Monday, April 4, 2016

Still driving

Not-so-distant future?

So there I was, traversing the metropolitan area as I so frequently do in my soccer mom van (I am neither a mom nor a soccer player). What was my itinerary this fine Saturday? From our home in Detroit to drop SO off in Novi for wedding business, then to Macomb for a wedding shower (two separate weddings), then even farther north for a work event. Luckily the omnipresent Uber gods gave SO a hasty ride home from the hinterlands of southeast Oakland County, so I was left to traipse home from the edge of exurbia on the great river of I-75.

And of course, it was snowing in April.

The freeway jammed up from an accident that I hope was not serious people-wise and I sat there, completely surrounded by people as far as I could see but oh so isolated in my own metal box. The thing is, I drive forty minutes each way all the rest of the week to get to and from work. And as the snow floated so romantically onto all of our dashboards, my planner self-pity began to get the best of me. I used to think I was one of those people who would escape all this. Either move a place where (heaven forbid!) more people share my value of investing in public infrastructure, or be the ultimate living and working in Detroit, bicycling everywhere, growing my own food, condemning capitalism in coffee shops kind of girl. Instead, somewhere between my desire to be a regional planner and to maintain the important relationships in my life, I landed in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-75.
I’m telling you, as a sad song came on the radio and I took in the wintry ambience, I started to tear up.

Why? Because Alternate Universe Carolyn was reading Jane Jacobs on a bus in Seattle. Because regional work causes so many planners I know to lead lives the exact opposite of what they’re working for, spending huge parts of their day traversing the petty municipal borders in carbon-emitting personal bubbles. And because I was stressed out from social events and work and nobody likes a traffic jam anyhow.

But then the eternity passed, I arrived home and, as I so frequently do, thanked the universe for the things that make my life awesome and make me work to improve it every day. The cozy apartment, the SO full of excitement about his latest research project, the cats full of meows anticipating their next meal. This is why I do it, and it’s better than being on a bus OR a bicycle. I assume that someday I’ll get a break from the road (whether here or in some other metro region) but until then, at least I have CBC Radio 2.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Car Dependency and Safety Nets

Last week, my old car kicked the bucket in annoyingly dramatic fashion. I was headed down the highway at 6:30 am, commuting to gym + work, when that damn automobile just stopped accelerating, despite the best efforts of my right foot. Arggghhh! I said, as I moved towards the rightmost lane. By the time I reached the shoulder, it was smoking inside and out and I truly believed it would explode. I leaped out the passenger side and stood on the grassy berm beside the freeway, watching the smoke mix with billowing steam in the degree weather, and calling the fire department.

My car did not explode, yay. It was most definitely incapacitated, though. If I were living in an unfamiliar town and didn't have a strong social network, things would have started getting real hard right there. I would have had to decide whether to pay for cab fare to and from work or just take the taxi home and risk missing the day. So early in the morning I can also tell you I didn't feel particularly safe or warm standing by the side of the road, though it wasn't an issue because the super nice guys from the fire department gave me a lift to the nearest coffee shop (the one cool part of the situation - getting to ride in a fire truck).

Sadly, Sebastian the trusty Ford Focus is no longer. His engine was kaput and not worth replacing, so he has been consigned to the junkyard for the ages. So once again - if I didn't have parents to help me out with juggling vehicles and carpooling, I would have been in rough shape. A day of work lost for every day you don't have the wherewithal to buy a new car!

Because I live in Detroit and work in Brighton - so there is no way in hell I'm getting there by public transit. (Believe me, I've googlemapped the options to no end, including bus to Novi area and then bike the rest of the way...?)

Not everybody has strong and flexible safety nets. An incident like mine can ruin somebody's life in a region so car-dependent as ours. Who wants to bet everything on a finicky machine? So, this is all to say that a vote on funding the Regional Transit Authority is coming up this fall, and it's the chance you have this year to participate in reshaping the region . Let's make it happen!