Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bicycle Setbacks: Off the wagon

New developments threw a dent, literally, in my resolve to work on shifting toward relying on calories rather than fossil fuel for transportation:
1. A good friend crashed on her bike.
2. Our youngest crashed in the minivan, and while it is being repaired, the family is sharing one car, meaning I'm needed as a chauffeur.
3. For unknown reasons, my neck hurts, especially when bicycling.
The upshot is that the bicycle is once again gathering dust in the garage. My friend is fine, my daughter is fine, but getting back in the saddle is hard.
The irony is that being down one car brings to light just how much driving goes on in our household. Before the crash, thanks in part to my bicycling, our daughter came and went in the minivan, to school rehearsals, meetings, parties, sporting events, a whirlwind of activity. She plays the violin and goalie on a lacrosse team. Even if carrying the full regalia on the bus were practical, bus service between home and school is abysmal. Ten minutes in the car takes over an hour by bus. Reduce the scenario by one car and (temporarily I hope) one bicyclist, and everything shifts. To be honest, I don't push her or my husband to bike. It is scary to have loved ones riding bicycles in traffic. It feels OK for me to do it, but not them. So, since my schedule involves going the most places during the day, this month I drive my husband to work and our daughter to school so that the car is available for me. The two of them take turns biking or walking, and my daughter is making an heroic effort to transport herself via bicycle, but when all else fails, we drive.
This is the way people live these days, if they can afford it. And if they can’t? In her book Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich documents the difficulties of people in poverty who do not have cars. If you can’t afford a car, you probably also can’t afford to live in a neighborhood that offers jobs you are qualified for, and so you commute long, time consuming distances to work. We are organized around the automobile, and living without one takes a lot of energy.
Confronting this truth makes my efforts seem puny and naïve.
There are people voluntarily giving up cars, joining “zip” car cooperatives, moving to homes that are walking distance from work and school, or using mass transit and simplifying their schedules so that transportation is less an obstacle. We haven’t done this in our household, however, and unless forced, it is hard to imagine we will. Judging from the number of cars on the road, most of them guzzling about 5 gallons of gasoline every 100 miles, it seems unlikely that, unless forced, most other people will either.
But we know better! Over consumption of gasoline is connected to unhealthy politics, especially with the Middle East, China and Russia, and causes environmental problems world wide. But cars are part of our lives. We simply can't imagine, don't want to change. Instead, the current sweeps us along, and we hope for the best. Where is the will? What is that sound in the distance? Maybe the roar of a waterfall?

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