While you're car-pooling to work, think about all that non-work driving


April 15, 1992|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

So now you're terribly involved in local transportation planning politics. You ride your bike to work on Monday, take the bus on Tuesday, car-pool on Wednesday, telecommute on Thursday and cruise to the office alone in your car, guilt-free, on Friday. What's next?

Reducing your non-work-related driving, of course.

How do you do it? First, let's change the way we define transportation. It does not mean driving. It means access to the everyday goods and services you need.

How do you decrease your driving without decreasing your access to the goods and services you need? Believe it or not, just being willing to ask the question is a good start. Ask it at the dinner table. Ask it at a cocktail party. Ask it at the playground. Ask other people how they get around, other than by driving.

The answers will be somewhat different for every family. But for many, the solution lies in neighborhoods, with neighborhood stores and services.

So? Walk to those stores. It's a radical concept, I know. But it worked for years. Buy an inexpensive but sturdy wire push cart and use it to lug your groceries and your dry-cleaning. You'll be surprised at how easy and pleasant this can be.

If you have a child too young to walk any distance, use a stroller instead of a pushcart. Hang string bags (or any bags you like) from the stroller handles and push the child and the groceries. (The trick is to remove the bags before you remove the child, or the stroller flips over and squashes your groceries. Take it from one who has squashed many groceries.)

Local stores tend to be slightly more expensive than big chains. But they offset that with pleasant service and personal attention. You can ask the shopkeeper to stock special brands you need or like. They'll be more likely to take your check. You save money by not driving, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you're contributing to the vigor of the neighborhood.

By relying a little more on your feet and a little less on your car, you'll find yourself spending more time on the sidewalk. You'll meet neighbors. And you'll help make the neighborhood safer simply by increasing the activity level on the sidewalk.

Walking takes more time than driving. But it has a colossal fringe benefit: It is one of the healthiest and most enjoyable forms of exercise. Instead of plunking down $5 for an aerobics class (to which you drive, natch), walk to the store.

If time is a huge concern for you, how about buying an old bicycle with a basket on the front? When you need to nip out to the store to buy bread before the guests arrive, jump on your three-speed and pedal away. Because you can park the bike at the door of the store, riding can actually be faster than driving.

Here's another way to reduce car sickness: Let your fingers do the walking. That is, if you need to drive to a specialty store, call ahead to make sure they actually have the item you need. Then combine that trip with another car-required errand. And then call a neighbor and ask if he or she needs anything at the store while you're there.

Car-pooling is a wonderful way to reduce car dependency in a suburban neighborhood where you cannot walk to stores. It can help foster a sense of community, too.

Car-pool to work, school and lessons, of course, but car-pool to the store, too. Develop a routine with a neighbor -- car-pool to the grocery store together every week.

If yours is a two-car family, consider this long-term goal: Become a one-car family. Remember the concept of the family car? It's still a good one. Better than ever, in fact.

And here's the payoff: A car costs the average American between $4,000 and $4,500 a year, including gas, service, insurance and payments.

If you can figure out a way to make do with one less car, you will have an extra $4,000 a year. How does that make that walk to the store look? You can afford a real snazzy push cart with that kind of savings.

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