Car-Free in Rural America

I’ve freshly returned from a visit to the Midwest, over the river, through some woods, over ice and freezing rain and snow. In the midst of it, I drove a car for the first time in some while — and remembered (although not immediately) how to drive stick shift. As I was flooding the engine for the fourth time (silly car!), I spotted a cyclist in the snow, speeding far more quickly than I. That was an awesome sight.

My family told me about the situation with public transit in their rural town. “They’re trying to get a bus that has service to Shopko [a Target-like store in the Midwest] or to a grocery store, at least, but it’s been a real battle,” my mom said. For those who are car-free in this little town (probably not by choice), options are severely limited — and with severe weather, the consequences are not just discomfort but real danger. I remember, while living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, once waiting for a bus during particularly bad winter weather. A police officer rolled up to my bus stop and told me I had to go home, because it was too cold to wait for the bus. “You’ll get frostbite out here,” he said.

So, while I’m enthusiastically car-free and bicycle-riding, I think it’s important to remember that, for most who are car-free, it’s not by choice. To help meet the transportation needs of everyone, we need to think about transportation as more than freeways and traffic jams — whether we’re talking about a city, a small town, or snow-covered farm country.

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