Thursday, May 14, 2009

Walking-the-Walk, Week 4

Friends ask me if I’m still doing “that walking thing.” The short answer is “yes.” The long answer is a bit more complicated. I started walking-the-walk as a kind of experiment, a game, a challenge to be met or not, and it wasn’t that important either way; after all, if it didn’t work out, I could always drive. It’s not like I invested thousands of dollars in some new technology.

Since I started this adventure, though, I have learned that I am an addict. I never thought of myself as one, but I am addicted to my automobile. During the past three weeks, I have gone the gamut of emotions: From decision to dedication to doubt to the vehicular version of delirium tremens (this when the bus I was waiting an hour-and-a-half for never came) and finally onto a determination to just do it.

I haven’t always succeeded. Yesterday, I had to jump in my car and rush to a last-minute appointment that I simply could not miss; there was no way the bus would have gotten me there on time. And, twice, I had to accept a ride to the airport when there was no means of mass transit available. Then there were the judgment calls: Does carpooling my son to school with his friends count? What about asking my husband to pick up a gallon of milk while he was out? I’ve tried to be as honest with myself as possible; if it wasn’t at least close to being on someone else’s way, then I haven’t ridden with them or asked them to run a quick errand for me. But automobiles are such a pervasive part of our lives that it is difficult to steer clear of them completely.

Oh, how I have yearned for my car! Just to get a loaf of bread. Just a short little trip to the corner store. Just a quickie to the dry cleaners or the bank or the post office. Who would that hurt, really? Who would even need to know? But I have resisted. And, over time, I have come to realize I didn’t really need to get that loaf of bread. Or, if I did, I could just as easily walk over to the store and back. Same thing with the dry cleaners. Not so much with the bank or the post office; they’re too far away to walk. But I could ride a bike. Or I could bundle my errands into one trip rather than two or four or more. With a little planning, I could, in a word, be more efficient. The truth is: most of the trips we take are not necessary and those that are would be much more enjoyable if taken in the company of our fellow human beings.

So now I’m going on week 4. But, really, I don’t think this will end next week. I’ve broken my addiction…at least as much as possible, given my physical environment. Tonight, I am going to University of California, Irvine for CalIT2's Clean Energy Challenge; and it seems only natural that I should take the bus there and get a ride back with my son, who has music practice nearby. This coming week will be a bit more problematic because I will be up at University of Southern California for their News Entrepreneur Boot Camp and there is no way to go there 100% via public transportation. I can take the Metrolink or Amtrak up to LA, and I can take the shuttle to-and-from Union Station; but there simply are no busses running from my house to the Irvine train depot at the times I need to go.

I’ve had people tell me, “I can’t possibly walk-the-walk because I have small children.” Or “I work sales; I live in my car.” Or “I live out in the boonies where there is no public transit.” However, there is always a “but.” “…but I carpool with other moms.” “…but I have a hybrid, so at least I get good gas mileage.” “…but I drive into the city with my husband, and we run all our errands on the way back home.” And, as far as I’m concerned, these people are all walking-the-walk. They are not just getting in their cars and driving as a knee jerk reaction to life. They are giving it some thought. And, yes, they may be making some compromises. But, until we have better infrastructure or more efficient technologies, that may be the best they can do. At the end of the day, we’re all taking baby steps.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Sounds like you're making big headway in breaking the auto habit. My hubby and I made our biggest change when we retired and moved from Florida to Colorado. We downsized to one car, even though our interests and hobbies take us off in different directions (makes for a very organized calendar). There aren't many of our destinations within walking distance, but the bus system is good and I use that when I can. The other thing I do is plan efficient errand runs so I travel as few miles as possible. Every little step is progress.


Anonymous said...

I got a chuckle out of your article this morning. You "fell off the wagon" one day because you had an appointment you couldn't miss, so you jumped in your car so as not to miss it. Shame on you. My son is disabled and has no choice but to use public transportation. It is almost as though this is a game to you and for others it is the only reality they have to get around. My son, too, has to walk to the store many times a week because he can carry only so much back to his apt. And, when he too has an important appointment, he doesn't have your freedom to just jump in the car to arrive on time. Maybe your "experiment" would be more authentic if you followed a disabled person around for a week to really see what "going green" is all about.

Alexis Grant said...

Glad to hear you're still doing it! I haven't read your blog in a while, but I remember the last post you did about this walking challenge, so I'm happy to learn that you're still on it. You're right: It's all about creating the habit.

Cranky Mom said...

I'm so encouraged by your efforts, even if you aren't perfect. You really are walking the walk . . .

Small Footprints said...

I've often thought about farm houses located in remote areas. I'm fascinated at how they must organize their lives ... after all, having to drive hours to get to the nearest market, they can't just pop over for a loaf of bread or a forgotten ingredient to the night's dinner ... they have to plan. I think that they not only use their car less, but they are efficient in other ways ... preserving food, using what they have, re-purposing, etc. I think of them whenever I'm tempted to make an unnecessary trip.

Excellent post, as always ... and I especially like the last paragraph and the line "these people are all walking-the-walk". Every effort counts!

Small Footprints

K. B. Keilbach said...

Dear Anonymous,

You bring up an excellent point. The vast majority of riders whom I have seen using public transportation in California are individual students, immigrants, elderly, and disabled people. This is different from the robust ridership I have seen in New York City or Chicago, which also consists of groups of professionals going to-and-from work as well as families with small children.

Until and unless professionals and suburbanites first "experiment" with and then hopefully continue to use public transportation as part of their day-to-day lives, it will remain a very under-utilized resource, which will in turn create more of a hardship on those who are currently relying on public transit as their sole source of transportation. Even now, OCTA is proposing a change in services due to the state budget crisis that could affect a number of those whose only option is to take the bus.

My goal in walking-the-walk has been to challenge myself and others to explore alternatives to our current transportation quagmire in order to find a cleaner alternative to traffic gridlock, smog, and greenhouse gas emissions. Although I have not been 100 percent successful, I have learned a great deal about the logistics of travel in Southern California as well as how our mode of transit defines our sense community. And I will continue to explore options to driving solo in my car whenever possible.