It is week two without the family car, but I am staying away from renting one -- even though using alternative transportation because you have to is not the same thing as doing it because you want to.
There are, however, some real pluses to getting around without a car.
Right off the bat, the complaints I hear about not having enough parking in the Center get a bit more abstract. I’m not sure I want the driver in the Escalade, who nearly doored me a few minutes ago, parking anywhere close to where I ride. On the other hand, the driver who sped up at the crosswalk to avoid stopping for a pedestrian really needs to park that vehicle and walk a bit more.
Part of not using a car is about important life choices. For instance, do you really want to ride more than a mile to , where a bottle of Coke is just $1.59, when you can walk two blocks to the nearby convenience store where you will pay $2.00, but the work you do to get that bottle of Coke is so much less?
One big plus is you tend to stop more frequently. When you are driving down Mass Ave, you may be able to ignore or the , but when you are walking or riding a bike, suddenly it becomes almost an imperative to stop for an afternoon ice cream. Or maybe even a morning ice cream, using the theory that it probably is afternoon somewhere in the world.
Another big plus is you keep running into unexpected things that you would just whiz by in a car. Like the two students I ran into at Stop & Shop, who were making a movie.
Last Saturday, I had to get to PreBall, an instructional baseball program for 4-5 year olds, which meets at Rindge Field in East Lexington. It is not a bad bike ride from my house, but I wimped out and took the bus. The bus is usually crowded on Saturday, so we had 47 riders on board by the time we hit the Center. Most were going to work, with four or five headed for the , including one 35-ish couple. She was an experienced bus rider while he was not.
That’s cool—new riders are a good thing—but then he made three jokes about having to ride the bus. Oh, oh. Now we all knew who the real Bruins fan was -- and the look she gave the rest of us clearly said, “I am seriously reevaluating my relationship with this guy.”
The walk from Bow Street to Rindge Field can be made via the Jerry Cataldo Conservation Area, a really nice bit of green tucked in along the brook between Mass Ave and Rindge. I had never realized that the brook, runs behind along with the small park, extends all the way to the Arlington Reservoir. I can hear the resounding “Duh” all the way from my house. There was a swan floating out there in the mist, but that picture will exist only in my mind because I did not have a telephoto lens with me.
I have logged a fair number of miles on the bikeway recently, doing errands in Bedford and Arlington. I will abandon my Lexington bias for a moment to say that I like the Arlington stretch better than either the Lexington or Bedford segments. Much of that is access, but some of it is amenities.
The Bedford segment doesn’t go all the places I want to go, except the end of the line, where there is a decent bike store and some other places, like Bedford Farms.
The Lexington segment allows access to more places, but it is just a bit sterile. For instance, as you pass the , there is no way to tell there is a visitor center there, nor would you guess that there is a back door.
The back of the CVS block looks, well, like the back of a block. And there are those impediments -- imposed on the bikeway at the time of construction by well-meaning people who probably were not bike riders -- like the cobble rumble strips and the badly designed gates. Moreover, access was purposely cut off to some places, so if I decide to stop in at the , I have to ride Mass Ave even though the bikeway runs right in back of the Muzzey Condos.
The Arlington segment is more … ummmm … inclusive.
There are signs like the one that tells me Trader Joe’s is at the top of that flight of stairs. There are Porta-Potties in at least three places. There is more access to places along the way. Even the invasive species, which line the bikeway in several places, screen some otherwise drab areas.
There are also bikeway-side businesses like The Bike Stop.
I needed a set of brake pads for an experiment with my 1971 Raleigh Twenty, so I stopped there. I found a small and crowded, but excellent shop where they knew all about bikes like mine. A quick check of their inventory on the walls indicated that this place understood bikes. So, I enjoyed a cold Coke, which I bought along with the brake pads, while relaxing in the chairs they had thoughtfully provided and sucking up some free advice on bike maintenance. I watched the bikeway traffic for a while and wondered why we can’t have more of this ambience along the Lexington segment.
But then it was time to head home, which reminded me that the ride from Arlington to Lexington is, like much of life, uphill. Something you won’t notice in a car, but you will on a bike.