I managed to find a copy of David Byrne's The Bicycle Diaries at my local library, and I'm glad I found it (I picked it up thanks to Barbara's review at The Bookworm Collective. You can read her review there find out what the book is about).
Ten pages into it, and it already has me thinking about my daily commute and how my method of transportation affects how I view my community. I don't know if this is the scope of the book, but it got me thinking.
I don't own a car, and I don't really want to own one either (db does have the company car on the weekends, so we do use all methods of transporation). Mostly I take transit (bus & skytrain), I use my bike to run errands on my day off, or if I just feel like taking a bike ride, and I walk -- alot. What have I learned about my community and how it functions based on my daily walks? No surprise, but we are a car culture.
We live in a suburb of Vancouver. It's a thriving little city with lots going on. What I see as the hub of our town is a little pocket of shops, mostly independent businesses, that sit between, and is connected by two main commuter roads. It's a pedestrian friendly area, but also has lots of room for parking. You could get everything you need in this little area, and I suppose that was part of the attraction for the adjacent condo owners; everything is within walking distance.
Across the main road from this little hub, is the theatre where they hold screenings and events, the library, and the recreation centre. The inlet trail borders this area, and has paved and unpaved trails that run along the water. If you walk, bike, or run in one direction, it takes you to a nice picnic and beach area. If you do the same in the other direction it takes you to a larger park where concerts are held, a boat lauch is available, and there's even a small public pool, and a dog park. If you know your way around you can also connect to many of the trails that run up the mountainside.
Kitty-corner to the "hub" area is a new development that has been filled with more condos, and little shops in a pedestrian friendly area. It is attempting to mimic the original, older main hub; however, it doesn't have the independent businesses, but rather is a series of chain stores (Starbucks, Cobs Bread, Booster Juice) and has a feeling of something a little bit fake in its attempt to be quaint. I see this entire neighbourhood as being set up for after hours and weekend outdoor play.
If you don't live in either of these hubs you need a car. Walking is for the weekend only, or if you take the dog out. Some streets don't even have sidewalks. I live a fifteen minute walk up the hill from the hub, so while it is possible to walk to this area and get everything I need, it is a bit inconvenient as well because the hill is quite a hike. It's fairly steep so walking home with a load of groceries is not really what I want do. We save grocery shopping for the weekend, and we have our organic produce delivery that comes once a week. However, I do walk this hill almost daily to get home from work since the buses that do run up the hill are few and far between.
The road that runs up the hill is four lanes. It is a 50 km zone, but as you can probably guess no one does 50 km, it's usually closer to 70 or more if they're going downhill (db & I actually call this stretch of road "speed city raceway"). There are no houses along it, just trees, and pathways that lead to suburban pockets of homes. Whenever I cross paths with someone walking up or down, we always exchange a hello or a good morning. Once you hit the hub though, the greetings stop.
Off this main artery are lots of little side streets, most of which are tree-lined dead ends. The houses are close, but the yards are still large enough for good sized gardens, and backyards often face a greenbelt. Where I live is one of these streets. The homes are large (we rent of course) with wide driveways and double car garages. Even with the two car garages, many people park on the street because they have more than one or two cars (or there are renters who have cars, but no access to a garage. There's actually a little dispute going on about who can park where on the street. One of the neighbours gives out his own tickets if you park in front of his house (i'm not kidding).
So my community is a commuting one. The cars file down in the morning and file home at night (have you seen Edward Scissorhands? It's like that). It is truly suburban in that respect. The community is set up to move these cars to and from work as efficiently as possible. Bikes? There are few bike lanes, so you're really you're on your own for commuting. Afterall, biking is a weekend activity reserved for the trails.