Monday, August 22, 2011

A New Direction

By the time I started cycling seriously again two and a half years ago, I had already long been a proponent of denser urban development and effective public transportation. My stomach has always turned a little when I've gone a few miles further away from the DC and the close-in suburbs into the land blighted, in my opinion, by suburban sprawl, generic strip malls, and McMansion subdivisions with two SUVs in every garage. (I'm stereotyping a little here, but you get the point.) All this is to say that on some level, urban planning issues were always something I thought about.

Suburban sprawl

Then I started cycling. The vast majority of the miles I ride are commuting miles. Given the nature of where I live, that means I don't just ride on quiet residential backstreets or lightly traveled multi-use paths on weekend mornings. I was riding on more heavily traveled city streets and mixing it up with weekday rush hour traffic on the downtown streets of Washington, DC.

This new first-hand exposure to cycling as a mode of transportation and not simply a means of exercise or recreation made me begin to think more critically and seriously about what makes for good cycling amenities and what, by extension, encourages people to walk, ride a bike, or take a bus instead of hopping in a car.  It also refocused my thinking on all kinds of issues related to the ways that communities are organized - land use and zoning issues, density, development - since all of that affects the quality of the environment, of our lives, and the transportation choices we make. 

I started reading and following DC area blogs about planning issues and cycling. Combine this with a relative lack of interest in where my professional life has taken me to this point, and it wasn't a big leap from this kind of thinking to the idea of pursuing a career in the field of urban planning. Well, I finally begin taking the plunge. Today is my first day of classes in a graduate program in urban planning. 

What began with a bike ride is becoming a career change into a field for which I feel a real passion.

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