With back-to-school-sales in full zenith, you know that Terrible Traffic Tuesday can't be far away.
Not familiar with Terrible Traffic Tuesday? In urban areas like Washington, DC where I live, that's what AAA calls the Tuesday after Labor Day. With people on vacation and the kids out of school, the summer months lull commuters and suburbanites into thinking that maybe traffic really isn't that bad after all; maybe roadways are actually getting less crowded. Guess again.
Then comes Terrible Traffic Tuesday, when everyone is finally back at work and the kids are back in school. That's when we realize that, if anything, the roads are even more congested than they were last year on Terrible Traffic Tuesday. That's when we should also stop and think for a minute about the high costs -- economic, environmental and diminished quality of life -- of the car-based culture we've created for ourselves here in the U.S. and could just as well chose to change.
With the average car now costing close to $9,000 per year to own and operate, the average American is spending more than one day every week just to earn the money to pay of that car, which is primarily used to get to and from their job...which they need...to pay for their car. The average American commutes about sixteen miles each way to his/her job, and in the process in urban areas spends more than forty hours every year sitting absolutely motionless in traffic (Upside: Plenty of quality time to think about all of this).
If you lived close enough to your job to walk to work and used your car only for non-commuting purposes, over the course of a forty-year career you could take what you saved and have a nice little nest egg of more than $500,000 at retirement (including compounded interest at 5% annually).
Rather than just complaining about the horrendous traffic on Terrible Traffic Tuesday, let's go the extra mile, so to speak, and start doing something about it. Here's what you can do:
* Have your kids walk, bicycle, or at least take the bus to school. An estimated 30% of workday traffic is now generated by parents driving their children to/from school. Afraid of the risks? Don't be: Read this recent article from the Chicago Tribune and go to this website to learn how to make walking to school the safe, healthy, eco-friendly activity it used to be here in the U.S.
* Remember that we need to build more -- much more -- reliable, practical, cost effective public transportation in the U.S. Go to this website and send a message to your elected officials to support a strong public transportation agenda.
* Pitch your boss on letting you telecommute a couple of days a week or work a shortened/condensed schedule. She won't let you? Figure out how much your daily commute is costing you, and offer to take a pay cut of half that amount. Maybe that will change her mind.
* You might be surprised how many of your neighbors are already carpooling and have room for one more. There are a number of online carpool directories to help you save a ton of money by sharing a ride, such as eRideShare, Carpool World and Carpool Connect.
* Don't wait until next May for "Bike to Work Day." Bicycle commuting may be more practical than you think, particularly since many public transportation facilities are now bike-friendly and let you take your bike with you on buses and trains. See this website for more bike commuting tips and info.
* Borrow a copy of Chris Balish's wonderful book How to Live Well without Owning a Car from the library. Even if you're not able to go car-free, it includes a wealth of practical ideas for at least reducing your four-wheel dependency.
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