The Missing Conversation in Transportation: How people get home after imbibing

non alcoholic beer

A non-alcoholic beer: the way to go when driving?

I really appreciate Eric dePlace’s article on parking minimums for bars and other establishments that serve alcohol.  There is too little discussion of how land-use and transportation patterns affect drinking and driving.  We seem to have a blind spot for this issue, both from the safety community and the sustainable transportation community.

For many years, I didn’t realize how incredibly prevalent it is to drink and drive.  I turned 21 when I was in college in Bellingham and I didn’t own a car, nor did many of my friends.  We lived within walking distance of bars and we generally walked; drinking and driving was not even a thought.  I then lived in Washington, D.C. for seven years, and it was easy for me and most people in my circle to go out and get home by rail, bus, foot, or cab; drinking and driving wasn’t a consideration.  After moving back to Seattle, I sold my car and lived car-free from 2006 through 2012; again, drinking and driving was not a possibility for me.

Over the past year and a half since purchasing a car, however, I now find myself in situations where I want to go out with friends and have a glass or two of wine, but taking transit to my destination is incredibly inconvenient and a cab is very expensive.  (I have not yet joined Uber or other ride sharing companies.)  What do I do?  Sometimes, I don’t go to the event (which kind of sucks).  If I do go, I would usually find a way to get there without driving my own car; sometimes taking a Car2Go there and either transit or a cab home (which can be a time-consuming headache).  Once in a while I do drive, and limit myself to one drink.


A pub you can bike to

I’ve now become aware of how often I see other people driving home after having one or two drinks (and sometimes giving me a ride).  That might work out just fine if they’re careful and know what they are doing and what their limits are.  But it’s a situation that depends on judgment.  Personally, I hate having to try and judge when or if I’m okay to drive if I’ve had any alcohol.

Once I started thinking about this, I realized that in most places, taking transit or walking to bars is not an option, and yet many people do go out and drink.  So there are a lot of people who drive to go out drinking, and are probably a bit buzzed when they drive home.  Maybe some who clearly imbibe too much leave their car at the bar and get a ride or cab home, which is good (if inconvenient for picking up the car the next day).  But I imagine many are at the line where they are not obviously drunk but might be buzzed; they probably should not drive, but they think they’re okay and there are no other options.

I don’t understand why this issue isn’t addressed head-on more often.  Why are smart growth and sustainable transportation groups not making this link between the harm of drunk driving and the need for non-driving options?  Perhaps people don’t want to be seen as opportunistically taking on an issue with a lot of emotion (drunk driving) to serve their goals of sustainable communities.  Of course, creating walkable neighborhoods with good transit everywhere there’s a bar is not feasible in the short-term; so we need intermediate options.  Affordable cab companies or ride-sharing services are very important for this.  Mayor McGinn had an interesting policy of allowing people to pre-pay on-street parking through the next morning, so they could feasibly leave their car overnight and pick up the next morning if they had too much to drink.

In addition, just adding this issue to the conversation about development and transportation is useful.  For example, the chapter on neighborhoods in A-P’s book mentioned walking to a friend’s house where you could have a couple of beers and get home safely.  I appreciated the mention of drinking.  People do drink alcohol, often not at home, and their options for getting home need to be part of the conversation on land use and transportation.  As another example, when I testified at a recently County Council hearing on a funding source for Metro, I mentioned several ways that Metro was personally meaningful to me.  One was taking the bus to a Superbowl party a few days earlier so that I’d be able to drink a few beers.  (I had forgotten that one of the County Councilmembers at the hearing, Jane Hague, had an incident of Driving Under the Influence a few years ago; hopefully she didn’t take this as a criticism of her.)  Mentioning the drinking of alcohol in conversations about land use and planning needs to be more common.


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