This is a Tough One

blog on a bikeWith the rise in gas prices, I’ve been seeing more and more people on the streets, walking and cycling, and more people using the subways and the buses. While I know that it has been producing real hardship for some people, I have to admit that it has been fantastic to see this change. So many streets and street corners have come to life. It has always been clear that higher gas prices would have this positive change, and I’ve hoped for it in some ways, but I wish that it had not come about in this way. I’d rather that it was because we’d managed to break out of a political climate so selfish and naive that nobody could propose raising taxes to an extent that would simultaneously give an incentive for people to use their cars less while at the same time providing much needed revenue with which to improve public transport infrastructure. Sadly, instead we’re just having high prices with nothing to show for it but a bunch of expressions of anger, while the oil companies and producers get fatter and fatter.

When I say I’d been hoping for higher prices, I need to clarify. I’m completely aware of the fact that while I get to choose whether I get around by car or not in order to earn my salary, others don’t have that choice. I spend a lot of time telling people that a public transport system in LA exists, and that it is much better than the tired clichés and people’s reluctance to be even slightly inconvenienced would have you believe, and this is all true, but I know that it is not uniformly good. It works well for me, but I chose to live where I live with public transport in mind. Not everyone has that choice, or took that into consideration when they might have had the choice (for one reason or another).

There’s a lot of history to be overcome. Years of cheap gas and flight away from the centre has meant that people have chosen to -and in many more cases are forced to- live very far from where they work and rely on the car to get to those jobs. In many cases, these are among the most vulnerable groups of people, economically. Suddenly rapidly raising the price of gas with taxes to serve some dream of us all cycling and taking trains and buses is naive and destructive, in that a large part of the population gets hurt. That’s not what I had in mind at all. These things would have had to be done in stages, over many years, giving people a chance to adjust to increments, while at the same time continuing to improve the coverage of public transport.

Well, its all changing now, for better or worse. The high prices are here, and people are grumbling, and adjusting out of pain and necessity. And we don’t have a penny more to build more rail lines or add new bus routes. That’s life.

In the meantime, I’m looking at the positives. It has been great to see people walking a few blocks from one venue to another rather than driving and re-parking. It’s been excellent to see people actually carrying bags of groceries from the store and walking along the street with it instead of heading for the parking lot. (A little over a year ago I had a neighbour quiz me about what I was doing when she saw me walking home with a bag of groceries from one of the local supermarkets, not much more than a fifteen minute walk away. There was so much incredulity in her tone that it took me a while to realize that this was all she was asking about. Presumably this “remarkable” feat of mine would not be seen as so remarkable now.)

It has been great to see people using the -still rapidly expanding- bus system more (and there have been even more new rapid routes opened recently- hurrah! – see e.g., here). I’ve especially enjoyed seeing the change in economic – and correspondingly, ethnic – demographic mix that has happened on the city’s public transport. The subway and bus system no longer looks like so much like the alternative LA of predominantly poorer people of colour that it did just a short time ago. You’ve got day labourers sitting next to web designers, inner city school kids sitting next to professors from the fancy universities, and so forth. This happened in the past to some extent, but it is no longer is really all that remarkable. (This may all sound odd to you if you’re not in LA, but that’s how it was.)

The question is whether or not if the prices went down tomorrow people would continue realizing the benefits of sitting on a bus or subway train and letting it take you there while you read a novel. The little bit of extra planning it takes to figure out how to consolidate lots of tasks and errands so that they require fewer (or no) car trips, or can be done on foot all in one neighbourhood, and so forth, isn’t that hard. But everyone is somehow too super special (“I just can’t spare the time”) that they stay stuck in the rut of wanting to dash around everywhere highly inefficiently by car all over the city and then arrive all hot and bothered complaining about traffic and “that idiot who cut me off”, and so forth. This isn’t all avoidable, I know (although I’d like to see, as a next step, better global planning of certain kinds of meetings to make things more local or close to public transport, maybe even use of videoconferencing more when workable, and so forth) but a lot of us are choosing to do this car-centric way of basic existence more than we need to. Sure, sometimes the extra time is hard to come by, but is it really always that way? Can anything be done to use public transport at least for some of the work week? If we (or at least those of us reasonably close to it) get out and use it more, flawed as it is, it will hasten along the improvements that the MTA will make that will make it better, and more accessible to many more people. I’ve seen this happen over the last few years. The bus system has become so very much better in a really short time, has ridership as been increasing due to congestion and gas prices. I don’t think this would have happened if we’d all stayed away from the buses and trains over the last several years. This cycle can continue, but we’ve got to persist in putting pressure on the system by simply using it.

So if the prices went back down, would those extra people I see on the bus and trains and the streets just jump back into their cars? I think that they largely would, if the truth be told. (I hope I am wrong.) They’d all go back to the standard LA excuses about public transport: “it doesn’t work for me”, “I’m too busy to have a long bus commute”, “the subway doesn’t go anywhere”, and so forth. When the car is both cheap and convenient, the bus and train are a distant memory. You see, I’m under no illusions that most people are doing this largely because they suddenly realized that it is better for the environment (not to mention their health – physical, emotional, and mental). It’s about money. I wish the non-money component of the motivation for using mass transit was larger than it probably is.

brompton foldedThis leads me to the last point. I’m a bit embarrassed about feeling this way, as it is not entirely noble, but I’ll admit it. I’ve been getting into a lot of conversations about my bike (as has been usual over these years of cycling in LA), and these are welcome. I’ve noticed that people are expressing interest not just because of the perceived novelty (see photo left and above right, and a host of previous posts) but because they are at least slightly closer to the point where they might be wondering if such a thing might work for them (cycling, if not going as far as using a folding bike)… Overnight, I’m not the eccentric (probably poor) weirdo with the bike that they pass in their cars anymore, but something else entirely. Someone to take seriously.

This is all good, and I should be so pleased, and I am….but what’s really annoying is people so often assuming (and saying so) that I’ve chosen to walk, cycle, etc, to get around because gas is expensive. And they assume it is a recent decision too. As though all the other great reasons that have been there all along (it’s good for the environment, I don’t feel the need to rush around everywhere, I don’t have to deal with idiot motorists, I get lots of exercise, can read when I take the bike onto the bus, I can encounter real people and have conversations with them, I can experience that wonderful city that reveals itself when you’re not whizzing along in a car…) don’t occur to them. So I get random people pulling up next to me in their cars, or noticing the bike on the shopping trolley at the supermarket, saying things like “well, of course with gas at the price that it is now…”, as though it is equivalent to “well, of course with that loaded gun to your head like that…” It’s more than a little annoying. There are reasons to do things that aren’t immediately traceable to its impact on one’s wallet… (And before you write in accusing me of being “elitist” (sigh) I say this not to deny that considerations of money are not important, just that it need not be the only thing that forces us to do less than convenient things. There’s the greater good that lies beyond my own immediate personal concerns.)

So I’ve been trying to think of a good polite and informative response to those remarks. Most of the ones I’ve thought of so far are not really very neighbourly, and I don’t want people to stop engaging in random conversations about how to get around town. Random conversations are wonderful. I might have hit on a good one, but I have not tried it out yet: When it is suggested that I’m cycling because of recent gas price increases, I should simply wrinkle my brow in a concerned way and say “Oh, have gas prices increased?”

Hmmm… Probably just get me beaten up in the playground.

Ok. Now go ahead. Shout at me for touching on a touchy subject. Oh, wait, nobody actually reads blog posts longer than a couple of paragraphs. Everybody’s too busy…


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27 Responses to This is a Tough One

  1. Simon says:

    Hi Clifford,
    I too have been wanting to see -petrol- prices go up and been feeling a little guilty for it.
    Perth is meant to be one of the car driving capitals of Australia, like LA, just smaller. But I haven’t noticed anyone assuming that cyclists are riding because they’re poor… I don’t think many people here have quite the extreme attitude you describe (though I have encountered a few motorists, including bus drivers, who make it clear that they think that bikes have no place on the roads).
    Anyway, I love my ride in to uni. Half of it’s on the bike path along the river, which is especially nice when the dolphins are playing.

  2. Clifford says:



    It might sound extreme, and I describe it in a way that might make it seem so, but it is not. The basic paradigm has been (until recently) that you really only take public transport or cycle because there is some reason you can’t use a car, such as not being able to afford it. Even people I would talk to on the bus would have that mentality… they were doing it until they “graduate” to the next level – getting a car. The idea that I’d choose to take an extra 25 minutes to get to work, and ride the bus with the presumed low-wage demographic (largely people of colour, like myself), rather than drive a nice car to a parking lot two minutes from my office, seemed rather preposterous to people I spoke to (it is still mostly so, to be honest). I remember discovering the subway for the first time, and wondering why nobody mentioned it to me before. It was being used, but mostly by a particular demographic. It was like there were two cities, one on the streets and the other underground (and on the buses), and the two groups looked markedly different.

    Now it is getting mixed up in a good way. Also there are cyclists of all types on the streets and many more every day (well, the cycling story was more complicated and interesting than that for a while longer, it has to be said…it’s another story…). The big worry for me now is scooters and mopeds. They’re increasing too, as the cute stylish (yes, they are!) LA-individualist answer to saving gas while still going fast. I’m not convinced that, in large numbers, this is a good solution. Picture (and breathe in) downtown Taipei (especially pre-subway) or Milan during rush hour and you’ll see what I mean.



  3. Luis Sanchez says:

    Well, the situation here is quite different. I live in Guadalajara (Mexico), having a population of almost 6 millions the traffic is usually horrible and motorists are nutheads (road rage is one of the worse things of any big city. But despite that public transportation is widely used, the problem with it is that public transportation is even worse than driving amidst nuthead motorists!

    I read your post with some envy, it’s esentially impossible to read a novel in public transportation here! It’s overloaded so you will travel standing most of the time, and even if you manage to get a seat the streets are so bumpy (and the buses poorly mainteined) that reading is an outmost challenge! But what causes me most envy is beeing able to engage in random conversations! Believe me, for some reason unless you find a friend in the bus the conversation is asympotic to zero.

    The efficiency of the transportation system is also asymptotic to zero, my daily trip to college is around 1 hour long (compare it with around 30 min in car) plus a bit of walking, we are talking about 2:30 hours every day!

    Now, after my rant against the pathetic public transportation here I should say that I esentially agree that an efficient public transportation system is the way to go, when I see this big Hummer trucks burning loads of fuel to transport just one person I can’t avoid thinking that is this stupid kind of attitudes that finance war on Irak, contribute to global warming, etc… Anyway, I can’t blame people for using car when the public transportation alternative is so horrible. What really amazes me is that here, where public transportation is widely used almost all of the inversion is spent on making more ways for cars instead of public transport.

  4. Pyracantha says:

    There is at least in my area (DC Metro) an unspoken but very strong element to why people want to use cars rather than bus/Metro: class. The people who take the bus are perceived as (and often are) of lower class than the people who drive. The bus is filled with immigrants and/or poor folk, going to their minimum-wage (or less) jobs because they can’t pay for cars. It may be an unpleasant thing to contemplate for a well-meaning soul, but some people don’t want to be crammed on a bus with the (how to put it politely?) less fortunate.
    And then there is also the paradoxical matter of car as personal quiet zone. Many of the people who drive actually want that time in the car because that is the only time they are alone, away from family or co workers, able to be by themselves, play their own music or listen to what they want rather than other people’s noise.

  5. Clifford says:

    Luis Sanchez:- Wow! What can I say? Good luck with everything…It sounds like a difficult situation indeed. Yes, there are some days when you might have to wait to get a seat here, but these are getting more rare as the frequency and number of the buses increases. At least on some routes. (Actually, I can usually read holding novel, etc, in one hand while dangling from overhead straps with another if need be, so standing is not so bad.)

    Pyracantha:- I’d say much of what you say is true here. There’s a strong class system -fear and distaste at mixing with “the other”- combined with the belief that locking yourself away in your personal bubble on your journey to and from work is a good thing. (I love it too but, personally, I think it sucks the marrow out of a city’s society, and reinforces the social and ethnic divisions that plague many cities, especially in the USA.)



  6. KayDubs says:

    Dear Clifford,
    I’m a young professional physicist, a regular reader of your blog, and a HUGE fan. I am also an African American and I cannot emphasize enough how important it was for me to have role models like you who are distinguished achievers in my chosen field who also happen also to look a lot like me. Reading your blog helped keep me from losing my sanity (and all my hope) as I struggled to get through graduate school, and it has remained a part of my internet routine even now as I navigate a fledgling career in industry. Thank you, Clifford, for your fantastic blog and for everything else you do.
    Okay, back to the subject at hand. I strongly agree that higher gas prices are better for everyone in the long run and am actually hoping that the present trends continue, although I admit I’m not quite as disappointed as you are by the details of how we got here.
    I have a question for you, though– how does your riding experience on your folding bicycle compare with what you’d get with a standard bike? I’d imagine you wouldn’t enjoy quite as much speed and acceleration, but I suppose the portability aspect could make up for that. I, too, am a longtime bicycle/public transit commuter and am currently on the market for a new bike. I’m very intrigued by yours– I’ve never ridden a folding bike– and would love to hear your thoughts!

  7. Katie says:

    Clifford, it’s great to hear that LA’s public transport is improving. Living in the UK for the last year has made me really appreciate the lifestyle of walking and cycling everywhere (or taking the bus if the rain is too heavy). I love it! Since I’ll be back in LA for the summer, I’d been worrying about how to manage my cross-town commute. Living within walking distance of my partner’s office means I travel 10 miles each way to get to work. It’s usually 15-20 minutes by car, but in the past the best bus/walking route I could find took an hour and a half on three buses operated by three different cities and cost a fortune. I hope that the expanded bus system will offer a better option for my commute. Thanks for the update on the system. I’ll be happy to give it another chance.

  8. Clifford says:

    Hi, KayDubs:- Thanks so much for letting me know how much you like the blog and that it has been useful for you. I am very happy to hear that.

    About the bike: I usually have to try to separate people’s ability to think rationally (even trained scientists) from the ingrained prejudices that we all have based on (1) the presumption that the “standard” bike is somehow optimum and (2) fear of looking a bit different. Starting with (2) first, I’ll just say that if you don’t like looking a bit different, then get a standard bike. Now on to (1). Think as a physicist for a moment. Actually, your acceleration is likely to be much better. You have a better power-to-weight ratio. It all depends upon how you drive those wheels, right? Well, my bike has a range of six gears. So it compensates for the small wheels quite readily. I have enough power and speed for cycling on a commute. The bike’s seat and handlebars give you the full reach of a “standard” cycle and so you are not riding a child’s bike. I will not win any races with someone on a standard bike going at their top speed, but I have no desire whatsoever to use such speeds on city streets. On the other hand, I find that I regularly pass people on standard bikes going at the speed that works for them. After a while of having it, you begin to realize that we’ve all been victims of convention:- there’s no reason that most bikes for most usages need to have those bike heavy wheels. It’s just a convention that’s making you carry around this huge unwieldy object that you have to leave outside or takes up so much room in your apartment. A well-designed folder is the way to go, in my opinion.

    Bottom line: It is the perfect bike for city commuting. If I want win races or climb mountains off-road, then I’d get the appropriate bike for those tasks. On the other hand, I also take it on longer fun rides along the beach and so forth, and people commonly take them on touring holidays. I travel with mine to some workshops with it in an extra suitcase. Then I have local transport with me.



  9. Clifford says:

    Hi Katie,

    Glad to hear you’ve been enjoying yourself. I hope the return trip goes well. I don’t know where you are going from, and so cannot really comment, except to say that you should try to connect as soon as you can to the express (“rapid”) metro buses for the longer journeys. It is not going to work equally well for all starting points, as I said earlier (and is true in any city). Rather than deal with several other local buses that connect you to it, buy a used bike, get over the over-stated claims that cycling in LA is dangerous and connect to the bus route that way. Every MTA bus has bike racks on them, or park your bike locally (inquire about the bike locker scheme in case there are some near you). Study the MTA website for route ideas, updates, and so forth. Buy a monthly or annual pass to bring costs down. Your employer may subsidize it too.

    Good Luck!!



  10. Bryan says:

    This is a subject I’ve often discussed with many people I know. I live in Baltimore, MD and work in DC. Time and convenience, not to mention transit system unreliability, have made it more advantageous for me to drive (though I did take the train when I lived even farther away).

    If you take some time and find the Congressional Appropriation Law for the Dept of Transporation you will often find that the grants and subsidies for public transportation are very, very low; even discouraged or disallowed. Some funds are available for things such as Bus Rapid Transit or BRT. (I work for the US DOT). The BRT is not a bad idea, however, more buses just mean more use of fossil fuels. Also, there is still that odd stigma the goes along with “bus people” that would limit ridership. I don’t feel that way, but many do.

    In my case, for example, it would take me close to two hours or more to travel by what would be 1) bus to 2) commuter train to 3)metro. The most reliable one of these three legs is the bus, as the MARC train (MD Transit) is antiquated and frequently malfunctions. As for the DC metro, this isn’t the venue to vent my several frustrations regarding it.

    I want to see the Federal Govt begin to get out of bed with the Oil and Auto industries and embrace more rail systems. Congress must understand that these systems won’t be profitable on the surface, but will greatly add to the “value” of our environment and our standard of living (they seem to understand this in Europe). Ok I’ll stop here.


  11. Elliot says:

    You know it’s interesting. I have a friend on the exact opposite end of the political spectrum. As you may know I tend toward the left wing side. He is a staunch conservative. Yet we are in violent agreement that we should have a significant increase in taxes on imported oil. Our reasoning is very different but the goal of reducing our dependence on petrochemical sources of energy is a place where I think there ample common ground.


  12. Jude says:

    I would say, “Yes, it’s a great idea. I’ve been commuting by bicycle for the past ___ years.” Part of my dilemma is that my favorite summer activity (aside from hiking) is going to free concerts at the music tent in Aspen on Tuesdays at 4 p.m. I looked over the Roaring Fork Transit Authority schedule and it doesn’t work given the realities of where I live. So that’s five trips to Aspen, round-trip 140 miles. The music and memories are uplifting, but is it a cop-out to make the journey? Yes. Also, there is no public transportation for my commute to work, 17 miles away. I walk whenever possible, work from home as many hours as possible, and make continual compromises by living in a rural part of Colorado. For example, I have to drive to recycle anything, and the main recycling center is on the way to Aspen, so I combine recycling with the music. For me, there are two major concerns with the long-desired rise in gasoline prices: the consequences of skyrocketing prices on the working poor; and the way non-environmentalists are using it as an excuse to rape and pillage, which they’re planning to do to my hometown mountain, the Roan Plateau. It’s all coming to a head really–all those bad decisions of decades’ duration–in food shortages; people who can’t afford to heat their homes in the winter; and gas which we can’t afford to buy.

  13. Will Campbell says:

    Awesome post, Clifford. Being able to trace my nacient days as a bike commuter in L.A. back to the late 1980s (off and on through the years; almost totally on now this past eight months), I’m long and well aware of the class/social stigma attached to that choice and it is very good to see a shift in perception/acceptance occurring, no matter how slow it’s been in getting here and no matter how its being fueled by out-of-control fuel costs.

    I haven’t yet had to deal with any strangers pulling up and unloading their half-baked justifications as to why they think I bike… as if I just got in the saddle yesterday because I drew some line when gas hit $4.50 a gallon. To have those interactions would certainly be an improvement from those endless years of idiots who demanded I “get a car!” or “get my license out of suspension!” but I’d still bristle a bit if they made assumptions that weren’t true.

    Having begun bike commuting waaaaay back when gas was 75-80% cheaper than it is today, price has never been an issue so much as the enjoyment and satisfaction that I derive from the activity — and that’s what I try to tell people who sincerely want to know why: ultimately it’s because I like it.

  14. tm says:

    I’ve been on various buses and trains and even the subway in my life in Southern California, but in ever decreasing times since high school.

    I’m not sure I’d characterize the divide between “haves” and “have-nots” in such stark terms, although I must admit, I have not commuted regularly by public transit in a long time (although I recently took a Metrolink – subway trip for a job interview, mainly to see how that commute compared with driving it*).

    I’d point out, for instance, that on Metrolink (intercity trains), the demographic is generally professionals, although, once you hop on a subway or bus out of Union Station, the mix leans heavily towards working class and the working poor.

    What Pyracantha points out alludes to something deeper: Our perceptions of our own wealth or lack thereof. In a city that hosts the entertainment industry, perception and image account for a great deal. Far too much, in my opinion. That’s why certain demographics don’t want to be seen boarding a bus. That’s why physics professors riding bikes are assumed to be unhinged kooks. (Holding a BS in physics, I can say that such perceptions are wrong: Physics professors are not unhinged kooks. They’re just kooks 😉

    As to why I commute by car? I can throw up the usual well-trod excuses: “Takes too long (which is true, my 30 minute commute would turn into 1 hour)”, “Need to run errands, like picking up groceries on the way home…” But really, I’m guilty of being in the same rut everyone else behind the wheel is.

    Regarding the time inflation on public transit commutes: That’s easily some extra sleep, or time to research an issue at work.

    *I didn’t get the job, but commuting by public transit was a far better experience. Took about the same amount of time, as well.

  15. Clifford says:

    No, no, I think the analysis was good! It fits:

    Physics Professor – Kook.
    Physics Professor riding bike – Unhinged Kook.

    (Excellent… I definitely don’t want to be a garden variety Kook.)

    -cvj (UK)

  16. Adam Bravo says:

    Hey Clifford,

    First of all, hello. I’ve been lurking on this blog now and again since I took your seminar at SC last year, but this is the first time I’ve posted. I’ve got a question.

    A big reason that many USC students don’t take public transport is safety. We’re constantly told how dangerous our area is, particularly the bus stops (I’ve heard this from bus drivers, among others). It’s particularly relevant to me because I don’t really go anywhere except at night, and the people I know who do take buses at night alone don’t feel safe.

    I know we’re often told to “trust our gut” when it comes to safety, but how much of this is real versus the classist mindset you talked about?

    This has me all excited about public transport – I think I’ll take the bus tonight (I’m in South Orange County now so it’s purely luck that there’s even a bus that goes where I want to go).

  17. My suggestion for what to say to people: “Oh, I’ve been riding like this for years. I think more people ought to, don’t you?”

  18. Clifford says:

    Hi Jonathan… Thanks…. but I’d worry that smacks a bit of being too obviously preachy, I think. I try to save that for my blog posts… 😉

    Hi Adam… Wow! I had no idea you were reading. Great! My answer is in two pieces. First, I’d say that there is a lot of the classist mindset in operation when it comes to statements about how dangerous the area is. It frustrates me a great deal to see the damage that is done to the neighbourhood in this way. There are dangers, like in any city, but things are highly overstated. Highly. If you scare everyone off the streets by telling them as soon as they arrive that it is dangerous (largely because it “looks” dangerous by virtue of the kinds of people you can see as you drive by in your car), then your going to have deserted streets and then of course it’ll be less safe as a result. Sigh. (It also does not help that the public safety office sends an email to everyone at USC every time there is a crime, no matter how trivial… apparently it is a legal requirement…. but what is the point of that except to scare people and make things seem worse than they really are?)

    Anyway, having said that, the issue of buses at night here is a thorny one. For anything up to about eight thirty or nine o’clock I’d say that things are moderately ok, depending upon the route. If it’s a major road like Wilshire or Sunset or Vermont, etc, I mean. Then, less traffic works in your favour, since even though less frequent the buses run closer to schedule, so rather than wait there at a stop in the dark for one to come on the off-change, you can arrive five minutes before it is due and not wait so long. Things get pretty infrequent after that time though, on most routes… there can be a lot of waiting, and at that time there are fewer people around and so it is less than good if you are on your own or feeling vulnerable.

    (I’ve waited for night buses at all sorts of times of night (I plan ahead and bring a copy of the schedule for the route with me), but I guess I have the dubious advantage of being a member of one of the groups that people assume – by looking at me – is part of the danger, and so I’m pretty much ok. This is not true for others, I know.)

    This is a major problem that the MTA has not stepped up to look at, as far as I can tell. They don’t seem to be aware that people want to get around at night, and so the frequency of buses on many routes plummets once it gets dark. Not just MTA. Look at LADoT’s excellent DASH service. The one between downtown and USC stops at 6:30pm! Makes no sense at all. If that were in place, USC students could easily connect to the subway and more of the region at night…. hollywood, pasadena, etc…

    So it is a mixed bag. At not-too-late time of night, pick major routes if you can and get to know the schedule. It is online. , along with lots of maps and so forth (some maps not updated with new routes, I noticed). E.g….if you want to connect to the subway from USC once the DASH has stopped, take the 754 (until 8:30), and 204 (local) up Vermont, or the 200 (local) up Hoover. Get off at Wilshire and Vermont (or Hoover and 7th for 200). Subway right there. It is also stupidly infrequent at night 12 – 20 minutes… maybe longer when very late. But the schedule works.

    (And I still claim that the dangers about the neighbourhood at night are overstated and damaging. It is kind of a separate issue.)



  19. cvj says:

    It’s nice to see people choosing their form of transportation, and enjoying it. That’s American I think, freedom to choose. Things would be better if gas prices were 70 cents a gallon though, food prices and transportation prices in general would be much cheaper. This in turn would free people more, and that would be a good thing too.

    All the best,

  20. Clifford says:

    Just for the record, the “cvj” of the comment posted above is nothing to do with the “cvj” who hosts this blog!


  21. Yvette says:

    Interesting post, particularly as someone who’s just started living in California… I will confess, what was probably the biggest “culture shock” to me coming here from the Rust Belt is how much everyone drives around here. The biking infrastructure is sooo much better than it is in Cleveland and the weather’s leaps better (way better then being the solo crazy student biking to class in freezing temps!), yet every day I feel like I’d get a headache on the highway by just looking at it. (I picked up a cheap secondhand bike to commute to work on my first day here.) For a bunch of people who consider themselves enlightened, I don’t particularly understand it.

    I have a quip I like to mention in such conversations about driving and why you should try to do less of it- if you’re left-wing you shouldn’t because you worry about the environment, and if you’re right-wing you shouldn’t because you worry about giving all your money to the Middle East at the pump. Either way, the message is clear. 😉

  22. Similar to Johnathan’s idea, you could say something to the effect of “Oh, I’ve been cycling for years, since it’s convenient for me for lots of reasons and I enjoy it.” You don’t want to be too down on money-as-motivation if you don’t know your interlocutor’s financial (or other) circumstances — they may have genuine reasons to be concerned about money or convenience of cycling.

    Glad you’re continuing to enjoy your cycling. I miss cycling when I’m not well enough to rely on my bike. My poor bike needs some TLC.


  23. caraboo says:

    Or you could just say: “See how small the wheels have gotten already? IF I didn’t take that thing out for a spin every day, they’d shrink down to nothing.”

  24. Clifford says:

    Hi IP,

    Thanks. Just for the record:- I am not “down on money-as-motivation”, as I stated clearly in the post… I am down on people assuming that it is the only motivation.



  25. I am down on people assuming that it is the only motivation.

    I got that. Sorry I was unclear in my post. What I actually meant was that you may not want to say something that *sounds* down on “money as motivation” to the person you’re speaking to if you don’t know their financial circumstance (I’m assuming that if they are themselves bringing up the money issue, it’s because they’re feeling the pinch) and you might not have time to explain your opinion in such a way as to do it justice in a 2-minute or 5-minute chat.
    When I was cycling regularly and people asked me about it, I’d say something like what I posted above or something like “Actually, the reason I cycle is that I enjoy it and it’s convenient, keeps me healthy, and it’s good for the environment. But you’re right that it’s also basically free, so that’s an extra bonus for me.”

    Anyway, it’s nice to boast about the positive aspects of cycling — for a lot of things it *is* convenient, fun, ethical, healthy, etc.

    Obviously, if you know the person well and know that they agree with you on the petrol issue then it’s a different situation.


  26. Clifford says:

    “I’m assuming that if they are themselves bringing up the money issue, it’s because they’re feeling the pinch”

    Not at all a reasonable assumption. Far from it. The culture here on that point is very different from what you’re used to, I suspect. It is very much more the case that people immediately ask how much you paid for something as the opening line in a conversation, no matter what their apparent means are. In fact, in very many cases they won’t talk to you at all, sadly, except to ask that question. Feeling the pinch or not, people use a simple dollar amount on something that they see as a means of immediately ruling something in or out as viable for them. This tends to shut down much in the way of nuanced conversations about things and so I tend to avoid such discussions and steer the conversation elsewhere.

    But this all missed the point entirely, so I won’t go on. The point is that I’m talking about people making assumptions about why someone else did something, not whether they’d do it themselves. The two can be connected, but need not (and often are not).

    I’ll emphasize one last time, however, that it is possible to be of any means whatsoever and still recognize that there are motivations for doing things in life that go beyond immediate financial gain. That’s ultimately what I’m talking about.

    Your thoughts about keeping it light are of course good, and I’m glad that you follow that, and I hope it works well for you. Excellent. In the blog post I was simply trying to share the humour of the gut feeling I had, not seriously threatening to go out and offend people. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear.



  27. Not at all a reasonable assumption. Far from it. The culture here on that point is very different from what you’re used to, I suspect.

    Possibly. It’s also the case that most of people I regularly interact with are people who already make an effort to be fairly eco-friendly within their means.

    I’ll emphasize one last time, however, that it is possible to be of any means whatsoever and still recognize that there are motivations for doing things in life that go beyond immediate financial gain.

    Of course it is.

    I also suspect that the UK is better set up for people wanting to make this particular car-to-bike/public transport switch. It’s easy to get a second-hand bike, it’s easy to find someone who’ll show you how to maintain one, it’s relatively easy to find cyclable routes to most places, and as things aren’t as spread out as in the US, it’s probably more of a newbie-friendly area to start cycling. Or at least that’s my impression. I’d have been scared to cycle in the US, although now having read your blog I might be trying it the next time I’m in your part of the world. It’s cool that you’re blogging about these issues.