Could You Go a Week Without Driving?

Tanisha Sepúlveda (center) and other Empower Movement members at a walking/rolling event. Also pictured:Disability Rights Washington’s Anna Zivarts and former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. McGinn now serves as the executive director of the pedestrian advocacy organization America Walks, which is coordinating the Week Without Driving challenge.

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. 

5 thoughts on “Could You Go a Week Without Driving?”

  1. Between about 2000 and 2010, my husband and I didn’t own a car. We are not disabled, young enough to get around on foot or bike, but old enough so we had been able to buy a house within about 3 miles of the UW, where we both worked. We’d rent a car 3 or 4 times a year, mostly to visit family in other states. 

    We were both retired by 2010 and decided to buy a car to get to hikes and parks not accessibe otherwise.

    I know our car-free lifestyle won’t work for lots of people, but it worked for us.

  2. A huge problem for people who use wheelchairs and need to ride Metro are those who take up the “Wheelchair Securement Area” with their strollers, shopping carts, or luggage. Rather than tell those people to move, the bus drivers tell the person in the wheelchair that the bus is full. The bus drivers insist they do not have the power to tell the others to move, which is simply not true.

    ALL Metro buses became fully wheelchair accessible in 1999, 9 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by President George H. W. Bush. But Metro is not willing to enforce the law.

    Sadly, there is a lot of anger and/or annoyance by able-bodied passengers when a bus is loading a person who uses a wheelchair, which can take a few minutes to properly secure. Such complainers, which include the co-founder of Publicola [ ], insist that because Metro provides Access bus services, that wheelchair users should not be on “regular” buses. Never mind that Access is very expensive for Metro (audits show the cost is more than $60 per ride), it is also cumbersome and must be scheduled in advance. This “others” people who use wheelchairs.

    “A Week Without Driving” is a decent attempt to teach able-bodied people of the challenges faced by people with disabilities. May we all become a little more aware.

    1. You forgot the quote. I’m pretty sure this is directly from Erica C. Barnett writing for “The Stranger”. I couldn’t find the direct link to the Stranger…. maybe because most of the crap they write over there isn’t worth archiving? 

      “I’m just putting this out there: Is it fair for one or two handicapped individuals’ right to public accomodation to trump the right of dozens or hundreds of others to have reliable transit service that gets them to work on time? Is it fair for two people in wheelchairs to make everyone else on the “express” bus late?”

  3. Antisocial behaviors on buses and transit stops is another concern for all public transit riders, and is contributing to lower bus ridership and dwindling access. Thanks for spot lighting challenges for riders!

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