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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Adventures in Transportation

At some point, I just snapped. I decided I could no longer stand parking in the city.

Actually, it wasn't "some" point. I know when it was. It was driving around the International District for over half an hour, looking for a spot, and even being willing to pay, but not having the right cash, and then finally finding a tiny spot, barely big enough, and squeezing into it with Shauna outside the car watching to make sure I didn't bump the adjacent cars, but the guy behind accusing me of bumping his car anyway because there was already a smudge on his bumper. And this not long after spending nigh on an hour one Saturday evening looking for parking in Capitol Hill. And seeing typical "event parking" for $20 a pop.

So, yeah, 'nuff parkin' in the city.

Thus it was fortunate timing that the weather is getting lovely, and I am more inclined to experiment with biking and busing around. So, I've been biking to work most days, and have now three times (ooooo) bused into the city. Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but after I moved out of California the first time, I swore I would never rely on public transit again, for such was my loathing of it.

And, looking back, I've analyzed what it is I objected to so much, since in theory I think public transit would be a good idea. First, there was the time: driving from Hayward to San Jose might take 20 minutes; by BART and bus it was two hours, and it wasn't even two hours I could zone out since it involved a couple of transfers. Not acceptable. But, here, busing to Fremont at rush hour is *faster* than driving, due to the insane wicked nasty traffic. Thus, today, I left work at 5:30, rode the bus for half an hour (read a chapter of a book on javascript and had a lovely view of Lake Wash), had another lovely half hour of bike riding, and got to Fremont a little after 6:30 (I might still have been trying to get across the bridge by then if I'd driven). Exercise and time to read... better than repeatedly shifting in and out of first gear on the 520.

The tough part for me about not taking a car, though, is the insecurity. This is not imagined, either: I just barely caught an 11:00pm bus from downtown back to Redmond last week, and had I missed it, it would have been an hour until the next one. I think faced with the prospect of an hour in downtown Seattle at near midnight, I would have either called a taxi or slept on Shauna's floor (assuming there was even a reasonable way to get up to Eastlake - but that is easier by bus from downtown). If you miss the bus, you're stuck. Your car always waits for you (unless you get towed or it breaks down, but those can mostly be avoided by reasonable precautions). You're not stranded if you remember the wrong time to leave. So that is a real concern, but it, like the problem of taking longer, is easily fixed by just having more buses/trains/lines/whatever.

Beyond that, though, I just really have an irrational hangup about public transit. I'll take it, and rationally there's nothing to object to, but I'm still terribly uncomfortable a lot of times, and sometimes almost panicked. What am I so worked up about? Missing my stop? In most places the most that means is walking a few extra blocks, and if I'm on a bike (like I was today), it's trivial. Is it fear of weird people? (You know, like the ones who have a short conversation with you, and then the same conversation again a few minutes later because it sure seems like they just forgot the first one happened? Possibly because they're really stoned?) Well, there are a few around, but mostly there seem to be enough other people (and rule-enforcement-types) that that's not really what I'm worried about. It's closer to the insecurity issue, but no, there's still some irrational fear, even if I know nothing really bad will happen. I'm hoping it will go away if I just keep not taking my car. And bugger it, I'm not going to let that stop me.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Nikki said...

Maybe it's not any one individual factor, but rather the overall lack of independence that bothers you? The fact that you're not choosing the route; or the time; or even piloting the vehicle. There's a very unique sense of freedom that comes from seeing your own car parked in your driveway. It means mobility, independence, even maybe safety (i.e., the ability to flee a situation and go wherever you need to go -- like home from the dark downtown of a big city, or away from any other situation that makes you uncomfortable). It means that, theoretically, wherever you are, you can change your situation in an instant if you chose to, and transport yourself anywhere else you'd like.

And yet, the plusses of public transportation can often make up for that lack. (Now, granted, I'm speaking from Germany, where public transit is incomparable; but that uncomfortable carless feeling is still present sometimes.) I find myself actually looking forward to train rides, because I carry this totally absorbing novel with me wherever I go, and only allow myself to read from it on the train. If it's a bus or street car (i.e., shorter routes where I can't quite zone out like I do on the train), I enjoy the scenery and think about how great it is that I, and everyone else on this streetcar, am contributing that much more to my community and environment. I also actually derive conscious pleasure from imagining the complicated network of efficient zoomy things that transport us cleanly and quietly from place to place.

But again, ze Churmany is kind of a unique case. Still, I found the Seattle bus system eons ahead of the Tucson busses. In Seattle, there are a couple of strange folks on the bus; but there are also a huge number of normal people who go to and from work/school/whatever, and just don't want to fight the traffic. And in that respect, you're right, it often *is* faster just to ride along with the bus!

I guess the inconveniences that come from relying on a transit system instead of your own car are just things you get used to as you make public transit a habit. At first, I was totally annoyed with having to walk 20 minutes down to the train station to even *start* to get anywhere; but as you pointed out, now I view it as opportunity for exercise.

As you pointed out, it is all just a matter of consciously choosing to be nice to the environment, your body, your money, and often even your time, in exchange for taking what sometimes is the easier way. The biggest hurdle is really just that panicky sense of dependence; but it helps to remind yourself that you're never really completely dependent: worst-case scenario, a taxi is just a phone call away. :) Plus, Xanadu is always *there* as an option, which may help you to feel that you're making a voluntary decision to do something beneficial, rather than because you have no choice.

Keeping riding the bus! You'll eventually wonder how you ever did without it. :)

5/31/2007 3:23 AM  
Blogger Steven said...

Yeah, I should take the bus more often, but my truck is just so, well, high off the ground and driven by me that I can't bring myself to it. And I feel you on the stickshift stuff. I love stickshift - wish my truck were stickshift, but going in and out of first in traffic is enough to make you wanna carve out a piece of the floor and drive Flintstones style. If your bus routes offer you views of all the cool stuff you have there in Seattle, I say go bus. Gas prices are ridiculous these days.

6/01/2007 10:44 AM  

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