Why We All Should Try a Week Without Driving

By Veronica Jarvis

Where do you look for transportation information? Google? A maps app? How would you get there if you couldn’t drive? How do you know which transit system operates in which region? How much is the fare? Are there bike lanes and sidewalks on your route? 

I have been a transportation planner for three years, but these questions have plagued me for much longer. I remember learning to use the bus as a middle schooler and wondering why the schedules didn’t align between the two bus systems. I remember biking to school in high school and college, in places with no bike lanes and poor lighting. Seeing cars parked on sidewalks or a lack of sidewalks, so the safest option for a person using a wheelchair is the bike lane or street. Working as a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) planner most recently, my eyes have been widened to the inequities built into our streets. This is my second year participating in the Week Without Driving, and it won’t be my last. 

In my day job, I recognize the duty I have to plan transportation systems for ALL road users; the older residents in my area who are transitioning away from driving or choose not to, the people with disabilities who rely heavily on transit and sidewalks, the youngsters in my neighborhood who walk and roll to school, the people in our community who can’t afford to drive and rely on our fare-free transit system. And everyone who wants to live in a walkable neighborhood where they feel safe getting around. A lot of those trips don’t happen in a car. 

Transportation demand management sounds like jargon, but it encompasses many of the transportation modes we all rely on. TDM is the use of strategies to inform and encourage travelers to maximize the efficiency of our transportation systems. I provide information on transit, biking, walking, sharing a ride and everything in between, to make the most of our current infrastructure. So…what does that look like?

  • I share the awesome resources produced by my organization like our Thurston County Bike Map, or our Here to There website to inform residents of the many options for getting around our community, including via Intercity Transit and ruralTRANSIT.  
  • I encourage people to get involved with transportation planning in the region by weighing in on documents like our Regional Trails Plan or our Human Services Transportation Plan.
  • I share information and make presentations about how to get to around our region without a car, including detailed plans on getting to the airport, Seattle, and Portland by bus or train. 
  • I manage our local Commute Trip Reduction program, coordinating with worksites in our region on providing options for their employees to get to work in a sustainable way. 

One of my main goals for the Week Without Driving is to get people in my community, including transportation leaders, out experiencing our transportation system without driving. How can anyone make transportation system decisions if you don’t consider it through all the modes? Last year I led a bus tour down one of our busiest corridors. It had frequent service but crossing the five-lane crosswalk to and from the bus was intimidating to all of us. This year, the transportation leaders in my area will join me on a bus trip to our local mall, a future site of more transit-oriented development. What challenges will we face this time? We won’t know until we experience it. And I can guarantee we will come back with new ideas on how to make the trip better for all users. I would encourage everyone to give the Week Without Driving a try, so you can see each journey you take through a new lens. 

Veronica Jarvis, TDM-CP is the Senior TDM Planner with Thurston Regional Planning Council in Olympia Washington.