The Greenest Cut–adventures in public transit

I am about to embark upon probably the single greenest initiative of my life. Not by choice, particularly–finances and timing are the primary drivers of the project.

Greener than growing a garden or canning my tomatoes.  Greener than the elimination of most processed foods. Greener even, I expect, than committing my kids to waste-free lunches.

I am about to become a regular commuter on–gasp!–public transit.  A person whose car will sit in the garage un-driven probably 5 days a week. A person who shapes and molds my schedule to that of the teeming hordes who wend their way into and out of the city day after day and month after month. I have lived in the Chicago area for almost 20 years and somehow have never really taken the buses and trains anywhere, which is absolutely ridiculous. And now I’m getting a crash course.

I’m starting school next week–full time doctoral studies. (Still can’t quite believe it, or decide whether I’m incredibly lucky or just plain insane.) The school is a good hour drive away in good traffic, and much worse at the early morning time I’m going to be having to head out there every day. But…there are two trains, one to get me into Chicago and another to get me out to Evanston, with a three block walk in-between trains and another half mile at the school end of things.  Google maps tells me I can do the whole shebang in between 80 and 100 minutes on any given day, probably quicker than the drive anyhow.  If I buy monthly passes on the train and go that way I will save literally hundreds of dollars over driving, when one considers current gas prices and the cost of parking there; my oh-so-teensy assistantship stipend would not even cover the cost of single-car commuting.

So here I go–trying to figure out how to make this work.

First of all, I’m in complete awe of people who do this daily. You practically need an advanced degree to just figure out the various schedules and routes, and even with Google Maps public transit option it’s anything but simple.  The Metrarail system gives tons and tons of information on their website but all of it assumes that your trip will include only taking one train, on one line, because the lines are treated completely separately within the system, and no place does it actually explain what the different “zones” are.  And thank God I can do it all within Metra–most people dealing with this will take Metra into the city, and then have to change over to the CTA  system of buses and el trains.

A couple of pieces of good news: the school has a shuttle bus system that operates in crazy-cold weather, which means I’ll be able to not have to do that last half mile in the negative degrees of February.  And since there are campuses both in Evanston and on the Lakefront, there is a shuttle bus in between those two as well and I’ll have the opportunity to try that if anything gets hinky with the trains.  It’s just so damn confusing.

Next week our family life will change dramatically.  Up to now, my husband would get up and get ready for work, I would get up and make lunches for the kids and chase everyone around till they were dressed, he would make sure everyone had breakfast, I would make sure backpacks were ready to go and all homework had been done (and yes, there had been days when the homework was done at breakfast and please don’t tell the teachers), he would go to work, I would get the kids to school, and I would go about my local me-and-my-car commute to work day. I’d pick the kids up after school. Simple.

Starting next Wednesday we all will have to get up an hour earlier. We will all get everyone ready at the same time and leave at the same time. We’ll take my kids to the day care place, my husband will take me to the train station, and go to work. I’ll get onto my two trains and hopefully end up where I should, when I should. After classes and research and stuff, reverse it: I’ll come back home, my husband will get the kids at day care and me at the train station in whatever order makes most sense, and we’ll go home and pray that I remembered to plan ahead for dinner. (Meal plans. I’m going to have to do meal plans. And start reading my own blog for things I can cook really quickly.)

This coming Monday, when timing doesn’t matter, I’ll be taking a dry run of the trip just to see how it all works out and make sure I know where the various platforms are so that I don’t miss a train on a day when it does matter…

This is going to be insane.

I’d rather can tomatoes.


Posted on September 8, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. We’ve been experimenting with public transit this school year also. You’re right about how confusing it is. There’s a bus stop in front of our house, but until this year, we couldn’t figure out where it went.

    • We have a bus stop nearby too, but it’s part of this sort of odd system with no specified stops, where theoretically the bus will stop for anyone along the route at any safe spot…but part of the system has shifted to regular stops, but no one seems to know which is which…

      Which is why my husband is going to just drive me to the train station. 🙂

  2. Yay public transit! We’re a car-free family so we use it a lot. Luckily in our area, everything is pretty simplified. Recently I had to get to somewhere I’d never been before and didn’t know the bus route at all but the bus website has a handy dandy “trip planner” that map it all out and tells you what bus to take and transfer and yadayada. Maybe if it was always that easy more people would use it? Our bus system just had to cut some routes because they lost some state subsidies because not enough people used it.

    Good luck on the travel AND on your doctoral studies!

    • I think more people who own cars MIGHT use public transit in lieu of driving if it were easier…and cheaper. It’s actually fairly pricey to take public transit when you’re heading around the suburbs and driving would give you access to free parking. Without a monthly pass, this commute would be costing me over $15/day. (With it, it’s only $5.) And not everyone sits down and does the math about how much driving places in their car REALLY costs.

      Once they tried it, car-free might look more attractive.

      I’m doing my dry run tomorrow…this will be interesting!

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