Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Atlanta commuters consider drastic measures

Yesterday the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story on high gas prices. This is big news allover, of course, but is particularly worrisome to folks who live in Atlanta, one of the most automobile-dependent cities on the planet. I use the phrase "live in Atlanta" loosely. Most Atlantans don't actually live in Atlanta proper, but rather in part of what Kunstler called a giant hairball of a thirteen-county demolition derby. The hairball now stretches all the way to Chattanooga.

The term "city" is also problematic when describing the metropolitan area that I have called home twice in the last decade. Think of a major American city and you can usually conjure an image of something that makes it unique, that adds to a sense of place. When I lived in Atlanta and entertained out of town guests, I struggled when they asked me to take them to a unique local attraction. You know, the real Atlanta. Problem is, Altanta is so much like everywhere else, it's not really a distinct city anymore. It's everywhere USA! Most anything that might have made it different was long ago sacrificed so that Atlanta's economic engine could surge ahead, unimpeded by outmoded buildings, landscapes or local character.

At any rate, the thing that interested me about this news item was not the story itself, but a blog-style "forum" in which readers were asked to describe what kind of cars they drive, the length of their daily commutes and what, if any, changes in their motoring routines they had made in the face of high gasoline prices. Naturally, the banner at the top of the Web page was occupied by an advertisement for a local Hummer dealership.

The responses were surprising: Atlantans were actually using previously taboo words like "MARTA" and "carpooling." Still, I got the feeling that such drastic measures as these were to be employed only until gas prices returned to a "reasonable" level. One satisfied respondent boasted about the fuel efficiency of his motorcycle. "There wouldn't be a problem if we all rode motorcycles," he wrote. Substitute "bicycle" for "motorcycle" and he'd be right.

Last night the pedal-gazing cyclist passed me again, just inches away from my left elbow. I watched him reach the intersection of Habersham Street and Derenne Avenue, then U-Turn, put his head down and push back north. I guess he's training for something. Also, a guy with a cell phone pressed to the side of his melon turned his bike onto Habersham about a half block ahead of me. He seemed to be having trouble operating his bicycle with one hand on the bars and the other on his Nokia. As I passed him, I saw the name Eddy Merckx on the side of his bicycle. Looks like that's a pretty nice bike.

Before I left, I thought about topping off the tires, but I was too lazy. I could really detect the extra rolling resistance and regretted having neglected this chore. Jim at Oil is for Sissies offers a terrific bicycle maintenance primer, which includes a lesson on proper tire inflation. It's probably a good thing to print out and tack to the wall of the bike shed. Too bad I read it this morning and not last night.

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