Why don’t you ride your bike instead?
The environmental appeal of mass transit and the humble bicycle is undeniable, but getting out of the car takes more than good intentions.
There are a few simple reasons why public transit doesn’t work for most people in the United States:
- It doesn’t go where they need to go
- It’s not reliable
- It’s not fast enough
- It doesn’t allow you to carry big stuff
For bicycles, add the following:
- It’s not safe
- It’s not practical for more than a few miles
Ultimately, any form of transport aiming to displace the automobile must surmount each of these issues in order to be taken seriously. Or maybe not.
There is one aspect of the transportation debate that never seems to be addressed head-on and that is our (I’m speaking of my fellow Americans here) assumption that we will only use one mode of transportation, the car, for everything we do.
Granted, we walk, bike, fly and even float today but for most of us, the vast majority of our day-to-day movements happen in autonomous motor vehicles. Even short trips that we could do on foot or on a bike, we do in the car.
Now if you happen to reside in one of several urban areas with a well-developed public transit system (e.g., New York), then you might be convinced to give the subway a try. That’s because it actually offers an advantage over driving. You go precisely where you need to go and you don’t have to park—or pay for the privilege—when you get there.
Alas, only a tiny percentage of Americans live in such a place. Most live outside of major metro areas and they drive cars.
I could go on about the efficiency of said cars, the price of gasoline compared to other OECD countries, and the deep roots that the car has in our national psyche. The point is simply that, like the energy-water nexus or the energy-food nexus, the energy-transport nexus is a multifaceted… uh, nexus.
But perhaps therein lies the solution. If we were to disaggregate all the driving we do, maybe there would be some opportunities to leave the car at home.
Kids’ soccer game across town? OK, that’s probably a car trip, but what about a quick run to the supermarket? It may say more about food prices than my skills as a bagger, but I can get upwards of $50 worth of groceries into two bags… bags that could easily go on a bike. But do I ride the bike? Well….
Despite having spent a total of several months working and traveling in Europe without a car, and surviving quite well even walking to the grocery store, whenever I return home I quickly revert to my car-centric lifestyle. In the end, accepting a wider variety of transportation solutions into our lives probably has as much to do with a shift in thinking as it does with any economic considerations.