Riding a bicycle has not always been part and parcel of my life. Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta I definitely was raised on our American "car culture." I believed that having a car was as necessary to living in the modern world as electricity or the telephone. It wasn’t until I had car troubles and was faced with the prospect of a bill I couldn’t afford that I thought of using a bicycle to commute.
The change to bicycle commuter wasn’t overnight. It took a couple of years before I finally gave up my clunky, unreliable car. But now that I do ride my bicycle, and occasionally MARTA, to the exclusion of my own vehicle, I cannot fathom I’ll ever go back. The costs and plain hassle of automobile ownership are never fully realized until you don’t deal with them. You are at the whim of market forces when you fill up your tank. You are taxed every year directly by the state and indirectly by a myriad of parking and moving violations that few drivers are able to escape year in and year out. You need to worry about where to park it and if the car and its contents are safe. You need to maintain it, which takes time and money whether you do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you. You need to have insurance to protect your investment. You need to worry about the other drivers on the road. You have to replace it at great cost to yourself every 15 years or so, sooner if you believe the car is a symbol of status rather than a simple mode of transportation. Adding it all up, few people realize how much time and effort are expended and how much freedom is given up for the “freedom” of driving.
Cycling to and from work is easier than most think. Depending on the day I might have to cycle anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour to get where I need to go, but I don’t think that’s much different from most people in Atlanta who commute. I am never stuck in traffic, never have a day where I skip exercise, never have a mechanical problem that can’t be fixed with a small tool in my book bag and get to enjoy every sunny day.
While I cannot imagine everyone going as far as I have in giving up their car completely, I’m sure if people tried it just once or twice a week they would discover how much freedom they really have when they don’t need to drive.