Sunday, February 06, 2011

Drive Fast

It's not very often that I dispense automotive advice. Today, I am. It is Sunday and I'm going to preach a little. My advice is two words, and those two words are "Drive Fast," but I hope you stick with me long enough to hear why that's my advice.

Like pretty much every American, I live in a world designed for driving. My home, like yours I suspect, has a space specifically made for my automobile. My workplace, naturally, has plenty of parking. My bank features a drive-thru teller window, as do most of the coffee shops and fast food places. These fast places are mostly along the wide road, the one just off the swooping freeway exits. In the past hundred years we've put a lot of effort into making it easy to go from here to there quickly and while sometimes we can, too often we can't, so we've invented things like traffic reports, and books on tape to help us cope. And even when we do get from here to there and back again without incident or aggravation, the here and there are not quite like we dreamed. The dreams, the world shown us in the car commercials, is the driver on the open road, a lone car driving beneath blue skies, along a rocky coast or twisting through a green forest. In truth, we build rivers of concrete through our cities. We really do pave paradise to put up parking lots. Every day we chop down trees to make thousands of greasy bags to hold the millions of french fries we scarf down on our important trips to important places.

Far too often, our desires and dreams of rapid mobility are thwarted by all those idiots clogging our damn roads. Where the hell are all these bozos going? I need to be moving, of course, but what's up with the clown in the Honda? Of course, if we stop and breathe and think, we realize that we are all the clown in the Honda, so to speak, and while his errand may, in fact, be more or less important than mine at this moment, his task, to him, is what he needs to be doing.

Hmm, stop and breathe and think. There's an idea. It's an idea that came to me decades ago, when I was stuck in traffic. I wouldn't give up my car, not forever anyway, but maybe I'd take a break, briefly. I decided to drive fast.

Not fast as in zoom, zoom but fast as in take a break. Some people fast for reasons of religion or health, deciding, for example, to abstain from eating meat. I decided to fast from driving, for a while, for my health. Mostly for my mental health.

I think it was easier for me than for many because I really never enjoyed driving. The disconnect between the dream and the reality was always too much for me. Pressing a gas pedal never thrilled me the way turning a bike pedal does. But maybe that's just me.

I do know that my driving fast worked for me. I liked not driving. I liked seeing where I was dependent on having a car, seeing that as a problem and working on that problem. The easiest way to work on the problem was to work on myself and my circumstance. My fast grew from a day without driving to something bigger. I don't hate cars, but I love much of the world that we've been destroying to make way for them. I allied myself with simpler forms of locomotion, like walking and cycling. But I also allied myself with big complex systems like trains and buses. Motor vehicles have their place, but for me I found that place didn't have to be my own parking place with my own car.

Christine and I have lived happily without owning an automobile for just under a quarter of century. We've raised two sons who are now both grown men and who have somehow never bothered to become licensed drivers. This is just the reality of our lives but somehow this has been thought of as news and we wind up giving talks to people who want to know our "secret". The secret is making choices. Everyone makes choices every day and I know my choices will not be yours.

But I do have this advice. Try giving something up. Briefly. It's easy if it's something you don't enjoy or some part of your life that you suspect is not really giving you what you need. Maybe today is the day you drive fast. And by that I mean that maybe today is the day you don't drive. Try it, for a day. Look at your city and your life from the standpoint of a pedestrian or from the seat of a bicycle. You might like some of what you see and you probably won't like some of what you see. But I think you'll find it interesting.

Drive Fast. That's my advice.

Kent Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA


bikelovejones said...

"I think it was easier for me than for many because I really never enjoyed driving. The disconnect between the dream and the reality was always too much for me. Pressing a gas pedal never thrilled me the way turning a bike pedal does."

Unfortunately, that may be a key.

Most of the folks I know who gave up driving were like you and me. They never fully enjoyed it to begin with, so it was easier to give up.

My partner grew up in L. A.
Driving was not only a rite of passage there, but a necessity if you wanted to get anywhere at all. Although today my sweetie recognizes why I won't ever own a car again, she refuses to give hers up. She doesn't mind driving at all, and prefers the "freedom of mobility" it gives her (over not driving). She cannot see freedom in other terms. Neither can a whole lot of other people.

Pondero said...

Effectively phrased, and abundantly clear. Inspirational post.

I drive about 35,000 miles/year, but not because I like it. It is because it is terribly hard to imagine the profound lifestyle change required to change jobs, move, lower my standard of living, and here's the kicker...persuade my wonderful bride.

I have awesome respect for those of you that have made those choices.

Anonymous said...

I hear ya.

I like my present job, in part because it is an easy five mile bike commute.

But, about once or twice a month I'm scheduled to go to a second site, miles away. I don't buck the system, I borrow/rent a friend's car and drive, just on those days. Our informal agreement is still way cheaper than buying a car of my own.

But, my boss and coworkers--who know I bike commute, but probably don't know I don't actually own a car--hint strongly that I should drive every day, and mock my cycle commute. One of their arguments is that there might be an emergency absence at the other site requiring that I drive there. They see driving as a question of fairness.

Imho, if there is an emergency my employer should provide a way for one of us to travel. Why should I have to spend thousands of dollars of my own (low) salary to buy and maintain a car just so my employer can use it for work purposes? The mileage reimbursement doesn't nearly cover the cost of buying, insuring, maintaining, and storing a car I don't need myself.

It's also weird to think that EVERYONE must drive in case just ONE person needs to go somewhere in a car.

Eh, well. I just smile and wait for the day my employer orders me to purchase a car with my own money.

"What kind of car do you want to force me to buy, exactly?"

Kevin Love said...

This shows exactly why it is necessary to revamp our infrastructure so that cycling is always the easiest, fastest and most convenient way of getting from A to B.

In places where this has been done, cycling achieves a high mode share. And most cyclists don't particularly like cycling. Their emotional attachment to their bike is about as high as their emotional attachment to their vacuum cleaner. A bicycle is just a transportation appliance.

That's the way that things should be.

MzunguEriki said...

You the man Kent! Had me me fooled what fast was.

Jeff Potter said...

Good one! "Fast." I get it!

Yes, there are many bad things about a car-based society -- I won't say culture, coz that's not really what happens between the steel boxes.

That said, I do kinda like driving snow! It's coz it's more like skiing! There's a "give" and a finesse to it, an art, that lures me in. (It's like boating, too.)

But what recently put me over the top in car disappointment was realizing how INEFFICIENT the dang ICE engine is. 20%! All that HEAT coming off of cars is the WASTE! The waste isn't some math equation: it's the HEAT. It finally was obvious to me -- and ugly.

Then think of an eletro-motor: 80% efficient. It doesn't roar. It's cool. So presently I'm partial to e-cars and certain hybrids, since ICE supposedly is much more efficient as a generator. Charging batteries seems like a more legit role for the ICE than pushing vehicles. Soon that might be all we see most of them doing.

Not that I really know these data-points. I've only heard them secondhand.

...And not that this justifies car-land. More time outta cages = more better. I hear ya!

Anonymous said...

I too like the way you put it, Kent. Often we have to shift our heads to change our habits.

I'm struck, being on a country cursed by comp. helmets by a comment from Northern Ireland where they are currently contemplating the same insanity.

"You can promote cycling or helmets, but you can't promote both." (may come originally from Mikael.)
That quip has the mind turning power of your;'Drive fast." I think

Indeed, how about a blog post on memorable phrases about utility cycling?

Back to helmets and our campaign against them, I like to say; "True safety is under the wheels not on the head."

Mike Rubbo

Bill said...

Well said! Today is the first anniversary of the Carfree American blog and the first official Carfree American Day. :)
I am glad we are all in this together...peace!


Nature-Drunk said...

For my birthday this year, my husband, who is an avid cyclist, bought a ’61 Schwinn Traveler for me. I fell in love with it and find myself loving it a little more each day (if that is even possible).

Hubby and I were just discussing the idea of me giving up the Prius for a simpler ride -- my sweet bicycle. It is equipped with a headlamp, a handy rack, good tires, and comfy seat. Now, all it needs is for me to become a more dedicated pedaler and shazam, we are golden. Thanks for the inspiring post!

kfg said...

Kevin - You can have my 50's Compact C4 when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

Jeff - "Then think of an eletro-motor: 80% efficient."

But don't think about battery efficiency.

"It doesn't roar."

That is true. It whines. Nobody likes a whiner.

"It's cool."

I have blisters on my fingers. I had to install a big ass heat sink to prevent the motor from burning the insulation off the winding wire.

It does have the proper torque curve for a vehicle and only one moving part turning in just two bearings. I like electric motors a lot, but they're not magic.

Nature Drunk - Nice bike. Love it forever, it deserves it.

et al - How to stop driving: Stop driving. It really is that simple.

Anonymous said...


Dan O said...

Great post.

I actually like driving - not sitting in traffic - actually driving, and am a bit of a (fading) gear head - have owned many cars and motorcycles. Even through all that, have always rode bicycles as well.

As the years rolled by, my interest in moto powered devices has plummeted. The last few years have seen more miles piled on my bicycles then my car, mostly via bike commuting. A good thing.

We're a family of four, with two kids in elementary school. With various activities and sports, not easy to live without a car. Major kudos to your family for pulling that off.

Last year, my car expired for good, leaving us with one running vehicle. We got by for 6 months with only one quite easily - for us, that was cool. I bike commuted as usual, then borrowed the family car as needed.

Wacky enough, bicycles pushed us into once again living with two cars - so picked up something cheap for car #2. My son and I ride and race mountain bikes (and cyclocross). It just plain easier to drive to events and new riding places - now without stranding the female half of the clan (who don't ride or wish to see every race). Having my 11 year old ride to distant events and race, just isn't feasible.

At times, I feel a guilty however, since this winter I've driven to work WAY too much. While my car was toast, it was cool to have to ride to work, no matter what.

As always - enjoy your blog.

SiouxGeonz said...

I think bikelovejones has a point. I've often pondered that if dad holds son in his arms riding around on the tractor, there's going to be natural operant conditioning associating that rumbling engine with love. There are too many other cultural comforts associated with the car; I think it will help when we're trying to make the culture change to understand logic isn't generally waht it's all about.
I, too, never liked driving.

sweetoldworld said...

An excellent article; thank you.

After 30 years of driving I finally got fed up with being an unpaid taxi service for family & friends, so when the lease on my car expired 3 months ago I decided to return to cycling.

What a sense of freedom that has brought me. No sitting in traffic, no parking worries, no guilt trip when I don't "volunteer" to run someone home, or into town. There is of course the monetary gain of not funding a car but this is, surprisingly, secondary to the lack of responsibility I feel by not owning one.

Perhaps the best part is sailing past lines of gridlocked traffic and wondering why on earth I put up with that for so long.

BikeBike said...


My driving fast has been going for just over 2yrs now and the longer I choose not to drive on a regular basis the more I am not interested. Its a self fullfilling feedback loop.