Do you like your commute to work? Have you ever questioned it?
Every day, I now spend about 1.5 hours (or more) in the car to get to work and back. Without traffic, the journey should take about half an hour each way, but traffic in the morning and evening easily adds another 15 to 20 minutes. It doesn’t sound much but it definitely feels like a long time when I sit in traffic. It feels like a waste of time. I could be food shopping, cleaning the house, reading a book, going for a run, or even writing a blog post. But instead, I’m stuck in traffic. Moving my foot between the clutch and brake is the only exercise I get (the other day it even gave me a cramp).
Just like me, most people sit in their car on their own. Only a few people are cycling. I wish it was the other way around. Instead of idling engines and smelly fumes, I wish I could hear, and was emerged in, the hustle and bustle of a street full of life, with people using buses, cycling or walking to their destinations. I would love to take a bus to work to read a book on the way or just look out the window, but there is no option. Using public transport would take me at least 1.5 hours each way.
For most people, having a car means being independent and free, but the more we use cars, the less free we become. Cars, when standing, take up 7.5 times the spaces used by a person on a bicycle or bus. A single person driving thirty miles per hour in a car takes up 20 times as much space as someone on a bus travelling the same speed.
Just as the mode of transport we choose shapes our towns and cities, so it shapes our lives. The more time people spend commuting, the less likely they are to see friends and to be socially active. The longer people commute by car, the less happy they are. I experience both. In the evening, I can’t get home in time to go to yoga or a gym class as I get stuck in traffic. If I had the chance to take a bus, I would at least walk to the bus stop, or even cycle parts of my way, killing two birds with one stone. So it’s not surprising that cyclists are the happiest people on the road.
The way we live is strongly influenced by the design of the towns and cities around us. In the UK, the best example of this is probably housing estates. A study has found that young people are increasingly dependent on cars as modern housing estates have no shops, no pubs, no schools, no jobs, no doctor and no public transport connections. The only option to get in and out is by car. Children growing up in places like this will assume that taking the car everywhere is “normal”.
I would like to finish this post with a quote from the book Happy City: “[T]he dispersed city, is the most expensive, resource-intense, land-gobbling, polluting way of living ever built.” An important step to moving away from this and towards creating green, sustainable and happy cities will be to rethink the way we live and travel. I hope to see and be able to live this change. And maybe I will be able to say to my children that there used to be many more cars on the roads.