Monday, May 25, 2009

Moving City Bus Stops Without Asking

I found out two days ago that they were moving my bus stop and effectively removing my transportation. This comes as another step in the goal of Metro King County to reduce the ridership on the buses to zero ahead of a small, ineffective light rail system through an overcrowded, broke city that will not be functional until 2020. I now have to walk 15 minutes in the rain, cold, dark, etc, to get to the University of Washington campus.

My problem with the removal of the bus stop is because they are doing it for a terrible reason. They are building a park there. Now, I love parks, I believe green space is imperitive for the development of children and for the maintenance of mental and physical health. I do, however, believe that small parks are made valuable not by their existence alone, but by how they are used. Parks, as I wrote in a previous post, are best in areas where they will receive continuous use, varied use by diverse people, and where they can be easily kept safe. The new park will be located behind a Target next to a bunch of apartments. This initially sounds ok; however, all the apartments point away from the park and the people who use the space currently do so in order to catch the bus. We are all busy people, we do not, except maybe occasionally on weekends, go out and just sit in a park. Parks are best suited for areas where there are many children without other places to go, and where it is easy for people to be safe. In this location, people come near to go to Target (not to a park) and to ride the bus. There are no other stores, businesses, or anything, and the park is surrounded on three sides by nothing but roads. In short, people only go there now to catch a bus, and the only reason they will go there in the future is to go to the park.

So why not build one if people like parks? I do not believe that the park will ever be fully or properly utilized and policed. This small park, like many of the other small parks in Seattle, will become a homeless campground or a drug-addict zone. I am rooting for the homeless since they are usually nice and not dangerous. I brought up my concern about losing my transportation, while creating a underused, potentially dangerous area right by my house to my pastor, and he told me that he like the idea of a park, and would probably never use the place as a Park and Ride. While there is no reason for him to use it for taking the bus (he has a car, lives nearer to other locations), his comment about liking the idea of the park struck me as interesting. I asked him how often he would use it (he lives in a neighborhood with beautiful, quiet streets and a very nice park location, complete with bathrooms and everything), and he said he "could not quantify" how often he would use it. Could not quantify? I can. Almost never. Small, general parks are inherently local areas dependent on local people for patronage. This means that if all the people in your area are residents who do not get out much other than for work, then your park will not be well used. Also, the fact that people "like the idea" of something is a huge cause of budget deficits and the tendency of people to vote for relatively abstract (in practice) ideas like a light rail system (I say abstract because the actual construction is extremely costly and it is difficult to build and expand large enough to be useful). I am sick and tired of people who like the idea of something dictating my rights to reasonable public transportation. The people who should decide local things should be local people who use the service, not simply those who "like the idea." This offers a perfect segway into my next point.

Local democracy seems to be skewed not only to city-based things, but to areas where legislatures, not individuals, should be making decisions, like how to build a freeway or whether or offer incentives to certain businesses. Things like small parks should not be added (at least if something important like a park&ride is being taken away). I am not complaining here because they are simply removing one stop, they are removing many, and effectively eliminating the ease at which we were able to move around. What is more, they sprung this on us over a weekend, without any public comment that I knew about, and I ride the buses very frequently. Why could we not have a say in the location of a park? While I believe that we should, I am not convinced that we would have won even then. The dangers of local democracy would have then raised their ugly heads to let some local, less busy, better off people who never take the bus and "like the idea" of parks decide on our fate. Be it the elderly people across the road or someone living elsewhere in our artificial neighborhood that does not function as a unit but is treated as one, but the results may well have been the same. Now that we are losing our stop, however, we have made a spirited showing to harrass the poor bus drivers on our route, leading them to refer to me as "one of many" or "not a lone horseman" among other things. Clearly people care, at least those of us who ride the bus. There are many who do, and taking away our transportation is not right or reasonable, especially without providing any number of other possible options to continue service and build the park (such as a turn-around for buses right near the park. The problem here is that they are taking a space that is widely used for a specific purpose, eliminating that purpose, and still expect it to be widely used. People come to parks on special occasions when they are out of the way like this one will be, they use them frequently when they are part of every-day life. This park, I believe, will fail to thrive, and in so doing, will create a patch of uselessness out of a well-used and important space in the area.

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