30 Days Towards Sustainability
Day 7: Take the bus, ride a bicycle, or walk.
Today we must ask ourselves: What am I going to do about transportation?
First step. Visit the website of your local mass transit agency, for Oklahoma City folks it is http://gometro.org/ . For Tulsa it is http://www.tulsatransit.org/ .
Next, Find your house location on the map, and then find the places that you go most often in a car, such as work, shopping, entertainment, school, etc. Can you get there from home by bus? If so, then why not take the bus to work or to shop just one day a week? Maybe two? I find that taking the bus is a refreshing change from driving. I am always behind on my reading, and the bus is a great time to catch up on my stack of magazines and newspapers. It's a nice brisk walk to the closest bus stop, and my doctor (and my heart) likes that a lot. My round trip commute costs me 2 gallons of gas, so at $2.50 round trip bus fare, I am saving money.
How about walking or bicycling to one errand a week in your neighborhood? Just one, although you might like it so much you might try doing two or three each week. I am fortunate that I live in a neighborhood where I can walk to shops, restaurants, and entertainment. Walking is also a refreshing change from driving. You get a totally different perspective on your "space" as you walk through your neighborhood. On my days off, I like to wander down NW 23rd towards Classen, maybe get one of those great $2 Vietnamese sandwiches at the "Milk Bottle Building", and then sit in the little park there and eat it and watch the people and cars go by.
Can carpooling work for you?
I found these online resources seeking to match up folks who want to carpool:
http://www.carpoolworld.com/ (Scroll down and click on the link to Oklahoma)
What about bicycles? Oklahoma has many bicycle clubs, and they have online discussion groups where you can learn more about bicycle safety, bicycle commuting, and find safe routes that take you where you want to go. OKC and Tulsa buses are now fitted with bicycle racks, which is a great help for bicycle commuters and shoppers. The Oklahoma Bicycle Coalition seems to be doing some website work, and their old URLs aren't working right now, but they have a page at http://okbike.org/ . If you feel a bicycle isn't for you, how about an adult trike? A web search for "adult trike" turned up an amazing variety of 3 and 4 wheeled pedal vehicles.
It may be that you just can't get to where you need to go from your home by bus. If so, there is a further assignment today, which actually applies to all of us concerned about local sustainability and economic viability. Contact the local transit agency, your mayor, and your city council person and tell them about the lack of bus service in your area (or in general) and ask them when the system is going to be expanded to serve your neighborhood (where you live and/or where you work). Tell them you support a dedicated source of tax revenue to support mass transit. We may also need to support a bond issue.
Oklahoma City needs a commuter rail system, and the most cost effective way to get that is to use the existing rail system in the metro area that centers on Union Station. However, the Crosstown Freeway relocation project continues to creep in that direction, and the rail interchange at Union Station is directly in its path ("something wicked this way comes"). Destroying that interchange is a historic and costly mistake for Oklahoma City, so don't forget to mention that to the mayor and your city councilperson too. The governor needs to hear about that issue, as the Crosstown Freeway project is an Oklahoma Department of Transportation boondoggle (it's costing several TENS of millions of dollars per mile).
Letters, emails, and phone calls are important, but it is equally necessary to increase bus ridership by actually getting on buses, paying fares, and riding them to destinations.
Everyone has to decide what they are going to do about transportation. This question is not going to go away. We are driving our nation right onto the ash heap of history as we put our solitary selves into inefficient motor vehicles and drive them anywhere we want to go. Our addiction to gasoline is the primary reason that with only 6% of the world's population, we use 25% of the world's oil production.
More fuel efficient vehicles would be good, but new vehicles embody resources and energy in their manufacture. I tend to think that the best sustainability choice is to do the best you can to reduce the amount you drive by either taking public transportation, walking, or riding a bicycle. The next best choice would be to reduce the amount of gasoline you use for your present driving schedule by replacing a large, inefficient vehicle with a smaller, more fuel efficient USED vehicle. The only new vehicle purchase that makes sense from the viewpoint of sustainability is a hybrid (and there are some that would debate that choice).
The issue of transportation also has to do with geography. Because of exceptionally poor land use planning, Oklahoma City is spread out all over the place. If you are planning to move, think about buying or renting in an area with good access to public transportation, and where you could actually ride a bicycle or walk for local errands. When gasoline gets above $5/gallon, you will be glad you made the choice to move to an area with better public transit access and with pedestrian amenities. When it gets to $10/gallon, which is probably going to be sooner than most of us think, for most of us living in a neighborhood with mass transit access will be an economic necessity.
The longer we delay honestly looking at these questions, the harder it will be to adapt to the realities of the future.
For a real challenge, visit http://www.carfree.com/ and http://www.worldcarfree.net/ .