As part of my summer internship with TransForm, a transportation advocacy group in Oakland, CA, I'm going to be experimenting a lot with the possibilities of using social networking sites for community organization. It's an interesting project, and one that I feel a lot of people are talking about, but no one has really completely figured out. The first project is actually a part of a larger fund-raising event that we're throwing called the Car-Free Challenge. It's sort of a reverse walk-a-thon. Instead of raising money based on how much you walk, you raise it based on how little you drive. We've got well over a hundred people participating, and one of the main things I'm doing is encouraging them to blog. The following is one of my own posts about the first day of the challenge.
Day One: 984 Miles Car Free
I usually tell people that I try to avoid flying for the same reason I try to avoid driving. A) It’s bad for the environment and B) It stresses me out. For me, June 1st happened to fall on the last day of my vacation. I’d spent the previous two weeks in Minneapolis (visiting family) and Chicago (visiting friends) and was traveling back to Boston on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited.
A few years ago, I had used one of those internet emissions calculators to find out how I compared to the average. OK. Let’s be honest. As someone who’s been car-free for a long time and lives in an apartment building in a downtown neighborhood, I was looking to confirm how awesome I am. However, I found that, due to the amount of flying that my partner and I do (she’s an anthropologist and we tend to travel to Asia more often then most), we had the emissions of a family of four in the suburbs. My first thought was, of course, to pay for carbon offsets. But when it comes to making a decision between paying some money and changing my behavior, I usually lean towards changing my behavior. It makes me more comfortable. Obviously, there are very few ways to get to Asia from the US, but I did decide to try out Amtrak for as much of my domestic travel as I could.
Since then, I’ve traveled by rail as far as Boston to Santa Fe… and I’ve loved it. One of my favorite things about traveling across the country by rail is the view of America it gives you. Traveling by interstate, the country is remarkably uniform. You see the same highways, the same gas stations, the same cars and the same subdivisions all over the country. The rail lines tend to go through back areas, far off the beaten path. You get an amazing view of America before the interstate system. Mostly though, unlike flying, which is just transportation, taking the train really becomes part of the trip. We pack enough food, wine and games and just sit back to enjoy the ride…