Sunday, November 24, 2013

Elizabeth's Trip To Work - Carless Rating #5

Good news, everyone: As of a week ago, I am an employee of the State of Oklahoma! The Carless Couple are now both employed. Looks like the ordeal of carless interviewing was a success!

I’ve been working for a full week now, and I have – of course – been taking the OKC Metro bus to and from work each day. Overall, it’s been a success, but I have hit a few snags.

Bus Commute to Elizabeth's Work: 15/25

The trek to work each day has been consistent and reliable. I get on the bus at the transit center at 7:15; it has, for the most part, arrived on time. The great thing is, the bus arrives at my destination around 7:40-7:45, so I have just the right amount of wiggle room in case the bus is late to the transit center. It’s not so early as to be annoying, but not so late as to make me too nervous if the bus shows up about 5 minutes late, which did happen once this past week. Luckily, the driver wasn’t messing around; she picked up passengers and got moving within about a minute of the usual pull-off time, so by the time all was said and done, the bus was only about 1 minute later than it would have usually been. I was very grateful for her efficiency!

Another big plus for my bus commute to work is that there is a bus stop directly in front of my building and another bus stop more or less across the street, so I don’t have to walk too far between my building and the bus stop either coming to or going from work. The pedestrian infrastructure in the area is another story – the bus may drop off directly in front of my building, but there are no sidewalks and a pretty sizable lawn between the building and the bus stop that I have to cross. It’s either trek across the sloping lawn, or backtrack down the road (on the curb – no sidewalks) to get to the driveway and walk up it. I usually choose the lawn, but if the grass were very wet or muddy, I imagine that I would take the driveway option.

Leaving work to come home is more stressful, and the lack of pedestrian infrastructure in the area is mainly to blame. First, there’s the lawn I have to cross, and as the return bus stop is a tad further down the road than right across the street, I have to walk on the grass/curb to get to where I cross the street to get to the bus stop. Then, I get to dash across four lanes of traffic with no crosswalks anywhere to be seen! Fortunately, it’s not a terribly busy road. The traffic on NE Martin Luther King is definitely consistent but I have been able to cross each time without feeling like I had to take any kind of unreasonable risk; the visibility is fair in both directions.

The bus stop, though… it’s not the best.

There’s the obvious lack of sidewalk, for starters. There’s also the ubiquitous borderline-unusable bench seat that is nothing more than a glorified ad space – they’re always sitting at some weird angle, aren't they? I almost feel like the builders put a level on the seat planks and then make sure that bubble is off to the side. Surely the earth in Oklahoma City is not shifting this much. We don’t live in a bubbling prehistoric miasma. I mean, it IS just an excuse to provide ad space; why would they want the bus stop benches to be comfortable? The feeling you get on an OKC bus stop bench is either that you’re sitting on a really hard wooden recliner or tipping over the top of the first hill on a rickety old roller coaster.

One of the worst things about OKC bus stops is that there is usually no kind of shelter. I would say that maybe 10% of them have a covering at all. Usually this isn't a big problem personally, as I tend to be well-prepared for my travels (on time to the bus stop, appropriately dressed, carrying umbrella if needed), but this lack is keenly felt here at this bus stop, where I have to wait a bit for the bus after work. This past week in particular was a time when a shelter would have been appreciated – I stupidly forgot my umbrella and had to wait over 20 minutes in the freezing rain before my bus arrived. I don’t usually have to wait that long, but our department was released early on Friday because of the inclement weather, so I wasn't at the bus stop at my usual time.

The pick-up time on my return trip home has been a bit of a pain. According to my route schedule, the estimated pick-up time for my stop in the afternoon is around 4:50pm. The actual pick-up time varied pretty widely this week, but it seems like there’s a fairly consistent 15-minute window of time within which I can plan on catching the bus home. As long as I am prepared every day with a coat, hat, and gloves and an umbrella (and some rain boots, once I find some – there were NONE at Target this weekend, can you believe that?), I should be okay. I also need thermal underwear. I learned quickly this week that the blustery wintertime in OKC requires thermal underwear, so I picked some up this weekend.

My other issue with the commute to and from work has less to do with the transit system or pedestrian infrastructure and more to do with the way people tend to view public transit. I really like my coworkers so far, but they’ve been a little weird about my bus travel. Don’t get me wrong; they’ve been very accommodating about it – my boss even told me that if I needed to arrive or leave early or late to make sure I could catch the bus, that we could work out a modified schedule for me. This gesture was ultimately unnecessary but I very much appreciated that she extended the offer. The problem is that people treat me like I’m less fortunate because I ride the bus, and this really, really bothers me. When John and I tell people that we’re living without a car, they are always confused, and their confusion turns to outright befuddlement when we tell them that our carlessness is largely by choice. 

My coworkers have reacted in much the same way, and I’ve already grown tired of trying to explain why we choose not to drive a car. Even more than that, I’m sick of trying to explain why it’s really okay: We live directly across the street from the transit center, I don’t mind waiting a little while for a bus, I always make sure to be prepared for the weather, so on and so forth. I've always known that there is a considerable amount of public transit stigma in many parts of the US, but I knew it in a more abstract way. Now this stigma is slapping me in the face every day. I struggle with this more than I care to admit; the idea of being pitied upsets me, especially when it’s for a condition (a voluntary condition, even!) that I don’t feel warrants any sort of sympathy or condolences.

The more I have to tell people that it’s really okay that I ride the bus to work, the more discouraged I feel about the future of walkability and alternative transportation. If people don’t view alternate forms of transportation as actual alternatives, then the whole system doesn't work. If a municipality works very hard and puts lots of resources into building up great programs like Complete Streets, but nobody who wouldn't have already used alternative forms of transportation makes use of the expanded options, what has truly been accomplished? I would like to believe that the concept of Complete Streets operates under a sort of “if you build it, they will come” system, but the more I hear from people who exclusively drive cars, the more I doubt that. To me, the big question then becomes: how do we make alternative forms of transportation attractive as true alternatives?

I know that John and I will both talk a lot more about this idea in the future here on Carless In OKC, but those are the feelings that have been stirring in me after this first week of work. With all that being said, let’s get to the walkability rating!

At a distance of around 5 miles, this trip gets an F on our walkability scale, but since public transit allows me to only walk about half a mile, which would be an A, I’ll rate it a B overall.

The pedestrian infrastructure on this trip does not rank well. The area around my work has zero sidewalks and no crosswalks, but the walk to the transit center by my home is very pedestrian-friendly. I’ll rate it a D overall.

The transportation options are not terrible here, but not great. The area has car access and great bus access, but, again, no sidewalks/crosswalks for pedestrians, and no bike lanes. I would think this area to be a pretty terrifying area to cycle, but I actually saw a lone cyclist the other day. He was wearing a full kit, though, so I don’t think he represents the average cycling commuter – he is probably very, very used to riding his bike on traffic-ridden roads with no separate bike lane. I’ll rate the trip a C in transportation options.

The land use in this area is pretty abysmal. It’s mainly one- or two-level government buildings set on large tracts of land for no apparent reason. I saw a state trooper playing outside with a police dog the other day, but there’s no formal K-9 training area that I can see, so I don’t think that the departments located there truly warrant the acres of lawn upon which these buildings are located.  There are no stores or restaurants within reasonable walking distance, although my department has the courtesy to provide an employee cafeteria for those who don’t bring their lunch but also don’t want to get in their car during their lunch break. I’ll rate this a D in land use.

It’s been a very overcast week, so I’ll try not to let that color my opinion of the atmosphere too much, but when you’re considering government buildings against a grey sky, it’s hard not to think it’s a little dismal. However, the lawn behind the buildings is quite pretty; it’s hilly, there are some scattered trees, and further back, woods. This is all visible from the employee cafeteria dining room and makes for an enjoyable view if you’re eating down there. Across the street, it’s not very nice, though. The return bus stop is surrounded by litter against a backdrop of a chain link fence that separates the shoulder of the road from a scrappy wooded area. The entire area does feel safe overall, mostly because of the fact that it’s crawling with state troopers. I’ll rate the atmosphere a B.

With a B, a D, a C, a D, and a B, my trip to work scores 15 out of 25. I can’t complain very much at all – I am able to get to work on time and with minimal hassle, and my commute home is a little less tranquil but certainly do-able. 


  1. Hi, I just stumbled on to your blog. What a great experiment!! Don't lose hope. I live right on the # 4 route. It's convenient if I'm going downtown which I do often. However, if it's for something in the evening it won't work b/c the busses quit running so early. Also, with one bus an hour I don't see how it works for people actually trying to get places that require several routes. I guess if you are a frequent user you figure out the intricacies. ~Lin, OkC

  2. Lin, the bus system does take a while to get used to. I totally mirror your frustration with the lack of evening bus scheduling, and especially the fact that there is no bus service on Sundays. If we can increase the demand for public transit, these are what I consider to be low-hanging fruit to improve the system. Unfortunately, route 4 will no longer exist come the spring, but route 5 will be reworked to accommodate users of the former route 4.