Rising to the Challenge of Bringing Kids on Transit

Following up on yesterday’s post about family-friendly transit, which generated a raft of interesting comments on Streetsblog New York (and even more on our SF, DC and LA sites), we’ve got a dispatch from the front lines. Carla Saulter, who writes the always excellent Bus Chick
blog out in Seattle, weighs in on how going from one kid to two has
made her car-free existence significantly more challenging, although
she remains characteristically undaunted:

busingwithtwo.jpgCarla Saulter has her hands full when she rides the bus these days. (Photo: Bus Chick)

The second time I rode the bus with both babies…I was parenting
solo, and, thanks to a morning errand in the neighborhood, arrived at
the 48 stop mere seconds before the bus did. I quickly removed Chicklet
from her stroller, but when I tried to fold it down, it wouldn’t budge;
a stack of papers I had tossed into the storage basket earlier that
morning was in the way.

While I squatted on the sidewalk, trying to un-jam the
stroller — with one hand on the baby (to prevent him from tipping out of
the sling-like carrier he’s riding in until he gets big enough for the real deal)
and one hand on Chicklet (to prevent her from running into the busy
street we were waiting near) — the bus pulled up, and folks started
boarding. When they finished, I was still struggling.

The driver peered out the door and asked politely, "Are y’all
coming?" but I was so embarrassed and discombobulated, I shook my head.

"I’ll just catch the next one," I said, and then watched as he closed the doors and drove away.

The three of us did, in fact, wait the 15+ minutes for the next bus… By the time we finally made it to the
park, I was stressed and tired, and we were late to meet our friends.

Carla’s
experience is certainly familiar to me. I’ve been the woman squatting
on the sidewalk trying to fold the stroller and finally telling the bus
to move on. There’s no doubt that designing transit vehicles to
accommodate strollers would make things a lot easier for parents, as
several commenters noted yesterday.

Still, I think attitude has a lot to do with it as well.

In
my case, my own childhood experience of using transit rather than cars
definitely played a factor. The first couple of years of my son’s life
in Brooklyn, we actually did own a car, but we only drove it when we
were leaving town (and we happily gave it up years ago). When I was
growing up in New York, it was just common wisdom that driving within
the city was frustrating, slow, expensive and scary. I’m not sure when
that perception changed, but it seems that it has. Many of the families
I know today, even in Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods where
traveling by transit or foot is genuinely easy, now choose to drive.

My
son’s whole life — he is now nearly eight — we have done almost all
our trips by transit, foot and bike. Sometimes we catch a ride with a
friend, but he often prefers to walk. Every now and then we use a car
service or cab. Once or twice a year we rent a Zipcar. On plenty of
occasions, we have experienced a smoother, more enjoyable trip to our
destination than friends who have traveled the same route by car.

The
converse is occasionally true as well. But all in all, I have to agree
with Carla when she says, "There are certainly challenges, but every
choice comes with challenges, and I’ll
take mine over all of the drawbacks of driving."

  • The problem I have is the idea that we’re supposed to be totally cool with crappy transit. In LA the way it is this is not cool. We are not complaining or not sucking it up. Yes there is give and take with alt transit, but the bus service the way it is in LA and the affordable housing issue this is not acceptable. This is not something we should just have to put a happy face on.

    I’m very happy when I see mom’s like Carla and Sarah doing it, but LA is real different.

    NY and Seattle are very different than LA transit. We need help, real help down here.

    Browne

  • joe

    The other day I went out to the garage to bike my kid to daycare, sadly my daddy bike had a flat and so I took the local bus. I took my daughter on the bus for the first time that day.. I’m lucky because I have a bus stop right outside my front door. Even though it’s a close bus-stop and they run fairly often. I still was slightly annoyed.

    To start, the first bus I was going for came 5 mins early. when you have a 2 year old in tow its tough to stand still for the next 20 minutes. So the bus comes, and I’ve got a diaper bag and a 30 lbs little girl and what do I see, every person that is sitting on the bus in taking the inside seat with their backpack on the window seat to make it look occupied (hoping nobody sits next to them).

    Well I just had to annoy someone and squeeze my 220 lbs body, plus diaper bag and child past their knees to grab the empty window seat and sit her on my lap. My kid is what made it a great trip, she really enjoyed talking to the annoyed stranger next to me and looking out the window pointing stuff out loudly. As an added bonus, I got off the bus before the annoyed stranger, so I had to squeeze past him yet again. I enjoyed that.

    On return bus from our trip, a bus must have been abducted by aliens, because the 10:45 bus didn’t come at all and the 1105 bus was late by 5 mins. God I love Los Angeles! Next time I’ll just change my flat tire and take my bike with the kid on the back. It’ll save me a load of time!

  • ds

    There isn’t a city in the world where busses actually come on time (unless it’s a busway with a dedicated lane). It’s just not possible if the bus has to navigate surface traffic and stop where the passengers want to get off and stay on schedule. The difference is that for some routes the frequency is high enough that it doesn’t really matter.

    What LA really needs is a NextBus service. In cities where they have it it’s a lifesaver.

  • Great story, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

  • David Galvan

    Joe: I share your annoyance with all the people who decide to sit in the outer bus seat when they don’t really need to. You’d think one of them would have at least moved when they saw you get on the bus with your daughter. People tend to shut down into this “don’t talk to anyone. . . look straight ahead.” shell when on the bus.

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