Carfree in Seattle?

I just read Danny Westneat’s column on living carfree in Seattle, and felt inspired to send him an email:

Mr. Westneat,

Thank you for the column about going carfree in Seattle. I appreciate what sounded to me like the suggestion that we try to improve public transportation, but am less compelled by the sense of resignation at this prospect. However, instead of highlighting one person’s “opting-out” of using transit, I think a better approach might be to highlight the breadth of the absurdity of trying to get around Seattle without a car AND a serious engagement with the some of the emergent alternatives. I realize you were only writing a short column, but let’s call this a proposal for an ongoing series.

I can give you the short version of my own relatively privileged struggle: I gave up my car right after moving to Seattle in 2005, when I was living on lower Queen Anne and working downtown, but am now feeling the pressure to get a new one. My family and I now live on Capitol Hill: I am working on my Ph.D. and teaching at UW, my wife teaches high school in Lynnwood, my son just started kindergarten (Phinney Ridge — a language immersion school), and my daughter goes to preschool (University District). My wife and I have organized our kid-hauling in such a way that I do drop-offs and she does pick-ups. So my bus ride in the morning involves four buses, minimum: #43 which continues as a #44 to Fremont; #5 up Phinney Avenue to drop off my son; #5 again up to Greenwood Avenue and 85th, where my daughter and I transfer to the #48 to get back to the University District. I have it coordinated so that it takes about an hour and a half, which is far too long, but is the price I pay for trying to live in this city according to my own values.

So that’s my story: I choose to subject myself so that I can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Capitol Hill (which is, obviously, absorbing some the growth among the more well-to-do Amazon employees). But that is the other side of this coin: you and I can choose to experiment, we can try the bus or the car, flagellating ourselves through decidedly impractical ethics (myself) or saving ourselves by adding another car to the road (you). I am thinking of the people who make daily (or nightly trips) to or throughout Seattle and who do not have a choice: the people who empty the trash cans, clean the toilets, and make lunches for the Amazon employees formerly impeding your journey; the people who have to cram in to one of the “Calcutta-like” buses to get to work on time. I would like to hear their stories.

But I don’t just want to hear about these tribulations, I want to hear about what is being done to remedy them. The first thing I thought about on my long trip to Phinney Ridge was, “why isn’t there a subway line here?” Of course, I know about the Seattle Subway group, but I have been too absorbed in my everyday life to get involved (which is doubly embarrassing because I study urbanization, and South Lake Union in particular). But now I am going to get involved because I have experienced the absurdity of this transit system in its full, uh, “glory.” I think that sharing people’s trials and tribulations might be a way to show readers that we need to fix this and have good ideas, and it is a move that will benefit everyone. And, what the hell, I’ll even do the ethnography and write up the stories if you can find me space to publish it.

Again, thanks for your column, it ignited some of the ideas that were floating around in the back of my mind.

My best,
Keith

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