Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Trials and Tribulations of a non-driver

This is an article I wrote for a school website, that you can find on www.jmaddy.com. It was about what it's like to be a non-driver and the problems that ensue on my school campus. It's entitled "Dude, Where's My Car" so you can find it off their website:

I had my first class of an ISAT (College of Integrated Science and Technology) course this week on Energy and transportion and the professors were pointing out how we are probably gonna run out of gas in 40 years and how we have to stop driving cars so much.

That sounds all well and good but the problem is as I'm writing this, I'm currently stranded in Northern Virginia with no really easy way to get to JMU for class on Tuesday and I am racking my brain looking for a solution to this.

Now for those of you who are wondering why I don't drive, I did at one point drive a car and believe me I know how much fun it was. In fact, it was too much fun. After a series of fender benders, I totalled a car at the age of 19 and when I had another collision a year later, the insurance company strongly recommended (aka basically forced me) that I stay off the road for three years or else my rates will go through the roof.

In the meantime, I have transferred to pristine James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Unfortunately, Harrisonburg, Virginia is now considered by the buses and railroads to be in the middle of nowhere. I did initially consider transferring to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis because it was in a city and that meant easier access to transportation, but in-state tuition for JMU was cheaper which obviously makes a big difference.

I am very pleased with the bus system for Harrisonburg and JMU. Most towns of this size don't have as good public transportation. However, this campus is humongous. Obviously I'm aware that exercise is good for us, but do people realize how far some of these distances are? Last year, it was a mile from college center to my dorm in the lakeside area and about 4/5 of a mile to the ISAT building were a lot of my classes were. That is something grade schoolers run in PE as a test of endurance or a brisk walk for a suburbanite to do on the weekend. For a daily commute, however, it is a distance that will wear you out. Especially if it's round trip and you're carrying a back pack on your shoulders.

As for the College Center (a building that's farther away from my dorm than the college center), that is a trip that I would never make non-stop if I had my way. Like I should prop up a tent on the side of Carrier Drive and make it a two-day trip. What kills me is those times when
you realize you left JAC Card somewhere else when you're in line at the Festival or PC Dukes and the manager is telling you they have no problem ringing you up just as soon as you get your JAC Card. I will probably die of starvation and/or exhaustion before I can make a
return trip with my card.

Fortunately, with the intercity transportation system, mobility and time management can be made easier if one either memorizes the schedule and times their day according to it, or if they are lucky enough to have a bus' route coincide with where they are going at their specific time of need. The bigger issue, however, is intra-city transportation which refers to helping people get into and out of town. When my older sister's friends went to JMU around the turn of the decade, there were train and bus lines servicing the station. When I first transferred to JMU, there was a bus stop, so at the very least we had Greyhound service, however uncomfortable it might be. Now, the only option is homeride which limits when we can leave and return to one day a week each and that's if we live in any of the selected areas.

This poses a definite problem to which I can't think of a quick-and-easy solution offhand. For those of us who came to JMU when we had intracity transportation and relied on that transportaiton, we are somewhat screwed. At the very least, I hope student ambassadors are selling the campus to prospective students as accessible via Greyhound cause its not.

On a more general note, I also think people underestimate the effects of a car on stress management and your social life. Not having a car is an impediment to my overall wellness because I can't escape town and go somewhere get some space by driving out of town
when I want to. I don't know how many drivers take for granted the fact that with their car they can get away, even to Bridgewater or downtown or wherever with such ease. There's also the difficulty of running errands of course and the amount of time it gobbles up. But, lastly, I also find it an impediment to my social life, when you rely on people for rides it always makes you less desirable of a friend and puts you in the hole on a give-and-take relationship as someone more on the taking end.

My main point, therefore, is that I'm doing everyone else on the road a favor by not driving, because my history shows that I am not a safe driver. I am doing a favor to every other driver by easing gridlock because there is one less car on the road. But more importantly, I am doing a favor to the environment and helping keep alive the possibility that we wont use up our
fuel in our lifetimes by staying off the road. And as you can see from the fact that I can't even get to my class on Tuesday without spending a rediculous sum of money through a plane fair or a taxi cab ride, I'm not rewarded for it.

We constantly send the message: don't drive a car and help the environment out, but for JMU students, its nearly impossible to not have one.

Therefore, I encourage us all to help make it possible. First of all, I urge everyone to give rides, offer rides when you see someone walking a long way with a heavy backpack, its a really easy way to make an impact on someone else's day. Most things in Harrisonburg are within a mile or two of each other. This is about 5 minutes by car and about 25-30 minutes on foot. Even if its a little out of your way, just think about how much time that saves for someone, especially if
they need it. I am always hearing that this college is supposedly a really friendly one, and that is one of the easiest ways you can dispel stereotypes that thats not just BS. Also for intra-city
transportation, take more advantage of the ride board or even the one on this site. Remember that will benefit you too, because we all will be more than happy to contribute to gas. It might even be a good social experience and one things for sure: we really do appreciate it.

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