02 October 2006

The true cost of not driving

Last week I commented here on the true cost of driving, inspired by a post on the subject in Julie's Health Club (Chicago Tribune). The resulting discussion has brought up a number of good points, which I suppose that in fairness I ought to address here as well.

The consensus is pretty much that bicycle commuting is a really great idea in Chicago, where traffic is awful, parking is expensive and/or difficult to find, and the Chicago Transit Authority rarely can get its act together. But in the suburbs, where people live 20 miles from where they work (for various understandable reasons) and nondriving options simply don't exist, commuting by bicycle is impractical, if not impossible.

Much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree. I grew up, learned to ride a bicycle, and worried the heck out of my parents in the outskirts of Chicago's suburban sprawl at a time when people out there had never even heard of bike lanes, spent a couple of afternoons biking from point A to point B in DuPage County (a place where efforts at promoting bike-friendliness are commendable but somewhat limited to recreation), and made the mistake of trying to get from Lincolnshire to Northfield on a Friday afternoon on my bistate journey last month. I know--it's hell. In most cases there's just no good way to go anywhere by bike. The communities simply aren't designed for it, and necessity often forces people to live, work, and shop in completely different areas.

It's sad but true. And I think that needs to change.

Anyway, to the person who countered with Steven Dutch's page on why people don't use mass transit as an example of how the "true cost of driving" doesn't account for the value of your time, all I have to say is this: I love bicycling. (I also happen to hate driving, but curiously--and perfectly honestly--it has nothing to do with my being an avid cyclist.) I consider any time on my bike to be time well spent, even if I'm just pedaling one mile to work in the morning. I realize how lucky I am to live and work in an area where it isn't necessary to have a car just to get around, and I know that probably skews my worldview somewhat when I look at the suburbs and shake my head. But I still maintain that the best solution isn't just to sigh and say that it's just the way the world is. That's just giving up without trying.

I know, it's a matter of values, and those are personal. Maybe bicycling is something that you just have to grow to love, or maybe you just have to spend a lot of time doing it for lack of other options. I know I definitely fall into the latter category.

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