For an avid cyclist, the title of this post says it all. But, of course, as a blogger, the obviousness of the title’s meaning won’t stop me from elaborating upon what I meant when I wrote it.
Most of the summer, I managed to avoid using my car. Where I live, it’s possible to walk to stores and restaurants. For most locations within a 20 mile radius, I can ride my bike, unless the weather is very bad or I have to transport items which do not do well on a bike rack. Such times are exactly why I own a car. It fulfills a particular purpose, and no more.
This week, I had the grave misfortune of having to travel down to the Longwood Medical Area, in Boston, Massachusetts, for meetings, two days in a row. I knew I would have to drive on the first day due to certain items I had to take with me. I resigned myself to this fate and tacked on an extra ten minutes to my travel time to avoid arriving late.
As the date of my first meeting grew closer, the weather forecast began to bode bad news. Rain was forecast for not just one, but for both days. This was certainly a stroke of ill luck. I consoled myself with the thought that my car needed some exercise — as I recalled a former neighbor of mine once telling me after seeing my car parked in the same spot day after day. “You have to drive a car,” she stated in an admonishing tone. She was almost distraught from the idea that my car sat for prolonged periods of time, undriven.
She was one of those people who drive a car across the street to run an errand, so I didn’t try to explain to her why I only used the car on occasion. I nodded politely and mounted my bike, assuring her that I would keep her advice in mind.
This exchange was on my mind when I readied myself for the dreaded drive to the Longwood Medical Area. It wasn’t the length of the drive I was worried about; it was the fear of unexpected delays along the way or severe traffic congestion in the Longwood Medical Area.
On day one, I rushed through everything I had to do in the morning to free up my schedule for the drive. Leaving five minutes later than planned could spell disaster. I hate to be late, and driving a car anywhere near Boston is the best way to assure a tardy entrance at your destination.
With my level of anxiety over this journey, one would think that I was driving a great distance to those meetings, yet, in reality, I was driving from Brookline, which was only about 3.5 miles away. I reassured myself with the thought that if I didn’t run into traffic along my route through Brookline, I would have 15 minutes to make the short portion of the trip into the Longwood Medical Area.
I left on time, and raced to Route 9 where I could drive fairly fast if I made the lights. Alas, this was not to be. Despite changing lanes twice as I approached a long traffic light, I could not pass either of two inept drivers. In one lane was an idiot with a cell phone plastered to his left year. The sluggish weaving and bobbing of his car made him a menace on the road.
In the other lane was a slow motion driver, the kind who piddles along in a car as if meandering in a rowboat across a placid lake. As the traffic light — which we could have made — turned yellow, I stifled an urge to get out of my car and push this oblivious imbecile across the intersection. I watched him stop, then drive forward a few feet and stop again. I rolled my eyes, groaned loudly, and started pressing all the preset buttons on my radio, as if finding the right song would alleviate my frustration.
With one eye on the light, I sifted through a few papers I had placed on the passenger’s seat. I wasn’t actually looking for anything, I was simply passing the time by making sure that everything I needed was there.
The instant the light turned green, I was ready to roll, however, the driver in front of me had other ideas. It was the middle of a workday and he was moseying along as if everyone around him was out for a leisurely Sunday drive. Enough. I blasted the horn to give him some driving encouragement. My blaring horn became the equivalent of an audible accelerator. It was meant to spur him into motion.
He didn’t even glance in the rear-view mirror, although he did creep forward. The car in the other lane sped up and began to pull ahead of him. Immediately, I seized the opportunity and shot into the other lane in an attempt to get away from both of them. Several minutes passed before I found an opening which allowed me to pull in front of the slower car and race away.
From that point onward, it was smooth sailing until I reached the Riverway. I had made the 3.5 mile trip from Brookline in ten minutes only to find myself observing cars lined up on Brookline Avenue as far as the eye could see. I had fifteen minutes to drive half a mile to the garage where I was planning to park my car.
At least twenty cars were in front of me when the light turned green. We didn’t move, not even one inch. The light turned red as the car in front of me rolled up a few feet to wait for the next green light.
Five minutes passed before I made it through the intersection. Safely on the far side of the Riverway, I felt that I could drive a couple of blocks in ten minutes. Wrong. I sat in the same spot for ten minutes watching bikes and pedestrians go around my immobile car. They were the only ones moving.
Pedestrians were milling about on both sides of the road. They were making progress. Look how easily they move from one building to another, I thought. I envied them.
Two cyclists decided to ride down the middle of the road, between the cars that were stuck on the road. They were riding at a pretty good clip. By contrast, inching up a few feet at a time, it took me twenty minutes to travel half a mile, twice as long as it had taken me to drive the first 3.5 miles of my trip. I made my appointment by the skin of my teeth.
The next day, I allowed an extra five minutes to increase the odds of getting to my meeting on time. I started out all right. Halfway through the trip, I heard a siren shrieking behind me. I saw an ambulance trapped behind two lanes of cars and no one was trying to move out of its way.
Even when the light changed and cars in front of me began to move, no one pulled over for the ambulance. I decided to pull into the left hand turn lane to give the ambulance room to pass down the middle of two lanes of cars. The car behind me followed suit.
Thanks to my quick thinking, some of the cars in the right lane tried to move a little to the right, giving the ambulance just enough room to squeeze through the opening. After it passed me, I put on my turn signal to get back into the middle lane. No one would let me in. The cars directly behind me had seen me pull over to let the ambulance pass, but they decided to block me out of the lane anyway.
This was another problem unique to driving. If I had been riding a bike, I would never have had to wait five minutes to get back into a driving lane as a penalty for moving over to let an ambulance pass. Another downside to driving, I thought, as I tried to make up some of the lost time.
Fortunately, the traffic on Brookline Avenue was lighter on the second day, so I made the meeting on time, despite having lost nearly ten minutes fighting traffic. Every time I drive in or near a city, with time constraints, I find myself contemplating how much easier and more efficient it would be to ride a bike or walk to my destination.
What amazes me most about this situation is how many drivers don’t see a problem. They can’t imagine that their own lives would be better if they, and many people around them, gave up cars once in a while to walk or bike. If everyone who is capable of walking or biking gave up using their cars just once per week, places like the Longwood Medical Area would not serve as semi-parking lots for hours on end. If I ever run into the former neighbor who liked to scold me for not driving my car, I just might scold her for driving hers across the street. After all, to break down the car-centric mindset, cyclists have to start somewhere.