Adventures in navigating the streets of Seattle

I recently moved to Seattle from Fort Collins, Colorado. My decision to leave my car behind was influenced by several thoughts: I had come to terms with the fact that my 1992 Honda probably wouldn’t make the drive, having a car in the city might be a burden, and Seattle is known for its bike advocacy and friendliness. In my adventures traveling around the city, I have found a couple of resources that I find to be useful and thought I’d share them for those of you also new to Seattle and interested in getting around by foot/bicycle/public transportation.

Before moving here I had only visited once, and although I had heard plenty about the weather, I knew nothing about Seattle’s geography. I will admit that when I first came here, the realization that this city looked more like what I’ve heard of San Francisco made me question how Seattleites ever managed to ride bikes. Fort Collins is on the edge of the flat, agricultural, amber-waves-of-grain part of Colorado and is generally a place where it is a piece of cake to ride a bike.

I originally intended to bike to Volunteer Park on my first bicycle outing, however I bypassed that and went straight to Interlaken Park. Interlaken Park is a lazy winding road through a lush green forest, filled with ferns and covered in moss, and quite unlike any forest I’ve seen in Colorado. I was blown away and thus continued riding my way through, staring at the beautiful scenery and while it was a glorious downhill ride it was another story on the way back. So this is where I will make my first piece of advice, check out the route you are taking on Google Maps.Map screen shot

You certainly cannot avoid hills all together in this city, but you can try to take the route that is going to cause you more pain than its worth. When you plan out your route on Google Maps, it gives you elevation gain/loss so you can adequately prepare and you won’t be as surprised as I was. By toggling back and forth between the different route options you can chose the one with the difficulty level you are going for. Another useful feature for bike commuters is the ability to turn on a filter that shows you bike paths, streets that have bike lanes, streets that are bicycle friendly etc. All of these features make Google maps, the online version and app version, an excellent resource for people in Seattle who want to travel by bike.

Along with google maps, there are a couple of other resources I’ve found helpful in navigating the city on bike. Community Transit is a great resource for getting around the city with no car, it basically has every bike path you wanted to know about! If you are a little more old school and prefer a map you can hold in your hand, you can request one from the Seattle Department of Transportation for free, in addition to viewing online.

I should note that at this time, I had not purchased a helmet and was riding very unsafely. It wasn’t until I read an article in a freely distributed publication called Bicycle Paper that I ran out and bought a helmet before I got on my bike even one more time. Besides the fact that there is actually a fine for riding with out a helmet, sharing the road with much larger and sturdier cars is dangerous. Helmets, reflectors, wearing reflective clothing, and lights (especially if riding at night) go a long way towards making you more visible to car drivers. Bells are also not a bad idea in the event you need to make your presence known to either another bicyclist or car driver. Personally I feel that the more informed people are about bikes, the safer bike riding will be and this includes using hand gestures to signal to everyone around you what your intentions are. You can brush up on all your hand traffic signals here on the City of Portland (our rival bike-friendly city) website.bike-signals

Riding a bike around the city but it becomes much safer and less intimidating if you are prepared and know what you are doing.

That being said, there are probably many of you out there that are not into the idea of riding up and down steep hills with cars zooming around you. Not having a car in the city is not a big challenge so far but there are definitely tricks that make it easier. The King County Metro system has a couple hundred routes around the greater Seattle area to help commuters get around without with out worrying about parking, traffic etc. Transit maps are available at many places throughout the city, the Seattle Public Library being one of them; however staring at the hundreds of maps is not very useful if you aren’t familiar with the area. This is where I thanked the gods for smart phone technology and started using one of the many transit apps available. One Bus Away is a popular app that many Seattleites use daily.

IMG_2518 This app allows you to zoom in on your location to see which busses come to stops near you and when they will arrive.

Another useful app is Transit, which is similar to One Bus Away, shows you bus lines around the city and gives you real time data about when they will arrive at a bus stop near you. My favorite feature of this app is trip planning, so you can plan to arrive somewhere at a specific time and tells you each bus you should take including transfers to other lines.

IMG_2516IMG_2517

My only gripe about these apps is although they brag about having real time data about when busses will arrive and other similar info, they still are not always 100% accurate and thus can create some problems if the 8 route comes five minutes early and you’re now late to your lunch meeting.

Taking the bus every day can eat up all your change, each ride around Seattle is generally $2.25-$2.50. Getting an ORCA card from SDOT is an option that allows you to save up all your pennies. Seattle University students are also eligible for discounts on cards, and you can either pay by the quarter or for the whole year. Checkout the SU ORCA card website.

These resources are all great ways to get around the city on a day to day basis, but what about a safe late night ride home? Luckily there are always taxis, or even services like Uber. Uber is essentially a taxi service where every-day-Joes can sign up to give people rides in their with their own cars. The Uber app allows you to see cars in your area and request a ride at any time. The app also connects to your whichever account you choose, so you even pay the person driving you through the app. Its a catch-22 though and prices vary based on the demand for rides, so the rides can be either very cheap or very not. There are also car sharing services such as Car2Go. By being a member of this service, you can find any smart Car2Go car near you and use it at a low cost per mile. This is ideal for short one way trips. If you are looking for longer, round trip transportation, consider checking out zipcar. Zipcar allows you to use a variety of vehicles to fit individualized needs, and Seattle University even partners with zipcar to get you a discounted membership. Many of these services offer free rides, or a free month for being a new member or a student, so the time to sign up is now!

All in all I’ve found many different ways to get around the city so far, and each one offers its own unique view of Seattle city life. I’ve discovered that “real” Seattleites don’t carry umbrellas, and the hardcore ones ride their bikes in all kinds of weather.  Biking is a fun way to get around, and to get your exercise without going to the gym. If that isn’t for you there are a myriad of different ways to get around, and the ones I’ve just told you about are just some of them. Whichever way you choose for travel make sure you are always safe and be aware of your surroundings. If you have anything interesting to add about the way you get around, comment below, tweet us @SeattleU_GSC or write us on Facebook. Follow us on social media to find out more updates throughout the year and attend our awesome upcoming events!

Ona Fisher , Student Development Administration 2016 /  Vice-Chair of Community Relations, GSC 14-15

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