Being Multimodal

Way back in 1995,  MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte wrote a book called Being Digital.  It was full of surreal stuff about an electronic, connected world that was about to emerge.  I remember reading it and feeling that we were on the verge of a magical time.  Turns out we were.

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Chicago Bike City. The revolution is well under way.

I haven’t felt that way since then…until now.  Just as the World Wide Web was a transformational technology that changed the way we shopped, banked and communicated, we’re now looking at a similar transformation in the way we move around our physical world.  The personal automobile is living on borrowed time and  just like way back in 1995, very few people see the change that is about to be thrust on them.

My wife and I see it very clearly.  Don’t get me wrong.  We’re not clarvoyant. We’re old.  We’ve seen change before and have learned to recognize it.   We’ve also had help…lots of help.  People much smarter than us have explained it using small words and easy to understand visuals.  People like Negroponte and Susan Zielinski, for example.  We are grateful, for now we see all these converging technologies like Uber and bikeshare and Google’s self driving cars and we think about something Negroponte said…

“Historically, new ideas come from four places: government labs, big corporations, startup companies, and research universities.”

Not surprisingly, these are the very same places that are early adopters of transportation change. You don’t really believe it’s just a coincidence that tech companies like Tesla and Google are at the forefront of autonomous automobiles while companies like Ford and GM lag, do you?  Autonomous cars are about as different from what’s in your garage as the Internet is from plain old telephone service.  The same is true of the world’s most visionary cities.  They’re all embracing bicycle infrastructure.  If yours isn’t, be worried.

Since the future waits for no one, Jan and I have decided to embrace Being Multimodal with open arms.  Here’s what we’re doing:

  1. We sold our suburban house and bought another in a walkable, bikeable neighborhood in a state that supports transportation choice and has shown a willingness to fund it.
  2. We chose a community with transit links that include trains and buses and first and last mile policies to get us to and from the trains and buses…on foot or bicycle.
  3. We are in the process of selling two of our three cars.  We’ll keep one…at least for now but we’ll sell it too when we are sure we no longer need it.
  4. We’ve changed our shopping habits.  If we can’t get it home on a bike and the merchant can’t deliver it, we don’t buy it.  
  5. We started Bike 5 in an effort to help people think differently about how they move about and how bicycles might lead to healthier, more connected communities.

The story of how we got to this point is too long to tell in a single post, so I’ve decided to break it out into a series of posts.  I want to explain how we arrived at this decision, why we think it is prudent, what we’re doing to implement it and what it means to us and how we live.  I hope it helps you if you want to do something similar.  I hope you learn from our mistakes.  I hope we encourage you, at least indirectly.

I want to start it by asking you a series of questions… some food for thought, as it is. There are no right or wrong answers.  I just want you to start thinking about this if you aren’t already…

  • What is your car?  Is it merely a tool to get you from one point or another or is it something more?  
  • How was it marketed to you and did you recognize how the marketing worked on you when you were buying it?  Do you recognize it now?
  • How has that marketing influenced the development of the community you live and work in?  
  • Is it currently working? Could it work better?  Is it worth changing things in pursuit of better or is the status quo good enough?
  • Are there problems on the horizon that suggest it may not work much longer?
  • If so, what are you doing about it?

I’ll look at these questions and our answers to them in my next post.

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