A Social Experiment in Going Car-light for a Month

Interesting, juxtaposed as it was against the story about the Prudhoe Bay field pipeline spill and subsequent closure, sending wholesale oil prices closer to $100 per barrel and heralding the possibility of oil shortages; as well as the story about how this was the hottest year on record, increasing concerns about global warming.

After "utility Cycling" for nearly 9 months there are ways in which one month seems like one small step for mankind, and yet it is exciting to see others getting on the appropriate transportation bandwagon in such an organized and public way. Apparently there was a big kick off event July 6th, that I completely missed and didn't even hear about till now, with Portland Mayor Tom Potter and other local luminaries, at which folks dropped their car keys in a lock box and committed to using alternative forms of transportation. The Mayor was quoted as saying "We wanted to show people it's easier than you think to live in or near the city and not drive a car. So much of what you need on a daily basis in our city is within a short walk, bike ride or trip on TriMet (local mass transit)."

I have to admit that I was disappointed to learn that this 'social experiment' was not actually a car-free challenge: although folks did give up their personal family cars, this "Low Car Diet" also included use of Flexcar (corporate sponsor of the event) for the month. Participants were given 25 hours of free Flexcar rental to use during the month (but were not limited to that), as well as a monthly TriMet transit pass, one round trip ticket to Seattle or Eugene on Amtrak, and transportation information designed to make their month-long car "diet" more enjoyable

I guess I can see the argument both way: if you make it a complete and total car-free challenge, you risk having fewer people sign on (this one month "low Car" plan had fewer than 24 participants), and yet, if you include car use, you reinforce the notion that cars are necessary for daily life. They are not.

It was delightful to hear the enthusiasm in the voices of several of the participants who where interviewed for the story, two of whom are considering selling one or more of their cars. One of the participants had tallied up the cost of operating and maintaining his car, including gas, insurance, etc and found it was adding up to over $600 each month. Commuting by bike costs, on average, $300 annually (although I have come nowhere near that amount yet)

Portland is the number one bicycling city in the U.S. according to Bicycling Magazine, and I was encouraged to learn that the City of Portland has launched a campaign to become a "Platinum" rated city by the League of American Bicyclists -- a world-class bicycling city. I was intrigued to learn that we also have the highest obesity rate of any city west of the Rockies, suggesting to me that we ride bikes, but do not --as a city-- rely on them

Living without a car is not only good for your wallet operating and maintaining a commuter bike costs less than 50 cents per mile), it's also very beneficial to air quality: vehicle exhaust is the leading source of smog-producing chemicals and several toxic air pollutants including benzene and formaldehyde. In addition to the social and community benefits, cycling is one of the most effective ways of combating obesity, and one of the few that allows you to accomplish tasks and run errands while doing it. The average cyclist looses 13 pounds in their first year.
I'm just sayin . . .

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