Transportation in 3 Numbers:
1. CLIMATE CHANGE: Transportation accounts for more than 2/3 of US oil consumption, and is responsible for more than 1/4 of US CO2 emissions, second only to electricity generation (SOURCE)
2. FOR PERSONAL CONSUMPTION: Of those emissions, almost 2/3 come from “Light-duty vehicles” – i.e. personal cars, trucks, and SUV’s used just for getting around (SOURCE).
3. AND ALL FOR NOTHING: Forty percent of trips taken in cars are for distances of less than 3 miles (SOURCE).
If you could design cities and transportation networks that didn’t need so many cars, you could make a huge dent in global GHG emissions. Moreover, because it is both a social and an ecological problem, changes to our transportation system can have a huge impact on both our own quality of life and on that of future generations. Fortunately, alternative transportation movements are growing all over the world.
One action which has taken over the world is the idea of car-free days, something started to conserve gasoline during the oil-shocks of the ’70′s. In Brussels today, once a year the entire city center is closed to car traffic and opened to all kinds of non-motorized transport. Thousands of people descend on the city and it’s a huge party, with street artists and concerts and neighbors barbecuing in the streets and playing with their children. In Guadalajara Mexico, they do the same – but rather than once a year, they do it every Sunday. In Bogota Colombia as well. They turn their cities into parks and invite people to rediscover the joys of coasting along on a bike.
Local cycling organizations then take the initiative from those events and run with it. In Guadalajara, the city’s new urban mobility plan includes 350km of bike lanes thanks to cycling activists who paint their own bike lanes where they think they’re needed and slap “Wiki-multas” on cars who disrupt or endanger the flow of cyclists through the cities.
In San Jose Costa Rica, the Chepe Cletas lead free weekly walking tours of the downtown to show local residents that their city does, indeed, have beauty and history – and that if they get out of their cars they can enjoy it. In 2011, on the international Moving Planet day organized by 350.org, the Chepe Cletas even got the Mayor of San Jose to publicly agree to building the city’s first bike lane.
Much of the inspiration for these movements comes from the colder climes of northern Europe. Everywhere we travel we hear about Amsterdamize and Copenhagen Cycle-Chic – and if there are models for what a city with sustainable transportation is like, it is in the Netherlands and Denmark. We even heard from the folks at Chepe Cletas that Copenhagen has started having problems with too many bikes parked downtown. They were laughing as they related the story, on the eve of their first city-wide bike ride.
“Those are the good kinds of problems,” they said. “We can’t wait to have those kinds of problems.” Well, in all likelihood it’s just a matter of time…
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