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Experts are split on how long, exactly, it takes to form a new habit. But anyone who’s made a New Year’s Resolution can tell you that starting and stopping our well-honed, ritualistic behavior is no small task (and not something that is easy to continue past the first days of January).
This year, a few 5280 editors set out to see if we could disrupt our transportation patterns in little (and big) ways. It’s a topic we’ve been talking about for months as a recent office move in downtown Denver changed the way we got to and from our workplace. Depending on what streets were closed, rerouted, or blocked by seemingly endless construction projects—and the occasional National Western Stock Show Parade—we spent a lot of time commiserating about our commutes. Plus, last summer, City Council member Kendra Black told us of her commitment to a carless weekday. Could we do that, we wondered? But as the miles racked up—interviews often ricochet us across the metro—we felt stuck.
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So, we picked some personal challenges to reset our transportation habits. We knew we needed to start small if we wanted a decent chance to declare victory—and, well, success is measured in different ways. Here’s how we fared.
Jessica LaRusso, managing editor
My challenge: To cover the 1.6 miles between my house and the Olde Town Arvada Station, where I catch the G Line to downtown, without pulling our Jeep out of the garage.
Did it work?: My first attempt—riding a bus down the giant hill that is Olde Wadsworth Boulevard—required some research to line up times, but using Google Maps, I came up with a plan. I left my house at 8:43 a.m. on a relatively warm, snow-free morning in early March and walked 0.6 miles (10 minutes) to the nearest bus stop, where I dodged cigarette smoke from a fellow commuter until the bus showed up at 9—three minutes behind schedule. We did not make up any time on the nine-minute ride to the first level of the parking garage, where the bus drops off. That meant that instead of the six-minute window I’d budgeted for, I had about 180 seconds to hoof it up a few flights of stairs and speed-walk across the tracks to the platform. I was out of breath and a little frazzled, but I made the 9:12 train.
One day the next week, I decided to walk the whole way—a stretch I often traverse in sneaker-clad feet to visit Olde Town’s restaurants and breweries. The 25-minute stroll was less pleasant in office-appropriate booties and with my laptop- and lunch-packed carryall slung over my shoulder, but it was blissfully free of the Is the bus even coming/am I going to make it?!? stress of my prior endeavor. (I did consider biking, but the thought of sweating through my work clothes while struggling up the aforementioned hill at the end of a long day was enough to put me off it.)
Will I keep it up?: When I drive to one of the station’s 600 free parking spots, I need to be out my door about 10 minutes before my train’s ETA. Busing or walking requires me to budget a half hour, which takes my total daily commute time from 80 minutes to two full hours. But I did really enjoy starting my day with some extra steps, fresh air, and podcast time—and coming home, the route takes me right by Denver Beer Co.’s Arvada taproom. Environmental karma points and a beer? Once we’re all back to moving around the city safely again, that just might be enough incentive for me to commit to walking to and from the train, at least once or twice a week.
Natasha Gardner, articles editor
My challenge: Park the car and walk to any destination that is less than half a mile away.
Did it work?: I’ve lived in areas where a car is basically a necessity (just try getting to school in North Dakota in the winter months) and where I wouldn’t want one (I still miss New York City’s subway system). Earlier this winter, I vowed to walk anywhere that was less than a half-mile away. It seemed almost too easy, but as a parent, I knew it was one thing for me to cross my fingers and promise to walk everywhere. It’s an entirely different thing to get my first-grader to go along with my plan. In the best-case scenario, I figured I’d get a B-plus on this attempt. But I found that with sensible shoes and a little planning, I had a 100 percent compliance rate. Now, I didn’t have to contend with a snowstorm, a hailstorm, or 100-degree heat. And, as much as I worried about giving up the convenience of my car for quick trips, it was often faster to navigate downtown or my neighborhood by foot. After all, Google Maps hasn’t figured out how long I take to find the perfect parking spot (confession: too long).
Will I keep it up?: You know what? I will. If I was able to do this in the depth of winter, I should be able to keep it up during the warmer months. The first-grader was surprisingly keen to take walks with Mom. And, once I figured out the timing, I never regretted breathing some fresh air, stretching my muscles, and widening my perspective—if just for a few minutes.
Jay Bouchard, digital associate editor
My challenge: Leave the truck at home and ride my bike to get groceries.
Did it work?: Most days (pre-pandemic, that is) I ride my bike to work, and that’s because I have easy access to the Platte River Trail from my house in Valverde. Grocery shopping, though, is a very different story. There are a couple of ethnic markets not too far away, but there’s no major grocery store nearby. You certainly can’t find one without crossing Federal Boulevard to the west or Alameda Avenue to the south—both of which are treacherous enough in a car. But I’ve spent a few years riding around this city, slugging a backpack along with me, and I’ve survived to write about it. So how hard could it be to do a quick grocery run on the bike?
Well, it wasn’t too bad. I ventured south to the Safeway at Alameda and Bannock, and most of the journey was a simple ride in warm weather—until I had to cross over I-25 into Baker. Alameda (and two-lane speedways like it) were not meant to be ridden along. There is a cracked sidewalk on the north side of the road, but it hardly feels safe. And ultimately, anyone crossing Alameda on a bike should have an ambulance chaser on speed-dial. I made it, though: I got a few groceries (hummus, crackers, peanut butter, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos—the essentials) and then reversed course and was home in under 15 minutes. I obviously couldn’t do a major grocery run, but riding with a backpack full of provisions didn’t slow me down.
Will I keep it up?: Maybe. As I pedaled home, I actually forgot I was carrying $34.59 worth of groceries. And I prefer riding my bike to driving my truck. But I’m hesitant because the route was out of the way. That has more to do with my neighborhood’s amenities than it does the mode of transit. Once I’m allowed to go back to the office, I might snag groceries downtown before riding home. And if I lived in an area with better access to a big grocery store, I might even invest in some saddlebags and make it a routine.