Join me this week in taking Transform’s Car Free Challenge!

Good morning, folks! Happy Car Free Challenge week!

What’s that? You don’t know what I’m talking about? You’re wondering what the Car Free Challenge is? Oh, okay. Let me tell you. Better yet, I’ll let TransForm tell you:

It’s a weeklong event from June 1-7 where a community of people from around California set and reach a personal low car mileage goal. It raises awareness of the need for better walking, biking, and public transportation options. It also yields data, stories, and critical funds for TransForm, an award-winning nonprofit, to use in advocating for world-class public transportation and walkable communities at the regional, state, and federal levels.

The Car Free Challenge is simple. You register with TransForm (the $45 registration fee gets you a Car Free Challenge T-Shirt and a one-year membership to TransForm, which means free access to all their super interesting events).

Then you set a goal of how few miles you want to go in a car, and for the rest of the week, keep track of how your miles. Also keep track of how many miles you go using other means — walking, bicycling, public transit. Your personal Car Free Challenge page gives you a space to log your miles, and also to blog about your experiences. And, of course, to solicit donations for TransForm! Speaking of which, who wants to support my car-free challenge goal of zero miles? I have set a goal of raising $100 for TransForm. Can you kick in $5 or $10?

As much as I’d loved for you to help me reach my fundraising goal, what I would love even more is for you to register for the challenge yourself. You can register for the challenge through tomorrow.

Once you’ve registered, it would be totally awesome if you joined the blogoaksphere team that Becks took the time to set up. Right now, the only members of our team are me and her.

Now, I haven’t exactly been in heavy recruitment mode or anything, but over the last week, I did make a couple of half-hearted attempts to encourage other people to sign up for the Car Free Challenge and to join our team. I was amazed by how resistant people were! I mean, I get that $45 is a lot of money, and so I totally understand if people don’t want to do it because they can’t pay. All I have to say about that is that TransForm is a really wonderful organization and they do great work, and there are a whole lot of worse places your money could go.

But surprisingly, none of the people who rolled their eyes or laughed when I suggested they do the Car Free Challenge cited money as the barrier. Instead, they all gave me condescending lectures of varying lengths about how they need to drive for their life. “I’m not like you,” they all say. I have places I have to take a car.

And of course, I respond to all of them by saying that doing the Car Free Challenge doesn’t mean you can’t drive at all. It’s an opportunity to become more conscious of how much you drive, and to remember that there are other options for getting around.

I set my goal for the week as zero miles. But you can pick a much higher number. Here is what TransForm has to say about selecting your mileage goal:

We know that depending on where you live and what your options are for public transportation, walking, and bicycling, even a small reduction in driving can be a real challenge! For others, this may be the thing that inspires them to go entirely car-free.

Pick a goal that inspires you, but is realistic. Do some quick math on what you drive in a week or month and think about what it would take to reduce your mileage by 5%, 10%, 50% or more. Your average American driver drives about 30 miles per day (or 250 miles per week); your average Bay Area driver drives about 18 miles/day.

And yes, you do get credit for carpooling.

The more resistant you are to the idea of taking the Car Free Challenge, the more you probably need to do it. Once you start being conscious of how much you drive, you will likely find that you do take a lot of car trips that really are not necessary. Maybe your work is nowhere near public transit. Okay, so you have to drive. But that doesn’t mean you can’t carpool one or two days a week. And it doesn’t mean you can’t walk to your errands when you get home. Or maybe you have tons of groceries to buy and really need to take your car to the store. But if you’re like most people, you probably drive to one errand, come back, and then later in the day, or the next day, you drive to another errand that really could have been combined with the previous trip if you had just planned it a little better.

Maybe you do work and live close enough to transit, but sometimes you need your car for off-site appointments. In that case, maybe you should consider just leaving your car at work for the week, so you’ll have it when you need it, but you can walk or take the bus for your main trip of the day. Or maybe, you look at your schedule for the week, and on the days when you’re not going to be needing to drive to a meeting off-site, you ride your bike there. Just think before you get in the car — do I really need to drive for this trip? The answer won’t always be no. But it will be no more often than you think it’s going to be.

So please, join me and Becks this week in taking the Car Free Challenge. You have until tomorrow to register!

22 thoughts on “Join me this week in taking Transform’s Car Free Challenge!

  1. Ralph

    I’ll play. I just won’t pay. $45 ducats seems excessive. How about $5 and a window sticker for my car :) ? I certainly have no desire either to own or to wear the t-shirt.

    Last week, I drove a total of 3 miles. I will consider doing an Oh-fer this week, but I do have a trip to the city, which will require some non-bart foot shuffling. The real issue is how much longer I will need to be out because I opted to attend sans car.

    Tune in tomorrow to see if I am still an Oh-fer. Good luck to the participants. May your dawgs move you in comfort and your pedals carry you swiftly to thine destination.

  2. Dave C.

    I was all set to sign up when Becks announced the formation of the team, then I clicked through to the site and saw the $45 registration fee. Yikes. Going carfree for the week won’t be a ‘challenge’ since I am carfree anyway, but finding $45 in my budget is a challenge. As much as I admire TransForm and the work they do, I think that setting such a high registration fee may unfortunately lend credence to the accusations of their critics (such as the BART directors) that they are just a bunch of out-of-touch elitist activists. That’s a shame, since I don’t think the charges are true.

    Anyway, I’ll think about signing up today. As for your efforts to get people to change their habits for a week, you would think that the situation in the Gulf of Mexico might have driven home the connection between our car-dependent lifestyles and the degradation of our planet, but apparently the links between the peronal and the political are still hard to discern for a lot of people, who are full of outrage against BP yet still can’t contemplate leaving their car in the garage for an extra few days this week.

  3. Dave C.

    P.S. I solved my budgetary problem by suspending my Netflix account for a few months. I encourage other people to sign up also. And if you can’t sign up, then pitch in a few bucks on behalf of V Smoothe or one of the rest of us. (The “blogoaksphere” team now has 5 players–woohoo! Lakers watch out!) And if you can’t contribute, then at least try to drive less; getting out of one’s car more often is good for oneself, good for Oakland’s neighborhoods (eyes on the street, greeting neighbors, etc), and good for the world. And as a bonus, it’s bad for BP and Shell and the like…

  4. Ralph

    Dave C, since you have managed to solve your budget issues, could you please chip in $7.50 for me. I will reimburse you next Tuesday.

    Transform should have been more creative in their efforts to get people to sign up for this challenge. I was turned off by the $45 sign-up fee especially when you consider that part of the money covers the cost of that godawful tee shirt.

    Maybe a lower challenge fee with the option to attend one meeting free to let me evaluate if I even want to be involved with a bunch of elitist activist.

  5. Dave C.

    The sad fact is that a lot of people want to get T-shirts or other swag when they give their money away–just look at all the junk NPR offers to its supporters (and I’m not only talking about NPR’s programming).

  6. Ralph

    At least with the NPR schwag has value – reusable bags, coffee mugs, a year subscription to some elitist mag,etc…but my gawd, TF has the most hideous tee-shirt ever. Ever? Yes. Ever, Ever? Ever, Ever.

    This crappy tee-shirt may appeal to the youth market, but adults have no use for it. One can’t really wear it when one goes out as it does not say adult. It sends the wrong signals in the dating marketplace. If one is going to be walking more, then a reusable tote would have been better schwag.

    Did you chip in the $7.50 for me?

  7. Max Allstadt

    If somebody can tell me how to get from Oakland to Sacramento and back twice this week with about 200 pounds of power tools, without using a car, I might consider taking this challenge…

  8. Ralph

    Max, if you only need the tools in Sac and can leave them secured, then I would drive up once, take train home, take train back, and drive home.

  9. David

    How about I don’t spend the money, continue driving as much or as little as I want, and ignore this?

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    Well, Max, if you had actually read the post, you would know that the point of the challenge is to reduce, not eliminate, the number of miles you go in a car, and that one picks their own number of miles based on what works for them. Perhaps you need to drive to Sacramento and back, but you certainly do a lot of gratuitous driving when you’re in Oakland that you could skip easily.

  11. V Smoothe Post author

    $45 is a lot of money for me too, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t want to or can’t pay that. I had to think pretty carefully about whether I wanted to do it. I decided I did, because I really support the work that TransForm does. I will not be renewing my membership with another local organization this year in order to cover the cost.

    I do think, however, that it’s a little unfair to criticize TransForm for the cost, though. I mean, the Car Free Challenge is a fundraiser. Maybe they should be more explicit about that? It’s not clear to people, and that’s why they find it off-putting? For your money, you get the t-shirt and a one-year membership, which is a higher membership fee than some local advocacy organizations and lower than others. The general range seems to be from $25 to $65, so they’re pretty much in the middle. I think the concept is fairly clever as far as membership drives go – at least in engages you in thinking about the organization’s mission instead of just asking you to write a check and go back to your life.

    Maybe they should have offered another option to sign-up for the Car Free Challenge, which costs less but didn’t come with membership benefits? Or maybe if they did it that way, they would raise less money. Or maybe what they really wanted to get out of it was more members. I don’t know what their calculus was there, so I won’t speculate any more. Anyway, I think it’s fine if people don’t want to join — I can think of like a dozen Oakland groups that I want to support, and would be a member of if I had more money, but my bank account is limited and I have to pick and choose. I choose TransForm, some people will want to choose something else. That’s totally understandable. But I don’t think it’s fair to say TransForm is elitist based on the Car Free Challenge.

    Anyway, I’m glad you decided to sign up after all, Dave. Welcome to the team!

  12. Ralph

    I am not criticizing them for the cost. I read about it on some other blog, but the author made no mention of the pricetag. But clearly once you land on TF page, it is evident that this is a fundraiser. So I am probably less put off by TF than I am about the earlier omission.

    Like you I do not know the calculus for deciding on this method. I just hate what appears to be a we value your dollars more than your long-term participation approach.

    The elitist tag comes from some other blog where people were commenting about TF and similar org. Not meant to be serious.

  13. Jenn

    I did the challenge last year and it was a whole month, so this year’s challenge of only a week will be a snap. I set a goal of driving 50 miles this week — I looked at my schedule, identified places I had to drive (like a meeting with a client this morning in Laurel Heights in San Francisco. 1.25 hours via public transportation (2.5 hours round trip) vs. 1 hour round trip in a car — I had to drive because I just did not have the time to spend on the bus! Anyway, I’m walking and biking more this week. And I already got my $45 back in prizes because I won a photo contest and got a prize worth $50. And at the kick-off party last night I drank two beers and had some cheese and crackers, so that paid off. I don’t think I’ll wear the t-shirt, though. Maybe as pajamas.

  14. Max Allstadt


    I believe that by your standards, I’m actually doing going to great lengths this week to curb my driving. Instead of driving back to Oakland every night to go drink Trummer and Bulleit with you at our favorite bar, I have opted to sleep in a trailer with a restless German Shepard and a 54 year old man. That has to count for something, no?


  15. David

    I must do the “challenge” every year as I post up 300 miles/month on my car on average. Whatever.

  16. Brad

    Regrettably, for some people, it’s just not safe to walk, bike, or take public transit. Ever. I point again to the story of a woman who was eventually driven out of Oakland. In a blog post, she writes how her husband “should’ve driven to Farmer Joe’s” for a few potatoes rather than walk around the block to the local corner store: I believe they lived in Allendale at the time, which is not a bad neighborhood. But if you’re not even safe walking around the block in your not bad neighborhood, then how are you possibly going to be safe walking blocks to and from public transit, waiting for the bus, late at night, or weighted down by bags from the grocery store? Until Oakland solves its public safety crisis, and it is a crisis, I don’t see how we can have meaningful discussions about public transit.

  17. Russ

    I just wish that people would keep these behaviors in their daily routines. I bring my bike over the bridge every day but whenever there is one of these ” Everyone be environmental” or “Bike to work” weeks there is no space left for bikes. If everyone just biked every day instead of just on random days AC transit could install more bike holders etc… to handle the demand. Again I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be biking to work, i’m just saying you should be doing it every day so that the transit system can plan for it.

  18. Ralph

    Well the challenge is over. Ironically, I think I drove more miles (22) than my weekly average but not more than necessary. If Danville were a little easier to get without a car, I probably would have opted for public transportation (PT) rather than wait in Tunnel Jam on the return trip.

    In a separate note, I am worried about employers moving headquarters / officeplexes away from PT and deeper into the burbs. You are pretty much asking people to drive and quite possibly limiting the type of people who will seek employment at the firm.

  19. len raphael

    Looks like the auto centric forces are winning so far on the parcel adjacent to the Safeway parcel at Bway/51st. The former Emil Villa restaurant site is rumored? to become the new AAA office .

    A reliable source has it that the owner of the Safeway lot has prevailed in keeping it pure commercial, no high density residential. There was rare unity among most residents, all the community planning groups, and city staff to make that site high density mixed use. Could have done with very minimal impact on existing low density residential areas. On a transit corridor. Economically viable because of location.

    And yes I especially liked it because we could get high average densiity without high density 15 feet away from my backyard.

    -len raphael

  20. Ralph

    Len, wasn’t the Emil Villa to AAA conversion always the plan? And why is the shopping center/development plan called B-way/51st, isn’t that Pleasant Valley? Is it because B/PV is too long?

    I would definitely like to see some residential units there. It would think it would make a streetcar along b-way to JLS a more attractive venture.

  21. len raphael

    Ralph, could well be the AAA was previously approved since apparently not same owner. (i havent checked).

    51st = Pleasant Valley Rd

    Post something on beck’s site and see what others have reason to believe there’s still chance of getting mixed use on safeway site.