We spend a lot of time in cars. Thanks to urban sprawl and congestion, the average driver in North America spends more than 15 hours a week, or just over two hours a day, inside a car. Unless you happen to own a convertible roadster and spend a good part of your day speeding along empty two-lane roads in the countryside, your time behind the wheel is likely not much fun. In spite of the blissful images portrayed by advertisers, most of our time in cars is spent creeping along busy city streets and jammed highways.
All this time spent in vehicles is not only tedious, but harmful to the planet. Driving causes air pollution and smog, and contributes to global climate change. Noise from vehicles is disruptive to wildlife, not to mention aggravating to us humans. Perhaps less obvious, driving also leads to water pollution. Oil and particles leak into storm water drains and end up polluting rivers, creeks and the ocean. Manufacturing and operating vehicles also depletes the planet’s finite stock of oil and other non-renewable resources.
It’s not surprising that one of the most direct ways you can help the planet is to spend less time travelling by car. This is easier said than done. Driving is more convenient, comfortable and faster than greener alternatives like walking, biking or taking public transit. Giving up the perks of a car for the sake of the planet is a tough sell even for the more environmentally conscious among us. Despite the higher cost of driving, most people still prefer to travel by car over other modes.
Why then should you want to reduce the amount of time spent at the wheel? One big reason is health. Sitting for two hours a day in a car is stressful and causes long term health problems. In fact, research has shown that it can actually shorten your life expectancy.
Making the planet-saving choice to walk rather than drive is clearly a more healthy option. Experts have found that walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, lower blood pressure, reduce the chances of some forms of cancer, prevent diabetes, reduce levels of bad cholesterol and increase bone health. Walking regularly also improves energy, relieves stress and is good for the brain.
Walking is safe, easy to do and, unlike biking, requires no special equipment. Walking may not be practical for longer trips, but it is a good option for those shorter jaunts around town. In Metro Vancouver, where I live, approximately half of all trips made are less than five kilometres. This got me thinking: how feasible would it be to make all these shorter trips by foot? And how would it benefit me?
So my challenge for January is to walk exclusively for all trips less than five kilometres. Why five? It turns out the average human walking speed is about five kilometres per hour. This makes for an easy to remember rule: if I can walk to my destination in less than an hour, then hoof it.
To see exactly how far a five kilometre walk would take me from home, I used a free online tool to map a five kilometre radius around my home address. It covers a good part of the city, but not my near 14 kilometre commute to work. For that, I will stick to public transportation.
To help track my progress and measure the benefits of all this walking, I picked up an inexpensive pedometer from a local running store. I opted for a basic low-frills version that counts steps taken, distance, calories, time and speed. After configuring it for my weight and step length, I was ready to go. Nothing else is needed for this challenge except a good pair of shoes, comfortable clothes and a rain jacket.