International Car Free Day

Today was International Car Free Day. I first heard about this event the year before Alan and I went to Spain. A friend of ours work for city hall and he was saying that the government was trying to convince our municipal and provincial representatives to take alternative means of transportation to work that day. The whole event was a fiasco. Most politicians drove their big cars. When asked by the media why they didn’t take public transit to work, many answered simply that “it wasn’t convenient”. So much for all the rhetoric coming from the city that the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) is the “better way”. Both Alan and Perry – the friend who works for the city and who is a staunch cyclist – wrote to the city complaining bitterly for their lack of support and hypocrisy.

We were out all day today and didn’t see much going on to celebrate car free day. Has anybody seen anything in other parts of the city? At Kensington, some activists were making a banner so I don’t know if there was a demonstration somewhere else. Unfortunately, North America is pretty much a car society, one heavily invested on the automobile industry and whose way of life is still primarily based on getting around on private cars. That’s certainly one of the things I miss most from Europe – the quality of the public transit and the inconvenience that it is for most people to actually have a car. Because that’s really the ticket – it’s not about trying to convince people that they should leave their cars at home. It’s about making it inconvenient for them to take their car out. There should be no arguments or discussions about improving public transit and making it more accessible – it should be the number one priority for all levels of government.

I’ve heard that in Brazil, several capital cities closed many of its central arteries to traffic today, making streets open to people on foot, bicycles, rollerblades, skates… Now that would have been a fitting celebration to car free day: closing down Yonge Street to traffic! Maybe even a couple more streets, like College and Bloor…

Update:

Wow! looks like a lot more is going on that I thought! Jen P. pointed me in the right direction and here’s the outline of today’s events in TO marking car free day. I want to comment on the Parking Meter Parties (PMP). Basically, the idea is that you find a parking spot, buy a parking ticket, display it on your non-motorized vehicle and host a party on your parking spot. I love the idea!! It’s so neat! Here’s another link on parking meter parties.

Oh, and I love this car parked at Kensington:

Eco car

car free

Fuel-efficient public transit

This past week the city of Barcelona inaugurated a new extension to their public transit system. It’s environment-friendly and has already been introduced with success in cities like Oslo and  Stockholm .

Meet Bicing:

Bicing

The idea is simple and brilliant. For 24 euros/year* you can get a card from the city hall that allows you to check out automatically a bicycle at numerous points in the city (mostly at every metro station, train station and major hubs) and use it for free for half an hour. It’s supposed to be an extension of the transit system. You get a bicycle at one station, cycle it to where you are going and drop it off at the nearest drop-off point to your destination. Half an hour is enough to cross most of the city but if you need more time you pay 30 cents for every half hour up to two hours. After two hours you are penalized and may lose your card. It’s all self-service and Bicing is available from 5 am to midnight during the week and 24 hours on the weekend.

I think it’s brilliant. It would really have helped me if this service had been in place this past year. I lived right around the corner from a metro station and work right across the station from another station. Unfortunately the stations were on very different lines, which meant subway was out for me as an option to get to work. Instead I took a bus that took anywhere from 10 mins to 30 mins, depending on when the bus passed by the stop. I often wished I had a bicycle because the whole route to work had big cycling lanes and it was a pretty straight path – down Diagonal to Marina & down Marina to the archives. It would probably have taken me 5-10 mins on a bike! Oh well, maybe next time….

Right now there are 200 bicycles distributed on 14 stations. On May 1st there will be 750 bicycles on 50 stations and by July 1st 1,500 bicycles over 100 stations.

This city is amazing… You can get more info here.

* If you join before July 7th, the card costs only 6 euros for the year.

Three eco-conscious decisions

Andrea N & Denise passed along a meme in which we have to list three eco-conscious decisions we make in our daily lives. The point is to raise awareness of small things we can do to help the environment… I confess I spent most of my life taking the environment for granted but lately I’ve become more aware of the small things I could do. Alan calls me militant but I don’t think I do enough yet.

Here are my eco-conscious decisions:

I don’t own a car. I take public transit/ride a bike/walk. Even when I lived in Brazil, I have always favoured taking public transit/walking over driving a car. Initially it had no environment-conscious motivation but after we moved to Toronto and got rid of our car, things changed a bit. Alan and I started riding our bicycles everywhere and met some pretty militant cyclists in the process. Before we knew it, we were joining events like Critical Mass and defending ideas such as closing the inner cities to private cars. Of course, like Andrea mentions in her blog, this may not be feasible for everybody. Most cities in North America have lousy public transit systems and make it almost impossible living without a car. I think if I absolutely had to buy a car one day, it would be some sort of hybrid car and I would try to use as little as I could.

I always try to buy local produce. This is related to the above since the food we buy from more exotic and far-away places often has to be shipped to their destination. Depending on the fruit – like papaya from Brazil – this is often done by air, which means tons of pollution being released on our atmosphere, to say nothing of the taste/quality of the fruit/vegetable itself, which has to be picked very green to be able to survive such a trip.

I favour paper/glass over plastic and I recycle. In Montreal, we always had a choice over paper/plastic bags at the grocery stores. This changed in Toronto, which made me painfully aware of all the plastic bags we end up getting when we go grocery shopping. Plastic not only pollutes and takes thousands of years to break up but it also kills wildlife (particularly turtles and birds). So I stopped putting my produce in individual clear bags and I bought a large re-usable shopping bag. I also try to recycle as much as I can, despite Alan’s attempts to sabotage my efforts… Lately, I’ve also read about the possible leaching of harmful chemicals from plastic containers and have started favouring glass containers.

Where I could improve

Following Denise’s lead, I’ll also include things I do that I know are not good:

I waste a lot of paper – every paper I ever wrote was probably printed three or four times so I could make changes on the hard copy and then print again. Much of that was probably unnecessary.

I buy swiffer dusters – they are amazing to pick up dust but I always feel a bit quilty for creating more garbage than was created before when people used re-usable rags & dusters to dust their homes. At first I even bought other kinds of disposable cleaning products, like the swiffer mop, but I felt too guilty ;)

My computer is always on – while Alan and I often try to save energy, our attempts to not reach our computers. They are always on… I have no excuses for that. Sorry.

What about you? What do you do?