Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Car Free: A blessing and a curse

In the post below this one, Brendan asks whether planned, suburban, German-engineered carlessness is everything its cracked up to be. (I know, you can't tell from the post, but follow the links - they're interesting). I don't know much about German suburbs, but I will tell you this: My own experiment in carlessness is proving alternately delightful and collossally annoying.

To begin with, I didn't sell my car for the privilege of moving to a smart-growth-designed Teutonic suburb where the swish of bicycles and the laughter of cherubic aryans drowns out the distant growl of BMWs powered by the ground-up bones of orphans. I actually abandoned happy, bike-centric, urban living in Somerville, Mass., for the cartastic burg of West Hartford, where I actually purchased a second car. Unfortunately, the first car gave up the ghost, and the third car (purchased to replace the first) turned out to be a disaster of the sort that now sits immobile on my driveway (I'm thinking of taking the wheels off and putting it up on blocks just to spite the neighbors; that might get them even more exercised than when I have black houseguests). So now I am out of car money and obliged to figure out ways to get from here to there (by which I mean Hartford to Bridgeport).

Yesterday, this situation proved craptastic: Between child's doctor's appointment, other child's having to get to daycare, and wife's having to get to work, I only worked four hours of my workday and spent the rest shuttling people around (but don't worry, boss-who-surely-isn't-reading-this: I made up for it by working from 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.). And today, it looked like another pain in the ass: I missed catching a ride with my neighbor to Hamden, and needed to get to New Haven with enough time to get ready for a meeting at noon and a hearing at 1:00, but ma petite wife had to be in Cromwell at 9:15, and kids had to get dropped off (and of course, once you miss the 7:55 Amtrak to New Haven, you can't go again till 11:15). So the only solution was the bike.

I got dropped off at the Middletown-Durham line and headed south on Route 17 for a solid twenty-mile jaunt, dreading the time it would take me, the sweaty mess I would become, and the foolish moment in which I plunked down $1800 for that stupid Ford Focus. But you know what? It was awesome. Know why? Because between Middletown and New Haven is a handsome little swath of real-life rural America - with cows, even. And you know who drives there at 8:30 in the morning? Nobody! So it was me, the chirping birds, the lush greenery of springtime, and even some rabbits (so it was pretty much like Bambi without the hunters, the fire, and the annoying other deer that tries to steal Bambi's girlfriend). I rode at a reasonable but not strenuous pace, got to New Haven in about an hour and twenty minutes, and felt like a health champion.

Conclusion: Carlessness works really well in cities and in carefully planned German suburbs. In Connecticut, maybe not so much. However, it's still nice to ride a bike a lot, especially in the springtime, and (unrelatedly) there is nothing better than filing a motion that is so clever, well-researched, and unexpected that it makes the other lawyer totally lose her cool and start yelling at you. Also, this is Bike Week, so hooray!


Suitcase of Courage said...

First of all - congrats on your motion! That's always a fun outcome fer sure.

Secondly - I've ridden my bike to/from work a bunch lately (ok, not that often, but "oftener" than in the past couple years) and I ditto your remarks. Going car-free in CT is best when the weather's good and the (other ) cars are few.

And for me especially, when the headwind isn't against you BOTH ways!

Rich said...

I brought my bike for my week of work here in Cambridge, and after leaving my car in the hotel's underground parking facility, have been living this week car-free in the aforementioned happy, bike-centric Somerville (& Arlington & the western portion of Cambridge). It's been really fresh seeing how many people bike around here. Excepting, of course, my company, as I've been the only person to utilize the very swank bike rack outside.

kanishka said...

i'm into my 1.5th year of car free ness (ok, there has been some brief assistance from other peopls cars). most of it was around northampton, ma. but since march, its been around manchester/hartford. i must qualify this with the fact that i haven't had a 9-5, just combinations of doing research and taking pre-reqs for grad school.

i do it for the environmental/resource usage factor most. i've wanted to do the middletown to new haven ride soon. glad to hear its pleasant and pretty quick. wasn't sure how bad the hills half way there would be.

i'm trying to jot notes, helpful tips for carless trips in the central ct area.
i'm mostly interested in manchester-hartford, glastonbury-willimantic, glastonbury-middletown, hartford-new haven, manchester-west hartford, glastonbury-new london routes.

as for yourself, if you haven't already, do consider the peter pan hartford-new haven route, (for a break every once in a while: zipcars parked at trinity and around new haven), ct transit routes from hartford to new haven(?), and possibly part biking with a folding bike, part taxi. also, check out the "gmap-pedometer" to guage how difficult/sweaty/long a ride might be.


kanishka said...