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)

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.”

Have a question? Call 425-339-3037 or email Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Owners of Feedme Hospitality get together with Edmonds Chamber of Commerce staff to hand off a check that helped with costs of putting on the Edmonds Kind of 4th annual Independence Day celebration. The money came from lemonade stand sales. In the photo are Andrew Leckie, Shubert Ho, Greg Urban, Erica Sugg and Alicia Moreno.  (Edmonds Chamber of Commerce)
Way to go

Lemonade stand raised $2,350 for An Edmonds Kind of 4th The Feedme… Continue reading

Mukilteo Council candidates (top L-R): Louis Harris, Peter Zieve, Tina Over, Ayesha Riaz Khan, Kevin Stoltz; (bottom L-R): Caitlein Ryan, Tom Jordal, Steve Schmalz, Tim Ellis, Carolyn “Dode” Carlson, Alex Crocco.
11 candidates in races for 3 seats on Mukilteo City Council

New and familiar names will face off in the primary to narrow the field to six for the November election.

COVID-19 case reported at crowded Lynnwood council meeting

A person who attended the Monday meeting tested positive for the coronavirus just days later.

Carlo Ponte (Rebecca Ponte) 20210729
‘Endangered’ Marysville toddler missing for almost 3 weeks

Jorge Ponte picked up his son for a scheduled visit July 10. Then they disappeared.

Abuse claims settled; Catholic principal worked in Everett

The allegations are from Sister Dolores Crosby’s time at a Seattle school from 1979 to 1992.

Daniel Scott (center, in green jacket) and Eddie Block (bottom right) are shown in a video before the Proud Boys and other rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C.
Arlington Proud Boy ‘Milkshake’ indicted in Capitol siege

Daniel Lyons Scott faces 10 federal charges, including assaulting federal officers.

Ten people were injured in a three-vehicle rollover crash Sunday afternoon that closed both directions of U.S. 2. (Washington State Patrol)
10 people hurt in three-vehicle crash on U.S. 2 near Monroe

A 14-year-old was taken to Harborview Medical Center, plus six more Everett and Monroe hospitals.

$500,000 available for Edmonds nonprofits

Organizations can apply for Edmonds Rescue Plan funds until Aug. 20.

Top row (L-R): Lacey Sauvageau, Don Schwab, Jacob L. Vail. Bottom row (L-R): Demi Chatters, Kelly Fox, Ben Zarlingo.
Wave of first-time candidates who seek Everett council posts

Three people in each of two races are running to represent the city’s newly formed Districts 3 and 5.

Most Read