There's been much speculation of late that we may have finally reached "peak car." From kids waiting longer before they learn to drive to an increase in the number of people working from home, statistics suggest that the dominance of the car is on the wane.
True, the resurgence of the electric car offers huge benefits in terms of reduced emissions. But what if we could oust the car entirely from its central place in our culture?
Below are some suggestions on where to start.
Reduce your dependence
Most of us are nowhere near ready to go cold turkey, but there are plenty of ways that we can cut back on our car use. From working from home even one day a week to biking, walking, car pooling, or just remembering to combine your errands. Even ditching the big box stores in favor of online retail would help reduce the miles driven for shopping each year. And remember, this is not just about your personal footprint — each time you use an alternative, you start building a different culture with different priorities.
Think about access, not ownership
Cars are expensive things to buy and maintain. Yet for many people living in the city, they don't need to drive one every day. That's where car sharing services like Zipcar come in, allowing access to modern, well maintained cars only when you need them. Because you pay according to your usage, it presents a more realistic picture of how much car use really costs — and thus incentivizes using alternatives where possible. (Under the traditional ownership model, most of your costs are paid upfront in terms of purchase price, ownership and maintenance — meaning the cost of actually driving the thing is relatively small per mile.)
Cut back to one?
Many of us live in two-car households, but how many of us really need to? Cutting back to one car for the family may be perfectly feasible for many city-dwellers. Car-share clubs like the ones described above can be a great option for second car access only when you need it, or you might even consider sharing access to a car with your neighbor.
Use technology wisely
Among the reasons given for a reduction in driving among the young, Internet use and mobile phones are often cited as a new means to attain independence and stay in contact with peers. Yet these technologies can do so much more than just help us keep in touch, and from apps to locate the safest bike routes to peer-to-peer car sharing services, we're only beginning to scratch the surface of what computing can do to help kick car culture.
Accommodate the car-less
You might not be going entirely car-free, but many of us know people who can't, won't or don't have access to a car. From arranging social gatherings in convenient-to-reach locations to offering the occasional ride, being supportive and accommodating of the car-less among us can be a great way to create a broader cultural shift. And if your kids don't want to learn to drive just yet, don't push them. Just make sure they have access to a bike, instead of running them around all the time!
Choose where you live carefully
Last year, my wife and I moved from our idyllic spot in the country to the heart of Durham, N.C. And we've never looked back. True, having neighbors you can actually see took a little bit of getting used to. But between walking to the store and having so many amenities close at hand, we've never looked back. As you make choices about where you want to live, keep in mind that this is one of the most significant factors in shaping your lifestyle — often for years to come. Check out Walk Score as a tool for shaping those decisions.
Support density and sane urban design
It should be obvious, yet it never fails to amaze me how much of our car use is the result of previous planning decisions to promote the use of the car. A lack of bike and pedestrian infrastructure; woefully inadequate transit options; and ugly shopping centers built with parking lots in the middle, these all make us more likely to hop in the car and, consequently, they increase the likelihood that more of the same will be built in the future. So alongside our lifestyle choices, we must also become vocal advocates for better, more forward-thinking urban planning. And if the task feels too daunting, just take a look at the story of how Amsterdam has evolved in the video below. It wasn't always a cyclist's paradise.
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