Monday, March 17, 2008

License to Drive

Do I really want to share the streets of Manhattan with someone whose license to drive is based on a five-hour class? With cabs, trucks and buses weaving from lane to lane and jockeying for position as if 6th Avenue was the track out at Belmont, inexperienced drivers face a daunting task. Add a little rain, or worse, snow, and the cab drivers, many of them from warmer, snowless climes, make the streets a demolition derby. When I first arrived in NYC nearly ten years ago, I navigated the streets rather nervously - and I considered myself an experienced driver who had even handled large ice delivery trucks during summer breaks from college. Now, on the rare occasions I actually get behind the wheel of a car, I'm quite comfortable in City traffic. Simply drive defensively and assume everyone is trying to hit you!

During my first year in Manhattan I was amazed at how little one needed to use a car. In fact, I could sometimes go three and four months without driving. Between cabs and public transportation a car really isn't necessary. And with free parking at a minimum and subject to numerous rules and "alternate side of the street" routines for street cleaning, having a car in the the city is truly a nuisance. And how many of us can afford $300+ a month for a secure garage space? So it's no surprise than many people keep their cars outside of NYC (as we usually have over the years) or they simply don't own a car. Many of our friends just rent a car if they need one for a weekend getaway or vacation. I'm also surprised at the number of people who simply don't have driver's licenses, a situation entirely antithetical to the auto-crazy environment which defines nearly all of this country. These residents, usually older, grew up in New York, relied on public transportation or other family members, and never wanted to take on the expense or stress of securing a license. Surprisingly, I also have friends my age and younger who find themselves in the same situation.

In the end, the best means of transportation in New York City is by foot. It's been estimated that New Yorkers walk far more than the average American, and I believe it. A mile or two for our family is an easy trip. (Accustomed to walking long distances, the kids managed a four-mile mountain hike in Vermont last October without complaint.) On Saturday we walked from Symphony Space on Broadway at 96th Street down to 72nd Street, enjoying the mild weather and parade of people. In suburbia I've known people who will drive from one end of a mall to the other just so they don't have to walk the length of the mall to reach a store. How wasteful - in so many ways!
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Isabel said...

Walking in New York reminds me of my Lisbon days. I especially love to walk the city during early morning. But I confess, I kind of enjoy the thrill of driving in the city (maybe because I only do it once in a while).
In less than a month, my 17-year-old will be getting his driver's license, and the prespective of him meeting someone with only a five hour class scares me.

BooCat said...

BrianC, This is why I have to pay my annual PARA (Parks and Rec.Assoc.) dues here and make the effort to walk/run the track three to four times per week to keep my weight under control. Any time I visit NYC, I not only don't gain (while indulging in the many culinary opportunities that are available), I usually lose five to ten pounds, depending on my length of stay.
In our defense, we don't have mass transit. We don't even have sidewalks most places. In order to walk from here to our parish church (a mere five miles away), I would have to take my life in my hands for a good part of the trip, walking on the shoulder of some busy highways full of motorists I don't ever intend to trust that much.

jblack designs said...

Yes, it's true. I don't know that it's something suburbanites meant to happen. But it did.

The bus system in this little city is terrible and nonexistent in some areas. Today I walked to the PO--across a 4-lane BUSY main road and 1.5 miles each way. I was carrying a large package and several smaller ones in a big shopping bag. People driving by me looked at me as if I were peculiar. Perhaps...

I love walking about the Bay area, where my daughter lives, and our time in NYC and other urban areas have been the same.

I'm jealous! (Although I do think we require more than 5 hours to get a driver's license.)