When I made the move from a small family farm to an urban university, I thought I’d landed on another planet. I loved the noise, the bustle, and the people, and knew immediately that city life was for me. I also knew that I still needed to find a way to make my city life match my eco-conscious, DIY values.
My step one? Figuring out “green travel”: ways to get around without excessive driving and pollution. According to Scientific American, cars are among the worst culprits in causing man-made climate change, something anyone who’s been stuck in a haze of traffic fumes could guess. It’s also important to think about green travel as holistic, going beyond a commute to work or school, in all aspects of your life. If you’re looking for advice on how to cut down on driving, reduce emissions, and get some healthy exercise to boot, I’m here to share my top three strategies with you!
1. Learn public transit—beyond just schedules.
Public transit is one of the best methods of green travel. Many buses are hybrid or reduced-emission models, you’re sharing the ride instead of traveling by yourself, and electric light rail and subway trains run very efficiently. Unfortunately, public transit can also be intimidating. That’s why I recommend new users pay attention to more than a schedule while learning to ride.
Your first public transit trip should be to an event without time pressure—definitely not work. Tools like Google Maps or transit system websites often have trip planners, allowing you to keep directions with you. Arrange a back-up ride in case of emergencies. Once you’re on the bus, observe! Are there stop announcements to alert you when to exit, for example, or do you need to watch for cross streets? Don’t be afraid to ask questions—transit people, from drivers to riders, were certainly much friendlier than I’d expected.
By starting with low-stakes trips—to a farmer’s market, for example—you’re setting yourself up to succeed. You wouldn’t try highway merging on your first day of Driver’s Ed, so don’t try the equivalent on public transit. You’ll be surprised at how natural it becomes with practice.
2. Make necessary walks instead of walking on the treadmill.
I live in a so-called “bad neighborhood,” where there’s higher-than-average crime and poverty. I also live in Minnesota, where winters are brutally cold and summers are brutally hot. I still hold that walking to necessary places—instead of only walking on a treadmill—is easier than our car-centric society would have you believe!
Wear appropriate clothes, shoes, and weather-related items like sunscreen, and bring a grocery cart or backpack so you can carry items effectively. Be sure to plan a walk that’s appropriate for your fitness level—pushing yourself might be okay at the gym, but for everyday travel, it’s important to pick a sustainable destination. I built up to walking 2-3 miles a day for work, errands, and recreation in combination with public transit. The healthy exercise feels fantastic and it’s nice to think of how many miles of driving my pedestrian habit has saved me.
As for staying safe in an “unsafe” area, the most important thing is to stay alert! Don’t wear headphones, walk with someone else if you can, and be aware of detours you can take if you see something you don’t like up ahead. I also recommend being aware of the time and day of the week—I avoid walking on Friday evenings when there might be more drunken passerby, for example.
3. Carpool for more than just commutes.
“Carpool” has become synonymous with rush hour commutes, but I think it’s underrated as an everyday tool for errands. I often coordinate shopping trips with friends when buying heavy items I can’t take on public transit—even better if you have like-minded neighbors! Garden soil and seedlings, backyard chicken supplies, bulk food buys, and more could all be reasons to coordinate trips to reduce emissions and gas costs.
Carpooling is also a good way to take long, gas-guzzling trips out of the city to expos, rodeos, and other special events. Split costs and share good times with friends while knowing you’re participating in green travel at its best!
Green travel is a huge part of a sustainable life, and it looks different in the city than it does in a small town. Now that I’ve experienced both, I’m glad I could share my strategies with you!
Bio text: Maggie Tiede made the move from small-town Minnesota to the Twin Cities in 2014 in order to attend college. She majors in public health at Hamline University and will graduate in December; in addition to being a student, she works as a writing tutor, public health researcher, and freelance writer. Find her blog on life, health, writing, and reading at www.maggietiede.com.
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