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Originally published February 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 26, 2008 at 2:48 PM


Snohomish County opinion

A stress-free downtown trip without the parking hassle

Why drive when you can ride? That's a question apparently lots more folks are asking themselves, as evidenced by the latest King County...

Special to The Times

Why drive when you can ride? That's a question apparently lots more folks are asking themselves, as evidenced by the latest King County Metro bus ridership statistics showing a 7-percent increase in 2007 boardings over 2006.

And that's something I wondered, too, on a recent holiday weekend when contemplating a trip from Edmonds to downtown Seattle. First off, I'm new to the area, a transplant from Southern California, where traffic woes trump anything the Puget Sound region has yet to deal with. (To give you an idea, my road warrior hubby had a regular 50-mile, 2 1/2-hour one-way — yes, one-way — commute between our home in Irvine and his job in Santa Monica.) And, I'll confess, not once did I ride a bus in the entire eight years we lived there — it seemed way too complicated, plus in the Los Angeles/Orange County metro area, there was plenty of free parking.

But Seattle is a different story. I'd ventured into the downtown area by car five times in six months to explore my new environs (Pike Place Market, Ride the Ducks, Children's Museum, plus two business trips), each time finding the experience more onerous than the last. Dealing with all the one-way streets and less-than-optimal signage wasn't the problem — I just couldn't find anywhere to park.

I'm the kind of person who will spend 30 minutes hunting for a metered spot — or, simply give up and leave — before forking out major bucks for a lot. So, trying to find the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack metered space within, say, six blocks of my destination was a repeated exercise in frustration. In fact, after my last sojourn, I vowed I'd never go into downtown Seattle by car again.

But, the gorgeous weather on Martin Luther King Jr. Day tempted me, especially when I contemplated a day cruise out on Elliott Bay. I logged onto Metro's online Trip Planner, spent half an hour figuring out my options, and decided to go by car to the Park & Ride at the Aurora Village Transit Center and take the No. 358 downtown. (Had there been more time, I could have caught Community Transit's 131 just a block from my home to the transit center — or, during regular weekday rush hour, taken CT's 416 all the way downtown, no transfer or car required.)

My 11-year-old son had never been on a bus, so he was excited. We easily found a spot in the Park & Ride lot, walked over to the clearly labeled bay, and waited to board.

As we zoomed down Aurora Avenue North, stopping occasionally to drop off and pick up passengers and chatting with seatmates, I realized that although I'd grown up using buses and trains in Chicago, my son had never interacted with his communities in this way and was having a great time.

We arrived a few blocks from Pier 55 as scheduled. Our trip probably took slightly longer than it would have by car (assuming no backups on Interstate 5), but we also didn't have to spend half an hour searching for parking.

Nor did we have to worry about how much to put in the meter — or getting back to the meter in time.

Our day cruise was splendid, with crystal-clear views of the Olympics, Mount Rainier and the Cascades, and after doing some shopping, we found the northbound bus stop for our return trip. Within five minutes, the 358 pulled up, and we hopped on. On our trip back, a fellow rider offered us a newspaper he'd finished, and we had an interesting conversation about the paper.

None of this — the stress-free trip, the chats with passengers and the exposure to a larger community — would have been possible in our Toyota. What's more, I felt like I'd reconnected with something I'd lost long ago. Next time I'll definitely take the bus again — in fact, I might even catch the 131 from Edmonds and get a transfer.

Karen Steinberg is a writer and clinical psychologist in Edmonds.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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