A few months ago I was trying out a friend’s climate app. It challenged users to improve in three different areas, with two weeks each on diet, energy use, and transportation. When the transportation section came around, we were encouraged to carpool, opt into transit, stay out of our cars for 48 hours, etc. We got points each time we did one of those things. I failed miserably at transit, biking, and staying out of my car for 48 or even 24 hours. So I started to keep a diary of my seeming car addiction.
The thing is, I don’t even like driving. Traffic, parking, gas stations -- yuck. Ever since I was a grad student, I’ve avoided driving. First it was because I couldn’t afford a car. Most of what I needed was on or near campus, so I biked everywhere. To get to Tahoe or Yosemite, I would ride with friends, and we would all chip in for gas. When I took a break from grad school to work at NASA, which was a little farther away, I got a used 250cc motor scooter. It was fun to drive plus it had a basket on the back, and I found ways to carry all kinds of things in/on it. When I finally got a “real” job I did get a car, but still didn’t use it to commute. I liked the feeling of biking to and from work. It cleared my head, and gave me a sense of freedom that I worried I wouldn’t have sitting dressed up in a car in traffic commuting to work with hordes of other people.
But over the years, something changed. Whereas the car used to be an exception, it became the default. When my daughter was young, I used a bike trailer or bike seat. But as her activities ramped up, it became impractical to bike everywhere. Our dog wouldn’t go in a bike trailer. My daughter now has (large) instruments to carry places, and tight schedules don’t allow time to bike. Sometimes I’ve even been known to pull over in my car on the way home and rest in the shade a block or two from my house, to get some peace and quiet. In the space of two decades, the car somehow morphed from a gilded cage to a place of refuge.
Here is some of the diary I wrote with the various reasons (rationalizations?) for why I was still driving when I wasn’t supposed to be. And this is nothing compared to many far busier households. The data I have seen indicate that Peninsula residents drive about 15-20 miles per day.
Is this rationalization, or is it real? I know that plenty of people bike in the rain. But doesn’t the bike then have to be cleaned and the chain oiled? I know a bike trailer can work for big things. But isn’t it a pain to park, or even steer? And did I really want to spend an extra 30 minutes each way to take transit? I have a much simpler alternative, namely our car. Why wouldn’t I drive?
I thought about why my choices are different now. For one thing, I lost the habit of defaulting to my bike. I need to consciously work to build that habit back, which would ease some of the obstacles like rain. But the bigger issue seems to be that our lifestyle has become more car-dependent. We have weekly activities in other cities because we can, and we have more activities because we can fit them in. If we had no car, would we really have horn lessons in one place, soccer practice in another, and art in yet another? Let alone take up baritone sax? No. We’d do less and bike more. And play flute!
Can transit (and cycling) get fast and convenient enough in our area to support our busy lifestyles? Or do our lifestyles need to change? Or do we accept that we need to drive? Interested to hear your experiences and thoughts. Why do you drive? Could you cut your driving in half? If not, why not? Please keep in mind the comment guidelines below.
Current Climate Data (March 2019)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)
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