Why Curb Your Car Month Matters
So here I am in a state known by its cars asking you to drive less. The nerve I have,right? Well, there are plenty of reasonsto celebrate Curb Your Car Month (more info at www.getdowntown.org) whether you are in Ann Arbor or anywhereelse for that matter.
But I think we all know those reasons, right? We know driving less helps theenvironment. We know driving less is better for our health. We know thatdriving less saves us money. We know driving less will make us less stressed. We know it, we know it, we know it.
So why don’t we change?
This is one of the biggest challenges I face at the getDowntown Program. Everyone knows they should be driving less, but not enough people make the choice to change theirbehavior. I see both individual and regional reasons why we still drive so much.
On an individual level, people simply want to do what ismost convenient for them. And rolling out of bed, jumping in your car, parking, and stepping into your office is convenient. And I think many of us are taught to believethat our lives should be as convenient as possible. We don’t have time to figure out a busschedule. We don’t have time to spend anextra 30 minutes walking to work. Iwould go as far as to say that we are too lazy, but I know that is not thecase. We all do what works best for us,and for most of us, that means driving.
People are also still making the decision to live far awayfrom where they work. I have heard many employees tell me that they choose to live out in the country and drive towork. They want to live out in thecountry because it’s pretty, but that’s not where the jobs are. So they live in Chelseaor Dexter or Grass Lake or wherever and drive to Ann Arbor. And trust me, it’s not always because housing is not affordable in Ann Arbor. My husband and I bought a house here. Granted, it’s a small house, but it allows usto only have one car and bike, walk, or bus to work. Now, I know that there is an affordablehousing issue, I just don’t think that’s the main reason people are choosingnot to live here.
But I believe there are also larger regional (and societal) reasons behind why we don’t change. As a region, Washtenaw County has not developeda regional funding mechanism for a transportation system that includes somesort of rail, express buses, county-wide bike lanes, etc. I can’t tell you how many times people haveasked me why we don’t have an express bus from Ypsi to Ann Arbor or why there isn’t a bus from Saline. And the answer is always that wejust don’t have the plan and the money in place to make it happen. But I don’t think that’s a good enoughanswer. We have to do better, because I am getting sick of telling people that we don’t have the money to create a wayto get people around without their cars.
As long as we continue to expand roads instead of build bikelanes. As long as we think about cuttingbus service instead of creating better service. As long as we build subdivisions out in the middle of nowhere, we are sending the message that cars and driving matters more than anything else. If we don’t create a region that supports public transportation in all forms, people are not going to be as interested in using it.
At the same time, I have been amazed at all of the wonderfulpeople who have signed on as Curb Your Car Month Ambassadors for May. For the most part, these are young,college-educated workers who have made the conscious decision to use sustainable transportation.
There’s Joe over at JJR,who bikes to work and takes his 2 and 4 year old kids on rides in their bike trailer.
There’s Jeff, a middle schoolteacher, who is recently car free.
There’s Dunrie from Pure Visibility, who moved to a house that was closeenough so she could walk to work.
Checkout all of the wonderful Curb Your Car Ambassadors (all 30+ of them!) byclicking here: http://www.getdowntown.org/programs/commuter/2008_Ambassadors.html
These are the kind of people we need inAnn Arbor. I believe we could attract more of them if weput more effort into funding a regional transportation system. That’s what these knowledge workers want. So let’s build it.