Ask 18 urban volunteers to forgo using their cars for one week and what will you learn?
The study found that autonomy was more important for commuters than the status or comfort associated with car ownership. “More than two-thirds of participants cited convenience, control, and flexibility—not comfort or status, as the chief benefits of car ownership,” the report says. Especially in the presence of ride-sharing services, study participants agreed that car ownership was not essential to their lifestyle.
The study also cites the idea of improving perceptions of alternative transit as a means of encouraging individuals to choose sustainable transit options, especially when it comes to real-time, geographically aware and mobile-accessible information sharing.
The participants cited three main benefits of switching away from automobile commuting: improving the environment, lowering their budget for travel, and improving their health.
For some of the participants, one of the most rewarding aspects of a car-free week was rediscovering the community. After the study period, participants felt more integrated into their communities and felt that discovering new transportation routes exposed them to new experiences, like local events, public art projects, shops and local businesses.
You can read the same list of benefits on many weblogs like this one. I’m 100 percent in favor of sending this message to the public both on Carbon Trace and in person (re: my scheduled talk on the 1-Mile Solution at Ecopalooza at MSU this Friday — talk time tentatively scheduled for 2:00 p.m. — details soon).
My problem with this study is the low number of participants and the fact that at least some of them were self-selected. While the advocate in me enjoys the positive message, the academic in me is scratching his head. The metrics don’t appear to add up to a statistically-significant conclusion.
As a set of anecdotes, it’s fine. As reporting, it’s fine. Calling it a “study” is a bit grandiose.
The fact of the matter is that millions of Americans are hopelessly stuck using automobiles. Even if they wanted to use some other form of transportation, circumstances make it difficult to impossible to do so. This is why I push the 1MS idea. A large number of people who are stuck using cars can find some destination within a mile of home suitable for a trip by foot or bicycle — even if it’s just to a friend’s house a few blocks away.
Part of the problem with the U.S., however, is that there are still a sizable number of people who cannot even do the 1MS because our built environment has automobile dependence.
Wan another set of data and a different (equally important) message? Conduct this same study in a typical exurban development rather than a large city.