I got an email at work the other day about the “commuter challenge“. The “challenge” apparently is to not drive in a car by yourself, in the summer. Yes, I know that, like Earth Day/Hour, it’s the intention to create “awareness”, but my issue lies in the use of the word “challenge”. When you use that word you only make things worse. Here is my rationale:
One, when you call it a challenge, you reinforce the mindset that it’s challenging/extraordinary to commute by any means other than driving your car by yourself. I fight this mentality every single day. My co-workers and even fellow cyclists think I’m crazy riding my bike to work in the winter. Meanwhile there are million dollar + pileups on the 401, thousands of motor vehicle related deaths annually, an obesity epidemic, terrible traffic congestion, gigantic potholes, skyrocketing road/highway maintenance costs, war in the middle east over oil, thousands of tonnes of road salt being dumped into our watershed, pipelines rupturing, new pipelines being approved, and oh yeah, this little thing called “climate change” that we’re oh so concerned about and aware of. But I’m the abnormal one out there riding all winter.
It shouldn’t require extraordinary resolve nor should it be considered “special” to do something that simply makes sense environmentally, economically, and socially.
Two, when you call it a challenge, you reinforce the mindset that the roads are built for cars and you’re a fish swimming upstream among the sharks. It shouldn’t be a challenge to ride a bike for the average person, and we should be demanding the infrastructure to make it stupid to not ride to work.
Three, when you call it a challenge, you create this illusion that when it’s over, you’ve completed this “difficult task”, and you get to “go back to normal” and relieve yourself of the heavy burden of pedaling a bicycle in the sunshine for 30 minutes a day and skipping the treadmill in the gym in the process. And you get to give yourself a pat on the back because for one week of the year, in the most convenient season, you did something “challenging.” I take issue with anything that reinforces the mindset that changing the way we commute is challenging for the average citizen. Even more so when it’s construed that just temporarily changing the way we commute in the summertime is challenging. It doesn’t have to be considered a challenge, and we should be dissolving those barriers, not building them with “challenges” to create “awareness.”