Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A brief transitarian pause

For the past month or so I have been inspired by a few different sources to drive my car less, and either walk or take public transit more.

The background: I live in midtown and work downtown. Both work and home are within two blocks of light rail and bus routes, and about a half-hour walk from each other. Since I moved there I have walked a lot more in the evenings and days off, but aside from a couple of days when my car was in the shop I still drove to work. The main reason I drive to work is because I use the car as part of my job sometimes, running errands and transporting people.

The inspiration: The writings of RT Rider provided some encouragement in the efforts of someone who lived a lot farther from work than I do to take public transit. The argument to decouple cars as a requirement for transportation, while leaving them as an option, was encouraging. The other inspiration was my first day as a graduate student at Sacramento State, wending my way around the parking lot.

Y'see, parking at Sac State is $5 a day now. A semester permit costs $108. But if you have a current semester sticker, you can ride bus and light rail for free. And, in my experience, you get wetter walking in the rain from your car through the parking lot to the CSUS campus than you do walking from the bus drop-off point.

So I figured, with the free ride incentive, I'd give it a try.

The practice: In the interest of leaving my options open, I have spent the last few weeks trying a variety of transit modes. Typically, there are three basic scenarios for transportation:
#1 is on school days. I have my choice of walking or taking light rail to work, but from work it's an easy shot to CSUS via buses 30, 31 or others. Home is either bus or light rail--I find bus is a little easier and doesn't require a transfer.
#2 is on non-school days. That's a maximum choice kind of day: Walking, bus, or light rail? Possibly my favorite is the half & half: walk to L Street and catch the next bus that comes by. It's a good middle ground between exercise and speed.
#3 is the car. I still need to drive in on days when I will need it for work--typically one or two days a week. If something comes up on a day when I didn't drive in, I can hop on the light rail and be back with my car in 20 minutes.

Now, I'm no newcomer to transit use. I grew up in a household that was often one-car, and one of my strongest childhood memories was riding downtown with my mom in RT's old GMC fishbowl buses. When I was 14, I took summer classes for gifted kids at Sacramento State, and took the bus to CSUS--in many ways, taking the bus to the Sac State transit center is a trip down memory lane. When Light Rail opened in 1987, I used to skip school and take the bus & train downtown to hang out at Java City or shop at the record and comic shops.

After college I got around by bike and public transit: it takes a special kind of girl to date a guy who suggests taking the bus downtown for a date, but somehow I did it. I didn't even know how to drive until a bit before my 26th birthday, when I finally got a job that allowed me to afford a car, and also required me to drive it for work.

The intervening decade or so included unlearning a lot of transit habits. While I never stopped walking around midtown, taking the car to work was a job requirement. I'd still take transit for other trips, usually with the regularity of a "regular church-goer" who goes in every Christmas and Easter.

But this past month has been an opportunity to bring back some old transit habits. The nice weather this time of years certainly makes it easier, and the acid test will be how much I use transit when the weather is less friendly.

What this has to do with Sacramento History: One of the nicest things about walking or taking transit vs. driving is being able to focus on things besides traffic. Sacramento's grid pattern streets also allows many different walking paths, which means I can stroll by a different set of my favorite historic buildings each time I take the walk. On the bus, the slightly higher vantage point offers a look at some of the Queen Anne cottages hidden behind "retail blisters" along downtown streets, ones that are often missed at street level. And, of course, there's the opportunity for reading on the bus if I don't want to admire the view.


John said...

Thanks for mentioning rtrider.

It really is relaxing to get on a bus and be delivered to where you are going, leaving you free to read or just watch the scenery go by.

But I will also admit that my enjoyment stems from the knowledge that I don't have to rely on a bus. When time is short and I have multiple errands I am not left to fume at RT for its lousy scheduling and infrequent service. I just get in my car.

I choose to ride transit and I would like to see others make the same choice when it is reasonable. It is just a matter of being open to the idea.

Unfortunately, we are just too focused on saving time in every aspect of our lives. It is as if we are so poor, so starved for time, that any frittering away of our day riding a bus when we could speeding down a freeway is unthinkable. How could we possibly make up the loss?

Maybe we need to be forced to slow down, to consider a broader meaning to our actions. Choosing transit when it is available is a good thing for the environment and it can be a good thing for your health. Not a bad price in exchange for a little time.

wburg said...

True enough: knowing I have the option of the car is nice. As I mentioned above, I didn't drive until I was 25 (13 years ago) so I spent more time than many being much more transit-dependent, although even then I biked or walked more often than I took the bus (except when I was living in Citrus Heights and working downtown--that lasted about 4 months before I found a place to live down here.)

Daniel said...

I have a similar approach to mode choice, but I also go by bicycle for a lot of trips. I find if I have to leave the grid, I can usually get there more easily by bike than transit, if it's still less than 5 miles. Something I'd like to do more is the bike/transit combo.

Wouldn't it be great if we had a car-share in Sacramento? Then you can have a car for those times when you do need the car, but don't have the expense of owning one (maintenance, insurance, parking).