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Kat Marriner : March 10th, 2010

Where is my carrot?

I just received an invitation to a meet-up with the makers of Pandora (the Music Genome Project)  held at Seattle’s downtown public library, and it was all well and good until I got to this:

Parking: Pandora will provide complimentary parking for attendees at the Seattle Public Library parking garage on Spring Street between 4th and 5th Ave. The entrance is mid-block on the south side of Spring St.   Please bring the ticket from the machine to the meeting and you will be given a coupon that you can present to the parking lot attendant after the event.

Really? Pandora is going to pay people for driving to downtown Seattle? That just strikes me as an old, tired way of thinking which I didn’t expect from such an exciting new company and our über modern library.

So this was my response to their invitation:

Hi Tim,
It would be wonderfully  progressive if Pandora gave an incentive for arriving by public transportation, foot or bicycle instead of rewarding people for driving a vehicle to a downtown urban center. You want to change the way we listen to music. I want to change the way we live in our communities.

Does the Seattle Public Library and Pandora really want people to drive to the event? They offered drivers a carrot…

Kat Marriner : January 13th, 2010

Gray Days

The gray days of winter are here. The kind of days that look like it’s perpetually 4pm even when it’s 11 in the morning. Saturated to the point the ground no longer drinks in the pissing rain, we are steeped in grayness. These are days that test the carfree.

But I’m itching to move, and with new walking shoes and an adequate rain jacket I go out to breath in fresh air, clear my head, and pump up my heart rate. And it’s working. I’m rewarded by flashes of color that brighten my day.

Kat Marriner : October 23rd, 2009

Walking My Hill

When we first moved to our little house mid-way on the hill of Beacon Hill, we quickly met many of the old-timers living within a block or so of our house. We met them because they walked.

Nora raced by like clockwork on her way to and from work every day until she retired 2 years ago. She still walks by, but now often with a friend and they catch a bus to a casino for lunch, or just out to get exercise. Kenny, the old time piano player shared a stage with Ray Charles in the early days, still puts on his blue crossing guard hat and orange vest and meets up with Ed at our corner on their way to halt traffic as the elementary school kids and parents go to and fro. We called Papa Joe “Th Inspector” for his unannounced visits to check our handiwork in the house as we remodeled–an old tile-setter, we learned that “checking the tile” was a great euphemism we use today with humorous memories of Joe. Alice walked up and down the hill past our house, until she could only walk down, always stopping to complain about her knees. She kept going though, until she needed those knees replaced, and after her surgery she never returned home. Judy never went further than the sidewalk space in front of her house, but she walked it back and forth long after gout had taken over her life and stopped her from growing bok choy in the patch of yard.

These folks and many more were the regular passers by of our little turquoise palace in the early days. There was one walker, though who didn’t just stroll around the block. Marsha walked with dignified purpose. Beautiful, birdlike Marsha with a lilting sing-song “oh, hello!” as she passed by with her empty grocery bags on her way up the hill and her two, balance grocery bags on her way down. She was always immaculately dressed with her “face on” as my grandma would say. Marsha took great pride in walking up Hanford street—I should add that at one point in the hill climb the grade is 22%. That one block still takes my breath away after walking it for over 12 years. Marsha walked it well over 60 years.

A few years ago Marsha linger and chat over the garden fence, I finally asked her how old she was. Some how it came up naturally in conversation and I was floored to discover she was 93 at the time.

Before I moved to Beacon Hill, I don’t believe I knew any older folks who walked with great regularity. Suddenly I was surrounded by them. I was inspired by them! It was easy to see how important those regular walks were to the health and vitality of my neighbors.

We’ve lost some of those neighbors since we first moved into the neighborhood, but all have lived long and active lives well into their 80s and even mid-90s. Walking has connected them, eased their pain,and perhaps eased their isolation.

It had been months since we’d seen Marsha, and admittedly we can’t remember when we last saw her walk the hill. The past couple of years she had slowed down… let her jet black hair finally turn it’s natural shade of gray. The walks weren’t so frequent and this summer we didn’t see her out with the push mower cutting her lawn. Family would come and go, and we saw less and less activity at her house. A couple days ago Willie spotted her daughter’s van parked out front and went to inquire about her mother. Marsha had moved to a care facility and unfortunately she no longer remembered much about her life. The decline seems remarkably fast.

Without conscious imitation, I found myself walking up the hill to the store and returning with two balanced bags. Lift ten reps, then lift the other in time to my steps. Getting my real world workout … and thinking about 50 more years walking my hill.

Willie Weir : October 7th, 2009

First Impressions: A Tale of Two Train Stations

Portland Train Station

Portland's Train Station

Seattle's Train Station

Seattle's Train Station

Two cities. Two train stations. Two completely different vibes and messages.

Portland’s AMTRAK station:
Walk outside the doors and you see the Greyhound station 500 feet away. A light rail train glides by. Bike paths with signage pointing you toward downtown are clear and highly visible. Wide sidewalks too.
The message is clear without a word being spoken. The physical surroundings announce, “Welcome to our city. Come explore. We assume you don’t have your own car. In fact, thanks for not driving.”

Seattle’s AMTRAK station:
Walk outside the doors and … you are greeted by an ENORMOUS parking lot for Qwest field. A few taxi’s are waiting at the curb. Yes. Seattle has bike lanes and local bus service, even light rail. But where are they? I guess you have to be a local to know that the Greyhound station is across town. No easy bus connection and a very long walk with baggage. The bus tunnel and light rail are a couple of blocks away … but that appears to be privaleged information as well.

The physical environment screams, “You’re on your own. Take a cab and remember to drive your own car next time.”

First impressions? As a cyclist or pedestrian, Portland embraces you … while Seattle tolerates you.

Willie Weir : September 11th, 2009

The Getaway

Heather Pass--North Cascades

Heather Pass--North Cascades

Probably the thing we miss most about not having a car is the getaway. The ability to zoom out of the city and be out on a trail in the mountains. It is possible to do this via public transit, but it takes lots of time. We had an offer of a cabin in Mazama from a friend. It was time to rent a car.

The beauty about a rental car is that everything generally works.  Our Chevy Aveo got around 30 mpg. We used it to transport us (and our cat … he didn’t hike) our gear and way too much food out to Mazama. We hiked a loop trail up the Heather Pass, attended the Winthrop Rodeo, bought 20 lbs of the sweetest, juiciest nectarines this side of Eden and wandered around back roads just because we could.Winthrop Rodeo

Since renting a car for a week is generally less expensive than for three or four days … back in Seattle we took the opportunity to run errands that are normally a hassle on our bikes.

Then we returned the car. No need to worry about whether it needs new brakes or a tuneup. No oil is leaking out into our gutter and out into the Puget Sound. A perfect getaway.

Kat Marriner : September 10th, 2009

I Spy

Arlo's new do!

Arlo's new do!

It’s that time of year. My favorite time of the school year — the day kids go back to school. For years I’ve watched the parade of neighbors walking their children to school and it makes me feel like something is right in the world. I sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee, usually Deeter is at my side, and we wait to see the new school clothes, the hair done up special, the giddiness of kids, their shouts to old friends. It feels like a rite of passage and I get a front row seat. A little bitter sweet since it’s a rare time I am struck that I will never walk my own child to school, but it also fills me with such joy to see the kids anticipation, fear and excitement of the first day of school.

Ready or not, Miles walks to school.

Ready or not, here comes Miles.

I’m taken back to my childhood walking to school. A simpler time perhaps, and certainly a time when more kids walked and more kids walked without parents. I wonder who watched me along the way? How often did I dawdle and linger or race because I was running late? I know my siblings and I always walked those first years when we lived a couple of blocks from the Bryant Elementary in Sioux City, Iowa.

Living a block from Kimball Elementary means we watch the parade to school every day through every season and every type of weather. Best, we get to see neighbor kids growing up and growing more confident in the world around them. When not outside, we spy on them from the kitchen window usually laughing at their antics and delighting in their curiosity about the garden or cat in the basket.

The whole family is walking to school today.

The whole family is walking to school today.

You know, we spy on the old Asian ladies who walk by too. They stop, lean over the fence and point. Sometimes it looks like disapproval, sometimes it looks like curiosity, sometimes they seem pleased. Everyday they seem to see something different. And I hope that’s what a walk around the neighborhood or to school is all about.

Willie Weir : September 8th, 2009

The Trifecta to Vancouver

It was a birthday trifecta–Light Rail to AMTRAK to SkyTrain.

I turned 48 on August 4th. The same day that Barack Obama did. Yep. We are birthday buddies (he didn’t call). We were both born on August 4, 1961. I have to say that having the same birthday as your president does have a “so what have you done with your life?” element to it. So, while Barack shared birthday cake with White House correspondent Helen Thomas (another birthday bud), I got to live out a dream of riding the rails all the way to Vancouver.

With the completion of the first link of Seattle’s Light Rail, it is now possible to take rail transit from our neighborhood in Seattle to Vancouver.

My mom flew up from Sacramento and joined Kat and me on our trip up north.

Highlights from the trip:

No time spent on I-5.
A bike ride around Stanley Park with my mom on the back of a tandem. The first time she’s been on a bike in 45 years!
Meeting Momentum magazine columnist Ulrike Rodrigues.
A pedi-cab ride around the waterfront arranged by Ulrike and fellow bicycle advocate Chris Keam.

For as long as I can remember, AMTRAK has had only one train a day to Vancouver. But they have now added a second train, making this trip twice as convenient. What a treat!

Willie Weir : August 21st, 2009

Now THAT’s a Sidewalk

Beacon-Hill-sidewalk

Beacon Hill sidewalk (Seattle, WA)

In the United States our city streets are so auto-oriented that we rarely think of what the alternative could be.  Consider the sidewalk. It is rarely continuous. If you are lucky enough to have sidewalks in your neighborhood, they are block-long segments, interrupted by the asphalt roadway. Every block, you cross through the the right of way of the autos to get to your next section of sidewalk. The law says that you, as the pedestrian, have the right of way. A car is supposed to yield to you. But everything about the physical environment says that the auto has the right of way. The road or street is a continuous flowing stream, while the sidewalk is chopped up into little segments.  That’s just the way sidewalks are.

Really?

Bogota-sidewalk

Bogotá sidewalk (Bogotá, Colombia)

What if your city planners thought outside the “norm”? What if the sidewalk was a continuous stream, while the roadway was chopped into small segments? The above example is from Bogotá, Colombia. The pedestrian or cyclist continues through the intersection on a clear, smooth path—while the autos have to negotiate a ramp up and then down again. Visually and physically, it is the auto that is crossing the sidewalk, rather than the pedestrian crossing the street.

Believe me. It makes all the difference in the world. I’ll take the physical right of way over the legal right of way anytime.

Now THAT’S a sidewalk!

Kat Marriner : August 19th, 2009

On any given day

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t walk somewhere in our neighborhood. Walk to the grocery store. Walk to the library. Walk to light rail. Walk to a friend’s house. Walk to take a walk. And hardly a walk goes by that I don’t run in to someone and have a conversation … almost so much so that sometimes I walk off the beaten path to get lost in my own thoughts.

The other day was such a day that I wanted nothing more than to walk in my own space and soak in atmosphere. The dry summer heat had turned to cloud cover for a day or two, and as much as I am a sun seeker, the ch’i in the air was refreshing my body and soul.

So I walked to the Red Apple to pick up some wine for dinner and took a right instead of a left when I walked out of the parking lot. I was ready to wonder and my feet took me West towards the view overlook park. Student drivers cautiously gave me plenty of room as we both rounded the bend in the road where the sidewalk ends before the park begins. The park is usually a solitary place especially mid-morning on a weekday, but there in my favorite spot to sit and breathe in the city was a man and his bicycle. A twinge of disappointment darted into my heart.

As I approached, the man turned and smiled a genuine smile. We exchanged hellos before he said, Do you want to hear a poem? Yes. I answered matter-of-factly.

I stood beside the bench looking out across the city, Elliott Bay and beyond to the Olympics touched with mist.  Heavy sculpted clouds filled the sky, he read:

This is not a day for asking questions,
not a day on any calendar.
This day is conscious of itself.
This day is a lover, bread, and gentleness,
more manifest than saying can say.

The longer he read the more my heart filled with the ache of words mixing freely with the beauty before me. Swelling with love for this place, I listened to these words by mystic poet Rumi.

Spring, and everything outside is growing
even the tall cypress tree.
We must not leave this place.
Around the lip of the cup we share, these words,

My Life Is Not Mine
If someone were to play music, it would have to be very sweet.
We’re drinking wine, but not through lips.
We’re sleeping it off, but not in bed.
Rub the cup across your forehead.
This day is outside living and dying.

Give up wanting what other people have.
That way you’re safe.
“Where, where can I be safe?” you ask.

This is not a day for asking questions,
not a day on any calendar.
This day is conscious of itself.
This day is a lover, bread, and gentleness,
more manifest than saying can say.

Thoughts take form with words,
but this daylight is beyond and before
thinking and imagining. Those two,
they are so thirsty, but this gives smoothness
to water. Their mouths are dry, and they are tired.

By the time he finished, I released the deep breath with a somber, wow.  He laughed a nervous laugh of two people caught unsuspecting in an intimate moment. He said he felt the same way.

I never know what will happen on a walk, but I’m glad this happened. Thank you for reading the poem… I mustered hardly holding back tears.

Thank you for wanting to hear a poem, he simply said.

I smiled and walked away. Any more words between us would break a spell — this exquisite moment shared between strangers in a park on Beacon Hill. Magic can happen on any given day.

neighbors-fence

Willie Weir : July 30th, 2009

Give it Up: Responses

I’m already getting inquiries from folks asking … is anybody responding to your open letter?

The answer is yes.

Richard Conlin (Seattle City Council) was the first to reply. He has given up his car for 5 or 6 days at a time. He is a true bicycle advocate who pedals the talk. Go for a week or more Richard!

Norman Sigler (candidate for Seattle Mayor) gave up his car 3 years ago and donated it to KPLU!

Brian Carver (candidate for Seattle City Council position #4) has given up his car for long stretches, but has vowed to give it up for a week again … soon. Even asked me to check back with him on that promise.

Dorsol Plants (candidate for Seattle City Council position #4) gave up his car in 2007 AND won the Candidate Survivor!

Sally Clark (Seattle City Council) sent a long and thoughtful reply. Not yet ready to take the carfree week plunge.  I see her sans car pedaling around my neighborhood all the time. Go for a week Sally!!

Mike McGinn (candidate for Seattle Mayor) let me know that he has a car but rarely uses it. You may have seen the stickers around town “Mike Bikes.” But I think even Mike McGinn could learn from having no access to a car for a week. How about it Mike?

Tom Rasmussen (Seattle City Council) didn’t respond personally, but a staff member did. She let me know that many city staffers have given up their cars. Good trend. Maybe they can convince Tom to do so … for just a week.

Richard McIver (Seattle City Council) won’t be taking up the challenge. But I admire that he took the time to respond.  He lives in the Seward Park neighborhood which isn’t well served by public transit.  He hopes that one or more of his colleagues will take me up on my challenge.