This week’s post is all about transportation. One of the first things I noticed during my stay in the U.S. was the absence of sidewalks and bike lanes. Around Bane’s parents’ house, where I stayed, the road consisted of nothing more than a strip of pavement just wide enough for two cars to pass each other.
For me, this meant a drastic change in my daily life. In Lüneburg, I am used to take my bike or walk, but in the States, I spent more time in cars, already within the first three weeks, than I did during the last 3 years back home. So, I asked the Morgan family how often they use a bike, car, train, or plane to get to places.
In order to understand their answers better, I should explain what the infrastructure around their neighborhood looks like. The Morgans live in a rather rural area of Gibsonia, a very small community in Richland Township, Allegheny County, with a population of 2,733. They live in a new housing plan with lots and lots of villas. There are sidewalks within their plan and a path to get to Carla’s school but there are neither bike lanes nor sidewalks outside of this small area. If they want to go shopping they have to drive 20 minutes by car to get to Cranberry. Here, you have to drive from one parking lot to the other because there are no sidewalks and even within one plaza you can’t always walk from store to store, safely. The only real public transportation available is the school bus system. Apart from that, there is only one bus station for travelling to Pittsburgh.
This week, I've included audio snippets from some parts of the interview.
Lea: How often do you travel by bike?
Carla (14): Never. But as a family we’ll go on bike rides. But not as a transportation, though, more as a trip.
Julia (12): I don’t like bikes.
Sophie (41): Never. It’s not conducive* where we live. You can’t get anywhere. We are too rural. We just couldn’t do it. We couldn’t get anywhere fast.
Bane (42): When I was a resident* in Pittsburgh for dental school, we would bike every day. I lived near the University of Pittsburgh, and we’d bike two or three miles to school every day, eleven months out of the year. But where we live, it’s just not there.
Lea: … and by car?
Julia: Every time.
Sophie: Nothing is more than 20 minutes, though.
»Americans are so dependent upon cars, because they're so independent. You want to go exactly now, where you wanna go, when you wanna go.«
Bane: For me, my furthest drive is 53 miles (85 kilometers) from my house. I don’t have access to public transportation to do it. So, I have to drive to it. The only thing we use public transportation-wise is the school bus. The other options are just not available to us. And it’s something we would try to use, but the other part to it is: Americans are so dependent upon cars, because they’re so independent. You want to go exactly now, where you wanna go, when you wanna go. Public transportation just wouldn’t work as well. I don’t know that it’s right but…
Lea: … and by train?
Julia: Never ever.
Carla: We’ve been on a train in Europe. We’ve been on a train a couple times but just as a fun thing to do. Whenever we were in Europe, that was the only time we used it as transportation.
Sophie: Never. When we were in college, I’d take the train to visit Bane, between Pittsburgh and Baltimore. But again, the train is definitely not convenient* or cost effective.
Bane: Other places commute*, closer to major metropolitan areas and the Northeast Corridor and Northeast Direct. That is a really big train path that goes from DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston. In that area, it’s used a lot.
Sophie: But, again, from where we are, it’s not useful for us.
Lea: … and by plane?
Carla: When you are going somewhere far away. We probably use the plane two or three times a year. Maybe more. With a round trip*, that’d be six times.
Sophie: Maybe six times a year.
Bane: Because of the way the country is set up that isn’t direct.
Sophie: No, I meant times we get on a plane to go somewhere.
Bane: I know. We travel a lot; so, six round trips is probably true. But the crappy* thing about it is: you are using more fuel sustainability-wise because you’re not on a direct flight. You may fly from Pittsburgh to Charlotte and then continue to Denver. It’s not the best, but post-9-11* there isn’t an empty airplane, anymore. Pre-9-11 you’d get on airplanes, and sometimes there’d be 30 people on there. Now, every seat is full, because there are so many additional security costs, post-9-11.
Sophie: We never had all that security.
Bane: I flew back from Paris, by myself, in 1996, after I spent an extra week with my German host brother and his family. When I flew back, they questioned me at machine guns at the Paris airport, because I was a single guy flying back by myself. That was the first time I had actually seen security at an airport. In Pittsburgh, you went through a metal detector and kept on walking. That was it.
conducive: tending to promote or assist
resident: a person who lives in a particular place or who has their home there
convenient: suited to personal comfort
to commute: to travel back and forth regularly
round trip: a trip to a place and back
9-11: the abbreviation for the date September 11, 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania, killing thousands of people
Bike Culture: Europe vs America https://www.reliance-foundry.com/blog/biking-usa-europe#gref
Why US Public Transportation Is So Bad https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/26/17903146/mass-transit-public-transit-rail-subway-bus-car
9 Ways Security Has Changed Since 9/11 https://www.farecompare.com/travel-advice/9-ways-security-has-changed-since-911/
Biking in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis- Saint Paul https://www.teachaboutus.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=2211
Wind, Hydrogen and Bio-Fuel Oh My! Lessons from the Netherlands and Germany in Public Transportation https://www.teachaboutus.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=2165
Podcast with Elon Musk on The Future of Energy and Transportation https://podcasts.apple.com/de/podcast/the-future-of-energy-and-transport/id610290348?i=1000410391676
- How much do you travel by bike/car/train/plane?
- What do you consider when choosing a means of transportation? Do you think about its environmental impact?
- How convenient is travelling by train in the U.S. vs. Germany? Do a web-research, e.g. compare the networks of train lines, timetables, ticket prices, customer experiences etc. (Take a look at the website of the Deutsche Bahn & Amtrak.)
Meet the Morgans How one American family is going green
In Going Green, you come across different cases of sustainable lifestyles on both sides of the Atlantic. And in times of globalization—easy mobility between nations, expanding trade relations, communication through social media in real-time—we're led to believe that we already know exactly what life in another country looks like. But is that really so? Luckily, Lea Meimerstorf was able to visit and interview a family of six from western Pennsylvania during the past few weeks and she got an interesting glimpse into their daily life. The Morgans welcome us into their home and along their daily routines. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to explore what steps this American family takes—or doesn't take—to go green, including the areas of housing, transportation, food, shopping, and more. What do you do to go green? And how do your family's efforts compare to those of the Morgans? Stay tuned and find out in this mini-series.The views and opinions expressed in these interviews are not necessarily reflective of Teach About U.S.'s mission.