Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm not a hero for riding my bike

People sometimes comment that I’m very committed or virtuous for riding my bike, even in bad weather. At least they used to say that when I drove less. (I’ve gotten sort of lazy.) But the truth is that I’m not being virtuous or committed to the environment. I’m cheap and like the flexibility of my bike.

Living in Madison, and frequently traveling to downtown or campus, there are many options for getting around the area. Of course, you can drive, although parking is often hard to find, expensive (by Madison standards) or both.

Buses are an excellent choice, but you have to adhere to their schedule and location. My bus service is very good, at least if I want to go downtown or anywhere on the Isthmus. But weekends, nights, and areas off the routes make it just a bit less convenient. Besides, I am frequently running late, and if the bus isn’t coming right away, those extra few minutes waiting for the bus will make me look bad.

If I ride my bike, I can get to most destinations within three miles almost as fast as driving, sometimes faster if you consider the time it takes to park. Unless the bus is coming immediately, biking will certainly be faster than the bus. Parking is generally right at the door, vs. a few blocks away with a car, and of course, it’s free.

Bicycling also has the same flexibility as driving a car, in some cases more. Parking downtown for more than an hour means generally parking in one of the ramps and walking to my destination. Yeah, it’s only a few blocks, but if I go somewhere else downtown, I either need to walk or move my car. Riding a bike means a few blocks, or ¾ of a mile is a barely noticeable move.

As an example, consider going from the City-County Bldg to Memorial Union, about a mile. This can be accomplished via:

Driving: Walk to the Government East ramp, move the car to the Lake St ramp, then walk to Memorial Union. All this is not fast, environmentally friendly, or cheap. It’s about the worst choice for moving between these two places.

Bus: Taking the bus is almost less personally efficient than driving, although obviously more environmentally friendly. To go all the way down State St generally means walking to Mifflin and Pinckney – about 1/3 mile, taking the bus to lower State St or University Ave, and then walking to Memorial Union. It probably takes longer than driving.

I can walk, which is fine, but my backpack, pannier, or other bag is often heavy, and the weather is not always great. It also takes about 20 minutes, which seems like a long time when I’m running late or busy.

Biking takes ten minutes or less – it’s all downhill – including unlocking my bike and relocking it at Memorial Union. Carrying a heavy bag is also more comfortable by bike. If I’m carrying more than one bag – shopping, carrying a box of materials, or picking-up/dropping-off – biking with a trailer is really the only option besides driving.

If I’m going anywhere on campus, biking is unquestionably the best option, ditto for anywhere south of University Ave and north of Regent/W Washington.

So although I’d like to claim that I’m biking because I’m a good environmentalist, the truth is that I’m lazy, running late, and cheap.

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