Monday, July 28, 2014

The Beauty of a Soccer Ball

One of the things that I plan to have plenty of for next year's Guatemala trip is soccer balls.  Soccer or, futbol, as it called in every country in the world except for the US, is less of a game and more of a way of life.  While riding around the Guatemalan countryside I  noticed people of all ages kicking around a ball, mechanics taking a break in the tiny patch of dirt outside their garage by playing a heated, shirtless match of 1:1, two tween age boys kicking a ball around on a patch of grass while a toddler kicked at her own ball in and out around them, a quick game timed in between oncoming cars on cobblestone streets, bare feet, flip flops, sandals, it didn't matter.  I saw many basketball courts, not one had an intact net on the hoop and all were being used as cement futbol fields.  The boys trying to impress the girls, the girls who really, really wanted to play, the ones who joined in, the little kids and the big, just drop, kick, and play.

For those little ones trying to kick around a ball as big as them or a flimsy piece of rubberized plastic not meant to be kicked, I would like to bring small sized balls that a bigger kid would be ashamed to use.  For the girls that wants to get out there, but can't move past the boys, I would like to bring bright pink, purple, princess and Barbie soccer balls.  The gender gap was as big as I thought that it would be, but there were girls out playing, even ones older than age 10.  Younger girls were fierce, especially when outnumbered by boys.

Culturally the power of a soccer ball is enviable, something so simple to light up the eyes, make the heart pound, invite a moment of bonding, community, friendship, that is the beauty of a soccer ball.  I believe that everyone can be captivated by this level of simplicity when it signifies something greater like connection and community.  While I don't think that those elements are missing from our culture, I do believe that they are often overlooked.

It is easier to be consumed by activities and gadgets, both are time consuming, they don't mean to be solitary, but often are.  The further away from feeling connected that people feel, the more they seem to fill their lives with trying to do more to force connection to happen.  In the process, the gift of acting on the opportunity to use something as simple as a ball to make a connection is lost.  Making things more complicated than they are becomes culturally acceptable.

 I realize that I am idealizing just a little bit, but I am doing so to make a point.  Children begin life hardwired for things that are simple to give like communication.  It isn't like it is all that different for older children and adults, it is the relationship to things that changes, specifically that more of them are needed which complicates life, allowing less time for real time interactions, which leads to isolation and lack of community.  Instead of finding an app for that, look for what brings people together in real time, the answer isn't all that complicated.

Monday, July 21, 2014

SUV Moms and Other Traffic Hazards

For years now I have been watching the transformation of the 520 bridge with growing anticipation.  I pay the toll (no small feat at almost five bucks per crossing) with reluctance curbed only by what those dollars have been promised by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), to do to ease my life as a commuter.  My dreams whenever I drive west to cross the 520 bridge on my way to work, grow bigger as each phase of development is completed, I will be able to commute on public transport in the same amount of time it currently takes me to drive, that is dream number one.  In my four years at my current job, I have yet to find a consistent and timely means for taking public transport to work.

Let me begin by saying, cost aside, that my driving commute from the time I leave my front door, to the time that I put my key in the door of my office is about 20 minutes.  Let me also say that, in addition to working full time at an outside job, I am also a full time mom to three daughters, ages 15, 12, and 12.  No matter how you slice it my life is busy! So any means of public transport will need to compete with that 20 minute drive time because time is also money, especially when it means keeping your kids safe by dropping them off and picking them up in a timely fashion.

In my four years of commuting from the east side to Seattle, I have found one bus route that will get me to work in 20-40 minutes and home in about 45 minutes.  On those days when I don't have to race home to make dinner and chauffeur kids around, I allow myself the extra time to commute.  The source of this efficient commute:  metro bus 255 at the South Kirkland Park and Ride and metro 271 at the Evergreen Point Freeway Station.  Both buses come with a high degree of frequency and regularity.  Imagine my excitement when I notice that the beautiful additions to Evergreen Point Freeway Station were almost complete.  A glorious commuter overpass complete with windows and covered stairways leading to a from the newly expanded bus bays.  Imagine my disappointment when riding the 271 one evening a couple weeks back I found that it no longer stops at the Evergreen Point Freeway Station.  Why not is very surprising indeed, not your typical culprits, levies not passing, budget and route cuts, no the 271 route is still alive and well and still bursting with frequent and timely buses.  The reason that the 271 must now permanently bypass my freeway stop is because of a low wall of concrete that extends from the bus bay to allow a few more feet to keep the bus lane separate from the car lane.  Now the 271 can no longer access the next exit off of the highway as is part of its route.  That's right, budget cuts be damned, this is nothing but complete lack of planning on the part of WSDOT.

The buses that currently service the area where I work directly from South Kirkland Park and Ride and Evergreen Point Freeway Station?  There is one, it comes three times in the AM and three times in the PM.  If I need bus service after 9:00am or after 5:00pm, this route is a no go because it doesn't run.  And that beautiful palatial structure that spans the highway like a glass castle? It is connected to a 30 spot park and ride.  I have made a number of phone calls to Metro, WSDOT, Sound Transit, the office of my state representative and NO ONE knows if there will ever be a larger park and ride to serve what looks like a huge mass transit system on a major high way.  I did find out today, however, from one of my sources, that they will be building what is called a "Kiss and Ride," this is code for someone drops you off at your bus stop, clearly not something that was designed for parents running in two or fifty different directions every morning.

So, what is in it for me.  Let's see, Metro is advertising that they have funding and they are putting that funding towards a project called, "Right Size Parking."  The premise behind this project is that, if there are not enough parking spaces, people will stop driving."  This is akin to building a large sports arena without bathrooms, if you don't build them, people will not need to go or some kind of reverse psychiatry "Field of Dreams," don't build it and people will come!  Other websites talk about the need for limiting vehicle miles traveled or VMT's and reducing greenhouse gases or GHG's which sounds good to me, how do I do it? Wellfrothe research that I have conducted so far, the only way that I can hope to do any of these things is to get rid of my kids and become a renter in a dense urban multi-family dwelling.  If you aren't in that category, my friend, you as a commuter are screwed!

Now I do not consider myself an expert by any means, but what I have been able to learn so far is that mass transit relies, somewhat, on levies and they are very vocal about the need to cut services when these levies don't pass.  Their target audience is renters in dense urban multi-family dwellings where public transit is already working, so no one who lives this lifestyle is going to want to support a levy.  Besides, when you completely omit homeowners from the equation, you omit those that are most invested in the community.

I have also been reading a lot about traffic and the need to have less cars on the road, I work at what should be a highly bused area, it should be efficient for people to get to and from work this is a university for heaven's sake.  In my little department there are no parents that bus to and from work.  That's right, NONE and I mean people who live in the city and on the same side of the bridge.  Our public transportation is so inefficient and so utterly blind to the needs of families that they have everyone on a transit center merry-go-round, one cannot park at most transit centers, one can only transfer, once you have to wait and transfer, you are sunk, if you have little kids you will not be home in time for dinner or bed no matter how close you live when looking at the map.

Does anyone really like to drive?  Do I enjoy paying for gas, toll, and parking to drive to and from work every day?  Absolutely not, no one does, but if you are a home owner and live anywhere near the suburbs your options are limited.  There are exactly 80 parking spots total for me to use if I want to bus directly to work without a transfer, that's right 80!  The nearest transit center is located in the opposite direction of my commute to work and is a 45 minute walk from my house.  If I want to maintain commutes under an hour each direction, I have to drive.  My message to everyone out there, think twice before judging that lone commuter in an SUV, we may be trying harder and against more obstacles than you can imagine to not be a stereotype, but until public transit acknowledges that not everyone is a childless renter, expect traffic and poor air quality to continue to rise.