One of the selling points on my trip to Edinburgh was its description as a “beautiful, easily walkable city.” I love walking, I told myself. And as an OU student I have plenty of practice. This will be wonderful! Of course, I conveniently forgot all the times I’d driven to class – from my on-campus residence, pathetically enough – and crossed my fingers not to get a ticket. I tried not to think about how close I’ve grown with my car, Gwen, and how we go nearly everywhere together. I could manage, and maybe even enjoy a month without my car.
As described, Edinburgh is beautiful, and very walkable. However, by about day two of my trip I’d learned that walking is actually terrible. Pedestrian-friendly though the city may be, it’s simply so big that most of the attractions fall farther from my residence than I care to travel on foot. Even my walk to class here is longer than most foot journeys I make in Athens. And in spite of what my skinny figure suggests, I am not in excellent shape. Luckily, just as I was ready to collapse from running all about the city like a headless hen, my classmates and I all received bus passes.
I have little experience with public busses, but I’ve been thoroughly pleased with the bus service I am using in Edinburgh. The buses themselves are very nice, with comfortable seats, stroller/wheelchair areas, and in many cases an upstairs seating area with a great view. Also, it is easy to determine where one can go from any given bus stop, and many stops have digital screens posting real-time updates on how long it will be before each bus arrives [I’ve seen advertisements for smartphone apps with this feature, and though my phone does not work here, the thought alone blows my mind]. Possibly the best feature of the bus service is its website: it allows you to plug in your current location, destination, and departure time, then spits out several routing options for your journey. It even estimates walking times, should you need to walk between bus stops!
Though bus stop time estimates are not perfect, they are usually pretty close, thanks in part to the relatively low traffic in Edinburgh. For all the people here, there do not seem to be a lot of cars about. Having roads with designated bus lanes is probably also helpful.
Speaking of cars: I’ve grown used to traffic running on the left side of the road instead of the right. But I may NEVER get used to the reversed configuration of cars themselves. Every time I pass the left side of a car and see someone on a laptop, or a small child, or a saint bernard, my heart stops in fear. Who let them get behind the wheel!? I shriek in my head, before remembering that the steering wheel is on the right.
With the busses, sidewalks, and even bike paths all about, automobile ownership here seems like it may be at least as much a burden as an asset. That’s even before discussion of registration fees, parking, fueling, and other issues. Since I’m here studying urban environments, and learning in my courses how personal automobile ownership is destroying American communities from every angle, I feel obliged to reduce my own dependence on my car when I return to the US. It’s going to be a very difficult thing for me to do, but spending time in a place where car-free living is actually feasible may be just enough to get the ball rolling, and that’s surely worth something.