(Photo Courtesy of Commute Options)
Some of my best and most memorable vacation moments have been when I opted to travel car-free. Like the time we took a city bus in northern Italy, and the bus driver talked so much with his hands in motion that he drove the bus with his knees (we made it safely, and on time). Or renting townie bikes for a day to explore the Neckar river bike path in Heidelberg, Germany. Or, on a long layover in Philadelphia, taking the train to walk around Independence Mall for a few hours, then zipping back to the airport to catch our next flight.
Granted, these experiences are easier to come by in other countries or in large metropolitan areas that have well established transportation options. But let’s dream big for a moment without immediately judging or naysaying what we can do here to improve transportation options.
Providing convenient, free (or at least very affordable), fun and safe options for tourists benefits us locals as well. Improving our bus system helps workers get to work. Creating car-free pedestrian areas gives everyone—including you and me—lovely places to hang out, dine and shop all year round. Improving bike and walking paths and sidewalks between shopping and dining areas allows residents to perhaps leave the cars at home on occasion.
Adding more recreation-oriented options could potentially reduce traffic and parking at our favorite trailheads and recreation spots. Bear with me here. Imagine a once-every-hour free shuttle to Tumalo Falls that would allow us to better manage traffic and parking congestion at the parking lot and alongside the road. What would that look like? Would it provide a more serene, quiet or safer feeling experience at the falls? Remember that parking lots and cars take up a lot of physical space. Could we replace some of those parking spaces with picnic tables and educational displays? Would visitors be more inspired to respect our wonderful natural resources and practice Leave No Trace principles, if they arrived there collectively with others? I think so.
I don’t think tourists necessarily need convincing, but they do need convenient options. The question is, can us locals lead by example ourselves? I too am guilty of sitting in my car, complaining about “tourist traffic” when I am just as much part of that traffic. Creating cultural norms around how we like to get around is up to us, the people that live here. Can we collectively embrace and use a transportation network that supports all modes such as cars, bicycles, pedestrians and public transportation so that anyone—local or visitor—can get around as they wish and we can reduce traffic congestion?
Thanks to the City of Bend, Visit Bend and Cascade East Transit, we already have a few free or low cost options such as the Ride Bend shuttle, Ride the River and the Lava Butte shuttle, as well as an expanding bike share program. How can we double down on these opportunities? As business owners, community leaders and involved citizens, let’s dream big and truly make Bend and central Oregon the best place to live and visit.
Promoting choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director, Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit commuteoptions.org.
Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. katybryce.com