Straphanger is a study of, and a paean to, public transportation around the world. I haven't read it yet, but reviewers have commented that Grescoe's bias is clear: He believes buying a car is "the beginning of a spiral through selfishness, road rage, and anomie, one whose ultimate goal is the mall and the gated community."
Well, I wouldn't go that far. We just figured that it might be thriftier and greener to cut back on our mechanical dependants. We were moving into the city, so while Tom commuted I would walk and use the bus. At the same time, we sold our island truck, putting us in much the same position on North Caicos.
After four years, I'm happy to say that I'm happy to be carless. I can do most of my errands and get good exercise walking to the grocery store, bank, market, mosaic studio, garden plot, etc. Being on foot has let me get to know my neighborhood better. Even on North Caicos, I see more people when I walk; most trips to the store entail someone slowing down their car to chat.
In Richmond, I can go farther afield by bus. Many people complain about public transportation in RVA, but I find it inexpensive, reliable and easy to use, not to mention entertaining and a wonderful source for a fiction writer.
I can't get far into the suburbs, though, primarily because of the prejudices out there toward the carless ... if you don't have a gas guzzler, they seem to say, stay out. OK, so I will. I've erased Short Pump and Midlothian from my map, to no ill effect.
The result is that life is saner, greener and friendlier since we've lost the weight of one car. Plus we've saved tons of money that would have gone for gas, insurance, maintenance, parking, tolls and, of course, payments.
There have been lessons, though. Here's what I've learned in my pedestrian life:
You can't trust drivers to know and/or obey laws regarding pedestrians. They might not slow down when they see you in a crosswalk, nor will they necessarily yield when you're crossing with a "walk" light.
Many drivers are on the phone and distracted. They don't even notice you. Be careful!
Road rage still happens (see above). I have on occasion "lost it" when some texting yahoo acts as if my presence on the street is worth less than his. Remember Ratso Rizzo with "I'm walking here!"?
Curb cuts in Richmond are pretty much a joke. They aren't consistently present, and the position of some requires users to swing out into the traffic. If I were in a wheelchair instead of just dragging a grocery cart, they'd be a nightmare.
There are a lot of interesting things to see in the world. It can't be done at 40 mph.
And that last lesson is reason enough for me to keep walking.