Going Euro

I went to Portland on the train over the holidays last year. We caught the bus to the train station and then used all public transit when we got to Portland. In P-town, all of our public transit was free  because we stayed  downtown in the free zone and never left. It was the perfect holiday, with lots of walking, riding and relaxing.

I love ditching the car. It feels great to avoid all the driving, traffic and parking. It’s good for the planet and my health. It sets a good example for the kids and reduces the amount of pollution I put into the atmosphere.  I call it going Euro and it means leaving the car behind whenever possible.

So after the jump, what it means to go euro and tips for getting yourself started in the wacky world of public transit. Because really, you know you should and you’ll be glad you did.

Leaving the car behind

Most people support public transit…so others will use it and make traffic easier for their continued car use. I’m here to say, you can do better. Do it for the planet, your waistline or simply because it’s not right to keep us all contained in separate, individual little boxes.

In the last year, I’ve really made an effort to use more public transit. Metro bus service is now my first choice for going to the airport, the train station, downtown, the Seattle Center, the Central library and the zoo.  I don’t think it takes much longer when you factor in parking and traffic. The kids are free up until age 6, so it’s actually a nice money saver for going to big stadium events and downtown locations. I can catch a bus minutes from my place that drops me in the center of downtown Seattle. From there, I can walk anywhere, making my beloved city so accessible.

And lest you forget, your feet are great for getting you places. I love to walk and choose to go by foot whenever possible. I walk to the post office, neighborhood library, local shopping and near-by park. I do many weekly errands by foot. I walk to OfficeMax, Walgreen’s, Super Supplements, Ross, the DMV, Big K, Staples and the doughnut shop. Once you start walking places, you feel wasteful if you drive. I can no longer justify driving to the post office, it takes minutes to get there by foot.

The American the drove everywhere

As you may know, I lived in the Netherlands during high school. The Dutch are great bikers and back then, if we weren’t biking, we took the bus, train or walked.  I could go six months without getting in a car. Many dutch families only had one car, and often those who owned cars chose to bike or bus to work. When I returned from the Netherlands, I vowed to keep that mentality and never become the American that drives everywhere.

Fast forward twenty years. After living in the suburbs for years, I had to admit: I had developed a wicked car habit. So many times, I could’ve walked to the bank or the grocery store, yet choose not to.  It didn’t help that there are fewer sidewalks and plenty of convenient parking in the ‘burbs.

Trying to take bus service from the outer suburbs into the city was not easily done. But it WAS easy to get to northend park-n-rides, and I never did that either. I rarely rode my bike. And I’d all but given up on walks as exercise, I drove to the Y for yoga instead. The fact is, I had become the American that drove everywhere and my Euro self was ashamed. I knew I could do better.

Doing better

When I moved back into Seattle from the suburbs, I picked a location based on it’s proximity to the Interurban bike path and multiple bus lines. I began to approach my day-to-day like I was living in Europe. That is, I chose to walk, bike or bus before chose to use the car. It’s been great for my body and my mind.

I also vowed to take the kids on the new train service out to the airport, which they loved. We now consider the bus and train ride to the airport as part of the family vacation adventure. Next week when when head off to Denver to visit Auntie, I will be riding on the train with the kids rather than rushing to drive us to the airport on time.

Tips to get you started

First off, start with your computer. This is not rocket science, it’s public transit. Fourteen year olds can understand route maps and riders info, so can you. Start with your local public transit company website to get the basic info and learn about the routes in your area.

I also wanted a pass so I wouldn’t have to mess with change. I didn’t need a monthly pass because I wouldn’t use it enough. What I got was a bus pass with an e-purse that I load with a credit card on-line. It’s easy and can be used for the bus AND train. I put $40 on in January and it still has value left. It makes it so easy to get on the bus, I can’t talk myself out of it.

Next, when it’s time to plan your trip, consider Google maps. Here in Seattle, I have found it more useful for finding bus routes and times than the actual bus website. On Google maps, when you go to get directions to your location, it offers a number of alternatives to driving. The bus icon will give you bus directions, the walking icon tells you approximately how long it will take to walk and suggest possible routes. Some times are surprisingly reasonable, especially if you are walking with a friend on a leisurely afternoon.

Finally, and I cannot stress how important this is, get some nice earphones and bring your i-pod. Listening to music is a great pleasure of riding the bus. It allows you to set the tone and mood of your trip and allows you to supply the soundtrack to your own little urban adventure. I use the time to listen to albums in their entirety or just enjoy the shuffle and see what delightful randomness will find me next.  Music slips into the background noise most of the time, it is a treat to really get to listen to the music and look out the window as my mind wanders.

It is also a good idea to bring a book. It’s nice to have distraction, especially if the ride starts to feel long. I don’t usually pull the book out, but the few times I have, I’ve been so glad to have it.

Bonita’s Euro Challenge

So over these last few weeks of August, I challenge you to leave the car behind any chance you get. Whether it is a walk to a place you usually drive, taking your bike to the gym instead of your car, or using public transit. Bonus points if you do it with your kids! We have taken the bus to the Pacific Science Center and the zoo. And with every adventure involving public transit, it seems the bus ride becomes a highlight.

Would love to hear what you do to go Euro! You can do it! Del, could you dance us out of here?

Related Posts by Bonita Applebum

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The Story of Stuff, part Deux

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Amanda McClung Hand
    Aug 27, 2011 @ 10:33:50

    I wish The Fort was as progressive about mass transit as Seattle, or even Dallas for that matter. And hand-in-hand with that is development of mixed-use neighborhoods, which is slowly coming into being here. So there is hope for the future.

    And by the way, I don’t think I ever noticed that tat on your right arm. Killer!


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