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ISSUE 121 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/18/2008

Hoofin' It: Car-free and Carefree In Northfield

By Mike Morelock
Contributing Writer


Friday, April 18, 2008

I finally did it! I stopped using my car. Its battery had to die twice before I made the transition, but nonetheless it was a mighty decision to make. I haven't touched the thing since December, and I couldn't be happier about it.

Having a car in Northfield is a bit like being a hamster that parks its roaming ball in the corner of its cage. It's convenient (and fun), to be sure, but there are other options worth considering before buckling up. Those without a motor vehicle know all too well that car-lessness can be a drag, especially during the winter, and even more so if you don't have any friends with cars. Let's explore some alternatives to driving that make campus life without a car more livable, or, dare I say, preferable.

Speaking of living, now that spring is here we can all be outside a lot more often, enjoying peeking leaves, warm breezes teasing the hems of shorter skirts, shirtless campus golfers and skinnier squirrels (good for them)! All of these overdue sights indicate one thing; warmth. Need to get to town for a new wardrobe? One foot in front of the other always seems to work. Don't think of it as a chore. Take a friend. Make it a date! The roughly 30 minute walk is plenty of time to start working your magic on a special someone. Who needs sweet rims when you've got the time and the talent? Shake things up a bit by changing your route each time you visit Goodbye Blue Monday Coffee House. South Linden Street? Now that's adventurous!

Considering our schedule-oriented lifestyles on campus, it's easily forgivable if one can't find time to sacrifice the convenience of a quick trip in the car to the Kwik Trip by the railroad tracks for the slower pace of a merry stroll. If you're lucky enough to have a bicycle, then you can hit up those local businesses and be back in the library, buried in a book, before you know it. Biking is quick and healthy. Run errands while you're getting your exercise. It's a great way to get fresh air and stay balanced as finals loom ever closer.

Those of us who don't have access to a two-wheeler, however, are out of luck. Until now! Enter the Green Bikes Program. Implemented earlier this semester by the members of the Cooperative Justice Honor House, the green bikes program (literally; bright green bikes, decorated with yellow paint) boasts over 20 repaired, environmentally friendly vehicles, free to use by any St. Olaf student. If you want to get downtown in a hurry then find a bike, ask for a bike lock at Buntrock's main desk, and pedal to the metal. Get your friends together and see who can find the most inappropriately sized frame for their height. My personal favorite: the low-rider Huffy with yellow flowers. They won't win you any races, but they'll get you to Sweet Lou's Waffle Bar in one piece (bring a helmet, just in case), and you'll work up an appetite on the way!

Sometimes, however, even a bike probably won't get you to where you want to go quick enough. In such cases you'll need to call in reinforcements: Northfield Public Transit. The demand for public transportation in Northfield doesn't necessitate around-the-clock routes, so don't anticipate a 3 a.m. pick-up for a snack run. Nevertheless, the service is exceptional. In the evenings two buses travel a route that begins at Buntrock Commons, makes a few scheduled stops, and ends in front of Target. If you can't make it to a regular pick-up location then simply call the dial-a-ride number and the next available bus will stop right in front of you. The driver will drop you off wherever you want to go. Students can ride the bus completely free of charge. Just show a current student I.D. and grab a seat before they're all taken.

I rode the bus in Northfield for the first time recently and was surprised to see how many people take advantage of the service. It dropped off a middle-aged man at his house and stopped in front of a middle schooler's lawn, where his cocker spaniel ran to meet him. The driver took a call from someone asking about a ride and made a right turn onto a quiet street to pick up the caller. The majority of the passengers were St. Olaf or Carleton students, eager to benefit from a free ride, so when we disembarked in front of Target the bus was nearly empty.

Since Northfield transit stops its services at 7:30 p.m., another service is available on Friday and Saturday evenings to take students to and from key locations in the city. Provided by St. Olaf's Student Senate and Carleton's Student Association, "The Love Bus" begins its route at 6:30 p.m. at St. Olaf, stops at Carleton, and makes its way through town and eventually to Target. A new bus arrives at St. Olaf every 50 minutes and service runs five routes each night, finally making the last drop off at Buntrock commons at 10:45 p.m. This service is free to students.

The Movie Bus is another service provided by Student Government Association. It takes students, free of charge, to Lakeville's Muller Family Theater on Saturday nights. Students can sign up in the Student Activities Office for a guaranteed seat. Before the bus leaves, discounted movie ticket coupons are sold to students for $4. If you don't want to see a movie, but are still itching to get away for a few hours, then simply hop on the bus for a free ride to Lakeville. Have a late dinner or a snack with friends at a nearby restaurant while you wait for the bus to return. Just don't be late. It leaves the movie theater at midnight.

The variety of Northfield's entertainment venues and restaurants is by no means dazzling, but it is still satisfactory. Even so, there are times when a student needs to get away for a night, to a concert or a party or a relative up in the cities. What is a carless student to do? If borrowing a friend's car is off the table, and you don't want to walk the 50 miles, then your first alternative should be the Co-op bus, a service provided by St. Olaf's Activities Office.

The Activities Office recommends that a student purchase his or her ticket in advance, to secure a seat, but last minute walk-ons are accepted as long as there is space available. Buy tickets at Buntrock common's information desk. One way tickets are $5 while round trip tickets cost $10. Visit http://stolaf.edu/stulife/sa/transportation for Co-op bus schedules. The bus makes several trips to various locations in the Twin Cities over the course of each weekend, dropping students off at the Mall of America, the airport and downtown St. Paul (in front of the Crowne Plaza Hotel).

If for some reason you can't use the Co-op bus, or if you need to travel north during the week, you can use Jefferson Bus Lines, a service that runs routes from the intersection of I-35 and U.S. Highway 19 to the Twin Cities six times a day. Opportunities to get to the freeway, however, are less frequent. Northfield transit makes one trip there daily. The cost is $4 and you'll have to purchase a Jefferson Bus Lines ticket separately, an extra $13 -- 16. The key to using Jefferson Bus Lines is careful coordination. Call Northfield Transit (507 -- 645 -- 7250) to ask when the transit line leaves for the highway on any given day and to arrange a pick-up.

Once you arrive in the cities you'll have to use the public transportation system, Metro Transit. Luckily, routes and connections are well organized, so the stress involved in using public transportation is limited to arriving at a bus stop on time to catch a bus. If you're making a trip up to the cities it's best to plan your route ahead of time. Metro Transit provides an online route planner at http://www.metrotransit.org/index.asp. Simply enter your departure location and your destination and the website will tell you which buses to take and when, how far you'll need to walk and in what direction (if you have to walk at all) and the necessary fare. Metro Transit's payment system is convenient in that each passenger receives a paper card with a magnetized strip that permits them to use any bus, or combination of buses, for a period of a few hours. Transfers are quick and easy. Just slip your card in the machine and you're off. Depending on where you are headed you may need to travel on the Light Rail, Metro Transit's train system, powered solely by electricity from overhead wiring. It's quick, fun (note: not during rush hour), and makes over 10 stops throughout the Minneapolis area.

All Metro Transit vehicles, including the Light Rail, have bike racks.

The convenience of having a car can never be denied. Life without one requires sacrifices, but the benefits reaped from those sacrifices are great. When we avoid the use of a private motor vehicle we not only have the opportunity to stay healthy, active, and social, but also to make a significant and symbolic contribution to a culture that is, and will be, increasingly pressured to make change.





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