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life in the bike lane

By Nancy A. Knox
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 4, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

I used to suffer from road rage. Actually, I used to suffer from many things: car insurance, car registration fees, car repairs, parking meters, parking fines, gas prices, speeding tickets and traffic cops who in their zeal for an arrest often decide to thoroughly search cars whose drivers merely neglected to come to a full stop on a side street.

I no longer suffer from these ills. Did I find some miraculous Zen-style therapy? Well, in a way. I gave up driving and now use a bicycle as my sole means of transportation.

After a multiplicity of speeding tickets, parking fines and repair bills, I decided to stop driving for a while and try my luck at an alternative means of transportation.

This was not exactly an easy transition. I had long been a follower of the Cult of the Car. I came from a three-car family. My weekends as a teen-ager were spent waxing my vehicle. I spent my first income tax refund on a new car. As an adult, I would drive three blocks to the Circle K for a beer. I would drive up my driveway to the mailbox if it was raining.

In spite of the car culture, my entire family (two adults and four children) is car free. We do everything anyone else does. We shop for food, attend all our classes, go out to dinner, to movies, to bars. I travel 12 miles to and from work every weekend, go to the mall with my daughters and make it to parent-teacher conferences.

My husband and I recently celebrated our first anniversary by staying at an expensive hotel. We skipped valet parking and rode our bikes.

We have saved enough money by not driving to have a decent down payment for a house.

There are other benefits as well. We never worry about fighting traffic to get to work or to class on time. My bike never overheats while idling in traffic like my car used to. We can park within a few feet of our destination and never have to rush out of a lecture to feed a meter. The place from where we purchased our bikes fixes them gratis (thank you, Bargain Basement), and we are all in pretty good shape.

The biggest perk is lack of fear concerning the Nazi-like parking patrols. Also, we can skip through all those rants concerning parking issues that appear in the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

You can fit quite a few bikes into a single car space, and roughly two-thirds of air pollution is caused by auto emissions. The city of Tucson has managed to ascertain that fact and is taking some steps to promote usage of alternative modes of transportation. The new parking scheme for the university area is actually a means of discouraging driving. The residential permit fees of $300 as well as the fines of $25 per infraction have already garnered over $40,000 since their implementation.

The city manager for the new permit plan, Chris Layton, informed me that he is a UA grad and former parking offender, so he is well aware of methods utilized to avoid permit purchase.

Local fines are not the only money channeled into this conversion effort. The Transportation Efficiency Act, renewed in 1998, affords Tucson the luxury of $1.2 million federal dollars earmarked to promote bikeways programs. Another $500,000 is collected from gasoline taxes to further promote expansion of bike paths within city limits.

My family is not into the whole granola lifestyle. We're not eco-warriors or crazed, bearded tree-huggers. We're just another family, sans car. Riding a bike isn't always easy. It can involve some effort and inconvenience.

The point here is: It can be done. The vast majority of trips taken in cars constitute a distance of less than three miles. Unless the pollution from cars gets so severe that your lungs cease to function, most of you know that you could ride a bike this far.

For most of us, it's not a matter of obstacles, except the ones in our heads. It's a matter of will. It's a matter of actually doing something for your health and your environment. And, it is easy to this very small, yet very substantial thing.

Finally, think of the cost benefits. Couldn't you handle an extra $200 to $500 a month? It seems absurd to pay so much for something that does so little, that's used almost exclusively for mundane daily activities that can be covered via creative use of bikes, walking and mass transit.

Often, my many car-owning friends ask me where my family on bikes got the money to buy a house. My answer: I stopped worshipping a motorized box. You can too.