This is the year

playtime traffic jam

Last week you may have noticed there was no post here on the blog. My family and I were struck down by a pretty miserable flu and I just never did get around to it. I am so sorry for that, but I am really thankful to those of you who posted on the Facebook wall and challenged each other in my absence! Please let me know how your litter-less lunches turned out.

I had originally planned to leave this week’s challenge for the warmer months of spring and summer but was inspired by the latest issue of Natural Life Magazine to bump it up.

This week is all about challenging our car-culture mentalities and getting creative at getting ourselves from point A to point B.

According to Stats Canada, Canadians bought 1,690,548 new cars in 2007, a number slightly higher but pretty much on par with statistics from 1987 and 1997. Check out page 16 of this document to see how much money we spend on cars, car parts, and gasoline. In 2010 it is estimated that 82% of Canadian commuters traveled to work by car while 12% took public transit and 6% walked or cycled.

We live in a car culture there is no doubt about that. In one of my original posts I pointed this out with the number of service stations and free parking spaces in relation to bus routes within a few blocks of my home. With the car culture being so thoroughly supported alternate modes of transportation are sometimes ignored, dismissed, or outwardly discouraged. For this reason it does take quite a bit of determination and creativity to live car free.

Walking to the grocery store in -20*C and loving it!

When I tell people that I don’t drive, or even have a driver’s license, the reactions range from shock to pity to concern for my safety. People offer me rides a lot, whether I ask for them or not. While there have certainly been times where my life would have been easier with a car, and times where I called in favors from family members with cars, for the most part I haven’t been all that put out by my lack of personal transport. Even in a city that boasts possibly the worst transit system that ever existed ever.

Yet in the survey of Canadian commuters in 2010 mentioned above, 53% of those surveyed considered public transit to be inconvenient while only 15% of those people had actually tried it. Our car culture is so deeply ingrained in us that most people have ruled out alternate transportation without ever even trying it.

There are two things I want to challenge you to do this week. First I want you to challenge your own dependence on personal transport if you use it; find ways to leave the car at home and to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels. Second, I want you to think about ways you could be challenging the car culture in your own community.

To challenge yourself there are many obvious and some not so obvious things you could do:

  • Take public transit
  • Cycle (I’ve seen a few brave souls on bikes in Saskatchewan this winter so no excuses! Haha)
  • Car pool
  • Walk (Again, it’s been pretty mild this winter so grab your boots!)
  • Explore your own neighbourhood. You may find you’ve been driving across town for services available down the street.
  • E-commute, try your hand at sticking around home by completing errands, tasks, or work over the net when possible.

Obviously I do a lot of those things already and I am sure a lot of you do to. For this portion of the challenge I am going to try going the whole week without accepting a ride from my husband or anyone else with a car. That sounds too easy. I am going to make that two weeks.

For the second part of this week’s challenge, here are a few things I will be thinking about this week:

Be heard: Tell your local government what changes you would like to see to make alternate forms of transportation more accessible for you. Maybe your area isn’t adequately serviced by public transit, maybe your neighbourhood has a low ‘Walk score‘, maybe your commute is too crowded and treacherous for biking and could use safer bike lanes. Get your letter writing cap out or clear some time for a town hall meeting, find a way to have your thoughts heard.

Get support: Find out if there is a group in your community already working towards making these needed changes. Here in Regina there is a group of cyclists called bike-to-work Regina encouraging more people to cycle. (I sadly missed their potluck meeting when I was sick last week, but I look forward to catching up with them in the future) In Seatle a creative group hands out ‘undriving’ licenses to raise awareness for alternate modes of transportation and have a little fun while they’re at it. Maybe your community has something similar. Find out what is out there and find a way to get involved! If there isn’t such a group near you, or one that fits what you’re looking for, call some friends and start your own!

Encourage others: I’ve decided that from now on when people offer me a ride I am going to turn around and offer one right back. They’ll say; “You’re taking the bus!? I can give you a ride!” and I’ll say “I am ok, but you’re driving, ugh, would you like to borrow a bus ticket?”

Instead of allowing everyone to look at my self-imposed car-lessness as a draw back I am going to treat it like the perfectly acceptable and totally wonderful experience that it is. Sometimes I get sucked into the car culture and act as though walking and taking the bus everywhere is a huge chore (sometimes it can be, but judging by the colourful language I’ve heard from people behind the wheel I imagine driving ain’t so great all the time either.) I shrug my shoulders at the pity and thank people for their generosity then say something self deprecating like “I made my car-less bed and I can walk in it”. But that’s not really how I look at it.

I find riding the bus to be meditative, even (especially) with my toddler in tow because it’s the only time we are still and there’s nothing to do but wait. I like that I am almost never late for anything because the bus gets me there 10-20 minutes early. I love taking long meandering walks around town completing errands that others find stressful because of the hassle to find parking or load kids in and out of seats and boosters. I like that traveling without a car makes simplicity and minimalism really easy because hardly anything is really worth lugging back home when you already have 30 pounds of toddler strapped to your back. I love meeting new people and I love giving my son the chance to interact with such a variety of characters. I love the whir of my bike peddles and the feeling of the wind when I pick up speed along a good stretch of bike path. I really want to get a happy little bell for my handlebars and maybe a trading card to click in my spokes.

I like not having a car and I am going to make sure that people know that. Instead of adding to the idea that I am somehow handicapped by my lack of personal transport I am going to tell people about the benefits and encourage them to try it.

the view from my bike

That’s all I got for now. I would really like to hear your thoughts on challenging car culture!

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Comments on: "Week 9 Challenge: Challenge Car Culture" (1)

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