Monday, January 28

Exercising my Transportation Options

Planners sometimes talk about enhancing transportation options. In a society where a large majority of citizens have no choice but to commute by automobile, efforts are being made to open up other opportunities and allow commuters a wider variety of choices. Many local governments are striving for complete streets, a public realm that tries not to privilege any of the many uses we have for streets over any other. This is a tough balancing act, but it's certainly a worthy goal.

In the spirit of celebrating the many ways to get from home to work, I decided to test out a new method today. I looked out the window early this morning to find a nice layer of snow on the ground, so I pulled out some cross-country skis and set off on my mile and a half trek through the center of Missoula to work. Fortunately I was on my way before the first plows had a chance to get out, so for most of my route I had a beautiful smooth surface to glide through. The only point where I had to take my skis off was to cross under the interstate overpass. Somehow a ski through the empty city streets in the early morning managed to be both peaceful and exhilarating at the same time.

The way home in the afternoon was more of a challenge. I had to take my skis off and walk in many of the busier sections, and even though I tried to act like a bicycle most motorists understandably didn't really know what to do with me. In many places I managed to find ways to safely weave onto the boulevards between the streets and the sidewalks, and I found a nice shortcut through a university practice field down by the Clark Fork river.

Sure, the whole thing was highly impractical for my situation and a I can't imagine doing it regularly (my skis would hate me for it). But this pastor expresses well the experience when he writes about his own memory of commuting by ice skates through an Ottawa canal:

"'That which gives us poetry' is often not 'that which comes easiest.' To feel the cold air on one's face while gliding to the office implies preparations and precautions not required by a daily commute in a car. But something happens on skates, as the Ottawa commuter knew, that did not happen in a car with talk radio on and a cell phone pressed against his ear. He sensed God's creation -- snow like wool."

1 comment:

Zed said...

Matching your daily habit of moving around to the specific context and opportunity of the place you live - now, that's hard. Time was, we could ride our horses across the South Hills of Missoula, or so they say.

So, why do planners build transportation corridors that don't match our daily habits? Why do the interstates bisect so many cities? Why do state routes go through residential districts? Why are our schools, our work locations, our shopping districts all so very difficult to get to by bike, ski, or horse?