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Transit vote will affect Islanders

By MARY L. GRADY
Mercer Island Reporter Editor
April 17, 2014 · Updated 10:29 AM
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Both fans and workers crowd the buses on the day of the Seahawks Super Bowl victory parade in downtown Seattle, February 5. Just before the parade started at 10 a.m., more than 400 people were waiting in line. Local buses such as the 203, above, may be eliminated if the transit measure before voters does not pass. / Mary L. Grady / Staff Photo

Attorney Don Cohen lives on the South-end. He has worked at a law firm in downtown Seattle for 30 years. He said he drove to work the first day — since then, he has taken the bus.

Cohen said the hassle of driving and the expense of parking has kept him on the bus, most notably on Metro route 202 each day, leaving at either 6:15 or 6:50 a.m. from the South-end Shopping Center and returning to Mercer Island between 4 and 6 p.m. It is what he prefers.

“I am not a great lover of cars or driving,” he said.

By riding the bus, he has come to know many people over the past 30 years. There is generally a core of people who ride, he explained. Over the years, they retire or move. It seems that the riders have gotten younger, he said. But no less caring.

“We get visitors on the bus and they ask for help figuring out how to get to the high school or there are disabled riders, or new drivers. The riders are always willing to help,” he said.

There have been adventures. One winter night, there was a problem with the transmission and everyone had to get off in the dark, Cohen remembered. And one winter day, the driver decided to try driving down S.E. 24th Street. The bus skidded down the slippery hill.

The community continues off the bus as well.

When it snows or disaster strikes they often still ride together.

After the I-90 bridge sank in 1990, they banded together and  formed a carpool.

“We know we are all in this together,” he said.

It saddens Cohen to think of the routes being cancelled or eliminated.

“The plans to cut service are inconsistent with the values of our county and city,” he said. “And it will encourage more driving.”

But he said, the writing is on the wall. Changes are coming.

Under the present plan by Metro, the 202 schedule will be combined with the 204. The trip up S.E. 24th street to the on-ramp off West Mercer Way will be eliminated.

Cohen said that he would drive to the North-end Park-and-Ride if it came to that and jockey for a parking space along with everyone else, then grab a bus from there.

It is confusing to regular riders that the 202 will essentially be eliminated in favor of the 204.

"As for the 203/204, I don't know anyone who takes it," said rider W. Clark Powell. "It is our opinion that those poorly utilized routes should be canceled and replaced by routes on Mercer Island that are more heavily used.  One of those routes (the 203) is used to service the area around Covenant Shores, City Hall, JCC, etc.  Why couldn't the same thing be achieved by having I-90 buses take the East Mercer Way exit (as was done in years past)? I think we would see many more City employees take the bus since it would more than halve the travel time there.”

Island resident, Gi Gi Altaras has been riding the 205 for about two years. She works at Swedish Hospital on Capitol Hill.

"It is wonderful that it comes up to First Hill," she exclaims.

"There are so many good things about the 205 beyond its convenience," she said.

"I have gotten to know so many people. I would be very sad if it went away."

Along with the professionals who ride the early buses, there are students.

If the route, slated for cancellation, does go away,  it would present a huge inconvenience to her and others who ride the bus to work within the medical community on Seattle's Pill Hill, or to the University of Washington.

The proposed cancellation is puzzling, she said. The bus is often full. In the late afternoon, the bus is packed. On the way home she sometimes has to stand.

Without the bus, Altaras said that in order to get to work, she would take the bus downtown, then either walk up to Broadway or take another bus, but by first walking several blocks east and then waiting for another bus there. It would take a long time.

The changes don't leave much incentive to use transit, she said. Now commuters will be forced to get back in their cars, says Altaras.

Parking is hugely expensive she said, at least $12 a day in many lots. And it is scarce.

"It would be such a loss, she said. "We don't want to be greedy - we are just glad for what we have now."

Ann Rutledge is the director of kidney/pancreas transplant services at Virginia Mason Medical Center. She has lived on the Island since 1989.

She calls herself “a bus person.” She takes the 205 bus from the south end of the Island to work.

"One of the best things about being a bus rider is that it puts boundaries on your day," she said. "You have to leave to catch your bus. You can't stay and work 12 hours a day."

The abbreviated schedule of the 205 keeps riders on a strict schedule. "There are just a few runs in the morning," she said. "And when the University of Washington is on break, there are even less."

She takes the bus home from Virginia Mason at either 4:10 or 5:50 p.m. On that route there are all kinds of riders - many medical people, students and people headed to work.

There are unexpected pleasures, she said.

It was actually fun, she said of the Seahawks parade when thousands of fans filled downtown Seattle.

"It took an hour to get just a block or two on Boren Avenue," she said. "One rider jumped off the bus and ordered pizza."

Being on the bus is an avenue for community building, she explained. "You listen and learn from others and end up getting involved."

Rutledge said that sometimes the learning goes as far as to teach one another. She told a story of a young man at UW who was struggling with a subject. The student met a man who teaches at Seattle University  who regularly tutored the student while on the bus.


 


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