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How 7 Americans got around their cities in 2018

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Our Transit Diary column followed the daily commutes of residents from Boston to Seattle

From riding buses with two kids in tow to testing out the newest dockless electric vehicles, our transit diarists showed what it takes to move through cities.
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Stories of people tracking everything from their food intake to their weekly expenditures to their Sunday morning rituals seemed to dominate social media feeds in 2018. Here at Curbed, we were curious about something else—how regular people get around their cities.

In 2018, we asked seven Americans in cities coast-to-coast to track their multimodal journeys for a week and report back for a series we called Transit Diary.

The meticulous (and often hilarious) documentation of such seemingly banal activities revealed some fascinating insights. In an age where some people have more options than ever, how do they decide to get from A to B? What does it take for commuters to choose more sustainable modes? Is technology helping or hurting? And how can transit agencies serve their most vulnerable riders in a better way?

Follow along with our seven transit diarists to experience the highs and lows of what it took to get around town in 2018.

How climate leader Chanell Fletcher gets around the Bay Area

I missed the An Inconvenient Truth wave in 2006, but a presentation by Urban Habitat in 2009 exposed me to the built-in inequities around how communities and transportation systems are planned, built, and funded. Before that presentation, I never thought about why most people of color resided in North and South Sacramento (which are still suffering from the historic impacts of red-lining; if you’re interested, check out these maps), or that there was a word for where I grew up: sprawl development, low-density housing units on the outskirts of the city center.

As I go through my meetings—and today, my calendar is filled with meetings and conference calls—I keep thinking: Access is key. The woman I met on the bus takes transit for the same reasons I do: It’s easy and accessible for us. What does it look like to create that same ease for communities like the ones that I grew up in? That’s the part of ClimatePlan’s work that really speaks to me: How do we address the historic inequities that create barriers for people to have options to get around?

Lime’s new electric bikes are a favorite of autonomous vehicle planner Yes Segura, who also drives for Uber on the side.
Yes Segura

How autonomous vehicle planner Yes Segura gets around Seattle

It’s the beginning of the month, meaning this is when I typically spend the entire weekend Uber driving. I also use this time for research: As I’m driving, I’m analyzing the streets of Seattle for autonomous vehicles and asking passengers about their thoughts on AVs. During this week, I’m also asking some of my Uber passengers about dockless bikes. Seattle has three dockless companies, Lime, Ofo, and Spin, which are testing their bikes in the city.

I know that one day I’m going to ditch my car, rent it out using Getaround—it’s the Airbnb for cars—and be able to work full-time on my startup Smash the Box (StBox), which helps cities plan for disruptive transportation technologies like self-driving cars, bike shares, ride shares, drones, and hyperloop. Alas, I must do the Uber driving and “hustlers hustled to hustle” routine. (That’s my tagline that I created. I have it on a screenshot of my phone with my alarm.)

How bike advocate Katie Deolloz gets around Austin

It’s hard to believe it was just about a year ago that I was at a Bicycle Advisory Council meeting for a discussion about dockless mobility coming to Austin. The opposition was loud and unrelenting, but I stated resolutely that “dockless done right” was possible, and I believe I have been proven correct in that assessment. Note: I didn’t say “dockless done perfectly.”

A year later, I would say dockless mobility is a normal part of everyday life. The bikes and scooters are relatively accessible, fairly inexpensive, great on hot Texas days traveling up steep Hill Country inclines, and plain old fun! On the walk home from the restaurant I spy a Lime scooter near Oltorf and 5th, so I hop on and ride it the rest of the way home. Like I said: fun!

Our most adorable commuters of the year? Boston city councilor Michelle Wu heads to City Hall using a stroller for her two young boys.
Michelle Wu

How multimodal city councilor Michelle Wu gets around Boston

When I used to commute with just one kid, I never used a stroller because it was easier to just carry him up and down stairs when needed rather than depend on elevators. But with two, I need it to keep everyone corralled and to hold all our stuff.

We start with a short walk from home to the bus stop. The 35 bus passes us because the buses are bunched up so it doesn’t stop, but we just catch the 36 bus. We arrive at Forest Hills Station after a smooth ride and follow our fellow stroller users because we all need to take the elevator to transfer to our next bus on the lower platform.

I feel like it’s my lucky day because the next 16 bus pulls up minutes after we get to the platform, but, just kidding, the driver turns off the bus for a break. Bus goes out of service. Ten minutes later, the bus leaves with a new driver. We creep along, stuck behind two school buses that are trying to turn left. This bus needs a dedicated lane!

How saxophonist Bill Bua gets around New Orleans

I play a curved soprano saxophone—let’s say it’s over the $3,000 mark. It weighs about five pounds and the case would fit in most backpacks. I have to take it in a car to get it safely to my gigs.

Parking is normally pretty easy for me since I know some of the secret places that only residents and musicians know about. Musicians want parking that’s close to the venues so we don’t have to walk too far, but also not too close—it’s also about instrument security and not being mugged after payment from the gig we just played. The money is replaceable, but not the horn.

In St. Louis, a closed sidewalk means wheelchair user Steven L. Patterson must go back to the crosswalk and use a ramp to cross to the other side of the street.
Steven L. Patterson

How 10-year stroke survivor Steven L. Patterson gets around St. Louis

I head west along Locust toward home, but at 11th the “ramp” is full of water between the crosswalk and stop line. Here, the sidewalk is basically flush with the street, so I don’t use the puddle ramp, I have to go around.

I pass by the Jefferson Arms, which has been vacant over a decade—renovations are supposed to start soon. I notice that the crosswalk and ramp at 13th is open today.

Looking to my right there is a very visible crosswalk—leading right to a curb!

We have lots of these areas where a curb ramp’s vertical height exceeds the ADA requirements, as well as my chair’s ability to get over it. About five years ago, St. Louis’s streets director said I could just email the city’s asphalt employee directly for requests. I knew his name and email because the streets director copied him on replies to me. Asphalt is cheap and quick. These areas remain non-ADA compliant— but at least I can get by now. Able-bodied persons might not trip now, too.

How sidewalk advocate Jessica Meaney gets around LA

I’m looking at my calendar in the morning and I have several meetings throughout the day at City Hall and in Downtown at the Bureau of Engineering so it makes the most sense to ride my own bike to work. I get to the office in 18 minutes, and I make a video for Instagram: “You know what’s faster than Lyft or Metro? These legs.”

I am lucky enough to live three miles from where I work, I don’t have kids, and my parents live across the country. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s mobility and have the luxury of living close to my job. These factors—child care, family needs, affordable rent, commute distances—are all key when it comes to mobility options.

If you have an interesting commute or want to share what it’s like to get around your town, we’re looking for more people to feature in our Transit Diary column in 2019—email alissa [at] curbed [dot] com to learn more.