What to Do When You Can't Move About Without the Internal Combustion Engine


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I'm in Jakarta, Indonesia, for two weeks. It's 95 degrees everyday here, and the metro area is a concrete jungle of 23 million fed by street vendors, choked by traffic, and populated by what must be the nicest collection of people on the planet. Scooters fill the narrow streets like swarms of bees, weaving in and out of traffic with reckless abandon. There are no sidewalks or much public transit to speak of, and even if there were to walk anywhere is to agree to become a sweaty mess. When I'm at home, I'm a bike rider who uses his two wheel machines to commute, for exercise, and as political statement to show that we can power ourselves and not be reliant on fossil fuels to live a comfortable life.But since I've gotten here, I haven't seen one cyclist and my feet have hardly touched the pavement. You'd have to be crazy to take on the scooters and taxis here, and the lack of sidewalks makes walking impossible. As a consequence, it's all taxis and rickshaws for me. My belly is getting fatter, my wallet thinner, and I feel like my wings have been clipped.

This stifling feeling must be shared by million of Americans who live in places dominated by the tyranny of cars. Many of us either grew up or now live in suburban or rural communities where you have to drive to get anywhere. The lack of a public transport infrastructure in the US has been lamented by many, and it's getting increased scrutiny as the triple challenges of climate change, energy use, and obesity take center stage.

Here's a few quick facts about the benefits of public transportation, according to publictrasportation.org.

-From 1995 through 2008, public transportation ridership increased by 38%--a growth rate higher than the 14% increase in U.S. population and higher than the 21% growth in the use of the nation's highways over the same period.

-Access to bus and rail lines reduces driving by 4,400 miles per household annually.

-Every dollar communities invest in public transportation generates approximately $6 in economic returns.

I've got one week left here and I'll make the best of it. The city has many virtues, so if you're considering visiting don't take my warnings about the lack of freedom of movement as evidence that you shouldn't come. Indonesia is changing fast with a growing middle class and a booming night life. Of course, it's also suffering from the worst rate of deforestation in history, enough destruction to earn it a Guinness Book of World Records title.

More on Public Transport:
How To Green Your Public Transportation
Popularity of Public Transportation in the US Increases