Car Commute: Easy Rider

It’s easy to forget just how unusual my work commute is. This past week it’s been rather cold (one morning was -1 degrees F, according to my weather app). I still biked to the bus stop, rode the express bus to work, and then biked the rest of the way to work.The reason is pretty simple – I didn’t have much choice, since I live in a one-car household and my wife uses it most days. But even if she didn’t need the car, I still probably would have done that same morning routine, because it’s just that – a routine.

At my office in Springfield, multiple people came up to me on that sub-zero day after seeing my bike and said, “I can’t believe you rode your bike into work today.” I sort of shrugged and explained that I didn’t really ride my bike in, not all the way, but only to/from the bus stop.

“Still,” they’d say, “you’re crazy!”

My Easy Ride

Yesterday, I had to drive into work to make it to an afternoon meeting in Northampton, and fortunately the household car was available. Here are the things I noticed on my car commute:

  1. Instead of needing to be out the door by 7:25 AM to make the bus to Springfield, I got to leave at 7:45.
  2. If I left at 7:46, it would be fine – unlike the bus, the car would still be there.
  3. It usually takes me several minutes just to bundle up. Since I was going from a heated home to a soon-to-be-heated car, I didn’t have to spend nearly as much time putting on winter weather gear.
  4. I got to crank my NPR up as loud as I wanted on my way to work.
  5. I got to park literally feet from the entrance to my office, instead of having to bike about a mile from the Springfield Bus Terminal to the office – again, reducing the amount of bundling I needed to do.
  6. I finally got to bring my suit jacket to work with me, which I’d been delaying because I really didn’t want to stuff my suit jacket into a pannier on my bike ride in.
  7. Driving to work was really convenient, easy, stress-free, and generally pleasant.

I forget how thoroughly engineered our transportation system is, so that driving the obvious choice. So self-evident to the point that people think you have a screw loose if you choose not to drive (and as for those poor folks who don’t have a choice and can’t drive – they deserve our sympathies).

Of course, the same does not hold true for places like Boston or New York City. In those cities, space is at a premium and driving is much more difficult – it’s just a reality of geometry. But Springfield, Massachusetts is much more representative of the rest of the country than these metropolises. The car is king.

In the end, if we want people to choose walking and transit and biking as their travel mode, driving has got to become harder. This could be done through more expensive gas, or parking, or dedicating a travel lane to bus service instead of cars – but in the end, if we want more people using active and/or sustainable transportation, driving is just way too easy.

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