Why we drive – and what its doing to us
First Day back at school, and first day of the Net Zero Challenge! (see photos and follow us on Instagram here). SO, some reflections on commuting:
Driving can be really convenient and freeing (sometimes), and for some people and purposes, like for emergency services, delivery/contractors, or people who are mobility-impaired, it is essential. But is it essential for all of us? Or at least, is it all essential all the time?
Car commuting is the biggest individual household contributor to emissions, responsible for 10% of Canadian greenhouse gases, and Canadians have the highest per capita vehicle emissions in the world (thanks for the video briefing Dr Comeau and Net Zero!). On top of that, it is also a major health hazard: beyond accidents (which directly kill almost 2,000 Canadians a year), inactivity and fumes are among the largest contributors to the major causes of death (Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc). Finally, it turns our communities into parking lots, reducing liveability and beauty, and making them terrible places to raise children. In short, our car commutes are killing us.
Which means we need to ask: what are we commuting FOR?
Well, to work, to play games, to see shows, to trade or buy goods, etc. But really, what this means is that 90% of the time, we are commuting TO SEE PEOPLE. Movement is essential for tying us into our communities and social and economic activities, and for growing and strengthening these essential bonds.
In other words, commuting is community-building, and it is essential to human happiness and thriving. We absolutely must get around and, with our busy lives, we need to do it efficiently. So how can we keep the efficiency of cars, but move smarter?
Our Approach to Commuting
Our family is lucky to be in jobs where we are able to work from home much of the time, to be close to school (or use the school bus), and to be able-bodied enough to get most of our regular outings done by pedal-power (groceries, summer camps, etc). This gives us more freedom to go “all-in” on active transport than many, and to use it for everything.
We have heard from many folks that they can and would like to do less driving, but are unsure how to make the jump, and worried about convenience.
What I say to them is that we are lucky to live in Windsor, a city as flat as a pancake, the warmest in Ontario, and really not very big – a potential Canadian cycling utopia! We’ve managed to get by here without a car for 8 months and not felt any real inconvenience (of course with the occasional uber/taxi on a snowy day, or rental on the weekend – which is still much cheaper than owning a car if you do the math). Our plan is to keep going and encourage others to give it a try as well.
Unluckily, despite a long and proud history of cycling in Windsor (did you know Dodge first made bicycles here? Thanks for the great tour of Windsor’s bicycle history at the Chimczuk @ChristopherWaters) many people just don’t feel comfortable on bikes here and don’t know how great it can be. And while its definitely true that the city has invested a lot already in active transport, it still needs to do more to make cycling and walking safe and comfortable for all ages and genders.
So, in the spirit of community and remembering that the point of commuting is to see and engage with people, we decided to include more Windsorites in this challenge – to build our community, and get their voices involved in building active commutes that work for more people.
Our Plans for the Commuting Challenge
To this end, we’re planning:
- To build out a small community of folks who are also going to try active transport and give feedback over the challenge period. This is our Commuting Communities challenge, and we’ve been sharing on social media, through our local bike-friendly hubs (the University Bike group, the kids school, etc), and on the radio (thanks 800 AM!).
- To invest in our community further by helping our best advocates (the youth) and their assistants (the parents) get comfortable with bikes and safety, by organising a bike repair and safety session with 6 kids through Bike Windsor-Essex and the experts at the Bike Kitchen.
- Continue to go car-free, but also challenge ourselves to go outside of our comfort zone in our neighbourhood, and make a few longer trips to Detroit, including using a combination of public transit and bicycle.
- And wrap up the findings and experiences as part of Windsor’s Open Streets festival, where we’ll share results with our communities, as well as have a bike-friendly picnic, put on by Crystal’s firm Mean Studio, that promotes local businesses.
We’re looking forward to this adventure in commuting and community building in the next couple weeks, and sharing how it goes!