An Exceptional Commute Q&A with Karen Troxell

July 05, 2020

Tell us a little bit about yourself

“I am an AmeriCorps member serving at Gonzaga University as the Commute Trip Reduction Coordinator. I’m actually interviewing myself for this article! I am originally from Michigan and moved out here to Spokane in August of last year. In college, I was heavily involved in running a local chapter of Greenpeace, which really set the stage for my passion for all things sustainability. In my current role, my focus is transportation, so I plan events and work on projects related to helping university employees engage with more sustainable transportation options like walking, biking, riding the bus, and carpooling. In my free time, I love reading classic books, going on bike rides, painting, and cooking. In terms of transportation, I walk, bike, and ride the bus everywhere!”

What inspires or motivates you to engage in this type of alternative commuting?

“I’m somewhat motivated by necessity, to be quite honest. I had a car prior to moving to Spokane, but I decided it didn’t make sense to drive it across the country and continue paying for insurance and gas on such a limited budget. I wish I could say that my passion for sustainability has meant I’ve always been dedicated to low-impact transportation, but that’s just not true. In college, I primarily walked and biked everywhere, but I definitely drove my car relatively frequently. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I used the bus during college because it was well-known that the service was not that great and it was just easier to find a different mode. I now am in the habit of just walking and biking, and I actually find a lot of enjoyment in the process of planning out how I am going to get somewhere and when I need to leave.”

How long have you been commuting in this way?

“I alluded to this already in my earlier answer, but my commuting style has shifted in some ways since college but also remained similar in others. In college, I didn’t have a car until my senior year so I biked and walked everywhere. After I got a car, I definitely drove a lot more, especially because I had a job that was quite far from my university so I couldn’t easily get there. Since I moved to Spokane almost a year ago, I have been biking, walking, and riding the bus. Since COVID-19 became our new reality, I’ve halted riding the bus for the most part because it makes me a little nervous and I have the privilege of alternate options like biking and walking.”

Have you seen changes in the built environment of Spokane or in how other commuters interact with bikers?

“I’m not sure that I can speak much on this topic. I bought my bike back in March, so I really haven’t been biking for that long. In that short amount of time, I’ve had a few negative run-ins with drivers, people who just don’t understand that cyclists are allowed to ride on the streets. I would love to see Spokane adopt more bike-friendly infrastructure, things like sharrows and dedicated bike lanes.”

What support (from family, friends, coworkers) have you received? On the other hand, have you had people be concerned or question your decision to commute in this way?

“Honestly, I think the fact that I bike and walk everywhere is the least of my family’s concern. They have a very natural concern for me considering I now live half-way across the country from them. My father has always been into biking; he’s the sort of guy that owns three different types of bikes and when I was younger would ride 20-30 miles on a regular basis during the summer, so I grew up in a very pro-biking environment. I ride my bike all the time with coworkers, so that’s definitely also a supportive relationship. I do think that some of my friends back home think I’m a little outrageous, but then again, I’ve probably always been a little outrageous to them. I get teased a lot (lovingly, of course) for being a hippie.”

What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced as an alternate commuter?

“I think I have two answers for this question. One, it can be frustrating when I am going a longer distance to have to make a transfer on the buses. Second, not having a car means I can’t just leave the city whenever I want to. There are a lot of really beautiful places that are not that far outside of Spokane that I have not been able to see because I can’t just drive there. I’ve found ways around it though, like being able to rent a car for a day or go somewhere with a friend who has a car. I think some people might believe I live a very small life. Biking and walking everywhere means the majority of things I do outside of work take place within a 5-mile radius of my home. I would make the argument, though, that I live a condensed life- I do the things that I enjoy, and I do them close to home.”

What do you wish more people knew about biking?

“I really wish more people knew how fun biking is, and what a mood-booster it is. I think as we grow older, we become responsible for more and more things- maybe you have a child, maybe you have an aging relative, maybe you have a mortgage. And all these responsibilities take time and mean that we have to live a really fast-paced life. We go to work, and then we have to deal with those responsibilities when we’re not at work. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I recognize that every person who reads this article is living a unique life with unique circumstances that may or may not prohibit them from biking, but I wish more people would consider biking as their commute or at least as part of it. It never fails to put me in a great mood.”

Do you think there is anything that Gonzaga could do to get more individuals involved with carpooling, walking, biking, or riding the bus to work?

“It’s kind of funny for me to answer this question, because this is the central question that my work really revolves around. There is one project that I’m in the midst of that I hope will help with encouraging carpooling. I think we need more parking spaces on campus that are dedicated specifically to carpooling. I think it’s crucial to recognize that cars are not going away. Look at Tesla. I know so many people whose dream is to own a Tesla (honestly I’m one of them) because they care about sustainability. I think, though, that idea inherently shows that our society is dependent on cars in a way that we are not prepared to move on from yet. The batteries in electric cars are highly problematic so if you really want to be an advocate for sustainability, would you drive at all? I’m not sure, and I can’t answer that question for everyone. I think we all contribute to the fight for the environment in different ways.”

Any final thoughts or words of wisdom you want people to know, whether about (insert method of commuting) or life in general? 

“I think I’ll just say this- I believe that climate change is real and it is a threat to the world in a way like nothing else in history has been a threat. I hear people talk a lot about “solving” climate change, but the truth is, we already know what the solution is. It’s just a matter of adopting the practices that are necessary on the individual and collective scale. Humans have this funny idea that we will always be able to use technology to solve our problems, but maybe we need to consider a more organic solution for the problems before us. Making lifestyle changes that put less burden on the environment, including eating less meat, flying less, and conserving electricity and fossil fuels, and making big systemic changes like voting in national and local elections, electing individuals who actually care about the environment and building an economic system that places more worth in individuals and natural resources than it does in the never-ending quest for more money.”