When it comes to traffic congestion, new technology can only affect the symptoms, not the cause. To make a real difference, we have to change people’s behaviour by changing perceptions. Drivers need to see the advantages of travelling less frequently, using other modes or altering their lifestyle, so they don’t turn to the car as the default option for every journey.
Consider for a moment what would persuade you to leave your car behind when you make your next journey. Chances are that factors such as convenience, safety and comfort play a far more important part in your decision than any consideration of the traffic technology on your chosen route. Even congestion charging will have little impact if you perceive that the cost is worth paying for the convenience of car travel.
Yet modern society is increasingly beholden to the car. Take recreation, for example. It seems that people of all ages cannot separate recreation from transportation. On the one hand we are being urged in media campaigns to exercise in order to stay healthy, but the only opportunities to engage in exercise seem to require that we get into a car and drive or be driven, thereby adding to and being part of the traffic congestion problem.
What can you do? Walking and cycling are part of the answer to this problem. Instead of driving for half an hour to the gym, exercising for an hour, and driving half an hour back home, take an hour walk by yourself, with a family member or a friend. Add a pair of ski poles to give your upper body a workout while walking, and you have a perfect exercise, one that is less damaging to the knees and hips than jogging on the pavement. If you have a dog, he or she will introduce you to your neighbours, broadening your social network. You will even save time and maybe get a better workout than at the gym.
The only valid argument that has been used against the neighbourhood exercise routine is fear of personal attack. We don’t walk or run or cycle because it’s not safe, and it’s not safe because there are not enough people out there keeping a watchful eye out for their neighbours. If you cannot walk, run or cycle around your neighbourhood because you are afraid of being assaulted, then there is something very wrong with the government that is running your town. Get your politicians to start doing their jobs.
There is no fast financial return to be made from increasing personal safety, like there is for charging drivers for entering the city, but the long-term positive effects to the community as a whole from a safe and secure environment will be much greater. If your mayor or city governing council is not promoting safer streets and parks, so that you and your family can move about your environment in safety, maybe it’s time you raised your voice and suggested that they do.
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