When the big snowstorm hit back in January, I strapped plastic sandwich bags onto my seasonally inappropriate footwear and trudged out into the elements towards Uptown. The walk was more of a leisurely stroll to escape cabin fever and avoid dangerous driving conditions than a practical mode of transportation towards any real end destination or basic life necessity.
But it was fun and forced me to reevaluate my daily car dependence.
Leaving public transport aside for now, I’m questioning whether I drive around Charlotte because I can’t walk to where I’m going (some commutes really are unwalkable) or because I won’t. The answer, of course, is that I won’t.
I live in Cherry, the literal geographic center of Charlotte, and still it took a snowstorm that shut down the entire city to force me out on foot that day. This is especially absurd when you consider that I really enjoy walking and also that my office, gym, grocery store, doctor, dentist and basically anything else I could need are all located within two miles of my house.
Sure, I frequently have to visit places beyond that distance, but how do I justify driving such a short lengths most of the time?
Time is usually my defense.
It takes me a solid 45 minutes to walk the two-mile commute to the office that would normally take me 10 minutes by car. (Yes, I could bike or take the bus but I’m talking about walking here.)
In any other large city in the world, I would walk that 45-minute commute without flinching. But in Charlotte I drive. Why do I do this? I think it’s habit and I don’t think I’m alone.
Charlotte ranks first in worst traffic in the state. Last year, Charlotte drivers spent an average 43 hours stuck in traffic and an extra $963 on gas while idling along. As our population booms and we add more cars to the road, people like me with the option of alternate modes of transportation should take it.
Sure, driving is a clear time-saving winner for me freeing up a solid hour and 10 minutes roundtrip compared to walking, but I question whether or not that hour and 10 minutes is really wasted on a walking commute.
At the risk of sounding like Oprah declaring her love for bread, I really love walking. Walking brings me joy. When I walk around town I feel energized and connected in a way that other modes of transportation don’t deliver.
So I’ve decided time can’t be the metric by which I measure the value of walking versus driving. Rather than view walking as a slow-moving time suck, I’d like to focus on what it adds to my life–45 minutes of exercise, 45 minutes to get up in my head and think, 45 minutes to immerse myself in the place I call home.
It is, of course, a luxury to even consider my options of car versus foot versus bike versus public transportation and so on. I am physically able to walk and also to bypass inaccessible barriers along my route. I make enough money to pay rent in the center of the city where I have access to fairly walkable sidewalks and intersections. I own a car if I ever need it. If I get stranded, I can call someone to pick me up or pay for a ride to where I’m going.
Not everyone has a choice in transportation. Some people walk because they have to. Some people drive because they have to. What I’m saying is that given my personal situation and the choices laid out for me, I can’t believe I don’t choose walking more.
Am I the only one willing to confess to driving embarrassingly short distances? Please say no.
*I know what you’re thinking: Ride a bike! And I hate to say it but I’m too scared. I love biking and would love to be a bike commuter but I’m scared of cars. Show me the way, bike commuters.