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06.10.09

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Free Wheeling

Folding the pizza: an experiment in carless thinking

By Juliane Poirier


How did she do it? I don't know whether she folded them or not, but a Bay Area woman last week transported three unboxed pizzas on the back of her bike, reporting that they were delivered safely and promptly eaten. Her story is one of a growing collection from people taking the Car-Free Challenge at www.transformca.org and posting feedback about staying out of the car as much as possible during June. What strikes me is how much this Car-Free Challenge forces us to think creatively. 

It also forces us to acknowledge (begrudgingly or otherwise) those who walked away from their cars a long time ago, decades even. Car-free folks can be irritatingly (yet understandably) smug about having it all figured out. Jennie Schultz, for example, has been car-free for a year.

"It's fantastic," says Schultz, who uses biking, walking and public transportation to get to and from her home on the west side of Santa Rosa. "The main thing is, I don't have to sit in traffic all day."

Don't rub it in. I can't abandon my auto altogether just yet. But I can make a difference by doing even a little; any attempt to reduce mileage this month will help cut traffic, clear the air and provide the personal stories being collected by a regional group called Transform (formerly known as TALC, the Transportation and Land Use Coalition). Transform advocates for walkable, bikable communities. I'd like to live in one of those communities right now.

My city is not very bike- or walk-friendly. The only route to my son's school in north Napa is an obstacle course that includes a freeway frontage road with irregular offerings of sidewalk, a potholed gravel and hard dirt parking lot, and two major boulevard intersections; five miles of biking this alongside an eight-year-old daydreamer in heavy morning traffic is not my idea of fun. So I typically drive my son to school. But on bike-to-school day last month, we made the ride for the first time and had so much fun (endorphins rock) that now we ride our bikes whenever we can leave the house early enough. Still, I'd prefer we had a safe path across town. And Transform wants us to have that.

 "We advocate at regional, state and national levels, and right now we're trying to put a face on some of the agendas we're pushing," says Andréa Tyler, who does outreach and development for Transform. "This is really about the stories." The Car-Free Challenge includes funny blog postings, especially from a participant plotting to bike her pet chickens around in panniers. But along with the laughs are community-building and fundraising components to the challenge, outlined on the website.

To join up, participants either pay a flat $65 to sign up, or get their friends and family to sponsor them in reaching a mileage-reduction goal. Some have set goals for all month while others take it one day at a time. Those who sign up can be part of a team, meet others who are taking the challenge, and generally get lots of practical and moral support while tracking mileage and competing for prizes. A family of four in Oakland has set a mileage reduction goal of 200 miles and a fundraising goal of $500. Another family of four in Alameda who signed up for the challenge has been car-free for 11 months! I can see why it's important to swap car-free-living stories, since now I have to stop whining about how difficult it is to go car-free with only one child. Damn. I hate that.

Transform's campaign slogan is "Drive Less and Live More." Their 10 reasons for doing so are: saving money, reducing carbon, improving health, building community, raising metabolism, breathing easier, sending a social message, saving lives (animal and human), and supporting advocacy efforts to make communities more walkable and bikable. 

I must add: first, being car-free encourages the cleverness to transport three unboxed pizzas on a five-inch bike rack using only your wits and a bungee cord; and second, that solvitur ambulando—it is solved by walking—is always true, except when it is solved by biking.


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