Traffic sucks. We’ve all had dreadful experiences with it, whether it be holding in your bladder crawling at 30 km/hr with no On-Route in site, being stuck on the 401 when your flight has already left Pearson, or having to listen to Toronto blow a 4-1 lead to Boston in the 2013 playoffs through a half broken car radio. Nobody enjoys traffic, but nevertheless it’s something that we’ve become complacent with, something that we’ve come to expect, and accept, in our daily routines.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m not suggesting that we adopt Elon Musk’s vision to whisk individual cars at 200 km/hr through tunnels underneath our cities. Privatizing high speed automobile travel isn’t the answer. I’m talking about sustainable and realistic changes that you can make in your everyday lifestyle, today.
This past summer, a family member of mine had been complaining about the noticeably worse traffic that Vancouver had been experiencing. They joked that as an intern at an engineering firm that specialized in infrastructure and transportation, it was my job to fix the city’s traffic problems. I quipped back that as an active person living near numerous transportation stops, they should start to bike or bus around more to alleviate traffic.
They didn’t like that idea.
We have become so entrenched in the automobile culture, that the thought of using other modes of transportation never even crosses our minds. Most people are able to recognize the benefits of public transit, biking, and walking, but for various reasons, when they leave the house to drive to the local grocery store to pick up dinner, they grab the car keys and go. There’s a negative connotation against these other modes of transportation, and we need to break out of our usual habits if we truly want our cities to thrive and develop beyond their potential.
At Queen’s, it’s easy. Most of the students live within a 10 minutes walk to campus, Metro, and downtown. Even for those that do have a car here, the majority of their trips are completed by walking and biking. Why drive when there are more convenient, and cost-friendly alternatives?
This is a message that city planners have been pushing, especially over the past decade, to residents. Some cities have amazing public transit and biking infrastructure, while others are still extremely lacking and solely rely on freeways to move people from A to B. Even for cities with the proper infrastructure in place, it can still be extremely hard to convince people to change their daily transportation habits.
I began biking to work almost every day this summer, and I’ve outlined some of the benefits that I experienced from it. These points are less intended to change your habits in Kingston, as generally students do a great job of only driving when needed. Rather, they’re intended to remind you when you’re home that there are other alternatives out there.
One of the main benefits of active transportation is that it is extremely environmentally friendly. Walking or biking to work creates no greenhouse gasses, and is a huge step in helping to improve the air quality within our cities. While the numbers can vary, the average car produces roughly 255 g/km of carbon dioxide. My office was 6 km away last summer. If I would have driven 5 days a week to work, for 16 weeks, I would have produced 245 kg of carbon dioxide emissions. While that number may not seem massive, every contribution does count and make a difference.
When I was a kid, I really wanted my own car. Eventually, reality hit and I realized just how expensive they are. I was fortunate enough this summer to get my bike passed down to me, but many people to have to pay for them. While some bikes can put you over $3,000, there are numerous used options available online for a fraction of that price. Other than a tune up, I had no associated costs with my bike. If I would have been driving to work, I would have had to been paying for gas, insurance, ridiculous parking rates downtown, and other potential maintenance costs. Even purchasing a monthly bus pass would have been over $400 for 4 months, which was way more expensive than biking.
Biking around everywhere is also great because it forces you to always be active on a regular basis. While for most students this isn’t an issue, it’s a severe problem in automobile focussed areas. It’s not a coincidence that life expectancy rates are higher, and that the risk of health issues are lower, in many European countries than they are in North America. Studies in Cambridge have even show that every hour you cycle can add close to an hour to your expected life!
One of the most practical benefits that I noticed with cycling was that it actually reduced my time spend commuting daily. On a good day, I would get to my office in 20 minutes if I got all of the green lights. A bad day was 25. Bussing, including walking to the bus stop and then walking from the bus to my office, took roughly 40 minutes. According to Google, driving was normally the fastest option, but I can’t even remember the amount of times that I would cycle past cars that had been stuck on the bridge in standstill traffic. On top of that, even if I would have alleviated the bridge traffic while driving, finding parking downtown would have been a nightmare.
Not every aspect of biking to work was great. The rain sucked a lot, and it rains a lot in Vancouver in May. I also couldn’t bike wearing my work clothes, but I began to leave some stuff at work which made it easier. The freedom and efficiency of biking outweighed any downsides associated with it.
In the end of the day, the decision for most people to take active transportation comes down to convenience. If it’s not cheaper or faster than taking a car, they won’t do it. It’s up to us to show others the rest of the benefits, and also up to our city planners to implement more sustainable infrastructure to make these alternative modes more attractive.
Forgetting everything that I’ve said for a moment, cars are awesome and I still love to drive. I don’t think that it’s practical to expect that we can replace every car trip with bussing, biking, or walking. Biking an hour with a hockey bag isn’t the future that I want my kids to live in. Active transportation isn’t for everyone, as some people either live in extremely remote areas, or aren’t physically able to utilize it.
However, we need to limit our automobile trips to situations where we actually need to drive. Even if you don’t care about the environmental, economic, health, or time benefits that active transportation can bring to you, I know that you care about our traffic and congestion issues, so remember that they won’t get any better by us building more roads and driving more.