I am a blind student at Washington State University, Vancouver. I live in a low-income housing apartment complex and get around on public transit. Unfortunately, the two closest bus stops to my home are at least a 10-minute walk away down a high-speed busy road on narrow sidewalks, with spots of overgrown vegetation and random garbage cans blocking the sidewalk. My trip to school can take three buses and two hours.
There are rainy days and there are snowy days. I do not have the option of avoiding a walk in the elements, unless it is a major storm, where everyone is asked to stay home. It is not that exciting to stand at a bus stop for an entire hour waiting for the bus when you are freezing or getting wet.
I grew up in Ridgefield, a community a little bit north of Vancouver. I was unable to travel independently because there is terrible bus service there. You can only take the bus to and from there two to three times a day and not at all on the weekends. The driver will drop you off as far as three quarters of a mile from their normal route, but my mother’s house is just a little bit too far. I could get off at the Ilani Casino, but I would have to walk about a mile to get to her house. These days, I barely see my family unless they come to pick me up, because there is no reasonable way to get to my mom’s house by taking public transportation. I would like to see more rural public transportation in places like my hometown, because there are many people who cannot necessarily afford to move into more urban areas with better transit service.
People without driver’s licenses make up 25% of the population, and we know that especially right now in this moment of economic crisis, there are many other people out there who cannot afford to own or drive a vehicle. It costs on average almost $800 per month to own and maintain a car. That’s a huge burden for many people.
As our elected leaders in Olympia are discussing how to invest in the future of our transportation system, I want them to consider the perspective of people who can’t drive, like me. We need to be able to get around, to school, to the grocery store and to visit our family and friends. Many narrow sidewalks need to be widened, and we need more resources to keep neighborhood sidewalks in good repair. For people in wheelchairs and blind people like myself, this would make getting around by walking or rolling much easier.
Our cities and counties are eager to make investments — for the 2021-2023 grant cycle, the Washington State Department of Transportation received 242 applications requesting $190 million for Safe Routes to School and Pedestrian and Bicycle Program grants. However, they anticipate being able to support fewer than 20% of the proposals, leaving over 200 projects unfunded. There are three of these unfunded projects in Vancouver. And there’s even an unfunded safety project in my hometown of Ridgefield that would have made it safer to cross the street at the middle school.
We also need to invest in more frequent and reliable fixed route transportation, and routes to more rural areas. If you own and can drive a car, you can get yourself to pretty much any address in the state. The same is not true if you rely on transit or paratransit. Especially as it has become more expensive to live in more urban areas that have better transit service, we need to figure out how to make sure people who can only afford to live in more suburban and rural parts of our state still can have access and connect with our communities.
That’s why it’s so critical that our elected leaders take this opportunity to really invest in transportation equity and access. Currently, less than 4% of our transportation spending goes to walking, rolling and transit projects. It’s past time to change that!
Add your story to Griffith’s and reach lawmakers here.
Read more in the Mar. 3-9, 2021 issue.