In which I rode my bike to work, and four-and-a-quarter hours later I rode it home again.
My apartment is technically only six blocks from work; it’s just that they’re such gigantic, industrial blocks that those six blocks actually equal 1.2 miles. (A mile usually contains 17 typical city blocks, that’s how big these blocks are.) The route is more or less a straight line from the edge of the apartment property and down a giant street over an I-394 overpass.
When you look at the cars, well over ninety percent of them have only one occupant. And that one occupant is hell-bent on getting on, off, or through, and is on the phone far more often than you’d like.
Even with a constant and rather vigorous wind, the whole area generally reeks of exhaust, unless it’s very early in the day. Where ‘reeks’ is a value of ‘you’re not really sure if you can breathe.’
At about half-past four today, when I came home, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic. So many individual people in their big-ass SUVs going home from work.
What ever happened to the sedan? Why is literally everyone driving a truck? There’s no way these people need to tow shit; maybe they think they’re safer in the winter months? Regardless, everybody’s driving WAY more car than they’ll ever need.
I realize people are primarily just doing what they need to do to get by, but it’s obscene, the sheer bafflingly huge amount of wealth and waste represented by rush hour, as viewed from a single overpass in a metro area of the United States.
The infrastructure alone runs to the millions, and then all those cars. All the gasoline. So much money, so many resources used for this: the afternoon traffic jam, a wasteful ritual that nobody even likes.
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It’s just so stupid that we didn’t earnestly invest in trains and convenient public transportation back the 70’s when we first realized we were having concurrent air pollution and fuel acquisition crises. Sure, most cities have a light rail or three, but we’re still installing lines like it’s a brand new clean-and-green idea instead of old hat, and the lines that do exist are useless unless you live right up on one. We just never prioritized, so what we have today is millions and millions of people all over the country driving themselves to and from their jobs, which are basically never in their actual neighborhoods, because there’s just no convenient alternative.
It’s such a massive, heartbreaking waste.
I bike, but I pretty much hate it. It’s not convenient; it’s dangerous. This area IS FOR CARS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, and although I ride as defensively and with as much paranoia as possible, I’m still pretty much always on the verge of being hit by a driver who is distracted, in a hurry, on the phone, pissed off, or just not expecting a pedestrian or bicyclist to be fucking around on a freeway overpass, because everybody drives.
When I was a broke college student, I never really understood what they meant when they called America “the richest nation in the world.” Like, I didn’t have any money, and nobody I knew at the time was rich. We were all living hand-to-mouth, growing our debt, struggling. I didn’t really understand that all the infrastructure around me counted toward that national wealth, and that it reflected the decisions we made collectively as a society.
Decisions like choosing to live in an entrenched and wealth-destroying car-centric manner, forever and ever, amen.
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Now, I understand the history of the Interstate Highway Project and how it helped with jobs and transportation of goods; it’s hard to be against it, really, even knowing the consequences. BUT WHY OH WHY COULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN TRAINS.
Had it been trains, we would have designed everything differently. People would just expect to be able to walk or bike or take convenient public transportation to the store, the doctor, the school, and the job. Instead of sprawling, wasteful, ugly suburbs, we’d have communities.
We wouldn’t blindly accept the idea that it’s normal to live and work so far apart, that we should drive to the grocery and the dentist and the bowling alley; we wouldn’t have all these impossible-to-walk mega complexes; we wouldn’t waste so much space.
Around here, an old Minneapolis suburb, there are giant, wide streets that take half a minute to walk across, many without sidewalks. There are giant shopping complexes (like the one I work in, which is two huge big box stores and two multi-business strips containing nail salons, coffee shops, and pet stores) that were never intended to be walked across: the sidewalks go nowhere when they exist at all, and the whole layout is intended to keep motorists from speeding, not to make it possible to walk from business to business. (There’s a pond in the center with some grass, like a nod to a park-like setting, but it’s a bitch to get to without getting HIT BY A CAR so only employees of nearby businesses ever really use the space. Everybody else just drives around it.)
The complex is so car-centric in its design that most of the time, people drive — they literally drive from the Costco parking lot to The Home Depot parking lot, even though they’re right next door to each other: that’s how badly designed the space is for humans.
And this is repeated pretty much everywhere. Nearly every Walmart you’ve ever been to is out in the middle of nowhere and it just sprawls; if other businesses spring up near it, you can’t walk to them. We just don’t design economically because we have so much space to sprawl out in, and people won’t walk if it’s uncomfortable or difficult.
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Our lease is up and we’re apartment-hunting. I want to live as close to downtown as possible; I want regular-sized old-fashioned city blocks and I want sidewalks and I want to be able to walk to a corner store for eggs. I hate the massive, industrial Cub we shop at here. I hate the artificial, wasteful, unwalkable shopping complex it’s in. I hate that my job is SIX HUGE FREAKISH BLOCKS AWAY instead of, like, twenty normal, sidewalked, business-inhabited blocks. Between our apartment and my job there could be tens or hundreds of businesses; instead there’s a fraction and the rest of it is space designed for cars: wasted space.
Cars are dirty and expensive, but the vast majority of Americans cannot survive without one because of the way we’ve designed our communities.
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I was looking at Minneapolis on Google Maps the other day while apartment hunting, and found this little greenway… in the middle of nothing. The website was so excited about turning the area into a greenway for everybody to enjoy, blah blah blah.
In order to enjoy it you’d probably have to drive your bicycle there, park, and then ride around. Because it’s not really convenient to anything, and nobody’s going to use it organically because it’s not on their way from A to B.
Which is a perfect example of how utterly, impossibly car-centric our culture is.