The minute we take our car out, we can see how other people’s cars are a nuisance.
A brisk morning walk burns calories, strengthens muscles, works the lungs and gets the blood racing. If you get up at dawn and drive to the gym or park to engage in this virtuous exercise, you probably encounter dozens of fellow walkers, eyes fixed on their trainer-clad feet. For the rest of the day, how many of these well-heeled exercisers will actually walk to go somewhere?
Those who own cars often lament that ‘banks are giving loans left and right, and everyone owns a car now.’ The minute we take our car out, we can see how other people’s cars are a nuisance.
And we’ve set a fine example for our children. Many of them ride a moped to school or demand to be dropped in a car instead of riding the bus, walking or cycling. The roads are undoubtedly less safe than when we went to school, but do they become safer if everyone is driving his own vehicle? Most school entrances are a traffic nightmare in the mornings, and that endangers the children.
Driving can become an unthinking habit. We like to arrive fresh at work or for a concert, but after a while we start reaching for the car keys just to pick up a bar of washing soap. If we left the car behind, we would be fitter and more important, we would leave breathing room for others.
Sometimes, we fail to notice that new grocery stores, tailors and salons have opened up within walking distance. Unless we need to buy in bulk, it doesn’t make sense to cross town, suffer through traffic, and spend on petrol and parking just in search of lower prices.
Indian car-owners are conscientious about mileage, but responsible transport doesn’t stop there. We can check our emissions annually even when there isn’t a cop to remind us. We can resist the urge to buy a bigger car, which will consume more fuel and space. We can put up with 10 hot minutes instead of running the engine and AC during a halt. We can car-pool with friends, especially when parking is tight at our destination. We can walk to the car instead of having it brought round for the sake of our dignity.
Many cities have a metro and other transport options and it is worthwhile to explore them. Buses are not always crowded. Some distances are perfect for cycling even if they’re beyond a walk. A cap and a comfortable pair of shoes help us walk further. We can take a cue from families who have no option but to walk. They carry sturdy shopping bags, pack things practically and expect each family member to share the load.
Yes, the streets are often dirty and the sidewalks are cluttered with goods and signs. That’s because the officials who should be regulating them don’t walk and can’t see what needs to change. Many of us belong to residents’ welfare committees, neighbourhood clubs or local business associations and can do something about it. The solution to congested roads is not just to retreat into our cars and clamour for flyovers and wider highways. We must also demand safe and well-connected public transport, and clear and well-lit footpaths. Foot traffic makes the streets safer for everyone and is good for local businesses. When pedestrians get a better deal, we will all live better for it.
The art of scaling down
* Patronise shops and vendors within walking distance.
* Scale down transport when you can, a scooter instead of a car, a cycle instead of a scooter, especially when parking is scarce.
* Mix it up. If you need to get into a wholesale market or other congested area, drive to a point and then walk from there.
* If the way to school doesn’t seem safe, group younger children with older ones to walk or ride the bus. Or walk with your child rather than driving him to school.
* Never block a footpath in front of your house with debris or vehicles.
* Use the muscle of your local associations and clubs to improve the footpaths near you.
(This is the ninth article in a 10-part series about how to live sustainably every day. It appears on Mondays. The next article is: Travelling light.)