Drive Less Challenge

When I was a kid, I loved cycling over the hill to buy milk at the supermarket and bring it back in a basket. When I read Jane Jacobs as a in college it articulated what I had felt as a kid about the value of neighborhoods scaled for people, where you can stroll and chat with your neighbors, with “third places” where people recognize each other. So I sought out that experience. When I lived in Boston, I loved living walking distance from the supermarket, coffeeshops, hardware store and gym.

In recent years, as information about global warming and limits to the oil supply have become mainstream, the ability to organize everyday life for less driving has become not just a preference, but a necessity to bring energy use to levels that can be sustained. When I moved to California, I deliberately sought somewhere to live that was close to daily errands and train, where I didn’t need to car commute to work. Then, I challenged myself. What would it take to drive less? Slowly, I built up a repertoire of skills. I got bike baskets and can use a bike for most errands. I learned how to take a bicycle onto the caltrain, for practical access to many places in San Francisco and the Peninsula. I got better gear for biking in the rain (but still choose to drive when it’s pouring out).

I joined the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens’ Committee to think globally and act locally. In California, driving is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. So the biggest opportunity for transformation is to drive less. Now, there are some things that just aren’t practical to do without a car. Getting from Menlo Park to the East Bay. Buying furniture or appliances. But there are plenty of trips that are practical and good without a car. It just takes a little bit of learning and incentive to get over the hump and do it.

So I’m putting together the Drive Less Challenge This is a an opportunity to use some neighborhood positive social pressure to help people get over the inertia of daily life and take a few practical actions to do less driving alone. The challenge starts on Earth Day, April 22 and runs for a week. We’re working with local businesses, schools, and neighborhood groups to get the word out. The scale is Menlo Park this year, to make it easy to manage with an all-volunteer team. (If you’re not in Menlo Park you can still participate; your prizes will be recognition and the knowledge that you’re taking a step toward sustainability). There plenty of systemic changes that would make it easier to drive less, but most people have “low hanging fruit” opportunities to make small tweaks in daily life that would add up to meaningful change, now and already. It’s time to challenge ourselves and challenge our neighbors.

I’m coordinating the project with awesome team of Menlo Park volunteers, with minimal budget, weekends and evening time. I’m still doing some final tweaks on the “gameplay” and we’re busy getting the word out. If you’re interested and have questions and suggestions, drop a note in the comments or hail me as alevin on Twitter.

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