Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On the commute...

I'm having a reverse midlife crisis.

This is the time of the year in NE Fla when you can enjoy a brisk ride in to work without bursting into flames from the heat, drowning in the humidity, or freezing in a nor'easter. But I haven't touched my commuter bike. Matter of fact, I haven't owned a proper road bike in over two years. I haven't put any bike on pavement in a very long time.  Why?

Because I don't want to die.

I've been involved in planing and development on the regulatory side for nearly two decades. In that time I've witnessed two certainties:  

Certainty Number One, community participation (cycling community included) is guaranteed to turn out in dinky and easily disregarded numbers when faced with development issues that have the potential to greatly negatively affect their lives.  For example; you can witness the proposal of  a housing development for 600 homes on 200 acres, increasing population by 1500 people and vehicle trips by 6000 trips a DAY on an already failing and traffic choked road, and guaranteed the public reaction will be minimal.  Advocacy volunteers, bless their hearts and efforts, are all too often involved in the wrong facet of the issues at hand and their participation is horridly misguided to some other mundane pseudo outcry-worthy issue such as broken glass in a bike lane or a pothole or some other nonsense. 

Example, here locally there is a 1/8th mile stretch of a state road that two years ago was the first recipient of shared lane markings on a FDOT road in Jax.  When the local utility repaved the road, the markings along with the road and everything else affiliated with it, were removed.  This is not a permanent condition, but you'd think the entire bike facility network was under attack what with the attention the issue is getting. The FDOT folks, who are locally allies to cycling and have the final say so for construction on roads under their jurisdiction, know about the issue and will correct it I'm certain.  Meanwhile while nobody is looking, here come thousands of new residential units and strip shopping centers.....

So to summarize the first issue, we are pouring people onto underdeveloped and traffic choked  roads and bike/ped advocates are looking the wrong way, focused stubbornly on more easily identified and much more inconsequential issues.

Second issue is even more alarming...

I have a second daughter now, born in June and just now sprouting a tooth.  My family and I live in a 1300 square foot house 5.5 miles from where we work, with the daycare and the elementary school where our oldest goes, on the way. We didn't refinance the house and pull gobs of rubber money out to buy fancy cars or flat panel TVs or pay off credit cards like seemingly everyone else in the great state of Florida prior to the real estate crash.  We didn't short sale or threaten foreclosure.  We did the responsible thing and live within our means in a small home close to our jobs and we work to pay off our one mortgage.

But the kicker is, because of undervalued urban land, blight, etc etc.... and the need to jockey our kids into the safest environments, which never seem to be the local environments, daycare and school aren't really on the way and I don't think there is a way to solve it.  See, we have to leave for work at 7:45 so we can drop youngest at daycare and then get oldest to school and ourselves to work.  After work, we have to dash out like crazed hooligans, snatch up the youngest from daycare and then head on down another 5 additional miles to pick up oldest from after school care, at a facility different from her school...more on that in a bit.  It is a near impossibility to do without being late at least one step of the way, and the problem is exacerbated by a drawbridge and train crossing that both intersect our commute.  Ahh the urban environment.

Did I mention that my oldest can't take the bus to school because her local elementary is a poorly rated facility and we have her in a magnet program to compensate?  Or that she doesn't stay at the magnet school for after day care because the school is located in a very rough area and the after school program is the dodgiest thing you've ever seen, with questionable after school hours facility security?  No?  Well I just did, and it sucks.  

What is the point of living so close to work, as we do, in a small older home, as we have, if you are STILL driving all over creation on an impossible timeline just to pick kids up and drop them off day in and day out? Not to mention we don't all four get home until well after 6 at which time we have just enough time to clean the youngster's butt, feed us all leftovers, throw some dry dog food at the mutt and then pound out gobs of brainless homework so remedial and useless it nearly bores us all to tears!  We haven't even begun to add in music lessons or sports or other activities.  I don't even want to think about it.

SO...If we wind up driving all over creation anyway, and our mornings are crammed with psychotic commuting and screaming kids and our evenings are just the same then why AREN'T we living in a larger newer home far away from jobs?  A home with big ass closets and and eat in kitchen and a pool? At least then, when we got home, maybe we wouldn't walk into rooms with piles of stuff in corners and clothes hanging on chairs and folded up in stacks on floors.  At least then home would be someplace you'd want to reach after a busy day.  We already drive all over the place.  Why am I trying to be so efficient?  Why when everyone else seems to dodge personal responsibility do I feel hell bent on doing the right thing?  I think I may WANT to have further to commute after all....

It gets worse...lately my wife and I have been driving two cars to work, just to ease some pressure on us both.  How stoopid is that!?  We start the day in the same room, and both work for the same employer and have offices 200 feet apart, and still we both have to take separate cars?!  It costs $80 to park in the garage as a monthly parker, and $7  for daily.  With the streets of my downtown sliding lower and lower into the "unsafe/choked with weirdness and crazy people" category, I wouldn't park anyplace else.  We don't even walk to get lunch, preferring instead to drive someplace with less 'atmosphere'; someplace where you don't have to watch a man shit on the street while you chew your sandwich.

Those land development decisions that no bike/ped advocate pays attention too?... the ones that push houses out to where they don't belong and require 4 and 6 lane roads to serve?... the ones that empty our downtown of every living soul and successful business and leave vacant buildings and sleepy streets inviting enough to prompt the inebriated to shit on the sidewalks?... the ones that are predicated on the promise of suburban shopping and good schools and local amenities?  They are DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE for the creation of the mess that I now deal with daily.  Urban flight and decay is the result of these larger scale bad decisions.  Abandoned gray-fields of underdeveloped land are the result.  Sprawl is the result.  Traffic is the result.  Un-bikeable roads are the result.  Stressed drivers careening around protected by airbags, disregarding other road users are the result. Bike/Ped folks want to rumble about glass in bike lanes and uneven pavement and stupid crap like that?  I'm sorry, but you are missing the bigger picture and while you waste your time and mine whining about the inconsequential, 600 homes and 6000 vehicle trips and a shiny new school are driving all of us to drive further than ever before.

And biking to work?  Really?  When exactly would I be able to do that?  And what kind of an ass would I be if I just told my wife, "hey babe, you take the kids OK?  I'm going to get some exercise and enjoy the morning on my bicycle."  Sorry, but I know douche-bags like that, and while I am admittedly a douche-bag, I'm not that big of a douche-bag.

What is really unfortunate, and we're finally getting around to...

Certainty Number 2, which is that I now have first hand understanding of what crazed motorists with multiple children and thousands of responsibilities deal with on a daily basis.  I now have an understanding and maybe some insight into why, when I would commute on bike, people in cars are so aggressive and rude and 'me first' all the time.  Maybe when I'm on the bike I AM in the way after all?  Maybe when I walk in the crosswalk with that assertive indignation that I've always employed, I AM making more trouble for others than I have a right to?  Maybe all those people stuck in cars and sitting in traffic with two kids to still collect and get home really would rather be on bikes?  Maybe they can't any longer?  Maybe I can't any longer. Maybe, just maybe, while we were all bitching about a pot hole or 1/8th of a mile of bike markings or a pile of fucking glass, that ship has sailed.

Consider me the Newly Conflicted Cyclist.  I don't know what to make of it all.

So today, and yesterday, I put it out of my head and drove this to work.  My wife was in another car.  I hope the airbags keep her safe.  I don't have airbags, and my knees are the crumple zones, but it is safer and more visible than my bike.

So here is my midlife crisis. 

I think I want to live in suburbia and commute in a car.  

I've survived cancer and a pair of wayward hedge clippers that found their way into the side of my neck. As a child I fell out of this very bus while it was moving down the highway.  I've had a pretty eventful youth and I don't have any sense of "what I missed" or "I have to do blah blah blah before I get too old". My midlife is, I want what others who run from, for their midlife, have. And I don't think I can pedal to get there any longer.

I am , maybe temporarily and maybe not, the retired commuter cyclists.  

I am propelled today by 52hp of raging air-cooled fury.  

I am motorized commuter.

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