Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rural Living vs City Living Series - Transportation

For my second post in the Rural Living vs City Living Series I am focusing on the topic of transportation. Even when I lived in a small city, transportation opportunities were limited. There was no public transportation available, other than taxis. The city was also fairly spread out, making biking or walking less attractive options than might be the case in many other locations. For this post I will be looking at transportation options is larger cities, though, that do have adequate public transit services.

From an environmental perspective I feel that cities offer a clear advantage. The most obvious advantage is the previously mentioned access to public transportation. While the options vary from city to city, most large cities provide either bus or train service. Choosing the bus or train is the ultimate form of carpooling, and has much less environmental impact than each individual driving a car. Public transportation also benefits from government funding as well as a budget that allows for investing in newer, more efficient, technologies, which reduces the environmental impact even more.

Even if public transportation is not a viable option, traditional carpooling is more likely to be an option in a city than in a rural setting. Due to the housing density, as well as the grouping of businesses it is likely that someone who lives nearby needs to go to the area you wish to go. On the other hand, for those of us living in rural areas, with only a few families located within a couple of miles, it could take days or weeks before someone nearby was headed to the specific area needed for carpooling to work.

Due to the large number of people living in a fairly small area, cities also tend to have more business located within walking and/or biking distance of housing. While the large supermarket or your favorite restaurant may require travelling some distance, chances are good that there are alternative options within walking or biking distance for many urban dwellers.

In the event that public transportation, carpooling, or walking/biking are not an option due to the need to travel outside the city or to transport heavy or bulky items, many cities now have car sharing programs that fill in the gap. While using a car sharing program may very well result in burning the same amount as fuel as using your own car, the benefit is that fewer cars must be manufactured to fill the need, as a single car is able to serve several people, rather than everyone needing their own.

The ability to live car-free also means that city living may be a better fit for those interested in simple living, at least from a transportation standpoint. Car ownership comes with its own set of responsibilities and regular tasks that can be avoided by living car-free. When more than one person in the family commutes to work, or sometimes even when only one does, the ability to juggle transportation with a single car in rural areas can become quite complicated. The many transportation options in large cities provide great flexibility in these situations, even if one choose not to go completely car-free.

When it comes to natural living, my initial inclination was to give the nod to rural living. After all, how can city living beat rural living in any situation relating to natural living. As I thought about it, however, I realized that human powered transportation, such as walking and biking, was the most natural form of transportation available. Human powered transportation isn't as viable in rural areas, due to the long distances that are often travelled. Even a brisk walker, with good stamina, would need three to four hours to make a trip to town and back on foot from my house. Pack animals have traditionally be used for transportation in rural areas, but those comes with their own challenges. A horse, for examples, requires a great deal of care and food, while still being a fairly slow form of transportation. Most places, even in rural areas, aren't exactly set up for people to ride their horses into town anymore, either, which could also present challenges.

I don't think there is a clear winner when it comes to the sustainability and self-sufficiency. The ability to use human powered transportation in the city is the ultimate form of self-sufficient and sustainable transportation, but the travel options are limited. Any other form of transportation within a city requires being dependent upon many people, from those maintaining the infrastructure to those providing the service. In rural areas, however, human powered and animal powered transportation are options, although with similar, if not more, limits to those faced in the city. On the other hand, while owning ones own vehicle may require some dependency, for a source of fuel and parts, for example, the level of dependency is far less than in a city. Infrastructure maintenance isn't as important in rural areas either, and could, theoretically, be carried out by a group of area residents if needed. The use of an automobile powered by either renewable energy, or a fuel source that can be manufactured at home would also reduce the dependency on others.

In the end, I don't think that there is a clear cut answer to the question of which provides the most transportation advantages, rural or city living. The transportation needs of each individual is going to play a significant role in this determination, as is his/her own priorities. Whether you're zipping beneath the city in a subway car, walking across open fields, or bouncing around in an old rusty pickup truck, though, remember that there are always things we can do to make our chosen mode of transportation better fit our priorities.

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