Wednesday, November 17

Forced Choice

I tend to mentally refer to my choice to give up my car and commit to the bike as my primary means of transportation (my family still has one car) as a "forced choice."

It wasn't that I was driving happily along in traffic one day and decided that I would like to make a life change and merrily sold my car, never to look back. It was a choice mandated by our economic situation at the time, that persists to this day. However, in my defense, the choice I made was based on options that are a bit different than those that most people would consider in a similar situation.

When faced with the problem of either fixing or replacing my polluter we had options:

1) Spend over $700 to attempt to fix the car to the point that it would either pass emissions or we would have spent the minimum amount required to get a waiver. The car itself was worth about $700 and the emissions repairs would not improve the functioning of the car, increase its longevity (250k miles) or boost its gas mileage. The decision was that it was not worth putting at least $700 into the car. Not a viable option.

2) Replace the car with a used/new one. The car I had at the time, a '93 Subaru Legacy, did not qualify for the "cash for clunkers" program and we couldn't afford to go out and finance an adequate new or used car at that time or now. Not an option at all.

So most people, at this point…what would they do? I think most people would have either paid the $700 to try and fix the old car and most likely would have just thrown $700 away or they would have gone out and over-extended themselves in financing a used car that most likely would not have met their needs.

I was unwilling to do either. We didn't have the money to just dump into a car with a quarter million miles on it, and we really, really couldn't afford to finance anything remotely adequate for our needs (and that would likely continue to pass emissions).

The remaining options included:

3) Use mass transit. My seven mile commute at the time would have taken an hour on the bus. I would have had to change buses at least once, and the schedule would either put me at work an hour early or five minutes late.

4) Take the remaining family car to work every day. This would have left Mandy stranded in a two bedroom apartment with both kids all day every day. While feasible if necessary, it was not an ideal situation and would have been very inconvenient on days of doctor visits, grocery shopping and the like. Feasible, but not preferable.

5) Mandy would have driven me to work and picked me up every day. This would have doubled my commuting expenses. Absolutely not an option.

6) Ride my bike. I list it last, as a literary tool (I know…), but actually it was my first choice. It made sense before I analyzed my other options and then I only gave the other options additional thought to strengthen up my justification for committing to using the bike as my primary means of transportation. It was a big commitment and the stronger the justification the more likely I would hold to it. This was really the only viable, consistent option.

My "Plan B" at first was option #5. And I chose "Call a Friend" frequently when the weather was bad or when I was too lazy to ride. "Mandy? Will you drive me to work?"

Now I really have no Plan B. Plan B is to fix or mitigate whatever thwarts Plan A. Wake up to a flat? Patch or change the tube. Cold? Layer. Rain? Shell. Snow? Goggles. Ice?! Slower commute speeds. Mandy is working part time now and needs to car to get the kids where they need to go and to be able to get around herself. Its either me or her that would need to find an alternate mode of transportation.

The closest we could come to behaving within the conventions of social normality would be for her to drop me off in Golden when she drops Lily off at the babysitter with my bike, and then I'd ride home. Otherwise she would be making three trips to Golden each day, one to drop me and Lily off, one to pick Lily up midday and one to pick me up in the afternoon. That just doesn't make sense.

While we were forced to make a choice, we allowed ourselves an option that most people wouldn’t consider. and it has worked out very well for us. For a time while Mandy was staying at home and home schooling our son we were saving enormously on transportation costs. Very little gas, very little wear and tear on the car and not much of an inconvenience for anyone but myself, and for me it was a preferable inconvenience.

So when I complain about my situation please know I am not complaining about my choice to ride a bike, but that there were no other truly viable options. If we had previously chosen to live a greater distance from my job (as so many people do) or if there were not roads and routes conducive to bike commuting then my choices would have been limited, and less than desirable.

Our society and culture dictate that a car is "necessary" and that anything contrary to convention is strange and therefore not worth acknowledging by civilized people. We have built a world around cars and we have become disturbingly dependent on them. And our attitude toward people who cannot participate is typically one of disdain.

Well, take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself where you would be without your car. Would you be stranded out in the prairie, twenty, maybe even thirty miles from your job? Could you walk to the grocery store? The bank? The doctor? Would riding a bike even be feasible? We've cut ourselves off from the things we need to survive, leaving ourselves with only a tenuous connection via the oil guzzling automobile.

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