this hill.

On a bike: So glad I switched to the bus—I don’t think that driver’s going to be able to stop at the bottom of this hill.

On a bus: Snow? What snow? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book. I’m just glad (or, I just wish) my neighbors shoveled their walks for the trek to the bus stop. But look–that car isn’t going to be able to stop at the bottom of that hill.

Speed Limits

In a car: You know, if they made the speed limit here 35 instead of 30 I bet I could get to work faster. I could still stop in time if one of those pedestrians wanted to cross the street–it’s not as if I’m going to kill someone or anything like that.

On a bike: I love it when I can keep up with the speed limit. Especially when those cars that jack-rabbit through downtown have to stop at all the lights because they speed, and I can just catch up at each red light.

On a bus: Speed limit? What speed limit? I’m about to finish this really exciting book. Then I’m going to check my email on my phone and delete the spam before I get to work. Oh, but there was that driver who zoomed by on my way to the bus stop–just glad I had time to jump back to the curb. I wish he knew that at 35mph, he’s twice as likely to kill someone as he is at 30.


In a car: Shoot, there’s nothing close to my building. I’m going to have to look for a spot and that’s going to make me late to my meeting. Wonder if I have change for the meter?

On a bike: I’ll just park in the rack (or hitch to that sign) and be inside in a jif.

On a bus: Parking? What parking? Not my problem. I think I’ll stop by the library in this little gap between buses and get another book to read. Twenty minutes is just right for me to squeeze in one errand before heading home and I’ll have a nice walk to boot.


In a car: Happiness? What does commuting have to do with happiness? This is the worst part of my day (and there’s research to support this).

On a bike: I love riding my bike!

On a bus: Happiness is a good book and time to read it.

Inspired by Jonah Lehrer’s post and comments on commuting and happinessMatthew Yglesias’s post on congestion pricing, and the smell of roasting coffee on my ride to work.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • How would you compare the experience of riding your biking to driving, taking transit, or walking? (I left that off as a separate category because I don’t use it myself for full-on transportation; it’s part of my transit trips.)
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