I have been a car owner for roughly a year now, and it still surprises me how much I drive—considering I hadn’t been a car owner for roughly 5-6 years prior to that. Living in Lakewood, it is considerably easy for me to get to the necessities: I have an ALDI minutes from my apartment, a slew of bars and restaurants are but a few blocks away, the library and a thriving main business corridor is a 10-20 minute bicycle ride away. Downtown, though still considerably close to Lakewood (particularly because I live on the East side of the city, bordering Cleveland proper), is a bit of a vehicular inconvenience.
I am one of those folks that are considered to be “directionally challenged"—which is just a nice way of saying I get lost pretty much anywhere I orient my car. Even with the pleasant Australian woman directing me from the tiny navigational box I keep with me everywhere I go, I still seem to lose my way (which she promptly points out as she begins “recalculating.” You have no idea how much profanity has been flung at her nonexistent presence). Further, I tend to get a bit flustered when it comes to one way streets, bus lanes, and parking that requires me to have cash (which I never have).
My first trip downtown thankfully went rather smoothly—but the cost of the parking pass for the semester made me rethink my decision to drive everyday. I later found out that all CSU students have included in their fees a $25 public transit pass that we get to use for the whole semester, which is quite honestly pretty rad. I picked one up and started using it the first week of class. I used the public transit system quite a bit when I lived in Pittsburgh, but I forgot just how much I absolutely love it. I live right by an RTA station, so it is highly convenient for me. The trains show up just about every 15 minutes, so very little planning is involved.
Even better? I love the experience. I love the additional time I make for myself to do my school reading. I love that I give myself a whole hour to get downtown because I don’t feel rushed in the slightest. I love the feel of the train bouncing and bumbling on the tracks—I find it incredibly soothing. I love seeing all of the people around me, incredibly diverse and interesting. I love my walk from Tower City to campus, all of the new restaurants I discover along the way and make a note to try. I love walking past police officers and saying hello, looking up at the buildings around me and taking in just how amazing Cleveland can feel. I love looking at the boarded up, vacant storefronts and speculating on what would fit in perfectly there if the space were to be utilized again. I’ve missed the feeling of being in a busy downtown. Akron’s downtown is alright to be sure, but it doesn’t have the scale or the feel quite like Pittsburgh or Cleveland’s.
I still felt the damn near terror of getting off the train for the first time, not entirely sure of how the system works, where I should be headed, which way the exit was, with seemingly a million people pushing their way around me—but then I realized just how exciting it all was to see people moving in and out, all with a place to go and a sense of purpose. Everyone had their own function in the working city.
I’m certainly not trying to glamorize public transit. For the most part the stations can be dirty and full of some questionable looking characters. I still feel a bit on edge walking through downtown and Lakewood after dark. But all in all, it gives me a sense of belonging and independence in the city that I just don’t get behind the wheel of my car. You would think those two qualities are contradictory, but that’s exactly how I experience it. I feel both connected and strong, not insulated from everything around me but a part of it. Growing up an Akronite I never thought I would ever actually come to sort of like Cleveland (let alone really embrace it). I’m finding the more I see of it, the more invested I am in making it a better place and wanting to stick around for a while. It really does have some amazing qualities.
On Saturday I drove my car downtown, only because I had to drive straight to Akron for a wedding. My exit was closed, when I finally found my way to the street I needed to be on there was an accident that blocked my way, I had to follow a one way several blocks down to get to a street that would go through where I needed to go, the parking garage only took cash, and I was 25 minutes late to class—the entire time cursing up a storm and thinking about how lovely that walk would have been from Terminal Tower. It makes me wonder why more people wouldn’t want to utilize those options. Green development is great for the environment and all, but I think it’s even better for my sanity. After going that route, I’ve been avoiding my car altogether. Not just to get downtown—but I’ve started walking to the grocery store. I rode my bike to the bank and the park. I don’t think we realize just how much we miss when we’re toodling around in our little insular boxes all day.
Image by Andrew Coyle