Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why I Don't Drive

One of the nice things about living in a city is that a car is not an absolute necessity. And it is often true that, the bigger the city is, the more likely it is to have decent public transit. Tokyo is a prime example of clean, reliable and not terribly expensive train, subway and bus service. Even Boise, which is not very big as state capitals go, has a decent bus network (no trains or subways), and people with disabilities that limit their ability to get around can call for transport when they need it.
There was a time, not a century ago, when many other U.S. cities had good public transit, and even my little hometown of Marion, Indiana, was joined to other Hoosier cities by a really cool interurban rail network, as well as the Big Four railroads that joined bigger cities like Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis and all points between and beyond.
Gradually, people who preferred the suburbs bought into the Detroit scheme of individual car ownership, buses replaced trolleys and the interurban, trucks replaced railroads. Before long after World War II, there were more cars than people, and we're stuck with that imbalance today.
I've owned cars, and I could appreciate the convenience of being able to go about anywhere, any time. At the same time, convenience comes at a price. Gasoline and alternative fossil fuels are expensive. More environmentally rational ways to power a car may be cheaper, but there is still the cost of insurance, maintenance, finding a parking place, and eventually replacement.
In the half-dozen years I have been on foot, I have come to appreciate being without a car for more reasons than cost, environmental awareness and comfort. I can get exactly where I want to go with a combination of public transportation and footwork. Along the way, I can literally stop and smell the roses, watch the geese fly, the ducks swim and the woodpeckers peck.
There is supposedly health merit in walking or riding a bike, too. I am still overweight, but I feel better, because walking and even "townie" biking (not the Speedo-wearing skinny-tire kind) help improve circulation and lung capacity.
So I can feel better in the sense that without a car, I am doing my little part to use less fossil fuel and thus reduce pollution. And I can feel better just by the act of hoofing it or riding, or even using public transport, because I can enjoy the scenery, take time and regain a kind of balance with the rest of the world--the part that can do without driving. That's pretty cool.