By Pat Bywater
It’s been a little more than a year since my SUV died and I promised to report the results as I spent the next 12 months commuting on twos — by foot or by motorcycle.
My motivation was being sick — sick of high gas prices, sick of the prospect of a monthly car payment and sick of being sick and tired. The idea was to save some money and improve my fitness, all while meeting my job obligations.
While I acknowledge — as a number of you have pointed out — I surely lucked out with last spring’s weather, I maintain my experience shows that for those of us living and working in and near Meadville, going carless is certainly doable. Perhaps the hardest thing was building the extra time into my schedule and learning that little pre-planning makes a big difference.
You do definitely need some sort of slip-on traction device for your boots. Yak Trax is a popular brand, but it is certainly not the only effective kind out there. In past columns, we highlighted a number of examples of nasty spills on icy sidewalks and roads — including one that led to a temporary loss of sight — so there’s ample reason to justify this purchase if you intend to become a dedicated commuter by foot. I used my ice grippers probably two handfuls of times this past winter and was very thankful for them. On a number of days, there wouldn’t have been any way to stay upright without them.
Walking has been a balm for my brain and body. My commute on foot is about 20 minutes, and I arrive refreshed, relaxed and energized. I’ve lost a few pounds and kept them off, and I have no doubt it is thanks to the walking.
Walking also led me into a public policy issue it appears Meadville City Council may be on the verge of addressing. Many of our sidewalks are in terrible shape, primarily due to the fact that there is no proactive attempt to keep them maintained. Instituting proactive inspections that would require maintenance before the sidewalk surface deteriorates badly is among the suggestions in Meadville’s new comprehensive plan.
Also questionable, in my view, is how we fund maintenance of this piece of public infrastructure. Currently, while everyone is welcome to use our sidewalks, only those property owners who have sidewalks on their land are required to pay to keep them up. Imagine if we treated our roads this way!
I suspect that putting proactive inspections in place will be easier to achieve than creating a new funding scheme for our sidewalks, but in my view, both must be done. I am not alone in predicting that across the country, sidewalks will become a significant community asset as high gas prices become the new normal and we all focus more on staying healthier.
If you choose to mix motorcycling into your commute and are an older rider coming back to biking after time away, like I was, I strongly suggest taking the Basic RiderCourse, which is made available free through the state Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program. Taking the class highlighted for me the specific riding skills I need to improve. Passing also gave me a discount on insurance. Classes are under way now across the region with the closest site being the PennDOT facility on Route 322 in Vernon Township. Details and class sign-ups are available at pamsp.com.
Riding to work doesn’t provide the physical benefits of walking but, for me, the mental benefits are much the same, and it takes a fraction of the gasoline consumed by a car, SUV or truck.
These days there is a smaller used SUV in my garage and I do admit it is mighty convenient having the option to drive. I can say with confidence, though, that this SUV will not be used every day like the old one. Once you get past the relatively minor inconveniences of planning extra time to walk or put on all the gear to get on a motorcycle, they really are superior ways to get where you’re going. Both will remain a regular part of my routine.
Your comments are welcome by emailing Pat Bywater at firstname.lastname@example.org.