Suburbs were designed with cars in mind. Roads, parking lots, driveways, and 2-car+ garages on homes all prioritize cars over people. Living car-free seems like only something someone living in a city with a great transit system (and probably no kids) can do. But what if we shifted our mindset from going completely car-less to simply using a car less?
Reducing the personal transportation bit of our carbon footprint can be tricky. Reducing air travel may be easier, but reducing our driving? Especially in the suburbs? It seems impossible, but with a little time and planning we can reduce our reliance on our cars.
Here are some options for driving less to build into your daily, monthly, and seasonal plans (because Canada is cold for many, many, many months). Of course, these options all come with caveats. There are factors such as able-bodied privilege, time, safe neighbourhoods, even the weather to consider. Not all areas have the same access to options, so choose what works for you!
Drive Less Overall
Plan your commute and errands to line up wherever possible for fewer trips overall, or choose one day a week for your shopping if possible.
Join (or better yet, start!) a carpool for work, school runs, even weekend errands. Carpooling builds personal connections, while saving on time and money spent on gas, parking, and maintenance.
Look into car sharing with friends and neighbours, are services like ZipCar for those times when you really can’t carry it all or for places that are not easily accessible by bike or transit.
Challenge yourself to a 1 Mile Challenge. Draw a 1 mile (or more) radius around your house to see what parks and services are in the area and commit to exclusively walking to those places.
Walk to school! Our circumstances and location allow us to walk every day, and we do, rain or shine. My kids don’t necessarily love it, but they know this is the routine. I am grateful for the fresh air twice a day despite the complaining!
Walk around your block. Just get out there and walk for no reason to get to know your area in a different way. Notice your neighbour’s gardens and the colours of their front doors. Listen to the birds. Getting your body moving improves fitness and decreases stress. It is ten minutes well spent and might just prompt you to try walking to more places.
Ride Your Bike
Do you have a bike sitting in your garage? Dust it off and get it tuned up for spring! No bike? Cruise for one secondhand at bike shops or online.
Refresh your skills and build your confidence by taking a few leisure rides around your area. Find your local cycling club or association and check out their website for recommended routes and safety tips. Many also have group rides with sharing sessions on local issues.
Your local municipality may have a list of cycling routes and education resources. York Region (my local area) has a comprehensive guide to safety, routes, and other education on their website including printable maps and videos. Check your town’s website for info!
Always obey traffic and helmet laws for your own safety and to set an example for drivers and other cyclists.
It might seem strange to take the bus or train when you have a private car, but try it once a week or month to get to know your system – it might be better than you think for where you need to go! Taking the GO Train into Toronto is much faster for us than driving, and is cheaper than paying for parking downtown.
Increased ridership shows your municipality that people value the existing infrastructure. Be sure to contact your rep to ask that they prioritize mass transit in their operating budget in the future to improve the system for everyone.
Riding the bus, streetcar, or train frees up your attention to other things you couldn’t do if you were driving, like knit, read a book, scroll social media, contact your elected officials, or take a nap. You will see your town and the people who live there in a new light.
Driving less (or not at all, like this Brampton Ontario family) is an interesting exercise in examining your habits and figuring out what you really need. With a little planning, using your private car less is possible. Challenge the notion that not driving takes longer – you might be pleasantly surprised!
So what do you think?
Is it possible for you to drive a little less where you live?
Could you go car-free?