Read about what you can achieve when you use your own two feet to take individual action on your path to sustainable living.
by Kezia Rice
'Managing without access to easy and immediate transport has been a challenge as well as a source of discovery'
It is nearly five years since the only driver in my family died and me and my dad began navigating life without a car. Unsurprisingly, there have been much trickier things (death - fun!) to navigate in that time. But in terms of practical, everyday living, managing without access to easy and immediate transport has been a challenge as well as a source of discovery.
As a teenager, I relied on lifts from people. Lifts from my adult friends back from the supermarket and out into the countryside for walks. Lifts home from parties in the middle of the night from the generous parents of friends who let me jump in the back seat and insisted on dropping me to my door. Lifts anywhere and everywhere in the back of my best friend’s mum’s van, lying amongst the cushions and prayer flags, keeping my head down in case someone saw me without a seatbelt. Lifts to and from university (an 8 hour round trip) from my generous and giving friend Helen.
'I have never met someone more enthused about public transport systems than my non-driving dad'
Public transport also came into its own. I have never met someone more enthused about public transport systems than my non-driving dad, who records every railway programme on TV known to man, and loves the New York subway system because of its confusing web of maps rather than in spite of them. Some of my earliest transport memories are of trains: playing ‘I spy’ with my sister as scenery whizzed past the window; the mad dash through Glasgow Central lower-level to catch our connection to my grandma’s house at Christmas; the cancellations on the journey home that meant hours spent in Motherwell’s sub-arctic waiting room; the overwhelming excitement of receiving a Virgin kids activity pack with its colouring books and headphones. When we became car-less, our use of trains increased ten-fold. We got the train everywhere from Devon to Bridlington to the Isle of Eigg. We must have spent an enormous amount of collective hours waiting on platforms. We became painfully familiar with the frustrations associated with the phrase ‘replacement bus service’.
Then came my rediscovery of cycling as a means of transport: during the three years I lived in Bristol, powering up hills with a heavy rucksack of university books became a fact of life. My trusty bike returned with me to Lancaster, and came into its own the summer I spent working in a canalside pub. The cycle to work was a hectic pedal through traffic and onto the towpath (I often mis-timed when to leave and was invariably always running late), and the commute home a slow wobble after post-work drinks that required a lot of focus to not accidentally veer into the canal. This was also the summer I began driving lessons, and 18 months and one breakdown (the tears kind, not the car kind) in an industrial estate later, I passed my test first time. The process of learning to drive without a parent to help you practise is tricky, frustrating, demoralising and expensive. I watched my friends and younger cousins pass their tests within weeks of beginning lessons. I had practise drives with my adult friends (a whole genre of friendship group, of which I am happy to have many); their generosity in giving up their time, petrol and control of their vehicle to a hapless learner is something I still feel indebted to. I lost count of how many lessons I had, and berated myself any time my progress seemed to be stalling (pun alert - I also stalled A LOT) because of the ever growing bill I owed my driving instructor. (Yes, it was me that owed him - my dad offered to pay for some lessons, probably out of guilt at his inability to help elsewhere in the driving field, but this was something I had to do on my own.)
'I know that using public transport means delays, frustrations and the difficult balance between packing light and bringing enough reading material for the journey'
When I finally passed, several people asked me when I was going to buy a car. The answer? By this point, I am completely used to not having one. I know that a trip to the supermarket means rucksacks and a ban on heavy items and even then a slow walk home with shopping bags pulling down each arm like rocks. I know that using public transport means delays, frustrations and the difficult balance between packing light and bringing enough reading material for the journey. I know that to cycle into the countryside to get a view over the city will, at least in my part of the world, mean impossibly steep hills. (Sidenote: what made me feel I could go cycling despite the hills was accepting that I would inevitably have to get off and walk, and that that was okay. You’re cycling for pleasure here, there’s no rush. Also use panniers, or even better, don’t take anything with you.The feeling of cycling without a rucksack on your back is incredibly freeing.)
In terms of sustainable transport, the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown have been a blessing and a curse. For weeks, planes were at a standstill on airport terminals, roads were deserted of cars, and those who had previously felt unsure about cycling took to two wheels. Simultaneously, public transport remains in most people’s minds a hotbed for the virus, in which it is difficult to maintain 2 metres distance from your fellow tube-goers and the very air you breathe feels contaminated. In his first notice about the lockdown easing (the one a few weeks ago that was all mixed messages and GCSE textbook graphics), Boris Johnson implored people to use their car if they were returning to work. Yes, a car is an easy option. Yes, it takes you from A to B whilst giving you minimal contact with others. And yes, for disabled individuals and those especially vulnerable to catching Covid-19, it is the most viable way of transporting yourself. But if you don’t fall into these categories, don’t passively get behind the wheel just because the prime minister says so. Use public transport safely, but also take a moment to broaden your horizons of what is possible.
'If you have the power to drive yourself further than your immediate perimeter, don’t do so passively'
Yesterday, I ran to a swimming spot on Lancaster’s river Lune with a bikini under my clothes and a sports bag containing a towel and water bumping along on my back. The sense of independence I got from transporting myself to the river without anyone’s help was triumphant, and the feeling of submerging myself in the cool water after half an hour of running in 22 degree heat was equally joyous. My dad is sad we can’t go further: normally this time of year would call for a train trip to Askam, or Silverdale, or the Lakes, places those with cars can access but those without are not even able to ask their friends to drive them. We are trapped in the bubble of the few miles we can cycle, run or walk, and are so lucky that it contains woods and rivers and streams and coast. But if you have the power to drive yourself further than your immediate perimeter, don’t do so passively. Ask yourself if there’s not an easier, greener and more freeing way to travel, using your own two feet.
Kezia Rice is the Founder and Editor-in-chief of imprint mag.zine. As well as running imprint, she makes a podcast @kezsbookshelf, and can often be found taking scissors and a sewing needle to her clothes or having a refreshing dip in one of Lancashire's rivers.