Transportation is the largest part of the most people’s carbon footprint in the US. This is especially true in California where we love our cars and our electricity comes from less carbon-intensive sources. By modifying our transportation choices, we can reduce oil use, our carbon footprint and the associated impacts to climate change. While becoming more versed in our local transportation options, our community becomes less dependent on foreign oil and also becomes more resilient. When was the last time you took public transit?
Walking and Biking
For most of us, transporting ourselves to work or play is something we do every day. For short trips and for us here in Palo Alto where we are blessed with mostly flat streets, good weather, and lots of bike paths, our first choice for transportation should be walking or biking for the short trips.
There are lots of good resources for this, such as a great map of the area showing bike paths and routes for Palo Alto and Menlo Park. (View it online rather than shrinking to print.) To find out how to extend your biking range by taking your bike on transit, see the Bay Area Bicycling Resource Guide. Here you will find route maps, locations of lockers and racks, information on how to take your bike on public transit and across Bay Area toll bridges, how to ride safely in traffic, tips on commuting, bicycle resources, and more. Google Maps now has walking, biking, and transit options as well as driving directions.
Walking and biking can take longer so you have to plan on this, but it is usually much more pleasant and there is no parking hassle. Once you get set up, you can even do trips to the market or other places where you might usually drive. Will one of your favorite errands become biking to the Farmer’s Market on Sunday mornings?
For the daily drive to work, carpooling is the first choice for people wanting to lessen their impact, expenses, and time spent on the road. 511 Rideshare for Bay Area commuters can match you up with others that want to share a ride – carpool, Vanpool, bike ride or bike/carpool. You can match for the whole week or just one day – whatever works best for you. They have info on carpools to BART and even carpools for skiing. Check it out. Carpooling is not just for work. Many social occasions or community events are more enjoyable when shared with friends so don’t forget carpooling for these activities as well.
For the longer trips, taking public transit can be a good option. On transit you can read, work on your computer, text your friends or even catch up on sleep for those early mornings. The Bay Area Travel Guide website has it all: public transit, ride sharing, traffic reports, trip planning, bicycling, and more. It is a website and a phone number – 511. Find out information on FasTrack, TransLink, Carsharing and more.
For resources specific to Palo Alto see the City of Palo Alto Commuting website. Stanford also has a shuttle, the Marguerite, that anyone can take; see its online maps and schedules. The City of Palo Alto and Stanford shuttles are free and link you to libraries, schools, activity centers, housing developments, and shopping districts.
When you do have to drive, drive smart! Make sure you car is in good condition (with a recent tune-up and tires properly inflated), and then link your trips. Combining as many errands as is practical will save you time and money as you take care of your weekly errands with fewer miles traveled.
For longer trips, it can be a good idea to check the traffic before you go. An alternate route could be faster in our busy Bay Area. The Bay Area Travel Guide traffic reports website has traffic reports, traffic maps with speed indicators, road cams, CHP reports, and more. 511 Driving Times is a useful website and phone service. Enter your starting and ending locations and it will return several options based on current traffic conditions. Check traffic conditions before you leave, or have your passenger dial 511 and follow the voice directions for Drive Times.
Also consider not driving. If your work will allow you to telecommute or work from home one or more days a week, check into this option. This is a great way to break up your week and avoid the traffic scene.
If you are considering a new car, check out the many hybrids and electric cars with more options coming soon.
Environmental Guide to Cars and Trucks: Find out about many cars and trucks, how clean they are and more.
Fuel Economy: Find out and compare fuel economy, air pollution, and CO2 output of any new or used car. This site also includes safety information and info on hybrids and fuel cells and how they work.
DriveClean has lots of info on electric, hybrid, fuel-cell, and alternatively fueled cars as well as cleaner gas cars.
Can you get buy with no car, or one car instead of two? Car share programs can help with this transition to fewer cars or no cars. Car share programs let you “rent” a car for a day for those times when you really need a car. This is great if you are a student or live in the city and really don’t need to own a car except for occasional use. See Zipcar Car Sharing and City CarShare for programs in our area.
The effects on climate change due to flying are complex. Worldwide the contribution to climate change is small, but for us here in the US it is significant, and for some of us it is huge. Mile for mile, one person flying is similar to one person driving the average car, it’s just that flying racks up the miles very quickly. So if you can carpool in a high mileage car, driving is better.
If you have to fly, consider flying less often and perhaps staying longer at your destination. If you have a choice, flying in the newer, more fuel-efficient jets is better and flying non-stop is also better. Also consider buying carbon offsets when flying. If you are flying for business, buying offsets should routinely be added onto the cost of flying as part of the cost of doing business. Many airlines and airports now offer offsets at the time of ticket purchase.
If you have the time, the train is often a pleasant way to go longer distances and has less of an impact. Check with Amtrak to see if this might work for you. They even have information on green travel and offer carbon offsets for your trip.
I hope this information will help you get started with alternate transportation choices, one of the best ways to reduce our fossil fuel use and the associated contributions to climate change. A good way to start is to try some alternative just one day a week, or even one day a month, but do get started. So get out on your bike and enjoy our area and maybe even meet some people. You might even have nice conversations with your fellow cyclists, which is not likely with your fellow drivers.