Lessons from a Week Without Driving: Planning for Transit Takes Time

Sara Kiesler

Sara Kiesler



From Oct. 2-8, Cascade participated in the 3rd Annual #WeekWithoutDriving through Disability Rights WA’s “Disability Mobility Initiative,” which has expanded nationwide.

This blog post contains an excerpt of the lessons of Communications and Marketing Director Sara Kiesler’s journey as well as several Cascade Bicycle Club staff members. We hope it provides some lessons for you too.


During this year's Week Without Driving, I was well aware of the challenges of commuting from South Tacoma to Seattle before I began, having learned many lessons about my mobility privilege during last year's drive-free week.

I successfully traveled around without a car last year, and fully believed I could join the quarter of our state population that relies on walking, rolling, transit, and hailing rides once again.

I failed more than I succeeded this year, as the amount of time it takes to travel door to door from my home to work and school is far more challenging than it should be. To have completed a full week without driving on the four days I commuted to Seattle, I would have had to give up hours away from my family, away from my job, and skip dinner before class. These are choices people who can't or don't drive live with every day, especially people who grew up in under-resourced South Tacoma. 

Here's how my week went:

Day One -- Monday, Oct. 2

Embarrassingly, I bummed a ride on day one. 

After work, I needed to commute from South Tacoma to my evening grad school class at Seattle University, which goes from 6 to 9 p.m. 

I am lucky to have access to fast and direct transit from my neighborhood to Seattle via the Sound Transit Sounder, which has a station 1/4 mile from my home. Unfortunately, there are no Sounder trains from South Tacoma in the afternoon, evening, or on the weekends (unless Taylor Swift is in town). 

That means my best option to get to Seattle is taking a bus, biking, or driving to the Tacoma Dome Station, hopping on a 594 bus, and transferring to the 12 or walking/biking up Capitol Hill to campus. The bus options are so poor here in South Tacoma that my closest bus, the 41, only runs twice an hour and takes 50 minutes to get to Tacoma Dome station. Biking there during rush hour on South Tacoma Way means battling cars driving 45 mph and painted bike lanes that disappear at each intersection. I ride my e-bike on South Tacoma Way sometimes, despite the risk, but Seattle U. does not allow e-bikes on campus. That leaves driving to Tacoma Dome Station, which takes 12 minutes. 

Enter me bumming a ride from my spouse to Tacoma Dome so that I had time to eat before class. 

(P.S. As of this writing, there is a Sounder South survey open through Oct. 29, 2023, which asks whether riders want more afternoon, evening, or weekend service. If you ride the Sounder, I highly encourage you to say yes to all three!)

Day Two -- Tuesday, Oct. 8

I shut down my work laptop at 3 p.m. with the goal of making the bus trip to Tacoma Dome Station work so I could eat and get to campus by 5:30 p.m. If I worked a retail or a food service job, it's unlikely my employer would offer that kind of flexibility.

Seeing that the next 41 was 20 minutes away, I decided to hedge my bets and walk to the South Tacoma Transit Station at S 47th and Oak St so I could catch the 3 or the 41 to Tacoma Dome. Unfortunately, when I got there, the Pierce Transit text app told me the next bus was not coming until 4 p.m. That meant getting to school at 6 p.m. on the dot, with no time for transit delays, and certainly no time for food.

I decided to walk back home and drive to class instead.

The sad thing is, even when light rail comes to Tacoma -- in 2035 -- transit for South Tacoma residents won't get any better without more frequent bus options, protected bike infrastructure, and/or afternoon Sounder service. We can't get to the Tacoma Dome Station without a car now to take reliable transit, and that won't change without better buses, better biking, or more frequent trains.

There’s no secret how South Tacoma got this way. Just like South Seattle, South Tacoma lacks safe and reliable transportation options due to decades of under-investment.

Data shows that accidental death from traffic crashes is strictly divided along race and class lines, especially with crashes where policy and infrastructure make the difference between life and death. According to the U.S. Census, Hispanic people and Black people make up a larger percentage of the population in South Tacoma than in the city overall. In comparison, a smaller percentage of White people live here than in the rest of Tacoma. The under-investment in transit, sidewalk curbs, and safe biking infrastructure in South Tacoma is systemic racism in action.

Day 3 -- Wednesday, Oct. 4

Sara Kiesler wears a yellow beanie and stands in from of the South Tacoma Sounder train station

Today was my easiest commute -- as long as you consider getting up at 5:30 a.m. to catch transit after arriving home at 10 p.m. the night before easy. I walked to the 6:50 a.m. Sound Transit Sounder train in South Tacoma, transferred to the International District light rail, and then got off at Roosevelt Station to catch the 62 bus to Magnuson Park. That route takes roughly 120 minutes – just a little slower than driving and way less stressful. 

The only thing I would change about the Sounder commuter service is to offer 7, 7:30, or even 8 a.m. options so I got more than 5 hours of sleep after a night of class.

Week Without Driving Day 4 -- Thursday, Oct. 5

I was too worn out to catch the 6:50 a.m. Sounder, unfortunately, but still needed to make it to Magnuson Park for a 9 a.m. meeting.

The 41 bus was not an option to get to the Tacoma Dome Station and catch the 594. I simply didn't have 50 minutes of travel time (not to mention time waiting for the infrequent bus). 

I drove to the Tacoma Dome Station and was able to catch a 590 bus at 7:30 a.m. in order to make it to work in time for my meeting. On the way home, I caught the Link to the Sounder and got off a stop early at Tacoma Dome Station to drive home. Parking at Tacoma Dome Station is currently free, and I think it needs to stay this way until South Tacoma has better options to get there.

Week Without Driving Day 5 -- Friday, Oct. 6

I took the day off to catch up on homework, laundry, and sleep from the week. 

My only plan, other than catching a ride with a friend to attend Megan Rapinoe's final home regular season National Women's Soccer League game with the OL Reign, was to make a run to the Lakewood Goodwill.

Around noon, I looked up the bus and bike options to Lakewood. What takes 12 minutes by car is a two-bus, one-hour trip each way by transit, or a no-shoulder, no-bike lane, four-lanes-of-speeding-traffic bike commute. 

I skipped the trip to Goodwill altogether.

Overall, trying to get around South Tacoma or commute to Seattle was pretty frustrating. We need everyone to participate in the #WeekWithoutDriving – especially elected leaders – to experience the barriers facing people who can’t or won’t drive.

Additional Cascade staff members participated in the #WeekWithoutDriving. Here are their thoughts and reflections: 

Zack Kravey, Renton

Question: What were the biggest barriers and gaps you experienced? Were there any activities you gave up because it was too difficult or complicated? During the week did you find yourself concerned for safety or well-being as a result of infrastructure, weather, or other factors?
 Answer: One of the biggest barriers for me is being able to travel from my home in Renton with my family of four by bike. While we’re able to do school drop-offs and work commutes without too much effort by bike, things like grocery shopping and doctor appointments are a lot harder. Getting to the grocery store, for instance, means biking on the sidewalk for several miles along a 5-lane road with many blind driveways. Plus, there is no secure bike parking at our local stores and bike theft is common, so even if we had safe routes to run errands, the security of our bikes would prevent us from using anything other than a car.

I had tried to plan out a route to take a combination of light rail and bike for my commute, but because my e-bike is too heavy to use the vertical hangers in the light rail, it would block the aisle way. Additionally, this would have taken me double the amount of time as opposed to just biking the entire way.

Question: If you ended up driving, what did that choice help you understand? 
 Answer: Because I ended up driving due to a combination of evening safety and the amount of supplies I needed for a project at work, it made me appreciate even more the ease of having and being able to drive a reliable car whenever I want. If I didn’t have a car, I would have taken 2 buses and the light rail to get from Renton to Magnuson Park. For this particular week, that would also mean bringing with me a folding bike stand, a demo bike, a box of tools, plus my normal work gear. I would have needed to plan for this project a whole week in advance to bring supplies to the office over several commutes. This wouldn’t be sustainable and I am nearly certain that I would not be able to work at Cascade solely due to the difficulty of the commute and time lost that I could otherwise be spending with my family.
 Question: During the week did you find yourself concerned for safety or well-being as a result of infrastructure, weather, or other factors?
 Answer: Yes! I commute from Renton to Magnuson Park and try to use my bike at least once per week. My route includes the Lake Washington Loop to the Eastrail Trail, then across the 520 bridge to the Burke-Gilman Trail. However, almost none of this route has lighting for evening riding. During the fall and winter 5 p.m. commute home half in the dark, I don’t feel easily seen by drivers or other cyclists, even if I’m able to see the road with a bike headlight. Because of this, I ended up using my bike to commute only one time during the week and had to leave early to make it home safely.

On the day that I did bike, the left-hand turn needed when heading north from N Southport Drive to Lake Washington Blvd (this is the designated Lake Washington Loop: 47.500, -122.200) requires you to cross two lanes of traffic to get to the left-turn lane from the bike lane. The alternative is to use two crosswalks with pedestrian buttons and two crosswalks without pedestrian buttons – all just to cross one intersection. I have never felt safe navigating this intersection by bike even when using the crosswalks due to the number of vehicles making turns.
 Question: What do you hope to carry forward from this experience in your work, your advocacy or your support for mobility justice?
 Answer: While I try to remain inclusive of others’ physical abilities and access to a safe and reliable bicycle, the fact that I’m able-bodied and can afford an e-bike for a 25-mile commute demonstrates my socioeconomic and ability privilege. My history as a bike commuter over the past six years also provides me with a lived experience and knowledge of safe riding techniques in an urban setting, and I’m fortunate to work in an environment that is constantly creating opportunities to strengthen these skills. However, even with this, I still fear for my safety commuting along well-established bike routes on busy streets. I can only imagine the fear for safety that new or inexperienced bike commuters may have.

Moving forward, I hope to infuse continuous learning opportunities for cyclists into the interactions I have with them – identifying their mobility and education goals and connecting them to resources at Cascade to achieve them. I am also actively educating cyclists through clinics at Cascade on how to be a self-sufficient mechanic on the road, with the hopes that should they decide to use their bike as a primary form of transportation, they will be prepared!

Paul Tolmé, Seattle

Question: What were the biggest barriers and gaps you experienced? Were there any activities you gave up because it was too difficult or complicated? During the week did you find yourself concerned for safety or well-being as a result of infrastructure, weather, or other factors?
 Answer: My wife and I are fortunate insofar as she lives within walking distance of her workplace and my bike commute to Cascade is about six miles each way, mostly on the Burke-Gilman Trail, and I work from home most days. So our Week Without Driving was similar to most weeks. We bike, walk, and use busses and light rail for the majority of our transportation in Seattle, though we use the car to leave town or to pick up large items and stores such as Home Depot. Not driving did force us to put off a trip to Home Depot, as there was no way to bring home our new hot water heater by bike.
 Question: During the week did you find yourself concerned for safety or well-being as a result of infrastructure, weather, or other factors?
 Answer: Sadly, yes yes yes. Walking and biking for transportation in Seattle is dangerous. On a daily basis, my wife must walk amidst cars blocking crosswalks on her way to work along Eastlake Avenue. I fear for her safety because I’ve witnessed cars driving very close to her due to inattention by drivers who are on their phones or who fail to stop at red lights before turning right. For me on a bike, I am regularly passed dangerously by cars speeding past me while I pedal, even though I try to ride fast at 20 mph so that I can take the lane and be outside of the door zone on streets where there are no bike lanes. I can only imagine the danger that people who must travel further than either of us by bike or walking encounter. The norms of driving have deteriorated in Seattle, with more angry drivers or people simply not paying attention to the act of driving. It is incumbent on elected leaders to build more safe sidewalks and bike infrastructure to save lives.Question: What do you hope to carry forward from this experience in your work, your advocacy or your support for mobility justice?
 Answer: An awareness that I am blessed to be able to afford to live within biking and walking distance of all of our necessities–work, grocery shopping, doctors and dentists, and restaurants and bars. Mobility justice must be on the minds of all elected officials, and all affluent Seattle residents for whom driving is the default choice. A compassionate society must first look out for its most vulnerable. Getting from A to B without a car should not be life-threatening.


Rachel Longest, White Center

Question: What were the biggest barriers and gaps you experienced? Were there any activities you gave up because it was too difficult or complicated? During the week did you find yourself concerned for safety or well-being as a result of infrastructure, weather, or other factors?
 Answer: On Monday and Tuesday, I needed to be in Tacoma for site visits in the afternoon. If I were to drive from my home in White Center, the trip would be about 50 minutes, which I consider palatable and certainly easier than if I were leaving from North Seattle. However, the public transit options clock in at around two and a half hours one way. Lacking five hours of flexibility in my day, on Monday I asked my colleague if she could pick me up from the Angle Lake light rail station on her way to Tacoma. I didn’t want to ask her to go out of her way to pick me up, so I tried to find a way that I could position myself along her route to make it less of an imposition. That amounted to a 45-minute bus and light rail trip to get to the pickup location. Then add another 30-ish minutes in the car to arrive at our destination in Tacoma. I was so grateful that for the trip home and the next day’s visits, my colleague offered to drive me to and from my home. Without her generosity and flexibility, those days would have been significantly longer.

In the days that followed as I combined the bus, light, rail, and biking to get to appointments in the U-District and the office in Magnuson Park, I noticed a significant problem with the elevators and escalators at the light rail stations. They are frequently out of service, meaning that anyone with mobility issues preventing them from using stairs has to re-engineer their trip. I had to carry my bike up a few flights of stairs, but that pales in comparison to having to make a detour if the elevator isn’t working.
 Question: During the week did you find yourself concerned for safety or well-being as a result of infrastructure, weather, or other factors?
 Answer: Stepping onto the bus on Monday, I was hit by an acrid smell which sent my overly-sensitive sense of smell and headache response into overdrive. It was very uncomfortable sitting in the stench, even though a recent study said the air quality on public transit is ‘safe’

The next day, there was a shooting on the bus about a mile from my home on one of the lines that I use. It was, all at the same time, shocking and commonplace. There is a threat of violence that looms everywhere in our society, not just on public transit. However, that doesn’t change the level of concern that’s raised the next time I step on the bus.

In addition to being a necessary form of transit for so many, using these alternative methods of transportation is behavior we want to encourage. Having fewer cars on the road benefits everyone, so we need to ensure that the alternatives are clean, welcoming, and convenient.


Have your own story to share about the #WeekWithoutDriving or what it is like to get around without a car in your community? Contact our friends at Disability Rights Washington to include it in their story map: https://www.disabilityrightswa.org/contact-us/

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