Rethinking Car Culture, Promoting Alternatives

Cross posted from GCimages. Originally published on July 26, 2012.

Maryland is taking an awesome step toward becoming more bicycle friendly. The Towson Bike Beltway is one of 28 projects that were awarded funding by the Maryland Bikeways Program, according to the Baltimore Sun.With each new person that converts to biking, or even public transportation, the better it is for the environment, and the community.

Public transportation and alternative transportation like cycling, has always been, and I hope will always be, a part of my life. In some ways I always knew how important alternatives to POVs were, but having grown up in a Tokyo megalopolis, I’m thinking I may have taken that infrastructure for granted.

It was a given, a common-sense choice mode of transportation in a place that didn’t require you to own a car. Living on the naval base was a breeze. You either walked, biked, bussed or took the taxi. The car was nice for runs to the commissary, or getting to the emergency room after slicing your foot open with the screen door.

Salim Virji/Flickr
Salim Virji/Flickr

When we lived off base, my dad was usually the only who drove or biked to work. The rest of us walked, rode the train or bus to our destinations. Getting around was seamless. Even the occasional hiccups seemed a nonissue in your traveling time. For the better part of my travels on public transportation, it was stress free.

It was efficient. It was timely. It was convenient.

When I moved to the U.S. six years ago, those three traits took on a different meaning in the form of a car.

I first moved to Calvert County, Md. To be simple: public transportation doesn’t exist in Southern Maryland. It was an unwelcome realization for me when the terms efficiency, timeliness, and convenience took on a completely different meaning in this rural area, and, as I will slowly come to learn, in the cultural consciousness of the U.S. in general.

From there, I moved to College Park—the D.C. suburbs—to attend the University of Maryland. The transportation options were greater, but even then reliance on my car was foremost. I just couldn’t go anywhere without the car. The buses—both Metro and UM Shuttle— were enough in getting me to the Metro station or campus, but beyond the physicality of getting me from A to B, they were less than timely. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was efficient either.

My entire time at UMD, I cried about getting a bike. The building I lived in was only five miles away, on a decent roadway. Of course, finances being an issue, the bike was never really part of my college life.

I wanted something more efficient, more convenient, and fun, but the five years I lived near campus was spent bearing and grinning. After all, despite my complaints about late buses, riding the bus wasn’t that bad. It got me to and from campus or the metro, and that was what was important. I didn’t want to drive, and I didn’t if I didn’t need to.

Finally, after graduating with my B.A. from UMD, and moving closer to the D.C. Maryland border, I bought a bike. With the weather being wonky, and work schedules out of sync, I haven’t ridden as much as I’d like, but I’ve been taking the baby-step approach to a more full-fledged cycling life.

I unabashedly will even say that I may be obsessed with cycling right now.

I’ve only been on a few rides, and commuted to work by bike once, but even with very little riding time, I enjoy the basic feeling of owning a bike. The most simplistic of tools to get you from point A to point B. I’m still a rookie in the bike department, learning about how to upgrade some of the parts, but I’m not a rookie to know the multiple benefits that exist from riding your bike, and using the bike as transportation.

There’s no shortage of articles about motorist-cyclist confrontations, collisions, and general fear to transition to cycling but that shouldn’t be a deterrent for this country to be smart about how people move around these days.

Expanding roadways to accommodate the eventual influx of cars on the roads will not be enough to alleviate the stresses that will be placed on our bodies, and communities. Even 5th District Councilman David Marks of Baltimore County recognizes this, telling The Sun, “We just don’t have a lot of additional space to add more roadways. This just maximizes the road we already have.”

Design in urban, sprawl, and rural areas need to be rethought in ways that promote walkability, sustainability, and to lessen the need to own two, thee, five cars. Cities need to look at the ways their grids can handle increased congestion, and find ways to promote the use of alternative transportation modes: improving public transit, improving cycling lanes, etc.

It’s time, I think, for this country to re-evaluate its obsession with the automobile, and to rethink (rebrand? revisualize?) the image of who uses alternative transportation modes. Not every kid in the U.S. who turns 16 needs to be celebrated with their own car.

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Related:
Cycling and car-shares produce small but significant drop in oil use (The Globe and Mail)

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