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My great transportation experiment
May 28, 2008 - Bill Ackerbauer
In discussions about politics and government, people often say one doesn't have the right to complain if one hasn't exercised the right to vote. In other words, don't just gripe — act.
Everyone's been caterwauling lately about the price of gasoline, myself included. Here's what I've decided to do about it: This summer, instead of feeling "pain at the pump," I'm going to "feel the burn" as I commute to and from work on my bicycle.
So now, when folks ask me what I personally am doing to reduce the demand for fossil fuels, I have an answer. The same answer, conveniently, will apply when I'm asked what I'm doing to reduce my impact on the environment (my "carbon footprint" will shrink a size or two, I hope), and what I'm doing to stay fit (perhaps "get fit" is more honest at this point), what I'm doing to combat stress, etc., etc.
Google Maps tells me the distance from my house, which is near Jansen Avenue Elementary School in Johnstown, to The Leader-Herald's downtown Gloversville office building is 3.8 miles. Google also estimates the drive takes about 9 minutes. That's about right for early in the a.m., when I drive to work, when there's little traffic on the streets. The afternoon trip home takes up to five minutes longer, I've noticed. But that's the journey by car, mind you — on my bike, I can take the Rail Trail and shave distance off the trip. And no red lights.
I don't expect to pedal to work every day, what with rain and other circumstances popping up. But I'll make an effort to do it three or four times a week this summer. With regular gas — as "regular" as it can be when it's 10 percent ethanol, an additive that seems to subtract fuel efficiency — costing $4.10 a gallon, and my car getting somewhere around 20 or 22 mpg, I estimate I will save about $4 or $5 per week. Not a ton of money, but it'll add up.
This morning, before I attempted this two-wheeled commute for the first time, I calculated it would take about 20 or 25 minutes to pedal from home to work. Turns out it's an even shorter trip. It took me exactly 20 minutes, including a few minutes spent on an unexpected travel complication: One of my tires was soft, I so I took a quick detour to Stewart's to use the free air compressor (much appreciated).
A few observations from the commute:
1.) A slight chill in the air is much worse when one is in constant motion through said chilled air. My hands and ears stung from the cold this morning, but I suppose I'll survive until summer warms things up a bit.
2.) People use the Rail Trail — Before 6 a.m., I expected to have the whole thing to myself, but I did pass a couple other bicyclists and a couple of walkers. On the way home this afternoon, I must have passed a dozen or more people, and school hadn't let out yet. And something about the trail makes people friendly — most will wave or say hello. Nobody seems to do that on the sidewalk or the street corner anymore.
3.) Gloversville is uphill from Johnstown, at least slightly. This becomes obvious when one considers the Cayadutta Creek flows from Gloversville through Johnstown on its way to the Mohawk, but it had never occurred to me previously that one Glove City is higher or lower than the other. My point is that the trip to work is a little more challenging than the return trip, which provides opportunities for leisurely coasting along the trail.
4.) I am out of shape. By the time I got to Harrison Street, I was breathing heavily, my legs were on fire and my butt was aching. (Yet I am resolved, at least for now, to resist suggestions that I upgrade to a padded seat. I may be out of shape, but I still have my dignity.)
5.) The Rail Trail is beautiful in places and ugly in others, but nowhere between the two cities is it uninteresting ... stay tuned for more observations along this line.
"Every walk is a sort of crusade," Thoreau wrote in "Walking," his brilliant 1862 essay about humanity's need to connect with the natural world by sauntering about in it. Had Thoreau lived to witness the popularity that bicycling would come to enjoy at the end of the Victorian era, he likely would have railed against it as being too fast, too linear a mode to foster meaningful meandering, observation and rumination. But had he lived even longer, to see the effects of automobile culture on America — the pollution, the pace, the ever-widening rifts between people and places — he would have retreated to Walden on his bicycle.
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