You work with cities, so you know. Cars (and trucks, and SUVs) are a serious problem. From pedestrian fatalities to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, our primary mode of transportation in the US continues to cause challenges we face day-in and day-out. For some of us, a challenge is also how to get away from these dangerous vehicles. The more we learn, the more we become hyper-aware of our impact. Yet breaking habits and stepping outside of our comfort zone can be so hard to do. Today, we're exploring some steps you can take to be part of the solution! If you can't live car-free, try taking some of these actions to better support your community and be a better driver (when you are one.)
Eliminate Small Trips
Did you know that car trips under 1 mile add up to about 10 billion miles of driving each year in the US? That's huge, and we can do better. If you often find yourself driving small trips under 2 miles, re-think your routine.
- Even if you're not an avid bike rider, a 2-mile ride is incredibly easy. Dig that old bike out of your garage, borrow one from a friend, or hit up your local bike share to go for a 2-mile ride on a day off from work. You'll see how quick it goes by, and realize how capable you really are!
- Once you've gotten in the swing of a 2-mile ride, make a mental note of grocery stores, convenience stores, favorite restaurants, post offices, and other places you often go for errands that are within 2 miles of your house or work. When you visit by car, make it a point to identify the closest bike rack. Next time you need to visit that location, challenge yourself to go by bike or walk (if you've got a few extra minutes) instead of driving!
Get Yourself Excited about Transit
In dense cities, transit can often be faster than driving. On a day when you have some extra time, download the Transit app to see your options and try taking lightrail, a train, or a bus to your destination instead of your own vehicle. Once you get in a routine, challenge yourself to take transit one day each week, then two, and so on until it becomes a regular part of your routine!
Once you find your transit flow, enjoy the ride! Make a great playlist that gets you hyped for work, download recent episodes from your favorite podcasts, make a list of books you've dreamed of reading and work your way through them one-by-one, etc. Riding transit instead of driving doesn't just help the environment, you'll find that it also gives you back valuable time you would have otherwise spent sitting in traffic.
If you simply can't avoid driving much of the time, make yourself accountable to reduce your impact in other ways.
- Cut down your meat consumption (or eliminate it from your diet altogether.) The agriculture industry is one of the largest sources of pollution worldwide, and it's the single-largest cause of wildlife extinction. Some say that "without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%."
- Follow the classic trio: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (in that order!) Reduce your consumption as much as possible. Try to avoid buying material goods you don't need, and driving places you don't need to drive. Reuse things you already have, or repair things that are broken rather than replacing them whenever possible. Recycle as a last resort! Although recycling is helpful, the energy used to recycle is often harmful in itself.
- Reduce your use of single-use plastics. Bring glass containers for leftovers, carry an extra reusable bag with you (they always come in handy!) and even pick up a biodegradable toothbrush.
Drive Smaller, and Drive Safely
When you must drive, consider the nature of your vehicle. Trucks and SUVs are more popular than ever, leading to a substantial increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities and fatal crashes involving smaller vehicles. Not long ago, scientists in Montreal studied over 3 million crashes and found that those driving an SUV instead of a sedan were 224% more likely to cause a fatal crash. Driving a big car makes you less likely to see smaller vehicles and pedestrians, and more likely to cause serious harm on impact. If you have an option, choose to drive a smaller vehicle as a part of keeping your community safe. If driving a larger vehicle, make it a point to eliminate distractions, always avoid using your phone while driving, and remain aware of your impact on the livelihood of others if acting irresponsibly.
If you've got money to give and you'd like to offset a bit of your impact as a driver, consider giving it to an organization that champions alternative modes of transportation or fights for pedestrian and child safety in our cities. If you don't have financial resources, you can still make a difference! Follow these organizations on social media, like their posts, and share/re-post their posts in your feed! These small (and free) actions go a long way to helping their message reach more supporters, and raise awareness about an important issue.