Several years ago, at the Behavior Energy and Climate Change conference, a social scientist described a study of people's attitudes towards their cars. One person represented the results of the entire investigation. "I used to drive around in an old Honda Civic that needed a lot of TLC. I loved that car," said the interviewee. "Then, when I started working as a banker, I felt pressure to conform to a certain kind of lifestyle. So I bought a BMW." He said, "When I got married and started hauling kids around to school and soccer practice, I wanted to carpool and take my turn getting the team to practice. I wanted seats and storage space. So I bought an SUV."
When asked which vehicle he was most fond of, it was the beat-up old Civic that he drove in college. "It was like a reliable friend; it got great mileage, and driving that car was always an adventure." Some people feel the same way about their bikes! Many of us who grew up in the 1970s have fond memories of our Schwinn Sting Rays with banana seats and sissy bars. You could take them anywhere on a road, gravel, or dirt path, to the local 7-Eleven, or bike rallies with your friends. Some of us collected empty bottles and cans in the neighborhood and redeemed them for a nickel apiece.
Leo Rainer and Alan Meier, both scientists at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, are on the far end of the sustainable travel spectrum. "Since the beginning of the year, I get around almost exclusively by bike (though I have never driven much)," says Leo. "I take my bike on BART or the bus for longer trips or inclement weather (when we used to have that)." Leo rides his bike from Berkeley to Santa Barbara to visit his daughter in school and his son, who works in Santa Barbara. Leo takes a train back home to Berkeley.
Alan, who splits his time between UC Berkeley and UC Davis, says, "I mostly get around cycling, walking, and training (Amtrak to Davis). But if I'm traveling anywhere with Deb [spouse], then it's in our car (an EV powered off our roof)". Alan travels worldwide to speak at energy conferences and meet with colleagues. This bothers him since air travel is still a significant source of greenhouse gases. You can buy carbon offsets, or like Alan—who personally talked George W Bush into limiting the standby power of all electronics devices purchased by the government to 2 Watts or less—you can make up for air travel in other ways.
You might think it's all fresh air and easy living, but it's not. Ask about his worst experiences biking, Leo responded, "I would say either getting hit by cars (three times) or losing things like panniers and keys or having a bike stolen (twice, though never on a trip, always from home). Alan chimes in, "Last December, in my commute to Davis during the Atmospheric River. I got soaked six separate times in a single day."
You don't have to go to travel extremes, however. The pleasures of biking and walking are also closer to home. When asked about her experiences with transportation, SCOCO member and sustainability writer Alison Clary answered, "We often walk down to the corner market for smaller bags of food items. My two kids at UC Davis use their bicycles, and one has an electric scooter. Lots of walking all around for my family."
"We travel most via minivan, mostly because it fits all my kids and friends. We usually carpool to help reduce everyone driving to the same place," said Laura Wehrley, SCOCO Community Outreach Coordinator. She continues, "BART is probably my most used public transportation. It's been great when I was able to sit comfortably and get work done on my phone before even getting to work in the city. It has been terrible when it's overcrowded, hot, stinky, and once I had a perverted guy ‘push up’ against me on a crowded train.”
Sustainable travel becomes a way of life when practiced regularly. There is help and a community of people to share the "high road" with you.
You can access free, up-to-the-minute information about Bay Area traffic, public transportation, carpooling, and bicycling by calling 511 or looking up 511. com. These 511 services are available 24/7. They even offer great ways for employers of over 50 people to make commutes more enjoyable and cheaper, which helps keep workers happy even if they live many miles from the workplace. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission of the Bay Area is the sponsor of 511, which is a nonprofit organization.
Bike to Wherever Days is another organization that makes biking to work more fun and interesting. Pre-pandemic, the organization focused on Bike to Work Day, but it has evolved along with the culture to a hybrid model that combines work from home and work at an office away from home. Now the organization sponsors the whole month of May, Bike To Work Month, and May 20th is the National Bike to Work Day. It's an excellent time to catch the biking bug. Bike to Wherever Days is no longer about commuting but also about running errands and biking with friends for fun, exercise, and fresh air. Of course, you can get things like tote bags, advice on getting around, and lots of horror stories by participating in Bike to Work Day events.
And you might compete for the Bike Champions of the Year award. Smitty Ardrey was the 2021 winner for Contra Costa County. You will find Smitty on Thursdays in the summer at the Bike Concord's Bike Tent during the Concord Farmers Market. Under the tent, you can have minor repairs on your bikes, share stories and helpful information for bikers in the area, and make new friends. The person who nominated Smitty, Clair Linder, said, "He has organized bike rodeos, pop up bike repair clinics, and since 2019, a bike education class at Olympic High School in Concord. His drive, foresight, and commitment have made biking more accessible in central Contra Costa County." Bike Concord's mission is for MBOB, or "More Butts on Bikes." Or how about this motto: "More Butts on Bikes, Buses, Bart, and Trains" (MBOBBBT).
Through SCOCO's Cleaner Contra Costa Challenge, you can "Shift Your Ride" and earn points on Earth and in Heaven.