Perspectives: Transportation choice at home and away

18 Jul

I’ve long enjoyed having choices in how to get around. Transportation choice makes travel and tourism easier, for example.

On a recent trip to Boston, I flew to Logan International Airport, rode the water taxi (boat) across Boston Harbor to downtown, walked to Haymarket, and rode the T, Boston’s subway. That’s four modes of transportation! Sure, I could have rented a car, but these options were cheaper and easier, especially for a visitor.

But what about daily life in my city, Omaha? In addition to driving, I’ve walked and rode buses and bicycles in Omaha for years. Last December, I decided to find out if I could get around and do what I wanted to do in Omaha without driving. I chose winter because it’s the hardest time of year get around on your own power.

I started by getting Chris Balish’s book “How to Live Well without Owning a Car” from the library. A key word in that title is “owning.” The book helped me see that owning a car is expensive. I estimated that I had spent at least $3,000 on my car last year in gas, insurance, maintenance, and supplies. That figure does not include the car’s purchase price!

I had an advantage in having moved downtown from a suburban area. Bike lanes had appeared on downtown streets. Bus lines were abundant. I could easily walk to a grocery store and the Old Market.

I realized that getting around without driving my car would require doing some things differently. For instance, although I knew which buses would get me there and had found a good bicycle route, using these modes instead of driving would mean getting up earlier. I learned that this doesn’t necessarily mean that they take more time. I love to read, so the bus ride is reading time for me. My bicycle commute was slower than a drive but saved me a trip to the gym. In that sense, it’s efficient use of time.

Another change was shopping more online to reduce driving to the store. When they heard about my experiment, some friends helped by offering to pick me up to events we both had planned to attend. I offered to chip in for gas. I learned to dress better for cold-weather cycling.

Although I had to plan my days more carefully and it required more physical effort than when driving, I found that I could go where I most wanted to go. Now that ZipCar and B-Cycle are in Omaha, getting around Omaha without owning a car should be a little easier. I hope the Transportation Master Plan update will make our city’s streets friendlier to all forms of transportation!

– An Omahan

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