My workplace is on an outer edge of the Twin Cities, and since it is not readily accessible via transit I had never tried to take the bus there. It would be easy to drive (and parking is plentiful), but I decided a couple of years ago that I could no longer maintain a lifestyle that relied on driving a car. The high carbon footprint of automobiles is too high a price to pay, given our worsening climate crisis. I sold my car and began bicycle commuting to work, which has generally been a source of joy for me.
However, some days are much harder to get around by bicycle than others. Thus far in 2019, I have cycled through snowstorms, freezing rain, -20 F weather, rutted ice, high winds and glare ice covered with powdery snow. Schools were cancelled, people worked from home, and I helped push a number of stuck cars out of the deep snow. I fell down numerous times trying to bike up an icy hill and pushed my bike through slush for a mile because it was too hard to pedal through it.
My shoulder hurt, the bike paths I usually took were not plowed, drivers kept parking in the on-street bike lanes, and I was especially tired of dangerous driving behavior from motorists who fail to comply with the 3-foot passing law (Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 169.18, subdivision 5, paragraph c).
I was exhausted by the idea of another snowy bicycle commute, but I still have to go to work, so I decided to try commuting by bus. Here are some ground rules that helped me:
- Choose what to wear and carry: As Amy Gage wrote recently, a lot of winter bicycling knowledge transfers well to winter walking. I track clothing vs. temperature on a spreadsheet for biking so I can dress appropriately by referencing the day’s weather. Of course, I don’t have walking panniers, so carrying stuff required an adjustment. What I learned: I used a backpack to carry my stuff and switched out my bicycling jacket for a longer, insulated jacket. I also packed a heavier hat in case my helmet-less head got cold.
- Find bus routes near your home: I spent a lot of time researching routes on the Metro Transit site and app. Three bus routes in my St. Paul neighborhood go within some proximity of my work location, with different pros and cons. One runs only once per day but gets me pretty close to work. Another has 20- to 30-minute departure intervals, but it’s a half mile of walking on either end, so that’s an extra two miles of walking per day. The bus route at the stop near my home runs only during rush hours but gets me within three-quarters of a mile of my workplace. What I learned: The safest choice seemed to be the most frequent route, with the longest walk.
- Determine trip duration and departure time: Each of these route options takes 45 to 60 minutes overall, which is comparable with my bike commute — though bicycling often takes extra time because I have to change clothes once I’m at work. Some routes involved more walking and one had a long layover, which made me worry I would miss the transfer. What I learned: I left at my usual departure time and chose the 56-minute option (as predicted by the Transit app), though my walk took longer than I anticipated due to deep snow and sidewalks that weren’t shoveled. On the way home, I walked to the transit center near work and took whichever bus came by first.
- Figure out what else you can fit into your commuting day: As I mapped out my routes, I noticed how many shops I would pass on foot or on the bus. I considered stopping at the coffee shop or deli on the way to work, but decided against it on this initial journey because I wanted a benchmark for how long the overall trip would take. Other nearby shops include a pharmacy, grocery store, hardware store, thrift shop, restaurants and salons. What I learned: On the way home, I got off the bus next to a delightful “creative reuse center” called ArtScraps. I found some nice darning thread to add to my mending kit, the white for a throw pillow and the metallic for a “visible mending” project on my gloves. I also got a spool of pink jute rope for a hanging planter. Then I walked the rest of the way home.
- Reflect on your journey: I had not seriously considered commuting to and from work by bus before. It seemed easier and just as fast to bike. I didn’t like having to time out my trips so precisely, because I get anxious if I’m even close to late (I usually aim for 20 minutes early). I didn’t want to “waste the time” sitting on the bus when I could be exercising instead. What I learned: I like the bus. It’s great to have someone else in charge of navigating the road, especially on a stormy day. Sitting on the bus or waiting at a bus stop can calm the mind, looking at icicles and taking some quiet thinking time. I listened to an audiobook for a while. If I want more exercise, I can walk to a bus stop farther away. It was freeing to worry about nothing but my bag to. I like biking to work more than taking the bus, but I’m glad to have another option.
My day overall:
- Total time on bus: 75 minutes
- Total time walking: 100 minutes (half of which was directly related to the bus trip)
- Total time waiting at bus stops: 25 minutes (mostly at the transit stop in the afternoon, due to poor timing on my part)