Active transportation requires a lot of planning, preparation

Lawn care complicated our transportation columnist’s commitment to ditch his car for 1-mile trips.

Eight months have passed since I committed to bike, bus and walk more to better understand what it takes to get around Snohomish County without a car.

Per the original goals I set, I’ve driven when necessary for work and focused on biking and walking for trips about a mile from my home.

Buses have taken me to Edmonds, Lynnwood and Smokey Point. I’ve biked in Edmonds, Everett, Lake Stevens and Snohomish, and walked for groceries and takeout.

But I have found limits for my road bike, at least in its current configuration.

Verdant for over half the year, the lawn has looked particularly brown and patchy this summer. After a season with 100-degree days and little measurable rain, coupled with a desire to not water, that was expected. But it was due for a little help from some fertilizer and overseeding.

The nearest home improvement store is about a mile from where I live, a doable distance for trying to bike there to get the supplies. Except I don’t have a good setup for strapping a 40-pound bag of seed anywhere, which prompted a car trip that broke my active transportation goals.

Maybe a larger rack on the back or a basket could have helped. But I’m increasingly convinced an investment in an electric cargo bike could ease me from car dependence.

Electric cargo bikes are expensive, with the “affordable” option in best-of lists by Bicycling magazine and Wired starting at $1,899 and reaching $5,999.

A while ago a reader emailed Street Smarts about their rolling shopping tote and pointed out the considerable cost difference between it, around $40, and an electric cargo bike. My financial advisor (who is me) agrees, but my gear guy (who also is me) says it’s time to spend some “stimmy.”

That suggestion was just one from a host of readers who have shared their advice and experiences.

Joyce Lewis, who is retired and lives on Camano Island, used to split her daily commute from her former home in Everett to Seattle between driving and biking. Her workplace made it easier because there was a safe storage area for her bike and rooms to change clothes.

Cold temperatures, rain, fewer daylight hours during fall and winter, and gaps in safe bike paths all are barriers for people to bike to work more often, she said. She recommended buying proper winter-weather clothing and biking with others.

“If you can get people to start in good weather and they see how good they feel and the benefits they might start to ride year round,” Lewis wrote in an email.

Kristin Kinnamon, the president of Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop in Everett and a Marysville resident, was a regular transit rider before the pandemic. But she stopped during most of the pandemic until she said “enough” and resumed taking the bus from Marysville to Everett again in February.

“Since everyone is wearing masks, spread out and on their smart phones, there is little talking or interaction,” she wrote in an email.

After my exploration of trying to bike and bus to Wenberg County Park as an experiment in “bikepacking” in Snohomish County, Mark Bitzes gave sage suggestions for better bicycling. He said the best routes for cycling often are different from driving. Even if they’re longer, they should be safer. To find well traveled bike routes, he recommended using Strava, an app and website that tracks workouts.

State Rep. April Berg tries to take the bus whenever she goes to Seattle for tours and events she’s invited to as a legislator.

“That’s far better than (driving) to Seattle, finding a parking space,” she said.

But active transportation in her Mill Creek neighborhood has been more difficult. Community Transit’s Swift Green bus rapid transit runs along the Bothell-Everett Highway/Highway 527, which is helpful for some of her trips. But connections elsewhere have been more difficult.

“Being in Mill Creek, even being a passionate transit user, I can’t use transit,” Berg said.

Those gaps fit with findings from the Washington State Department of Transportation, which described statewide active transportation networks as a “patchwork, with high-quality segments in some locations and no facilities in others.” People can comment on the active transportation plan’s second part draft in an online open house at through Oct. 29.

During a bus ride to Seattle on Sept. 9, Berg wrote on Twitter that it was “imperative” to make public transportation more accessible and safer for people with disabilities, later linking to a story from The Urbanist about Disability Mobility Initiative’s report.

But transit helps everyone in the area, she said. Given Snohomish County’s population growth so far, with more expected, people need other ways to get around to keep traffic congestion from growing at a similar rate.

“For me, it’s about accessibility and trying to fund transit so they can have more routes,” Berg said.

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