How to green your commute: Walking, biking and telecommuting
Traffic driving you crazy? Let MNN get you on track to a more astute commute.
Tue, Dec 30 2008 at 1:50 PM
TRAINING WHEELS: These tips will get you in the habit of leaving behind the car keys. (Photo: wvs/Flickr)
Altering commute patterns can decrease the U.S. transportation sector's impact on global climate change. Roads dominated by vehicles can be reclaimed and put to better uses. Air quality can improve and a sense of community cohesion can be restored, giving people more reason to walk in their neighborhoods. Here are three more helpful tips.
3) and 4) Motivate a new generation to walk and bike. Start a walking trend in your neighborhood. Map out and organize to pick up local children on a walk to school. Get them used to the idea of commuting with their legs while they're young. As for bikes, they can be a great connector between transportation modes, especially for distances less than a mile. Check if your town or city allows bikes on buses. Otherwise, get a foldable bike that you can bring anywhere. Learn the rules of the road. Stay safe by wearing a helmet and lights so drivers can see you.
Fewer people are walking these days than they once did, and only 25 percent of children in the country still bike or walk to school. Walking and biking are the healthiest and most environmentally sustainable ways of getting around. Mopeds and other motorized, two-wheeled bikes are better than cars, but nothing beats traditional walking and biking. Either produces zero emissions compared with cars (339g/km), diesel trains (98g/km), underground metros (64g/km) or single-decker buses (66g/1m). Modern lifestyles are often sedentary, so a combined bus trip with a short walk can increase physical activity without extra effort.
Walkers and bikers take up less road space than cars and trucks. Yet a disproportionate amount of space is used to accommodate vehicle traffic. Studies suggest that fumes from motor vehicles can trigger inflammation and hardening of blood vessels that increases the risk of heart disease. Living within 200 meters of a major road has been linked with asthma, coughing and airway irritation. We'd be better served by supporting livable community designs that lead to a healthy environment.
Many neighborhoods in North America are not conducive to walking. Sidewalks don't exist and road designs support vehicle speeds that are dangerously high, making walking unsafe and uncomfortable. Neighborhoods that do have the infrastructure for walking may just need a little encouragement. The walking school bus is an innovative strategy for getting kids walking again. It involves an adult picking up and chaperoning a group of children on a walk to school.
Commute trips that are less than one mile can easily be done by walking or biking. Longer journeys can combine walking and biking with other modes. In some places, such as Portland, Ore., and Boulder, Colo., buses are equipped with bike racks. Bike parking can also be found at rail stations in Berkeley, Calif., and in Brooklyn, N.Y. Chicago even has a comfort station with showers for bicyclists. A new Bicycle Commuter Bill that was hidden in the bank bailout now allows employers to deduct up to $20 a month per participating employee from their own taxable income for providing amenities that support bicycling.
If there's no place to safely park your bike at work or at a bus stop, folding bikes are a good alternative to big regular bikes. They can range in weight from 24 to 35 pounds and cost anywhere from $300 to $1,800. The Montague and DaHon are full-size folders, while Birdy and Brompton are small-wheeled versions. These bikes can easily be stored under a desk in an office, taken on an elevator, and carried on a bus or train.
Good biking etiquette involves following the same rules of the road that apply to cars. Stop at traffic lights and use arm signals to indicate left and right turns. Take safety precautions while sharing the road. Wear a helmet and use lights to stay visible at night. It'll save your life or prevent severe brain injury.
5) Work from home. "Stretch commuters" travel long distances to reach work, resulting in large carbon footprints. Instead, use online tools such as Google Applications and Skype to connect with co-workers remotely. Working from home even just one day a week can make a difference in your carbon dioxide output.
Long-distance commute trips by car, plane or other emission-heavy travel modes can be offset by working from home. Stretch commuters, traveling more than 50 miles in one direction, characterizes 3.3 million Americans — many of whom start their commutes in rural areas. New technology is making it easier to interact with co-workers remotely and get assignments completed. Bloated carbon footprints could be better managed by using technologies that make working from home easier. Yet face-to-face contact still helps to assure that a business negotiation is done in good faith.
Online video and voice conferencing is especially practical in the globalized economy, where transactions and decisions are often made oceans apart on different continents. What was once stored on individual computers is now saved on the Internet to facilitate information sharing.
Google applications are a good place to start a collaborative project remotely. Google Docs lets users edit text in real time from anywhere. Access to the file can be shared — watch text transform before your eyes as someone edits from another computer in another city. Google also allows sharing of photos, videos and calendars among its many features. Users of Gmail can also access Gchat, which gives people a way to instantly contact each other without stepping away from the computer (or now the iPhone and BlackBerry).
Skype is a popular program for making free international calls. It lets you connect to other Skype users through the Internet, but there is a fee if you want to call a landline. Also, you'll need to have a webcam to use the video function for either Google or Skype. Some computers, such as many Macs, come with a webcam already integrated into the hardware.
In this age of hyperaccessibility, there are lots of ways to share information without leaving your house. Twitter lets members post up-to-the-minute status reports to a wide network of people. Delicious allows users to bookmark and share Web pages using tags. These are the sorts of programs that have made business trips by plane or car less efficient. Rather than spending time en route to a job site, teleworkers can use the saved travel time more productively.
How do you do it?
Do you live in a low-density community where your personal automobile is the only option to get around? Have you tried forming a carpool? Do you telecommute, or are you a "stretch commuter?" Either way, we'd love to hear how you've been trying to green your commute. There are other readers who could benefit from your wisdom.