Today’s global population faces a daunting set of complex challenges — transportation, education, government, healthcare, and more. These problems seem obvious to many but actual solutions still illude us. When I think about transportation in America, I don’t see the fact that we are still reliant on fossil-fuel based transportation for our economic and social well being as the problem, but a consequence of a larger and more complex problem in how we live. Our food arrives via 18-wheeled truck and we arrive via SUV, even as 70% of our car trips are less than 2.0 miles . We’re fat, angry, and killing ourselves with a Western Diet and long commutes. Americans are increasingly moving to cities and we are all driving less , yet there has been no real social change in the way people feel and talk about driving, car ownership, and our love/love relationship with gasoline.
Our addiction to car-life influences everything. Strip malls? Urban sprawl? Lack of public transportation? Crappy bike lanes? Meh bike rental and bike share programs? All a consequence of king-car, we love them more than pretty much anything else. If you live in a world where it is possible to have everything you need in a 2.0 mile radius, why would you choose to live somewhere that you have to drive 10-15 minutes to get those same things? It just doesn’t make sense.
“But it’s hard to move! I have a job and a house!”
Yes, but living in suburbia and driving your car an hour each way is also killing you – not to mention the rest of us. Your call, but you should probably just move before you get too old to drive.
Die, Sprawl, Die.
I recently started living a car-free life, not because I’m some hippie (sorta), but actually because my car was totalled in an accident. So it wasn’t really an active choice, although I didn’t fight the transition, I just decided not to get another car. I now commute primarily via bicycle. I’ve become convinced that bike riding can solve all of our transportation problems. As more of America’s cities achieve population density, an urban population without cars is entirely possible. If we’re going to make this transition, we need to embrace another form of transportation — the bike.
Some naysayers will tell you it’s too hot to bike to work or that cars offer freedom not found elsewhere. Bullshit. Cars trap you and suck your soul (and wallet) while you angrily curse at that stupid person who doesn’t know how to drive. Increased stress hormones and exactly what you need – another hour in a sitting position each day.
It’s time to change how you live, get out of your car and onto a bike.
“But I don’t live in an urban utopia such as you have described!”
Then move. Come to Austin, everyone else is.
If you didn’t know, there were 2.1 Billion internet users at the end of 2012, or 29% of the global population.(1) Another way to look at that is: 70% of the people alive today are about to get their first broadband connection. That’s 5 Billion people who have yet to send their first Tweet, not to mention the billions that will be moving into cities in the next decade. There is still explosive growth necessary to connect us all together, and it will only amplify our combined global issues. I believe there is a way forward, but we need to prepare for this change, together.
Be a Bike Rider
After the accident, I was car-less, but not without transportation. The next day I caught the bus into downtown Austin to Capital Factory and that 11-minute stop to stop trip became my norm for the next month. I also signed up for Car2go, the service that allows you to rent smart cars by the minute for point to point trips (no round-trip required).
After a surprisingly smooth insurance process, I decided that rather than get a new car, I would become a bike rider instead. Austin is full of trails and bike lanes, and I already have friends who ride their bikes to work, so I knew what I needed to get to get started. A solid commuter bike, enough gears for hilly Austin, with a rack and saddle bag for my computer. I also purchased lights (headlight and taillight) for those late nights coming home from downtown. I ended up with a pretty good setup.
I’ve had my bike for over a month now and love it. I’m relying mostly on my Austin designed Fairdale bike for transport and commuting to work, with bus and car2go on the side, although I still haven’t completed a grocery store trip without a car. I generally hate traffic and think cities should be completely car free, which may not be the norm. Everyone should try bike riding, just rent a bike for a day. Hell, if you’re in Austin, rent a bike from me. You’d be surprised how far you can get in your city on a bike during your typical workday. In 2012, Over 70% of American’s car trips were less than 2 miles (3). Portland is one of the United States’ most bike-friendly cities, but it doesn’t even compare to the numbers from Amsterdam. The NYTimes reports, reports there are 800,000 residents, approximately 880,000 bikes. What would Austin be like with no cars and more than 1 bike for every resident? I like the sound of that.
How can we get started?
As Americans increasingly move to cities in search of jobs, good education, healthcare, and educational opportunities our urban core will continue to grow. We should make the transition to city life as easy as possible by encouraging the use of public transportation, ride-sharing technology, electric vehicles, and most of all, bikes. This means making biking not only the easiest form of alternative transportation, but the easiest form of transport, period. Sometimes people forget what riding a bike is like, and how much fun it can be. Maybe you’re a little like me, maybe you just need a little jolt to get them started and back in the saddle. It’s time to get out of your car and wake up to a world where you don’t have to sit in traffic every day.
Sometimes you just have to get started. We may not be able to solve the entire world’s problems through bike riding, but it would be a start. A start towards a car-free, fossil-fuel free, sustainable world for all of us.
Plus, who would rather sit in traffic when you could be a bike rider?
(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3261937/ - ”Air Quality and Exercise-Related Health Benefits from Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States”