A driving need for a bus stop

Skipper Lynn, a driving force behind the construction of the senior center in Laguna Beach, no longer drives a car.

The 80-year-old was involved in a serious traffic accident in July. Her car was totaled. She was not injured, but was unable to account for the accident and that worried her so much that she decided to give up driving.

"Shortly after I was admitted to the hospital, I was interviewed by an officer," Lynn said. "He asked what had happened, and I couldn't tell him."

"I took the insurance check from Allstate and put it in the bank. Since then I have taken city transportation, and I love it! Love it! Love it!"

Now she is driven to convince other seniors to park their cars and ride city buses.

"I want to emphasize that I did it of my own volition, and I'd like to see other seniors think about it," Lynn said.

Lynn can catch the bus a block from her home, but getting to the Susi Q Senior Center on Third Street, where she spends most of her days, is inconvenient for her and out of the question for less-active seniors.

The closest stop when headed downtown is the bus depot on Broadway, about three blocks from the center. The closest stop leaving downtown is in front of Hobie Surf Shop on Forest Avenue, which is less than a quarter of a mile from the center.

"I think we must be the only senior center in Orange County that doesn't have public transportation to its door," Lynn said. "We need it, and the City Council needs to know we need it."

Lynn plans to attend a council meeting and make a pitch for the service.

"At this point, there are no plans to provide a bus stop there, but I have asked Public Works to take a look at it and see what the options are," City Manager John Pietig said. "I know there are routing concerns."

Susi Q Executive Director Nadia Babayi said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson is also aware of the complaint.

"[Pearson's] feeling is that the bus stop is close by and turning at Mermaid Street is difficult because it is so narrow," Babayi said. "But any public facility that serves the community — not just the seniors — should have public transportation service."

Programs at the center are restricted by the number of spaces in the garage.

"My life is the Susi Q," Lynn said. "Everything for us is over at 3 p.m."

Lynn is a spry senior, but come fall, the days are shorter and city buses don't run as often or as late.

Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. President Chris Quilter said the city has measured the need for the stop, but not enough people are speaking out.

"Skipper is doing the seniors a great favor," Quilter said. "To have a $20-million facility that does not have a bus stop seems to me to be shortsighted."

Giving up one's car is no easy decision, but it is better than having your license or keys taken away, he said.

"I hope I have the wisdom to do it," Quilter said. "But we need systems to make the transition less painful."

Among the considerations is active seniors' wish to be independent.

"Seniors don't want to be a burden," Quilter said. "My mother [the late Elizabeth Quilter, for whom the Susi Q is named] never wanted me to drive her."

More well-to-do seniors can hire a driver; the less affluent use Sally's Fund or other transportation services and taxis.

"But taxis don't like seniors because we are not big tippers," Quilter said.

On the upside, getting out from behind the wheel is a boost to the environment — always a plus in Laguna — and it reduces expenses by about $1,000 a year, he said.

"The subject is not exhausted," Quilter said. "You'll hear a lot more about it."

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