The following is a guest editorial from the Denver Post from 2011. I heard local conservative commentator Mike Rosen read it on his radio program and wrote an Email in response. I will paste the editorial first, followed by my response.
I find it darkly ironic, since I now endure Omaha’s mass transit system. Yet, I would not change a word I wrote.
Guest Commentary: A car-free life in Denver
Special to The Denver Post
June 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm
We are raised on cars. For many Americans, the idea of riding a public bus or train seems foreign and inconvenient. Car owners who have no experience with
public transportation may believe a car is always the necessary method to get from here to there.
Two years ago, I moved to Denver from Chicago, well practiced in public transportation and committed to life without a car. To me, there is independence
in the car-free lifestyle. It is freedom from hefty car payments and dealings with insurance companies. It is the freedom to walk any way I want down one-way
streets, to cut through fields of untouched snow on the way to the store, to observe the moving city around me without worrying if I am holding up traffic
or about to cause an accident.
It is the opportunity to get more exercise and support a cleaner environment.
The year after college, I lived in a suburb of Seoul, South Korea, where public transportation was not just abundant, it also was efficient. Digital postings
at stops and stations told me exactly when the next bus or train would arrive. (They arrived often and crowded.)
Few of my peers owned cars in Chicago. We all took the “L” or bus to work or play — always a faster and cheaper alternative to driving.
So when I moved to Denver, I searched for an urban neighborhood that had all necessary conveniences within walking or busing distance. I settled on Uptown,
where, unlike other neighborhoods, I could walk to the grocery store, the movie theater, restaurants, cafes, shops, and the bus stop.
In Denver, when I tell people I don’t have a car, I get varied reactions of bewilderment: “You live without a car?” “Isn’t it dangerous?” “Isn’t it inconvenient?”
“Doesn’t it take longer?”
To these questions, I ask: Have you experienced the pleasure of reading a novel all the way to work? Do you know the convenience of finishing work on the
commute home? Do you know the peace of mind in not worrying about ice and snow? Have you watched the world move from day to night during the 5 o’clock
rush while someone else stresses about traffic?
This freedom, however, comes at a cost. Without a car in Denver, it takes longer to go just about anywhere. It takes more planning and more patience. The
appeal of owning a car is not lost on me, especially in Colorado, where cars are necessary for trips to the mountains and Sunday rides in the foothills.
Like most American cities, Denver’s adequate but inefficient public transit system will never reach its full potential without more citizens who use it.
Denver could lead the country in greener, community-oriented practices that encourage lifestyles where we walk, ride and bus more often.
Denverites, in general, love the environment, are committed to healthy lifestyles and will do anything to be outside. So why does it seem like the number
of Denverites who support those ideals is disproportionate to the number who use public transportation?
Denver needs improvements: safer bike routes, more comprehensive light rail, more bus users so routes run more frequently and at a lower cost. The city
needs more neighborhoods like Uptown, whose conception begins with, “How can we make this neighborhood as self-sustained as possible?”
The other day, when I got on the No. 10 bus on the way to the Highlands, I found it full of middle-schoolers on a field trip. For many, it must have been
their first experience on a bus. I applaud their teachers for exposing them to public transportation. On this trip, the kids no doubt learned where to
catch the bus, how to pay their fair and how to act.
We may be raised on cars, but we can learn to move in other ways. The first step, truly, is to try.
Elizabeth Costello of Denver is a writer at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.
June 9, 2011
I listened to your program today on public transit with great interest. I am a blind guy who relies on public transit on a daily basis. I’m currently unemployed, though I recently worked as a cashier at Lowrey Airforce Base; a job I could not have done without the aid of RTD. I’m also a rarity, a blind man who is a conservative. I’m stating this directly so you won’t misunderstand the intent of my message.
Elizabeth Costello’s guest editorial seems to serve RTD very well. It’s full of the same puffy propaganda that I read every day, courtesy of RTD’s Twitter feed. If Ms. Costello is as fulfilled as she claims to be, living life without a car and at the whims of RTD, then I am truly happy for her. More to the point, I’m amazed by her.
Most of us who use RTD services do it, not because of any moral obligation or intrinsic desire. Quite the opposite. We do it because we are compelled to avail ourselves of bus and light rail to get where we need to go.
I relocated to Denver four years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska, and RTD is a big step up from the pathetic transit system I was forced to endure there. RTD is a good bus system with good hours and adequate coverage of the Denver area. Having said that, if I could wave a magic wand and restore my ability to drive a car, I would do so in a heartbeat. I hasten to add that I’m not whining about my blindness. I live a comfortable life. I’m merely acknowledging that a car is a far more convenient mode of transportation than is RTD.
During your program, you stated a number of sound objections to public transit in favor of the automobile. The most persuasive argument for me was the time factor. This past Memorial Day, some friends and I decided to visit a local restaurant for lunch. If we were to have hired a driver to take us, the ride from my front door to the restaurant would’ve taken approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Since my friends and I are all blind, we naturally took the bus. From the time I walked out my front door to the time we arrived at the restaurant, an hour and five minutes had elapsed. This was due to a phenomenon I term, The Domino Effect.
An RTD route often involves one or a series of transfers from one bus to another, or from bus to light rail and back, in order to reach one’s final destination. If one of those buses happens to be even a minute or two late, it can cause a disruption that can result in the collapse of the traveler’s intended schedule. In our case, the driver of the originating bus was a few minutes late. The connection we needed to make was tight, so I asked him to radio ahead and ask the driver of our connecting bus to wait until we got to our first stop. I was within my rights as an RTD passenger to request this as it was in compliance with RTD policy. However, the driver either couldn’t or wouldn’t make the call. I’m not entirely certain as to his reason, since the driver’s thick accent made it virtually impossible to discern what he was saying. Whatever the explanation, we missed our transfer and had to stand at the bus stop an additional half-hour and wait for the next bus to arrive. I am hard pressed to think of a comparable inconvenience we would’ve faced had we been driving a car.
I mentioned previously that I used to work at Lowrey Airforce Base and that I used RTD to get to and from work. The commute home to Littleton usually took approximately an hour and 40 minutes. Near the end of my employment, I hired a driver to come pick me up after work and take me directly home. It cost more money, but it cut my travel time by over half. The cash I spent was well worth the extra hour I got to spend at home unwinding from the day.
As a regular RTD passenger going on four years, I had to chuckle at some of Ms. Costello’s assertions. She talks of happily trudging through snowy fields to get to the store. Such a scenario would constitute an annoyance for me at best and a nightmare at worst. Snow travel is often difficult for blind people and usually results in wet clothes, cold feet and in some cases, bruises or even broken bones. Moreover, I don’t know a single sighted person who would enjoy such an activity when they could more easily drive to the store.
The biggest laugh I got from her commentary came when she wrote about a joyful trip on the number 10 bus with a group of middle school students. I’ve taken many a long and arduous voyage with children of middle and high school age. I’m not a puritan by any stretch of the imagination, but I wouldn’t perform a sex act on my worst enemy with the mouths of any of those juvenile brats. The cacophony of yelling, swearing, extraneous cell phone conversations and blaring electronic devices results in stress that is only made worse by passive drivers who refuse to enforce RTD’s policies of civility and low music volume by all bus passengers.
Furthermore, if I could get back all the time I’ve wasted waiting on buses and light rails in my life, you and I could take three back-to-back cruises together. By the conclusion, maybe you will have broken down “A Conflict of Visions,” to a comprehensible level for me.
I’m not writing this to disparage RTD. They have a job to do and they do it fairly well. But Ms. Costello’s premise is that a car-free lifestyle is what she prefers and that more people should join her in this mentality. This is utter nonsense.
Recently, the National Federation of the Blind unveiled a car that could be operated independently by a blind driver. This was just a test run and I don’t suggest that a car will solve all of our problems, but if such a thing becomes a mainstream reality, I will kick, beat and claw my way to the front of the line to buy one in order that my life may become more convenient. You’ll be my first stop, Mike. We’ll go out and lift a jar or two and you can begin your translation of Thomas Sowell for me. Until that happy day arrives, thanks for taking the time to read this.
That was written in June of 2011, three years before I took a job in Boulder that required me to spend over four hours a day commuting to and from work via RTD. It was also three years before ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber became a reality in my life. With that experience in mind, plus the downgrade to Omaha’s meager bus system, let me add a few additional thoughts to Ms. Costello’s assertions.
She says, “Have you experienced the pleasure of reading a novel all the way to work?”
A lot of people read novels while driving a car. Ever hear of audio books?
She asks, “Do you know the convenience of finishing work on the
Nope. I leave work at work. Based on some of the cell phone conversations I heard from my fellow RTD passengers, I wish they would have as well.
She further asks, “Do you know the peace of mind in not worrying about ice and snow?”
Umm, I presume you mean while riding the bus? I spent many a harrowing walk to and from the bus stop during Denver’s cold winter season worrying about ice and snow. And we won’t even talk about Nebraska’s brutal winter season. I nearly got killed more than once while worrying about ice and snow.
She says, “Have you watched the world move from day to night during the 5 o’clock
rush while someone else stresses about traffic?”
Yes, the buses in Denver were much more crowded during peak hours. However, if traffic or weather were severe, the passengers did not simply chill out and ignore it. The collective stress level would go up exponentially if we were in a traffic jam or an ice storm. See my above remarks about The Domino Effect for clarification.
IN closing, it’s been seven years since I wrote that Email to Mike Rosen. I miss Denver. I miss RTD. I miss Mike. Sorry, Elizabeth, but I still want a car.