Commute Another Way

By Sally Chappell

Guest Writer

“Use mass transit” is a perennial favorite on every list of how to reduce our carbon footprints, save the earth, reduce our use of foreign oil, etc. In fact, we are now celebrating Commute Another Way Week.  “Another way,” of course, means any way besides the use of a personal, powered vehicle, our default mode of travel at this time in history in this place in the world.

Here in Bridgton and Harrison at the far northwest tip of Cumberland County, mass transit does not exist.  We almost had daily bus service between Bridgton and Portland only to have that vision erased at the last minute.  Even if Portland is not your destination, getting around within the area without a car is next to impossible, but not entirely.

The problem: “People demand a lot of travel and have few non-automotive ways to do it. This effectively immobilizes everyone too old, young, infirm or poor to drive — a group that includes one-third of all Americans, and whose numbers are rising.” (Natural Capitalism, 1999). Could Bridgton’s status as the poorest town in Cumberland County be related to its lack of mobility options?

If we are going to commute another way, it appears we have feet and bicycles as alternatives. Overlooking the obvious disadvantages of such mobility, we can positively ascribe to each method some uncontested benefits: enhanced health, zero carbon emissions, a sense of personal empowerment and a purposeful slowing down of our lifestyle. Why don’t we see bicycle ads on TV? Cars and trucks are highly profitable and therefore justify the intense promotion of items we are expected to purchase multiple times throughout our adult lives.

Presently, for most people, bicycling and walking are forms of recreation and exercise. They are often employed to make a political point or garner funds for a cause. All that energy expended could be applied to the task of getting from one place to another.

Reaching back into history, we have the example of Rufus Porter. His murals can be found from Maine to Virginia. How did he envision the ideas for all his inventions? Maybe he created them in his mind while walking. In 1807, at the age of 15, he walked from West Boxford, Mass., to Portland, a distance of 106 miles, “carrying his fife and fiddle” with him (Rufus Porter Rediscovered, 1980). Even at the age of 86, he walked a distance of 17 miles in one day. Granted, ambulating along today’s highways might not be quite as meditative as it was in 1807 with cars and trucks whizzing by, not to mention those deafening monster mosquitoes capable of vibrating your internal organs.

Even today, I personally know an elderly woman here in Bridgton who, as a child growing up in Canada, regularly walked eight miles to church. Then, there’s the example of Granny D (Doris Haddock) visiting Congressional offices to promote campaign finance reform on her cross-country walk completed at the age of ninety in 2000. Traversing the country on foot much of her adult life, Peace Pilgrim (Mildred Norman Ryder) vowed to walk until people adopted peace. Described as the most underrated spiritual figure of the twentieth century, she met her “glorious transition,” her term for death, on an Indiana highway in 1981 at the age of 72.

Bicycling, meanwhile, is starting to make a successful transition from recreation to transportation, otherwise known as utility riding.  May 9 of this year was the first annual “Bike to School Day,” and there are now pedicabs in Portland. These tricycle taxis are pedaled by a driver and can transport two people seated comfortably behind him. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine promotes bicycling in many ways by sponsoring events and working for bike-friendly laws and policies at the city, state and federal levels.

Soft-pedaling the above examples, I recognize that walking and bicycling have their distinct limitations in today’s culture. Recently, I saw for the first time in print, the word, “time-starved.” We can all relate to this American dilemma. Being a task-oriented, accomplishment-driven bunch, we are as mindful of saving minutes as we are of saving money. There’s also the weather factor. Need I say more?

Oh, yes, one more thing… Bridgton used to have a train station. Bridgton used to have bus service to Portland. We can have public means of transportation again, but I think it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Sally Chappell is a resident of Bridgton.

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