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"Running on Empty : Searching for Transportation Solutions" by Josh Trought, posted December 2006

Running on Empty? Get Free Breakfast!

It is a conundrum of our times that we as a society highly prize individualistic personal leisure time and space but seem imprisoned by the pursuit of this dream. We work extravagant hours for corporate employers and travel daily to great lengths in pursuit of a comfortable standard of living. Our current necessities include 30 minutes of car travel to acquire fast food. Another societal norm is to spend a Sunday stuck in traffic to view sporting events. We have chosen as a society to commute great distances in single passenger automobiles instead of congregating locally to eat and play. Why?

Where the car has taken us…

Since the 1950s North Americans have increasingly chosen to live in cul-de-sac style housing lacking local food supply and economic basis. As suburbia has developed, we have chosen long commutes in 80 mph traffic instead of sharing high density housing in city centers. Often people chose to move to the country to enjoy rural living but are forced to commute daily to provide for their financial necessities. The introduction of the automobile has given us free reign to spread across the landscape. The original dream of enjoying the fresh air of the country, while retaining access to city amenities, has faded as sprawl has become ubiquitous and the city centers have degraded. The brilliance of suburbia has been clouded by the realities of poorly planned sprawl. Consider this data: In 2003 the average person spent 47 hours per year trapped in roadway delay. During that year the average one-way commute in this country was 25 minutes. Let's face it - we spend a lot of time sitting in traffic, guzzling fossil fuels and spewing pollution into the air. The irony is that we commute so that we can enjoy the luxuries of this world that we are polluting.

The whole process of getting into a vehicle each day, mass produced by robots, traveling 80 mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic to an activity far from home sounds a little adventurous to me. Combine that with the realization that the fuel for the outing comes with an extremely high price tag to humanity and the trip becomes fully nerve-wracking. Cars were an innovation that was supposed to bring convenience, but that convenience has had unforeseen external costs to our health and the environment. Not only do we pollute on a global scale, we sacrifice the exercise and invigoration of bicycle, horse or people powered transportation.

Finding our way back home…

We must search for solutions to this dilemma by examining the multitude of needs to be addressed. The whole nation can't stay at home. We need transportation to trade economically and be physically present to perform services. Frivolous frolicking with automobiles is a part of our culture and tradition in this country, but we must consider the economic and social costs of petro-consumption. Toward this end, we can be much more proactive about technological options like biodiesel and waste vegetable oil. We also need to make consequent behavioral changes by first recognizing that our dependence on fast food, box stores and the daily commute is an aberration of the last fifty years. Then we can alter the direction we have taken through a conscious effort to recognize and rectify our current system.

In NH we have a strong motorcycle tradition. When single passenger transportation is necessary, motorcycles are the environmentalist's preferred means of travel. Lightweight two-wheeled vehicles wear the roads less then cars. Motorcycles are usually more than twice as efficient as cars in miles per gallon, and they are three times as thrifty as an SUV. Three to five bikes fit in one car spot, so they also help with parking issues.

Ride shares, car-shares and car-pooling must become the status quo. We must create and implement a rural public transportation scheme. The cumulative costs of road usage and petroleum consumption are enormous but we can minimize them by consciously planning and shifting our patterns of usage to emphasize conservation.

Rebuilding our city centers will help with the dilemma of sprawl. If we designate commerce zones for people-friendly high-density land use, than they can be thriving centers of life for residents and visitors alike. The survivability of city centers is based on choices made within the community. If a community values the culture and diversity of these centers, than they can be consciously maintained and promoted. In a diversified downtown economy the multitude of shops provide employment and trusted service to consumers and residents alike.

Building an infrastructure of self-reliance in suburbia will also help reduce further sprawl. People need opportunities to work at home producing cottage goods and food. Internet communication has allowed people earn income from rural locations. The influx of urban dwellers has affected property values and strained local human services. These areas need to devise methods of promoting a healthy, rural economy. The goal is to allow people to realize their aspiration of independence while seeking an equitable standard of living for all. A rural food-buying club is an innovative idea to improve modern country living. The food club works when neighbors order their groceries together in bulk on a regular basis. The food is delivered to a central location. Price and packaging costs are reduced through volume buying, and everyone saves time shopping.

Often the hardest part of solving a problem is admitting that the problem exists. Let's move on now to finding solutions for our transportation problems. We need to explore solutions by experimenting with the possibilities. Can parents catch a ride on school buses that are traveling under capacity? Can shelters be located along the roadside as organized stops for ride sharing and hitch hiking? What steps can we take to carpool and car-share? Are there ways to encourage bicycle traffic by revamping the former railroad beds? Is it more efficient to develop a snowmobile based transportation system for this region that relies less on plowing and road maintenance?

Pedal Power - Rewards for Pollution Free Transportation

To celebrate and promote alternatives to the transportation dilemma, D Acres of New Hampshire is sponsoring a breakfast at the farm on June 4, from 10am to 1pm. All bicycle riders will receive a free all-you-can-eat pancake delight with plenty of Maggie Brox's famous maple syrup from Butternut Farm in Rumney. The Farm Feast Breakfast is held the first Sunday of each month. For those that arrive by car, there is a suggested donation of $10 per adult and $5 per child for the all-you-can-eat feast. D Acres is located at 218 Streeter Woods Road in Dorchester, NH. Directions available on the web at www.dacres.org, on the Visit Us page. No reservation required.

Josh Trought is the Executive Director of D Acres of New Hampshire, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) Organic Farm & Educational Homestead in Dorchester. D Acres offers workshops, internships and public access designed to promote sustainable living choices. Learn more about the programs at D Acres by visiting www.dacres.org. Josh can be reached at 603.786.2366 or info@dacres.org

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