Imagine you’re in a steel cage. It’s hot and you’re sweating almost unbearably. You try to stretch out, but you can’t even fully extend your arms before they compress against the rigid ceiling designed to protect you from direct sunlight. Your legs are fixed in place, serving the purpose of operating small levers with your feet. You wish more than anything to simply breathe the outside air, but you dare not, for it is noisy and filled with dangerous amounts of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and other harmful toxins.
Even worse, you’re not the only one trapped. Surrounding you are thousands of others in similar metal cages, separated from one another only by thin strips of paint covering countless miles of scorching tar. Occasionally your cage moves and a glimmer of hope exists, but it is quickly extinguished by the flash of red lights from the back of the cage in front of you. Now imagine being in this cage for over an hour every day, a day of every month, or nearly two weeks of your life every year.
This is the amount of time the average GTA commuter spends in their car. Isn’t it ironic that the very machine designed to deliver transportation freedom to humanity has become a prison to our everyday lives?
But how much does driving really suck? Let’s explore a few of the problems associated with driving.
Congestion. This is probably the most frustrating part of driving in a city. The average Toronto commuter spends about 64 minutes getting to and from work every day – valuable time that could be spent with family or relaxing (Campion-Smith, 2013). This adds up to 11 days of every year – that’s more than the amount of vacation time a lot of people get in a year!
Health. Cars are designed to get us from door-to-door with minimal effort and maximum convenience. Unfortunately, this has also eliminated a huge source of physical activity from our daily lives – walking! Surprisingly, research has shown that living in more dense urban areas can actually be better for your health. Why? Because people in these areas walk more to get to their destinations, rather than driving. Consider this the next time you go for a small trip, say to the convenience store for milk. You can get your groceries and your exercise for the day in one activity by cycling or walking to the store!
Emissions. Smog has been a growing concern in recent years, impacting our personal health and our healthcare system. In 2005, for example, it is estimated that 17,000 Canadians were admitted to hospitals on air pollution-related illnesses. What about when you’re driving? Your car filters the toxins out of the air for you, right? Perhaps not – a Canadian study found that car drivers were exposed to 10 times more pollution than those who biked, walked, or took the bus. That’s a number worth being concerned about, especially as we age and our immune systems get weaker.
Cars have been a major gateway to our freedom over the last century, allowing for memorable road trips, weekend getaways, and giving us to easy access to our treasured family and friends. While they will certainly fill a central part of our society for the foreseeable future, there are growing problems associated with driving, and these problems will only continue to grow.
By choosing to drive less, we can all play our part in making our world a better place, and significantly improve our own lives at the same time. Public transit, bikes, car shares, and carpooling are becoming more popular choices for commuters every year. So try it out (I did!)– you might just find yourself becoming a little fitter, healthier, and having more time to spend with your loved ones.
Campion-Smith, B. (2013, June 26). National Household Survey: GTA commuting times are the nation’s longest. Retrieved from Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/06/26/statistics_canada_toronto_commuters_face_longest_commutes.html
Transport Canada. (2006, December). The Links between Public Health and Sustainable and Active Transportation. Retrieved from Transport Canada: http://www.tc.gc.ca/media/documents/programs/cs42e_publichealth.pdf