20 March 2013

A Conversation with Kids

I ate lunch with my daughter and her second grade class recently. I sat down and introduced myself as Matt, her dad.

Kid #1: Yeah, we know who you are.

Kid #2: You're the guy that always rides a bike.

Me: Yeah, most days I ride with my kids to school.

Kid #3: Matt, I just learned how to ride a bike two days ago!

Me: That's awesome, Kid #3!

Kid #2 (incredulously): Do you even have a car?

Me: Yes, our family has one car.

Kid #1: What kind of car is it?

Me: It's a van.

Kid #2: Then why do you ride your bike?

Me: Most of the time it's easier, especially to school. I can park right up front on the sidewalk and ride around the little traffic jams.

Kid #2 : You mean you ride in the street ?!

Me: Yeah, you're allowed to ride in the street as long as you follow the Rules of the Road. Did you know that most of the streets in this neighborhood were made before most people owned cars? Folks either walked or rode bicycles everywhere. And that was over 100 years ago.

Kid #4: What kind of van is it?

Me: It's a Honda. It's good for carrying lots of people or stuff, but we don't usually need it for getting to school. Plus our bike is cleaner than our car. Cars are pretty smelly.

Kid #1: Yeah, my friend has a van and the seats are all dirty and smelly, too. It's pretty gross.

Me: Uh, no, the inside of our van is pretty clean. I'm talking about the dirty fumes that come out of the back of the cars.

Kid #4: Our van has a pop-top so we can go camping.

Me: Cool!

And these are just the bits I can remember. The conversation went on for another 10 minutes as I encouraged them to talk less and eat more before heading for the playground. It's interesting to engage kids and let them pelt you with rapid-fire questions. You learn something about them and they learn about you. 

I left the school thinking about how kids still focus on cars as the most acceptable way to get around, even though I feel like Tacoma is shifting back towards a less car-centric way of life. It reminded me of the McCarver Elementary Safe Routes to School Program.  I'm hopeful that the program expands throughout the district, but thankfully our school is proactively addressing the pickup-dropoff traffic issue. They instituted a valet procedure for the private vehicles and added these cool crossing flag buckets to the busier intersections around the school that aren't flagged by volunteer crossing-guards.

Parking is still the main issue around our neighborhood school, which is bordered by narrow residential streets. I really like the "walk the last block" concept and try to live by it on the occasions when we need to drive. I think it's usually faster, safer, and easier. But that's also the main reason that I walk or ride, though I don't think most people look at our bike after school and think "convenience" or "safety."

I should probably eat lunch with my daughter at school more often.

06 March 2013

Bridges of Tacoma

With the recent reopening of the Murray Morgan Bridge, I've started thinking about some of Tacoma's bridges. The Murray Morgan, also known as the 11th Street Bridge, connects downtown to the working waterfront and the Port of Tacoma. It now has a dedicated bike lane in both directions.

There's the 21st Street Bridge, that connects downtown with Northeast Tacoma via WA-509. Bicycles are permitted, but I would recommend finding ways around it unless you are in a car.

Photo by Mrs. TBR

Of course, most folks think of the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge, which is now actually two bridges. The newer one has a separated multi-use lane that is amazing to ride or walk on, especially at night. Plus you don't have to pay the bridge toll if you walk or bike across. Cha-ching!

There are other bridges in Tacoma that don't span waterways, but until today I hadn't used one of the most visible of those land crossings. The 38th Street Pedestrian Bridge crosses eight lanes (or maybe 9 or 10?) of Interstate 5 in the middle of the city. This bridge has a long ramp on the west side near Costco. It's actually very easy to find and use.

I'll add that the main arterial intersection nearest to this point, South 38th and Steele, is probably the most pedestrian and bicycle UNfriendly intersection in the city, not to mention one of the busiest. This bridge is here for a reason.

As you get to the top of the ramp, look south and hear the 38th Street exit roaring along.

Or look north towards the never-ending reconstruction of the Highway 16/I-5 interchange. CHA-CHING.

I had already biked underneath the Highway 16 construction zone, waiting in line with the idling cars on South Tacoma Way. Maybe it was the construction, or maybe it was the rain, or maybe just the fact that I couldn't hear myself think through the traffic noise, but I looked like this as I crossed the bridge towards Jennie Reed Elementary and the East Side.

Whatever the reason may have been, I'm glad that the 38th Street Pedestrian Bridge is there. It made my ride safer and easier than using the main 38th Street Overpass. I was smiling again as soon as I was back on terra-firma, rolling away from the freeway.

From the East Side, I dropped down towards Hill Top and home. On the way, I figured out how to fit the Tacoma Dome on my bike rack.

There are many more bridges in Tacoma. Which bridges do you use?