Since finishing grad school and getting my adult jobs, I have driven to work (for a few months), taken transit (for nine years), and ridden a bike to work (for seven years). I have seen how my commuting choice affects me.
The term, “quality of life” is thrown around by politicians, doctors, pundits, and academics to meet their own agendas…but it is really subjective, defined by each person, so I can only relate my experience.
I’ve heard quality of life described as the gap between our hopes and expectations and our present experiences, and I like that definition. Here’s my commute history it terms of hopes, expectations, and experience.
Car to Work
Right out of grad school, I started driving to work, because, well, that is the way things are: if you have a job, you have a car to get you there. My expectation was that I was going to get in my car and drive to work; I really didn’t give it much thought. I hoped that I would get to work on time, without too much difficulty, and that my wife would be happy at home with our infant daughter. My experience was that traffic was bad, parking was awful, and my wife felt trapped without a car.
Quality of life with driving: huge gaps between expectations and hopes and experience.
Transit to Work
My expectation with transit was that I would walk to the bus stop, get on a bus, and get to work. My hope was that having a car would make my wife happier, that I would enjoy riding the bus, and that I wouldn’t have to worry about parking.
My experience taking transit was that I usually ran (because I was late) to the bus stop (then occassionally walked back home because I missed the bus), enjoyed a good book on my 55 minute ride to work, and arrived ready for a productive day. My wife was happy and I didn’t have to find parking, but my schedule was not my own, I gained 40 pounds and felt increasingly unhealthy. Also the price of passes doubled in price during my time on transit.
Quality of life with transit: Fewer gaps initially, but as I grew in knowledge and experience, some additional gaps appeared.
Bike to Work
My expectation for riding to work was that it would take a long time, I would get sweaty and tired, I would be sore, and I would not be able to bike at all in winter. My hope was that I would get healthy and save money. My experience riding a bike was that it eventually took less time to get to work than transit, that I became much more healthy, and I saved a lot of money. I didn’t get as tired and sweaty as I expected, I quickly outgrew my soreness, and I was able to bike almost all year around.
Quality of life with a bike: Some gaps, but they were positive, and there was more…
Defining quality of life in terms of expectations and hopes limits you to what you know or can imagine. This can be bad when you are ignorant and can’t forsee unpleasant implications of your choices, and it can be good when an experience has good qualities you didn’t know about and couldn’t imagine.
Going into my biking to work experiment, I couldn’t have imagined how much pleasure riding would give me; couldn’t have known how empowering it is to get to work on nothing but my own energy; and couldn’t have forseen how it connected me to my town, my neighborhood and my body. I also didn’t realize how much much fun it would be…but I should have. After all, when I was kid that was often the whole reason for riding bikes.