This week, from June 10 to June 16, several Montgomery County elected officials and planning board members have pledged to leave their personal vehicles parked at home. These officials will put their pro-transit public positions to the test as they attempt to use public transit or active transport (foot, bicycle, scooter) to attend all work business and personal activities. If you are a resident of Montgomery County, even if you aren’t a public official, you should join them!
This #TransitChallege is organized by Action Committee for Transit (aka ACT for Transit), a transit and land use reform advocacy non-\profit based in Montgomery County. ACT board members were inspired by social media from the city of Ottawa, which held a similar event in February where city councilmembers pledged to give up their cars for a week of Canadian winter. Ottawa councilmembers learned and tweeted about their experiences, both the good and less enjoyable.
Sandra and I on our way to the Byward Market and Sparks Street for @Winterlude on this beautiful winter day . The bus is very full. Some shelters have a thick coat of ice in them. #OttTransitChallenge pic.twitter.com/7z5cDyuBiY— Jean Cloutier (@AltaVistaWard18) February 9, 2019
So far, nine public officials in Montgomery County have committed to the #TransitChallenge. This number includes five members of the county council (at-large members Evan Glass, Hans Riemer, Will Jawando, and Gabe Albornoz, and district 1-Bethesda representative Andrew Friedson) and three members of the county planning board (chair Casey Anderson and members Natali Fani-Gonzalez and Tina Patterson). Kacy Kostiuk, a councilmember from the City of Takoma Park, who tweeted her experiences trying a car-free commute earlier this year, will also be participating.
As a recent report in the Washington Post found, the vast majority of Marylanders in the Washington region use their personal car to get around. But if you look closely at the poll, you’ll notice that 15% of people in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have not used a personal vehicle in a year, and a third have ridden a bus and a quarter have biked to get places within the last 12 months. These car-free and car-light individuals are constituents too, and as climate change looms and our population grows, more of us will have to join them.
However, as regular readers of this site are aware, it’s not always easy to get around suburban (and even some urban) areas in our region without a car. Bus stops often lack shelter from the elements, or even a place to sit, and are sometimes situated inches from high speed traffic. Bus and Metrorail can be unreliable, even during peak commute hours. It’s not uncommon for Metrobus and Ride-On to skip a scheduled run without warning, leaving riders waiting longer than expected (and often resorting to ride-hailing).
Many streets and roads outside of central business districts lack safe accommodations for pedestrians or cyclists (or scooters). The traffic on our wide multi-lane state highways usually moves too aggressively for all but the most intrepid cyclist. Often people on bikes must resort to narrow sidewalks that aren’t wide enough to safely pass any pedestrians they may encounter.
Nevertheless, leaving your car at home can have unexpected rewards (I do it most days by choice). Walking and biking count as exercise, releasing endorphins and often making for a better mood once you arrive at work (assuming you have a good, safe route). I’ve gotten to know many of my neighbors by walking and taking the bus, and I predict that public officials taking the challenge will get to interact with constituents they may not normally see at town halls or campaign events.
We previously noted that Evan Glass already occasionally takes the bus, and is likely aware of both the rewards and pitfalls. The rest of the officials who’ve volunteered for the challenge have a history of supporting and advocating for bus riders, pedestrians, and cyclists, and we’re excited that they’re walking the walk for a week.
We hope that other members of the county council and planning board, many of whom have been strong supporters of pedestrian/bike safety and transit, will also join the #TransitChallege, if only for a day or two. There’s an open seat on the planning board this year, and it would be great to see the shortlisted candidates explore county infrastructure from outside of their vehicles.
We’d especially love to see Montgomery County executive Marc Elrich, who campaigned on his opposition to highway widening and boosterism of Bus Rapid Transit, post some bus selfies!
In order to help novices navigate the unique hazards of a car-free commute, bus veterans Rachel Taylor and Kacy Kostiuk tweeted out words of wisdom from moving around the county by bus and bike. Taylor’s thread includes comprehensive tips on where to get schedule information, what to wear, what to carry when travelling by public transit, and the unique considerations of commuting by bike.
Add some extra time to your walking route on your #TransitChallenge because you’re bound to run into constituents who want to talk on your way to/from the bus stop or Metro station. Having a chance to talk with more people is one of the best parts of not driving!— Kacy Kostiuk (@kacykostiuk) June 7, 2019
Some of our local officials are going to embark on the #transitchallenge next week (hooray!), so here are some (or rather, many) tips. Transit 101 (also, the 101 is a good Ride On route).— Rachel Taylor (@rachelvetica) June 6, 2019
ACT for Transit also encourages all Montgomery County residents, not just current or prospective government officials, to join the #TransitChallenge this week. See this Facebook event page for more details. And if you can’t quite do all your trips without calling an Uber or Lyft (or a friend), we understand, and hope you’ll tweet, and more importantly, think about why that is.
Whether you’re participating or not, please use the hashtag #TransitChallenge to share your experiences with commuting this week and to follow the adventures of your public officials. Happy travels, and wishing everyone good weather!