Do cars force us to give up the outdoors?
September 16, 2003 12:54 AM   Subscribe

Do Cars force us to give up the outdoors? In jail, prisoners are stuck indoors and aren't allowed to go outside except for an hour at most. But are the car-driving residents of the average American suburb consigned to the same fate? "You go from the box garage in the house to the box car, driving down the street, not touching anything or being part of your environment" says Jessica Denevan. [More Inside]
posted by gregb1007 (70 comments total)
Even those who want to bike or walk rather than drive might find it difficult if not impossible because "American cities, once tailored to pedestrians' needs, have been expanded with the automobile so much in mind that its often difficult to safely or conveniently travel by any other means."
posted by gregb1007 at 12:55 AM on September 16, 2003

The solution: Be poor and live in a college town. You'll see the outdoors plenty.
posted by woil at 1:23 AM on September 16, 2003

That's sort of like asking if toilet paper forces us to give up wiping with our bare hands.
posted by bunnytricks at 2:08 AM on September 16, 2003

Not really, bunnytricks. Cars are a convenience, but have virtually eliminated walking or biking, which can be both enjoyable and healthful. Toilet paper is a convenience which has virtually eliminated wiping with bare hands - an activity which is neither enjoyable nor healthful.

I lived in a big, car-only city for about a year, and was pretty much a complete agoraphobic during the whole time. I will never, ever live in a city that isn't pedestrian-friendly (or at least "pedestrian-navigable") again. ...And the suburban utopia has always seemed like an equally appalling nightmare to me. Both of these scenarios give me an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia, so in my book, the 'box" metaphor is a good one.
posted by taz at 2:57 AM on September 16, 2003

When I first went without a car after having got accustomed to having one, the thing that struck me most was how much I had missed. I had moved to Sheffield 3 years before but, ironically given the freedom it is supposed to provide, the car had restricted what I had seen of my new home. When you are in a car you go from A to B and concentrate only on the road in front. When you walk you see buildings, shops, streets , people and freaks that would simply have passed you by before.
I have a car again now, but still make a point of walking to work.
posted by chill at 4:06 AM on September 16, 2003

Absolutely, chill. Part of what I wanted to mention earlier (before I talked too long) is the "investment" of the walker/biker versus the driver. As a pedestrian you become so much more involved with your surroundings... you can actually distinguish community characteristics, as well as "characters", and keep up with what is happening in terms of shops opening, closing, etc., and where people are gathering, and why. Ultimately you have a much more "connected" relationship.

Whizzing by in the car is a completely different thing, that, while having its own recommendations (more time with the family, more choices) certainly doesn't nurture involvement with either your manmade or natural environment.
posted by taz at 4:23 AM on September 16, 2003

Driving you definitely miss the details around you. Less than 1000 feet from my home there is a small monument stating there was a skirmish between British and American troops in the 1700's. Never would have seen that if I were driving.
posted by LinemanBear at 4:42 AM on September 16, 2003

Does Metafilter force us to give up having conversations with people who are in the same room as us?
posted by SpaceCadet at 4:44 AM on September 16, 2003

Yes. I'm ignoring my boyfriend right now. Blah, blah, blah...

Anyway, I do think that walking to do errands and such close to your house, or taking public transportation to your destination, is often a Good Thing....but many communities are no longer designed with the pedestrian in mind. I live in Boston, an alleged metropolis, with no car, and even here there's plenty of stuff I just can't get to without major hassle. It's no wonder that people get used to taking the car even if they're only going a few blocks.
posted by hilatron at 5:03 AM on September 16, 2003

Let's not forget if there were no cars (or any other kind of high speed mass transport), people would probably be forced to live close to cities or their workplace.

I know I definitely wouldn't want to live in some overcrowded, fridge size apartment in a massive high rise situated right next to some industrial area. You'd probably be more of a prisoner than ever before.
posted by PenDevil at 5:10 AM on September 16, 2003

Not the most compelling argument I've ever seen for non-car use. I can think of a lot of things I'd rather do than walk, bike, or bus the 26 kilometres from my home to my office. Speaking as an asthmatic, walking and biking are neither healthful, nor enjoyable to me.

I'd add that I rode transit for many years, and though my single biggest monthly expense is a my Honda Civic, I'd never, ever go back. And I live in a major city, with a halfway decent public transit system.

There was a tiny bit in that article about the tax burden of land that sucks up, but does not produce taxes. There were occasional comments about the environmental toll. Those are anti-car arguments I can get behind. Not being connected to my neighbourhood? Dude, my neighbourhood sucks. Far better to drive to someone else's neighbourhood and connect with it.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:47 AM on September 16, 2003

I will never, ever live in a city that isn't pedestrian-friendly (or at least "pedestrian-navigable") again.

Okay, let's start listing -- where are the pedestrian-friendly cities? I live in Augusta, Maine, which I would categorize as mostly pedestrian-navigable, although the new stuff they're building by the interstate is definitely designed for cars, not walkers.
posted by JanetLand at 5:50 AM on September 16, 2003

This article by Connor Freff Cochran, The Wheeled Bunch, is appropriate. It was written for the "Creative Options" column in Keyboard magazine, so addresses the topic in that context. The author is way behind on updating his site, so (with permission) I've posted it on mine.
posted by gsalad at 6:00 AM on September 16, 2003

Okay, let's start listing -- where are the pedestrian-friendly cities?

I dunno which cities belong on the list, but I'll nominate one to be kept off - Grand Rapids, MI. Typical suburban sprawl geography, with far-flung suburbs which cannot be accessed in any practical way except by car, major roads which not only lack bike paths, but sidewalks as well, generally no planning at any stage in the last 40 years for activities other than driving. Public transportation exists, but is really an afterthought - only a bus system, which until three years ago only ran 6am-6pm Mon-Fri and 11am-6pm Sat. No Sunday service at all. They still only service a few major routes outside those hours, and I can't really blame them - on most routes outside rush hour, the buses are almost always close to empty. Most routes also limit the buses to run once every half hour or even less frequently, which means that if you miss it, you'll be standing there for quite a while.
posted by deadcowdan at 6:06 AM on September 16, 2003

Most parts of Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla and just about every other city in Spain are pedestrian friendly, especially the older parts that were built when cars weren't much of a consideration. Madrid also has a very good metro and bus system (notice all of the circular lines). Chicago is partially pedestrian friendly, but only locally in some of the urban neighborhoods. The public transport is weak for so big a city (only the very center, the Loop is encircled by the metro) and there are hardly any bike lanes. Of course as you get out to the suburban stripmalls- between-big-mall-sprawl of the greater chicagoland area, most roads don't even have sidewalks.
posted by sic at 6:25 AM on September 16, 2003

The problem is not cars per se, but urban sprawl and counterproductive planning codes, as put forth in this article from The Atlantic Monthly.

Personally, I think riding a motorcycle gives you the best of both worlds; I am part of my environment, parking and fuel economy are better, and I can still travel further than I could on a bicycle or feet.

Oh, and Augusta, GA is definitely not pedestrian friendly. Few sidewalks and major arteries to cross if you want to walk anywhere other than the small downtown business district or your own neighborhood. The other day I walked 100 feet or so from Target to Circuit City in the same shopping center, and it was obvious the designers put no thought into anyone doing that; I had to dodge cars the whole way as there were no sidewalks connecting the two stores, even though they were next door to each other.
posted by TedW at 6:31 AM on September 16, 2003

Don't bother coming to Cape Town unless you own a car. No decent public transport and far flung suburbs.
posted by PenDevil at 6:31 AM on September 16, 2003

Pretty much any town in the American Southwest would have to be kept off the list of pede-friendly towns, since most of them were primarily a product of post-oil money (i.e. Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, LA.)

That said, I had no car for five years in Austin and got around great. If you can afford to live in a city center, and work downtown, then it can be easy to live without a car. Add one complication - a job in the burbs, a child to take to daycare, or any kind of medical issues, and it's just 10 times harder to do.

I think that car culture is partly responsible for the divorce rate in the U.S. - Couples move to the burbs b/c they can get there in a car and they can get more house/garage for their money, and then become totally socially isolated from their neighbors and their old friends or family across town. They get on each other's nerves like they never would if they had other social outlets, and one thing leads to another....

(Okay ending my crazy sociology rant now.)
posted by pomegranate at 6:35 AM on September 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

That's sort of like asking if toilet paper forces us to give up wiping with our bare hands.

wow! Do you really feel that way about the outdoors? Your analogy suggests that the reason to have cars is to avoid having to see nature/the world, while I think most people would think of that as a side effect...

Speaking as an asthmatic, walking and biking are neither healthful, nor enjoyable to me.

exercise is still healthy for asthmatics; a regular exercise program can reduce symptoms if you build up to it.

well. I was gonna say this was obvious, but it looks like much of the modern world disagrees. Living in NYC, I do a fair amount of walking; I think of it as pretty pedestrian friendly, if only because we pedestrians insist on it. I wish they'd make it more difficult for cars to get into the city, though - there's really no need in manhattan, at least, for any cars besides taxis.
posted by mdn at 6:41 AM on September 16, 2003

When I moved to Greensboro, NC three years ago, I lived in an apartment in the suburbs and was appalled at how utterly impossible it was to go anywhere without a car. There is a substandard public transportation system here but out where I lived, the bus stops were located on the sides of roads that had neither sidewalks nor shoulders. You literally had to stand in the woods and hope you had time to jump out and get the bus driver's attention without getting hit by traffic. We lived less than a mile from a grocery store, bar, cafe, and a few other strip mall conveniences but there was literally no place, other than the road (again with no shoulders) to walk.

About a year and a half ago we moved to a downtown neighborhood and I have been pleased to find out that for the most part, foot and bike travel is very doable, although biking can get a bit hairy on certain roads. So while I would not suggest that Greensboro win any awards, I do think it's a good example of how living and working downtown can make city life oodles easier and much less car based. I've been much happier ever since (and it's a large apartment in a house, not a cramped high rise, and it's considerably cheaper than our suburban digs, and we're in a historical district with no sort of industrial landscape nearby).

Before moving here I lived in Atlanta and even the downtown areas there were not particularly pedestrian friendly. I used to walk from an office complex on Piedmont Avenue to the Buckhead MARTA Station every day and there were a couple intersections that even crossing with the light, with the right of way, and running to get out of the street as fast as possible, still put my life in grave peril.
posted by jennyb at 6:54 AM on September 16, 2003

".....Speaking as an asthmatic, walking and biking are neither healthful, nor enjoyable to me." - jacquilynne

As far as I know, regular exercise could be the best overall remedy for your asthma (bring your inhaler along at first though, until the symptoms decline). Exercise has, at least partially, cured all the asthmatics I've known.

Living in the city is not especially good for asthma though, since the condition seems to be at least partially related to air pollution [ recently, it has also been associated with the excessive use of chlorine in swimming pools ]. Dietary changes can also help.

I'm surprised the author of the posted piece didn't employ this brutal broadside on suburbia, sprawl and the industrial way:

"Little Boxes" ( by Malvina Reynolds )

Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside, and they all look just the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all went to the university,
Where they all got put in boxes and they all came out the same,
There’s a doctor and a lawyer and a business executive,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children, and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they all get put in boxes and they all come out just the same.

And the boys go into business, and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky, and they all look the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same.
posted by troutfishing at 7:00 AM on September 16, 2003

DC is quite pedestrian friendly, though the surrounding suburbs are not. I walk about a mile to work, and do most of my shopping, socializing, going out, on foot. However, I still have a car that I use to drive out to the big box stores when I need to. I do live in a "fridge size apartment," though it's neither in a high-rise nor next to an industrial area. It's a trade-off--I've traded the privacy and space of a big house in the suburbs for the convenience and just overall ease of living that being able to walk to stores, the post office, bars, museums, and work gives me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:01 AM on September 16, 2003

I'd nominate Bloomington, Indiana as mostly pedestrian/bicycle-friendly. We have bike lanes on or parallel to most of the major arterials and, while the busses run far too infrequently for my liking, they do run six days a week. It is a tough battle, but there is fairly strong and mostly coherent public support for anti-sprawl urban planning and maintaining green spaces which keeps the city navigable by means other than automobile. On the other hand, the city is bookended by two sprawling developments and they continue to suck the life out of the city proper.

The long/short of it—my wife and I have been car-free in Bloomington for several years now and absolutely love it. Chicago was another great car-free city for the years that we lived there even though it felt like providing transportation was a secondary mission for the CTA.

Two cities that suck out loud: Lincoln, Nebraska and Green Bay, Wisconsin.

I am totally resisting the rant urge right now. This topic can get me frothing about the mouth like no other.
posted by Fezboy! at 7:05 AM on September 16, 2003

Pittsburgh is surprisingly friendly to pedestrians and bus commuters as long as you live within a few miles of the downtown area. I take the bus everyday to work from the Squirrel Hill neighborhood to Oakland. It's only a mile and a half, but if I had to go any further I might have to face bus transfers and a huge hassle. Even during rush hour the buses can be too full to pick up more passengers and waits can last up to an hour. That’s why I’m glad that the walk is pleasant and a lot of area businesses still cater to people on foot.

Still, I own a car. After living automobile free in DC and Japan for a few years I've come to appreciate how great it is to have a car. Now I don't have to carry my groceries for half a mile, or (God forbid) try to move anything larger than a briefcase on a bus.

Only in the southwest would someone be able to give up having a car completely. Just imagine trying to lug your three year old to the store while it's raining or snowing.
posted by Alison at 7:11 AM on September 16, 2003

It isn't the cars that causes people to never see the outside, any more than TV causes people to not read or microswave meals prevent people from eating fresh vegetables. It's the people who make the choice to go from the TV to the car to the mall, etc.

I live in The burbs of Boston. My wife and I own two cars, one of which is a *gasp* SUV. We also bike and walk to downtown whenever we can. If I need to go pick up bread and milk I pop the kid on the bike or the stroller and I leave the car at home. I drive to the trolley station every morning and take public transportation the rest of the way, then walk from the stop to work.

On weekends we hike or walk or bike or go to the beach. We see the outdoors plenty and we also NEED our cars.

Cars are a Good Thing, although a bit overused. It is the people who are lazy.
posted by bondcliff at 7:20 AM on September 16, 2003

sic, Chicago has one of the best public transit systems I've ever seen or used. I can get to one end of the city to another via rail and bus, and there are connections everywhere, most of them free. No need to have a car if you live in the city itself.
posted by agregoli at 7:23 AM on September 16, 2003

I have to disagree about the Southwest, Alison. You are correct regarding the weather, but I don't see most Southwestern cities as being pedestrian friendly. In fact, I think Suburban Sprawl is at it's worse there. I grew up in Tucson and while we had a lot of bike routes, there are no sidewalks to speak of.
posted by JeffK at 7:27 AM on September 16, 2003

That's why I ride a motorcycle.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:32 AM on September 16, 2003

I nominate Rome as another city which is pedestrian friendly (though the chaotic traffic might give one pause when confronted with the zebra crossings). I haven't driven any form of motor vehicle in 5 years. I can walk from one side of the city center to the other in about an hour and public transportation is more than adequate for longer jaunts outside the historical center. Bonus: Wandering amongst the cobblestones in this manner has also contributed towards a drop of 2 dress sizes (sans dieting) since arriving.
posted by romakimmy at 7:32 AM on September 16, 2003

If I lived in New York or Boston, I would walk and take mass transit.

If I lived in London, I would walk and take mass transit and wake up everyday with a smile.

But I live in Atlanta, and so I must drive. Everywhere.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:35 AM on September 16, 2003

I've never owned a car, nor even had my license. In my late teens I lived in a small Ontario town, population 5,000. One could walk from any edge of town to the opposite edge in an hour or so. I walked everywhere and thought nothing of it. But it always amazed me to see how few other people did. Work might be a twenty minute walk away - but they drove. One friend of mine always drove the block to get to the tennis court, explaining on the way that she had to get some exercise. I knew people who drove to the bar (two or three blocks away) and then drove home, drunk.

Now I live in Toronto and people seem to use their cars much more intelligently - if they can walk or bike somewhere, they will.

Pondering the difference in the two communities, I think it may be because traffic is so nasty and parking is so expensive in the city - these aren't issues in a small town.

I don't know that I'd call Toronto either pedestrian or driver friendly. I live 18 km from work and it takes me 70 minutes to get to work - it has taken me up to 2 hours on especially bad days. I don't bike because cycling in heavy traffic scares the hell out of me. We need more bike paths.
posted by orange swan at 7:36 AM on September 16, 2003

After living car beholden for several years in Chicago, I've come to appreciate how great it is not to own a car. No more $1000 repairs. No more hour long searches for legal parking. One less dependant to take care of.

I'm in NYC, which is just about as compatible with a carless lifestyle as one can get in the US and that's been great. And for vacations and the like, I just take a train well out of the city and rent.

Chicago/Evanston also supported a carless lifestyle, but Fezboy's right about the CTA under Daley. Bah. I have heard though that Hizonnah has become a biking enthusiast and thus Chicago is putting a biking program in place and adding a lot of bike lanes, trails and enhancements to biker safety. This is something New York sorely needs. The DOT here won't even fix a really dangerous bike exit on the Manhattan Bridge.

And my best friend from HS has lived carless in Detroit and done just fine. Has a pickup now, but that's not used all that much for day to day things. He gave me a great bike tour of his neighborhood and downtown when I visited over the summer.

On Preview: Agregoli, there's a LOT of the city you can't get to very well using Chicago's train system, although the busses mitigate that somewhat.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:42 AM on September 16, 2003

Cambridge (the original English one) is incredibly pedestrian/cycle friendly. Cars are positively repelled. However, once you get out into the surrounding villages you're pretty much car-bound. That seems to be the pattern for all over England. London is indeed a great place to live for the carless.
posted by Summer at 7:43 AM on September 16, 2003

Do cars force us to give up the outdoors?

The question will be moot when the outdoors eventually consist of concrete and more concrete...
posted by Shane at 7:44 AM on September 16, 2003

I moved from Toronto, which is very bike/pedestrian friendly, to a more-or-less suburb of Dallas, which is anything but. I had no car and used to walk or bike everywhere as part of my daily life (I'd bike/walk to work, bike/walk to the movies, bike/walk to the shops), now I have to make walking or biking a specific activity of its own, and there are really only limited places I can walk or bike - I can walk to the mall across the street or to the video store down the street - everywhere else I might want to go would involve walking on the road (no sidewalks, very limited bike lanes and drivers who aren't used to bikes), or making an all-day trek. Public transit is also lacking. It's very discouraging to know that you have to drive pretty well anywhere you want to go, and it's easy to fall into just driving everywhere, even to places you could conceivably walk to.

That said, cars and driving are their own good things independent of anything else, and I've seen a lot of the outdoors that I wouldn't have been able to see without having a car in which to get there.
posted by biscotti at 7:47 AM on September 16, 2003

Chicago has one of the best public transit systems I've ever seen or used. I can get to one end of the city to another via rail and bus, and there are connections everywhere, most of them free. No need to have a car if you live in the city itself.

If the CTA is the best mass transit system you have ever seen I can only believe you don't get out of town much, because the El is a piece of crap, poorly maintained and poorly conceived (unless Daley has had a lobotomy and they've built new lines since I lived there over 4 years ago...). Try catching the blue line from west side Forest Park to catch a flight from O'hare(airport) on the NW side. Since there are no circle lines you have to go all the way into the Loop and back out again, over an hour trip. To get there in car on city streets, not expressway, takes about 25 minutes. Pedestrian friendly... NO WAY!

I admit that I was never a big bus rider, I rode my bike in summer and the train in winter, so maybe the bus system is much better. I never heard anyone raving about it though.

But like I said before though, if you live in an urban neighborhood like Evanston or Wicker Park or Wrigleyville, you can pretty much find everything you want within walking distance or a short train ride. But crisscrossing town, while possible, is a drag.
posted by sic at 7:59 AM on September 16, 2003

Sic, you pretty much nailed it.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:05 AM on September 16, 2003

What about safety? It's about 2 miles from my apartment to my job, quite walkable, but even though my neighborhood is fine for walking, and the neighborhood where my job is is fine for walking, the neighborhoods in between are such that, no matter which way I would walk (there are really only two routes), it's just creepy enough that I am nervous about walking it by myself. Especially when it's dark.
posted by JanetLand at 8:06 AM on September 16, 2003

Oh, another question: You folks who don't have cars at all, how do you buy/transport heavy items?
posted by JanetLand at 8:08 AM on September 16, 2003

Not to belabor the point but let's compare metro maps:

Here is a map of Chicago. I post it to give you an idea of the distance involved, it's a big city. See if you can find Maywood on the map (it's next to Forest Park) and O'hare international airport. Not too far apart , right? Well imagine that you have to go all they way to the lake (trace the 290 expressway east) and then back out on the 90 to get to the airport. About three or four times the distance right? Well that is exactly what you have to do on the CTA. I think it's over 30 stops.

Now here is the Madrid metro.

Here is the Paris Metro.

Here is the London Underground.

You see? Only when you have criss-crossing lines do you really have freedom of movement. Until then you will always need a car sooner or later (or a bus or a taxi).
posted by sic at 8:18 AM on September 16, 2003

how do you buy/transport heavy items?

Who needs heavy items?

OTOH, if I were to buy some huge thing, I could probably also arrange for it to be delivered. Things like grocery shopping, which can become huge/heavy, are done piecemeal. The store is on the way home so what would be one long trip every week turns into several smaller stops that break up the commute/walk home.

Finally, in my experience I have yet to meet any purchase that I could not tackle with my 'bag lady' cart.
posted by Fezboy! at 8:18 AM on September 16, 2003

Transport heavy items:

• Get it delivered (It's New York. That's part of how things work here) - How I got my iMac

• Schlep it myself.

• Rent a vehicle. I've done this ONCE since moving, for a 10 foot long countertop.

It's never been a big deal or a problem.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:21 AM on September 16, 2003

Janetland: Do you drive the two miles to work? Seems like a waste. But I don't know how dangerous your neighborhoods are. It's a travesty if they are so bad that you can't walk that short distance to work everyday.

When I lived without a car, I generally didn't buy big items. Funny thing was, I never felt like I was missing out on anything. I guess less consumption leads to less consumption.

On preview: what fezboy said.
posted by sic at 8:22 AM on September 16, 2003


The PACE 325 route allows you to bypass the blue line's trip to the Loop and back, though you will have to catch it at Rosemont for the final three(?) sstops.

Though your point that circular routes improve travel times is still valid.
posted by Fezboy! at 8:27 AM on September 16, 2003

Janetland: Do you drive the two miles to work? Seems like a waste. But I don't know how dangerous your neighborhoods are. It's a travesty if they are so bad that you can't walk that short distance to work everyday.

See, the thing is, I don't know either exactly how dangerous the neighborhoods between here and work are. Quite possibly I could walk through them for years with no problems. But a nervous, fearful, 20-minute walk twice a day five days a week? I can't bring myself to do it.
posted by JanetLand at 8:28 AM on September 16, 2003

Eh. You give a few examples of problems - no public transit system can take you EVERYWHERE, especially in a city as large as Chicago. For most everyone I know who lives here, transit is excellent. And it still amazes me that I can take public transit from the far south side of Chicago (if I was there, I live on the north side) all the way to the north side, or even an airport, for only $1.50. That beats a car any day.
posted by agregoli at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2003

<cranky> If I didn't have to spend two hours each day in miserable bumper-to-bumper traffic I'd have more free time to stroll around my own neighborhood and visit shops and meet weirdos. The problem is too many people on the road, and too many of them who really can't "drive well with others." Instead of a gas tax, how about regular skill testing for license renewal? Those who don't know how to merge or use the passing lane can find an overpriced fridge-sized apartment in a sketchy neighborhood down the block from their job. The rest of us can live where we want, work where we want, and get back and forth in peace. </ cranky>

<seriously> I'd love to see someplace build up the carfree topography. I think it makes much more sense then the random paving that currently substitutes for design. </seriously>
posted by Tubes at 8:42 AM on September 16, 2003

I'm really not supposed to tell outsiders this, but in Houston we make the barbecue out of pedestrians.
posted by Cyrano at 8:54 AM on September 16, 2003

Fezboy! thanks for the heads up, but the PACE schedule sucks! (.pdf file) Between 6-11 am a bus comes every 30 minutes, between 11 and 12 every 60 minutes, then from 1 to 7 it varies between 30 -60 minutes and after 7 pm nothing! Imagine waiting an hour on some streetcorner in the middle of January with -30 degree wind chill. Or for that matter waiting on one of those stupid exposed platforms of the Elevated train while the January wind rips you to shreds along with 35 other people, all of you wedged together and sneezing on each other in the tiny 4x4 glass "wind break" with the broken hand heater over it.

Oh and no PACE buses on weekends or holidays.

Chicago is hopeless.

On preview:

Agregoli: if you are happy with it, I am happy for you. But I assure you that there are systems way better and way cheaper than the CTA. It costs $60 month minimum to and from work (40 rides). Also, you have to pay 30c extra for a transfer that's only good for two hours which kicks it up to about $72. The (new) CTA 30 day pass costs $75 but at least you get unlimited rides (in my day this pass did not not exist). No problem if you are making over 30k a year, but if you have a minimum wage job ($5 hour) it is damn near 10% of your income, just to get to work!

This on top of the lack of crisscrossing lines and shitty exposed platforms.
posted by sic at 9:15 AM on September 16, 2003

I used to live in Milton Keynes in the UK, its a new town and is built around a series of 1km square grids, which can be residential, commercial, indsutrial, etc, on a network of main roads. The roads are separated from the districts by verges or think bushes. It was designed for car use, but at the same time they put in place redways which are wide pavements for both pedestrian and bicycle use. These parallel the roads but on the other side of the verges so have little contact with the main roads while still giving access to the smaller roads within the districts. Other redways cut across the districts. The car favouring design does mean that the town sprawls and its far from perfect but it does make it extremely easy to cycle, while tending to mean that walking is just a bit slow to get you places. The town has a reputation for being heavily steel and glass with lots of roundabouts, however the sprawl includes large areas for park and lakes and the redways often cut through these. One weird aspect of the design is that drivers have a totally different perception of the city to cyclists/peds. Regular drivers tend to talk about the place in terms of the grid roads while non-drivers talk about it in terms of the districts and how they fit together. I think the reputation concerning roundabouts stems from the fact that visitors tend to drive in and thus miss the other perspective.
posted by biffa at 9:26 AM on September 16, 2003

how do you buy/transport heavy items?

Well, I haven't used one personally, but a bicycle trailer might be a good option.
posted by jester69 at 9:42 AM on September 16, 2003

how do you buy/transport heavy items?

when you are not paying for a car (mortgage, insurance, tax, parking, tickets, etc.), it's really less a problem to hire someone to transport heavy items. It's also not such a big deal to take cabs... Whatever you spend on these items is unlikely to ever amount to as much as maintaining a vehicle.
posted by taz at 9:51 AM on September 16, 2003

Boulder, Colorado is definitely a city friendly to biking/walking/busses.
posted by split atom at 10:04 AM on September 16, 2003

I think that people also forget that they don't have to use their car all the time. I live in LA, so not having a car is ridiculous. However, if I'm going to the airport at any time during the day, there's a direct bus line that costs me 75 cents, rather than the $10/day it would cost me to leave my car there. Very useful since I go to the bay area twice a month. And speaking of the bay area, I consider CalTrain and BART to be two of my closest friends.
posted by synapse at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2003

Sorry you hate Chicago Transpo so much. But plenty of lines crisscross. And I still think that $1.50 and 30 cent transfers are awfully cheap.
posted by agregoli at 10:17 AM on September 16, 2003

Agregoli, I'm glad Chicago has at least the transit that it does, but the CTA setup pales in comparison to what we have in NYC (which also needs some drastic improvements), and the CTA has a history of taking service away from those that can least afford it while keeping things up in the more gentrified parts of town.

It's possible to live a carless lifestyle in Chicago, but you have to have everything line up right with your home and work both in places supported adequately by transit. There's large parts of the city where that does not obtain.

And show me where chicago L lines crisscross, please. Most trips that do not end or originate downtown or along a single line have to go through downtown. I've endured many a wagon draggin' 2 hour ride from Evanston to O'Hare.
posted by ursus_comiter at 10:49 AM on September 16, 2003

I'm surprised the author of the posted piece didn't employ this brutal broadside on suburbia, sprawl and the industrial way:

"Little Boxes" ( by Malvina Reynolds )

I've heard that song before, and it's deeply insulting and downright creepy. It says, "All the people who are not like me are just the same and perfectly interchangeable and none of them matter, and they're not even really fully human."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2003

I'm with you Xenophobe, thoroughly unpleasant song - though I might have been more impressed if she had put forward a working alternative for society.
posted by biffa at 10:57 AM on September 16, 2003

I was just thinking about this subject yesterday. Many people have air-cond. in their car, home and workplace, and spend only a few minutes breathing fresh air, even here in Maine (Hi JanetLand) where the air is pretty fresh, esp. near the Atlantic. I love the view from my office building, where I can see Mt. Washington on a good day, but if the windows opened the air quality would be dramatically improved.

For the record, Portland, Maine is not very pedestrian- and bike-friendly, but not outright impossible. Public transport is limited. Ice and snow make walking and biking to work a miserable proposition in winter.
posted by theora55 at 11:00 AM on September 16, 2003

I love cars. If I could fit one in the hallway I'd drive to the bathroom.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:01 AM on September 16, 2003

For Chicago lines to cross outside of the loop at this point would require several thousand people to lose their homes. I do not think that is going to fly. For what people pay, vs. the cost of running the service, the CTA is beyond a bargain. Evanston to O'Hare may take 2 hours, but it will only set you back a dollar fifty. Bring a book.
posted by thirteen at 11:14 AM on September 16, 2003

"Little Boxes" ( by Malvina Reynolds )

What's even more creepy about this song, is that when many blue class workers were first able to live outside of apartments in the city. So for me, it has a class discriminatory and unpleasant vibe.
posted by stoneegg21 at 11:23 AM on September 16, 2003

What thirteen said. Also, Chicago el lines are all connected by bus. Their coverage is pretty impressive. They are adding bus services and lines all the time; I see new advertisements for them in their train on a monthly basis. NYC might be better, but they've also got more people to move, so I hope they've got it better. One more thing - Evanston is not Chicago. It is going to take longer to get there than traveling in the city.
posted by agregoli at 11:42 AM on September 16, 2003

In LA, a car is a definite "must have" if only because of the urban sprawl. And for the purpose of looking pimpin' in Hollywood.

That being said, I do bike to the market that's about a mile away. To drive that short distance would be ridiculous. I'd bike the 6.5 miles to work if there were bike lanes, but there's none....
posted by starscream at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2003

Two cities that suck out loud: Lincoln, Nebraska and Green Bay, Wisconsin


I can't speak to Green Bay, but I lived in Lincoln for 3 years and I always found it to be *extremely* pedestrian friendly as long as one stayed in the downtown area--which is where I lived (right down the street from the State Capitol). There are sidewalks everywhere, even on the outskirts of town, and the bus service is okay if you need to go somewhere where it's too far to walk. The city is only about the size of a township (6 mi x 6 mi), and I know a fair number of people there who don't have cars or who do have cars and make an effort to walk more than they drive. I miss Lincoln. *sigh*

Of course, this is coming from someone who lived in suburban Detroit, which is very pedestrian unfriendly. Where I'm living now (northern DE) is also pedestrian unfriendly--no sidewalks, really, and I'm always worried I'm going to hit someone as they walk down the side of the road.
posted by eilatan at 12:14 PM on September 16, 2003

I'm glad Chicago has at least the transit that it does, but the CTA setup pales in comparison to what we have in NYC (which also needs some drastic improvements), and the CTA has a history of taking service away from those that can least afford it while keeping things up in the more gentrified parts of town.

Yes. I wonder if the Green line that used to go through the projects on the west side is finally back on line? I hope so. Or have they simply demolished all of those homes in the Cabrini Green project to extend the Gold Coast real estate market? (I already know the answer to that one.)

For Chicago lines to cross outside of the loop at this point would require several thousand people to lose their homes. I do not think that is going to fly.

I guess criss crossing lines are only feasible in underpopulated cities like London, Madrid and New York. And Chicago has no problem demolishing poor people's homes (see above) to keep gentrification alive and kicking.

Anyway, sorry for all the Chicago posts

/end digression
posted by sic at 12:25 PM on September 16, 2003

Grand Rapids' buses have improved vastly in the past few years -- most run later at night (until about 11 PM) and with a greater frequency (generally 20 minutes), and Saturday and (occasionally) Sunday service. I rode the Cherry/Malls bus yesterday afternoon (before rush hour -- some time around 3 PM I think) and it was full. Saturdays are a lot slower, when I used to ride the 28th Street Crosstown home from work on Saturdays I would be one of about three people, but it ran every twenty minutes anyway.

Admittedly, outside of downtown pedestrian travel is harsh. I have personally biked to Rivertown Crossings Mall, which is quite an adventure, as the sidewalk going past Meijer conveniently ends just before the actual entrance and there are NO marked places to cross the street. But this wouldn't have been a problem with the bus, only with biking there from my dad's house about half a mile away.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:14 PM on September 16, 2003

Chicago's Green Line is working. (/off-topic)
posted by agregoli at 2:03 PM on September 16, 2003

I would love to ride my bike to the market and to work.... unfortunately, I live in rural Texas. a 40-mile round trip ride on a bike in 100+ temperatures is not my idea of a pleasurable experience.

I could melt, for Christ's sake.

I'll stick to riding my motorcycle. I get the whole "being part of your environment" feeling - while traveling at the speed limit.
posted by bradth27 at 2:10 PM on September 16, 2003

I grew up on the south end of Lincoln (yea Knights--bleh) where one needed a car to get anywhere. I walked more sidewalk-free miles in my youth than I care to count. I will admit that by the time I left there were some rail-to-trails projects and the like, but this is heavily outweighed by the incredible sprawl to the south and east that Lincoln is experiencing. My mum, who insists on living in pre-fab condo housing, is now somewhere closer to Hickman than downtown.

The only thing that keeps Lincoln's downtown from rotting into obscurity is the UNL students who flock to the bars on P & O streets. Things may have changed in the decade+ since I left, but at the time it was craptastic for car-free living. In my last years there I lived at 24th & R and everything worked out pretty well for my lifestyle except for the lack of a grocery store within walking distance.

Okay, enough derail. I still stand by my Lincoln bites it for car-free living though.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:30 PM on September 16, 2003

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