Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Transportation Toolbox

I alluded to this post in my earlier Declaration of Independence- from the car, that is. I want to talk about the versatility of the automobile, and the choices people make about transportation often without thinking about them. I want to do this by looking at what a typical auto addict's transportation toolbox, and how it compares to a more balanced one. (Spoiler alert: I'm going to use mine for the "more balanced" column.)

Auto Addict's Transportation Toolbox:

A little car

Used for: The vast majority of trips, from the corner store to the daily commute to the occasional cross-country road trip.

Used for: Moving people for most long-distance trips, generally around a thousand km and up.

Not a lot of diversity here. Now, granted, a lot of people will engage in a walk from time to time, and there are quite a few recreational hikers and cyclists out there... but, for pure transportation, this is roughly what many Americans' lives look like, especially in suburbia- and especially for what used to be called "the middle class."  The design of many tract developments especially almost necessitates a toolkit that looks like this, as it often walls people off from walking, cycling and taking transit. Furthermore, for long-distance transportation, many are entirely unaware of our national rail system and (despite encouraging changes in the northeast and in Chicagoland) disinclined to use long-distance bus service.

Let's now take a look at what my transportation toolkit looks like. Now, I'm not saying I'm perfect, but it should be clear that an awareness of one's transportation options allows a better matching between the job at hand and the tool used to do it.

Car-free Transportation Toolbox:

Old friend, new friend

Used for: A small number of very short trips, often with company. Honestly, I don't walk too much, but I do on occasion. As I've mentioned, we have a fairly nice shopping centre within five minutes' walk of our apartment, and so sometimes the wife and I will walk there for shopping or a nice dinner.

New Bike
Used for: Most trips within a 10 mile radius that I take alone, including moderate cargo hauling. My bike is my go-to transportation tool, and serves the majority of trips I take. You'd also be amazed at the amount of cargo I can haul on the back, with nothing more than panniers and a rear rack. (I'm drooling over the amazingly versatile Burley Travoy trailer, but haven't plunked down the money yet.) Sadly, my wife is difficult to coax on to the back of a bicycle, so it's rare that we pedal places together.

2010-03-25 16.01.30
Local Bus.
Used for: A lot of around-town trips, especially during inclement weather, as well as some longer-distance trips that would be difficult to manage on a bicycle. I also used the RTA to haul food for 80 Occupiers downtown earlier, so it's occasionally useful for certain specialized types of cargo. I can also, occasionally, manage to get Dani on to a bus, so we've been known to go out together via transit.

2010-12-06 08.53.05
Commuter Rail.
Used for: Pretty much every trip I make to LA or Orange County (though I sometimes use the bus to the OC). Also occasionally the first step in longer-distance rail trips, leaving from LA Union.

Used for: Most trips my wife makes, along with a lot of trips that the two of us makes. It will haul the both of us, and not a whole lot more, so it's not generally used for more than light shopping.

Zipcar Zip Zip!
Used for: Shopping trips, mostly. It's also a great backup when one of us has the scooter and the other one *has* to get somewhere quickly, or when we were dealing with car breakdowns.

FlickrDroid Upload
Long-distance Rail.
Used for: Any long-distance trip that it makes sense for, including my 30-day 25-state 4-province Amtrak trip. Travel by train is my favourite way to travel- especially if I can afford sleeper.

Greyhound Bus
Long-distance bus.
Used for: Trips where the train can't hack it. Sometimes, I use Greyhound as a supplement to Metrolink and other intra-regional services. Other times, it's used for long highway trips. One must be careful when trying to take the Hound to Vegas.


Used for: Long-distance domestic trips where time is a factor, as well as international trips (which I haven't taken enough of...).

Once you get away from the car-centric paradigm of transportation, a whole range of transport options opens up to you- and it's important, for all of the reasons that readers of this blog already know, that we restore balance to our transportation system.

NOTE: The photos of the car, ZipCar, airplane, Greyhound bus, and hiking boots are not mine. They are used under Creative Commons licensing, and the photographers are credited in the alt text.

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