Monday, December 17, 2007

Winter Returns, As Do Same Old Complaints

If you're lucky enough to live in the beautiful Rochester area, or much of the upper midwest and northeast, you know quite well that winter weather has returned for the season. It's a great time of year: the holidays, football, ridiculous utility bills, back-breaking shoveling, the lovely sound of rock salt cracking beneath your boots. Ahhh yes, winter is everyone's favorite season for so many reasons; and one of those reasons has to be winter driving.

There really is nothing quite like driving in a snowstorm. For most of us, that means clearing snow off your car before getting going. When you've got a foot of snow to clear, and it's 10 degrees out, you turn into one of the most productive people on earth. Once you've cleaned off your car and hopped in, you turn on the heat and it blows cold for a minute. Now that's refreshing! Time to put the car in gear and head to work, home, or somewhere in between. Your engine fights you for the first few minutes as it struggles to warm up but that's the least of your worries. With the icy roads, you're more concerned with making sure you get from Point A to Point B in one piece.

Of course, not all of us have to deal with this routine on a regular basis. As a walker, I simply have to layer up, throw on my boots, and I'm on my way. Sure, it's a pain in the ass dealing with the often unshoveled sidewalks, the slush-filled intersections, and the constant feeling that you're about to slip and fall; but it's a hell of a lot better than risking your life in an unreliable commute by car. Every day I cross over 490 (lesser known as the Erie Canal Expressway) on my walk to work, and during these past few wintry weeks, I've noticed just how slow traffic moves. This brings me to my point: we don't have to live this way.

It seems to me that, given our long winters, it makes perfect sense that we live in denser, less spread out communities. There are many reasons for this. One, more of you will be able to join me on the sidewalk using your God-given non-polluting mode of transportation to get to work. Two, alternate modes of transport such as transit become a lot more viable when they serve dense neighborhoods and as a result, you'd be more likely to want to take the bus. Three, if we live closer to each other, there will be fewer roads to plow and a lot less stress on public budgets (lower taxes, anyone?). Four, if you still must drive, your commute will be much less lengthy and probably much more reliable. I'm sure there are many more reasons why a more denser community is preferable in our winter climate, but I'm not going to bore you with them.

The point is, if you don't like it, you can change it - you can move. I don't understand why the City or the Downtown Development Corporation hasn't started sponsoring billboards on the expressways around downtown with the slogan "If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now." Take it from me, it's a nice feeling to find yourself moving as fast as the vehicles around you and you're not spending a cent on gas nor are you putting yourself at risk of serious injury (so long as you watch where you're going). Not that the fact is being lost on everyone. We've added thousands of units of housing in and around the downtown area in recent years and thousands more units are planned or underway. But it still amazes me how much sprawling development we continue to see on our periphery. I just can't see the attraction, especially given our unique climatological situation, to living so far away from everything. Furthermore, the more of you that make that uninformed decision, the more we all have to pay to subsidize you.

A lot of us complain about the weather and a lot of us complain about people who complain about the weather. Either way, it's easy to complain about something you cannot change. We can't change the weather and we can't change how people behave; but we can change how we live. So why complain about those things that are caused by our own choices? Why complain about things we actually can affect? Next time you find yourself stuck in weather-related traffic congestion, ask yourself, have I made the right choice?