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A Beautiful Day for a Change

September 26th, 2014

A bike parked outside the Village Gate, Rochester NY.
By Mike Governale

I’m generally a pretty happy person, but this time of year I’ve noticed my spirit has a tendency to drop a few pegs. Probably has something to do with the shorter days or whatever. Who knows. Anyway, it occurs to me that I’m not alone. There are LOTS of unhappy people out there. If you drive on the highways and byways of greater Rochester, you’ll get to meet many of them.

This week I foolishly let myself get drawn into not one, but two ugly squabbles. The first was with a driver who sped up to catch me from behind (in the right lane mind you) and then refused to let me merge when our two lanes became one. So, like a bozo, I whaled on my horn for a while and shook my fist in the air at the guy to make sure he saw me in his rear view mirror…

Road Rage: no one wins. [PHOTO: PDXdj, Flickr]
The second incident was in the comments section of another local blog (although this time I didn’t shake my fists in the air; I just typed on my keyboard unusually hard). The article external link was about local commuter habits (driving v walking v biking etc.) and one of the commenters was expressing extreme disgust at cyclists who ride in the road and do not pull over quick enough to let her car pass.

This person claimed that there are many more of these inconsiderate cyclists than there are inconsiderate drivers. Highly debatable, but let’s say this is true… I’m of the opinion that the car/driver should take a chill pill and wait for the next (safe) opportunity to pass the cyclist. After all, unless you’re riding in a golf cart, you’ve got the horsepower to make up for any time lost. And the safest place for that cyclist to be is where he/she will be easily seen – sometimes that means using the full lane.

But who am I to talk. When I drive I clearly experience the same symptoms of anxiety and impatience—even rage—as any of these nugget heads.

What is it that makes us so prone to negative emotions when we’re behind the wheel. Here’s a good article external link that breaks it down nicely…

  1. Tension… driving is risky. Our minds are on high-alert.
  2. Goal-blocking… WHY are you in MY way?! Don’t you know I have to be somewhere?
  3. Unwritten rules… we tend to judge people who don’t act as we think they should.
  4. Anonymity… drivers don’t know each other so we think we can get away with things we would normally do outside of our cars, and there isn’t the opportunity to reach any sort of mutual understanding.

I took a psychology class once (20 years ago). The Pursuit of Happiness external link by David G. Myers was required reading, and I’m glad I actually read it because I learned something; that one of the best ways to achieve happiness is to establish connections with a larger community.

Myers quotes John Winthrop, who in 1630 led one of the first groups of Puritans to land on American shores. Winthrop spoke to his people on board a ship, “We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body.”

Words to live by.

Your community need not be a religious one to be effective. Yet another Rochester blogger gives a perfect example external link of how sharing a ride with perfect strangers, all willing to make room on a crowded bus, brought him to a happy place.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I suppose spilling my thoughts on these pages serves as another path to happiness for me. Or at least a way for me to work through my own mind; figure stuff out.

You know what? It’s a beautiful day, for a change. I think I’m going to take a leap of faith here. Starting today I am going to give up my car commute. There. I said it.

Now let’s see how long this drunken stupor lasts. Place your bets…

Forget you, car. [PHOTO: Purple Wyrm, Flickr]

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This entry was posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014 at 12:01 am and is filed under Opinion, Transit + Infrastructure. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “A Beautiful Day for a Change”

  1. DAY #1. Biked it. 6 miles to downtown through the avenues on street. Took me an hour but I had to stop to inflate my tires. Drying out my pits now with kleenex. But damn, how would I describe this feeling?… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfVU_t940dw

  2. Peter says:

    Welcome to the club! I’ve been bike-commuting as long as there’s no snow for about 3 years now and it is awesome! The morning exercise wakes me up, I don’t have to go to the gym, and I can go 3 or 4 weeks without filling my gas tank (I still drive to hockey, etc.). Luckily, my employer has a shower so I can change when I get there.

  3. Jim Mayer says:

    Go for it!

  4. DAY #2. With a Reconnect Rochester event tonight I had an armful of junk to carry with me, so I took the bus. It was about 13 minutes late picking me up which I thought was weird. Then as we were coming in we passed the problem… The bus we were supposed to be on had broken down and was sitting on the side of the road. So all in all RTS did a good job in getting another bus out. 13 minutes could have been closer to an hour if I had to wait for the next scheduled time.Total trip including wait time = 45 minutes.

    Catching the last bus home tonight after my event should be interesting.

  5. Matthew Denker says:

    Please do keep us posted on this experiment, I am very excited to hear more. It used to take me 21 minutes from Park Ave to work at Harris Interactive in Brighton. Bike/walk commuting is the best.

  6. Day 3 of my pledge to commute car-free was a break-through. Day 1 was an hour (but very enjoyable) bike ride. Day 2 was a (more relaxing) 45 minute bus ride and walk. Today I remembered the bike rack on the bus! So I threw my wheels up on there, bussed to downtown and biked the final leg. Total trip time including a pause to take some less-than-stellar photos = 35 minutes!

    Photo: https://www.facebook.com/rocsubway/photos/a.282378736568.139929.251790736568/10152379727911569/

    And I’m looking forward to a super fun ride up the Genesee Valley Riverway Trail after work today. Nice.

  7. sally says:

    I’m curious to know how your commute home after the event went. What time was it? Did you wait longer for a bus?

  8. Hi Sally! EXCELLENT question. So as you probably know, our bus system practically shuts down after 9pm. The last bus from where we were on Monroe Ave was 9:04pm. I could have still made it downtown to catch my connecting 9:20 Saint Paul bus, but it wasn’t to be (we had too good a time at Aladdin’s). So I had to catch a ride with a friend. Ah well ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    But I DID take the bus from work TO the event. And my own hands never touched a steering wheel, so technically my streak is still alive 😉

  9. Preface: I’m not going to post updates here everyday because I know everyone subscribed to this thread gets enough email… but when I have a something new to share I will…

    So, one of the hurdles that’s kept me from going car-free is my schedule which can change on a dime and is constantly throwing me curve balls. Case in point, today I thought I would have a leisurely bike ride home via the Genesee Riverway Trail. But at 4pm my wife decided she wanted to meet me at Home Depot to look at new kitchen cabinets. Hmm… okay, my first real test.

    Being downtown really helps since 95% of our bus routes run through here. I was able to step out onto State Street, pick up the #10 bus at 4:51, and by 5:15 I was dropped off at those big orange gates on East Ridge Road. I didn’t have to change buses. No layover time on Main Street. And I even beat my wife!

    I mean, I made it there first. I don’t beat my wife. Really.

  10. Today I hit a rough patch. I had an 8am meeting downtown and had to catch an earlier bus (7:15am). I’m a late sleeper so this put me a bit off my game. When I arrived downtown and stepped off the bus to get my bike off the rack, I walked smack into the bus’ rearview mirror. I’ve had a headache all day. BUT I’m still in a good mood!

    To that point, this article from Urbanful landed in my inbox today. It completely supports the notion that car commutes make us miserable…

    http://urbanful.org/2014/09/30/hate-driving-to-work-walking-or-public-transit-could-improve-your-mood

    It’s hard science!

  11. david says:

    A thought with your experiment too. I think it’s great that you are supporting public transportation and finding an alternative to your car, but just a thought on this. Does it have to be all or nothing? So if you find that your schedule sometimes makes it difficult to use the bus, or stressful to do so, what about a combination of car and bus? On days when you know your schedule will work fine with the bus or bike, take that transportation. If it doesn’t fit, then take your car?

    Don’t get me wrong though. I will love to continue reading as you continue your experiment!

  12. It sort of does, though, doesn’t it? What about the quarter of households in our fine city that doesn’t have access to a car? Having a vehicle is an incredible privilege (that most people gloss over). I do think there is a strong argument to be made for car and bike sharing in this case, though. What if you could leave your bike at the office and take a different bike to a meeting, then get the bus from there? What if you can grab a zip car for the one day you need to drive? If you only need to drive once a week, would it be cheaper to take a car service than own a car? All very challenging questions that, because commuting has been proven to be one of those habits at the level of smoking or brushing ones teeth, don’t get the kind of carefully thoughtful attention they deserve. What Mike is doing is incredibly hard. It does not happen naturally, and it makes change very challenging. The fact that a place like Rochester has experienced mostly flight rather than mostly relocation into the city means that the vast majority of rethinking commutes has gone in the direction of driving as well, which is always the easy choice. Even in NYC or SF or ‘name-the-international-city,’ it’s easy – it’s just expensive.

  13. …and that should be a don’t, not doesn’t. please forgive my poor Saturday morning grammar.

  14. @David, yes yes. I agree with you. I don’t think it needs to be all or nothing. I have found that using public transit or biking even once a week has a noticeable impact on my outlook.

    However, in the past, when I have split my trips between transit and car, I have found that I quickly fall back into what is easiest – 100% car.

    As Matt points out, a lifestyle change of this nature is VERY difficult to do halfway. Going cold-turkey may not be any easier, but it’s something I wanted to try.

    After just 1 week I can honestly say I am starting to have doubts about whether or not I can keep this up. Last Wednesday/Thursday I threw my back out – partly a result of smacking my head into the rearview mirror of the bus, and partly due to all the additional time spent on my feet.

    On Thursday I ended up missing work because of my back injury. So now I can see how stressful this can be one’s body. And after a while, I wonder if the physical stress won’t start to counteract any positive gain in my mood. It certainly did last week.

    A car-sharing service would definitely make this experience easier. But because I’ve previously been so car-dependent, I think it would also trigger a relapse.

  15. Bob says:

    Just send your wife to Oregon with your car. Can’t relapse if there’s nothing to fall back on.

  16. Plus then my wife would be in Oregon. I like it.

  17. Make sure to send the kids as well.

  18. Well, I fell off the wagon. I’ve been trying to kick a cold or a sinus infection for the past few days and the extra 30 minutes in bed won out over my transit experiment. The way I see it, I’m doing the other bus riders a favor by not breathing on them.

    I’ll pick it up again next week, I hope.


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