Best of the Month | What we learned from A Week Without Driving 

SDOT staff riding a bike and scooter down the new 4th Ave protected bike lane. Photo: SDOT 
SDOT staff riding a bike and scooter down the new 4th Ave protected bike lane. Photo: SDOT 

The challenge: Can you go a week without driving?   

From October 22-29, Disability Rights Washington challenged elected leaders and transportation and transit agency staff to go without driving themselves for a Week Without Driving. More than 100 participated, including SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe, members of the SDOT senior leadership team, and staff from across the department.  

The purpose of the week is for the people who help build our transportation system to gain perspective on what it’s like to not be able to drive, and to better understand what it’s like to try to navigate your communities without the ability to drive.  

Participating in the week can show how difficult it can be for people with disabilities, young people, seniors, and those who can’t afford cars or gas to get around.  

The decisions we make around transportation planning, policies and funding impact everyone, and Disability Rights Washington wanted us to have the opportunity to learn with them. 

“Our knowledge, rooted in years of navigating sidewalks, buses and paratransit systems, can help move our communities towards greater inclusion and access. We hope we can inform the decisions our leaders make about land use, climate, health equity and transportation access and funding.” – Anna Zivarts, Director of the Disability Mobility Initiative 

Disability Rights Washington’s mission is to advance the dignity, equality, and self-determination of people with disabilities. As part of their Disability Mobility Initiative, they share stories from the perspective of those that don’t have access to a car in the Transportation Access Story Map.  

 Over the last year, the Disability Mobility Initiative interviewed more than 130 non-drivers with disabilities from every legislative district in Washington state about their transportation needs. Learn more about Frankie and read other stories. 

SDOT has previously partnered with Disability Rights Washington’s video team, Rooted in Rights, to produce helpful videos reminding people to shovel their sidewalks when it snowspark shared bikes and scooters correctlyeducating contractors on the importance of maintaining a safe space for people to travel through construction sites, and more!  

At SDOT, we recognize that we need to do more to make our streets safe and accessible for everyone, no matter their ability.  

We work hard to improve accessibility, but also recognize that there’s a lot more work to do and problems that we haven’t solved yet. We need to install more curb ramps and accessible pedestrian signals and make intersections safer across the city. We need to do more to ensure that accessibility, equity, and sustainability are front and center in every conversation that we have. It is our responsibility to make sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable on Seattle’s streets and transportation infrastructure. 

Disability Rights Washington’s work and resources help hold us accountable to our goal of building, operating, and maintaining an accessible transportation system that reliably connects people, places, and goods. 

So, how did the week go? 

We got in touch with SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe and several SDOT staff members who took on the challenge.  

We acknowledge that many of us at SDOT are very fortunate to be able to work from home and to have the means to live close to first-class transit and safe bike routes. The experiences of SDOT participants do not reflect the challenges of everyone who does not have access to a car, but are still beneficial to help us put our work in perspective.  

Here are some of their thoughts: 

Sam Zimbabwe, SDOT Director  

What did you find challenging?

“The biggest challenge was family activities that included my kids. We recently lost yellow bus service for my 4th grader, and we live 2.5 miles (and a huge hill!) from our geographically assigned Seattle Public School. So we have been driving her to school, and she takes Metro home. I’ve also been coaching our older kid’s soccer team, so have balls and equipment to haul to twice a week practices and a weekly game. 
 

Each of my unavoidable car trips during the week involved the kids. One drop off at school when my wife had to go to her office, and one soccer practice. We did manage to carpool to a soccer game and a practice, while I biked. Both of these trips could have been accomplished on transit, but would have taken a long time (up to an hour longer than a 10-minute car trip).” 

What did you notice?

We didn’t take any large family outings during the week, partially because we have an unvaccinated 9-year old, partly because it was a rainy, cozy weekend, and partly because we were avoiding driving! We were able to accomplish our basic needs like groceries by walking in our relatively walkable and transit-rich neighborhood.” 

Some curb ramps in the Central District. Photo: Jeanné Clark 

Tom Hewitt, ADA Coordinator 

What did you find challenging?

“The biggest challenge was time, although access (or lack of accessibility) was something that was really apparent as well. While it is a no-brainer to take transit during rush hour times, especially downtown, off-peak service can be spotty and it takes more time to get places due to missed transfers, etc. Although I would consider myself able-bodied, I noticed more and more deficient or simply non-existent accessible elements such as missing sidewalks, curb ramps, upheaving sidewalk panels, water ponding, or tree limbs encroaching on the pedestrian route. As SDOT’s ADA coordinator, we as a city need to continue to work on improving these elements of the pedestrian network to improve access to those who otherwise have not alternate options to get around.” 

What did you enjoy? 

“Getting out of your vehicle is a great way to explore a city. Being new to Seattle, it was a great experience to learn about new bus routes and bike lanes that I wasn’t aware of previously.” 

How will you incorporate these lessons into your work at SDOT?

As an able-bodied, taller white male, I recognize that my world view is different than many folks, but my role and specialization on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance as SDOT’s ADA coordinator allows me to discuss how others deal with transportation issues, specifically those who do not drive, so that we can prioritize improvements to the people and places that need access the most and work our way backwards to create a more accessible Seattle. This exercise allowed me to further identify issues within the city’s right-of-way and address accessibility within the public right-of-way.”

Ross Peizer, Employee Commute Options Program Manager 

What did you find challenging? 

“It can take a lot longer to not drive depending on your destination and time of day. We looked at a trip to Burien on transit and was encouraged by the new Link light rail to bus options but it would have still taken 90 minutes each way. This helps me empathize with others who do not have access to a car and also how we have historically prioritized our transportation system around car throughput.” 

What did you enjoy?

“Living in North Seattle with the newly opened Link light rail stations is a game changer. I am encouraged by all the changes in our region to make transit, biking and other non-drive alone modes of travel more of the priority. Can’t wait to have more of a regional light rail system in the coming years so more of the region gets to have access to even better transit options.” 

How will you incorporate these lessons into your work at SDOT?

My position at SDOT is to get all City of Seattle employees to not to drive alone to work so the week without driving is very relevant. I am working to update information and programs with the City’s internal MyTrips program to make it easier for all employees to not need to drive alone for their commutes.” 

The new Northgate light rail station and John Lewis Memorial Bridge. Photo: SDOT

Louisa Miller, Project Manager, Vision Zero 

What did you find challenging?

“There were several challenges. One of the most glaring was time. It was simply not possible to run errands or get to where I needed to go within the time it would take to walk or take transit. The inherent benefit this provides to people driving, and the burden it places on those without the ability to drive, was staggering. 

Another one of the challenging components of this week (and every week) were the limited hours I felt comfortable traveling on foot. Without well lighted paths and well-maintained landscaping, I do not feel safe walking around after dark by myself. I imagine this is further heightened for people with disabilities and people of color who are exposed to unsafe conditions and treatment in our streets at an even higher rate. 

There were also too many instances to count of non-ADA compliant walkways. Several times I had to walk in the street to get around an obstruction or construction, and I did so with the understanding that I could quickly move out of the way should a vehicle approach, which of course, is a privilege that is not available for everyone.” 

What did you enjoy?

I enjoyed knowing that I was helping the environment by not driving, patronizing local businesses in my community, and learning more about the challenges people face every day just trying to move around.” 

What did you learn from this experience? 

“It reinforced that our system was designed for a very specific group of people and does not serve everyone equally.”   


You can view more stories from the Week Without Driving on Disability Rights Washington’s Twitter feed, @disrightswa, and Disability Mobility Initiative’s Twitter feed, @dismobility. 

Here are some of the ways we’ve made it easier for people to get around without a car over the past year. 

New travel options: walk, bike, roll, or take transit to the new Climate Pledge Arena in Uptown! 

Image: Climatepledgearena.com

We engaged the community and partnered with the Climate Pledge Arena to develop and install several new bike lanes, bus routes, bike parking stalls, traffic signals, and wider pedestrian crossings and curb bulbs to improve the experience for people walking, biking, or rolling to the arena and throughout the broader Uptown neighborhood.

We’ve updated our traffic signal policy to put the safety of people walking and rolling first 

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Photo: SDOT

Our newest pedestrian-first traffic signal policy update gives people more time to cross the street safely, reduces pedestrian wait times at signals, creates more automatic walk signals so people don’t have to press a button, and builds on other recent pedestrian-first policies and projects.

We’re helping provide free accessible cycling rentals for people with disabilities to experience the joy of riding, in partnership with the Outdoors for All Foundation 

Image: SDOT

This summer, we continued our partnership with the Outdoors for All Foundation to bring free adaptive cycling rentals for people of all ages and abilities at Magnuson Park and at various parks in the city. This is the largest program of its kind in North America, allowing more people to experience the joy of a bike ride, using a fleet of more than 200 adaptive cycles built to meet a wide range of access needs. Image: SDOT

SDOT Best of the Month | Making our intersections, bus stops, and sidewalks easier to use! 

Photo: SDOT

We are working to make our streets and sidewalks accessible to everyone.  The Transportation Operations Division Signal Shop has been working on a three-year program to install Accessible Pedestrian Signals in Seattle and we update the SDOT ADA Transition Plan every year.