Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Musings

It's Earth Day today, a day to take some time and think about what we're getting from as well as doing to the earth.

When I first started cycling to work, it wasn't because I was a huge cycling fan, or because I rode my bike recreationally all the time and wanted to get in extra training. I'd never been the type of guy to get all googly about the latest bike technology, or to be up in arms about cyclists' rights on the road, or to be worried about congestion on the streets, or anything like that.

Believe it or not, I just hated cars. I hate having to own one. I hate having to maintain one. I hate having to pay for gas. I hate sitting in traffic. And I haven't actually owned a car for myself since mid-2004. I've only owned two cars in my life - a cheapo basic transportation (1987 Mercury Lynx wagon, bought in 1993) car when I got out of my Army training; and then a program car (1993 - I think - Mercury Mystique, bought in 1996) that had heat, as the girl I was dating fairly seriously at the time was tired of being frozen in the Lynx (it didn't have a working heater, not that that sort of thing has ever really bothered me).

The Lynx was (as cars go) a good buy. I put probably 30,000 miles on it, and it only cost me $2000 plus some maintenance of probably $700. The Mystique had problems out the wazoo - the coil springs broke (all four of them), the head gasket broke, etc. I spent WAY too much on that car. And I was tired of having to sit in traffic on 270/670 all the time.

When I first got my position at Ohio State University (first as a consultant), I was still driving to work. Then the Mystique had to go into the shop, so I was looking around for an alternative. I didn't want to rent a car as my insurance wasn't great and wouldn't pay for it, and my then- girlfriend/now my wife suggested the bus. I got online, found the route to work via COTA, and voila... I was a bus commuter.

And I was hooked! Even after I got my car back, I started using the bus more and more often. At this time, I was living out on Stelzer Road near Easton, and I took the #14 route and picked up the #7 in front of Nationwide Insurance to campus. It was about a 40-minute trip, and I loved the idea of someone doing the driving for me. I saw lots of parts of the city I wouldn't have normally seen; I had time to read, listen to music, etc.; and I felt more connected to the communities I passed through.

After we got married, we moved to Clintonville, and lived less than a block off of High Street. That was pretty much the last time I drove that car. I took the bus daily, occasionally combining COTA use with CABS use (CABS is the Ohio State U. bus system).

I'd started mentioning that I wanted to start biking. I've always been an active person, and biking to work would release me from the strictures of bus ridership (one of my routes only ran once every 54 minutes, so if I missed it I was SOL). So for my birthday in 2006, my wife got bikes and a trailer for her, me, and our then-two-year-old. Later that month I started biking, and I haven't looked back.

For me, biking is primarily about not supporting an industry that I feel has been detrimental to our environment and lifestyle: the auto industry. Car usage has made us lazy, antisocial, and irresponsible.
  • Lazy, in that we can't bring ourselves to walk distances of less than a mile.
  • Antisocial, in that we think nothing of behavior on the road that we wouldn't think of if we were walking down the street.
  • Irresponsible, in that we take risks with the lives of those around us in the name of convenience and speed.
There are plenty of other negatives in regard to car usage, but we'll leave it at that for now. There have been entire books written on these topics and there's no need for me to go into it more.

I've always been environmentally motivated in my life, and the idea of riding my bike appealed greatly as a way to practice what I preach. And after a couple months of riding regularly, I discovered something else:

This was FUN!

Since becoming a bike commuter, I've started reading more about cycling, transportation history, urban congestion, bike advocacy, and the like. I've started writing my own thoughts about cycling, commuting, and the like as well (as you probably know) and sharing them with people. And I've discovered a whole community of folks out there who feel the same as me. Some got into this via recreational cycling, some never stopped cycling when they got out of school, some just picked up a bike again recently. But all are agreed...cycling is fun! And the benefits of cycling to work regularly far outweigh any perceived convenience that automobile usage and ownership have.

So that's my random, stream of consciousness about cycling and commuting that this Earth Day has brought me. I'm proud of myself for being part of the solution. I'm proud of myself for being something of an evangelist for cycling, not by my words but by my actions. I'm most proud that so many of you have cited my blog and others like it as part of what got them back on a bicycle and becoming your own part of the solution.

Few things have changed my outlook like cycling has. Now I look forward to passing this love of bikes on to my son and daughter, as my dad (a former bike commuter himself!) did for me.

People, not speed.

2 comments:

  1. Great entry. I discovered your blog after I had begun commuting (although not every day). Over the last year, I've found that having multiple sources of motivation keeps me on the bike and out of the car whenever possible. Whether its environmental, financial or fitness that motivates me on a particular day, I'm always heppy to be on the bike - because it's fun.

    Kurt

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  2. Add another one for the great post comment. It's nice to see someone else who does not like driving. More importantly, your reasons for commuting are right on.

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