Car Free Day
By: Suzanne Elston
The celebration of Car Free Day on September 22, couldn't have come at a more opportune time. With gas prices at the pumps still well over a dollar a litre, Canadians are actually beginning to look at ways to cut down on gas consumption.
In anticipation of the event, last week Brian and I staged our very own "No Car Day". We dusted off the old bike chariot that Sarah used to ride around in as a baby, and hooked it up to Brian's bike. Shopping list in hand, we set out on our bikes to prove that you can function without a car – even when you live in the country.
The trip to our nearest grocery store is only about 4 km (2.5 miles) away, but when you factor in stop signs, traffic lights and the time that it takes to find a parking space, the trip usually takes about ten minutes by car (or twenty minutes round trip). The bike trip took twice as long, about twenty minutes each way, which was quite remarkable when you consider that on the trip back we were hauling an entire week's worth of groceries. (Okay, Brian was doing the hauling, while I was enjoying the scenery!)
Since I would ordinarily take our fuel-efficient Golf when I'm driving around doing errands, the money saved on gas was minimal, but we did learn a whole lot in the process. First of all, as a society we immediately run to the store when we need something because, thanks to the family car, it generally only takes a few minutes to get there. If you have to take your bike, it means planning head or doing without until you can make the trip. What this also means is that by stopping to think before we buy, we can actually save money by reducing unnecessary purchases.
Secondly, 40 minutes represents a healthy amount of moderate exercise. Given that almost half of Canadian adults are overweight, a little pumping of the pedals is an excellent form of exercise for virtually everyone. As someone with significantly arthritic knees, I can no longer take the brisk walks that used to help keep me in shape. Bike riding, on the other hand, provides a similar cardio workout to walking and actually strengthens my knees.
In light of a recently released study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), being able to do an activity that both strengthens my knees and helps control my weight, is a very good thing. According to the study, the heavier we are, the more likely we are to suffer from osteoarthritis, which is a key diagnosis in joint replacement therapy. In 2003-2004, this translated into 9 out of 10 patients who had knee replacements, and 7 out of 10 patients who had a hip replaced.
Thirdly, incorporating exercise into your daily errands can eliminate another drive – the one that many of us take to the gym. I am frequently amazed at the number of vehicles (most of them SUVs and pick-ups) that crowd the parking lot at our local fitness club. At the very least, walking or biking to the gym would cut workout times in half (who needs to walk on the treadmill to warm up when you've already put in the distance getting there?) At the very best, routinely using pedal or foot power to get around could eventually eliminate the need for costly fitness club memberships altogether.
Encouraged by our grocery shopping success, I decided try biking to my office one day a week. Ten minutes to work, ten minutes back, and I even took the time to cycle home at lunch. The end result was that without adding any time to my day, I managed to squeeze in 40 minutes of good cardiovascular exercise.
As I was breezing home on my bike yesterday, I noticed something else, too. The houses and gardens that are usually framed by my windshield came into full view. Traveling at the speed of pedal, I discovered a new found appreciation for the beauty of my own neighborhood.
Car Free Day is an annual event celebrated by 100 million people on every continent and supported by the European Union, the United Nations, the Government of Canada and the leaders of 1500 cities around the world.
To read the Canadian Institute for Health Information report on the links between obesity, osteoarthritis and joint replacement, go to Canadian Institute for Health Information
How safe a rider are you? To find out, take The Canada Safety Council's bike safety quiz.
Edmunds.com has a wealth of information about cars including a great guide to buying fuel-efficient vehicles and improving gas consumption with your existing car.