7:45 a.m.: Time to cuddle the coffee mug. Time to shoehorn myself out of my cozy apartment and onto the Edens in order to get to work by 8:30. Time for a French lesson.
I live in Noble Park. Work is just off the expressway, in Skokie. As someone whose previous job was located just off the Red Line and 20 minutes from home by bike, I found adjusting to the driving commute jarring to both my wallet and my energy level. I decided that a carpool would fix the problem.
It was a little awkward, asking my co-workers for their permission to replace their alone time with enforced togetherness when we first wake up or when we're longing to get home. With three of us in the car, though, we were all down to two trips per week, max. On passenger days, we caught up on reading, gossip or sleep, which was much easier on the nervous system than watching the road.
We even dreamed up new ways to make commuting hours worthwhile, including one carpool-mate's brilliant idea to start French tapes. Should I ever have the opportunity to invite a Parisian to dinner, make a reservation, and order, "What he's having, s'il vous plait," I'll have the know-how to do it...and my carpool to thank.
Once I discovered the joys of shared rides, it was frustrating to watch all the one-at-at-timers on the expressway. For the most part, that's what's out there. It doesn't need to be. Chicago doesn't have designated express lanes and other incentives for carpoolers like, say, San Francisco. But with so many great web resources for carpool wannabes (see below), chances are good that you can find someone going your way.
Don't misread me: Carpooling isn't the end-all of environmentalism. On the green scale, carpooling just barely ranks higher than driving yourself, while taking public transportation, walking and biking are guilt-free options. When our third carpool member broke it off in search of a new job, the extra driving shifts per week were all the incentive we remaining two needed to check out CTA's trip planner and map an alternate route. The relief I felt watching cars on the highway as we scooted past them on the rails was all I needed to know I was doing something right.
Taking the train to the bus to the office more than doubles our commute time. The roundtrip fare slightly exceeds the cost of gas when we share it, although this might change as gas prices continue to rise (see below for tips on saving L money). As much as I'd like to say these weren't considerations, they are both big ones. But if we take the train once every week, there is a difference. We've gone from two cars down to none. If more commuters could do that, even once every two weeks, the difference would be huge. And even if they can't, my trip makes a difference in the way I think about what I'm doing. That extra 90 minutes and spare change can be a gift to the planet that I'm happy to give when I can.
This week, try something you've thought about, or meant to do, but haven't given a shot. Check the carpool listings online. Offer your co-worker a ride. Take the train or get your bike out of the garage. Even if your one-day experiment is only that, the difference a tiny change can make to your outlook is well worth taking on.
A few resources if you're looking to lighten your commuting/transportation footprints:
1. Find your perfect carpool match for commuting, road trips and more at Standingupforillinois.org/carpool, Erideshare.com, Carpoolconnect.com, Sharethedrive.org, Carpoolworld.com or http://chicago.craigslist.org.
2. Bikers, check out maps of citywide bike paths and other great resources on via the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.
3. Save yourself and your co-workers CTA fare money by encouraging your HR department to sign up for the tax-free CTA card options.
4. Undecided about buying a car? Check out iGo and share one instead. You'll forgo paying for gas, paying for insurance, and worrying about where to park.
5. Run your car on veggie oil by converting a diesel engine with kits you can buy. Filtering your own oil is not for the faint-of-heart, but the payoffs are huge.
After four greener-than-average college years as a co-op dweller-turned-aspiring-permaculturist, Julia Steinberger finds it hard not to feel guilty about her one-bedroom apartment, daily commute and indulgence in the occasional dollar burger. She'd like to dream that she could live in a tent/treehouse/rabbit hole, but the truth is, she'd rather stay in the city while doing her best to leave a lighter footprint on the earth. You can contact her here.