Every four years, athletes of the world gather for friendly competition to see who is best in a given field. This year the Olympics arrive in foggy London, where the planet’s premiere paragons of fitness will live out in real time the ancient motto of the Olympics – citius altius fortius – faster, higher, stronger. Like most of you, I will be participating in Olympic festivities at home while watching the games with a bag of chips on my lap, wondering how many of these athletes even know what Official Olympic sponsor McDonald’s food tastes like.
Don’t feel bad. We live in a city where getting from point A to point B presents itself as a herculean worthy of Olympic-level patience and strength. Participating in these daily events in the Philadelphia Olympics of Transportation make anyone gold medal-worthy.
Driving. Driving is never easy in an urban environment, but I feel like Philadelphia puts its own particular spin on an already spotty endeavor by adding New Jersey drivers to an already crazy population. Add a pinch of suburban fear and a sprinkle of pedestrians who aren’t afraid of death, and you have a monumental task ahead of you to get anywhere. What’s worse is that, lately, center city is a hotbed of construction, creating a labyrinth of one-way streets, forcing you to change routes daily. Plus, the world’s slowest car race is always taking place on the Schuylkill Expressway.
Walking. People call Philadelphia a “walkable city,” which used to be shorthand for “you probably shouldn’t venture too far out of Center City.” What walkable city means now is that you really don’t have much option besides walking. Hailing a cab is a competitive sport here, as well. You must ward off rival pedestrians to catch a cab when you don’t even know if the cab is vacant because they refuse to use the lights on top on their car. Generally, the most strenuous walking event is the obstacle course where you try to get to work without having a homeless person scream at you.
Biking. Philadelphia has grown leaps and bounds in instituting a biking infrastructure of much welcomed bike lanes on city streets. However, if you’re biking, you still have to struggle against other, scary competing interests. You must make sure you’re not run over by cars, driven by people who have no qualms about leaving you for dead on the side of the road. But even scarier than that are other idiot bikers who think that abiding by the law will reduce their hipster cred. Worst of all: bike messengers, the flying monkeys of the corporate world.
Parking. In Philadelphia, parking is part sport, part fine art. You can never be sure if your park job is legal or not, and even if it is, that doesn’t guarantee that you won’t end up with a ticket from the ever fickle dark lords at the PPA. Good luck not getting stuck in South Philadelphia, the double-parking capital of the United States. As long as you say that you’re going to church on Sunday, you can park anywhere, including but not limited to sidewalks, traffic lanes or the middle of the road.
SEPTA. The mode of transportation that requires the bravest heart of all is taking SEPTA anywhere. Is there anything more sigh-inducing than coming home from a major city with lovely buses and subways and then hopping on one of our trains? No. SEPTA does provide the rider with a healthy amount of suspense, though. Will you make it home? Will someone threaten to kill you? Will you identify the smell of the woman sitting next to you singing for your entire ride home? Maybe!