For many people the idea of living without a car is unthinkable. Breaking down this barrier and encouraging people to reexamine their driving habits was the goal of "Undriving Stories," a panel discussion held on Saturday afternoon at the Seattle Green Festival. The four panelists shared some of the experiences they've had leading a car-free or car-light lifestyle in Seattle, and they provided practical advice and inspiration to people who seek to reduce their own driving.
The session began with Julia Field, who described Sustainable Ballard's Undriver's License program. The Undriver's License is a fun and non-confrontational way to encourage people to think about their driving habits and to come up with creative ways to cut back. Participants make a pledge to take a specific action for 30 days that reduces their driving: for example they might pledge to take public transportation to work two days per week. So far more than 2000 Undriver's Licenses have been issued. According to Field, surveys of participants show that 90 percent follow through on their pledges, with nearly 75 percent reporting that the pledge resulted in a permanent change to their driving habits.
Public transportation is a great alternative to driving, and Carla Saulter, aka. the Bus Chick spoke about being car-free for six years while using the bus as her primary means of transportation. She even used the bus to travel to and from the hospital to give birth to her daughter!
At Worldchanging we're big fans of bicycling and bike-friendly cities. Panelists Cathy Tuttle, founder of the bike advocacy group Spokespeople, and David Mozer of the International Bicycle Fund discussed some of the work they've done to encourage utility cycling. That's a formal way of saying "cycling just to get around" -- rather than as a means of recreation or exercise. Though it seems like a simple task, often the most challenging part of bicycle advocacy is getting citizens to seriously consider cycling as a transportation choice when they're heading to work, school, the store or a friend's house.
My own observation is that in Seattle, at least, bike commuters tend to start out as serious cyclists. One of the goals of Spokespeople and the IBF is to reach out to reluctant cyclists – people who may not have ridden a bike since childhood – and through programs such as Bike Buddies provide the resources and support they need to start riding.
Helping the environment, reducing stress, saving money; these are just a few of the benefits of going car-free. For people who commit to being car-free for a year or more, the City of Seattle even provides incentives such as a $200 voucher to be used to purchase transit passes or bicycling gear, and $100 off of a subscription to Tiny's Organic community supported agriculture program.
These panelists represented several terrific efforts at the individual level that support and encourage people to get out of their cars and onto a bus, a bike or their own two feet. The other major part of the story, however, is building the infrastructure we need to support walkability and bike-ability that's safe, easy and attractive to people of all ages and abilities. Read some of our earlier posts on sustainable transportation policy and infrastructure in these articles from the Worldchanging Seattle archive:
Image: Julia Field's "Undriver's License."
Image source: Sustainable Ballard.