Recently a new freeway, the Hunter Expressway (M15), opened in Newcastle. Our local ABC radio station seemed to be obsessed by the advantages for the local community. I didn’t hear any reflections about the role of the car in our society or questioning if increasing car travel augurs well for our environmental future.
Besides reminding me of the saying we used in the Transition Streets Challenge workbook:
Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt
it made me reflect on our relationship with the car.
Last week I had a conversation with a first year uni student. He asked me how I found parking at uni. It seemed he assumed that, as a lecturer, I would drive to work. When I said a walked or caught a bus, he asked, “What do you do when it rains?” It was like walking or catching a bus in the rain was inconceivable. I don’t know how often he has caught public transport, but I suspect there are many young Australian adults who rarely use any form of transport besides a car (or a plane for longer distances). I wonder how many people, once they get their drivers licence and buy (or are given) a car, essentially use no other form of transport?
In my final year of high school (over 30 years ago) only a handful of students drove to school. Now, when I look at my daughter’s high school, it seems driving to school is very common for students old enough to drive (even for people within easy walking distance).
When we moved to our current address, I often did drive to uni. I thought it was too far to walk. It wasn’t until my brother lived with us for a while, and he tried walking to uni, that I considered it as a possibility. It is only a bit over 3.5 kms so it is quite reasonable to walk. It didn’t become a habit for me, however, until I took part in the program where we had to do 10,000 steps every day for three months. By walking to and from work, I was able to do my steps, get some exercise and have a nice transition between work and home. I had become aware of the possibility of walking, but needed something to help it become a habit.
For many people it is simply too convenient to hop into a car to seriously consider any alternatives. I have come to believe that we not only need to make alternative forms of transport more appealing, but we also need to explore ways of making car travel less convenient. We need something that shakes our love affair with the car and encourages us to create new habits.
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