Preparing for a Week Without Driving

Preparing for a Week Without Driving

Recently, the Disability Mobility Initiative group challenged local leaders to take 7 days off from driving. This initiative helps me as a policy maker to spend a week in the shoes of those in our community that cannot drive themselves. It is truly a change in perspective to learn what it’s like to live in our community without access to a vehicle.

This event will run from September 19th to the 25th and will include leaders from across the state. You can read the Governor’s Proclamation here.

What is the point?

When asked to take part in this event I asked this very question, and the answer truly was eye opening. First, about 25% of our population cannot or do not drive. That means one in four people in our community depend on public transit and other folks they know to get around. This is an easy thing to solve if you live in a community with a strong network of sidewalks, bike paths and frequent access to public transit.

But where I live in Parkland, I don’t have that, and I am not alone. None of us in Parkland and in many areas throughout Pierce County have sufficient sidewalks, bike paths and easily accessible public transit. So, when spending a week without driving myself in my car, I must think about ALL the things that I currently do in my car and plan around them. It adds a layer of complexity and stress to an already busy life. This event creates an opportunity for me, other elected officials and community members to get first-hand experiences with the barriers created in our own neighborhoods.

Second, it creates empathy for those that have do to do this every day. I can get in my car the very next week, but those that live without access to reliable transportation will still be walking on unpaved shoulders, waiting for 30-60 minutes for the next bus, and riding in traffic that currently does not share well with bicycles because of a lack of bike lanes, driver education and patience.

Third, it helps map out areas that need support. If each area in our county and state had people that make the decisions do this for one week, we would have the potential and knowledge to create a network of policy makers that will understand the WHY organizations like the Disability Rights of Washington are advocating for change. It will create better understanding about how the lack of adequate transportation can impact your ability to work, see doctors, access education and childcare, and procure goods, services, recreation, and entertainment in your own community.

My Planning

Recently I tested out the route I will take to get to work, and found it was reasonable. To get to work on time, I will have to leave about 20 minutes earlier than I typically do, but the route I am taking comes every 30 minutes, so I have some flexibility. I have had to think about a couple of events that I have been asked to attend and look at where Pierce Transit has stops, and then plan backwards. This has required me to turn down some events or activities.

My test run getting to work on the bus.

I have thought through how I will access the grocery store and getting other goods like if I should need to buy a 30-pound bag of dog food. That thought alone made me realize that a person that takes the bus either must bring something to move items around like this OR make the choice to buy smaller amounts which often increases costs and requires them to make more frequent trips.

Then there are little things, like I take my dog in my car to a location that has sidewalks so we can walk safely. As part of this challenge, I won’t do that, so my options are to walk in unsafe conditions or change the time of walking, which then impacts my schedule and our morning routine.

I won’t be able to see my family that lives in Graham because they live outside the Pierce Transit area, so they must come to me, or we wait. We have an in person Council meeting in Wilkenson on Thursday, the 22nd at 6:00 p.m. which I am trying to find a way to carpool, but there are not public transit options at all. I will not be able to get to an event on Sunday, as the bus does not run to that area of Lakewood on Sundays.  I am making sure to schedule myself enough time to leave work so that I am not walking home in the dark.

These are all things that currently, I don’t have to worry about. Yet 25% of our community live with these barriers and dilemmas every day. When you add mobility concerns, meaning they are using a wheelchair or mobility device like a walker it can become impossible. There are not sidewalks from my neighborhood to the bus stop. If I was wheelchair bound, I would have to roll to the main street on the shoulder of the road, cross at the intersection and then navigate a hodge-podge of sidewalk, unpaved and paved shoulders to get to the bus stop.

Taking on the challenge

I am thrilled to take part in this event. I truly believe that I will learn more by doing this #WeekWithoutDriving from September 19th-25th, 2022. This will give me firsthand experiences in all the ways that the systems create barriers. I know we have more work to do, like the work we are currently doing to implement a Vision Zero Initiative and adopting polices that change the way we require roads to be built in our county.

I will spend this week learning while doing and I couldn’t be more excited to take on the challenge. If you are interested in signing up, you can join the initiative here. You don’t have to sign up to participate, but maybe even just try it for a day. Thank you to all the organizers who made this a priority and have helped us to see why this is important. You never know, maybe we will run into each other on the bus!