Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The New Silverdate Transit Center = Regressive Infrastructure

It used to be fun to bike from Olympic View Road on Hood Canal to the Silverdale Transit Center and hop a bus to the Bremerton Ferry Terminal. It didn’t matter what time I got to Silverdale because the Transit Center was right outside the mall food court, a big glass atrium where I could fuel up and rest until the bus came.  If it was a sunny day, I could sit outside at the bus shelter surrounded by shrubbery and primroses.

But last winter when I rolled in to the Silverdale Mall there was no Transit Center there at all.   There were still some flower gardens and shrubbery but no bus stops, no benches, no shelters.  In their pace was a blank concrete wall with a barren sense of emptiness.  I rode around aimlessly until about a mile south on  Silverdale Way, I spotted a bus stop sign for the #17.  It was a cold rainy day, and I had no idea how long the wait would be so I just sat and shivered for about half an hour until it came.

The next time I headed out to Hood Canal from the Bremerton Ferry Terminal I planned ahead. Before putting my bike on the bus to Silverdale I checked the bus schedule which actually listed a place called the “Silverdale Transit Center” at the end of the line.  So there must still be such a place, just not the one I used to know.  The new one would be easier to find from this end because all I would have to do is put my bike on the bus and it would take me there.  From where ever it was, I would surely be able to find my way to the Silverdale mall and from there out to Hood Canal.

So there I was riding the #11 from East Bremerton to Silverdale as it roared over four to six lane roadways and charged up freeway ramps lined with those speeding lethal trajectories called automobiles.  I wondered when we would come down off this maze of mammoth concrete jungle spaghetti into the new Silverdale Transit Center which must surely be a habitable place possibly with a coffee shop or hot dog stand.  But we did not come down.  Instead the bus stopped basically at the middle of a huge freeway interchange.  The new Silverdale Transit Center was a little three sided glass huts in the midst of the most pedestrian unfriendly environment conceivable by the human brain, no hot dog stand, coffee shop or any sign of humanity. 

It crossed my mind to cancel my trip, stay on the bus, ride back to the Ferry Terminal and return home to Seattle.  But I wanted to walk on the beach at Hood Canal and reunite with old friends, so I bravely picked up my panniers and hesitantly prepared to disembark from the bus.  “How do I get to the Mall from here?”  I asked the driver.

“The number 12’ll be along in fifteen minutes,” she replied.

“ No, I mean how do I get to there by bike?

“Half mile that away,” said the driver pointing into the haze of a typical northwest winter day. Surely, a large place as the Silverdale Mall ought to be visible in the distance, but there was nothing but concrete freeways and on-ramps. 

I could not believe my eyes.   I am from Seattle, a city whose mayor has pledged to make ours one of the most pedestrian and bicycle friendly places in the world.   The evening before I had been doing my usual transit advocacy kind of thing, attending a meeting on how to make safe attractive streets for pedestrians and cyclists. 

I swallowed my anger, got off the bus, lifted my bike from the rack, loaded on my panniers, and headed in the direction the driver had pointed. But it was not long before I realized that I was headed down a ramp onto a freeway.   So I stopped, of course, and looked around, carefully studying my surroundings.  After a while I discerned off in another direction a traffic signal with a crosswalk which led to a busy four lane freeway overpass, not comfortable to cross by bicycle.

I reached my destination that day but not without a sense od deep indignation.  While some of us vision toward an alternative transportation future wherein cars will be considered unnecessary nuisances, the Kitsap County Commissioners, maybe even the whole County, maybe even most of the world, are still blithely and unknowingly building obsolescent structuress like the new Silverdale Transit Center.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Freedom is Coming and She's a Bike

Freedom is Coming and She’s a Bike

No, the old lady on a bike did not bike off into the eternal sunset.  She is still alive and pedaling even if, to be honest, often these days perched warm and dry on her indoor exercise bike looking out the window at roof tops and hillsides battered and drenched by Mother Nature. 
But the weather wasn’t what kept me from blogging last year.  It was the struggle to keep alive a business called Whistle Stop Co-op Café and Bike Shop.  It was a fun, but calamitous adventure that blew a gaping hole in our retirement piggy bank.
 One of the worst mishaps was the obliteration of 2/3 of Whistle Stop’s beautiful mural meant to enhance the neighborhood ad infinitum. Unfortunately  the colorful image of a biking lady in African dress, surrounded by verdant meadows and sweet charming friends, has been messily obscured with institutional green paint.  The reason is that we have rented the building to a nice gentleman who has deftly transformed it into an East African coffee shop.  I guess the poor guy didn’t realize that destroying other people’s art is a bit of a blunder in American culture.  But he has promised to replace the lady on the bike with a beautiful mural of an African savannah with a woman carrying a pot of water on her head.
“But the lady on the bike was even wearing an African dress!” I protested to the guy when I first saw green paint dribbling off the wall in her place. 
“Yes, but people kept coming in and asking me to fix their bikes,” he whined.  “I don’t know how to fix bikes!”
I guess I loved the young African lady on a bike so much because she was a woman-power salute painted on the busiest corner in southeast Seattle.
 Once in India I saw two women biking in saris and gave them the salute.  It brought to mind a Susan B. Anthony quote: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.  I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel  . . . the picture of free untrammeled womanhood.”
Maybe it’s too much to ask that African immigrant women to be thus emancipated so early in history.  Once I saw a little girl about eight years old in African dress out biking on the Chief Sealth Trail.  But I have never seen a grown woman  wearing a burka “ride by on a wheel."
To the contrary, the other day another East African gentleman told me that in their culture a woman walking in the street is suspected to be a “loose woman.”  I hope the man was exaggerating/spinning a yarn.  Next to riding my bike, my favorite activity is taking a walk.  I take one almost every day.  To be culturally and socially inhibited from walking down the street would be tantamount to prison.  Imagine being under house arrest for your entire life!
When I think back to the early days of the women’s movement, I wonder if it ever occurred to Betty Friedan and friends how lucky they were.  Maybe they were imprisoned within suburban homes with refrigerators and washing machines, but at least they could get out and take a walk a bike ride.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Success A La Whistle Stop Co-op Coffee and Bike Shop

It was June 21. Whistle Stop CoOp café and bike shop beside Othello Station was a hoppin’ full house. To think that half an hour before the party started, I was afraid no one would show up!

Our barista, Reese Kindle was a reincarnation of Lloyd Doss from “Sons of the Pioneers.” His friend, Ehran Fox, sounded like Joan Baez. Cheri Giducos from the UPS Store across the street belted out “I Will Always Love You” like Whitney Hueston herself. Kathya Alexander, our Whistle Stop Writers’ Workshop leader, told a couple riveting tales about growing up in the Arkansas during the Civil Rights Movement. It was like watching a movie. And there were more great musicians, story tellers, and even an amazing poet.

You may recognize June 21 as summer solstice, but here at Whistle Stop, and in fact across the Nation, it was “Dump the Pump Day”, promoted by the Sierra Club. So Whistle Stop teamed up with them to hold an open mic to kick off our “Live Free or Drive” campaign. Funded by a grant from Seattle Department of Sustainability and the Environment, “Live Free or Drive” enables Whistle Stop to give away free bikes and transit smart cards to income qualified people who want to commute by alternative transportation.

One customer told me that even if Whistle Stop never breaks even, we are never-the-less a big success. We adorn this corner in the Nation’s most multi-cultural neighborhood and build community by promoting bicycling and transit. A tiny voice crying out in a wilderness of cars, we are successful by reason of being what we are. A graduate student in architecture wrote a paper about Whistle Stop pointing out how much more environmentally friendly it was to recycle a trailer than to build something new. A PhD candidate in anthropology came by to interview us for her dissertation and agreed to run for the Board.

I didn’t know what to expect when we put a trailer on the vacant lot by the Othello light rail station. Likewise, I didn’t know what to expect when I put a sign on the corner kiosk: “FREE BIKES AND ORDA CARD - ASK AT WHISTLE STOP.” But let’s face it, it’s the unexpected coming into life that teaches us. As Charles De Bois once said, “The important thing is this: To be able to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”

The people who come in and apply for free bikes and ORCA cards are folks whose lot in life I would not have known otherwise. When I asked one of them, a soft spoken nice looking woman her address, she told me she had none. She is homeless. One gentleman told me his daily commute will be to a therapy center for people with AIDS. He wants the bike to improve his health.

After Mohamed Yussuf, Editor of Runta (Truth) the Somali newspaper, showed up at the Mosque with his new bike, several of his friends, including the Mullah, came to Whistle Stop next day to apply for free bikes. Previously they had believed that real Americans only drive cars. Unfortunately, it turned out a couple of them will have to learn to ride before we can give them bikes.

So following the wise counsel of Charles Du Bois, an old lady on a bike becomes an MC for a talent show, a turner of upside down somersaults in effort to promote a little side show called Whistle Stop Co-op. The next stunt I’m planning is to get a small Bob trailer and tow a sandwich board sign advertising Whistle Stop Co-op up and down Martin Luther King Way handing out flyers. All this might not save Whistle Stop, but this old lady has nothing much better to do than try.

What else is new at Whistle Stop? Besides coffee, beer and wine, Panini sandwiches, all day breakfast, and more. Whistle Stop now has ice cream bars. Doesn’t that sound yummy? Come by and try some.

Visit our website www.whistle-stop-bbb.org. If you would like to help Whistle Stop create community through bicycling and transit, click on Democracy Works, then "donate." Also visit www.facebook.com/WhistleStopCoOp.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dogs of Fear Pursue Old Lady on a Bike

I wake up each morning feeling like a cyclist pursued by a pack of barking dogs, namely my own fears, doubts, and self-recriminations,. What a stupid idea to open a coffee and bike shop in a neighborhood where folks are friendly and nice but don’t have many dimes to rub together. What was I thinking to blithely throw away my family’s safety and security in the middle of the worst recession since the one I was born into back into back in1939? Yesterday we took $123.10 into the till (and that was a fairly good day) what with our daily overhead expenses totaling nearly $300. What do I know about business anyway, having spent nearly all my working life within the safe territory of dependable government employment?

I conceived this crazy idea after the closure of Kwik Cup Espresso, the only place where decaf espresso could be bought in my neighborhood. “A neighborhood is not really a neighborhood without a coffee shop,” I said.

My original business plan, developed in May of 2010, declared that we had no competition, other than from a few East African and Vietnamese deli’s and bakeries that wouldn’t think of serving decaf espresso, let alone cappocino’s, frothy flavored lattes, and all the rest.

During the year and a half it took to get a permit from the city, Starbucks opened inside Safeway across the street. By this time our basement was full of espresso machines, grinders, refrigerators, café tables, sinks, plumbing, etc.. It was too late to turn back.

On the very same day the trailer that would house our Whistle Stop Co-op coffee and bike shop was moved onto its lot beside Othello light rail station, I made up a stack of brochures and ran over to distribute them at the opening celebration of the new apartment building on the opposite corner. “I’m opening a coffee and bike shop across the street,” I proudly proclaimed to an attractive young woman as I thrust a brochure into her hand.

The woman stared at me not too cheerfully. “I’m going to open a coffee shop right here in this building,” she said.

And that she did. A few months after the Whistle Stop Grand Opening Celebration, there appeared across the street a much bigger, fancier coffee shop than Whistle Stop ever thought of being. The intersection of Martin Luther King Way and Othello Street has four corners. One contains a five acre vacant lot that had been planned for development but abandoned after the recession. The other three now have espresso coffee shops.

So here sits Whistle Stop Co-op today, a sweet, restful space to hang out in despite that it’s basically a slightly glorified single wide trailer landscaped all around with little native plants struggling to take root at a busy intersection.

The Buddhist philosophy I’ve been studying tells me not to run from the dogs of fear but to get off my bike and look at them. Face my fears. Have compassion for myself and for them

So I’m standing there trying to befriend the dogs of fear with every bone I can think of.

Applying for grants
Sending out the Whistle Stop Weekly to members and friends
Contacting groups that might like to meet here
Inviting people to join the co-op
Organizing neighborhood projects and clean ups
Holding meetings, events and workshops
Trying to improve and re-improve the Whistle Stop menu

We’re using Whistle Stop as a venue to further community building, peace and justice activities, and other good causes especially alternative transportation. In fact, Whistle Stop will soon receive a $7K grant from Climate Action Network to give out free bikes and Orca transit passes as well as help with planning commute trips, weather apparel advise,to reduce car usage.

Whistle Stop Co-op isn’t trying to make a profit. That’s against our Articles of Incorporation. We just want to break even and, if possible eventually pay back some of the huge investment my husband Dick and I made from our retirement savings. It doesn’t cost anything to join, but if we were ever to make profits those would be divided among the customers according to how much they had spent and the employees according to how much they worked.

Right now we have 529 members. If every member or friend bought one meal and/or latte per week, or had their bike fixed, we’d be able to make the $300 a day and Whistle Stop would still be here this time next year.

Or you could make a donation to Democracy Works which helps Whistle Stop provide free bikes for poor kids, support our community building and educational projects, etc. To find the donation button, go to http://www.whistle-stop-bbb.org and click on Democracy Works at the bottom of the page.

Your feed back is also welcome at mona_lee@comcast.net.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Cycling the City of the Angels

Last week I took my Dahon folding bike with me on the Amtrak Coast Starlight to visit Mother Sun and Friend Nancy who lives on “Museum Row” near Wiltshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. Mother sun smiled on me every day as I toured the city by bike and the Metro rail system, temperatures ranging in the high 70’s to low 80’s.
Meanwhile Seattle continued to morose under cold, wet gloom.

What? You biked in LA? That’s the ultimate car world not a bike friendly city like Portland or Eugene! It’s true, LA isn’t big on bike lanes. Bikes are an after-thought or perhaps never thought of at all. Yet I found it delightful cycling there.

Wiltshire Blvd. spans the entire city. Many of its sidewalks, ranging up to 25 feet in width, are lined with palm trees, restaurants, stores and businesses. There are few big ugly gaping parking lots in view. An old lady on a bike has no problem, given L.A. ordinances allowing bicycling anywhere, so long as you don’t endanger people or property. Even if you are one of those hot shot speed-o spandex wearing cyclist, no problem. Wiltshire is so wide you almost have to look over the curve of the earth to the opposite side. There are 4-6 lanes for car traffic and parking lanes wide enough for semi’s but occupied mostly by small SOV’s or not at all. There is plenty of room to cycle on the street if that’s your style. And there are many big wide boulevards like that in L.A.

So. I have a suggestion about how the City could significantly reduce its colossal carbon footprint. Put some of those boulevards on road diets. By that I mean just restripe them, making the parking and driving lanes a little narrower. Then paint in bike lanes on either side to of the street. There’s oodles of room for bike lanes on LA streets. Can you imagine, with weather like that (83 degrees in January), how many thousands of commuters would get out of their cars and ride bikes?

On my second morning in LA I bought a camera with a zoom lens but no view finder. I’ve always been shy of new fangled cameras like that. But the store didn’t have any cameras with view finders, so I decided to give this technology a try, taking pictures when blinding reflections on the screen made it impossible to tell what was looking at.

But the result was often amazing when I would just point the thing at something and hope for the best. I took shots of many buildings, parks, murals and statues all over town. I took the Bunker Hill Steps, artwork inside the Central Library, the Flea Market and pedestrian mall fountain on Fairbanks. In Hollywood I shot Roy Rogers and Shirley Temple’s foot prints, costumed movie characters like Bat Man and Spider Man posing on the street. I captured huge wooly mammoths, camels and dire wolf skeletons at Wiltshire’s La Brea Tar Pits, gallery artworks across the street, and much, much more. What surprised me most were shots of famous paintings I took through windows of the LA County Museum of Art. Reflections of buildings blended with the paintings for some serendipitous composition. Building reflections also blend with my photo’s of manikins in a thrift store window on Fairbanks. You would almost think I was a hobby photographer, I had so much fun taking pictures.

See some of them at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=93983&id=1453599604&l=d31eb72711

Friends are puzzled when I tell them I was willing to spend 4 days getting to LA and back when a plane ride would have taken a only a few hours. But If you want to relax and get away from it all, why not do it on the train? You can wander about, get a snack from the lounge car, have dinner in the diner, or sit in the sunny dome car gazing at breath-taking views of forests, mountains, pasture lands, and waterways.
The best part is the opportunity to catch up on pleasure reading. I read The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and David Gutterson’s East of the Mountains with which I would not have found the luxurious time to entertain myself at home. I even did a modicum of writing, (this blog entry for example.)

How’s Whistle Stop coming? Still no permit from the City although I’ve been assured it’s right around the corner.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Whistle Stop Coffee and Bike Shop Sitll on Square One

Whistle Stop is trapped on square one. Its pawns are scattered all over the dank gray basement of our 100 year old house in the form of café furniture, bike tools, an espresso machine, grinder, files, architectural drawings, and much more. Whistle Stop even has a cool fan page: www.facebook.com/WhistleStopCoop. The fans are waiting.

It was early August when I first found my way to the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) located on the 20th floor of Seattle Municiple Tower. Though familiar to me now, It was new then, that big room with its long counter, waiting area with wall to ceiling windows looking out over the freeway and Seattle hill- scapes.

I plopped my shiny blue bike helmet on the counter and spoke to the woman behind the desk. “I want a permit to open a coffee and bike shop.”

She looked up at her computer screen “I’ll sign you up for a counseling session. There’ll be a wait. Do you have your plans with you?”

“Oh, yes,” I rummaged through my back pack and pulled out my 12 page business plan.

She shook her head. “I mean your drawings.”

I reached into my pack again and produced an 8 ½ X 11” piece of graph paper with a floor plan carefully drawn in pencil.

The woman suppressed a grimace which might have been the start of either a laugh or a frown. “It has to be an official architectural drawing with a site plan of the surrounding streets and sidewalks.”

I heard a laugh behind me. “You need an architect,” said a voice. “Our firm just finished designing a coffee shop.”

I turned around and looked up at the tall young man. “How much did it cost?”
He shrugged. “Oh, about four thousand dollars.”

Now I was the one who laughed. The value of this work of art in my hand was about ten cents for the graph paper. The design was free because it had erupted spontaneously from my brain.

I waited for about an hour before a different woman called me to another part of the counter. This woman told me I would indeed need architectural drawings, much larger, not on graph paper, but on vellum. She asked me the address of the building in which my shop would be located. I said I didn’t know the address but it was in a big building called the Citadel on the corner of Martin Luther King and Othello Streets beside the Station. So the woman called up her Google Earth, found the general vicinity and figured out the address. Then she looked at her computer screen and signed me up for an appointment with the microfiche section. She said to go and wait there until someone called my name.

I waited about twenty minutes before the man behind the counter called me up and handed me some little dark square films. He said to take them over to one of the microfiche viewers and look up the permit numbers for the address. He seemed to assume that I must know what I was doing or I wouldn’t be here.

Following the example of someone else, I went over and placed one of the little films on the glass tray under what looked liked a TV screen and shoved it in. I had done something like this some thirty or forty years before in another life, but I don’t recall the images being this confusing. Here were all these miniature forms with lots of helter skelter words and numbers. After searching at length without knowing whether or not I had found what I was looking for, I went back to the counter and asked the man if he could help me. “I’m not supposed to do this part,” he said. “Customers are supposed to do it themselves.”

I nodded. “It’s better to be independent,” I agreed.

The man shook his head but proceeded to do my work for me even though it wasn’t in his job description.

After a couple more DPD counseling appointments in August, I finally showed up in early September with some drawings that were good enough to be granted an “intake appointment” in mid October. It so happens that I have a kind neighbor named Jenny who is an architect. She had charged me considerably less than $4000

However, three days before the “intake appointment,” our game plan changed. Instead of renting the room in the Citadel which is in very bad repair, we were offered the opportunity to rent the vacant lot between the Citadel and the Station. We would buy an office trailer, fix it up like a bike and coffee shop and put it on the lot. This way we would have a nicer building in a more visible location.

I ran over to Jenny, and she miraculously came up with a fairly official looking set of drawings in a couple of days. This time I thought it might help to have some people less ignorant than me in my corner at the meeting. My husband went with me and so did Ed, the man from Jemco who wants to sell us the trailer, and Lyle, a DPD City planner who coordinates our Othello Neighborhood Plan.

A young man ushered us into an office cubicle with a wide table where we laid out our drawings. After we told him about our change of plan, he went out and came back with another woman who told me I should have canceled the appointment and made a new one because this was a new plan at a different address. It was of no consequence that the different address was only next door to the original one.

We would literally have to go back to the drawing board. We would need elevations depicting all four sides of the building as well as supportive detail of stairs, wheel chair ramps, etc. She gave us a booklet about rules regarding temporary buildings. She said that after we had these drawings done, we could make another “intake appointment.”

Jenny went right back to work for us, and we came back a month later with a huge roll of beautiful drawings in quintuplicate. But at the next “intake appointment” it completely different people who barely looked at our drawings. They said, “Our permits for temporary buildings are only for four weeks or six months,” This would not, of course, be enough time. The game had stopped. This was a new game with different rules, and our little piece on square one had nowhere to go as far as we could tell.

We found out that next year the City Council will consider a possible new ordinance that would allow temporary buildings on vacant lots where planned developments had been postponed due to the recession; our situation exactly. However, if the new ordinance passes with no contention, it will still take until May at the earliest to go into effect.

Now mind you, the people who work for the City of Seattle are really nice. Lyle said he and others are trying to help us. Ed, the trailer man, is trying to help us too. Maybe someone will figure out how the rules of this game will allow Whistle Stop off square one soon.