As the world shut down in March 2020, I decided to move back to Pittsburgh.
I’d been offered what seemed like my dream job — as though someone had snuck into my brain, spied on my most private and public thoughts, decided to create a program around it, and asked me to run it.
So I raced back to Pittsburgh and promptly started my new role on April Fools’ Day of Pandemic 2020. I have always loved this city and was thrilled to get the opportunity to spend my days working to make it easier for people to get around this veryyyyyy hilly and often chilly city — without a car.
I’ve lived without owning a car for the past 20 years, so I knew first-hand how challenging it is to live without a car here. In fact, that’s why I’d moved away previously.
Even though I’ve (mainly) lived quite well without owning a car in several cities, Pittsburgh was probably the most difficult. I was growing even wimpier about winters, so between that long, gray season and the inescapable hills and the holes (of the pot variety), I had started to ease up on my bike pedals and instead relied on public transportation more than I had in years.
A professional driver to take me where I need to go in a heated vehicle where I’m free to read instead of paying attention? Why yes, please! Sign me right up!
I could never understand why more people don’t adore this service! If I decided to buy a car, I’d have to pay for it, in some way, every day, even if I wasn’t using it. Why weren’t more people annoyed by that and looking for an out?
Even if you don't use ride public transportation -- transit improves life for everyone in cities by reducing the number of cars on the road -- making it more efficient for everyone to get where they're going.
My relentless enthusiasm for public transit did nothing to stop the punishing budget cuts, which left many people stranded, buses without drivers, and forced the Port Authority to eliminate routes that were critical to someone.
It’s hard for even the biggest transit nerd to stay giddy while standing on the corner, waiting for the bus*, worrying you might lose a toe to frostbite before you lose your job because the bus is too late/ too early/ too crowded for you to get to work on time.
(*thanks to the Violent Femmes for writing this stellar, hilarious, accurate song. Video at the bottom of the post).
And it was hard for this transit nerd to stay giddy or warm or get anywhere on time because I was always standing on the corner, waiting for the bus. So in 2013, I decided to move back to Washington, DC, where I knew I wouldn’t die of exposure while just trying to transport myself.
Because I’m so incredibly fun (and a star at sarcasm), making streets safe enough for everyone to ride a bicycle had become something between a passion and obsession of mine since the mid-00s, and I thought about it night & day, like Ray Charles sings (but different topic!). I couldn’t get enough, so I did my time in bike advocacy: Bike PGH, Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Bike Easy, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Even as I worked in bicycle advocacy, I wanted more! More transit, better transit, delightful transit! Probably not inspired by the primarily crap version of transit that we have in the States now, because we need simple, predictable, affordable, and attractive transit that works for everybody and every body.
Don’t get me wrong, bikes are fabulous and empowering and affordable, and they make your legs great and body healthy (mostly). But we need more options, more ways to get around that don’t require sticking to the same schedule as your friends and neighbors, more options that don’t require standing on the corner, waiting for the bus.
That’s why I decided to move back to Pittsburgh at the start of the pandemic when everything had just shut down, and I would not have the opportunity to meet any colleagues except as a disembodied head floating on Zoom.
Because I, you, we, we all need more options to get around. We cannot continue to ostrich ourselves and pretend personal automobiles — even electric ones — are the solution we need for our cities. Let’s “re-imagine” how different versions of public transit could look in different places and how we can be more creative about moving within our cities…starting first in the morning. I’ll bring the coffee!