I want to discuss parking, traffic and transportation equity

Street Smarts will continue as a resource for readers to get answers and will focus on justice.

Everett Herald reporter and Street Smarts columnist Ben Watanabe. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Everett Herald reporter and Street Smarts columnist Ben Watanabe. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

EVERETT — I’ll spare everyone a joke about how there’s someone new in the driver’s seat for the long-running transportation column at The Daily Herald.

I’m Ben Watanabe, I was born at Everett General Hospital (now Providence at Colby) and raised in the View Ridge neighborhood (“We’re the View Ridge Vikings, one for all and all for one”). Like many who live in Snohomish County, I remember when there were far fewer people. Those “Welcome to Everett” signs listing a population around 80,000 felt quaint after it surpassed 100,000.

I will continue answering your weekly questions about parking (how far beyond the striping can a vehicle protrude into the road?), streets (why does that stoplight hold so long when there’s no traffic or pedestrians crossing?), traffic (what kind of villain enjoys it?) and transit (how are stops determined?).

At times, I’ll be a conduit to information from transportation experts and professionals.

I’d also like to further the work Lizz Giordano did in considering transportation issues as a means of fostering a more just world.

It’s embarrassing to admit I don’t think about the able-bodied world that’s designed around us, given I have family members who have limited mobility or rely on public transportation. But the snowstorm earlier this year highlighted how difficult it is to get around.

At a prior job on Whidbey Island, my commute included a walk, Everett Transit, Washington State Ferries, another walk, and a car. It was at least a couple of hours each way, adding time but cutting some cost. That was a choice I made that many can’t afford.

The simple idea of transportation — moving people or goods from one place to another — is complicated by history and reality.

Consider how a road was originally chosen, then how businesses and homes sprung up around it. What existed before? What was the cost of clearing that land? Who and what was displaced? Was it the best route then, and does it remain so?

The importance of access to transportation as a means of equity is cemented by a legacy of federal, state and county policies dating back to the early 1990s.

I want Street Smarts to explore how these policies affect our everyday lives. One example is how lawmakers weigh the interests of car owners and those reliant on transit.

Owning a vehicle is expensive — at an average total cost of $9,282 per 15,000 miles, according to the United States Department of Transportation.

As a percentage of family income, transportation can eat up a family’s paychecks, the Washington State Department of Transportation wrote in its 2019 State of Transportation.

But owning a vehicle is often (or at least feels) necessary. I live within a mile of two grocery stores, but regretfully can count on one hand the number of times I have walked to the store and back.

To be candid, driving for its own sake can be a lot of fun on an open road.

But doing so with a gas engine creates more carbon exhaust and there are many who can’t afford or can’t operate a vehicle.

Eleven percent of the state population is considered to be in poverty, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

In 2018, 131,763 blind and disabled people in Washington state (10,117 in Snohomish County) received federal disability payments. Another 1,985 people receiving those benefits in the county were categorized as aged.

Of course not every disability means they can’t drive, but those on Social Security have lost income and perhaps the ability to work.

This is where transit, if done well, can play a big role in equity, getting someone to health services, work and entertainment.

When someone needs a vehicle to get to a job interview, but needs a job to have a car, transportation policies create real consequences or opportunities.

This is what I’d like to explore as light rail extends into Snohomish County, as the state considers if a north-south parallel to I-5 is needed, and as the population grows (and traffic inevitably gets worse).

At least, when I’m not getting answers about your parking peeves.

Have a question? Email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com.

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