I had to drive in to work on Tuesday. It was the worst. Some dude flipped me off for not trying to race through a red light. At a different red light, I watched another dude, well above the age of 30, roll down his window to catcall some high school-aged girls.
The drive home was worse. Construction on Johnson Street and an accident on John Nolen Drive meant that the Capitol loop was a parking lot. People walking on the sidewalk were moving at a much faster clip than those of us in cars.
Compare that to Wednesday. I got to take the bus. I'd like to say I did something productive like catch up on emails, but instead I just played the new Kirby game on my Nintendo 3DS. Still, that was approximately 100 times more enjoyable than driving. When I'm riding the bus or walking to my destination, that time feels like my time.
Plus, my bus can go up and down State Street, free from construction related traffic. Until the summer is over, the bus is going to get me home faster than a car.
I'm not alone in my hatred for driving.
Recently, WISPIRG released a report that was based a survey of college students asking how transportation options fit into their career plans. It found that 47% of respondents said it was "very important" to be able to get around without a car. WISPIRG director Bruce Spaight suggested that investing more in alternative transportation options could help stem Wisconsin's brain drain, where we lose college graduates to other states.
The brain drain issue is important. Recent college graduates are the perfect taxpayers, as they are paying into the system and they aren't drawing much out. The majority of them don't have kids in school and the idea of collecting Social Security is a laughable fantasy. They are also the ones who are likely to draw venture capital into the state by creating start-up companies with stupid names to make apps and other things I don't understand.
Jim Morgan, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, takes a different view on transportation and jobs, though.
"I think there's a lot of people who enjoy biking and would like that to be their mode of transportation, but I don't see someone turning down their dream job," he said to WPR.
First of all, my dream job is not in Wisconsin -- The Daily Show's writing staff doesn't have a Milwaukee bureau. I don't know of too many people who find their dream job in this state, outside of brewers and cheesemakers. Dream jobs are why people put up with the ridiculous cost-of-living in New York or the Bay Area. If you want to keep smart people in this state, it is not going to be through dream jobs. That's particularly the case when the major business association/political pressure group that is WMC pushes (PDF) a tax policy that emphasizes waning 20th century industries.
What Madison and Wisconsin at large can offer me, though, is my dream life. A good job that I enjoy. Plenty of entertainment opportunities. Access to nature. Madison Mallards baseball games within walking distance of my house! When I have children, they will have an elementary and a middle school they can walk to without having to cross busy intersections.
Madison's quality of life pulls people in, I planned to leave after college and I'm still here many, many years later. I've heard the same Madison-addiction story from other people who came here for college, grad school or Epic, only to put down deeper roots.
However, all of these great amenities in a city means requiring a density that makes driving a pain. My dream life wouldn't be so dreamy if I had to spend a ton of time sitting in traffic. Our bus routes, sidewalks, taxis and bike paths are all contributing factors to what makes my life great. If Madison didn't offer these, I would look for a city with better transportation options that also offered the perks I listed above.
The good news is that other cities in Wisconsin are diversifying their transportation options. La Crosse and Wausau, to name two, have beefed up their bike paths and promoted events like Bike to Work Week, and so enhanced the liveability of two already-great cities. Access to alternative transportation isn't just something that liberals in Madison want -- that's clear as cities across the state integrate these ideas into their long-term planning.
Wisconsin is a great place to live, and it gets better when you aren't always in a car.