Out of the Car

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AUSLANDER: It took two years of living in Germany to break a lifelong habit: using my car too much.
CURWOOD: Commentator Bonnie Auslander.
AUSLANDER: When I lived in the States I found it easy to drive somewhere to run a quick errand that could just as well have been taken care of on foot or by bike. I also used the car as a sleep aid for my nap-resistant toddler. Sometimes I would drive miles past my destination hoping the motion of the car would lull her to sleep. I would even put her in the car with no actual destination in mind other than the Land of Nod.
But living in Germany changed everything.Biking was easy, with respectful drivers, bike routes everywhere, and, above all, plenty of evidence that biking is just what people do. Every morning I would see dozens of cyclists. Some were commuters in suits and skirts, some were watchful parents riding next to their kids who were also on bikes, and still others were old men and women with bouquets of sunflowers or bunches of leeks sticking out from their bike baskets.
Now that I've moved back to the U.S., I'm trying hard to hold on to the new habits I acquired. Certainly, the high price of gas helps. But mostly, it goes back to this: I simply got out of the habit of using the car all the time and got into the habit of getting places some other way.
So now, we live in suburban Washington, D.C.For the new baby I've decided it's nap in the stroller or bust.And I don't drive my kindergartner to school.Instead, we bike together down a bumpy sidewalk next to a busy and noisy six-lane road.The going can be tough, sometimes the half mile trip to school takes half an hour because my daughter wants to stop to look at some weeds up close, or the grit from the road gets in her eyes, or the wizzing cars make us both tense up.That's when I think of a different suburban school where the kids are officially forbidden to walk or bike to get there because the place is surrounded by four lane roads and there are no sidewalks and I find myself understanding why a rule like that could have come to pass.
But where we live we do have sidewalks and when my daughter and I pull our bikes into the driveway after returning from school or when I push my sleeping son around the bend and see our car just sitting there idle, but not idling, I feel satisfaction.I feel satisfaction because I'm not running to the gas pump twice a week, because my family and I can use our legs to get somewhere, because I'm spreading a little bit less pollution.Then a little voice inside me points out: "It took two years living in Germany to erase the habits of a lifetime.Now that you're back in the States how many months will it take before they return and you find yourself again behind the wheel for no good reason.And that's when I say back to the little voice, "Now that I've seen it can be done, I'm not giving up so easily."
CURWOOD: Commentator Bonnie Auslander is a former resident of Bonn, Germany. She now lives in Bethesda, Maryland.