(This post originally appeared in the SF Environment blog on SFgate.com/green a few weeks back.Â You may recognize some of it from a previous post, but, hey, who ever said repurposing was a bad thing?)
We’re friends, right?Â So I’m just going to admit it, right here.Â My name is Lawrence Grodeska, I’m the Internet Communications Coordinator at SF Environment, and I’m addicted to public transportation.Â I ride transit indiscriminately – BART, MUNI, AC Transit, CalTrain, Bay Bridge bike shuttle, you name it.Â And that’s not all.Â I can’t stop riding my bicycle.Â I have two and I’m dreaming of a third.Â You know what else?Â I don’t know if I should share this, but here goes – I walk all over the place.Â Just me and my two legs, strolling around town, back and forth, to and fro.Â So, why am I telling you all of this?Â Well, you see, I don’t own a car.Â Some might say this is actually my real problem, but I disagree.Â The car-free life is the good life.
Full disclosure: I’ve had my fair share of cars.Â Back in high school, my first car was a Ford hatchback, affectionately named the “Bitchin’ Escort” and lovingly detailed with many a sticker. My second car was more austere and could carry more gear – “Semi,” my somewhat futuristic Chevy Cavalier wagon. My third and last car was the first and only car I have ever truly loved – “Philly,” a 1985 Mercedes 300TD diesel beauty that guzzled vegetable oil. A tank-wagon with the pickup of a slug and the highway momentum of a cruiseship. I knew I loved that car the day I first parked in the driveway and vacuumed the interior, lovingly washed and buffed the exterior. Rarely have I felt so much pride in an inanimate object and never have I felt so much an American.
The first cracks in my automotive armor arose sometime during my second year of college when I was introduced to the concept of habitat fragmentation.Â Our network of highways, byways, and rural routes has so interrupted the normal lifecycle patterns of many species of fish, birds, and animals that population levels have decreased dramatically. The argument against cars was framed for me once again when I came across a study comparing the energetic efficiency of walking to driving a car, an exercise in “true cost accounting“.Â Given the cost in time, money, and energy required to power a vehicle, the study found that it was actually quicker to walk between points A and B than to drive. Specifics aside, I needed little convincing from that point on. I graduated with a B.S. in Biology and a strong desire to ditch my car.
That opportunity finally arose when I landed in San Francisco a few years back. As the dust on my windshield began piling up along with too many parking tickets, I knew that this was the time to embark on my carless existence. Charting out this new territory was fascinating – I encountered my own stages of automotive withdrawal. My first reaction to carlessness was elation. It has been said before by wiser persons that more possessions make for less time and less happiness. I consider automobiles the extreme embodiment of this idea. By letting go of the financial and psychological burdens associated with cars, fresh mental vistas opened up beyond the chattels of my prior car concerns. To this day I am thankful for one less constellation of stress in my life.
My second major reaction to carlessness was indignation. By virtue of more foot, pedal, and transit time, I grew increasingly aware of and shocked by the extent to which cars have dictated the physical structure of our society. Everything from the urban grid to the layout of property lots and shapes of buildings has catered to the overwhelming presence of autos. Moreover, I was offended to recognize just how much cars dictated my daily routine: walking home from BART, forced to navigate corners of 90 degrees after 90 degrees. Waiting in quiet frustration until the cross walk without a traffic light was clear of vehicles. Jumping away from cars screeching to halt to observe stop signs. These all took their toll.
When I started driving again, be it borrowing a friend’s car or a renting a ZipCar, the third stage of my automotive withdrawal set in. Quickly I realized how much I loathed the actual act of driving. The rushing to and fro. The frenetic conditions. The uncertainty about other drivers. I was able to see with great clarity how much anger and tension driving a motor vehicle created in my life. Consequently, I now question if driving is truly a “luxury.” Do the benefits of driving really outweigh the impact on our mental health? These days I am happy to let others occupy my former space on the roads while I try to cultivate a little more calm, a lot more compassion, and a few extra smiles from my fellow bikers, pedestrians, and transit riders.
Thankfully, San Francisco has myriad transit options for those of us ready to let go of our cars and experience the concomitant joy. With the right planning, the impressive regional network of rails, buses and ferries can get you to most places in the Bay Area, no problem. 511.org is your one-stop shop for all things transit – maps, trip planners, etc. Heck, even Google is getting into the game with their new Google Maps Transit Planner. Don’t forget to check NextMuni.com to find out exactly when your next transit chariot will arrive. San Francisco has mandated that companies that employ over 20 workers must have a commuter benefits plan, a great way to get to work with less stress and less strain on your bank account.
Lots of folks in our fair city are working very hard to provide the best public transportation system they can deliver, so take advantage of it. Transit is one of the great benefits of urban living. And who knows? You just might get addicted.