Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No Impact Week: Day 3 - Transportation

This week I'm experimenting with No Impact Week, exploring some of my past successes at decreasing my carbon footprint and generating even better ideas for the future. My goal is to challenge myself to redo the week later this year when it will have the greatest impact on my day-to-day life. Click here for a review of Day 1 - Consumption and Day 2 - Trash.


Day 3 - Transportation

If ever I need a reminder of how different my day-to-day life is compared to the average North American, I need look no further than my transportation habits. What for many is the toughest part of the No Impact Week challenge is for me possibly the easiest. My home is situated in a very "livable" neighbourhood: I'm steps away from the streetcar (in a designated right-of-way lane, separate from vehicle traffic) and two buses that deliver me to the subway in less than ten minutes. Around the corner is a bakery and two mom-and-pop grocery stores. On Monday I walked to the library, yesterday I walked to the post office. There are plenty of restaurants and caf├ęs, a small hardware store, a printing/photocopy shop, banks, a community centre (including an outdoor pool and two ice rinks), a big park, and lots of office and storefront space for rent, should I decide to start my own business. For everything else, there's a large commercial area and mall about 15 minutes away by bus. I don't really have any excuses for driving my car anywhere within city limits.

The sticking point for me are trips just beyond city limits. Take Monday evenings, for example, when I spend an hour and a half venting a week's worth of stress on a traditional Japanese drum during my taiko class. The studio is located 23 km from my home in Markham, one of Toronto's suburbs. I just checked the TTC's trip planner, and the three suggested routes range between 75 and 90 minutes in duration. In other words, getting there and back takes double the amount of time I spend drumming! So I drive. As for occasional trips that take me even farther, like a housewarming party in Burlington, a family dinner in Richmond Hill, or a summer BBQ in Brampton, again I drive, ideally carpooling with others, and take consolation in the fact that my car is fuel efficient, that I keep it tuned up, and that I don't drive aggressively. I'm also thankful for the tire pressure gauge my brother gifted me a few years ago - it helps me save even more gas because it reminds me to keep my tires at their optimal pressure.

Considering my day-to-day commuting needs don't involve my car, I can live with the fact that I drive occasionally, especially because I almost never drive alone or for only one purpose, and frequently give people rides, either to their home if it's on the way, or to a public transit stop. For the foreseeable future, I won't be selling my car and resorting to a car sharing program for these occasional trips - though this is my goal for the long term! The question remains: how can I reduce my carbon footprint when it comes to transportation if I keep the car, even though I use it infrequently? The answer: commit to biking instead of taking transit. Even hybrid buses pollute, and the electricity used to power streetcars is still partially derived from coal plants (until the end of 2014, when coal-fired power generation will be completely eliminated in Ontario). I already own a bike and just need to outfit it with a pannier or two to carry groceries. Will this be the year I become a "left-wing pinko that rides a bike"?


Take Action

Right after the section on transportation in No Impact Week's How-To Guide comes a page about participating in national (American) campaigns in support of safe food, clean water, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. I'm proud to be very involved in creating a healthy community through volunteer work with Live Green Toronto, Food Forward, Young Urban Farmers CSA, Evergreen, The Sierra Club, and Planet in Focus, among others. You don't have to look hard to find a way to contribute!

Photo credits: no parking; bike lane.

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