Thursday, June 24, 2010

Running down a cyclist intentionally? Sounds like a hate crime to me!

Just saw this tweet from our friends at Streets blog:

Shocked by news from Chicago Bicycle Advocate about zero jail time for men who hunted people on bikes with their car:

Whoa.  Some drunk good ole boys decide they are going to go around and run cyclists off the road for fun?!?!?  The Chicago police catch up with these guys and after going to court one of them gets off scott free and the other gets 10 days in jail.  I don't get it. 

Getting drunk and hunting cyclists.  How is this any different than the long island teenagers who go hunting immigrants?  Or the kids with too much time on their hands that go roughing up the homeless?  I could go on and on about the various types of randomly motivated hate crimes but that really isn't the point.  My point is that we are outraged by these sorts of crimes and general sentence them hard.  Why is this case any different?  It's not.

I recall a story my brother-in-law told me a few years ago.  He was riding in rural Ohio when a pickup pulled in front of him and on a long open road and slammed on it's brakes.  He was riding a tandem with his 13yo daughter.  They nearly lost control of the bike. Then two guys steps out of his truck like he wants to fight my brother-in-law.  My brother-in-law must have looked smaller on the bike or the dudes noticed that there was a kid on the back because he firmly told the driver that he better get back in his car and the driver was wise enough to do so.  Who knows what that was all about, maybe it was mistaken identity but I think it was more likely some dude out to have fun at a cyclist expense.

When I try to look at this from the bike hater side I get that we must all look like a bunch of Lance Armstrong wannabes.  And it doesn't help that many cyclist dress "funny" with tight shorts and jerseys that could be mistaken for a NASCAR driver with all the "sponsors".  Go ahead.  Make fun of it.  I'll admit I look like a dork.  I can deal with that.  But don't eff with my life!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The complete newbie guide to riding the bus

If you've followed this blog from its early days then you know that I started out with a complete ignorance for the public transit system.  In that opening post I pledged to figure it all out and share that knowledge with the world.  Here it goes.  Everything I think you need to know to ride the bus around the city or at least Seattle.  It's actually not that complicated or scary and technology has simplified everything.

Step 1 - be prepared

If this is your first time riding the bus I suggest  you do a little research.  The internet is by far the easiest way to do this and Google maps is the only real game in town for simple, accurate directions on a easy to use map(come on Bing!).  All the big local transit systems also have route finding services if Google maps doesn't work in your town.  But in my experience Google maps is the easiest and best way to go.image

Go to and enter your address and where you want to go.  Be sure to choose the "by public transit" option.  Once you choose your destination Google maps will spit out all the route information you need.   You can change your departure time to a date in the future and choose between alternate routes.  It lays everything out for you on the map and even tells you how far you need to walk and how long that walk will take.  On the left hand side of the page you get a output like this:


So now you know you that if you leave your house by 3:48 you should roughly make the 3:58 245 and get to the Redmond library at 4:30.  You can change the time you want to leave or arrive and it will figure out all the details. 

Now you know where to go to catch the bus and where it's going to drop you at.  What Google doesn't seem to get right is how much it's going to cost you.  I don't know if that's a bug or something I 'm just not smart enough to understand but Google is always telling me the bus is free.  It's free if you have a pass that someone else paid for but in general the bus does cost money.  We'll get into that in a minute.

Step 2 - Walk to your stop and wait

Once you're at your stop you get the wait for the bus.  Who knows how long that will take right?  Wrong.  At least here in the Seattle area we have a system that can tell you almost exactly how long it will take for the bus to come to your stop.  It's called One Bus Away.  You can check it out at or download one of photothe apps available for most modern smartphones.  It also works with just any old smartphone via SMS.  Here is a shot of One Bus Away on an iPhone.

Generally before I even step foot outside of my house or office I check this app.  Over the course of a year I think OneBusAway saves me hours of time not spent waiting at a bus stop.

The app uses the GPS in your phone to figure out what stop your standing near and then uses some funky dead reckoning system and SMS to transmit the bus's location to a central server which this apps connects to.  I don't claim to really understand it, but you can read about it on the onebusaway development blog if you're interested.  All I know is this app works really well and is well worth it's free price.

Step 3 - Get on the bus and pay

When your bus arrives you'll need to pay that bus driver.  This chart from explains the basics better than I can.  The bus costs more money during "Peak" hours so if your travel times are flexible you can save a little by travelling during the no-peak hours.  Once on the bus there is a machine that takes your money when you get on the bus.  You just drop your money in.  There is no change so try to bring in exactly what you need.

Of course you might be in what's called a "free zone" and then you don't pay when you get on the bus, you pay when you get off the bus.  If the bus is in the free zone then you will see a sign on it when you board.  Don't try to pay if your in the free zone and it slows everything down.

Step 4 - Grab a seat

If it's really your first time on the bus try to sit up by the driver.  It's the best view of where you are and it's also easy to ask the driver a question if you need to.  I also find I get less car sick up in the front of the bus.  The fronts seats do get priority for elderly or wheelchair passengers so you may need to move when new riders board.  Now you can sit back and enjoy the WIFI, read a book, apply hand sanitizer etc.

Step 5 - Debussing

When you start to get close to where you are going to get off you will want to signal the stop.  You do this by pulling the string near the window.  On some busses it's a button like thing.  You want to signal early enough that the bus driver doesn't blow past your stop but not so early that the bus stops at the wrong stop.  It seems really simple but I've still managed to screw this up a few times.  On one occasion I was entrenched in my reading and looked up and thought I was right at my stop.  Turned out I was a little early.  I didn't have the kahunas to admit my mistake so I got off and had to walk a little extra.


Like anything in life you don't really know what you don't know.  Bus Etiquette is no different.  In general it's all common sense and politeness which is sort of a dying art.  Here are the important highlights in my opinion:

  • Be self aware and keep your volume to a minimum.  Nobody else wants to hear your conversations or music.
  • Avoid placing cell phone calls.  Most folks on the busses I'm riding are reading and it's really distracting to overhear meaningless chit chat. It's not to say you can't use a phone but in practice most folks don't sit on a call through the duration of their ride like so many car drivers do.
  • Most folks don't want to talk to you or hear about your first time on the bus or your bus blog so in general don't engage them in conversation.
  • Do offer a seat to an elderly or wheelchair rider
  • Do be nice to the driver
  • Don't over chat up the driver.  I made the mistake of asking a driver who was talking with me what her name was.  The tone of the conversation changed and she said that she was Ms. Busdriver. 

That's about it.  The bus is actually quite easy to ride and can be a nice change of pace from riding in a car. 

Anything I missed?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Get yourself killed any day of the week, ride a bike

In addition to riding the bus to work I’m also a bike commuter. I fully admit I’m a fair weather bike commuter at best. Basically if it looks like I could wear shorts outside and I don’t have a 9am meeting I’ll often opt for a ride in on a bike. I really enjoy marrying exercise to my commute because of the efficiencies it brings to my day.
I was talking with a coworker the other day about the contrast between riding the bus, running and riding a bike.  The bus is great because I get to check out, do some work and get ready for the day.  Running is fun too because I get to lose myself in my thoughts.  The bike, while fun is the most challenging though as I feel like I constantly have to scan my surroundings for potential death traps.  There are basically a couple varieties of drivers that perplex me the most.  Here is my attempt to apply a taxonomy to the worst drivers I encounter daily.
The passer
You'll find this type of driver all over the country in all types of cars.  For what ever reason this species feels the need to pass a cyclist no matter what speed the cyclist is going.  It's my hunch that they feel responsible for the cyclists safety when the cyclist is in front of them.  Therefore, if they pass the cyclist as fast as they can they no longer have to share responsibility for the cyclist safety.  I actually believe they think they are doing the cyclist a favor.  You can recognize them by the way they slam on the gas as they pass the cyclist then proceed to have to slam on the brakes as to not hit the car in front of them.  I run into about 10-15 of these drivers in a given one way commute.
The aggressive passer
This guy just doesn't like bikes and thinks we are all crazy hippies.  Generally this guy is in a truck or a sports car.  He will pass you with a very loud muffler and then sometimes even cut you off.  You get to enjoy his exhaust.  A rare treat indeed is when the aggressive passer feels the need to yell at you.  The nicest thing I've been yelled at is to stay in my lane.  On other occasions I've been called some nasty names.  I might be taking my life in my own hands but I'll often use hand gestures to communicate to the aggressive passer.  My message is clear just because I have spandex on doesn't mean I couldn't be packing heat.  I've never had anyone actually stop and confront me but if they did I'd wager I'm in better shape.
The way to close to shoulder driver
This one is pretty easy to spot.  It's usually a landscaping truck or a U-Haul.  The driver of which doesn't really understand how wide they are and they really don't care about a cyclists well being.  Contrary to popular belief these guys aren't always passers. In fact in many cases they just ride right next to you but entirely too close.  3 feet please.
Don't you pass me douche bag (DYPMDB)
In recent years this guy has become more prevalent.  His belief is that if he is stopped no cyclist should be allowed to pass him.  You'll seem him at stop signs and stop lights with his car intentionally pulled over as close to the curb as possible.  If provoked they will try to run you off the road.  I find it's best to just let these drivers be.  I suspect they grow up to serial killers and or just very mad at the world.  When I encounter a DYPMDB I just take a deep breath and wait for the light to change. 
There are others but these are the big 4 I see often.  All joking aside, if I were the king of the world I wouldn't give out drivers licenses until applicants had ridden a bike through our city streets during rush hour.  I know commuting by bike changed my driving habits around cyclists.  It's something I intend to instill in my kids.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Would you rather fly or ride the bus?

I just returned from a trip to Columbus Ohio with my eldest daughter.  Most, if not all of the air travel experience was a complete disappointment.  Anyone who has flown much in the past 5 years is guaranteed to have a set of travel horror stories.  I am no different.  As I was stuck in Chicago on this last trip it hit me that if all things were equal time wise, I’d rather sit on a bus for 8 hours than a be on a plane.

A few years back my family had to cancel a vacation due to some rather unfortunate but serious health situations. After months of negotiation with American Airlines, they finally agreed to “refund” my ticket costs, with some fess of course, in the form of vouchers.  At the same time I had to cancel some tickets on USAir .  USAir was who was totally cool.  I provided a doctors note and they cut me a check.  AA ended up being a hassle and really didn’t want to do anything for me.  I even offered ridiculous compromises like, just refund me half and you keep half.  We had over 6 months before we were to travel so it wasn’t like they didn’t have time to resell my seats.  Long story short I got these travel vouchers, these cursed travel vouchers.  Every trip I’ve booked using these vouchers has had at least one rather serious mishap.  There was the time they canceled my connecting flight and the time my car seat didn't show up for days.  The list goes on.
The big disaster on this trip was that the plane ran out of gas.  Thunderstorms diverted the plane over Kansas and we didn't have enough fuel to make it to Chicago.  So we got to land in Minneapolis to fillerup.  That caused my daughter and I to miss our connection.  So we spent the night in Chicago at the airport hotel and we lost a day of our vacation.  Then AA couldn't get us to Columbus until 6pm the following day which was almost another disaster until a smart gate agents figured out that he could get me to Dayton by 10am, which we did.

Back to vouchers.  I’ve learned just about everything there is to know about vouchers in the past two years.  The thing AA doesn’t tell you about vouchers is they are basically a scheme for AA to charge fees.  Now before you think I’m just another airline hater I’m not.  I get that it’s a business and I completely support the ala cart direction things are headed.  Go ahead and charge me for a pillow, drink, tv etc.  I like the idea that I pay for a base ticket and then I can choose to add amenities.  That makes sense.  What doesn’t make much sense to me is pointless fees.

It all starts when you call in to book a ticket.  Yes, you have to call, you can’t use vouchers on  When you call in guess what, it costs fees to talk to a real person.  So now you are talking to a real person and your trying to find that sweet fair you saw on  Oh, that’s a Internet fare, you can get on that flight but its 25% more than what your seeing online.  Once you have finished negotiating a flight you get to mail the voucher in.  That’s right there’s not way to do this over the phone or Internet.  You have to mail the thing in like its 1982.  That is unless you are travelling in less than 2 weeks, then you can take the voucher to the airport.  Of course that results in a “convenience fee” because you get to talk to a person.  It's ridiculous.
On this last trip I discovered a new fee.  I noticed that there were two early flights for my second leg home.  I went to the ticket desk in Chicago and asked if my daughter and I could get on the standby list.  The gate agent said it would be $50 a piece!  After I picked my jaw back off the floor I asked her if she would take vouchers :)  Of course the don't.

Monday, March 29, 2010

It is the last week

I find it hard to believe but I’m in the final stretch here.  This is my last week of my commitment to ride the bus for 40 days.  While my personal commitment is going to expire this week I’ve actually changed my transportation habits and dare a I say preference.  I expect to continue to use the bus for commuting for many reasons, but mostly because it’s easy and I like it.

Last week I enjoyed two experiences that never would have happened in the car.  First I met a neighbor while waiting at the stop whom I never knew existed.  It turned out we had a number of things in common.  Secondly I ran into a old coworker who I had not seen in years.  It was nice to catch up on the ride home. I dig that the bus has a social element to it and offers a opportunity to connect with folks that I normally would not see at a day in the office.

So what am I planning for my last week of posts?  Well here are the topics I want to get to but I haven’t yet.

  • What’s the value of my 40 day experiment as a carbon offset 
  • OneBusAway and why it rules
  • Lastly I want to answer the questions in my original post with The total newbie's guide to riding the bus.

And now I’ll leave you with a couple more cute photos of my kids and the bus.  Last week my youngest daughter visited me at work for a hour or so before work ended.  We rode home together on the bus.  This was her first trip and she was of course very excited.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I cheated yesterday, sort of

I haven’t missed a day of bussing since I started this adventure.  Even preschool, which I expected to be cumbersome has been really easy.  I’ve been motivated every morning to go catch the bus and I’ve been truly enjoying the extra time the bus gives me to work, read and think.

However yesterday was different.  I had to visit a customer for work.  This is something I rarely get to do.  The customer only lived about 6 miles, as the crow flies, from my house.  The night before I put the route into Google maps and no matter how I calculated it I was looking at 3 busses and close to 2 miles of walking to get to the customers house in Redmond.  I scratched my head for along time but the memories of last Friday were too fresh.  I decided my car was the way to go.

Yep, I cheated on my bus diet and drove my car to the customers house and then onto work.  I felt dirty but luckily there are showers where I work.  In the end I couldn’t justify the amount of extra time the trip was going to take on the bus nor was I willing to risk being late.

Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of just selling my car but it’s the unexpected things like this that make me think I still need it.  Sure a zip car might be an answer but I have to admit deep down I still feel like I need a car.  But based on my experiences over the past several months I’m pretty clear that I need it a lot less than I previously thought.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It happened for the first time on Friday - Metro failed me :(

After over a month of religiously taking the bus to work, I had my first negative experience. It all started as I was winding down my day at work. I checked OneBusAway and my bus was set to arrive in 6 minutes. For those not in the Seattle area OneBusAway is a website/smartphone app that provides real-time data about where a Metro bus is on it's route. 6 minutes is tight for me to get from my office to the stop, but it's doable. So I hustled out the door.

As luck would have it I got held up at the two crosswalks I need to cross to get to the stop and before I knew it the 245 was screaming by. Oh well, the 245 runs every 15min so it's really no big deal I thought. So I check OneBusAway on my phone and something was up as the next bus was 27 minutes away, 12 minutes late. Since I had some time on my hands and it was Friday, I decided to take a stroll rather than head back in and work. So I walked down the street to get some exercise in the hopes of picking up the bus down the line.

I still don't know exactly what happened but that bus that was supposed to be there in 27 minutes ended up taking about a hour to show up. It was my most packed ride yet. I overheard the driver say he hit some traffic near crossroads, a local mall, when a fellow rider complained. Whatever the cause I was really late getting home.

As you can imagine showing up a hour late for dinner doesn't go over very well at home. For some being a hour late to work could mean losing a job. I'm lucky because my schedule has what most of the world would consider a lot of flexibility. If I wasn't so flexible, the bus would be a complete nonstarter.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bombs, Babies, Books and Bags – things I’ve learned from talking with bus drivers

I plan to just keep adding to this post as I continue to learn more.  So far I’ve befriended several bus drivers who are slowly divulging the secrets of their profession.  Maybe they aren’t secrets, but they are the most interesting parts of my conversations with them so far.  In random order:

They aren’t supposed to get into fare disputes – as part of their training they tell them that they shouldn’t confront riders over the fare they paid.  Basically a rider can put in whatever change they have and the bus driver will begrudgingly have to let you ride the bus.

You really can take just about anything on the bus – this includes dogs, cats, chickens, swords, strollers, etc.  I asked about firearms and the answer was it’s fine as long as you are licensed to carry.  Interestingly enough a driver is not allowed to pack heat.  Gasoline, gas powered vehicles and fireworks seem to be about the only things not ok.

A bus can’t radio another bus – They have a little telephone up front but it only calls the dispatch center.  So the bus drivers use hand signals to communicate on the road.

Training to become a driver takes ~ 1 month - It’s mostly classroom training but they do have “playground” where they practice.

Bus drivers drive a route for 4 months – then they get assigned new routes.  With seniority comes the right to request certain routes.  The ones with the best views are the most prized.  Basically it’s just like how corporate folks jockey for window offices.  I should add that every driver I’ve talked to love their job.

Bombs, babies, books and bags – when the route ends and the bus turns around the driver has to walk the bus.  I don’t know if they teach them that little alliterative phrase in training but that’s what they walk the bus looking for.  I have to assume they’ve found one of each before or they wouldn’t have the phrase!

Feel free to leave comments with any other fun facts.  I’d also love to hear what the craziest thing you’ve taken or seen taken on the bus is.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Get in shape, ride the bus

I love to exercise.  I’m into my bike, love being outside and recently I’ve started focusing on running, for the umpteenth time.  God willing I hope to do a half marathon this summer.  Exercise and I have always got along great but the amount of time I get to devote to it these days is limited between work and family life.  Like anything worth doing in life, it’s all about prioritizing what’s important.

When I started my bussing adventure I didn’t really think that I it would have any effect on my fitness but over the past several weeks I started to realize that the bus causes me to get quite a bit more walking in during the average day.

IMG_3834I also love data.  So last week I started to try to quantify the benefits of taking the bus.  My daily walk to the bus stop from my house = ~1200 steps and the walk from the bus stop to my office is another 150 or so.  x2 since I do that twice a day and I ‘m getting a bonus 2700 steps a day that I would not get with taking my car.  This morning I had an appointment before work which I walked to so by the time I walked into my office I was already over 3400 steps for the day and its only 9am.  If I do nothing else today but ride the bus home I’ll be close to 5000 steps.  With all the other walking I tend to just do in a day that gets me close to the recommended 10,000 steps a day without any focused time spent on exercise.

While riding the bus might not be the cure for our national obesity crisis, it certainly can’t hurt.  This is a benefit of taking the bus I really have never heard articulated before.  The bus should run a house ad about it. :)

Assuming my daughter is willing I plan to attach a pedometer to her tomorrow and see how many steps she gets in when we take the bus to preschool.  Her stride is smaller so in theory she should get more steps.  Besides she is 4 and runs everywhere.

I’m curious what your thoughts are?  Has anyone perceived health benefits from the walking associated with riding the bus?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hey I know what that is, it’s called a house ad

I work in the software industry which over the years has turned more and more into an advertising industry.  That transition has introduced me to a number of concepts, one of which is the “house ad”.  When an advertiser, tv, billboard, software or otherwise can’t sell out an ad spot they don’t just leave it blank.  Instead they display some filler content.  Often the ads just promote the company that owns the ad space.  Sometimes it beckons you to place an ad.IMG_3828

I’ve noticed over the past month that every bus I ride is plastered with house ads and very few paid ads.  In fact I recently rode on a bus with no paid ads at all.

I did some investigation, made a few calls and learned a couple things.  First the city only sells the ads on the drivers side of the bus.  So one entire side of every Seattle Metro bus is devoted to house ads.  These ads like the one shown above generally promote what you should do to be a good bus rider, like not touching the driver.  Doesn’t that urge always come over you when you board the bus?  You have to wonder how many drivers got touched before they printed that sign! They also include information on fares and other business like that.  So every bus automatically is at least 50% house ads.

You can buy an ad on the other side of the bus and it’s actually not that expensive.  They come in 2 sizes 11x17 and 11x34.  The smaller ad will cost you ~$14 and the larger ~$28 for 4 weeks of time on 1 bus.  If you want to hit every bus in downtown Seattle you need to buy 600, so it can get expensive.  But you can buy as few or as many buses as you want and you can pick the routes you want to be on so you can target your ads by location pretty easily.

However given the few paid ads I see on the 245 I’m guessing advertising inside the bus just isn’t something leveraged that much these days by advertisers.  Just like the phone book and newspaper ads are dying it would seem bus ads going the same direction?  Or maybe bus riders aren’t a demographic that is valuable to advertisers.  I tend to think it’s the later, which makes me a bit sad.  The one paid ad I seem to see on every bus is entirely in Spanish and appears to be aimed at helping pregnant women learn more about adoption.  I'm surprised there aren’t more ads targeted at professionals like me.  The crowing achievement of software ad industry is that it can target ads based on what is known about a person based on their email, search results or friends.  In the case of the bus you know exactly where I’m going, roughly where I live and work and you have my attention for at least 10 minutes.  Additionally almost everyone on the bus these days is carrying a internet capable device these days.  It seems like the ad quantity and quality should be way better than they are. But then again I guess I’m not the demographic so who am I to judge.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Another successful preschool outing on the city bus

We’ve had a surprisingly dry winter here in Seattle but this morning it was raining.  I asked my daughter if she still wanted to take the bus and she didn’t hesitate one bit, she was game.

Sophie KittyToday was a “show and tell” day for at preschool and she had selected her favorite kitty Sophie to show to the class.   Sophie is a “furreal” friend.  A mechanical cat that looks and sounds pretty much like a real cat.  We generally don’t allow it to leave the house as it freaks people out, but today was special.  So Sophie, my daughter and I packed up for the city bus.

Slug on the sidewalkJust like last time the walk to the bus stop was the most exciting part of the trip.  While we didn’t find any money today we did find a tiny slug which captured her imagination for quite some time at the bus stop.  So much so she really wanted to take it home.  After getting slug goo all over our hands we boarded our bus, driven again by Michael.

This bus was the latest bus I’ve ridden so far.  It was 17 minutes late.  According to my handy iPhone app which can track the buses via GPS the next bus was behind it only by 2 minutes.  I asked Michael what the deal was and he claimed there was a bunch of construction traffic he ran IMG_3822into.  While we got to preschool on time I could imagine this being very stressful if your counting on the bus to get you to an appointment.  Michael said they have a saying “We might not be on time, but we will be safe”.

Bussing to preschool is quickly becoming a thing my daughter looks forward too and I’m really excited to share with her the notion that a car is just one of many ways we can get around.

Friday, February 26, 2010

It’s called a Wheel Check and it saves lives

Many months ago, before I was commuting on the bus I started noticing fluorescent green/yellow plastic arrows on the lug nuts of semi trucks wheels.  I always wondered what they were but never actually took the time to look it up.

imageAs my bus pulled up this morning I noticed that all the tires on the bus have these things too.  A little internet research revealed that these are a 65-cent safety device made by a company called Wheel Check.  The idea is the mechanic that tightens the lugs installs these plastic arrows in a simple visual pattern.  Then the vehicle operator just has to glance at the tire during their state required walk around and they can tell easily tell if a lug nut is getting loose.  What a fantastic and simple invention.

As you can imagine, when lug nuts on big vehicles get loose bad stuff happens.  Every year there are multiple incidents of individuals being killed by flying tires in the northwest alone.  I Binged it and was instantly depressed by the sad stories of lost one from flying tires.

Wheel Checks are installed on all the Seattle Metro busses, Community Transit busses, Microsoft Connector and Waste mgmt vehicles.  Now that you know what’s it called and what it does I bet you notice one this weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taking a preschooler on the city bus

IMG_3767On Tuesday morning my daughter and I departed for our bussing to preschool adventure.  We had spent some time talking about what the bus would be like and she was very excited.  None the less  I had some reservations.  Would she be able to deal with all the extra walking the city bus requires?  The route to preschool isn’t exactly direct.  It’s a 1/2 mile to the stop and at least that again once the bus drops us off.  I also was concerned that she wouldn’t like the noise of the bus, she is rather sensitive to loud things and gets scared pretty easy.

My fears quickly started to subside as we left the door and all she wanted to do was run to the bus stop.  “Daddy we don’t want to be late” she told me followed by “I can’t wait to see what the inside of the bus looks like”.  The morning was off to a great start.

IMG_3764We played a game where we tried to find things we wouldn’t have seen if we had taken the car.  Along the way she began to collect items she found which included a very red leaf, a feather and penny.  The penny was the most exciting in this down economy.  However rather than putting it toward college we decided to chuck it into a fountain we passed and wish for more pennies to be found.

Once at our stop she waited patiently.  The bus showed up and she climbed aboard, wished the bus driver a good morning and we were on our way.  She was very taken with the notion that nobody had a seat belt and there were no car seats.  That combine with the great view you get from being up high made the trip go by very quickly.  Preschool is the last stop on the 245 and we ended up being the only folks that rode all the way to the last stop.  Michael, our driver was super cool and let us snap a couple photos with him.  I also asked him lots of questions about driver training which I’ll post on in the future.

IMG_3791All in all the trip was a great success and something we will definitely be doing again.  The trip does take longer.  With all the walking I allowed 45 min to get to school, when I drive a car I only need about 10 to be on time.  I don’t feel like that extra 35 minutes is a waste though.  We got to get some exercise, had great conversation and made some lasting memories.

You can view a slideshow of the whole adventure by clicking on these photos.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Car got rear ended :( I’m carless now “for reals”

Last week my wife calls me in a panic and says she just got rear ended at a stop light.  She was OK but the rear bumper wasn’t.  Luckily she was by herself and the kids weren’t along.
Indeed this is life and these sort of things happen, but what really bites is the car is brand spanking new.  It’s a 2010 Sienna, complete with a non-recalled gas pedal, new car smell and less than 2500 miles.  It had not even had it’s first oil change yet.  Sigh…

So I drove the car this morning to the auto body shop where they will be installing a new bumper today.  When asked if I wanted a rental car I proudly proclaimed “No, I’m taking the bus!”  To which the 19 year old receptionist looked at me strangely and said they would shuttle me to work if I would like.  I made the game time call that a shuttle ride wasn’t against my rules given the circumstances. 

I seized the opportunity to exercise a different rule and I engage the driver in conversation. I proceeded to learn that his wife was pregnant with their first, he is pretty freaked out and that he really doesn’t like his career choice.  Over the course of the 10 minute ride he got a lot off his chest and his mood went from rather grumpy about shuttling me to more optimistic about his life situation.  It was fun, way more fun than driving a rental car.

The van should be ready tomorrow evening.  In the meantime I don’t have a choice about how I’m getting around.   So in turn, neither does my daughter.  We are going to bus to preschool tomorrow.  I broke the news to her at dinner last night and she was as excited as Christmas morn.  Oh how the world must look through 4 year old eyes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The rules

30daysI used to love that show 30 days with the guy from Super Size me.  At the beginning of every show he would lay out the rules that he would have to follow for the next 30 days.  Well here are mine.

1. When commuting to work I won’t use my car

It doesn’t matter how late I’m running or ill prepared for the day I am for the day, no car.  Even if I have a midday appointment, like the dentist I’ll stick with public transit or my bike.

2. My commuting choice can’t negatively impact those around me

Just cause I ‘m not driving doesn’t mean I get to be late to dinner, skip meetings or be grouchy in the morning. 

3. I won’t force my commuting habit on others

Specifically my 4 year old daughter who I take to preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I don’t have a great plan here yet...  If she is game and the weather is nice we will try to take the bus, but I’m not going to force this on her.  On preschool days I have the option to drive a car, for her.  Basically we need to see how this goes.

4. When riding public transit I’ll use the extra time to learn

A sub rule here is that if anyone engages me in conversation while on the bus I am obligated to reciprocate and learn as much about them as possible.  Otherwise I plan to do some reading and writing while on the bus.  No headphones for me.

That’s the rules I’m keeping.  Any I missed?

Bus 2
Bike 1 (it was too nice to sit on a bus today)
Total 3

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day one of 40 without my car

photoIn the great Catholic tradition of Lent I've decided to change some things for the next 40 days. As a child I would always give some food up, like candy, pop or pizza. But as I've grown older I've tried to make this a time of year where I do something rather than give up something. Last year my wife and I changed up our finances and retired all credit card usage in favor of a more accountable cash system. This year I'm getting a little crazier. I'm going to retire my car.

Well not completely. Basically I'm going to try to commute entirely using my bike or public transit. The bike part isn't foreign to me. I've been commuting to work on a bike for many years. The bus part is what's new. The bus has always interested me but I've only managed to utilize it on a couple rare occasions, like when my car broke. The trouble is I'm not a good bus rider. I don’t understand the culture or the etiquette.  I’m terrified of taking the wrong bus and ending up abandoned in Everett.  I can never figure out how much I need to put in the coin bin or where to swipe the flex pass, I mean ORCA card.  Do I pay when I get on or when I get off?  How long can I leave my car at the P&R?  Where does the free zone start and end?  The last time I rode the bus was about 10 years ago and I asked the bus driver if the bus was going to head towards 40th and he told me "Son, don’t get on a bus if you don't know where it's going". That pretty much sums up my experiences. After 12 years in Seattle I haven't ever bothered to figure out how to read the bus charts and in general Metro has always seemed like a huge hassle.  But honestly it’s all ignorance, I just have never taken the time to figure it out.

My ignorance of the public transit system is rooted deep inside of me because of my Midwest roots. Growing up in Columbus Ohio I didn't know anyone that rode the city bus daily, especially an adult. It was pretty much unheard of in the circles I kept.  Granted my childhood was insulated, I was lucky to get to go to the best schools and live in a really nice neighborhood where everyone had cars.  So my skewed perspective as a youth was that the bus was something you rode because you were so down on your luck that you couldn't afford a car.  Adult bike riding for the purpose of commuting was even more rare and frankly odd. The general assumption was that was for people that couldn’t afford the bus. The busses and the people that rode them always looked scary, the edges of society and to my juvenile uninformed brain, threatening.

Fast forward 20 years and to the West coast and things are just plain different and so am I . The busses are clean, run on time and are full of folks of all different walks of life. Nothing to me seems threatening about them. Many of my friends at work don’t own cars and rely entirely on public transit.  These are engineers, making good money and can clearly afford and often do have very nice cars.  Times have changed but I’m a dinosaur.  It’s time to update my experiences and that is exactly what I am going to do.  I'm on the bus right now and the crowd is no different than what you would see at the public library or a Mariners game. Well, there is one guy with a pentagram tattooed on his forehead talking to his Chihuahua like it’s a kid, no joke, but hey it's Seattle, he's probably a coworker of mine.

So over the next 40 days I plan to post about what I've learned and how it changes my day for better or worse. I’ll also be looking for technology to navigate the Metro system and I’ll measure how successful I am at leaving my car at home. Today is a success as I'm heading downtown for Jury duty, on the bus.

Tomorrow's post - my personal rules for the next 40 days