What is Car-Free Day?

Everyone has a narrative in their brain that justifies decisions they have made and habits that have been formed.  It’s no different for driving alone in a car even when the “convenience” is challenged by traffic or parking headaches. Our narrative remains that driving is really the only “convenient” option. Car Free Day is all about making a mental shift to allow yourself more choices in how you travel. We are pretty confident that a lot of people will like having more choices, if they just try them. It could be as simple as walking to the store instead of driving, or going “car-lite” by carpooling to meet friends instead of each of those people driving alone. When you leave the car at home, you may be surprised how much trouble you’ve learned to accept while driving (frustrations with traffic, noise, bad drivers). This is also a great opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint and be more active when traveling around Austin.

Car Free Day started in 2000 and has become an international event celebrated by 1,500 cities in 40 countries. This year local non-profits and civic leaders have joined together for the inaugural Car Free Day, on September 22. This is a great opportunity to challenge yourself with two special events encouraging people to sign a pledge (more info).

Today the Alliance for Public Transportation is hosting a Car Free Happy Hour with free appetizers and drink specials  from 5:30pm-8:00pm at Tacos-N-Tequila. This a “rally the troops” event to promote Car Free Day on Saturday and Tacos-N-Tequila will be donating 20% of sales from the event back to the Alliance for Public Transportation to help benefit future grassroots and educational events. Please RSVP here.

Car Free Day ATX will take place this Saturday, September 22. Pledge to go car free or car lite (just don’t drive alone).  Come out to the SFC Farmers’ Market in Republic Square Park 9:00 am – 12:00pm. Volunteers will be giving out prizes to people who have pledged to be Car Free or Car Lite (for example: longest car-free commute, carpooling to group activity, planning and/or hosting a neighborhood event, and most unusual way of commuting).

Surprise yourself!  Most people can get everywhere they need to travel leaving the car at home for the day and using the train, bus, a bike, or just walking/wheeling. Make the Pledge, then spend Saturday playing, learning, working and shopping.  Just leave the car at home (it will be OK) or, if you do drive, travel in groups.

Transit Improvements We Can All Appreciate

More people are riding transit and that alone is good for everyone.  Every new transit rider is one less person driving alone, one less car adding to traffic and fewer carbon dioxide emissions—a single commuter who switches to using public transit will reduce 5,000 pounds of emissions annually. From October 2011 to June 2012, Capital Metro saw ridership increase by over one million trips from the previous time frame a year ago. Bus ridership increased by 3.9 percent, or roughly 898,000 trips and MetroRail ridership grew by over 49 percent, or roughly 133,000 trips.

Total ridership is on pace to exceed 33 million passenger trips in 2012, with a projected increase to 34 million in 2013. Capital Metro also celebrated MetroRail’s millionth passenger trip in August.

Capital Metro’s popular Night Owl bus service now provides increased frequency for routes 483, 484, 485 and 486, effective August 19, after August Service Changes went into effect. Capital Metro has realigned several routes in order to provide this increased frequency to allow increased ridership. The old night owl service map has being replaced with this new service map. For example, night owl buses connecting downtown to South Lamar, South Congress, E. Riverside and IH-35 South will run every half hour, instead of every hour. Check Capital Metro’s website for more details on the August 2012 changes, including how the change affected UT shuttles and other bus routes. Information is also up about proposed January 2013 changes. Public involvement opportunities for January Service Changes have begun and will continue throughout September. The Capital Metro board of directors will review the proposed changes at its monthly meeting Sept. 24, if approved, the January Service Changes will take effect Jan. 13.

In August, Austin City Council approved adding two transit priority lanes to help reorganize travel on Guadalupe and Lavaca streets from Cesar Chavez to MLK Boulevard to reduce conflicts and improve flow for autos, buses, and bikes. Curious as to how that would work? Click here for a video demonstration of how such lanes could operate. Primarily, the lanes will be used by public transit vehicles, but cars will also be allowed to drive in them for right turns.

These designated transit lanes, along with transit signal prioritization along the routes, will enable faster transit services and also separate bus and auto traffic to allow traffic to flow more efficiently. You can look forward to MetroRapid bus routes beginning in 2014. MetroRapid construction will begin later this month, more details available on Capital Metro’s MetroRapid construction webpage. And speaking of faster service, has CapMetro improved travel times on the RedLine by 20% for the average commuter. Capital Metro’s MetroRail service operates at a 99 percent on-time rate.

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet Project

Bikes are a fun, sleek way to get around, but despite the obvious safety precaution many people view helmets as a hassle due to their clunky, awkward design with the notorious disadvantage of sweaty, helmet hair. While obviously better than a cracked skull, it’s also not the way you want to roll up to an important morning meeting. So while we’ve all been schooled on the importance of strapping on a helmet before jumping on our bike, that doesn’t always mean we practice what’s been preached. Lucky for us someone out there was looking for a solution to this age old dilemma. Swedish design students Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin recently unveiled the Hovding, an inflatable, “invisible helmet.”

The beautiful thing about the Invisible Helmet Project is that it’s there when you need it, letting you feel comfortable, while riding in style with a secret safety device. While haute couture is one way to boost safety, the truly empowering element when cycling is confidence, which can come from a combination of elements: bike friendly traffic regulations, increased bikeways, traveling in groups, familiarity with your route, customizing your bike to suite your needs, and of course safety gear.

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.