Erin Musser, who uses a wheelchair, approaching a light rail to board

A ‘Week Without Driving’ Is a Year-Round Experience for Some King County Residents

by Lizz Giordano

For Kris Colcock, a 20-minute appointment may take all day to complete — and several buses. Colcock, who is blind and lives on Bainbridge Island, relies mainly on public transportation to get around. 

You can spend a day doing something that takes just a few hours for a person driving, said Colcock, the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. “There’s a lot of planning that goes into using public transportation only.”

Last week, scores of elected officials and government workers took the second annual Week Without Driving challenge, sponsored by Disability Rights Washington. The event challenges drivers to move around the region on foot, bike, or public transportation, which is a reality many in the region face every week. Some are unable to drive or cannot afford the cost of a vehicle; for others, it’s a lifestyle choice.

After emerging from the Beacon Hill Station, Erin Musser quickly tries to pivot her wheelchair back out of the street after a curb ramp dumps her into the road and almost into an oncoming truck. 

“Not all curb ramps are put in right,” the typically playful Musser says with a laugh. As she navigates from the light rail stop, she avoids a sidewalk with a large uplift, choosing one she knows offers a smoother path. 

There are streets she avoids, and getting to new places takes planning. Musser, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, plans her life around light rail stops. 

She lives a short roll from a South End light rail stop, and her doctor isn’t far from the new U District Station that opened last year. As Sound Transit expands the light rail, more of the region is becoming accessible to her. 

“It’s opened up a lot of things,” Musser said. “It’s so easy and seamless.”

Now, she can get herself to Northgate to see friends who once had to trek down to her part of the city for a visit. She prefers to take the light rail rather than a bus because she’s able to get on and off independently.

Erin Musser, who uses a wheelchair, crossing a crosswalk on her way to the Beacon Hill Station
Erin Musser heads to the Beacon Hill light rail station. (Photo: Lizz Giordano)
Erin Musser taps her card before taking the elevator down to the Beacon Hill Station platform
Erin Musser taps her card before taking the elevator down to the Beacon Hill Station platform. (Photo: Lizz Giordano)

White Center resident Olga Lopez’s bus stop is conveniently located just two blocks from her house, though sometimes she ends up waiting 30 minutes for the bus when she goes grocery shopping. 

“Having a car is expensive, and especially now that the gas is very expensive,” Lopez said through a Spanish language translator.

Even the price of a bus ride can add up, especially if the transfer period ends and Lopez needs to pay for another ticket to complete her errand. Lopez knows an ORCA card would be cheaper than paying for cash each ride, but she said that when she called the customer service line, there were no Spanish speakers. 

Fellow White Center resident Isabel Quijano also doesn’t drive. Instead, she relies on buses and the light rail to get her where she needs to go, and for the most part, they do. Yet safety has been a growing concern, especially since the pandemic. Both the lack of bus cleanliness and undesired behavior from other passengers keep Quijano from taking her grandkids on the bus.

There’s only so much bus drivers can do about the smoking and drinking she sees on the bus and at bus stops, Quijano said. 

“My suggestion, my plea, is to resolve the homeless crisis. It’s out of hand, and it’s making people feel insecure,” she said through a Spanish translator. 

Beacon Hill resident and social studies teacher Anthony D’Amico prefers to bike and ride public transportation to and from his workplace north of the ship canal. 

“For my wife and I, it is about the environment, it is about wanting better cities designed for people, not for cars, and only having one car helps us save,” he said over email. 

He wants to see more bike lanes in the city. 

“There are lovely trails along the waterfront, ship canal, and the Burke-Gilman, but too often going somewhere means being on a street or busy arterial, where it can be dangerous,” D’Amico said. “I cannot even tell you how often a huge truck zips right by me on 15th Ave. S. When did trucks all become the size of tanks?”

During the pandemic, South End bus routes retained some of the highest ridership in King County Metro Transit’s system. A lot of these riders are very dependent on public transportation and never left, said Terry White, Metro’s general manager. “That ridership was absolutely more consistent and higher in the south than it was in any other regions.”

“I love that the county transit system took me to a lot of places,” said White, who grew up in a carless household in the South End. “But I have a very vivid memory of places that we could not get to, because the system either didn’t run late enough, or didn’t run frequent enough, or where it just simply didn’t go to that part of the region.”

Buses and trains remain a main mode of transportation for White. 

“I tend to ride every chance I get. And it does remind me of the challenges that many of our riders face,” White said. He also signed the Week Without Driving pledge.

In 2025, the Federal Way Link Extension is set to open. With that will come a major restructure of Metro bus routes to create a hub-and-spoke system to feed the growing light rail system, changing how many people will move around South King County. 

As Metro dives into planning, White sees riders’ needs grow the farther south they live.

“The convenience to get to where we’re running service is not always easy. Affordability might become greater the farther you get from the epicenter of our region,” White said. “But that also is coming with less frequent service, less reliability, and more distance that has to be covered just to begin your journey.”

Erin Musser on a sidewalk in Beacon Hill, holding a coffee and looking off to the side of the camera
Erin Musser avoids a sidewalk with a large uplift, choosing one she knows offers a smoother path. (Photo: Lizz Giordano)
Erin Musser approaching the Beacon Hill Station elevator in her wheelchair to travel down to the platform and board the light rail
Erin Musser, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, plans her life around light rail stops. (Photo: Lizz Giordano)

Lizz Giordano is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Seattle’s Rainier Valley focusing on transit and housing. She can be reached on Twitter @lizzgior, and more of her work can be found on her website.

📸 Featured Image: Erin Musser prefers to take the light rail rather than a bus because she’s able to get on and off independently. (Photo: Lizz Giordano)

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