Ben Watanabe, Street Smart columnist, committed to driving less in 2021. That commitment remains for next year, too. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Ben Watanabe, Street Smart columnist, committed to driving less in 2021. That commitment remains for next year, too. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Reflections on a year of driving less, bike and bus plans ahead

A lot of people chimed in with encouragement, experiences and advice on how to do active transportation.

After committing to driving a lot less last year, this year closed with me driving a lot more.

Holiday shopping and visits to family boosted my car’s mileage in the waning days of 2021. Being in the cold, dark and wet outside lost its appeal by late November, and a host of other excuses are ready as well.

Taking a page from recent writings about not feeling shame for getting COVID-19, however, I’m absolving myself. Instead, I’ll try again to drive less and bike, bus or walk more often in the year ahead and those beyond.

Throughout the past year, readers and sources have shared their experiences and insights (and encouragement, which is always a nice surprise in journalism) in active transportation.

I want to conclude this year’s Street Smarts columns acknowledging some of the many lessons people taught me.

For Amandeep Kaur, Micah Lusignan, Leigh Spruce and others who have disablities, options are limited. They rely on paratransit services, sometimes inadequate sidewalks and paths, and rides from family and friends. It’s a patchwork system to do daily tasks: buy groceries, get to medical appointments, school and work, socialize.

Jo Ann Maxwell, who lives in the North Creek area, talked about the network she needs to see her medical specialist in Kirkland. She has multiple sclerosis and doesn’t drive herself. Instead the trip by paratransit can take 3 hours to travel 10 miles.

“A 20-minute drive to Evergreen takes me three hours with all the transfers,” she said in October. “That’s just crazy.”

To quote the driver’s education teacher I had 20 years ago, “Driving is a privilege.”

That’s something I hope to remember and examine further in Street Smarts columns ahead.

When I started down the active transportation path, I figured biking and walking would be the main ways I skirted driving. They were thanks to living near grocery stores, a major transit hub, and work (despite still working exclusively from home).

But others around the county had long shed their automobiles for a mixture of biking, busing or walking.

George Winters of Darrington said he began biking to work in his early 20s. The habit stayed with him over the years.

“I realized that as I walked out the door from work, I was already having fun, forgetting any work-related nonsense,” he wrote. “… And in the morning, instead of dreading the traffic and lights, while I bicycled the same general route, I was entertaining myself thinking about what tires would work better, do I want a better bike, getting fenders and lights, and suddenly I am at work. If it took a bit longer, I was just forgetting to notice because I was having fun. Work started and stopped for me at the business door instead of my home door. It was a revelation that helped me get healthier, stay active, and have an entertaining and beneficial added perspective on what makes my world a little better.”

Others agree. When I made the commitment last December, Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop President Kristin Kinnamon said using a commute for exercise is an often overlooked perk.

Mark Bitzes regularly bikes from south of Mill Creek to Boeing in Everett, about 11 miles. The trek is more uphill to work, which means it takes him about 10 minutes longer than the 40-minute ride home.

He said he was motivated by reader Joyce Lewis to encourage others to bike commute by riding with them after reading Street Smarts in September.

“It can be jarring to folks that have never experienced it before,” he wrote. “Someone made the offer to me to join them on their commute when we lived in Australia 15 years ago and I’m still doing it literally half a world away. I’ll try to do the same for someone too at some point now that my kids are older and my schedule is a lot more flexible.”

When I first sought advice, Everett Transportation Advisory Commission chairman Tyler Rourke encouraged wool clothing. So far I only have wool socks, but I plan to buy a bright color reflective jacket and other clothing to endure the chill and dampness.

My failed scouting trip to Wenberg County Park this summer never got its redemption attempt. I hope to successfully do it next year. If anyone has recommendations on where in Snohomish County I could reasonably reach by bus and bike from Everett, let me know.

Another bike-and-bus trip a reader asked me to do was from Snohomish County to the Coupeville Ferry Terminal. That’s on my wish list in 2022.

What other elements of Snohomish County’s transportation system should Street Smarts explore next year?

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

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