Street Smarts columnist Ben Watanabe committed to biking, busing and walking more and driving his car less this year. The results so far have been mixed. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Street Smarts columnist Ben Watanabe committed to biking, busing and walking more and driving his car less this year. The results so far have been mixed. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

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My pledge to drive a car less often is on shaky footing

But I finally have a transit fare card, and I worry less about the COVID-19 risk on buses.

When I was a youth-group kid at Everett First United Methodist Church, we did “pows and wows” about bad and good experiences we were having.

It was a useful introduction to meaningful conversations with people you trust.

As part of the compact between newspapers and the people we want to inform, I’m applying that lesson here in my third check-in on my new commitment to becoming a person who gets around more by bike, bus or my feet. That means sharing failings and lessons as I habituate myself to “active” transportation, which I aimed to do this year to reduce my carbon use and to keep another car off the road and out of traffic for the rest of you.

First, the pows.

I drove more than I should have in the past six or so weeks. A lot of the problems I laid out in the first update are still present: Driving is intoxicatingly convenient, and it’s often cold and wet outside this time of year.

Golf outings took me to ranges in Snohomish and south Everett, as well as to courses in Marysville and Sultan. I tried to tack on errands when possible, but the impulse to watch my driver shots slice 90 degrees was overwhelming.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some doubt about taking the bus: the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. The only regular crowds I’m among are at grocery stores, and otherwise I have no interest in contracting the virus less than two weeks from being eligible for the vaccine.

Transit agencies have a major task in convincing people like me to get back on the bus. In an interview shortly after joining Community Transit in January, CEO Ric Ilgenfritz said the top priority was navigating the Snohomish County transit agency through the second year of the pandemic. Restoring ridership is a critical element to those plans, he said.

Transit agencies implemented new cleaning and sanitization procedures. Even things like air flow in a bus have been changed. And after a federal order in February, riders are expected to continue to socially distance and wear a face covering.

Some agencies keep extra buses and drivers at the ready on busy routes so that when a coach reaches rider capacity — reduced from the full number — passengers aren’t skipped. Everett Transit’s buses are capped at about 14 riders because of distancing rules. At Everett Transit, the standby buses are called “ghost trips.” They are dependent on availability of a vehicle and operator, Everett Transit director Tom Hingson said.

A study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association found that there was no direct correlation between public transit use and virus transmission. That allays my top worry.

Now, the wows.

Similar to my first update, my average daily travel radius remains small, well under one mile. I walk to the grocery store and bike for most takeout food. (A notable exception was a late-night walk-up order in a fast food chain’s drive-thru.)

As of Sunday, I have my first ORCA card. The transit pass can be used on Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, the Seattle Monorail, Seattle Streetcar, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries.

It cost $5 at a QFC customer service kiosk, and I put $30 on it. The cards are available at QFC, Albertsons and Safeway locations around the region; they also can be bought online or at transit facilities, including Edmonds Station, Mukilteo Station and Everett Station.

If our newsroom is required to work at the office again, I’ll bike or bus each day when I don’t need a car to do my job. I aim to take a bus to south Everett this week, probably to the driving range.

Some other bus trips I plan to take are to the Lynnwood Transit Center, to get acquainted with the ride and routes where the Sound Transit light rail is scheduled to open in 2024, and north to Arlington with my bike to ride the Centennial Trail.

If readers have other suggestions for bus routes I should take to better understand active transportation beyond the county’s I-5 corridor, let me know. Hopefully I can add to my “wows.”

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