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I imagine there are two possible reactions to Danny Westneat’s brief experiment ($) living without a car.

If you like the term “war on cars” – that is, you think every building and every inch of road space should be always available to single-occupancy vehicles – then your conclusion is that given the means to do otherwise, only fools would choose to rely solely on the bus. Redesigning our cities to encourage it is pointless.

Part of that sentiment is absolutely correct: given the current state of our transit system, few people with alternatives rely solely on transit. The system is far from comprehensive and almost never has a time incentive over driving. Moreover, government constantly intervenes to make parking and driving cheaper, reducing transit’s cost advantage. As a result, able and reasonably prosperous car-free people often use carshare services and bikes where convenient. If one can’t afford car2go and can’t bike, our political system doesn’t really care if it takes them an hour plus to go anywhere.

The alternative reaction to the piece, which requires either a little imagination or some experience of other cities, is that we’ve done a really poor job of providing people with good alternatives to owning a car. Reasonably direct walking paths, bike routes that won’t kill you, an easy-to-understand transit system with high frequency and adequate capacity to absorb demand*, and enough priority to often give transit a time advantage would create those alternatives.

Although such a world is beyond living memory for most people, people trying to get around will respond to incentives. Unless we’re pleased with huge amounts of space dedicated to storing cars, fouled air and water, dollars shipped out of Washington to oil producers, obesity, asthma, and the steady carnage of our roads, it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up. A nice start would be not making things any worse, by maintaining Metro service levels, and revolutionizing transit mobility by preparing for Sound Transit 3.

* which would address Mr. Westneat’s specific problem.

87 Replies to “Living Without a Car”

  1. My husband and I went without a car for approx. 10 years in Seattle, although we did rent a car occasionally for a weekend away. We could walk/bike/bus to work, grocery store, bank, dr. office, etc. For six years, my husband worked in Bellevue and biked-bussed from Green Lake over there every day while I worked at the UW and mostly commuted on foot. I realize that carless in Seattle is not for everybody. It would be much more difficult if you had children at home or if you weren’t hale and hearty for example. And even without kids or disability, you can’t just get-up-and-go anywhere, anytime like you can with a car. But even with those drawbacks, there are advantages to being carless. It saved us a TON of money and helped us get retired.

    But after we were retired for a couple of years, we got to thinking about how if we wanted to go hiking, skiing, traveling, etc. It sure would be easier with a car. So, in part using all that money we saved not having a car, we bought a car.

    Not having a car all those years was the right decision for us and having a car now is also the right decision.

    That’s my story.

    1. I tend to drive no more than two to four times a month. But when I do drive, it’s not really replicable with biking, transit or car rental.

      The key is to get an older, reliable, efficient car and get liability only insurance. The cost ends up being less than if I rented a car everytime I needed to drive, plus I don’t have to worry about getting TO the car rental place (I know of one rental place in Ballard, and it’s not the cheapest).

      Of course I also own a parking spot, so it’s already a sunk cost and I don’t have to worry about a monthly rental fee. I don’t think I can ever go car free, but I can definitely be proud that I use my car so seldom that I never know if my battery is dead or not.

      1. At least you own your parking spot and don’t expect the city to provide one in front of your home. You pay property tax on the pavement that houses your car. A large percentage of Seattle car owners don’t.

      2. That’s one of the things that makes me have little sympathy for people who complain about the lack of off-street parking. Come to neighborhoods with arterials. We don’t have city-owned parking and, in the case of where I live, haven’t had on-street parking in over 50 years. My house has a driveway so it gets used.

  2. I ride the bus virtually everywhere, even though, between Mrs. lakecityrider and I, we own two paid-off cars. My wife deems me almost pathological about riding the bus. Why do I do this? Three reasons. First, my employer sponsors my bus pass, so my commute has a major cost advantage over a car (even if it didn’t, a $91/month bus pass trumps a $250 car payment, excluding gas, tolls, maintenance, etc.) Second, I consider it the right thing to do. I am saving space, saving on fossil fuels, and demonstrating that yes, people who do have options *do* choose the bus and that it’s not entirely like the “prevailing wisdom” of who people think normally ride the bus. Third, I like it. I don’t have to deal with other drivers, I get to play Leo’s Fortune on my tablet, and it’s less stress.

    Most of the system is comprehensible to me and I can easily navigate it. I also think that, of course, a lot more can be done to keep the system usable and to improve it. Even so, I still like the bus and much prefer it to driving or, Flying Spaghetti Monster save us, parking. (This is one reason why I’m so vehemently opposed to cutting the 48 in half, especially if the 8 goes away or if the MUCH better 8 restructure doesn’t happen. Contrary to my username–because I got tired of changing it–I live in the CD. When I lived in Lake City, I could take one-bus trips to neighboring Northgate, Lake Forest Park, Wedgewood, and Roosevelt in addition to the University and downtown. Now, living in the CD, getting to neighboring Capitol Hill is a two-bus trip or long walk and cutting the 48 makes getting to Ballard or anywhere else north of the cut “even more fun.”)

  3. I own a car although I take transit to work. It is admittedly a somewhat frivolous luxury – I could get by with bus + taxi/Lyft/Uber + rental cars. However, I can afford it and I want one.

    Is that selfish, absolutely. For me, it is about maximizing personal time. Since I don’t drive at rush hour, using my car is almost always faster than alternatives. I’d still spend thousands per year on other transportation (for example 4x $25 rides per week would be $5k annually).

    1. I own a car and take the bus to work from Ballard to downtown. The past two summers, I have given my car to my parents to use when they go to their property in the pacific NW– so I have been carless for 3 months out of the year.

      Between Metro, Car2Go, UberX, Zipcar and rentals (when I want to get out of the city, and after Labor Day, Enterprise runs 9.99 weekend day specials), I can get where I need to go after hours or on weekends– but it requires planning (and with Car2Go, a supply of cars nearby). However, I hardly ever go to Cap Hill or West Seattle on weekends.

      I lived in the DC area near a metro subway station, and it was much easier to get downtown for work or social reasons (although on weekends, they tended to do maintenance/track repairs on the Red Line), and often went from Friendship Heights metro to U st without batting an eye (which required a transfer). Compare that from getting to/from Ballard to Cap Hill by bus.

      If a Ballard-U district line ever got built, I would probably give up my car (or not buy a new one since the other car is paid up) and rely on the alternative transportation methods I listed above.

  4. Martin – I think you guve Westneats piece too much credit. He clearly lives somewhere with a very specific transit problem; He’s on a line very near a major destination so often has issues with full buses.

    We certainly should fund metro to be more frewuent and make improvements so that buses are prooritized more. We should also fund ST3 as soon as possible (duh.).

    But we shouldnt let Mr Westneat off the hook for writing this peice while working for the single loudest and most influential anti-transit voice in the Seattle area. I don’t know of a single tranist capital or operating vote that the Times Editorial Board has been in favor of.

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to hold Westneat responsible for what the ed board says. In any case I don’t think there’s any stronger argument for more transit investment than that current service is inadequate.

      FWIW I believe the Times supported Transit Now.

      1. I’m not blaming him for the opinions of Times editorial board. I’m blaming him for laying blame on politicians and not even mentioning his employers role in the situation – or mentioning the transit funding vote in two months.

    2. But writing for the Times is his job. Are you seriously suggesting he should feel as though he must choose between resigning from his position and being a transit advocate?

      1. If Westneat’s job (as professional shaper of public opinion at the most widely read Seattle publication) includes masking the role his employer plays in creating the problems he is bloviating upon, then yes, he should resign. To do otherwise is to implicitly support the actions of said employer. Which is exactly what his extraordinarily privileged piece does.

  5. You forgot a third response: Westneat is a [ad hom] who apparently takes no responsibility for himself and his impacts while denigrating everyone else in the process. I’m not sure how that wasn’t the most clear takeaway from him polemic trolling.

    1. Oh, come on, relax. I’m happy any time a Seattle Times columnist is criticizing transit for being too successful. and suffering under its own weight. Remember back in April, his Prop 1 postmortem rightfully said, “What Seattle and the region really need — a lot more transit — wasn’t on the ballot. It’s not enough just to preserve what we have.” So don’t piss on an ally, even if he can be a cranky one.

      Westneat is right that current conditions are unacceptable, and that no one with means would rationally sit on Denny on a crushloaded bus waiting 30 minutes just to move 1/2 mile up to Capitol Hill. And he’s also right that the city and county have not responded to growth in SLU with new transit service. As far as Metro and Sound Transit are concerned, the north boundary of the job core still ends at Stewart St.

      Of course, his tragedy-of-the-commons response was pretty cringeworthy. Though making a perfectly rational choice as a person of means, he should have expressed gratitude that all those crushing on to the bus enabled him to drive by freeing up road space. He should have called out the miracle that overall traffic is flat in our region despite the Amazon boom. And the real kicker for me is the congestion he’s upset about is entirely due to cars queuing to get on the freeway that divided Capitol Hill from SLU in the first place. Cars are the reason that there is only ONE street, Denny, that connects Washington State’s densest neighborhood and its fastest growing job center, and accommodating SOVs at Yale Avenue is apparently a higher priority than Westneat’s hundreds of fellow bus sufferers.

      But I think we should ignore those flaws and see the good in this, that the Seattle Times is spilling ink to talk about overcrowding, obviously high demand, and the need for more transit. Now if only he could convince someone in editorial about that…

      1. Cars turning from Denny to Yale are a big part of the traffic issue on Denny. The Yale light at Eastlake is a big reason the cars back up onto Denny.

        SDOT could do wonders for traffic flow in SLU and for the 8 by closing off that small section of Yale.

      2. The Denny mess is totally solvable. It just requires bold action by SDOT and Council to do it. That’s yet to happen. And of course, Westneat would probably pitch a fit about his driving habits have some how “gotten worse”.

    2. I’m really not interested in slamming people for the their personal life choices, which are usually rationally made given the overall policy environment.

      1. I don’t mind criticizing people for their lifestyle choices, depending on what it happens to be. The people down the street from me who seem to think that the road is their trash can? Certainly I feel it is fair to grumble loudly about them, as well as the guy who goes out and starts his big diesel powered bottle of road viagra and loudly idles it for 20 minutes on most mornings – at least I think its fair to grumble about him when he has it parked in front of my house and starts it at 4:30 am.

        However, the fact is that people decide to own vehicles because transit is terrible. Those places in Europe that have the best transit usage right now, and are showing increases in transit use, have spent a generation rethinking how they provide the service, increasing speeds, and working out timed transfer points. Those places that have not made this investment have declining transit usage.

        People go with what works for them. The laws of gravity don’t somehow work different in Europe or Japan.

        I have also been told an interesting tidbit about transit usage in Europe: the older generation that came of age when transit in Europe was terrible continues to drive most places because habits die hard. The younger generation that sees the advantages of using the new and better transit systems are the ones mostly responsible for the increasing numbers.

        So, don’t worry too much about the old guard. The great thing about the old guard is that it is old, and eventually the old guard dies off.

      2. Don’t worry, Glenn. The old guard is very effective at screwing over future generations. It’s too much of a protracted discussion, but transit will be hurting in Europe over the coming decades thanks to the short-sighted “liberalisation” efforts of EU Competition laws on public transport networks. Margaret Thatcher manages to rear her ugly head even six feet under. Sigh. :(

    3. I think some transit advocates really need to learn about building coalitions.

      Westneat is a transit supporter. He went car-free for several months. His biggest gripe with Metro is that there isn’t enough service and it’s not frequent enough.

      If we’re going to beat him up for insufficient purity, or for his employers (how many other newspapers are there in Seattle these days), we’d better get used to today’s transit system. If you put the Danny Westneats of this world in the enemy camp, you can forget about getting anything that requires a ballot.

  6. Yesterday’s travel showed me one thing: the car storage arrangement I hate worst is using highways and streets to store cars with their engines running and drivers sitting in them like an outdoor suicide attempt.

    Especially hate an interstate highway originally intended to carry supplies, tanks, and weapons at seventy miles an hour, stuffed with private cars going five miles and hour, both blocking bus transit and contributing to our national defense by burning oil that keeps us involved for more than a half century in a part of the world at war since Creation. Taking huge money away from transit.

    From a world oil industry that blocks our passenger trains with rolling mile-long napalm bombs in tank cars the industry knows are defective but won’t replace. Based on what happened in Quebec this year, a predictable wreck could leave Seattle, including transit, in a condition way beyond the worst from ISIS.

    And no, Danny, the hundred twenty involuntary miles I put on a thirteen year old car I’ll have to keep until the end of my life didn’t save me a minute, and probably cost me several hours of drudgery. After a morning in Hell driving into Seattle- none of my usual intricate traffic-avoidance routes worked any better than leaving Olympia at 6AM.

    The two hours transit takes between Olympia and Seattle along a highway that should take one hour at sixty takes two hours sometimes going sixty. Sounder from Tacoma goes faster but takes longer. My preferred route stopping in Tacoma, where I get a coffee break and a bathroom. The 592 express misses Tacoma, leaves out last two benefits, and also takes two hours. Both routes slowly go a lot of other places on their way. But I can use the reading time toward a PhD.

    So answer to Danny is that what he’d prescribing just plain doesn’t work. As he’s undoubtedly finding out as we speak. But also doubtlessly learning firsthand that walking is faster.

    MD

    1. But I can use the reading time toward a PhD.

      The reading time thing is something that always gets left out of the “people who value their time can’t/won’t voluntarily take the bus” narrative. For years I had commute that took about 2X as long on transit as driving (best case scenario early morning 20 minute drive, 40 minute bus; double both for a bad traffic afternoon commute back home, average about 30/60). I took the bus because I valued my time. That ~30 minutes driving is utterly useless, gone forever. My job involves lots of reading (books and articles to review, papers to grade, etc) that can be done anywhere. Under such conditions, driving is the time suck, not taking the bus.

      When the republicans killed the 3C train in Ohio on grounds that since it’ll be slower than driving, it’s not worth bothering with, I thought the same thing. I could readily imagine heading up to Cleveland to see the Mariners or something at 5 hours on a train each way; that’s time I would have spent working (or sleeping, or watching TV, or whatever) anyway; if I have to lose 3.5 hours of potentially productive time each way by driving, I’m simply not going to make the trip.

      1. Back when I could ride the 202, and was guaranteed a seat, I could usefully use the time to read. Standing in the aisle on a packed 212, hanging on for dear life as the bus lurches around avoiding kamikaze cyclist and jaywalkers, not so much.

  7. I live happily in Seattle without a car. I live on First Hill where it is convenient to get pretty much everywhere either by bus, light rail, or tram (soon).

    I have a supermarket (QFC) a short distance away, and 4 more only a few bus stops away.

    I am a member of Car2Go just in case, though I never use it, and now the Pronto Bike Share as well.

    The key is that I chose not to live in one of the flashy neighborhoods like SLU or Belltown that don’t have the basics easily accessible (i.e. supermarket).

    I know which buses to avoid at which times of day, I know which bus stops to avoid and which are easiest to use.

    Couldn’t be happier.

    1. This is the story I like to focus on. It is increasingly possible to live comfortably without owning a car in many areas around the city. The past decade has seen a proliferation of choices to owning a car including Car2Go, ZipCar, more frequent bus service in many core areas, Uber/Lyft/Sidecar/Flywheel, etc. Can everybody? Of course not. Do we need more transit service? Absolutely.

  8. I prefer the “low-car” approach. My wife and I can easily share one vehicle in Portland. If it is snowing or raining sideways, we use the car. If the weather is more comfortable, we bike or walk. Mainly, though, it is our active hobbies that necessitate car ownership. You just can’t get to most of the places we want to go hiking, rock climbing, skiing, etc without a car.

  9. I think Westneat just prefers cars and was looking for an excuse to drive again. How long has Bus Chick been relying on public transit?

  10. I presume he was taking the 8 during rush hour? That would drive anyone to a car. I got a new job on Elliott and live on Capitol Hill, and this is the worst commute I’ve ever dealt with (and I’ve been commuting by bus for 20 years and carless for most of that). I walk most days unless I’m working late.

    1. Yes, he is taking the 8 during rush hour, and among other problems, worries the route will be severed in the 2015 transit cuts.
      So a solution to his problem would be a transit-only lane on Denny Way. Do you know anybody primed for that fight?

      1. Walking around Denny in the PM peak, you see the through-lane to Capitol Hill wide open (making Westneat’s car trip pretty easy), but the bus remains stuck in the I-5 queue to serve its righthand stops at Westlake, Fairview, and Stewart. I don’t think a transit-only lane on Denny is possible, and nor is it necessarily defensible to have one that supports a single 15-minute headway bus route. I prefer to come at it from the vehicle demand reduction angle, removing the source of the problem by closing Yale between Stewart and Denny and shifting cars to access I-5 via Mercer, Minor–>Howell, or Boren–>Howell.

      2. I’ve once gotten on a 2 at the downtown library where the driver did not merge into the right lane filled with cars trying to get on I-5, got out of the bus, opened only the front door, paused right lane traffic (not that it was moving), and allowed everyone to walk across a lane to board / deboard.

        This probably saved the 30 people on the bus 3 minutes each between the merge in and merge out.

        Could the 8 do something like this?

      3. I’ve been on a bus once or twice that did that- it’s definitely not approved and I have a feeling the drivers would get in a lot of trouble if caught. That brings up an interesting question- what about transit islands like they have on Dexter? Except instead of bikes, the interstate-queuing traffic would be going on the right side of them. I don’t think there’s room on Denny for such an arrangement, but it could be an innovative solution.

      4. For sure — I texted a friend who would celebrate the driver with me, but kept mum otherwise.

        Though in New Orleans (Dec 2013), the bus that shadowed the St. Charles Streetcar ran in the center lane and counted on passengers to cross through traffic, as they would anyway to get to the streetcar running on the median / neutral ground.

        Maybe running the 8 in the left lane could be spun as “the 8 runs as a streetcar during rush”?

      5. Traditionally, before lots of auto traffic, that is exactly what streetcars used to do in many cities, and in Toronto they still do in a number of places – though there are laws in Toronto that protect streetcar passengers and require autos to stop.

  11. An interesting question is why consistently overcrowded routes do not (quickly!) get more capacity. It’s tempting, and probably correct to think that this is NOT fundamentally a question of (external) funding – farebox recovery on a more-than-full bus is generally greater than 100%, particularly if many of them are full-fare riders. Adding a bus would likely more than pay for itself.
    This is not to criticize Metro, but to ask if the service planning process among Metro, KC Council, and other authorities can be made less difficult for additions that would pay for themselves and so wouldn’t require additional external funding, nor reduction of service to other routes.

    1. Suggestion, Jim: Spend a couple of pm rush hours up and down Westlake through South Lake Union riding both the Route 40 and the streetcar. Note which mode is still fairly comfortable for standing passengers in a crush load.

      Department of Agriculture would probably switch all cattle shipments to rail, especially if in the name of both equality and pertinent experience, any cows actually held department positions. And Fremont and Ballard passengers would doubtless join you as you revise your choice to sending the streetcar past Lake Union to Ballard. And keep dragging you aboard the 40 until you agree.

      Buses have their uses too. But where it’s inevitable that most passengers can’t be seated, Geneva Convention says passengers need trains.

      MD

      1. I’ll stay out of the streetcar vs bus debate (for the moment at least). Mr Westneat’s problem was that he WANTED to take the bus and it was already full and skipped his stop. Unless and until a streetcar exists that serves his needs, the question remains why it is so difficult to add bus capacity that is clearly needed and likely would pay for itself. (Streetcars get full too, by the way…presumably a good thing %^)

      2. It pays for itself in operating expenses. But you still have to buy the bus, and its storage and maintenance costs.

    2. @Mike Orr, fair enough about capital costs – which would include bus purchase, some (not all) maintenance, some (not all) facilities for storage. How to account those together with ops costs is tricky in any business. Some relevant numbers: Metro reports 2012 ops cost to be about $11 / vehicle mile. http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/accountability/peer-comparison.html
      This doc http://www.fta.dot.gov/documents/WVU_FTA_LCC_Final_Report_07-23-2007.pdf estimates capital portion of lifecycle cost of a diesel hybrid bus to be $1.20 / vehicle mile.
      Here’s a quick spreadsheet calculation (with reasonable guesses for inputs, feel free to quibble!) on revenue for a fully-loaded bus going between Seattle Center and Capitol Hill:
      $2 Average revenue per boarding (higher than system average, but these are techie commuters, right?)
      60 Bus load
      4 Mile average trip
      15 Average boardings per mile
      $30 Average revenue per bus revenue mile
      20% Average non-revenue portion
      $24 Average revenue per bus mile

      This still leaves a lot of room for “other” if Ops cost plus lifecycle Vehicle cap coast is $12 / mile.

      If you have more up-do-date and/or Metro-specific info on capital life-cycle costs – or other relevant info – I’d be happy for the pointer!

  12. But trying to discussion on both the South Lake Union situation and the positive, let’s discuss what SDOT and some of the rest of us, including Amazon management, can do to fix the South Lake Union extended parking lot. Having a single company involved could be as much of an advantage as its present parking arrangement is its garages are go blame.

    On a very few people’s say-so, Amazon working hours can be adjusted so those parking garages don’t empty at the worst possible time. Am I wrong that Amazon is in an industry that could easily make the dreaded 24-7-365 clock work to transit’s advantage?

    Inducement to employees could be to make car parking available only to people willing to work at shifts that use garage ramps and the streets that feed them at times when nothing else chokes. And assign normal working hours- and transit passes- to people willing to leave cars elsewhere, like in their own garages or still on the dealer’s lot.

    Also, since Amazon’s owner has already contributed substantially to streetcar travel, both in donated equipment and hopefully the political support he’s been blamed for, the man could really get some recognition by working with SDOT to reserve lanes and pre-empt signals to use his presents effectively.

    In my observation from window table at Kakao, granted me in consolation for loss of Mocha’s, inbound streetcar lane seems pretty clear at PM rush. And streetcar only runs northbound lane down to Thomas before turning up to Terry. Signals could be set so northbound streetcar holds at Whole Foods ’til turning traffic has cleared, and run Westlake those few blocks until the turn.

    Would be worth going in with Jeff matching contributions just to be listening to KIRO when Dory Monson holds his breath like a ten-year-old until, unlike a real kid who knows when he’s made his point- he turns blue and explodes all over the microphone. With winnings of pool on duration and decibels donated to the streetcar system.

    Mark

  13. The column’s flaw is less its content than a rather incendiary and misleading headline. Westneat highlights a very specific problem—the failure to expand transit service to SLU in a way remotely commensurate with the neighborhood’s growth—and spends almost as much time detailing a love-hate relationship with Amazon as anything else. Fair enough. The headline, which he may or may not have written, is a cheap broadside that borders on clickbait. Not that there’s nothing worth nitpicking with the column itself, but it’s the hed that really grinds your gears.

      1. BTW, truly apologize for reference in last paragraph. Some things aren’t funny in any connection.

        I could have picked some other offensive violent headline to put with Danny’s picture, like “Tell Joe Biden to Stop Stealing the Hitler Mustache off Our Cardboard Statues of the President!”

        Or: “Ex-Metro Driver Goes on Paint Scraper Rampage and Renders Bus Windows Transparent!” Like Joseph Conrad said: “The horror! The horror!”

        Here in Olympia, have already been admonished by a very nice barista for comment on what another barista would do to me if I criticized his ristretto skill again. And by another lady for reciting the George Gershwin song about the soldier swearing he’d kill the bugler so he could be sentenced to life in bed.

        Headline suggestion would get me sentenced to life on de-caf Nescafe.

        Sincerely,

        Mark

  14. I’ve been car free since moving back to Seattle from abroad in 2011. I started out in an apartment in central Wallingford, then moved up to a small bungalow in Green Lake, where I’m still living.

    I ride an express bus to work downtown. I walk or bike to get groceries, and often buy bulky and non-perishable goods online with free shipping. I use Car2Go to fill in the gaps where buses/biking/walking aren’t practical (1-2 times a month at most). Getting to Ballard or Capitol Hill on bike/transit is kind of a pain, but apart from that, I don’t feel incredibly restricted.

    The annoyances of not having a car, even in my not-especially-dense neighborhood, are far, far outweighed by the savings in money and stress/aggravation. I probably couldn’t afford the rent on my current place if I had to pay for the car plus gas and insurance.

    Maybe not everybody can pull it off, but I think a lot more people COULD do it if they weren’t afraid to try or just resistant to the idea of changing their habits.

    1. Thanks for posting about your carless experience in the outer neighborhoods (although Greenlake is not that far out). I think people underestimate the number of carless households because we don’t hear about them. I took a driving class after high school but decided I didn’t want to drive. But I also value wide access to things, so I stick to living where the most transit options are. (U-District, Capitol/First Hill, and currently near Convention Place/Westlake stations). Yet at times I’ve known people without cars who live in Greenlake, Shoreline, and Lynnwood, and they considered their access adequate if not ideal. I lived in north Ballard for a while when I was working there, and it was a pleasant pedestrian experience, and I didn’t mind taking the 15 to the rest of the world (except when I had to wait half an hour for it, or walk to 24th and risk missing the 18). I left after I got laid off, mainly because I realized I was going to the central/east part of the city for most things, so I moved closer to my destinations. But now I’m more particular about my destionations, and I’d hesitate to move to north Ballard or Bitter Lake or somewhere until transit significantly improves. So it’s good to hear about how many people are living carfree in the outer neighborhoods, and what their experiences are like. That also informs the discussion of what transit levels and improvements the city should be focusing on. I.e., Seattle’s Transit Master Plan and Seattle Subway are visions of how “good transit” could be extended to all parts of the city, so that people wouldn’t have to choose between mobility and a less-expensive neighborhood.

  15. I can’t figure out why so many people crush onto the 8 to just go a few blocks up the Hill. Anything west of 15th is an easy walk for most, and definitely quicker.

    So, it is a bit crazy that transit provides neither a time nor economic advantage over driving. I generally ride the bus or walk, but these options are not temporally efficient over driving and transit is more expensive (well, it would be if my employer didn’t pay for the pass). The crazy thing is that I only live 2 miles from my office! The 2.50×2 is way more expensive than using my oldish Toyota (with gas and maintenance, plus my gov. office has free parking) and, even with relatively generous headways on the 43 and 48, (I’m going between roughly 23rd and John to Montlake) it’s generally a 3x time penalty for using transit.

    I will continue to use the bus, and since I usually get a seat, it’s comfortable…but, it offers no advantages (at least those that most people care about) over driving! If I was emperor, I would make speed and frequency the number one and two priorities for all transit agencies, because this is what would lure the masses out of their SOVs.

    1. Because it’s two fairly big hills / a very boring noisy fumey smelly walk / the sun will ruin delicate complexions / the mist will ruin hair.

      — rather lazy, easily bored

    2. “Anything west of 15th is an easy walk for most”

      Starting from where? The people who most take the 8 are going from Westlake to Summit, Aurora to Broadway, etc. These are not “easy walks” unless your name is asdf. They are doable walks, and the same people sometimes walk them when they’re well-rested and not carrying heavy things, or when they just missed the bus. But it’s nice having a transit alternative available.

  16. I get around with a bus, foot or if need be carpool or cab. It is because of poor left eyesight, Asperger’s and frankly I do not want to say I’m “pro-life” then jeopardize the lives of others with a car driven by a man who has disabilities limiting his driving & stress management abilities.

    A motorcycle might one day be worth it as the only person I’d put at risk would be… me.

    Of course the fact it takes 3.5 hours from my house to a photography client via public transportation is a major source of concern the night before.

  17. Danny Westneat’s article also left out a rather critical part: A reflection on the switch back. Yes, he mentions that he just hops in a car rather than walking to a bus stop. But is he stuck in gridlock? The time that he used to have for activities that weren’t driving–napping, reading, playing games–does he miss that? How do all the other factors besides time compare: monetary cost, convenience, stress level, etc?

  18. Yeah, the headline was very misleading. Especially when he starts out saying he wants to see what it’s like “all the time, not just commuting” and then he proceeds to only discuss…. commuting. At rush hour. To be fair, I used to take the 26/28/40 and yes, they were crowded. But he fails to note all of the other options available- biking, telecommute, flex work schedule, car2go/uber/lyft for non-work trips.

  19. I was car-free for a year, last year, while I lived in West Seattle and was car-lite before that. I purposefully chose a location near a busy bus line and that was bike-able, and walkable if I had the time (to be in a very walkable everywhere neighborhood is expensive, even w/out a car BTW).

    I ended up getting a motorcycle as well, a couple months in for flexibility if I couldn’t bus, bike or walk. Note that I have been riding for years and this is not a new transportation option for me. Just didn’t want a car expense.

    I saved money and had lots less stress and no worry about parking ever.

    However I am now faced with the likelihood of an auto purchase next year. My partner has two children who live with us 50% of the time and live 50% in another part of the city. We have one car, one motorcycle and lots of bikes, but the only thing that works for kid transport is the car. We bus when possible, but school schedules and after-school activities just don’t allow for the time of bus travel very often. More frequent service to more varied locations would be ideal, but as it’s not the case right now, we split the travel. My car purchase is being driven (ha!) by the fact that the kids will not be in the same school next year and the schedules will be even more difficult to manage.

    Even so, we plan on driving as little as possible in the future and are teaching the kids that buses are not bad to use and can be a lifesaver sometimes. Cars aren’t ‘always’ necessary has been an important lesson.

  20. Can you live without a car is a bit of a loaded question, along the lines of “so when did you stop kicking your dog”?

    You’ve already built so many assumptions — negative ones — into it that a person is tied down and gagged before he can scratch out an answer with his finger.

    Can you live without a car? Yes. As I close the door on my car, and walk away from it to my apartment, I am still alive.

    Can you live without independently guided, point to point transportation? Sure…but why would you? Would you live without a roof? Would you live without clothes? You could, but why?

    The question assumes there are specific negatives to a car without defining them. There are negatives, but there are negatives to everything. It’s one of these ill defined concepts like “sprawl” that Everyone is supposed to automatically agree to hate without examining the fundamentals.

    1. Can you live without independently guided, point to point transportation? Sure…but why would you?

      I agree; I love my bike. I agree it doesn’t go as fast as a car, but it’s also not a multi-thousand-dollar investment that demands constant servicing, gas, etc.

    2. Can you live without independently guided, point to point transportation? Sure…but why would you?
      Because it was waaaaay cheaper and we were trying our hardest to save for retirement. There were things we didn’t do because we were carless–hiking in the woods, for example. But, in exchange, there were things we could do–retire, for example.

      Living in Seattle without a car is not going to work for many people no matter how hard they try. But it will work for some, and I think it’s a good idea to get more people to think about living without one. And even though this is a little off topic–two car families might want to think if going to just one car is an option, just in case it turns out the answer is “yes”.

    3. Can you live without independently guided, point to point transportation? Sure…but why would you?

      I’d lose out on fun experiences several thousand dollars a year not owning/storing/insuring/maintaining a car buys me–travel, good food and beer, baseball games, and so on. I’d also be more stressed out, and fatter. These negative outcomes aren’t worth the added convenience.

    4. The key here is that you don’t need to own a car to have independently guided, point to point transportation. Feet are “independently guided, point to point transportation”. So are bikes. And Car2Go. And Lyft. And Uber. You can still rent cars if you want to spend a day way out of town. You don’t need to have a whole car sitting there, just for you, at all times, to have these benefits.

      1. Virtually all of the options you list are genuine replacements to a personal car only in the denser areas of Seattle. Once you get north of 85th, or much south of downtown, their usefulness diminishes quickly. And outside Seattle limits, their usefulness quickly approaches zero. I certainly am not going to argue that a childless person living somewhere like Capitol Hill or Ballard can get by without a car. But the vast majority of areas population will have to make significant sacrifices to live a bona fide car free lifestyle.

      2. With the advent of ride sharing and self-drive cars, it strikes me.

        Part of the change would be ownership, but another might be the end of “one size fits all”.

        As several of you mention, there are bicycles…which are point to point, and independently guided.

        At the other end of the scale are traditional two-ton vehicles.

        Maybe what is needed is something in-between…do I really want giant 2-ton tanks roaming my local streets? What if neighborhoods only allowed something as large and fast as a small electric golf cart..powered by batteries or fuel cells?

        So, for getting stuff in and out of my home or apartment, I’d use a golf cart. If I needed to go farther, I would drive the golf cart to the car rental, or schedule an Uber pickup at a major boulevard or avenue. Beyond that, I might rent a car from Enterprise for the weekend to go to the country.

        But in and around homes, only 15 mph, lightweight, low power vehicles.

      3. JB, what would your ideal Kent look like? (Just the city of Kent, not adding houses in Black Diamond or Kittitas County…) What would its housing and transit and shopping centers look like? Beyond adding RapidRide on KK Road to Angle Lake Station, and making Sounder high-speed rail? How would you accommodate a rising population, again within the boundaries of Kent?

      4. I would advocate that Everyone live the way I do.

        I would have spacious, but densely used, apartment complexes with lots of greenspace located at areas where there is shopping within walking and biking distance.

        There would be courtyards in the complexes, but interior greenspace with playgrounds, gyms and swimming pools.

        There would be adjacent transit lines, bike trails and transit lines.

        In between the density clusters would be single family homes, but also a lot of open clean land for parks and recreation.

      5. asdf: “you don’t need to own a car to have independently guided, point to point transportation”

        William Aitken: “Virtually all of the options you list are genuine replacements to a personal car only in the denser areas of Seattle.”

        Part of this is because Uber/Lyft/Car2Go have limited availability in outer areas. But the biggest issue is that travel distances are futher. Work, supermarkets, libraries, friends are all further away on average. In central Seattle or Maple Leaf, a ton of things are within a five-mile radius. In Capitol Hill and U-District, a significant number of people leave the neighborhood only once or twice a month yet still experience a full range work/shopping/social/entertainment. In the suburbs there’s much less in a five-mile radius, and in many areas it’s incomplete for daily/weekly needs. For instance, walking from the U-District to Fremont, there’s a lot in between. Walking from Kent Station to East Hill or 99 is further and not as much in between.

        A week ago I was at Edmonds Community College for a Saturday evening event, and I decided to walk to Aurora Village to see how long it takes, and whether it would be a viable option after the last Community/Sound Transit buses knock off at 10:20pm. I expected 45 minutes but it took 1:10. It was longer than waiting for an hourly bus! (I could probably shave it down to 45 minutes, by sticking to Aurora rather than going around to 205th/Wallingford Ave.) And not a lot in between, if I were a resident there. Not even much supermarkets or drugstores. But a lot of car dealerships. :)

      6. @Mike Orr

        Again, I would rather argue the fundamental assumptions.

        It seems like some want to walk everywhere. Others love their cars.

        But these are just modes to an end.

        I could also ask, does Walking, and not having a car, limit me from getting to as many and varied key destinations as I would l would like? Am I forced to have a car because it is the only way to get between destinations while living in a place with affordable rent?

  21. I was surprised and very happy to see that many if not most of the more recent comments on that article were from people who either use transit or believe it’s necessary, but that it needs to be improved here. The earlier comments had more negativity towards transit, but most of it was coming from one or two people.

  22. I’ve lived without a car for 4 straight years now, and one of the things that car-free newcomers frequently take a while to realize is that there is no one single mode, or silver bullet, that will single-handedly solve all of one’s transportation problems. Some trips will be best accomplished on the bus, others on a bike, others on foot, some even on a combination of modes or even a ride in Lyft, Uber, a private carpool, or a rental car. Even trips between the exact same origin and destination points are often best accomplished by different means depending on the situation (e.g. what time is it, are you in a hurry, are you carrying stuff, etc.).

    I sympathize with Westneat’s problem, as I myself have made several trips that, on paper, take as much as 30-60 minutes by bus to travel distances as short as 2-4 miles. In general, I find avoiding Metro in such cases to be the best way to avoid stress. But, even then, there are so many options that I hardly consider these types of trips as a reason to got car shopping. If you can get creative, there is always a way.

    For example, my regular commute is from the U-Village to Microsoft. One I get to Montlake, it’s a straight shot on the 542 or 545, but the bus service for the first two miles is slow, circuitous, and extremely crowded. My solution is to ride a kick scooter down the Burke-Gilman trail, which gets me to the Montlake bus stop in a very reliable 15 minutes, without the hassles of locking a bike up a the bus stop and wondering if it’s going to get stolen, or deal with the chronically full bike racks mounted on the front of the buses. In other words, I use the bus for the segment where it works, and don’t using the segment where it doesn’t. Door to door, the trip is actually faster than driving most afternoons (due to the newly re-opened 520 HOV lane) and some mornings (When traffic is really bad, my scooter going 10 mph down the Burke-Gilman trail will pass up lots of cars stuck on Montlake). And it’s certainly cheaper (free bus pass courtesy of Microsoft vs. $15 on gas and bridge tolls alone, every day for the round trip).

    For less-frequently-made trips, there are even more options available. A long trip in total time becomes less of a concern, a long as you get a good walk or bike ride out of it. And throwing down a few bucks is also less of a concern. For instance, if I have something going on in Green Lake, Wallingford, or Madison Valley, I will often just make a nice stroll out of it. Or, perhaps, stroll through half of it and take Car2Go through the other half. If I’m going to a Mariner’s game downtown, I take my bike (much faster than transit getting back home).

    Even for trips to the suburbs, I find there are lots of options. By combining Uber with Sound Transit, you can get to a surprisingly large swath of area for surprisingly cheap, all without the hassles of a personal car. Carpooling is also often an option. Even for stuff going on lake at night, I’ve decided to stop worrying completely about making the last bus home, and simply enjoy myself without looking at the clock. If the last bus is long gone when it’s time to leave, I’ll go home with one of the rideshare companies. Even a one-way trip as far as Seattle->Lynnwood is only around $30 on the two major rideshare companies, which is actually chump change if you only need to do it a few times a year.

    That said, a mass transit system that gets overwhelmed when more than a tiny fraction of the population tries to use it is not truly mass transit and is not the kind of system we should be proud of. We really need to find the will and the money to do better than that.

  23. There is nothing shocking about Westneat’s column. It pretty much confirms the consensus attitude about transportation in this city. I have friends who live in Washington D. C., and they are considering moving. They have considered moving to Chicago, New York or a handful of other places. But as the guy put it, they don’t want to move to a city “where you need a car”. This has, at least for them, ruled out cities like Denver and Seattle.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people in the city that don’t own a car. I’m guessing most of them simply can’t afford one. There are also a handful of people who choose to live without one, just as there are a handful of people who ride their bikes to a trailhead (and then go hiking). But for a lot of us, we own a car for several reasons, some already mentioned:

    1) Getting to “out of the way places”, like trailheads. This is the same reason people in New York often own a car (i. e. to go to the mountains). It is worth noting that in Europe, this isn’t that big of a deal. I’ve done a lot of hiking there and never rented a car. There are plenty of buses and trains that go to trailheads. To be fair, hiking in Europe is usually a lot closer to towns.

    2) Trips to the market are too much of a hassle. I’m guessing the folks that walk or ride their bike to the store live close to the market, or close to a very nice bike path (e. g. Burke Gilman). Not many people ride the bus to the grocery store, unless they have no alternative.

    3) It just takes too long to get anywhere, except maybe downtown. I’m guessing this is the most common complaint about our transit system.

    4) The buses are unreliable.

    Westneat mentioned the last one, and alluded to the third one. They go together, really. As I see it, there are several reasons why buses are unreliable and slow:

    1) Outdated routing. Westneat blames Amazon for the slow buses, but the bus routes were slow and outdated long before Amazon experienced a boom in hiring. They routes assume that everyone is focused on going downtown, not somewhere else. This might have worked out OK when traffic was light (especially crosstown traffic, or reverse commuting) but this is no longer the case. The lack of a good, grid oriented system (like this: https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/08/19/your-bus-much-more-often-no-more-money-really/) makes simple transfers really lengthy. So much so that people are lured to one-seat rides, even when they are crowded. For example, there are a lot of ways to get from Fremont to Northgate, but taking the 40 is usually your best bet (even though it initially heads the wrong direction). If your bus ride takes a radically different route than you would take when driving (and takes three times as long to get there) then it isn’t a good sign.

    This crowding and forced reliance on long routes really hurts reliability. I’ve given up on particular buses for this reason. For me, personally, the 73 from the U-District to the north end is like this. Too many times it is just too late (and this is usually the last leg of my journey — I’m sure it is a lot worse for folks who then need to transfer).

    2) Lack of grade separation in our densest areas. The bus tunnel (now called the transit tunnel) was built in 1990. It’s been almost 25 years, and we have only added a small segment, from there to Mount Baker. In the meantime, miles and miles of suburban HOV lanes have been added. Pretty soon, everything from Everett to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge will have grade separation (albeit, some of that is in reversible lanes). All of 405, as well as much of 520 and I-90 also have HOV lanes. The core of the city benefits for some of these (e. g., the 41, 71, 72, etc.) but not as much as the suburbs do, simply because they have fewer miles to go. I really doubt that Lynnwood ridership would be as high as it is without HOV lanes. But buses from the U-District to downtown would still be crowded.

    Meanwhile, light rail continues into the suburbs, and much of that is grade separated. In short, we have done a very good job of improving our infrastructure in the suburbs (and continue to do a good job) but have simply not kept pace in the city.

    The good news is that in the next few years, we will alleviate the situation somewhat. From a transit perspective, grade separated light rail from the UW to downtown (and Capitol Hill, to boot) is the biggest thing to happen to this city in 25 years (since the bus/transit tunnel was built). Extending beyond that area is a huge bonus, and should enable Metro to redo their routes to be more of a grid.

    But it won’t be enough. Apparently, Danny Westneat took the Metro 8, and was disappointed. Join the club. Keep in mind, this is in the main part of the city. City borders are arbitrary, ranging from cities like San Francisco and Washington D. C. (small) to Anchorage (big). But the 8 travels inside an area that would fit inside the official borders of even the smallest city. It links together very populous areas that contain very high levels of employment. The area is growing, and continues to grow (from a population and employment perspective). The bus runs quite often, but is so crowded, poor Danny couldn’t get on a bus. It runs so slowly, being often stuck in traffic, that plenty of people just walk for miles instead of taking it. In short, it should be on our short list for new, grade separated transit.

    But it isn’t. Instead we talk about adding service to areas that already have grade separated transit, and will see significant improvements without any additional funding. For example, someone from Everett could take a bus to Lynnwood and transfer to light rail from there. Other than the transfer penalty, it would be just as fast. Light rail will enable these riders to benefit from all the interim stops (the biggest being the UW, the second most popular area in the state).

    But how will riders of the 8 benefit from the current light rail plans? Very little, from what I can see. That’s crazy, and backwards. I’m all for saving the buses. I’m all for changing the routes. But when you have a pretty good route that is full of passengers despite being stuck in traffic, the answer is grade separation. For that line, it means grade separated rail. Building that line should be on a short list of projects, long before we talk about extending rail to Everett, Tacoma or West Seattle.

    1. DC is inconvenient without a car? Have they looked enough at moving to another part of DC? What strikes me most about DC is the metro is still bustling heavily at 10pm, while it’s already getting sparse in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco (just a few people per station, quarter-full cars, although PATH is more like DC). It looks like a lot of DCans are happily getting around without a car both day and evening, and suburban shopping centers are right at stations or have a shuttle from stations. I consider DC one of the best places in the US to live without a car, possibly second to NYC. So why do they find it so much worse?

      (Indeed, I’d say the main problem in DC is not transit but the high cost of housing due to lobbyists and diplomats with large expense accounts.)

    2. “how will riders of the 8 benefit from the current light rail plans? Very little, from what I can see. That’s crazy, and backwards.”

      Denny Way is a very difficult problem, which is why it hasn’t been addressed much. There’s absolutely no room for transit lanes. So any light rail would have to be underground, and that’s the most expensive kind. It’s neglected because those neighborhoods are close together, they each have abundant transit in other directions, which you could use to go downtown and transfer (which is short geographically although not time-wise), and it’s a small number of political jurisdictions (all the same mayor and I think future council district). The best lowish-cost solution for Denny Way is that gondola idea. (Which could be a couple blocks north of Denny, of course, since it wouldn’t have to use the I-5 overpass.)

  24. I can tell you as someone who rides the bus almost everyday, if I had the car option I would drive everywhere. I hate the bus. I hate it. I hate that my commute to work takes 20 minutes at most by car and almost 2 hours by transit. Well to be fair it would take about an hour if the buses were on time but they most of the time they are not. I hate that if I miss my first connection going home I sometimes have to wait an hour for the next one. Drivers are less professional then they were 17 years ago when I started riding the bus. Most think the riders are garbage anyways. Plus I live in South king County and Metro, like most of King County government thinks anyone outside Seattle is a subhuman second class citizen. I hate being forced to listen to horrible music by idiots who insist that the law saying use headphones does not apply to them. If you ask nicely to please use headphones you get yelled at sometimes called a racist. I do not like rap or hip hop how does that make me racist. Drivers do not enforce the fares anymore so I wind up paying more in the long run because criminals are more important than law obeying riders. In short transit sucks. I hate it. I am glad it is there because we need it I just wish Metro was accountable someone and worked.

  25. Westneat misses this very, very basic point: Mobility is the solution he needed. Not buses ONLY. Not Car2Go and/or Zipcar ONLY. Not private carriers or taxis ONLY. Not rental cars ONLY.

    This mode-as-cement-shoes approach to mobility is very old fashioned, and not the way most savvy urbanites go about solving the car-free puzzle.

    His article’s title and frame are the biggest problems. He didn’t “experiment with a Carless lifestyle” as both the frame and title suggest. He experimented with doing nothing but taking the bus. Those are 2 different things. But people of a certain persuasion (and often generation), and stuck in a mode where an owned-car IS mobility, and there are only other, single-mode alternatives to the owned car for mobility. Rather than a ecosystem that provide myriad options that altogether = mobility.

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