Monday, November 2, 2009

Picture Yourself in a Mercury Now

I hate cars. HATE them. Hatey-hate-hate. I hate their smell, their look, their gas needs, their space needs, the way they dominate the whole world. I correspondingly hate roads, highways, parking lots, garages, car dealerships, "car toy" stores--if it was built for a car, I hate it (except bridges. I still have a toddler's love of things that go over water). I didn't get my driver's license until I turned 17, which in the town I grew up in was like saying I didn't learn how to drive until I was thirty. I didn't own a vehicle until I was 22, and then it was a gift for helping a graduate student watch sparrows (a surprisingly difficult job). I didn't BUY a vehicle until well after I was married (although I'm enhancing my carless status here by omitting the detail that I used Hubs's truck as a primary vehicle for several years). We didn't join the ranks of most American couples and buy a second car until Silas was three and Helen was well on her way--and even then we only bought it because the truck's extended cab could hold one car seat but not two.

So. That was then. Now our family has four people, two cars (a Toyota pickup and a Jetta), two jobs, two schools, and four sets of mutually incompatible activities. In other words, we drive. A lot. On a typical day I drive almost forty miles. ICK. Every so often I make a big flurried show of trying to get us to drive less, and whenever I can walk or bike to an activity, I do, and the weeping of the small ones be damned (my children regard being forced to use their legs as something akin to child abuse, and I only wish I were kidding). However, most of the time, not-driving is not an option, and in fact to even contemplate either biking or taking public transportation would be a huge indulgence on my part, one that would inconvenience pretty much everyone else in the family.

For example: I could bike to work. I figure it would take me about an hour and a half, so I'd have to leave the house six thirty in order to get to work by eight. This would mean that Hubs would have to do all of the kid prep, plus drive Helen to school. It would be, frankly, selfish of me to do this more than once or twice a month. Alternately, I could make EVERYONE get up at five thirty, and make my kids both ride their own bikes AND get dropped off at school an hour to an hour and a half early. And as much as I believe in this, as much as I believe in teaching my kids the importance of not relying solely on carbon-powered conveyances, the bike-centered lifestyle does start to sound a little like child abuse. Or at least like something Balloon Boy's dad might do. You know?

Yes, we could be the weird and slightly overauthoritarian family who makes the kids rise at five, eat a sugar-free breakfast and hop on their bikes, come rain, sleet, snow, or ice. And to tell you the truth, we HAVE been that family. Last year at this time I was still "encouraging" Hubs to bike Si to school on the way to the train station. Si was often the only one whose bike was parked in the school bike rack--a distinction he did not really appreciate. As recently as this summer (before I got the job) I was still biking Helen to school. But as they get older, and social pressures start to crystallize, I get hesitant about forcing them to be so obviously Different.

Getting to work using current public transportation options is not much better. So I'm stuck: on the one hand, this is something I really, really think is important. On the other hand, I don't even know how to make it work in my own life--so I REALLY can't expect anyone else to make it work. And it's more than just an abstract problem--these sorts of dilemmas are at the HEART of why we don't have better public transportation and a more bike-accustomed world.

I mean, it sucks. And it's not all about improving public transportation options--although shuttles passing every major intersection north & south every ten minutes would be helpful (RTD take note). It's about changing our attitude. Dropping the kids off by bike would be a hella easier if OTHER KIDS were doing it, too. The inevitable delays and waits built into a day based in public transportation are also easier when everyone's feeling the wait. Starting the day at nine and leaving by four--a schedule that makes slow transportation options a lot more feasible--only works if it's part of the office culture (and OH BOY is it not).

1 comment:

Jess said...

Ah, collective action. It's a bitch. I totally agree.