When my car broke down along I-85 North, I was angry and embarrassed, standing out on the six-lane highway waiting for a tow truck and becoming fifteen, then thirty, then forty-five minutes late to my job. I cowered in my car while eighteen-wheelers roared past, trying to figure out why I felt I needed to rely at all on the stupid, expensive machine.
So instead of adding the cost of a rental car to the ($764!) repair bill, I decided to tackle Atlanta car-free.
I’ll be honest: bicycling is already my primary mode of transportation for short trips inside the city, and usually it’s convenient—especially on the days of the week that I commute a mere three-and-a-half miles to downtown. Convenient unless it rains, that is. And, of course, on Friday, my first car-free day, it rained. While I can bike in a downpour, I prefer to keep my flats from becoming sloshy.
Google Maps informed me that my only non-bicycle transportation option to downtown would be a combined bus and train trip. I considered texting my director to tell her I’d be in late to work. But the whole commute only took me thirty minutes—faster than driving and drier than biking. The #6 bus (exactly one minute late) picked me up from the street corner in front of my house and dropped me under the awning at the Inman Park Marta station, where I took a seat on a train and read my long-neglected book club book. At Five Points, I got off and walked eight minutes to my office. When my director came in—later than I did—she told me that she liked my (mostly dry) shoes.
The next day—a sunny, eighty-degree Saturday—I took on the whole city by bicycle: five miles to brunch at West Egg, a mile to a friend’s pool, a mile to Forsyth Fabrics, three miles to meet friends at Publik Draft House on Peachtree Street, another mile to load my basket up with groceries, and then, finally, home to take a long shower worthy of a day of biking.
A few hours later, I felt up for Saturday night festivities. However, when a friend invited me to a party at the Goat Farm, I texted back to say thanks—but absolutely not. My legs were adamantly against another ten-mile round-trip, and Google Maps informed me that this time there was no way to get from the East Side to the West Side without shelling out major cab fare or spending up to two hours following a much more complicated combination of bus and train routes—alone and at night.
With my teaching job at a college 15 miles up I-85 North, I have only one transportation option: driving. So, when my car wasn’t fixed by the following Tuesday as promised by the repair shop, I panicked. I called Beth, a professor with a similar teaching schedule. An hour later, she and another professor picked me up from my front porch. My first carpool! We spent the forty-five minute drive dancing to remixes of “Call Me Maybe”. I felt sad for those single-passenger cars
riding alongside us up I-85 North—so lonely!
Finally, on Thursday, the repair shop called: my car was ready. Following a week’s separation, the reunion was anti-climactic. My first thought upon sitting in the driver’s seat was: I hope Beth lets me stay in her carpool. My second thought was: wow, six lanes of traffic is pretty dangerous. As I drove, there were more thoughts. Like, why can’t there be a decent way to get from the east side of town to the West Side? Why can’t I ride in a protected bike lane on a major thoroughfare like Peachtree Street? Why doesn’t Atlanta have a better transit system so I can have a couple of drinks at a bar without having to rely on semi-reluctant friends to ferry me home? Why doesn’t the bus stop near my house have a shelter to protect me in the rain?
That’s when I decided to vote yes, absolutely yes, for the transportation sales tax referendum. Six hundred million dollars to connect my East Side home with my friends’ places on the West Side through the BeltLine. Twenty-nine additional miles of Atlanta streets with bike facilities. Ninety-five million dollars to see about getting an alternative form of transportation (a train?!) up I-85 North. It’s a huge step in the right direction.
And my wallet, my bicycling legs, and my social life all say the same thing.
Jessica Estep is a member of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. To vote in tomorrow’s Transportation Referendum, find your voting precinct here.