For the approximately one-quarter of Americans who can’t, don’t, or choose not to drive, a week without driving is just another week. But most American adults do drive and they rely on cars and car infrastructure. And when drivers are in charge of making decisions about the way our built environment serves people, they may always realize or appreciate the challenges and barriers for those who don’t drive. In order to truly walk in the shoes (or roll in the chair) of others, people in positions of power need to get out of their cars and onto those unpaved shoulders, those muddy desire paths, and those massive parking lots that nondrivers navigate each day.
That’s the theory behind the Week Without Driving, a campaign hosted by a Seattle group called the Disability Mobility Initiative. The idea: To ask decision-makers at all levels of local government to forgo driving for one week to experience what seniors, young people, people with disabilities, and people without the financial means to have and drive a car experience when they try to get around. And it works.
In our latest webinar, we heard from Pierce County Councilmember Jani Hitchen, who explained the struggles she encountered during her week.“One of the first things I noticed when I went to catch the bus was that I do not have sidewalks from my house to the bus stop,” she explained. “I had broken sections of pavement, I had potholes…when I was walking early in the morning, I brought a flashlight to make sure I didn’t hurt myself. It’s just little things like that. When I get in my car in front of my house, I don’t have to worry about that. But if I don’t have a car? I had to worry about that.”
Organizer Anna Zivarts, who runs the Disability Mobility Initiative, says that experiences like Hitchen’s are exactly why it’s so important to get elected officials to participate and truly live the challenges that nondrivers know so well.
But in order to do that, she noted that people with access to elected officials had to make the ask and then follow up. The success of the campaign requires transportation heads and transit agencies to “see the press we got and the shift in perspective of some of the elected officials” was critical. When staff and leadership for local elected officials participated, transportation officials saw new potential for support, they could ask for more active transportation funding and other fixes.
Devin Silvernail, a staffer for Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales, shared his own personal experience as a non-driver. He also made a video that is worth watching.
Zivarts also gave concrete ideas and tips for folks looking to try a campaign like this in their own hometown. The most important element, she said, was to leverage any and all connections you may have. That means advocates at the grassroots level and
“See who’s willing to take on the challenge!” Zivarts laughed, adding that her best advice was just to ask for support in “every way possible.”
“Go through that process,” Hitchen said, speaking to her fellow elected officials, “because it makes it easier for you to empathize.”If you missed our last webinar, we had a fantastic discussion with transportation planners about why arterials are dangerous by design. You can watch it here.
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