Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Chilly, Timid Activist

Last night I went downtown for a yoga class (how yuppie). And here's my embarrassing secret: I drove. I live two miles away from that class, but it was cold and dark. So I drove.

I also drive to work. Again, very easy to get to via bike or public transit. Except: it's a hospital, in a part of town where nobody ever, ever walks around at night. I can't get to the transit stop without walking alone along poorly-lit streets and waiting at a stop, and I can't ride my bike home without going through an area where cyclists have been jumped before. So I drive.

I haven't come up with an answer to the question that I'm asking, assuming it's the right question: is it possible to make active transportation feel as safe and comfortable as driving? I realize that statistically, I probably have a much better chance of being hit or worse driving back and forth than I do walking and cycling. But blame it on salience or the media, I feel safer in that car. Fashion has thoughtfully swung in my favor and made puffy down jackets and furry boots look good, so it's easier to walk somewhere and arrive looking acceptably stylish than it was five years ago. But at night, I still get cold.

Safety could be addressed by more people walking. Montreal addressed the cold problem by building numerous subterranean walkways, which is a bit much to ask Connecticut. Could making transit easier and more flexible make it more comfortable to walk? It's already the same price to take the bus downtown as it is to park there, although it costs considerably more ingenuity to untangle the confusing and counterintuitive schedule and map. And it's much slower, especially if you have to change routes to get to a specific location.

Greater minds than mine are working on the problem, I know. But I hope they'll bear in mind that if I, a reasonably healthy and active adult living in a walkable city, often choose to drive, others will too. Can we make it easier to choose active transportion? Or do we also have to make it harder to choose to drive?

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting post. Have you read Nudge, by Thaler? He talks about default options. The thing we can do without thinking about it. Driving your car is a default option. You have to make a more conscious decision to do something different. And the world has been designed in the past 50 years for the car to be the default option. Your work and home would be more accessible now if the car had not been the default option for the designer.

    If enough people are driving, perhaps there is a carpool option that makes sense, with flexible carpooling in mind? That would take some research, and it has to work both ways.