Monday, February 21, 2011

Car-less, Car-less Life

It is a matter of some personal pride that I have, in my nigh unto eight years off on my own, only driven a car for one summer in order to get to and from work each day. Of course, I was at my parents' home that summer, and driving their car, so it is of some debate how "on my own," I was at that point. I do, however, consider my choice to live car-less to be a good one personally, morally, and environmentally.

I ought not condemn those who make other choices, for it is by their generous sufferance that my lifestyle choice becomes easier. While I receive rides rather infrequently in Michigan, if the possibility of such rides were non-existent, the realm of possibilities for my life would become much smaller. It is not necessary that I avail myself of these potential rides in order to benefit, their very feasibility keeps me from feeling trapped in East Lansing. Of course, when I am in Oregon I receive quite a few generous rides.

My other main mode of vehicular transportation is the bus. In a way, this post is inspired by my sister's on her privilege at being a bus passenger. I must admit that I am a far less frequent passenger upon the bus than I have been in the past, and I am proud of this. But the reason that I am proud is not out of disdain for the bus system, rather I am glad that I am being active and turning unnecessary bus trips into solid walks.

In fact, you might be surprised at just how effective walking can be, if you have no need to transport a large volume or mass of goods. I actually took my first bus ride of the semester on Saturday, having already walked the 4 miles to Meijer (a big store) I decided a return trip via bus was in order, especially considering my purchase of a vacuum cleaner. Before that my previous two bus trips were from and to the airport in Detroit, and according to my bus ticket, prior to that I took a couple of rides on December 1st, for reasons unremembered to me, but likely involving my desire to avoid the elements.

In addition to feelings of self-efficacy and independence that my transportation habits engender in me, I obtain serious financial benefits. Last time I drove I was a teenage male and, consequentially, my insurance rates were awful. However, for a full year of local bus rides and two round trips to the airport I paid about $240 a year. Even though I am older and, presumably, more responsible now, I cannot imagine that the costs associated with purchasing, maintaining, fueling, and insuring a vehicle for a year would come close to being that low. Heck, even if there were not upkeep costs associated with the car, one would need to get a car for $2,400 and drive it for ten years to match my level of investment in transportation.

The picture becomes even rosier once I start walking most places. Since my last unlimited bus pass ran out at the beginning of July, I have spent less than $20 on local bus rides. This puts me at a projection of approximately $140 spent this year on Michigan transportation. That is about an extra 25 used books that I get to pocket (used books being, of course, the currency in any civilized society).

This is not to advocate that everyone become a radical pedestrian, as I like to think of myself. Not only do I benefit from the car ownership of my friends, but I also realize that there are some lifestyles in which auto ownership becomes a necessity. Furthermore, my ability to blithely walk to my destination at all hours of the day or, for the most part, night is an expression of my dual privileges of being male (thus possessing for the most part a feeling of physical safety) and somewhat indifferent to the weather (thus possessing for the most part an ability to wander around in a Michigan winter). I do hope to inspire consideration of the alternatives, while a car may be a necessity in one's life, that does not make it a necessity for every individual trip one makes. I do acknowledge that possessing a car would probably make it very tempting to use when I was running late or bound for a destination more than a couple of miles away, as possessing an unlimited bus pass made the bus highly attractive, but I assure you that there are valuable benefits to the lifestyle of a modest pedestrian.

I certainly do not deny the possibility that I shall need, or even just seriously desire, a car in the future and end up purchasing one. In fact, those Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) look mighty tempting for when I go out into the real world and acquire a terrifyingly disposable income. But, I do hope that I remember the lessons of moderation and self-reliance that I have learned as a radical pedestrian.


elfarmy17 said...

I drive as little as possible for a different reason-- I'm not very good at it yet. Ha.
I wish I lived somewhere where it was practical to walk places on a regular basis.

However, I do walk to my grandma's after school, which is a 15-20 minute walk depending on what route I take and how fast I'm going, and it's one of my favorite parts of the day, providing that the weather is nice. Among other things, it's a time where I can listen to podcasts without fear of being distracted. It's also a great time to think freely and relax, whereas driving requires concentration, and in my case tension.

Karen said...

You radical pedestrian you...

I'm happy that as you go into your future, you will carry the knowledge that you can mostly get by without a car. I agree that owning a car isn't a horrible thing. For us, it is super nice to have one when Matthew and I want to have the occasional visit to family in Eugene or Waldport, for example! However, when traveling in city, I do tend to think that buses, feet, and bikes can get us to most places... You give a great example of how that can indeed be done!

Kenny said...

Back when I drove, I was not particularly skilled at it. I find that deep thoughts are more satisfying than mundane considerations such as, "the road curves here."

Man, if I had a bike Karen, I could go everywhere! At risk of my own life of course ;) Anyway, I feel a certain amount of resentment toward the catering that our transportation system does towards automotive travelers, which is why I characterize myself as a radical pedestrian. I view my walking as an act of defiance against an auto-centric establishment. Hmmm, that I going to be a Facebook status if I remember.