Lately I’ve been exploring transportation options. I’ve largely been a car driver for most of my life and a recreational bicyclist. But almost a year ago, I took the Business Commute Challenge held annually here in Eugene and last month took the Bike Commute Challenge. The first challenge, I “discovered” our local bus system; the second one I did something I’ve done for a while: biked.
But this all really started last fall in my Sustainable Building Advisor class I took through the NEEI. One speaker, a transportation specialist from Portland, Oregon, said something that resonated with me and stuck. You know how it is when a phrase or idea hits you right between the eyes and you have one of those “aha” moments? That’s what happened to me.
He stressed the issue of having two or more transportation options wherever we live or work. And that’s not to say the automobile is a bad option. It seems many times when we talk about transportation, the car is the evil method and everything else is better. Not necessarily.
Cars have been around for quite a while. And I think they’ll be around for quite a while more. It is true that the automobile has created a lot of the problems we have today (suburban sprawl, air pollution, CO2, etc), but I think the biggest thing the car has caused is complacency. It’s easy for us, we don’t really have to think or plan and for most of the developed world, it’s within our budgets.
But what my class speaker pointed out and what really stuck with me was how some people say when we advocate alternative forms of transportation, we’re trying to “legislate lifestyle”. How many of you have heard that? If we try to encourage bus transportation, we are accused of legislating lifestyle. When we push for more bike lanes or paths, we are trying to legislate lifestyle. But what he said gets to the heart of this: when we only provide one viable method of transportation (cars), we are by default, legislating a lifestyle.
If the option of taking the bus isn’t viable, I’ll drive. If biking isn’t safe, I’ll drive. So with planning policies and transportation policies that ONLY favor cars, we are legislating lifestyle by removing options.
So back to the Business Commute Challenge. I made a conscious decision to try the bus. I had preconceived ideas that it was much slower, inconvenient and was populated primarily by that “shady element” of our society. I wrote about that earlier.
Our local bus system, Lane Transit District, works quite well, is almost as fast as driving (especially when you factor in finding a place to park), is populated by very normal people and often full (my ride home the other day was standing room only).
I have a park and ride near my house (not within walking distance, unfortunately) and I get dropped off just a short walk from my office. Total bus time: 36 minutes; driving is about 15 to 20 minutes. Bus cost: $3 for a one-day pass; driving: $5 (assuming a 50¢ cost per mile). Plus I can meet people on the bus or have time to read a book. (I don’t recommend reading a book while driving).
I’ve been a bike rider for a while. We have a wonderful bike lane/path system in Eugene, Oregon, my home town (NOTE: Eugene has the highest bike commuting percentage of any city our size or larger at 11%. Woo Hoo!). I’ve commuted to work often over the last couple of years, logging about 1,700 miles to date.
I’ll have to confess, I’ve been to date a fair weather cyclist. But now I have rain gear and rode home in the rain the other day. And it wasn’t that bad. What I do like about riding in Eugene is I can ride from the same park and ride (I live on a steep hill, whole other story) to my office in 30 minutes. Bike cost: virtually nothing. Added benefit: exercise, fresh air and my mental attitude when I arrive at work.
Part of the mental attitude is probably due to the fact the last half of my 6.5 mile ride is along the beautiful Willamette River on part of our amazing bike path system in Eugene. Riding in the cool, morning air, sunshine (sometimes), greeting people along the path with a “good morning” — all contribute to better mental health and fosters community. And it’s good physical exercise (I drop about 10 pounds each summer season when I ride).
Which brings me back to options. I have three viable options to get to and from work. Sometimes I drive my car (I had a meeting in Salem the other day, so bike or bus weren’t good options). Sometimes I ride the bus. Sometimes I ride my bike. But I’ve found that now I have “discovered” some options, I take advantage of those choices.
My commuting tally for September 2010: Car: 8 days, Bus: 3 days and Bike 9 days.
Sounds pretty balanced to me. It was a good month.