This may be the first year we miss the Tacoma Nature Center Earth Day celebration. I would have to fill up my dying car with gas, or take 2 buses to get there (and probably still not get there in time for a 4:00 tour, after getting the kids from school at 3) so we may end up just staying home.
Earth Day this year happens to coincide with my own practical need to reduce dependence on my car, or at least its desire for death with dignity. When we first moved to Tacoma, I was not accustomed to driving and had not ever owned my own car. One of the reasons we moved away from Oakland, California, was the more livable size and decreased traffic that made it possible for me to imagine navigating the streets with my two kids in the car. Still, I wouldn't live anywhere not on a bus line or within a reasonable walk to shops and services.
Oakland didn't have a bus system that worked for a parent with two kids who didn't want to wait a half hour or more for a bus, and sad to say after testing it many times Tacoma really doesn't, either. I live in a very central neighborhood about 5 minutes from the center of downtown. In order to get there, I either have to take the bus that goes right by my house and runs on a half hour/ hour on the weekends schedule, the number 11 which runs on the same time frame but at slightly different times, and on the way back forces a very dangerous crossing of N 21st street, or the number 1, which comes every 10 minutes or so but involves a 15 minute (with the kids, 7 without) walk. All of this is relatively minor inconvenience to an adult with a watch and an open schedule, but if you add back in all the layers of a mama's life: kids, personalities, bathroom needs (from 2.5 to 4.5 this is a constant issue in a kid's life), responsibilities waiting at home, meetings to be late for, baseball practices we can't get to, groceries to carry, the bus adds up to such a reduction in quality of life it becomes a transportation method of last resort, or a novelty to use only on weekends when I've got 4 or 5 hours to kill. If I need to go somewhere outside of downtown, like say, the corner of S 19th and Tyler? Forget about it. Only if a dear relative happened to be on life support at that exact location.
Even for the lone commuter it's tough. I tried commuting to Seattle by bus for a few weeks several years ago when we had only one car. More often than not, my express bus from Seattle would get mired in traffic and arrive just a minute or two too late to catch the bus back to my house. Then I'd stand there at 10th and Commerce at 6:30 at night, at the darkest time of the year, enjoying a half hour in the dark and rain on the least appealing street in Downtown Tacoma, wishing I were home with my family. Driving my own car to the Tacoma Dome station and parking it there would save 1 precious hour of commute time out of the ridiculous three it would take to travel the 35 miles to Seattle and back every day. As others have noted just today, there's nowhere to park there anymore, so that would also mean another $5 in parking at the lot next door.
My bus route could mean a lot for the city, economically. It runs from downtown, through the North Slope, to UPS, Proctor, the West End, and out to TCC. If it ran on a 10 or even 15 minute schedule, maybe we'd see some of those private school college students leaving their campus and checking out the city a little more. Definitely it would be easier for people taking job-training and college courses to get to TCC and back, and people like me would be a whole lot more likely to make it to the Proctor Farmers market on a Saturday, or downtown for an event or just for fun.
I've been traveling by bus more lately, out of necessity. Everywhere I go it seems ridership is up, but schedules are not. I've often heard "if more people ride the bus, more buses will be added to the schedule" but at least for the time being this does not seem to be true. Even if it were, it's never all that successful a strategy to expect a big alteration in behavior just because it's good for people. A wee little bit of encouragement in the form of increased service runs and a little publicity (lots of free publicity out there, if you email the blogosphere) would go a long way toward getting more people on the bus. How we will pay for these runs is another issue, I know. But it has got to be a priority, and now, not later.