Perceived obstacles are often hidden opportunities. Take the case of fluctuating gas prices.
With global oil production projected to peak before 2010 and oil demand soaring with China and India's expanding economies, clearly the days of cheap oil are fleeting with the depletion of this finite resource.
Herein lies our chance to prosper from the impending gas crisis. Although the car has been the dominant mode of transportation, active commuting alternatives such as walking and bicycling could be viable substitutes while simultaneously providing an array of individual and societal benefits.
An American Journal of Public Health study substantiates the feasibility of active commuting when it found that 41 percent of car trips were less than two miles while 28 percent were less than a mile. Since leisurely walkers can cover a mile in less than 20 minutes and plodding bicyclists well under 10, active commuting could conceivably replace many car trips.
From a health perspective, walking and biking address numerous medical ailments including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. In addition, active commuting counteracts an American Medical Association study that determined 60 percent of Americans live sedentary lifestyles with obesity as our second costliest preventable medical condition.
These year-round and life-long healthy commuting alternatives also increase stamina and bone strength and promote physical and mental fitness. In contrast to popular sports like soccer and basketball, walkers and bicyclists have far fewer injuries and significantly higher participation and retention rates.
Environmentally, the replacement of cars with walkers and bicyclists reduces our dependency on foreign oil and mitigates such pressing problems as congestion, air pollution, and global warming. In fact, one National Personal Transportation study determined that a daily four mile active commute prevents 15 pounds of car emissions from contaminating our air each year!
Financially, an American Automobile Association study determined the median yearly cost to operate a car was $6,000. In comparison, a bike is $120, while walking is free. Furthermore, a reduction in driving reduces insurance premiums, parking fees and extends the life of a car.
The compatibility with mass transit is another feature of active commuting. The reliable and low cost Metro bus service provides additional flexibility in commuting options for pedestrians and bicyclists. Coincidentally, Metro is a leader in supporting alternative commuting for its employees by providing free bus passes, shower facilities, personal lockers, secure bike racks and even incentive pay for those who carpool, walk or bike to work.
On the flip side of active commuting, detractors often restrict commuting discussions to the element of time. In response, for shorter trips and even longer ones when Metro is used, the time discrepancy can be marginal.
By implementing such minor changes as showering in the evening, preparing breakfast and lunch the night before, or having work clothes laid out, the time discrepancy between using a car vs. active commuting would be reduced. On the other hand, utilizing the motto "time is money" the dollar savings in gas alone would justify lacing up one's sneakers or pumping up the bike tires.
Finally, a comprehensive assessment and quantification of all the costs and benefits associated with commuting overwhelmingly substantiates the argument for active commuting in comparison with the lunacy of single-occupancy vehicles.
Obviously walking and biking are not practical options for everyone. Nonetheless, those fortunate enough to embrace an active commuting are bestowed one of life's most rewarding pleasures that benefits not only the individual but also society at large: a healthy, low-impact lifestyle.
The bottom line question should be; "Why aren't I actively commuting?"
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