Gas prices are exploding around the globe, and as far as I can see, the only reason for this is pure speculation, as nobody’s stopped buying Russian oil or drilling. The amount of oil on the market is the same as 4 weeks ago. This of course causes a lot of issues and once again, several things can be true at the same time:
- People whose car price would pay off my mortgage complain about gas prices
- Combustion engines are bad for the environment anyway
- Our cities have been planned for cars over the last 50 years
- Some people could bike to work or use public transport but don’t do so for stupid reasons
- Not everybody can reduce the use of their cars
- Small incomes are disproportionately affected
- Gleeful “just use a bike” advice is classist, ableist and sexist
Huh? I hear you say. How is the advice classist and sexist?
People who advocate for biking and public transport (and there are many great and thoughtful people doing that, but also a bunch of loud and privileged people, usually male, who annoy the fuck out of me) will usually point to our fucked up city planning, lack of public transport and accessibility and then propose to solve this by simply making cars very expensive and inconvenient. They will point to a past where we all had streetcars and no individual cars, or to colleges as “walkable communities” and keep forgetting that neither the past nor college are adequate models for our current societies. Back in that glorious past, people worked close to home and by people I mean men. Even though many women still held jobs, their needs were never prominent in public discourse.
If I go back to my grandparents, my grandfathers brought home money, my grandmothers made it last. My maternal grandma’s mornings were spent running errands: walking from small shop A to small shop B, all present in the small village they lived in, taking in small sewing jobs from better off relatives, taking in orders and doing deliveries for a seed merchant, and so on, and so on. The afternoons were spend doing chores and gardening. My grandparents never needed a car because my grandma would do all these things while he was at work.
Times changed. The small shops vanished for the supermarkets, the local supermarkets vanished for the huge departments stores outside of town. But not only that, society changed as well. More women started to participate in the workforce, leading to a higher demand of childcare. And also people were required to be more flexible and take up jobs that are not within an easy distance. Whenever I bring up that argument, people tell me folks should just move closer to the job. When I ask them which job we should move closer to, mine or my husband’s, they often get angry, because they notice that they haven’t thought about this. Women’s job are often worse paid, they work shorter hours and they have to still juggle all the things grandma had to do. They have to take the kids to daycare/school, do their doctor’s appointments, get them to sports… Quite often, this is only possible with the convenience of a car. This also means that women are disproportionally affected by measures that make cars more expensive and less convenient. At some point, the cost is higher than the earning, the workload just gets too much, and once again women find themselves pushed out of the workforce. So yeah, insisting that commuters fix the problem individually punishes women for living ion a sexist society. It’s a great example of how something can be sexist without anybody ever having consciously thought a sexist thought, but by having failed to consider how something would affect women differently than men.
On to the classism. This seems even less intuitive than the sexism. After all, a bike is cheaper than a car, right? That is true, and in the long run it may be a good alternative for people with short commutes. I’m all in favour of building good biking infrastructure, not just painting lines on the road. Bikes are amazing. I just bought one last year, after not having one for several years. And do you know what? It costs money. A decent city bike that can take small potholes, has working brakes, and is safe in traffic costs a couple of hundred Euros. If your commute is longer and reachable by an ebike, add a thousand Euros*. Telling people who are currently struggling with paying for heat, electricity, food and transport that they can just spend that amount of money in order to save some in the months to come is classist. People need help now. It’s all good and fine for you to decide that you’d rather freeze and put on two sweaters instead of buying Putin’s gas, but please, don’t tell the parents of a newborn that 15°C are enough.
Personally, I’m just annoyed. I have zero control over my workplace, 90-95% of my driving is for my job, and I’m currently taking a paycut of 100€ a month just for increased gas prices that others don’t have to spend. It doesn’t put us into trouble, and I probably wouldn’t mind if that money was going towards something good, like reshaping infrastructure, or helping refugees, but it’s going directly into the pockets of the oil industry who have zero interest in making any of that happen.
*Oh, and getting back to sexism: it’s a problem for women who work more often in customer facing jobs to arrive at work “presentable” when biking for 10 km
I am one of those who “could use public transport to work but don’t” for reasons that may or may not be stupid. Driving home where I live takes twenty minutes. Taking the bus takes an hour and a half, I have to change buses twice, and I arrive slightly nauseous from the diesel fumes. So I’m going to keep driving, because I can afford to, and I won’t complain about the gas prices while I do, ok?
This blog post is entirely valid.
But in North America, it is even worse. Here in the USA, it is effectively illegal (against modern zoning laws) to build housing within walking distance of grocery stores and shops. Some old cities such as New York City have parts that escape this because they were built before the zoning codes from the 1950s. And the rich can buy an upscale condo downtown, but in many cities out west, it may be a long or unsafe walk from there to a store open after work hours.
The YouTube channel NotJustBikes explains some of this.
I picked up a new job that was well suited for a bicycle commute just before the whole COVID thing here in the U.S.
I’ve been really lucky in that I generally like my current job, my current supervisors, and my fellow employees. On top of that, and one of the not-insignificant reasons I initially applied for my current job, is that it was really well suited for a bicycle commute from my current residence.
I’m really grateful for my bicycle commute, I’m generally too lacking in discipline and motivation to manage any sort of exercise/fitness routine, so it’s nice to get some activity through my general daily routine. And it saves me a not-insignificant but pretty small chunk of change. And, I think the regular activity has a pretty beneficial effect on my general mood and such.
But, my situation is pretty unique. Some of my coworkers have talked to me about trying to start a bicycle commute. While I live significantly further away from the workplace than them, just based on distance, I feel like I have a much safer/easier bicycle commute. Most of my commute is on mixed-use paths where I don’t have to deal with automobiles, whereas my coworkers don’t have easily accessible bicycle-friendly routes, and although they are looking at a total transit maybe a 1/2 or even a 1/4 or mine by mileage, is very cycling hostile and even dangerous.
tl;dr: I’m a relatively recent bicycle commuter, and I think it’s done wonders for me, physically, emotionally, and financially… But, I think I can recognize that a lot of that is a personal privilege due to my very unique personal situation. I just hope that we can change things so that more people can have the option that I have. (and on a more selfish note, that we can further encourage my already present option to make it even safer and easier, etc…)
But, yeah, this is something that really needs to be a top-down change with adequate planning and such, and not just blaming the people on the bottom for not… I don’t even know, whatever they typically use to blame the people on the bottom for not making a bottom-up change when it really needs to be a top-down change…
lakitha tolbert says
Here in the US in the midwest we really do need to consider those of us who live above the snow line: We don’t have the kind of setup here where people can bike anywhere once the snow and temperatures start to drop. I live fifteen to twenty minutes away from my job by car, but at 50 sumthin years old, I’m not about to get on a bike in freezing weather, and it gets damn cold here. Public transportation is not an option for me for the same reason. The city eliminated the bus stops near my home and I’d have to walk several blocks to get to one, which is not happening in the winter, again because I’m disabled, and none of the sidewalks are clear. Once the snow begins to fall we can’t walk on the sidewalks and there are no bike paths.
People like that also don’t take into account that moving closer to work (especially if you worked in a downtown area) would cost more money than you would save by biking. I have observed that it is very easy for some people to propose ideas that aren’t going to directly affect them.
Everybody here makes many valid points. However, a lot of them seem to assume an ‘all or nothing’ POV. Do you live where it is too cold to bike to work in the winter? Well, could you bike to work one day a week in the summer? Is your work too far away to bike to? Well, could you do some of your errands without a car? Is a bike too expensive for the few times you could use it? Well, have you asked the appropriate government agency if they could set up a bike-sharing system?
@moarsciencplz, I think that since most of the audience and writers on this blog are people who are very concerned about environment it is a safe bet that most, if not all, of us actually did and do consider all those things you mention.
I think that’s an entirely valid reason! Who has three hours a day for commuting? I have long said that it cannot be that the changes that need to be made can be pushed onto employees/consumers. Both the material and immaterial cost need to be at least shared.
Yeah, that’s one part, but to be honest, with some effort, and some good trolleys, and a lot of planning, we could do the grocery shopping without the car. But I drive 450km a week just for work. Driving 5km for groceries is negligible. Such things become only interesting when they mean we can reduce the number of cars in the household.
Absolutely agree! As I said, I’m very much in favour of building good biking infrastructure (I did use bikes as a primary means of transport for long enough) and massively investing in public transport. I’m also very happy to subsidize all of that despite not being able to directly benefit from it (apart from the commute I frequently have to change schools during what is supposed to be my break, so no car free existence for me…)
Sure, my husband does that once temperatures rise. Oh, btw, he has an extra flat where he lives during the week to cut on commuting. It#s not like people aren’t already doing stuff and making hard sacrifices.
See above. That’s where the whole system comes into play: I could run some errands on foot, but that would be very time consuming. Time is something I have very little of, due to the above mentioned fact of being alone during the week with a full time job, two kids and a household. Sure, that’s my very complicated personal situation, but it’s also not like I’m unique with all the truly single parents that I know.
Uhm, rural areas…
Ice Swimmer says
Reliance on cars and fossil fuels are systemic problems, baked into our infrastructure. The infrastructure needs to change. Individual virtue policing can’t go that far and it’s annoying and often wrong exactly because of the things Giliell and the rest of you have stated.
As for the point about being presentable, locker rooms, a shower and a mirror at the workplace could be a nice thing to have, but building one can be costly for a small entrepreneur (bigger companies and especially big real estate owners may actually stand to benefit from building them). Even this is an infrastructure issue.
I really loved the showers at a former workplace. I was able to ride my bike to work and then shower and get into clean work clothes (it wasn’t a customer-facing job, but one isn’t supposed to smell of sweat at an office). However, there were problems, including recurring tire punctures. I also once fell with the bike and broke my arm. I’d love to get a job again and ride my bike to work, but we’ll see.
Bicycling infrastructure and its maintenance AFAIK aren’t that expensive compared to other traffic infra, if they are designed smartly and even snowy winters aren’t a huge problem (sure, that’s probably mostly able-bodied, privileged, middle-class people who will ride in the winter, but it’s nice that they aren’t creating traffic jams with their privileged cars).
So, the correct target of the biking (or carbon footprint) advice isn’t the anus of the advicer, rather it’s the political and corporate assholes and non-assholes that make the infrastructure decisions.
Ice Swimmer says
I realize, I was writing on an urban (small-ish city) perspective. As for what should be done in rural areas, rural people know that, I not so much.
PZ Myers says
When I lived in Philadelphia, my commute was 2-3 hours each way — in part my fault, because we picked our first home on the basis of the quality of the school district, and it didn’t look that bad. That’s because we were unaware of how the Schulkill expressway was a massive chokepoint.
After two years of that nightmare, we moved closer, to a suburban town that was only about 10 miles from the university. Mass transit took an hour and a half to go that far. Driving took a half hour/45 minutes, except on Sundays, when the roads were empty and no one was double-parking, and then it took 10 minutes.
A few times, I walked it, when the subway broke down. It took a bit more than 3 hours. I think it might have been faster to bike it than to take mass transit, but North Philly is not a place for carefree bicycling.
My first thought was, if your commute is short enough for biking, it probably doesn’t consume that much fuel anyway. Then I thought how normalized it is for us to have daily commutes much longer than 10 km, so 5-10 km doesn’t feel like that much. I figure that short commutes traveled by many people every day do add up.
Certainly, it’d save a lot of gas if most of those with shorter commutes switched to muscle-powered transport. Even better would be if everyone had access to transport that’s public, or powered by green electricity, or preferably both. Or if much fewer people needed long commutes.
Muscle-powered transport is great if you like doing it, or you need the exercise, or it helps people get around smoothly in crowded cities. In my understanding, extensive use of muscle power just for the sake of transport isn’t really good for the environment, because it burns a lot of extra food calories, and our food system isn’t exactly sustainable. It’s not a good use of people’s time either, if motor transport would be faster.
WMDKitty -- Survivor says
While we’re at it, can we make infrastructure more wheelchair-friendly, too? It’ll benefit everybody on wheels.
I grew up in Texas at a time when there was literally no public transportation and biking was dangerous even on small residential streets. It felt like a prison. I literally could go nowhere without a parent or other adult taking me. This background makes me tend to be on the side of more bike lanes, more public transportation, and more stuff close enough to walk to, regardless of the social issues around oil. That being said, if someone is driving rather than taking public transit or a bike, there’s probably a reason for that. If the infrastructure for biking/public transit isn’t there or isn’t convenient, people will drive. So lecturing individuals on using bikes seems pointless and cruel.
As a side note, I suspect that public facing jobs are also more commonly lower wage, so there’s a classism as well as sexism component to the problem of not arriving at work “presentable”.
PZ@10: Public transportation in Philly is a bit of a mess. When I lived in Philly (center city), it took me about 15 minutes to bike to work, 30 minutes to walk, and 30 minutes by bus. Driving was probably about 15 minutes as well, because the streets were made for horse traffic and don’t appear to have been widened since.