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Egan’s Wager: The First 1000k

April 30, 2011

Due to an especially busy couple of weeks, this post is coming rather later than it should. And, sadly, I’m reporting on the first 1000k in the car, not on the bike. A quick look at the bar down the right side of the page will tell you I’m getting creamed. The only way I might be able to put up a fight is to ride out to Vancouver, taking both sets of car keys with me.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not as though we’re heavy car drivers or consumers. We don’t commute on a daily basis, we don’t gratuitously tack on long drives or make excessive trips. With the weather warming, the kids have been cycling to work, and I’ve been doing the same. But it took us only five and a half weeks to put 1000k on the car. Ouch! While that works out to less than 12000k a year, expecting to be able to put an additional 8 or 9000k on the bikes between now and the end of the year is asking a bit much.

Next week, over dinner, the family will sit down and look at the problem. How can we cut our car use without sacrificing family activities we value? Canceling my daughter’s horse-riding lessons (25+km roundtrip) is out of the question. So, too, is getting my son to orienteering (15-20km roundtrip). And there are some errands for which we need to use the car. Hopefully, as the weather improves, we’ll make fewer of those short, time-saving trips in the car, which add up. And we did just make a trip up to Toronto to visit family over Easter. That doesn’t come around regularly. But how does one justify the cost of return fares for five on GO Transit when, frankly, five in the family car is cheaper, faster, more comfortable, and more convenient (especially when trying to accommodate children’s desire to bring games, scooters, etc.)?

On the positive side of the balance sheet, though, when we moved to Hamilton six years ago, we made a deliberate decision to cut down on car use. We had just spent a year living in Center City, Philadelphia. We paid high rates to park our car in a parking lot for the year, and we used it very little (a few day and weekend trips, but that was it). We liked not being tied to the car, and I really didn’t want to spend much (read: any) time commuting. That was a big part of our decision to buy the house we did: end of a cul-de-sac that runs into a rail trail. It’s a short ride along the trail to work for me (ten minutes) and for the kids to school in the other direction. Our lot backs onto a plaza, which includes a grocery store, pharmacy, post office, hardware store, liquor store, etc. We’re a ten-minute walk down to the shops in Dundas. All of this is very convenient and conducive to living a car-light life.

But we still managed to put 1000k on the car in a little over a month. I’m hoping, with the semester now behind me, that I can do more cycling. This weekend, I’m participating in a conference on Canadian environmental history, and will cycle to Burlington on Saturday and Sunday to attend the event. Next Thursday, I have to give a talk at the University of Guelph on teaching science and technology in world history. If I avoid the main highway, that should be close to a 100k roundtrip. But this feels a bit like buying carbon offsets—or indulgences—rather than solving the problem of cutting back on driving. In the coming weeks, it might be worth compiling a log of car use. I can talk all I want about the bikes, but it might be worth looking the real nemesis in the eye.

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