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Play Date: Seattle 'Bus Chick' and Mom Carla Saulter

bus-chick-600wEditor’s note: This Q&A is the first in a new blog series that will feature some of our community’s most interesting parents and how they play and live in our region.

For our kick-off interview, meet Carla Saulter, mom of two, Transportation Choices Coalition membership manager, and well-known blogger, whom we talk to about living car-free in Seattle. Saulter, who started her “Bus Chick” blog before she had kids, continues to live a transit-rich life with her husband and two kids in Seattle's Central District.

Kids?

I have two children. My daughter, Rosa, just turned 5, and my son, Quincy, will be 3 in January.

You and your husband don't own a car, and you get around by transit (mostly bus) with your kids. For parents who are newbies at bus travel, why would they consider traveling this way?

I actually wrote an entire article about this for Grist. There are a number of benefits to traveling on transit with kids. For one thing, you get to pay attention to them on the ride. You can sit together, talk about what you see out the window, and meet people. I’ve been reading to my kids on the bus since they were infants, and these days, my daughter reads to me as well.

Kids who ride transit get regular exercise. My kids get exercise every single day (from walking to and from stops and walking around our neighborhood), whether or not it’s nice enough to play at the park.

Kids who ride transit know who’s in their community. They learn early that people of different ages, shapes and colors are part of their world. They learn how to share space, interact politely with strangers, and set and respect boundaries.

And, believe it or not, riding on a bus is significantly safer for kids than riding in a car — even without belts and boosters.

Any tips for bus travel with tots? For example, stroller or no?

I have many, many tips for what I call “busing with babies,” but I’ll stick to two of the most important.

1. Travel light. When you ride the bus, you have to carry everything you bring along on the trip, so it’s best to keep it simple. If you can swing it, bring one small, efficiently packed bag. (I promise, it can be done!)

Also, because of King County Metro’s parent-unfriendly stroller policy (the agency requires parents to remove children from strollers and fold strollers while on board), and because, no matter the policy, it’s usually a hassle to bring a large, wheeled contraption onto a crowded vehicle, I recommend traveling without a stroller. If you’re riding with a pre-walker, try carrying him in a front pack, sling, or wrap.

If you’re traveling with a child who’s 2 or older, consider giving her the opportunity to walk to and from stops and stations. Sure, she’ll be slow at first, but she’ll build stamina quickly, and it’s good for her. If you must bring a stroller, keep it small and easy to carry and fold — an umbrella or similar model.

2. Set your children up for success. Unlike traveling in a car, riding the bus requires a lot of public parenting. A little crying isn’t a huge deal, but it’s your job as a good transit citizen to keep your kids as content and quiet as possible on your rides. This means making sure they leave the house in a good state (rested, fed, dressed for the weather), bringing along a few emergency supplies (for us: water, nonperishable snacks, changes of clothes, books), and giving them your full attention while you’re on board.

What are two or three Seattle transit trips you’d particularly recommend with kids?

The Seattle Center is a great place to take kids on transit. There are tons of family-friendly institutions and events at the Center, and it’s not an especially easy place to visit by car. Transit access to Seattle Center, on the other hand, is pretty good. It’s pretty easy to take the bus downtown from any neighborhood and then hop on another bus (or better yet, the Monorail) to take you the rest of the way.

[As far as what we do there] when the weather's nice, we picnic at International Fountain, and every December, we visit the Center House (usually multiple times) to check out the cool train in the Center House holiday display. (If you haven't seen it, it's really pretty amazing.)

Our family loves to ride the King County Water Taxi to West Seattle. It’s easy, cheap, and really fun for kids. First, take a bus to Pioneer Square, then walk a short distance to Pier 50, where you can catch the Water Taxi. The ride across Elliott Bay to Seacrest Park is less than 15 minutes and costs only a few dollars. (It’s free if you have a Metro transfer of bus pass.) On the other side, you can entertain yourself at the small rock beach or catch a free shuttle to other parts of West Seattle, including Alki Beach.

Believe it or not, we’ve also taken transit to the Puyallup Fair. (Imagine avoiding the long drive and the hassle and expense of parking.) This year, we took Sound Transit route 578 from downtown to the Puyallup Sounder station, then walked about a half mile (through pleasant downtown Puyallup) to the fairgrounds. On the way home, we walked back to the station and took the Sounder train back downtown. The train was fast and comfortable, easily everyone’s favorite part of the outing.

Aside from bus travel, what are a few favorite things to do with your kids in your own ‘hood?

One of the best things about not owning a car is that it forces you to take advantage of what’s in your own neighborhood, and we spend a lot of time enjoying ours. We love, love, love Douglass-Truth library — for story time and for stocking up on books.

There are at least five parks within walking distance of our home. We have two favorites. Powell Barnett, on MLK and Alder, was remodeled a few years ago, in part through a big grant from Starbucks. It's got tons of cool play equipment, a regular basketball court and one for kids, and a wading pool. Our other favorite is Pratt Park at 20th & Yesler. My kids love the water sprays in the summer!

We go to indoor playtime, family fun night, and other events at Garfield Community Center. We swim at Medgar Evers pool. We eat at nearby restaurants, visit friends and neighbors, and attend church on Sundays. On really nice days in the summer, we walk all the way down to the lake.

What’s one thing on your family adventure list for 2013?

We’d like to try taking the train to Spokane. We’ve taken family train trips to Portland and Vancouver, and they were great fun for everyone. Spokane is a bit more challenging, both because the ride is longer and because the departure times from Spokane to Seattle are really late at night. But, it wouldn’t be an adventure without some challenge, now would it?

[I also really want to try family biking — I’ve thus far been too chicken — but that would be a much longer response.]

Parenting wisdom you try to live by?

You don’t have to parent the way everyone says you do. Instead of letting your status as a parent dictate your values, you can let your values dictate the way you parent.

Photo credit: Charles Peterson

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