“We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the future of human civilization. Every bit of that has to change.”
Have you ever stopped for a moment to consider how mad our transportation system has become?
To avoid walking, which is actually very pleasant and extremely good for our health, we have entirely redesigned our cities to accommodate vehicles. The skeletons of ancient cities, that formed 10,000 years ago, have been stretched and clawed at to get more traffic lanes. The transformation in many places is so extreme that pedestrians (people) have almost no right to move about self propelled. Much of what was great about cities for two hundred years before the vehicle has now been covered over with tarmac. Lost forever to acres of car storage.
We churn the ground to produce minerals and drill the seas for a chemical that we turn into cars, roads and fuel. These raw materials and commodities are transported from thousands of miles away, at horrendous financial, social and environmental costs so that we need not walk one single mile to work on a sunny pleasant day.
While cars used to be a cheap personal technology this is no longer the case. We pay about 20% of our income for the privilege of spending a quarter of our waking life stuck in traffic. Each year we pay more and more money to go nowhere. It is undeniable that cars are extremely efficient if you want to go long distances to places that nobody else wants to go to. However, almost always we want to go to places that everyone else wants to go at the same time. For these types of trips cars are hopelessly inefficient. Result: gridlock for everyone.
Transportation research has shown that despite spending billions of dollars over three decades improving transport infrastructure to reduce travel times in the UK, travel times are now slower in main centres than they were 100 years ago when a horse pulled the cart. This finding holds for many major cities around the world.
The hard to fathom aspect is that although we can’t really get anywhere easily or cheaply anymore we still love our cars. It’s not that unusual for a three person family to own four cars. More unusual – we love our cars so much that we accept that millions of otherwise healthy people will be annihilated just so we don’t have to raise our heart rate to a level that could prolong our own lives. Road fatalities are collateral damage that is out of sight, out of mind until our own families are touched directly by road trauma. Even when this happens we accept the loss of our loved ones because it is ‘normal’. [I don't accept that normal is right. You can get used to some pretty weird shit if you live in a circus!]
Another very sad study on quality of life of older persons has also reported that the majority of persons over 65 years of age that were surveyed would prefer to lose the use of their legs rather than lose their licence. Think about that for a minute.
There is no need to touch on the unnecessary pollution and public health problems caused by our heavy car use. Any five year old can tell you in detail. However, I would like to point out one form of pollution that escapes our gaze. That of space pollution. Cars are very large objects and these objects need to be stored somewhere for an average of 23 hours every day. That sounds wrong until you factor in weekends and days when you don’t use your car at all.
Cars use is horrendously expensive. In many places you will spend around one fifth of your take home net income on maintaining and operating your car. This doesn’t include the tax taken by the Government to provide new roads and motorways. Let’s assume you have a 2-hour commute each way to work on weekdays. That is a full 20% of your income to use your car only 11% per week.
Twenty hours of time is a lot of life each week. If you had a job closer to home or if you made yourself a home job using the internet and technology you would recover quite a bit of travel life that you can reallocate to more interesting pursuits. Alternatively in 2 hours you could travel up to 45 miles on a bike or walk 8 to 10 miles and the cost is basically free. Aside from saving another 20% of your income you’d probably experience improved health, good mood, and a little weight loss. This on top of reducing your pollution and being more civic minded. By civic minded I mean that you have donated freeway space to people that need it more than you (e.g. ambulances, elderly, disabled, mothers with infants and so on).
In a nutshell…motorised transport costs too much. It isn’t easy to get where you want to go. Our cities are turning into giant car parks to store unused vehicles. We are dying in the millions as fragile humans are rundown by a tonne of steel. We are dying because of lifestyle diseases caused by sitting behind the wheel too much. We are also dying because we are sucking down vehicle fumes instead of air. We are highly dependent on cars to the point that we would trade in the legs that have withered from a lifetime of disuse. We are extracting a precious non-renewable commodity at record rates. We are heating up our planet. All to avoid an enjoyable activity – walking?
This is mad on any level you consider.
My advice – check yourself out of the asylum whenever you want!
It is very easy to walk or bike. Here are a few tips that might be helpful in your new life as an outpatient:
- You don’t need to make every trip active. It’s okay to keep using your car some of the time.
- You could move and live closer to where you work to make the commute on foot or by bike more manageable.
- You could move to a more walkable neighbourhood (or you could start a walkable neighbourhoood community group and advocate to your council to improve bike lanes and sidewalks)
- There are will be more direct or better routes by bike or on foot. When you start out you won’t know about these shortcuts so you’ll end up riding the same route that you drive. Look out for travel information maps from your city, transportation department or bike or walk advocacy group. If you see another cyclist on your commute ask them about bike shortcuts.
- Consider moving to a city that is more bike and walk friendly. Give up your car completely and pocket 1/5 of your income.
- Walk or ride with a buddy. It’s way more fun.
- Don’t spend much on your commuter bike. Get a helmet and a good lock. Panniers are a good idea. Much better than a backpack on your back. Get a good pair of bike shorts. Comfort comes from the seat of your pants not your bike seat. There are a lot of companies that make baggy bike shorts so you don’t need to literally hang out in Lycra.
- Learn how to fix a flat tire and do basic mechanical work on your bike. Most bike shops will have a cheap or free class available.
- See if your work would consider installing a shower or bike lockup. Some cities will help subsidize businesses to do this. If you don’t have a shower no sweat. Give yourself more time and ride at a leisurely pace.
- Take an on-road skills course before you start to ride to work. This will help you to ride safely in traffic. If a course is available free in your area your local bike shop will know about it. If it costs money then pay for it. It will be worth every penny.
Some other suggestions to save money on transport: downsize your car, work from home, ride share your car to work, reduce the number of cars you own and maintain, consider a moped or highly efficient vehicle (electric or hybrid), ride the rails or use the bus or one of my favourites – tRUNsportation (running for transport)!
Your transport costs are probably way too high. Review your travel options and see if you can save time on your commute, while saving money, while saving the planet, while saving lives, while saving health costs, while saving precious materials for future generations…
Straddle the saddle of the pollution solution and save yourself while you save the world.
Its the only sane thing to do.