At 29, I’ve lived many places and worn many hats, but I’ve never felt the need to get a driver’s license. Until now. Tahoe/Truckee, the mountain hamlet, beautiful and quirky and somewhat unkind to a pedal-powered commuter, has brought this hard-core environmentalist’s battle against conventional car commuting to a screeching halt. By this time next month (fingers crossed, everyone) I’ll be a licensed driver and soon after a car owner (gasp!).
I have the conversation everywhere I go when I’m in the U.S. “Don’t have a license? Oh, did you have it taken away? Let it lapse? Used to drive but don’t anymore for health reasons?” Nope, thanks for asking, every-American-ever, I merely never wanted to contribute to the gas-powered and single-occupancy vehicle commute culture I see all around me, especially having lived in southern California and the Bay Area. And I love bikes; why not feed two birds with one scone and get my daily exercise done at the same time as getting where I want to be? Plus, I actually like public transit.
Hear me out. I started traveling the world at age 6 and have now lived in five countries across three continents, but wherever I am, I tend to keep my life small. Having a bike and a skateboard (and often a scooter or two, maybe some rollerblades) combined with an ambitious attitude toward trains, buses, and ride shares has been enough. No one asked me in Spain or the UK or Costa Rica why I didn’t drive; it’s just not as big a shocker to people in many other places in the world.
And it turns out I’m not alone here in the states either: The Wall Street Journal reported in April that roughly a quarter of 16-year-olds had driver’s licenses in 2017, a steep drop from about half that had them by that age in 1983. As part of a generation embracing diverse transit options, I am giving in to the reality of living in this region and needing a car.
I love my 10-mile-a-day bike commute on the Legacy Trail, but it’s simply not feasible for wintertime (okay, there are also drawbacks during warmer seasons for bike commuters in a mountain region filled with gravel). I don’t take it as a defeat that these striking mountains I now call home are forcing me to finally adapt and join the literal highway of the mainstream. I welcome the chance to use my own four wheels to offer as many rides as I can and contribute to a collaborative ride-sharing culture in Tahoe/Truckee. So the fight continues for more inclusive, sustainable, and varied transit systems that allow for the option of a carless lifestyle. But I personally will be trying to take what I learned as a bike and public transit commuter into the world of drivers in order to be a conscientious participant in it. Besides, I owe more than a few friends a ride. After all, I have almost 30 years of built-up “carma” from receiving rides to balance out.