By Tanisha Sepúlveda
What would you do if you didn’t have your car, and you had to go a Week Without Driving? How would you get to work, go to the doctor, bring home groceries, or visit friends and family? How much would this cost you—in time and in money? For nearly one-third of the US population, these questions are everyday experiences we must navigate.
As a power wheelchair user living in West Seattle, I rely on my wheelchair and public transit when getting to and from places. I am fortunate to live in a city with public transit, although accessing the transit is where it can become difficult. Many sidewalks don’t have curb cuts, or turn into dirt paths, or run into roads without notice. This forces me to backtrack or go onto the road. I have had people yell at me that it’s “not safe,” but they don’t understand if I get thrown off the sidewalk into traffic because there’s a tree root or an uneven piece of sidewalk, it is even less safe for me and oncoming traffic.
Many of our nation’s nondrivers are people of color, immigrants, people in poverty, and people with disabilities. This includes young people, people who have aged out of driving, had their license suspended, or cannot afford the financial burden of owning and operating a vehicle. We live in cities, suburbs, rural areas, and small towns. In all these places, there are gaps and barriers that make it difficult for us to get where we need to go.
Many other obstacles exist for those with and without disabilities when trying to access transit. A lack of light and shelter at a bus stop, or along the way, can be unsafe. The risks increase for those who are hard of hearing or low vision. Crosswalks that do not have physical and audible crossing signals to alert the people crossing pose a danger, especially in busy streets. Overgrown hedges from people’s properties blocking access to the sidewalk. Infrequent bus routes and lack of bus stops, especially outside of the city, can limit users from accessing opportunities for education, work, housing, and more.
I would like to invite and encourage you, along with policymakers, public officials, and transportation leaders, to participate in the 2023 Week Without Driving challenge taking place October 2nd-8th. The challenge is simple: Participants can get around however they want but they cannot drive themselves. This applies to all activities—not just work commutes.
This isn’t a disability simulation or a test of how easily you can find alternatives. It is far easier to give up your keys if you can afford to live in a walkable area well served by transit or can outsource your driving and delivery needs to other people. Also, having to drive during the challenge does not signify failure. The goal is to consider how someone without that option would have coped, and what choices they might have made.
We need decision-makers to understand these barriers so they can understand how their decisions impact the public transportation system—and, ultimately, the quality of life for nearly one-third of our population. Participating in the Week Without Driving can be a life-changing event. It teaches participants what it’s like for people who have no choice but to navigate our inadequate transportation system daily. Every day, people with disabilities rely on walking, rolling, public transit, or asking or paying for rides. Understanding how these options work or don’t work for us is a matter of racial, economic, and disability justice.
Tanisha Sepúlveda is an architectural associate for BCRA, and a program coordinator for Empower Movement, a coalition of BIPOC and disabled mobility advocates supported by Disability Rights Washington and Front and Centered. As a power wheelchair user since 2010, Sepúlveda recognizes the lack of accessibility in the built environment and advocates for equitable access to transit and housing, with a focus on sidewalk repair and maintenance.