Car, bike or bus? Transportation snapshots from different perspectives

I’ve already written about the shift in perspective I’ve experienced that makes me view driving as a nest of factors that cost me time, money and frustration. I thought I’d break down my bike ride into a few more comparisons that come to mind once in a while on my morning or evening pedal. Your mileage may vary.

Red lights
In a car: Damn it! I almost caught that yellow light. I would have been able to arrive at work a full 120 seconds earlier if I hadn’t gotten stuck at this stupid light.
On a bike: Oh, good, a chance to catch my breath.
In a bus: Light? What light? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book.

What it means to go fast
In a car: Am I pushing the speed limit so much I’m going to get caught? Those tickets are expensive.
On a bike: I feel so strong! I’m flying along at almost 25 miles an hours and doing it all myself. This is exhilarating! And I’m not even going downhill.
On a bus: Speed? What speed? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book.

Snow on the ground
In a car: Dang it! First I had to shovel the driveway just to get out. Then I had to shovel off the car and scrape the windshield. Now I’m going to rethink this whole “I don’t believe in studs because I don’t want to be part of the problem grinding down the city streets” thing. I’m not sure I can stop at the bottom of this hill.
On a bike: So glad I switched to the bus—I don’t think that driver’s going to be able to stop at the bottom of this hill.
On a bus: Snow? What snow? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book. I’m just glad (or, I just wish) my neighbors shoveled their walks for the trek to the bus stop.

In a car: Smells? What smells? All I get is the exhaust from that oil-burning smoke bomb in front of me.
On a bike: The lilacs are in bloom! And the coffee roaster must be doing her thing today—I can smell the beans when I pass that block. Last night’s rain sure made everything smell fresh and clean.
On a bus: Smells? What smells? I’m in the middle of a really exciting part of this book. Although that girl next to me really needs to learn the meaning of the word “subtle” when it comes to perfume.

Speed limits
In a car: You know, if they made the speed limit here 35 instead of 30 I bet I could get to work faster. I could still stop in time if one of those pedestrians wanted to cross the street--it's not as if I'm going to kill someone or anything like that.
On a bike: I love it when I can keep up with the speed limit. Especially when those cars that jack-rabbit through downtown have to stop at all the lights because they speed, and I can just catch up at each red light. 
On a bus: Speed limit? What speed limit? I’m about to finish this really exciting book. Then I’m going to check my email on my phone and delete the spam before I get to work. Oh, but there was that driver who zoomed by on my way to the bus stop--just glad I had time to jump back to the curb. I wish he knew that at 35mph, he's twice as likely to kill someone as he is at 30.

In a car: Shoot, there's nothing close to my building. I'm going to have to look for a spot and that's going to make me late to my meeting. Wonder if I have change for the meter?
On a bike: I'll just hitch to that sign and be inside in a jif.
On a bus: Parking? What parking? Not my problem. I think I'll stop by the library in this little gap between buses and get another book to read. Twenty minutes is just right for me to squeeze in one errand before heading home and I'll have a nice walk to boot.

In a car: Happiness? What does commuting have to do with happiness? This is the worst part of my day (and there's research to support this).
On a bike: I love riding my bike!
On a bus: Happiness is a good book and time to read it.

Inspired by Jonah Lehrer's post and comments on commuting and happinessMatthew Yglesias's post on congestion pricing, and the smell of roasting coffee on my ride to work.


  1. If you substitute writing for reading, the bus comments would be a lot like mine. I tend to be the person at the back of the bus with the clipboard, writing away at whatever comes to mind.

    Sometimes the writing makes it as far as the letters to the editor or entries on a web site. What I put down on paper makes it through a second and final edit when it is launched into cyberspace.

    But most of the time the writing is part of a way to organize my thoughts and free my creativity. It is also relaxing.

    If I were driving, unless it was at oh-dark-thirty, I'd be dealing with having to wind down after the commute. The time I would 'gain' with a faster commute would be 'lost' in recovering from the commute. That is one of the reasons I prefer riding the bus.

  2. What are your thoughts on car, bike, and bus transportation looking 20 years out? Fuel efficiency and carbon reduction and exercise dogma aside, will everything be the same or will one of the three be used more or less than the other two?

  3. I have a pretty murky crystal ball but I'll take a shot at it--

    If we invest in serious transit infrastructure--high-speed rail inside and between cities--I'd expect to see a chunk of personal transportation shift that way. It's definitely chicken and egg: If transit isn't convenient you can't make it a habit.

    On the freight side, which I didn't touch on here, rail shipment is highly fuel efficient. You still have the last mile problem of getting the goods from the station to the retail distributor, and you'll be on city streets for that.

    We have a BIG investment in existing highway infrastructure. I'd expect to see a shift in energy/fuel sources that enable continued use of single-occupancy (or multi-occupant) vehicles. I don't think in 20 years we will have gotten away from that.

    Bikes extend the reach of transit stops. People generally will walk 1/4-1/2 mile to reach something. You can easily bike 2-3 miles in the same amount of time. There's a map of DC I saw presented by the Rails to Trails Coalition in a meeting March 2009 with congressional transportation staff showing the small walkable circles around each transit stop and the much larger bikeable circles around the same stops. You need to make those streets feel safe to cyclists to get that gain, so it's definitely a great partnership for transit to support complete streets design. That design also takes into account the need for the last mile of freight delivery so it's good for all users.



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