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