Car-Free Day has a noble goal: to get us off our duffs for one day. During Car-Free Day, Americans are encouraged to walk, bike, or take public transit to our jobs and to run errands. And that’s fairly easy to do that in the city of Boston, with its extensive (if fussy) public transit network, closely-knit architecture, and ongoing attempts to be bike-friendly, courtesy of Mayor Tom Menino, who rides a bike to work most days himself. Another helpful item; it’s an infamously lousy city to drive in.
But Governor Deval Patrick was going to take things one step further: as a show of good faith, he was going to avoid riding in his car for a week, as part of his government’s Car-Free Week Initiative. As you might have guessed … that didn’t really work out for him.
To be fair, the governor didn’t try to hide it when he got caught, and admitted it was harder than it looks, even in a city trying as hard as Boston is to limit car traffic. What tripped him up? His hectic schedule, and likely, although he didn’t discuss it, his security detail, which would make even a bike trip a bit of a problem for anyone else who wanted the road.
It just goes to illustrate two things: one, that Americans would like to use their cars less, if for no other reason than to save money on gas and car insurance; and two, that actually doing so is harder than you may think. Like it or not, we as a country are dependent on cars.
For example, many Americans with families need cars because of one errand they have to do every week: hitting the grocery store. Your average family will buy about thirty to forty pounds of groceries, usually a lot more, and that’s just for your basic “food for the week” shopping trip. Bicycles can be modified to haul that much weight (of course, this assumes that the weather is good). But otherwise, it can be a miserable experience, especially on public transit.
Similarly, getting to work can be difficult without a vehicle. Many Americans commute, on average, an hour from their homes each day. Public transit can easily bridge that gap just as quickly as a car, but it has to be available first, and many smaller cities have crude public transit options, if they have any at all. Live in the suburbs? Good luck getting a bus. Riding a bike can be an option, but it’ll add time to your commute and also, you’d better hope your job has a shower handy for you.
So, what can we do, as people, to cut down on our driving? Here are a few ideas:
- Only use your car when it’s absolutely necessary. For example, if you’ve got a lot of weight to haul, or need to get to work or an appointment and can’t ride a bike or take a bus there.
- Always ask yourself, “Do I really need to make this trip with my car?” Can I walk there? Can I ride a bike? Does a bus go by there?
- On weekends, when there’s nowhere you absolutely have to be, leave the car at home.
- Make getting around cheaply a family activity: bike out to parks, take the bus to a nearby museum, or do something else that’ll be fun without burning gas.
Who knows, maybe you’ll find you need your car a lot less than you thought.