I recently made the decision not to drive. Surprisingly, the reactions of my friends and family (a predominantly open-minded bunch) have ranged from mild concern to outrage. “Supportive” is not in that range. This puzzled me at first. I understand that this decision will put a burden on others, in particular my wife. But the fact is she already does 90% of the driving so this isn’t a big change for us. This will also put a slight burden on my children. Again, our lives are already set up to minimize driving. My kids both walk to school and my wife and I walk to our offices, so this doesn’t affect our regular schedule. And lastly this will put a slight burden on my friends for the few times a year that I drive them somewhere. What can I say? I’m sorry. But I have to do what I have to do. (Note that I’m still willing to ride in a car—I’m a hypocrite I know. And certainly I’ll drive in emergencies.)
Why do I have to do this? Is it to save the planet? Global warming and all that, right? That’s a nice idea but actually I’m kind of afraid of people who want to save the planet. I’m not one of them and I try to avoid them. Is it because I want everyone else to stop driving too? Setting a good example and all that, right? I won’t stop anyone from joining me, but actually I am doing this for very personal reasons that most other people don’t share. I’m doing this because I am a bicyclist. If you are not a bicyclist then you won’t understand my feelings about cars. Over the last 35 years I have been honked at, cussed at, crowded out, and physically assaulted by motorists. I have endured a transportation system that makes very little accommodation for my needs, where the norm is a smug assumption by motorists that I am a nuisance rather than a fellow traveler. Why should I continue to be a part of a system that is so biased against me? I refuse to cooperate with our transportation system as it is.
I can completely understand if others don’t share my feelings. Few people have my history as a bicyclist or have spent the time that I have mulling these things over. Do what you have to do. But don’t ask me to drive.
My feelings about biking were recently brought to the surface after we visited Portland Oregon. There I was overjoyed to see a thriving bike community. At the Portland airport I picked up a book called Pedaling Revolution about the successes of Portland and other cities. I read it cover to cover on the flight home. I suddenly just knew that I had to stop driving. It wasn’t a decision so much as a realization about what was expected of me, perhaps what Quakers call a leading. I have a strange mix of reluctance and insistence about taking this on.
We are fortunate to live in a city (Ithaca New York) where we live three blocks from a thriving downtown with dozens of excellent restaurants and several theaters. We live two blocks from a three-mile trail through the woods. And there is a cool farmer’s market, a science museum, an art museum, a mighty fine college and a world-class university all within a two-mile radius. Except for the hills and the snow, it’s a biker’s heaven. And if you encounter either of those impediments, it’s no big deal to walk (or to use our electric bike).
I foresee a time in the near future when my family can live without owning a car. When a car is absolutely necessary we can use the local carshare cars. We only make three or four driving trips a week already. One of the few remaining reasons we drive is for grocery shopping. It’s less expensive (and more fun) to go to the big grocery store out on the strip and buy six bags of groceries than it is to bring home groceries from the tiny store downtown. But going to the big store would be impossible to do by bike. Or would it? In order to answer that question I recently purchased a bicycle trailer and I plan to start shopping with it this week. Wish me luck!