February 16, 2011

I quit.

This has been edited and re-edited over a fortnight, a few handfuls of minutes at a time here and there - finally touched up over a hurried lunch. If it seems disjointed, consider that par for the course for this website. I'm always disjointed. Those with grammatical grudges and punctuational preconceptions should simply close their browsers and go read a good book.

And now, my latest post:

Over the last 30 days or so I have been participating in an activity that has me relocated to an area - while not impossibly far away - about four times farther from home, bike-route mileage wise. After entertaining the idea of biking-it for a couple days prior, the KC-area "snow-my-gawd" events of 2011 hit, and that pretty well clinched it. Timing is everything: thank goodness I had a backup vehicle in the driveway. With that, I began a stint of driving that by quick estimation probably puts me deep in the red against whatever carbon footprint or gasoline savings my car-free/light run of last year provided. I was back in traffic; not just driving in the suburbs but as a part of the bigger problem on the local highways to and from the city - every morning, every evening, for four weeks now. My backup vehicle is not timid at the gas pump, either, to the point where I'm fairly confident I've purchased more gas in the last month than I have in the last four years. The prices sting, and it reminds me how difficult this economic dry-spell has to have been on those that don't have many choices in this car-centric town.

My own, private, socio-economic experiment was underway. I didn't want to use the car. If there was an option available, I did examine it: Car pooling, as a subject, only seemed to put people on the defensive. That was interesting. Those that had safely determined that they lived too far from me were comfortable in saying "they would've if it'd worked out". Those who did live close enough or were on the way had a littany of excuses, some legit - some shallow. Gas money sharing wasn't enough to crack into their personal space or routine.

Then I looked online for train schedules and remembered, "oh, yeah. We don't have a train here."

Returning from my mental Fairyland Park, the bus was next. Despite being very creative spending hours at the computer for a few nights between the KCATA and Jo schedules and maps, initially expecting to find a solution and prematurely re-upping my bus-pass online, I finally threw up my arms. Between four different routes and a lot of walking through the snow berms on the sidewalks, two transfers each way in one case, ultimately there was no denying that I simply can't expect a Jo bus full of people to wait for me, a single rider, to transfer from a KC Metro bus which is *scheduled* to arrive eight minutes after they are supposed to have left downtown. The last bus, an hour later, put me back at the park-n-ride 30 minutes before the kids bedtime. Wife? Peeesed, rightly.

Are Kansas City commuters set up to fail? Oddball schedule overlaps seem common. Seemingly, if you live in Johnson County and work downtown, you don't get off work at exactly 4:30pm AND you can't make it to a stop on time, on foot, you're screwed. I don't get how this works, or how this is passable as "transit". A few minor changes, and - while my attempts here were in fact strictly personal - getting back to Johnson County between 5 and 6pm would work. I'm not beefin' about the minor hassle of standing around for 10 minutes for the next bus, I'm talking about overlays of hours as a result of having missed the previous bus my only four minutes in some cases.

We need more routes. We need more people to be hacked-off about there not being more options. We need more people to realize that gasoline, right now, is the highest its been in many months... and that it is February, when gas historically should be cheaper: and it isn't. What are we looking at this summer? $4.00? Easily. A small handful of oddly-scheduled southbound routes out of downtown KCMO in the evening isn't going to cut it. People know this.... so they just keep driving.

I don't drive downtown every day normally, so while I had a general idea beforehand I didn't know it would be this kind of wake-up call. This town is, frankly, ridiculous and backwards. Is traffic here as bad as Boston, or L.A., or Manhattan, NY, or Chicago? No...it's not, but those are not fair comparisons in my opinion. Check any website you like: The Kansas City metro area has more lane-miles per capita than any other area in the USA. By nearly 30%. When China passes the US in highway miles, it will be because they finally passed Kansa-freaking-city. Some would argue that by driving down I-35 you can see evidence that we'll not be letting go of the title quietly. USA! USA! USA! We have the pavement space - so there shouldn't be traffic issues at all, right? Think about it. Why is everyone reeaally driving everywhere?

Now that I've had to drive a "real" commute for a month now I'm not only appauled, I'm broke, frustrated and I feel like I'm missing a chunk of my life. I don't want to be in traffic, listening to drivetime radio. I want to be home, and I want to have gotten some exercise, and I want to feel like I'm making more than minimum wage after transportation costs are subtracted.

I will blog, I will write my letters and emails and call my representative, keep my MOBIKEFED and other memberships renewed, and so should you - but I will also do what most people I shared a lane with last month either won't or can't, which is hang up the keys and start paying it back. I've missed commuting this last month - and I'm recharged and ready. I'm not starting a crusade, and I'm not wearing any arm-bands with trees imprinted on them, no flags, and perhaps I'll even keep my person-to-person soapboxing to myself - but I am quite a bit more motivated than I was in, say, January, to stay on the bike.

Because I can ride, I should. If you can ride, you should. If you can walk, you should. If you can bus, you should. YES we live in a nation built on freedoms and I understand people can and will choose to drive. That is fine, and I accept it. Sheltered joco life? Absolutely... Granted, I knew all along that I loved cycling, that I was saving money, that I was saving gas - despite how miniscule in the grand scheme - and that I was doing my small part. I'm vastly lucky to live where I live and work where I work, and to have a trail that helps me avoid some nasty intersections.

I also understand that it has gotten pretty hairy on the streets for bicyclists around town. Over a decade in traffic has dulled me to the real dangers and honest fear that keeps many people from even trying periodic bicycle commuting around here, even if they do live close to work. Consider, though, that everything benefits everything else in this scenario: more busses? More options? A fair amount of people WILL use it if it's available. That gets cars off the roads. Fewer cars on the road, less 'fear' for cyclists? Perhaps. I know it is far less stressful to ride at 5AM than at 8AM during the week, and that's attributable to number of cars. Imagine if there were fewer cars at 8AM, as if it was 5AM, finally! More cyclists equals fewer cars on the roads still. Fewer cars on the roads benefit those that don't have a choice in the short term and must drive; less stress, less time on the road (more moving, less crawling) and less road-rage... Which begets less car-vs-bike rage. Motorcyclists can feel safer again. Using less space, less gas. Overall, less wear and tear on the roads, so perhaps we CAN finally spend a billion on light rail and still more busses, instead of spending it on *another* lane in each direction on I-35, 70, 635. And so on.

BUT, it all has to start with the individual. Is that you? Is it the next co-worker or friend you tell about the bike or the bus? (or both?)

Now that my activities north of the river are coming to an end it will be very welcome indeed to get back into a healthier, more responsible routine. As the snow melts away, the rains wash the streets and the temps warm up, perhaps this is becoming as good a year as any to start real change. No, there shouldn't be a season for it - but this is the year for all of us to do something. Gas will never be this cheap again, and we will wax wistfully for $3.00/gallon in as quick as two years. If you must drive, is it time to think about how much you REALLY need that SUV or diesel pickup? Can there really be a mobile, work-from-home workforce? Have you asked your employer if you even need to be in an office downtown at all?

Start something.
Do it this week.

As for driving to work every day?
I quit.
Join me.


Chris said...

Yup...except I'm part of the problem with being a "professional" driver by trade. If we could get HS students to double up in cars and people at large companies to double-team commutes, this world would be a better place...for a while.

Matteo said...

Whoa! Great post! You had me worried initially with the title when I saw it. Do your kids ride and know how to do it safely, etc...? I just moved to a more car-centric place than I was before, and I am disappointed. I have and will still get out there though, but I feel alone (again). In my new locale (Trappe, PA) I am beginning to realize that any changes that may occur here probably won't happen for a while, after the kids are grown up. So, are we teaching the kids how important these issues are, and convincing and showing the that bicycling matters in a big way?

Clayton said...

Commuter dude! What can I say? I "feel" the frustration in your writing. What's most frustrating to me (well, one frustrating thing among many) is how easily my colleagues, friends, and relatives dismiss commuting by bicycle. They don't bother to find out at all. I wonder how is the best way to get the word out to be taken seriously. How can we do this? What must we do to gain cyclists respect? I don't have the answers. My response is to continue riding my bike as much as possible and remaining the "same old me". My thought is that people will see me doing something they've not considered,or believe to be "strange", then see how I'm still just a normal guy, only I'm riding a bike; then maybe they'll decide it's not something only the fringe do. Maybe they'll see riding a bike is a rational decision, not something to be done when there's no alternative.
I'm reluctant to "get on my soapbox", because very often that is a for sure way to turn people off. However, cycling needs some positive media presence and quality, representation.
Keep on commuting by bike. I enjoy your blog.

kG said...

@Chris: I wouldn't really deem professional drivers, even semi-pros, as part of the problem, really. things that require large equipments and loads still need to take place. Grocery deliveries, packages, services, law enforcement -- all essential, and worthy of motor-vehicle use, no question. There are probably statistics that support the notion that if there were fewer... let's call them non-essential ...drivers on the roads, perhaps goods and services in general would be cheaper, too? Fewer cars, less traffic, 18-wheelers and such can get deliveries done faster, with less fuel costs passed on. Interesting theory... but, do SOME cars and trucks belong on the roads? Absolutely.

O. T. said...

I feel your pain. I had thought about trying to commute by bike several times, as I missed that about Olathe, but try getting from Midlothian, TX to I-20 & Bonnie View road in Dallas! Death sentence. Parts of the DFW metroplex is very bike friendly and part,the majority, is not. I do live in SUV central. It is every Texan's God given right to drive an SUV 15 miles to work.

Anyway, keep at it. Economics eventually are going to be a wake up call for everyone.