Sunday, December 25, 2011

Setting an example to live by (Oct. 12, 2009)

Current mood:  optimistic

I was asked in church on Sunday why I blog about bikes so much. Others often ask me why I talk about buses so much. The answer is the same. I am simply living according to the wise words of Elbert Hubbard, from my hometown of East Aurora NY: “If you would make men better, set an example.” Not in talking or blogging, but in doing. Applies to women equally, of course. (He was writing in 1899.)

Few of you know what it is like to live without access to an automobile. Getting around without a car, especially outside the inner cores of cities, is not only difficult, it often prompts the questioning of one’s sanity. How can it possibly be done, to get to shopping, work, school, day care, medical appointments, social engagements, etc., etc., without a car? Here’s the fast answer: You can’t, unless. Unless what? Well, unless a lot of things you won’t like.
  • Walking an awful lot, upwards of two miles, one way, all the time.
  • Doing so in any and every weather condition, without question or complaint.
  • Adhering to schedules – and the absence thereof – of public transportation.
  • Probably moving somewhere you can be car-less a lot easier.
The suburbs are doomed. I’ve been saying for at least 15 years that I wouldn’t take a house in the outer suburbs if you gave it to me with the mortgage paid off. For just as long, I’ve been saying we cannot seem to build the slums of 2040 fast enough. Why do you think that might be?

Step back and look at the world a second. The fastest growing economies today are India and China. They can’t build cars and roads fast enough. Their demand for oil will soon become just like ours, insatiable. Even assuming there is enough oil to supply them and us and everyone else, its price will undoubtedly rise, and permanently. We had a real scare in 2008 when oil went to $150 a barrel and gas to $4/gallon. That was the wake-up call. Did you wake up? Do you really think gas will be $2.70/gallon forever? Ten years ago when gas was half that, did you think it would ever be what it is now, and happy that it has lowered to only that?

I was already awake. I was already using public transit to get around. In 2007 and 2008, I started using the bike a lot more, and also began using bike-on-bus combinations a whole lot more. Hey, it works! Three years ago only half the buses in Pittsburgh had bike racks. Today it’s three-quarters. In three or so years they all will. I am working as hard as an involved citizen can to make this a reality and make transit more usable. This is why GASP of PA selected me as an environmental hero.

Now question that earlier assumption, that there is enough oil to go around. What if there isn’t? Fast answer: Fuel prices will rise and stay high, permanently. Read up on the idea of “peak oil”. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when”. Optimists say it’s still a couple decades out, pessimists say we’re already past it. I’m not sure the optimists factored in India and China, so I’ll go with the pessimists. $10 gas by 2015? $20 by 2020? Prove me wrong. More relevant question, would you bet a 30-year mortgage that I'm wrong?

Our suburbs depend upon cheap oil. At what point will we finally wake up? Oil goes to $200/barrel as a floor price, peaking $350 on the occasional embargo (1974, pushing gasoline from 35 to 60 cents), war (1990, from 85 cents to $1.40), hurricane (2005, to $3.30) or investor panic (2008, to $4.20), and bingo, we’re paying $7 to $10 a gallon. Somewhere in there, those bullet points start looking a lot less unpalatable to people. People flee the suburbs, which then collapse, and in a few years become slums.

I chose where I live now in 1991 based on a recent good experience with using public transportation. I’m right on the edge of decent vs. unpalatable suburban. It was as close as I could get to multiple bus routes while still staying close to my wife’s job and within this one really good school district. Turns out it’s a pretty good spot for cycling, too, provided I only have to go south, towards the city. I wish it was closer to the city, as even I find daily 20-mile round trips a bit trying.

Start looking at inner cities, though. Start thinking about NOT using your car, seven days a week. Repeat after me: Walk. Bike. Bus. Some combination. Anything but the car!

1 comment:

bus15237 said...

Comment on the original 2009 post:

Pittsburgh Storm
Good job. Just as people get tired of me discussing father involvement with their children's lives.

Not saying I'd be willing to unicycle it from Ross to downtown Pittsburgh via the HOV lanes at 6:45a, but people do need to get out of their cars. We are becoming the fattest nation on earth, and basic walking seems so 19th Century.

Also, having the "right" people on City Council will help atract new people to the city. That and the right mayor.