By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor
More danger. Extra time. Less independence. That’s what Bus Balancing has meant for a blind Dunbar resident who has started a website and petition to publicize the impact of TransLink’s bus-stop-cutting program.
“I now have to ask strangers to guide me along streets and across intersections,” says Stephanie, a physically fit woman whose carefully established routines were turned upside-down by the loss of stops on the No. 7 and No. 2 routes.
TransLink says its Bus Balancing program is aimed at improving travel times and reliability while maintaining convenient access for passengers, but Stephanie says that for those coping with mobility or disability issues, it’s the opposite.
“I am very independent, but removing the bus stops is a huge problem and will be for so many other people,” she says. “I see it stopping people from going out and about, so it’s more isolation for seniors and people with disabilities.”
She says much of TransLink’s “propaganda” about Bus Balancing is misleading, and some is simply not true.
While TransLink says the program could cut two-and-a-half minutes off some one-way trips, providing an easier and more pleasant transit experience, that isn’t the reality for those struggling to get to more distant stops, she says. Its statement that it wouldn’t cut stops in busy convenient areas is the opposite of what she has experienced. Its assurance that bus stops won’t be so far apart as to make transit inaccessible is also not true. Many are four blocks apart, an impossible distance for those with mobility and disability issues, frail seniors, and people carrying young children and loads of groceries.
In fact, the new program “excludes seniors and people with disabilities from being able to access parts of transit so it’s a loss of mobility,” she says. “It also affects anyone who has had a stop removed where they live and for people with small children it makes it more difficult to get around.”
The reality, she says, is that Bus Balancing is “backward thinking and does not provide the service that is needed now or into the future.”
Stephanie gave three examples of how bus-stop cuts have made her life more inconvenient, stressful and dangerous:
- Fourth and Vine was a shopping hub for her, with its Safeway, Whole Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart on three corners easily accessible from east and westbound stops at Vine. The stops were removed when the No. 4 and 7 routes were “balanced” earlier this year. Now she gets off a stop early, at Balsam, and must depend on finding someone who will guide her the extra block to Whole Foods; she says it takes three months to fully learn a new block. “For the first time in 15 years of getting my groceries at Whole Foods, one of the employees there guided me to the bus stop because it was further for me to walk and it was a new stop and I had lots of food on my back, so lots of weight.”
- Removal of the No. 2 stop at 10th and Macdonald has cost her time, independence and added a dangerous intersection to her route. “It is a transfer point so people would get off the bus at 10th then walk to Broadway and turn right to catch the 99, 9 and 14 when the 14 was going east on Broadway,” she notes. Now, she says, she must catch an earlier bus to make her transfer on time, get off at Broadway on the north side of Macdonald “and have to ask a stranger to guide me across the street so I can get the bus. That intersection is a very busy intersection with people running red lights and turning right on to Macdonald.”
- Removal of the No. 7 stop at 26th and Dunbar has caused problems for her regular trip east along West 25th to Main, where she stocks up on two to three months’ worth of meat. She used to get off the northbound No. 7 bus at 26th, walk to 25th and turn right to catch the No. 25 on West 25th. Now she stays on the bus until 18th, then crosses Dunbar to catch the eastbound No. 25 at 17th. She chooses that route instead of crossing Dunbar at 25th because she’s concerned about aligning with the crosswalk when crossing such a wide street. “It adds up to 15 minutes to my trip and is an added stress.”
Stephanie says she started the website to draw attention to the problems Bus Balancing is creating for herself and others. She’s especially concerned because TransLink plans to expand the program throughout the region at the rate of four to eight routes a year, so all Metro residents will face similar issues.
Her website includes a petition link and offers readers a form they can fill out to tell TransLink what an “awesome” transit system looks like to them.
“Let’s not let TransLink’s short-sightedness dictate our lack of access to transit,” she writes. “Let’s design a transit system that is accessible for all people and one that is good for businesses and our community at large.”