This summer from May to September, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center sponsors “Don’t Be Fuelish”, a competition to encourage alternatives single-occupant car-commuting to work. I think the competition will have a good effect overall — but, in a way, the rules actually reward driving.
According to the Northern Center’s calendar of events,
It’s a friendly competition, open to all local organizations, to encourage employees to reduce their fossil fuel usage. People can bike, walk, bus, or carpool to and from work to save miles traveled in a single occupant vehicle. These miles are tallied each month, with a winner of the most miles saved announced at the end of the competition. There will be individual recognition as well – most miles biked, most miles walked, etc…
Perhaps I misunderstand the competition — and please correct me if so — but it appears that what it rewards is distance from work. That is, those participants who live farthest from work can contribute “saved” mileage more than those who live close enough to walk.
I love bicycling, and, when it’s not too cold, biking is my preferred way of getting to work and any other destinations. But if the goal of Don’t Be Fuelish is to encourage less, and less-wasteful, use of gasoline, wouldn’t the sponsors (not to mention the atmosphere) be happier if people simply lived close enough to work that they could just walk? Yet those people cannot contribute to the competition in their places of work.
Now, I’m not suggesting that anybody is making his or her housing choices based on the chance to rack up “saved” miles for Don’t Be Fuelish. “Wait! I was going to live in Slaterville and walk to my job at Ace Hardware, but now I think I’ll relocate down the George Parks Highway and bike in from Nenana!” No, no, of course not.
It’s just ironic that those in a position to save the most miles of vehicle travel from May to September are also those who will also will drive the most miles and consume the most gasoline in the other months, since most people aren’t bold enough to walk or bike to work all winter long. It would be nice if the competition could also reward those who live on a smaller, more walkable scale.
Of course, the broader goals of Don’t Be Fuelish aren’t just to save vehicle-miles. As I see them, they are (1) to raise consciousness about the amount of gasoline we waste through single-occupancy car use, and (2) to help people create habits (like walking, bicycling, carpooling, and busing) that they can take into the winter months, even if not as vigorously as in the summer. These are laudable goals, and I think that Don’t Be Fuelish is an excellent tool for meeting them.
The bicycling promotion aside — and I’m all for it! — what could we do to make it more possible and more attractive for Fairbanksans to live, work, and shop with no need of automobiles whatsoever?