OK, really … what am I supposed to say here? Yes, ride bikes. Walk. Ride a train or a bus if you have access. Get around – outside of the box that is the automobile.
I will confess that we’ve had a bit more driving about by car lately – fetching/returning kids from college, some family outings, and so forth. But I loved the questions that were asked in the Experiment Guide for this day:
- Bike. Walk. Scoot. Glide. Hop on the bus. Carpool. Take a moment to reflect on your day. Was it a nice change of pace or a difficult one?
- What benefits did you discover along your route?
- What could you improve in your experience?
You already know this, but I love riding my bike for everyday activities. It is efficient. It makes me feel so good. It makes the task of mundane errand-running much less tedious and much more fun. I like seeing everything – from the cows to the trees to the people – not from within the closed/boxed environment of a vehicle, but from a more “live” perspective. I like the quiet. I love the whrrrrrr of my wheels, the rhythm of my breathing, the feeling in my muscles, the breeze on my face.
I won’t say that it’s always easy. Sometimes, more than two trips in a day can makes me tired enough that I won’t make a third. Even though I have gotten to where I will go out in rain or bad weather, I find that I try to avoid it and just stay in. It does take more time for me – which, on occasion, I don’t have. Distance, more than traffic, is the time-eater for me. I can’t take my dog along (she refuses to ride). And logistically, it really doesn’t work if I have to pick one of the boys up from school, or get them to an appointment, etc. – the distances are too out of reach to deal with in a timely manner.
I just finished watching the documentary Sprawling From Grace. It was an interesting examination of our suburban, segregated pattern of development – a pattern that we are discovering is unsustainable. After the turn of the 20th century, and especially after World War II, we started forming communities that separated industry from residential areas, as well as from commercial centers, schools and civic centers. We wanted everything separate, in its own little enclave, and we decided we’d drive from one area to the next. We have been forced into car dependence by this pattern. Very few of us have access to usable public transportation or transportation alternatives such as the ability to be able to walk or bicycle to our destinations. Even in the places where people in this area may be able to walk, there are no sidewalks or safe ways for them to go about it. When it comes to the automobile, what began as “choice” has become many people’s only option. As one expert in the film termed it: our “happy motoring utopia”.
Bottom line: sprawling suburbia is an unsustainable model in the end. From every angle – economic cost of infrastructure, energy use, traffiic, environmental impact to quality of life, we cannot continue this model of development, and some believe we are running out of time to make necessary changes. Car culture is a guaranteed disaster in the making.
Several weeks ago we were up in Danville, Kentucky, visiting a college. The town really struck a chord with me. It was a real town – with a real, thriving Main Street. There was a bakery, a coffee shop, businesses, shops, and lots of people walking the sidewalks. Pretty houses were just down the side streets. It was not 6 lanes of traffic and a WalMart and Applebees next to the strip mall. It was a real town – much like the town of my childhood, where I have fond memories of walking to the record shop, or to the library or the bakery. Places that were owned by local people – not cookie-cutter corporate chains. In my childhood town, we could walk, or ride bicycles, or even ride a train into Chicago if we needed to. I dearly miss that model of living. I miss having a community that feels like a town – rather than just a copy the same commercial centropolis that is 20, 40, 60 miles down the interstate.
I have hope, though. I think many people – at least people in the “next” and upcoming generation – are getting the message that we need to re-think how and where we live, and how we get from place to place. I love to think about my friend Jeff and his wife Sarah who bought their home in town and near work, and only keep one car. Jeff rides his bicycle to work each day … and they really “get it”. Hopefully the rest of us will come around.