This World – Hanging Up the Keys

?Lose 2,000 lbs. overnight,? a local ad promises.

It’s part of the city of Arlington, Virginia’s Car-Free Diet program?an initiative encouraging people to use public transportation, walk, or bike rather than driving everywhere.

I became an unwilling participant in the program this year when my husband and I temporarily relocated to Virginia. My car is still sitting in the garage back in Alaska, so while I’m here in Arlington, I have no choice but to walk or use the bus or rail systems.

From starting out skeptical (can I survive without my car?), I’ve become a fan of reducing, or eliminating altogether, my car use. I’ve been amazed at how easy it is to walk, bike, or take public transportation. In fact, in many cases, I’ve found It’s easier than driving would be.

Reducing or eliminating our driving is certainly an attractive idea, especially given the rising cost of gasoline and increased concern over pollution. However, since most communities simply don’t have an extensive public transportation system, It’s easy to dismiss the Car-Free Diet as unworkable except in certain areas.

That would be a mistake.

I realize that this summer, when I return to my small hometown in Alaska, I’ll need to drive again if I want to do anything other than local errands. But that doesn’t mean I have to abandon the Car-Free Diet concept and return to my gas-guzzling ways. With a little thought, I can implement some of the lessons I’ve learned while living here without a car:

? Carpooling works, and It’s not just for commuters.

There was the occasional time when, to avoid a long bus trip, I hitched a ride with a friend. While it took some pre-planning, and we had to coordinate our shopping schedules, carpooling for errands was much easier than I had expected. I realized that there’s no reason why in the future I can’t trade off carpooling duties with a friend when making long trips into the city. I’ll use less fuel and have some companionship along the way.

? Clustering errands saves time AND fuel.

I’m naturally lazy. If I have to walk everywhere, I’ll combine as many errands as possible into one trip to save walking distance. It makes sense to follow the same reasoning with a car: instead of making multiple trips, I’ll pre-plan where I need to go, and hit everything in one trip. That will save time as well, since I’ll only have to disrupt one day rather than many.

? It’s amazing how easy it is to just walk to the store.

Or the bank, or the library, or the park. Of course, my home may not be within walking distance of every place I need to go. But I can park once and do the rest of my errands on foot once I get downtown.

? Biking is even faster than walking?and great exercise, too.

A trip around the corner for groceries takes just as long biking as driving in my small town?the speed limIt’s so low, and I’d have to take so much time parking and driving out of the lot that I might as well bike.

? Walking in the rain won’t kill you.

It’s true, I used to pull out the car for around-the-corner errands when it was raining. Here in Arlington, if I have to pick up something, I need to walk, regardless of the weather, or stay home until the sun comes out. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that walking in the rain, especially as spring approaches, won’t melt me into a puddle. While there’s nothing more enjoyable than walking on a mild, sunny day, walking in the rain isn’t as bad as it might seem.

New Year’s Day is long since past, but perhaps Earth Day, coming up on April 22, is an appropriate time to make a different kind of resolution?a resolution not to better ourselves, but to better our planet as well.

Even if we aren’t ready or able to hang up the keys, It’s still possible to reduce our driving. With a little pre-planning, we can make a difference in our habits, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

So let’s dust off our sneakers, and start walking, carpooling, biking, and using public transportation wherever feasible. Every time we take out those keys, let’s think it through: Can I walk? Can I combine this with another errand? Can it wait ?til tomorrow, when I have other appointments?

By trying to adopt a car-free mentality?driving as little as possible?we can do our part to reduce gas consumption and fuel emissions. Better still, we’ll enjoy fresh air, companionship, exercise, and the knowledge that we’re helping to keep our Earth safe and clean for future generations.

For more information on Arlington’s Car-Free Diet, check out the website here.

Other resources include How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life, by Chris Balish (Ten Speed Press, 2006); Cutting Your Car Use: Save Money, Be Healthy, Be Green!, by Randall Howard Ghent and Anna Semlyen (New Society Publishers, 2006); and Car Sick by Lynn Sloman (Green Books, 2006).

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