Every so often (rarely, thankfully), it makes the most sense for me to drive the work truck home from work rather than bike home.
Technically speaking, driving home does make my commute take less time, so it takes maybe 45 minutes instead of 70. So technically speaking, I suppose it does “save me time,” even to the tune of half an hour on the way home, or maybe even an hour fifteen if I drove both directions (since it takes less time to drive early in the morning). Driving rather than biking my commute “saves me time,” if that’s the most important thing that I care about.
But the real issue is what am I saving that time for?
It is infuriating to me to be stuck in a rigid metal box, immobile, using absolutely no muscles, breathing no fresh air, not able to pull over and look at flowers that I go by, not able to gawk at birds that fly over my head — just stuck, fastened tight to my chair, stopping and going and stopping, surrounded by everyone else stopping and going and stopping and all the while knowing that the work truck only gets like 16 miles per gallon and that is a shit-ton of gas I’m using to get somewhere that should take no gas at all.
It may “save me time,” but it kind of kills my soul.
The longer time I would spend biking would be great. On my bike, I go at whatever pace seems right to me, not so much dictated by traffic I can’t control as by my own desire (though of course I would go more slowly on a busy multi-use path, for example). I push my legs harder if I’ve had a crappy day or I need to work out some frustration. I go more slowly when I delve deep into a thought and get distracted. I notice the baby rabbits on the Columbia Slough bike path. I hear the osprey and the eagles and I can put my foot down to stop and actually look at them if I want. I take the long way if it’s nice out and I want to spend longer outside, or maybe I take a totally different way for the sake of exploration. I smile at other people who bike past me and who also often smile. I let my mind wander; I figure things out. I do not feel traffic, except to smile smugly to myself (asshole that I am sometimes) about everyone stuck in their cars and me out in the world. In short, I have a really nice time, and when I get home I’ve sloughed off work, gotten a bunch of exercise, and am generally a happy, healthy, and loving human being.
For the price of an hour, I will be the grounded, sane stasia I want to be. With the longer time it takes me to get home, I’m less losing time than making an active choice to do what feels right to me and what aligns with my values; I’m living the way I want rather than simply focusing on saving time for some other deferred thing.
Or said another way, biking home has taken me 70 minutes, but I’ve been happy and I’ve been doing what I want and what I think is right for myself the whole time. Driving home, I’ve “saved” 30 minutes, purportedly to do something awesome with, but I’ve also spent 45 minutes being a total grump. On balance, I’d rather have no grump time and more bike time. So “saving time” by driving doesn’t really pencil out for me. Given the choice of how to spend my time, which of course I am given every day, I would very much rather be on my bike and have it take longer, even significantly longer — because unlike driving, time I bike is actually a time I love and a time I feel like I’m doing what I should be doing in the world.
(I’m not going to get into it now, but for shorter commutes, like just across town, it’s definitely comparable, time-wise, or even faster to bike. Especially when you factor in parking. I’d say probably up to 5 miles in town is just as fast on a bicycle as it is in a car in traffic? I’m sure someone has real numbers and data about this.)
(I’m also not going to get too much into the fact that clearly there’s a balance somewhere. I wouldn’t want to spend too much longer on my commute than I do right now, but I also wouldn’t take a job where I’d have to, and I’ve been privileged enough to be able to keep that balance in my life.)
To make myself happier about being in the work truck when I need to be, I will sometimes play a game with myself: how nice can I be? How many people can I wave into my traffic lane? How many pedestrians can I let across the street? How many cyclists can I stop for? All of this, of course, only makes my drive longer (though probably not much), but at least it gives me a positive thing to do with my time and makes me happy while I’m stewing in my own driving juices.