| By Leslie Wolcott |
I talk about transportation and transit a lot. So much that I’ve recently joined Metroplan Orlando’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. But, I haven’t actually ridden the bus that much. My husband rides more than me, so on November 4 I set out with him to go from home to UCF (and back) on the LYNX number 13 bus. Strangely enough, that day city workers were digging a brand new sidewalk in front of our house, which we are much relieved to finally have, considering that Orlando is one of the most dangerous places in the country to be a pedestrian.
We chose a day that we didn’t have to arrive early, had an easy commute to Bikes, Beans Bordeaux Café (B3Cafe) and sat down for a cup of coffee and an hour or two of work. We left B3 to walk the approximately half a mile to the bus stop well ahead of when we expected the bus to arrive. Because if you miss the number 13 you don’t get another chance to catch it until an hour later. But, 13 arrived within ten minutes of its scheduled time. We were able to find a seat. I noticed a few older men get off at the VA hospital. The bus was quiet at midmorning. I was thinking it was less stress than driving, but riding with someone reduced my first time rider anxiety. So did having a phone. You can do a lot of things with a friend and a phone; you can take notes; you can surf the Internet; you can have a conversation about the state of Veterans healthcare in the country.
Doug pointed out a homeless gentleman on a bus bench along Aloma. He didn’t board the bus. I intentionally chose my week to ride the bus during the week of Legal Aid’s Breakfast of Champions. I had gone to the event just the day before, and I was thinking about the gentleman, a veteran, who shared his story of losing his house due to hospital bills, or the young woman all on her own, aging out of foster care at age 18 with very little extra money or support. When they ride the bus to a job interview or a doctor’s visit, what messages are they getting about themselves as riders?
Looking up, I noticed advertisements from catholic charities encouraging giving up a kid for adoption: another sign offered help to quit smoking: yet another to reduce grocery bills through services at a food bank. None of these ads suggest an anticipated rider of choice audience. In other words they’re assuming a captive rider-audience with certain characteristics. They assume that if you’re pregnant, you’re thinking about having an abortion; that if you smoke, you need to be told to quit; that you probably don’t have the ability to find healthcare on your own. Many of these services are helpful, or at least are not directly harmful, but if you’re trying to attract people who want to ride the bus of different incomes, declaring them incompetent or indigent through advertising is probably not a savvy move.
We rode the bus to campus to see a speaker, Samuel Sinyangwe. He’s put a lot of work into a project called Campaign Zero, which has recently unveiled a platform of ideas to reduce police violence, particularly against people of color, nationally. Sinyangwe is young, maybe 25, and very good at talking about data and dominant narratives that he’s trying to contradict with that data. But one of the things I noticed when he was talking, is that the people in the room had no qualms about interrupting him. We were talking about race; we were talking about police; we were talking about authority. And yet, with seemingly little sense of irony, someone told him that she just didn’t believe any of the claims he was making.
It’s fairly unhelpful to make assumptions about people: that everyone riding the bus is in need of some kind of charity or assistance; that a speaker is not well informed because he is young; that a person is dangerous because of the color of their skin.
We stayed maybe two or three minutes after the talk, then stopped at the bathrooms and by the time we made it across campus to the bus stop – which is probably one of the nicest Lynx bus stops in town – it was too late. So we went to Wackadoo’s, a UCF hangout which has beer and wings and waited for the next bus an hour from then. As we downed some slightly less than healthy calories, I thought about the way that waiting around for transportation might encourage some less than ideal health choices. Do you pass the time by eating, smoking, drinking a soda?
The student/ waitress at Wackadoo’s, Alicia, said she used to ride one shuttle to and from UCF that was extremely reliable and came every 8 minutes. When she moved farther out, she still rode the shuttle but because it depends on Alafaya (SR434) traffic, she said, it takes 30, 45, even 50 minutes so she started driving again. This is a problem that happens whether your bus service is private or public. The frequency of the shuttle or bus affects riders of choice, more than riders of need. But to have a thriving public transit system you need both groups of riders to be willing to use the bus frequently. I thought about Alicia’s waiting for her bus as we waited over an hour first at Wackadoo’s and then at the nice UCF bus stop which became less and less nice as the bus became later and later.
We arrived at that stop at 5:45. By 6:21, we were not yet to State Road 417, which marks significantly less than half the distance of the route we had to travel. The ride was quiet, but it was much longer than on the way in due to traffic.
When we finally arrived at our stop, my companion pulled the signal for the bus to stop and we exited. Our stop is in a leafy neighborhood right next to a crosswalk the crosses Corrine Drive. I would not have thought of this but the crosswalk is right next to a right-turn lane. It is incredibly dangerous. People come flying down General Rees Avenue and don’t even notice the crosswalk or the humans standing dangerously close to it thinking they can cross simply because they have a walk signal. Don’t be fooled. The little man who looks like he’s walking means proceed with extreme caution. And if you get hit it will be considered not really the car’s fault.
You see I’ve been following the headlines in the Orlando and Tampa newspapers when pedestrians get hit by cars.
First, all human agency is removed from the action of the headline.
“Car hits pedestrian.”
“Bicyclist killed after being struck by vehicle.”
Second, there is sure to be a line about whether or not the pedestrian was perhaps drinking, under the influence of drugs, or God forbid not in a crosswalk, or maybe just indigent or homeless.
It often seems like the implication is that pedestrian deaths are sad, but not the driver’s fault. Almost never do we discuss nonhuman actors that might be to blame, things like infrastructure or laws that decide what punishment is to be meted out when a pedestrian is killed.
Taking our lives in our hands–or our feet, I guess, we ran across Corrine Drive. From there we simply had to walk three quarters of a mile home in the dark after which I collapsed on the couch. By the end of the day I had clocked over 5 miles walking—largely to and from bus stops.
I love biking, walking, and generally not being in a car. This was a fun one-day adventure, but for me to take advantage of Lynx for more than the Citrus Bowl shuttle at Orlando City games, we have to improve: pedestrian safety, bus frequency, transfer connectivity. And I think we need to realize as a community that we are all riders of choice one day, and captive riders the next. Finally, as people who walk or wheel for fun, we need to realize that improving each aspect of connectivity and multimodal transportation helps improve each non-car experience that we have—and the in-car experiences too.
Leslie Wolcott is finishing her final semester teaching Writing and Rhetoric at UCF, where she encouraged students to ride and think about public transit. She’s the new Communications Director for the Florida Policy Institute, which is a statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that considers the effects of Florida’s budget, tax, and economic policies on that state and its people.