Transporting Myself

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.

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  1. Here in Tucson we’re also car-centric. Hmm, progressive transportation…a kind of rugged individualism occurs in the wild west. Your own transportation, your own protection (guns).

    “Sheila Talking”/

    • I think we’re wired to be car-centric in this society. It wasn’t until my junior year in college when I studied abroad in London that I was introduced to the concept of functional public transportation. I wish American city planners would revert to thinking about community-building schemes rather than efficient traffic flow and car management schemes. If it’s less efficient and more frustrating to drive (and more expensive) maybe people will do it less.

  2. I hope you discover a safe cycling route for at least exercise or an errand.

    No, I disagree. We are not all hard wired to be car-centric. We are only hard wired to be comfortable with our transportation choices, if we can afford the cost of car and gas.

    I’ve been car-free last 30 yrs. Sure we rent a car 1-2 times per year for 1-2 days or take taxis …less than 5 times annually. Live/use transit, walk to services but most of all I bike to work (if very little snow, ice), errands, fitness and for vacation trips with my bike panniers.

    I wrote about it:

    Hope you rekindle/explore the love of cycling once more. You may be sitting on top of a firecracker powder keg, that’s ready to shoot out on bike, if given a chance. 🙂

    • Hi Jean, thanks for your comment!
      When the weather warms up I will be biking more often. Toward the end of the summer I was out doing a few errands on my bike and riding with the kids to swim lessons and around the neighborhood. I also rode for exercise for about 5 hours a week out on the country roads. It’s definitely part of my life that will not be discarded!
      That is great you have been car free for so long. I will never forget during my travels in Europe, when in Amsterdam, the sheer number of bikes out and about and parked all over. It was amazing. I would love to see that sort of planning here in the middle of the country.
      Happy riding!

  3. I know this is an old post and all, but it just resonates SO STRONGLY with me. Even though, with three kids under the age of four, it’s just not possible to run all my errands on foot (hello, can’t pile all those diapers under a stroller, exactly), I still yearn for the ability to do most of what I can sans car. And I do try. I pack groceries into the bottom of my stroller, hang produce from the handlebar, and pack what I can in a backpack. It’s great exercise, let me tell you.

    I have very fond memories of my college days, walking or biking everywhere. And I’m still somewhat fanatical about walking. Doing the roughly 2 mile walk to school to pick up my toddler feels amazing. It’s good for me, good for my kids, good for the world.

    Of course, when I do drive, I am now driving a Chevy Traverse, which is enormous. We bought this massive vehicle mainly because we will now by driving to visit our families, as I do not even remotely want to try flying with three small children. But now, when I drive it, I will think of this line “It’s like hammering in a nail with a diesel-powered pile driver.”


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