Transit Trekker Endorses The Transportation Bill of Rights

The shoulder of a 35 mph road on the outskirts of Bremerton, Washington state. The road is located in a relatively undeveloped area, so it is lined mostly with trees, shrubs, and gravel, with a telephone pole in the middle distance. There is no sidewalk. The asphalt shoulder is about 18 inches wide, with an additional 18 inches of gravel, then a little border of grass and a small ditch. It's not very walkable, and it's definitely not something that would be reasonable to navigate along with a wheelchair.

The shoulder of NE Sylvan Way in Bremerton, WA, on a recent Transit Trek to Illahee State Park.

Transit Trekker endorses The Transportation Bill of Rights.

The Transit Trekker Manual will, I hope, be a source of at least a little income for me. It’s also an opportunity to build support for increasing funding for rural transit. I’m navigating a steep learning curve when it comes to familiarizing myself with how and how much rural transit is — or more often, is not — funded, so that I can take every opportunity to encourage folks who pick up the manual to advocate for rural transit. While I have enjoyed Trailhead Direct, rural and exurban communities deserve reliable, frequent transit. Expanding rural transit will support communities while by default making much transit-based recreation easier.

I also hope that the manual can prompt the outdoor recreation industry to push for rural transit access. There are probably some economic development analyses out there that I have yet to come across, but I would be surprised if rural communities with better transit that are near to recreation centers aren’t better off after the arrival or expansion of that transit service. (If you know of any such analyses, please post in the comments.)

And, even if it is not the case that rural transit supports the outdoor recreation economy, transit-reliant non-drivers deserve reliable access to transportation, and the cost of providing that pales in comparison to the absurd amounts we spend on highway expansion here in Washington state.

Finally, I want to emphasize that transit access is one part of the Transportation Bill of Rights. It is a holistic framework that recognizes the confluence of almost every key issue we face, including housing security, transportation access, the limits of law enforcement, climate change, and climate justice.

Saco, Maine daytrip: A Transit Trek With a Little of Everything.

My partner was born in Portland and most of his family still lives nearby. I’ve wanted to return ever since our only trip to Portland, especially for the food, and proximity to some thrilling and rugged coastal lands. Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast during our visit, delaying our return to our then-home in New York City. I was not unhappy to be stranded in Portland for a couple of extra days.

I’m determined to make a transit trek to Acadia National Park in the not-too-distant future, and to find other transit outings in a state that doesn’t have a lot of rural transit options. Stay tuned. In the meantime, Tweeter soymilkcreamer based in Maine generously put together this trip that offers a little of everything and can be taken via Amtrak’s Downeaster service. I added links to include accessibility information and indigenous peoples’ history and a little additional information.

If you have done this trip in the past or end up trying it as a result of this post, I’d love to hear about it via the contact form or in the comments section below.

Destination: Saco and Old Orbach Beach, Southern Coastal Maine

Trip Type

This seasonal day trip offers a 7.3 mile walk in urban, suburban, beach and forest settings. The trip is accessible via the Amtrak Downeaster which operates in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Highlights include pitchpine growing along the shore, Saco’s historic urban core and optional forest trails and boardwalks in Ferry Beach State Park.

Points of Origin

This trek is a station to station walk and can originate in Saco or Old Orchard Beach though the directions are written with Saco as the starting point.

Useful Links

Amtrak Downeaster Schedule
Ferry Beach State Park
Maine Parks Information

Backround Reading

  • A brief bit of history about indigenous people who first lived in the area can be found here.
  • Though currently used for residential and commercial purposes, numerous brick buildings near Saco station are typical of textile mills constructed in northern New England from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century. The buildings are part of a larger, pedestrian friendly district composed of former mills along the Saco River. A brief history of mills at this site can be found here.

Scouting Notes

This trip guide is based on the author’s own experience completing this trip.

Distance and Elevation

Approximately 7.3 miles from station to station. Mostly flat.

Trail Surface

Surfaces range from brick and concrete sidewalks to forest floor and sand beaches.
Elevation changes are negligible.

Cautions

The forest trails in Ferry Beach State Park can be mosquito rich. Insect repellent is recommended.

Accessibility Notes

  • The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry maintains a site on park accessibility, which indicates that a beach wheelchair is available.
  • The author walked this route and it includes about 3 miles of sandy beach walking. If riding a bike, Seaside Avenue runs parallel to the beach and would likely be preferable.
  • Bikes can be brought aboard Amtrak’s Downeaster line for an additional fee. Quick release front wheels will make boarding with a bike easier. Amtrak bike policies vary by route, but generally only “standard” bicycles can be accomodated.

Kid Considerations

The terrain is kid friendly.

Dog Considerations

Dogs are not allowed on the beach from April 1st through September 30th.

Seasonal Access and Related Notes

  • The Old Orchard Beach station is seasonal and typically operates May through October. Check the Amtrak Downeaster schedule to determine whether the train is stopping at Old Orchard Beach.
  • The route described requires fording Goosefare Brook. It’s shallow and maybe 20 feet wide.
  • If biking, continue on Bayview Rd. and turn left on Seacost Ave. Seacoast Ave. is not accessible from Ferry Beach State Park Rd.
  • Beach Street (Route 9) in Saco is popular with cyclists during the warmer months but features no dedicated cycling infrastructure.
  • Old Orchard Beach is a popular warm weather coastal destination in southern Maine.

Transit to Trailhead

Distance and Conditions: About 7 miles one-way or 14 roundtrip

  • Starting at Saco station, travel east about 200 feet to Main St.
  • Turn left on Main St. and walk .3 miles to School St.
  • Turn right onto School St. and continue for .4 miles to James St.
  • Make a left onto James St. and continue for .1 miles
  • Turn right on Beach Street and continue for 2.5 miles
  • Turn left onto Bayview Road and continue for .3 miles
  • Turn right onto Ferry Beach State Park Road and continue for .7 miles (forest trails branch off of this road, extend your hike by exploring these short intersecting loops).
  • After reaching a parking area, the road becomes a trail and leads to the beach. If you enter using the road rather than a trail, be prepared to pay a $0-$7 fee per person based on age and residency.
  • Turn left and travel along the sandy beach for 3 miles.
  • After fording Goosefare Brook, you can return to the street and travel along a parallel route if interested in viewing coastal neighborhoods.
  • Old Orchard Beach station is on 1st St between Heath St. and Staples St.

Fare, payment and transfers

Fares will vary depending on where along the Downeaster you begin this journey. Payment can be made using the Amtrak app or kiosks located at stations.

Transit Apps

Amtrak app

Frequency

The Downeaster makes five daily roundtrips between Boston, MA and Brunswick, ME

Other notes of interest

  • The Saco and Biddeford mill district is a labyrinthian collection of looming red brick buildings situated along the falls of the Saco River. The former mills contain restaurants and breweries. Visitors can wander through the old mills and along a designated Riverwalk. More info here.
  • Banded Brewing in the Pepperell Mill has good, unique beer.
  • Downtown Biddeford is adjacent to the mills. Main St features a handful of restaurants, bars and coffee options and is pleasant to walk.
  • When beginning in Saco, I stop by Fernleaf Bakery at 20 Free St. for a quick, reasonably priced and pretty good breakfast sandwich.
  • If time allows, walk the pier at the end of Old Orchard Street in Old Orchard Beach. Old Orchard Beach offers a seaside atmosphere not found elsewhere in Maine.

Taxes on Time

What the Tax on Time Costs Transit-Dependent People

Great big hat tip to Cathy O’Neil, aka MathBabe, who wrote about the domestic complexity tax here, which has ever since had me thinking about the various and different regressive taxes paid by the least fortunate among us.

As I plod away drafting The Transit Trekker Manual, I’m keenly aware that while I can help would-be transit trekkers greatly reduce the time it takes to discover and plan transit-based trips, I can’t reduce the tax on time that using transit all too often imposes on users.

A small example came up in the thread responding to Zipcar founder Robin Chase’s recent tweet about her transit-riding husband’s predicament when called to appear at 8 a.m. for jury duty, a trip that was 1.5 hours via the austere transit service available to him. “In the future, you can usually call them and say that you don’t have a car and need to be scheduled at a closer facility,” replied one tweeter.

The problem with this “solution,” I pointed out, is “making that call represents an additional tax on time, however small, that people who depend on public transit must pay because the default is assumed that people can and will drive everywhere.”

I had intended to add that for people who *depend* on transit — not the coveted “choice” rider who when convenient opts for transit — these small taxes on time are everywhere. And they add up. And many of these taxes on time are hours in a single day, as a result of long waits for transfers, absurdly detours around construction zones that de-prioritize the mobility needs of non-drivers in favor of drivers, and on and on. For just a short list of examples, peruse Transportation for Everyone: Washington State (a white paper I worked on as a Fellow at the Disability Mobility Initiative at Disability Rights Washington).

One of the greatest taxes on time is trying to plan a trip requiring a transfer between two buses or modes on different systems that have different policies and/or schedules and/or levels of service. That’s something I can help transit trekkers minimize. But people who depend on transit to get to medical appointments or meet up with friend and family or just go to a community park are paying this tax on time day in and out — rather than occasionally for recreation.

It’s very common for economists to calculate the dollar value of time for, say,  lost productivity to traffic congestion or other conditions that are viewed as impinging on the economy. I’m sure they could do that in this instance, but I’m more interested in the human value of that lost time, the consequences of delayed medical care, trips to visit friends or spend at community events forgone because trip planning is too complicated or would take too long, the difficulty finding and maintaining work — the tax on time imposes emotional, physical, and mental costs and eats into basic quality of life.

I suspect that for Robin Chase and her husband, their overall quality of life is probably not impacted to this degree, as reasonably well-off people whose affluence can offset these taxes on time. (Please correct me if that is a wrong assumption.) No, people who chose to forgo car-dependence shouldn’t need to pay these taxes on their time. Transit and cycling and other active transportation modes should be easier and more convenient and quicker all of the time, not just under select conditions in select neighborhoods in select cities.

But to continue to extract time from people who are transit-dependent is, I think, to quite literally extract life.