The Daily Herald says farewell to Street Smarts columnist and transportation reporter Ben Watanabe.

The Daily Herald says farewell to Street Smarts columnist and transportation reporter Ben Watanabe.

Street Smarts columnist signs off from a dream job

Columnist and Everett local Ben Watanabe reflects on the lessons learned from over 3 years covering transportation.

This is my stop.

I wanted to be a reporter at The Daily Herald since I was a kid. In a lot of ways, this job was a dream come true.

After just over three years guiding the handlebars of Street Smarts, seven years at The Daily Herald and almost 13 years with Sound Publishing, my days pedaling (maybe it should be peddling) are over.

I’m leaving journalism to become a teacher.

I appreciated answering so many questions about transportation issues across Snohomish County that affect people’s daily lives (or at least pique their curiosities and ire), diving into a life with less driving and sharing the stories of people with mobility disabilities.

My hope is the columns and stories built more understanding and empathy for how we all try to move through the world.

This leads me to a personal reflection about the unexpected challenges of getting around.

Right before Memorial Day weekend and a planned trip to my friends’ cabin on Hood Canal, my knee turned into jelly.

My 36-year-old body faked a 3-point shot during a pickup game of basketball. It got one defender out of the way, then I dribbled to the hoop for a layup. But my right knee’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial cruciate ligament (MCL), both necessary for keeping the leg together and moving properly instead of wobbling around like a gummy worm, weren’t up to the task of being folded so sharply under my weight, after taking a little contact — it was a foul, but not malicious — from a defender.


It’s not a sound that makes anyone think their knee got stronger.

In the name of transparency and honesty, I didn’t make the basket.

Instead, I made a trip to the urgent care clinic.

For weeks I could barely make my way around the house using crutches. The severely limited range of motion in the knee meant I couldn’t drive for a while. If and once I get surgery, it could be at least a month before I can bend the knee enough to safely operate brake and gas pedals.

That had me potentially relying on transit and rides from my sweetheart, who has a busy career that wouldn’t have easily worked with my schedule.

That’s a reality for thousands of people across the state, as Disability Mobility Initiative has detailed through its story map.

My injury had me reflecting about the transportation systems we live with. For so many, too many, it’s a morass of planning, preparation, time and waiting.

It’s a life of choosing to take your motorized wheelchair onto the road because you may not know when the sidewalks are broken, uneven or missing a curb ramp to cross an intersection. Leaving an event early because the bus service stops running at night and you’ll miss all your subsequent connections. Being 45 minutes early to work to ensure you’re not 5 minutes late.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, if collectively we’re willing to part with some things for a greater good.

Bus rapid transit and light rail make it easier to get around more frequently along major routes. Community Transit’s expanded test projects such as the Alderwood Zip on-demand service help with point-to-point rides within a smaller area of Lynnwood.

Other community-specific transit programs are on the way in Arlington, Darrington and Lake Stevens. In Darrington, transit options especially are needed after the last pharmacy announced it was closing.

More high-occupancy vehicle lanes and exits can help move people through traffic congestion a little faster. Protected bike lanes make that mode safer for the pedalers. Ideally that means people don’t have to drive themselves, freeing up space for others who do.

When I took over this column that Bob Wodnik started in 1999, I wanted to continue its question-and-answer format while looking at equity issues in how we get around. For transportation, it means considering the fact that a 1-mile walk to a bus stop is more challenging or impossible for some people, but they still deserve access to the bus and finding ways to ensure that.

Consider how you can support your neighbors and yourself if, one day like me, you end up hampered by injury.

Ask government officials to swiftly fund accessible curb ramps and sidewalks. Push for boosted transit funding.

On a smaller scale, clear the sidewalk in front of your home of ice and snow and trim bushes, if you can, so there’s plenty of room to move and see. Give people crossing the road plenty of space and time, and a wide berth from cyclists instead of buzzing them or “rolling coal.” Take a third look before turning.

Thank you for being curious about the world around you and seeking answers, and trusting The Herald to provide them. Keep writing to The Herald with transportation gripes and questions.

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

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