One of the things I consider myself fortunate for is that, having lived in five different cities since college, I’ve never had to deal with a freeway commute, and for the better part of a decade, I’ve been getting to work almost exclusively by bike or bus.
So with a mix of smugness and morbid curiosity, I can’t help but click on headlines like “Driving I-94 from city to city now borderline nuts.” Because frankly, hasn’t it always been borderline nuts?
For those outside the Twin Cities, the article is about a construction project that is shutting down lanes on Interstate 94, which connects the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The road work is going on concurrently with light-rail construction along University Avenue, the thoroughfare that runs parallel to I-94 and is typically where drivers go when the freeway is too congested.
This makes driving a car between the two downtowns during rush hour, evidently, a somewhat more ludicrous ordeal than normal.
I get that not everyone has the option of not driving. We’ve gone to such great lengths to make our cities convenient to drive in that many people, inconveniently, now have no other choice.
But what I found odd is that this story quotes two people who work at the University of Minnesota — a location that’s well-served by the city’s transit system — without even mentioning that they have the option of riding the bus.
For instance, the woman featured in the anecdotal lede says it’s taking her as long as 50 minutes to drive from her downtown St. Paul condo to the U of M. The story says she “thought briefly about biking,” but didn’t want to take on the 20-mile round trip in the summer heat (I can understand that).
But we have no idea why she hasn’t considered one of the two frequent-service bus routes that would get her to work in about 40 minutes, one of which follows a route that avoids the construction zone altogether.
Another U of M employee quoted in the story lives in the eastern suburb of Woodbury, which doesn’t have a lot of bus options. But there’s a park-and-ride in nearby Oakdale, where one could hop on an express bus to the U and get there, also, in 40 minutes (yes, the bus also has to use the freeway, but buses are allowed to drive on the shoulder to bypass traffic jams).
What’s more, U of M employees can buy unlimited-ride transit passes for $76 a month. By comparison, contract parking on campus runs anywhere from $65-$140 a month depending on how far you’re willing to walk when you get there. And then there’s the expense of gas and maintenance.
So for me, the question is, why on earth would these folks drive a car to work in the first place?
They may have good reasons for not taking the bus, but we’ll never know, because the question wasn’t asked.
The single-occupant car, despite being the most expensive (and energy intensive) option, is our default mode of transportation, we’re told, because it’s more convenient. Everyone, to one extent or another, is willing to pay a premium for convenience.
But what does it say about us when we persist in driving even when that convenience is taken away?