JEFF KELLEY

Jeff Kelley

True story: About six hours after initially finishing this column – which is about my car history and local transit – the mid-March nor'easter dropped a giant tree limb on my car, smashing its rear windshield and denting the roof and several panels. And that was the high point of the day ...

... Because later the same morning, a distracted driver slammed into the front of my car, demolishing its front end and totaling the vehicle.

This might be a sign that my evolving thinking about transportation is well-timed.

Back in high school, I begged my parents to let me buy a Jeep – you know the one, with the roll cage and roof and doors that quickly pop off for, I dunno, making it easier to more efficiently fall out of a moving vehicle.

My optimally engineered PowerPoint identified the reasons why I should be allowed to procure a fun yet wholly impractical vehicle for a teenager. Mom and Dad caved, and for the following five years, I drove around in a loud, slow, hot car that was ready for flipping over. Now as a parent myself, I’m not sure what my own parents were thinking.

After college here in town, my car purchases have still steered clear of practicality, yet they have all been vehicles that I enjoyed driving. There was ... the two-door coupe that, upon signing the papers, made me realize I couldn’t go anywhere with more than one other person ... a deal on a Saab, which was a fast, sleek ride that cost roughly six additional Saabs to maintain ... and my now-totaled whip, a car I was probably paying more to drive than I should, but one that made me feel like I was in an Audi commercial (even though it was not an Audi).

I enjoy driving, and I like cars. I figure if I’m going to pay for something I use every day, I may as well have fun using it.

Growing up, however, has forced me to yield more to vehicle practicality. To haul around kids and their gear, for example, we own a sports wagon. This car is similar to a station wagon, the only difference being I don’t call it that.

In addition to owning that practical ride with an absolutely essential and stylish roof rack, I’m becoming more cognizant of the alternative transit methods popping up around the city where I commute to and fro. Indeed, those of us who enjoy driving could probably stand to think twice as Richmond increasingly embraces new forms of to-ing and fro-ing.

If you frequent Broad Street below Willow Lawn as I do, you may have slalomed through the orange cones lining the median as construction proceeds for the Pulse, the city’s bus rapid-transit system (coming in October). There’s a citywide bike-share on the way (rollout on the fritz). There are rumblings about 25 miles of dedicated bike lanes (public meeting phase). And there’s a grass-roots movement for a regionwide transit system (cool, but gonna be a while).

I am clearly not the one to preach the benefits of using mass transit when the only places I've done so are in cities that get destroyed by aliens in movies. But as I look around, I see a need to change my own transportation habits and let go of the car at least somewhat.

That starts by committing to the Pulse if I need to get anywhere along its route (Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing and back). And if it comes to fruition – fingers crossed – I want to buy a full-year pass to the bike-share system, which looks like a fun way to get around and is far more practical than most of the vehicles I’ve owned.

If we’re going to take part in all the ways our city is thriving – in arts and culture, at restaurants and breweries, in the river and outdoors – we should use the infrastructure being built to support our access to these places. Riding a high-speed bus may not be as sexy as driving around in your sports wagon, but alternative transit is becoming part of what makes Richmond a great place to live. Let’s do our part to embrace it – even as I look for a new set of wheels.

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Jeff Kelley was a reporter at the RTD from 2003 to 2007. Contact him at jeff@kelleyus.com.

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