There is a proposal at work to start charging a parking fee. The particulars are somewhat under dispute: who can be charged, and how much will be charged. But the general idea of the thing is the topic of the day, and this afternoon, while I was in a conversation with a few folks I know, I was inspired to think about car culture in general, beyond the details of this parking fee.
This month is also the local Bicycle Commuter Challenge, which I’m participating in. I’d be riding my bike anyway, given this glorious weather, but this way I have the opportunity to earn fabulous prizes. This too, gave me cause to consider car culture.
The hypothetical reader then assumes that a third data point will be the Current Situation: the war, the high price of gas. Maybe global warming. But I’m going to assume that those items are simply background, at least for the time being.
Because what interests me, in the issue of high gas prices or parking fees, is the underlying assumption: it’s not possible to work without a car.
I’m not going to say that’s not true, even though I’ve managed to make it work for me. I have a job that requires precious little travel and that allows for regular hours. I live in a location that’s convenient to a vanpool, right on a bus line, and in close proximity to an excellent bike trail. These things are not universal. The structure of everything conspires against most of my colleagues, and against most people in this region.
Many jobs require travel to meetings – with clients, other organizations, at other locations – and somehow that’s the individual’s responsibility to make that work. If you travel “enough” and work for the right employer, then perhaps there’s a company car, but I’ve rarely seen that in my (limited) experience.
Then there’s the running of errands, which is what gets me from time to time. Needing to go to the post office, the bank, and so on. Of course, if I worked in a downtown, those things would be more accessible…but my usual workplace is practically at the edge of the earth, with nothing any closer than a good half-hour’s hike across the park. Ergo: bike #2. [link]
Similarly, being out on the fringes means that the bus service is appalling. Slow, slow, slow. Which means that even if one were inclined to take the bus, it would be nearly unbearable. (When I lived in east Tacoma, it took an hour an a half each way.)
Here’s a digression, into the psychology of the car culture, then…. At my last job, I nearly always commuted by bus, because it was crazy-easy. And I did not know a single other person who did. Not one. Moreover, I remember having at least one conversation about taking the express bus to Seattle, which for me was the best thing since sliced bread. In those conversations, I heard people afraid and anxious about taking the bus, and I just never understood it.
Am I that much of an anomaly? Did the Pasadena Unified School District, by giving me a bus pass all through high school, turn me into a freak?
On the other hand, in this month, as the weather has been glorious, and the commuter challenge has been going, I’ve seen lots of cyclists, to the point of even having some near-collisions. And yet, and yet, that’s just a handful, while the freeways are full, and people are freaking out about parking. (Not just at my current gig. People everywhere freak out about parking.) It doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope, honestly.