September 22 is World Car Free Day, a global event which “promotes improvement of mass transit, cycling and walking, and the development of communities where jobs are closer to home and where shopping is within walking distance,” according to a 2009 article in the Washington Post. And while it’s still a relatively novel idea on this side of the Atlantic, it’s already a big deal in Europe; according to a New York Times article that appeared the same year, “1,667 cities across the continent designate at least one day this week as car-free,” a move that’s coupled with a push to reduce pollution and increase mass-transit use. So how can we bring some of this enthusiasm for sustainable living, community engagement, and a healthy work-life balance to the United States, without having to fundamentally rearrange our society? We’re going to take a look at why World Car Free Day is important in the first place, and how we can honor the day while making only minor changes to our lifestyles.
First, let’s examine the environmental impact of automobile use. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, over a third of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide pollutants found in our atmosphere are produced by on-road vehicles. Not only does a world-wide week of reduced automotive travel reduce some of the environmental strain caused by these greenhouse gases, it also serves as a reminder for us to consider the ways our choices impact, even in a small way, the world around us.
But World Car-Free Day isn’t just about helping the environment – it’s also about reducing the negative effects of car culture on our personal lives. According to the US Census Bureau, the average US commute time is 25.4 minutes – that’s 50.8 minutes round-trip, or nearly an hour every day spent in traffic. As more and more companies begin offering flexible work schedules and videoconferencing-enabled telecommute opportunities, more of their employees will be able to enjoy the benefits of a reduced commute: more time spent at home with their families, less travel-related stress, and the resulting improved health. In 2010, Reuters reported on a study that found that employees with flexible work schedules had lower blood pressure and heart rates than their cubicle-dwelling peers, and reported better sleep quality and less fatigue as well – and that’s really just the beginning.
Thanks to the video conferencing, it’s easier than ever to enjoy the benefits of World Car Free Day today. So celebrate the holiday this Monday – skip the commute this by telecommuting to work. Not only will you save time and money, but you’ll be helping the environment and improving your well-being in the process. Talk about a win-win!
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