My account of creating a greener life.

Tips to Make Your Commute Greener

Hello from my desk in Copenhagen! I am here working on a research project for the month of September. Right now, my commute consists of riding my bike to a train – a commute shared by many Copenhagen residents.

I really enjoy finishing my work day with a bike ride through the crisp September air. Though it makes me wonder – why do so many Americans opt to commute by car? It’s certainly convenient, but it lacks the child-like joy of zipping along by bike.

Most people think that they must get around by car – that walking or biking or taking public transit would not fit with their lifestyle. I hope that this post serves as an encouraging reminder that anyone can make their commute a little greener!

A bike a stumbled across in Amsterdam which could improve anyone’s commute.

Consider your commute an opportunity to exercise

I have heard a lot of conversations about how challenging people find it to fit exercise into their work day. This makes sense: if you work from 9 – 5 and spend an hour or more commuting, you’ll have trouble fitting in a trip to the gym!

Changing the way you commute can offer you a lot of different ways to incorporate exercise into your day. Biking, the most obvious example, gives you a great cardio workout. If you take public transit to your job instead of driving, you’ll likely add some walking to your commute as a result.

If it’s true that “sitting is the new smoking,” we should all be thinking about minimizing the time we spend sitting. Taking the train to work means you can stand and stretch your legs ahead of what might be a long work day of sitting.

Address your safety concerns

For biking:

I am embarrassed to admit I was afraid of biking for a long time. I grew up in a community where it was all too common to hear the tragic news that a biker had gotten hit by a reckless driver. This sad reality holds true in many American cities – even those that have bike lanes.

Even while living in Copenhagen last year, I was scared to try biking despite the fact that almost no city on Earth has such safe bike lanes. I have since conquered my fear of biking by taking a few concrete steps that anyone can make:

  1. Invest in a helmet you believe in. Almost no one in Copenhagen wears helmets, but I recognize that I’m someone who really needs that piece of mind. I recently wrote about the great helmet I bought, and it has increased my biking confidence substantially.
  2. Research your route ahead of time. I hate biking along busy roads without bike lanes (does anyone like that?!) so if I know I’m biking somewhere, I’ll study my route in advance. Google maps does a great job of getting you to your destination along bike paths and quiet backroads. I also like to familiarize myself with my route in advance so I don’t have to check my phone while biking!
  3. Get out on your bike often. Nothing helped me more than simply going on bike rides as often as a could. With every safe and easy trip by bike, my confidence increased. Maybe this means you start by riding bike for fun on the weekends more until you feel confident enough to commute by bike!

For public transit:

Some people may object to the idea of commuting by public transit if they work late and don’t feel comfortable riding the bus alone at night. I totally understand that! I try my best to avoid riding transit alone at night after dark, even though I know I live in a very safe area.

The easiest way to address this problem is to bring a friend along. If you can convince a co-worker to join you on public transit, you won’t have to worry about going alone. However, I know that in reality, convincing someone to trade driving for riding public transit is no easy feat.

Here’s my more realistic solution: take public transit one way. Maybe this means you uber home or call a friend for a ride, but cutting down your emissions by half still makes a difference! If you’re working late every night, this solution may not work well. However, if you only have to resort to an uber home once in a while, that’s not a big deal.

Use the clean slate principle

The easiest time to change the way you commute? When your work situation changes! If you change cities for your job, move homes, or get a new job altogether, you’re already forced to think about how your commute will change.

If on your very first day of work you get there by public transit or by bike, you’re more likely to make that your routine. I got this idea from the amazing Gretchen Rubin, but I’ve found it’s really helped during my time in Copenhagen. From day one, I commuted by bike and train, so that has become my routine!

Pack a change of clothes

Some people don’t like the idea of arriving to work sweaty after a bike ride. That’s fair enough, especially if you have to bike a long way to get to your office. Fortunately, my bike ride is only fifteen minutes long so I haven’t had to deal with this!

If you’re concerned about your appearance, bike to work in athletic gear, pack deodorant and face wipes, and then change into your work clothes. However, you’d be surprised how many people in Copenhagen simply bike in their work clothes and don’t mind their slightly disheveled appearance.

Of course, this advice holds for foul weather as well. Not sure you want to wait for the bus in the freezing cold or go biking in the rain? Just put on the appropriate clothes and no weather can hold you back.

Make you budget calculations

I will admit, I am a huge budgeter. I think through every single dollar I spend every month, usually a few weeks before I spend it. Though most people don’t budget as obsessively as I do, almost everyone will respond to the promise of saving money!

One good way to convince yourself to change the way you commute is to tally the amount you spend on gasoline and car maintenance (and possibly the cost of buying your car). Then, calculate how much a public transit pass to your office would cost you.

If that number feels insignificant to you, try compounding the figure over several years. As you realize how much money you can save by changing the way you commute, you may just realize the pros outweigh the cons.

Here’s hoping all of us find such beautiful bike parking!

I would love to hear any other advice you have on changing the way you commute! As a disclaimer – I know this advice doesn’t apply to everyone. If you simply live too far away or have to travel with children, you can’t change your lifestyle so easily.

At the end of the day, what matters is that you’re taking baby steps towards lowering your impact. Maybe this means you’ll walk to the grocery store once a week instead of driving or try to bike to work whenever the weather is nice. In my book, all efforts are good efforts!

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