Friday, October 14, 2016

Driving isn’t inevitable

White-against-green roadway sign displaying a bicycle in profile above the caption, 'Bike Route.'

With one day left in the Oregon Drive Less Challenge, it’s great to see the growing count of vehicle miles saved: 614,041 as of Friday, Oct. 14.

Statistics like this really help counter the harmful idea that driving is somehow “normal” or the “only way” that people get around.

One of the writers I follow recently described her experience with what she called “the parking lot dance” of waiting for another user to relinquish a parking space. The writer had been stuck behind another motorist who was blocking the road while trying to squeeze into a parking lot.

The writer opined to her readers that the “parking lot dance” can take “an indeterminate amount of time.” But she prefaced her comments with the phrase, “As you well know.”

With her use of this phrase, the writer appeared to express an underlying assumption that everyone — or at least, every one of her readers — drives a car.

Since she’d speculated whatever ​“widespread cultural norm” governed the other driver’s actions, it fascinated me that she, in her writing, appeared to be similarly influenced.

But driving has an enormous impact — on our budgets, our state of wellness and the environment. To briefly recap the “talking points” from my promotion of the Oregon Drive Less Challenge:
  • Transportation costs (including the costs of ownership and use) account for 44 percent of a “typical” family’s household income in Jackson County, Oregon. On average, families spend $19,515 each year toward their transportation costs.
  • Meanwhile, for every mile that you drive in a car, you release 0.98 pounds of CO2 emissions into the environment.
  • As for wellness, people rarely express to me that finding parking in Ashland is stress-free. More typically, they complain about the hassle. Most recently, a new element to the complaints is an increase in parking-lot fees.

To this list I could add that when you drive, you perpetuate the oil industry, even if you politically rally to combat its abuses.

There are times when my family and I will need to travel by car, but those will be exceptions to the rule in this non-car owning household.

It’s simply harmful in so many ways to assume that you always have to drive, especially if you let the idea that everyone else is doing it, prevent you from looking for alternatives. Remember that for every mile not driven, you can prevent the emission of nearly one pound of CO2s.

One of the places I bike most “conspicuously” is to and from my work at a school. I hope that by encountering an adult who commutes every day by bicycle, these children when they grow up won’t just assume that they have to get their license and drive a car.

Driving isn’t inevitable, but people imprison ourselves in this prevailing mindset. For the good of our planet, our budgets and our health, we need to create a new paradigm.

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