As I’ve moved eastward, I’ve become more suburban. Though I still consider myself a city girl, loving the amenities of urban life, I do admit the suburbs have some benefits, especially when kids are in the picture.
Today I came across a blog dedicated to researching and writing about smart transit. It got me thinking about my own progression from living in San Francisco using mostly my feet, bicycle and relatively reliable public transit for getting around to living in a suburb of a post-industrial Midwestern city where the garage doors go up, the cars go in and the garage doors go down. Now I drive every day. I have to make it a point not to drive to run errands, though it is hard to do when surrounded by sprawl. In San Francisco I rarely left my neighborhood except to go to work.
Coming clean, I don’t do a whole lot of blog surfing. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I do to find some real jewels. This blog, called Progressive Transit, is maintained by an electrical engineer who is passionate about the ways we get around. He posts this:
Cars do not belong in cities. A standard American sedan can comfortably hold 4+ adults w/ luggage, can travel in excess of 100 miles per hour, and can travel 300+ miles at a time without stopping to refuel. These are all great things if you are traveling long distances between cities. If you are going by yourself to pickup your dry cleaning, then cars are insanely over-engineered for the task. It’s like hammering in a nail with a diesel-powered pile driver. To achieve all these feats (high capacity, high speed, and long range driving), cars must be large and powered by fossil fuels. So when you get a few hundred (or thousand) cars squeezed onto narrow city streets, you are left with snarled traffic and stifling smog.
Before moving to the Midwest in 2006, I walked or rode to the grocery store, local restaurants, bars and coffee shops and even took walks around the neighborhoods I lived in for exercise. I loved being mobile by foot or bike, not dependent on our single car other than for long trips.
When we moved to Iowa I continued to try to walk and ride my bike to run errands as much as possible, but it became more difficult on roads with heavy traffic, no bike lanes or poor or no sidewalks. Car transportation was so dominant, I regularly was the only pedestrian or bicyclist out and about. I tried to commute by bike to work a few times a week and walk to the grocery store when the weather permitted.
Now in Ohio, time transporting myself on my feet or by bike has sharply decreased. My neighborhood is safe, and the neighbors keep to themselves. The schools are good and though most everything we need is within a 10-mile radius, ditching the car has been harder than ever.
Destinations are so spread out here, and the roads aren’t very friendly to non-vehicle traffic. I often felt safer riding through the chaotic streets of San Francisco on my bike than navigating through the suburban sprawl of my town.
But, with everything, one needs balance and compromise. We traded a smaller carbon footprint for good schools, a safe neighborhood and plenty more time in the car. Still, we can work to reduce our impact on the environment, but it’s good to be reminded that I can still try harder to live a life less tied to my car.