Better Than Driving

Lo these many months ago, I complained about my commute. I want to tell you about how that’s changed.

In July, Nicolas moved up to Rogers Park, and we commenced a back-and-forth schedule that left a number of friends scratching their heads as to how it was possible. Perhaps ‘possible’ is the wrong word. ‘Practical’? ‘Reasonable’? ‘Sane’?

To travel the 17.2 miles from his apartment in Rogers Park to Hyde Park, where I work, it takes:

  • 35-60+ minutes driving, depending on traffic + time to park
  • 75-90 minutes biking
  • 80+ minutes via mass transit (red line + 1-2 buses)

To travel the 11.8 miles from my apartment in the Ukrainian Village to Hyde Park, it takes:

  • 25-60+ minutes driving, depending on traffic + time to park
  • 60-70 minutes biking
  • 80+ minutes via mass transit (2 buses or 2 trains + 1 bus)

By September, I was totally burned out. I kept arriving white-knuckled and seething with hate after an hour sitting in traffic followed by 5-20 minutes spent looking for parking. ANYTHING had to be better than continuing to drive. The days when I biked to work from my apartment were a breeze in comparison, even though at least one leg of that commute was straight into said breeze. I was ready to try just about anything.

Enter the two crucial pieces of my new commute: Metra, which is commuter rail, and Divvy, which is Chicago’s new bikeshare program. And so about two months ago, I stopped driving to work altogether. In fact, since mid-September I’ve bought 3 tanks of gas, 2 of which were used in their entirety on a road trip. Considering my previous weekly mileage, that’s significant. And after some complicated spreadsheet acrobatics, I’m breaking even with a monthly rail pass and annual Divvy membership, if not saving money each month as long as I commute from Nicolas’s at least once/week. I’ll definitely be saving money when I factor in paying for parking ($6.50/hour!) when I have to go downtown for appointments twice a month .

An average morning now looks like this:

Rogers Park to Hyde Park:
7:35am: Rain or shine, Nicolas walks me to the Metra station .4 miles from his apartment.
7:49am: 20-25 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Ogilvie Station.
8:15am: Arrive downtown, but a little over a mile from my next train. Divvy to the rescue! Pick up a Divvy bike around the corner, then ride to Millennium Station. Dock bike and catch the 8:30 train.
8:30am: 15 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Hyde Park.
8:45am: Arrive in Hyde Park, and walk .6 miles to my office, arriving by 9am.

Ukrainian Village to Hyde Park:
8am: Ride my bike 4 miles to Millennium Station OR leave a few minutes earlier to walk .3 miles to pick up a Divvy bike, then ride downtown.
8:20: Arrive downtown. Carry my bike into the station to catch the 8:30 train.
8:30am: 15 minutes of reading on the train while making my way south to Hyde Park.
8:45am: Arrive in Hyde Park, and bike .6 miles to my office, arriving before 9am.

And the evening:

Hyde Park to Rogers Park:
4:45pm: An alarm goes off on my phone alerting me that I need to leave the office. Walk .6 miles to the Metra.
5:02pm: 15 minutes of reading or texting on the express train while making my way north to Millennium Station.
5:19pm: Arrive downtown. Pick up a Divvy bike and ride to Ogilvie Station. Dock bike, zip through the French Market to pick up a treat for dinner.
5:43pm: 15 minutes of reading on the express train north to Rogers Park.
5:59pm: Nicolas meets me at the train and we walk the .4 miles to his apartment.

Hyde Park to Ukrainian Village:
4:45pm: An alarm goes off on my phone alerting me that I need to leave the office. Change into biking clothes and ride .6 miles to the Metra.
5:02pm: 15 minutes of reading or texting on the express train while making my way north to Millennium Station.
5:19pm: Arrive downtown. Carry my bike out of the station and ride 4 miles home.
5:45pm: Arrive home.

When this commute works, it WORKS. When it doesn’t work – like the days when I’ve dawdled getting out of the house and so missed the last possible train that could get me to work on time, or the days when the skies open up, catching me unprepared, or the days when my leakproof thermos has soaked my bag in coffee – it’s a hassle, and there are tears involved – but my schedule is such that I can stay later to make up for a late arrival, and I have clothes in my office, and I can always buy another coffee. And it’s still better than driving.

I missed the train from Rogers Park last week, and so biked 10 miles south to catch the next train downtown. I did that ride in 40 minutes flat, straight into 11 mph winds. I had snot running down my face because it was too windy to take my hands off the handlebars. I arrived winded, and with a slightly pulled calf muscle, but I beat the next train coming from Rogers Park, and I got to work with a tough workout under my belt and a cup of coffee from Intellgentsia to sweeten the morning. Better than driving.

This all probably sounds like an enormous hassle, but I can’t even tell you how much happier I am. My schedule is more regimented, but it also means I’ve carved out time for things that I love and are good for my mental health: every single day I get at least 2 miles on my bike and 30 minutes of reading (or just uninterrupted downtime). Nicolas meets me at the train when I go up to his house, and nearly every day for the first month I arrived bubbling over with excitement and energy and happiness instead of hating everything on the planet after spending 15 minutes circling his neighborhood trying to find a parking spot. So much better than driving.

First #panda on #Divvy, the new Chicago bike share program.

Contents of my bike bag, Thursday, October 10, 2013.

#dailytights #panda. #yearofnopants with 2 months to go!

3 thoughts on “Better Than Driving”

  1. Good for you! I’ve been bike commuting since August and managed to buy NO gas in from 8/24-10/2 for either car/family of five. \o/

    What I don’t know yet is how to make it work in the winter. You’ve bike-commuted in winter before, yes? How do you make it work? G biked all last winter, but it was fairly mild and he doesn’t wear skirts and stuff.

    1. My last all-the-way bike commute last year was December 27. It was miserable. I’m not sure what my winter limit is, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll be switching to using Divvy for longer trips once there’s snow/ice on the ground. Those bikes are TANKS.

      Otherwise: layers. Running gear under regular clothes? Funny lobster gloves. Wool. Legwarmers. I’m not sure when I’ll break down and stop wearing skirts while biking, but I’m guessing it’ll be soon.

  2. It’s posts like these that remind me why I love living in Champaign. As amazing as Chicago is, my soul would ache to try and keep that pace of life. I live a five minute walk from work and can literally walk to do everything I really need to do on foot (County Market’s down the street, Espresso Royale is literally a walk through the park (Robeson), Hair Cuttery is an even shorter walk down Simon Trail, a fancy meat and cheese place is right next door to that, tennis courts abound a few blocks to the north, and scads of other conveniences). Regardless of locale, make sure you get some quiet time with nature, E; it’s so good for us.

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