Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Wasted Time

Last weekend, we walked to our nearest library, as we often do (we've been averaging two trips a week here). It is almost two miles to the library, so with the double stroller, a slight incline, and 50 pounds of children, it takes about 40 minutes each way. Forty minutes! Eighty minutes round-trip. An hour and twenty minutes wasted, just to go to the library. Right?

Not so. The idea that the time spent getting somewhere is "wasted" comes from our car culture. An hour and  half spent in the car, just to go to the library and back, twice a week, would indeed be wasted time. But walking is rarely wasted time.

At the very least, it is good exercise. Depending on your locale, walking can also be beautiful and enjoyable. And with kids, significant others, or friends along, walking is also quality relationship and learning time.

Obviously, it is possible to have conversations and see pretty things in a car. But the focus is often different, isn't it? We rarely decide to go on a leisure drive with friends, but a leisure walk is commonplace - why? Walking outdoors involves more eye contact, greater sensory stimulation, and usually less frustration and cursing than driving. While walking, we can stop or slow down at will to watch a squirrel, smell a flower, or examine a building more closely.

Compare our library walking experience to a car moment we had just a few weeks earlier. The week before we moved to our new house, we went to the Royal Fireworks Concert in a relative's car and paid to park in a garage. After the concert ended, around 10 PM, we got stuck in a traffic jam getting out of the garage. Although everyone had already had to pay on the way in, we had to scan our ticket or some such nonsense in order to be allowed to leave the garage. For twenty minutes, we sat in the infuriatingly slow line of cars, breathing fumes, looking at concrete beams, and listening to dozens of car engines idling (as well as one screaming baby), magnified by the concrete.

It did not escape our reflection that in the time we spent walking to the car, loading up the kids, and waiting to leave, we could have walked to our new home. While this car experience was exceptional, it is certainly not uncommon to waste time sitting in line to leave a parking garage.

As a practitioner and proponent of the "alternative" lifestyles of car-free and car-light living, I often feel called upon to defend our crazy ways. The biggest question is usually how we cope with things taking so much longer than they would in a car. I can't deny that living without a car is often slower (though by no means always, especially when bikes or quality public transit are involved). But on the other hand, very little time is ever truly wasted - instead, travel time is enriched by the mode of transportation.

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