Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why public transportation isn't a viable option for many

Yesterday, I did something that I hadn't done in a while.  I attempted to go to the office in Hoffman Estates via public transportation.

I happen to live in the city of Chicago, and Hoffman Estates is approximately 25 miles from my house.  I decided to start my journey on my bike, so I left at around 7AM, and headed out towards Hoffman.
There aren't really any good biking routes in this direction (NW), so you pretty much have to ride on busy streets, and hope that the cars notice you and don't hit you.  I have a very bright rear light that flashes and rotates, etc.  So I felt fairly confident that cars would see me, and hopefully move over in the lane.  Thankfully this proved to be true, and I made it about 10 miles on the bike until it started to rain.

At that point, I decided to try to catch a train to Barrington, which is the closest spot to Hoffman Estates, and bike from there.  So I headed to the nearest train station in Park Ridge.  Thankfully, since it was after what is considered rush hour, the Metra was able to accommodate my bike on the train.

I caught the Metra in Park Ridge, and settled in for the ride to Barrington.  Then I remembered that I might be out of cash...  (doh!).  Yep, out of cash.  So now I was on the Metra, but had no money to pay for the fare, since Metra doesn't take any form of payment on the trains except cash.  I talked to the conductor, and he assured me that my only option was to get off the train at the next stop and buy a ticket.  Sadly, by getting off, then next train wouldn't be heading to Barrington for approximately 90 minutes, so waiting for the next train wasn't a very good option.  (In retrospect, it probably would have been my smartest option, since I ended up wearing myself out biking the rest of the way to Hoffman (another 15 miles, mainly uphill, in heavy traffic, in the rain, with a heavy bag in tow with my laptop and clothes for work).)

I eventually biked the rest of the way to Hoffman, and managed to even get a few hours of work in.  I had a 4:00 meeting with my Director, but when a preceding call went over by an hour, our meeting got bumped.  I was prepared to wait it out until she was available, but then I looked at the train schedule to get back to the city.  It turned out that if I didn't make it for the 6:18 pm train, then there wasn't another train for 2 hours.

So I gave up on the meeting and got back on my bike to head to the train in Barrington.  I hadn't biked this route before, but it was a straight shot (about 5 miles) up Barrington Road.  How bad could it be?

Well, it turns out that riding Barrington road in the dark is a very perilous idea.  I had a very visible tail light, but the road was so narrow (and the speed limit was 55mph in some places), that I spent most of the ride praying that nobody would hit me.  There was no shoulder, and no bike lane, so the impression I got from the drivers that honked at me was that I was intruding on their road.  (I guess these suburban drivers were'nt fans of sharing the road with bikes, not sure.)

The rest of my trip went fairly smoothly.  I caught the train to Jefferson Park, and then I caught the 81 Lawrence bus all the way back to Marine Dr, and easily peddled home.  (I had caught the 6:01 train from  Barrington, and then made it home by 7:30, which is definitely faster than trying to drive home from Hoffman Estates due to the congestion on the Kennedy Expressway.)

The problem was that I was completely exhausted, and had only managed to do about 5 hours of work, in what needed to be an 8 hour day.  Would I bike to Hoffman again?  Maybe.  But only if I could take half the day off.  And sadly, that isn't a very convenient option.