Last month, I wrote about creating a "nonmotorized culture" in Northwest Indiana. This is quite the ambitious vision considering our car-happy attitudes.
According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey back in 1995 (with time, it's safe to assume these numbers have increased), 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work. Yet more than 82 percent of trips five miles or less are made by personal motor vehicle. Oh yeah, up to 25 percent of morning traffic is simply parents dropping their kids off at school.
Ever walk a mile before? It should take you roughly 20 minutes at a casual pace. How about by bike? Even leisurely riders can accomplish this task in five short minutes.
Check out gas prices of late? In my field of transportation planning, the term "mode shift" comes up at times like these. Mode shift refers to folks changing their transportation preference (usually from a car) based on a reason. The motivation could be health, enjoying the outdoors and, of course, saving money.
In 2008, oil prices went nuts. A barrel of crude rose to nearly $150 and prices at the pump soared to nearly $5 a gallon. Later that year the recession hit in full force, and oil prices plunged back to "normal" levels. During that brief period, however, there was a massive increase in bicycle sales nationwide and a new appreciation of nonmotorized travel. As for myself, I never have before, or since, fielded as many calls from the media regarding this "phenomenon" of bicycle-riding and walking as a means of getting around. Back to the future, indeed.
Sad to say, oil prices are advancing upward yet again. Maybe electric cars are the answer, and in five years they may proliferate as much as smart phones. At this time, though, electric cars are not cheap, have a limited range and there are no solid plans for recharging stations. I say time to look closely at that cobweb-laced bicycle hanging in your garage or basement. How about a new bike? In just a few short weeks your investment would pay off in gas savings alone. Then there are the substantial health and air quality benefits, too. This is getting good.
So here's a challenge for you as spring is upon us. Think about where you go, and now think about how to get there by bike or by foot. It could be a no-brainer (destination near an off-road trail), or a challenge (no sidewalks, no bike lanes, no secure parking, heavy traffic, dogs, etc.). Either way, I'm certain you can figure out some tasks to do without using your car, and just maybe in the process you will enjoy the ride for once.
Mitch Barloga is nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.