Atlanta is a hard city to get around. Our car culture runs deep. Even if traffic is light (which it rarely is), there often aren’t direct routes between point A and point B, as lore has it that the streets follow former cow paths. Rush hour goes until about 8 p.m.; you’re just as likely to sit in standstill traffic at 7:30 as you are at 4:30.

After moving about 2 miles farther east and starting a job at a location about a mile farther north than my old office, I was finding that it routinely took me up to an hour to get to work. And then, due to the orientation of the parking deck exit, it was taking 10-15 minutes for me to even get ONTO the road toward home, not to mention the hour or so to get there. On top of all that, the parking situation at my building changed, and we were given the choice of a monthly MARTA pass OR a parking spot. Given my experience with driving, I chose the pass.

And thus I became one of those people who uses public transportation.

As I’m writing this, it’s hot outside, and I’ve taken two different train trips already today, missing one train by a hair (I was literally at the door as it pulled away) and one trip on foot to the post office, and I’m wiped out and feeling like public transportation is for the birds.

It has its pros and cons, for sure. But I’m fortunate in that I’m mostly doing this by choice. I am able-bodied, and though it might tire me out some days, the walks to and from the stations are doable for me. If the weather is terrible, if I’m sick, if I get injured, if I need to run errands that will involve carrying a lot of stuff, I can hop in my car. I can pay to park somewhere if I need to. I have gained a wealth of empathy for the people for whom using public transportation is not a choice. Those who have to walk AND take a bus to even access a train station, and then may have to take multiple trains. Those whose only access to a grocery store involves navigating the system. Those for whom standing up on the packed rush hour trains is a painful struggle. I have a lot of good reasons for choosing public transportation. I appreciate it, and I have a vested interest in helping make it better with my vote, with my tax dollars etc. But ultimately for me it is a choice, and one that I’m grateful for. Taking the train and walking home maybe take equally as long as driving (though if I time it right, it takes less!), but it is far less stressful and is much better for my long-term sanity.

Some of the tangential upsides to taking the train:

  • I’m walking a lot. I hit 10,000 steps on my FitBit just about every day I take the train, and most days get many more. It’s about 7/10 of a mile from my condo to the train station, and then another half a mile from the end station to my office. (And that’s not including the fact that my office is on the 5th floor and the elevators in the building have been down…) So that’s over 2 miles of walking every day!

  • I’m reading a lot. I didn’t think I’d be able to read on the train due to getting motion sick, but I’m finding it works out pretty well. I even mastered reading on my Kindle while standing up! So I get in a good 45 minutes or so of reading a day between all my train rides. It’s amazing to be engrossed in a story and then all of a sudden look up and realize you’re at your stop! A little disorienting, but wonderful.

  • I’m shopping less. I pass a lot of businesses on my way to work if I drive. I would often plan couponing stops for my commute, or pop in somewhere if I went out to run an errand during the day. And, I’ll be honest, I stopped at the Marshall’s near my old office with some frequency. The train cuts out that temptation for me. Even if it were convenient, I’d have to carry anything I bought, which would give me pause! This is good for my budget. :-)

  • I’m emitting fewer greenhouse gases. (self-explanatory)

Some things are certainly less convenient. On Monday, we needed an HDMI cable for one of our classrooms somewhat ASAP. I walked to the train station, took it one stop south, walked to Best Buy, wash, rinse, repeat. It took me about an hour. For reference, Best Buy is 2.7 miles from my office. In a car, the whole shebang would probably have taken me 30 minutes, been less of an ordeal, and tired me out less. But this is what I signed up for. On the commute ends I have no complaints; it’s mostly just the middle of the day stuff that is sometimes a pain in the butt.

I’m not rushing out to sell my car. I don’t think the transit system in Atlanta is mature enough that we could handle being a zero-car family. I actually appreciate my car a lot more now when I do use it, because it’s usually during off-peak traffic times and I’m just zipping somewhere nearby, so it feels crazy efficient! We have one assigned parking spot at our condo building, and the one car works for us. But it’s gracing its spot a lot more often these days than it ever used to, and that’s a pretty neat thing.

What’s your transportation mode of choice? Would you ever consider being a one-car family?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman