Today we're discussing something that has been plaguing this former Chicagoan: How to get around Madison without a car. My old stomping grounds had a grocery store every three blocks or so. My old neighborhood had an EL station a ten minute walk in either direction. My old neighborhood was mapped out like a grid, every street intersected cross-streets at some point, if Google maps told you to turn at a certain intersection, you walked straight until you found the other street. This was the life I led for four years. I could get from the very edge of the South Loop to Millennium Park in fifteen minutes flat. I could reach the House of Blues in 20 minutes. I could reach Target in three. Yes, the old neighborhood was a good neighborhood.
Now I'm the new kid on the block. It's not so easy being new, especially when you've heard explanations such as "Oh yeah, Madison's real easy to figure out. It's like a funny-shaped bicycle wheel, where the Capitol is the center and the streets are all weirdly curved spokes". Yeah....helpful. Yesterday Google Maps told me to walk straight down the street I live on, turn right, walk for five minutes, turn left, turn left, and turn right again. Yes...it told me to go back to my street two blocks later. This fifteen-minute detour caused me to bust into my first meeting for my program, sweaty and out of breath in a room of pristine girls who probably learned all of their makeup and fashion skills from studying/living in France for the past year. (/rant) That's me! I love to make a good first impression. (We'll follow this up with the joke I made about a Senegalese parable today and yep...I'm definitely the international development girl. The "Afrique de l'Ouest" kid.)
The point is, I'm trying to figure out my way around Madison. I don't have a car, I do have a bike. What I've found:
|Look at those sweet bikers not getting hit by the bus next to them!|
- Biking is SO MUCH SAFER and easier in Madison. I'm not afraid that every single bus on the road is going to hit me. I never biked in Chicago, everyone I knew who biked had been hit by a car. At least once. Mostly twice. Madison has these wonderful WIDE bike lanes that aren't expressly made for buses to hog as extra stopping space. People actually NOTICE bikers instead of merging into them. I road my bike down the busiest street in my area and wasn't even a bit nervous! Ask me again how I feel when it's -15 degrees and icy. I may have changed my mind by then.
- Illinois is flat. Wisconsin is not. There are hills. What took me 5 minutes walking in Chicago now takes me 10. "Oh? It's only .7 miles away? Pshh...piece of cake" "...What? Those .7 miles are known as 'Bascom Hill'?" Yeah, it's happened. Luckily for me, biking toward campus is relatively downhill, so I don't get too sweaty until I'm on my way home.
- Grocery stores are far away and usually expensive for one reason or another. This may just be the neighborhood I happen to live in, but the closest stores to me are a Whole Foods or a Co-Op. I'm all for healthy eating, I think it's great when people can choose to buy organic and locally grown. I'm also a poor graduate student. The sad part is, this actually doesn't kill me as much because Wisconsin doesn't tax on food, and I hail from the land of 11% sales tax on all purchases. Really, my grocery bill at Whole Foods is about the same here as it was in a Jewel Osco in Chicago. This store is about 1.1 miles away from me, so I'm pretty much doing the long haul with very limited grocery purchases a couple of times a week. Have considered biking, thought about it rationally, have stopped considering biking,
It really is a great city to live in. Of course, I'm saying this in August, when my apartment stays at a toasty 81 degrees and my flip flops are still acceptable footwear. I'm sure I'll adapt and learn to love this place even though it's going to be EVEN COLDER THAN CHICAGO WINTERS OH MY WORD WHAT HAVE I DONE....ahem. No, seriously though, Madison is a cool place to be. Everyone is really friendly when you get lost and need to ask for directions. People care about health and the environment. I actually haven't even seen that many smokers (of cigarettes...) out and about these parts. Madisonians care about their surroundings, and they want you to care about it too. I think I'm going to like it here, once I don't have to stare at Google Maps for an hour every time I want to go somewhere.