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Take the bus, save the Earth, improve your health: Alternative transportation and wellness

Christina Quint, MA, is the sustainability analyst for Inova’s Office of Sustainability. In this role, she provides programmatic support, manages sustainability communication and marketing, and oversees environmental data collection and analysis to ensure optimal operational performance across the Inova system.

Raise your hand if you enjoy sitting in Northern Virginia traffic.

No one?

Me either.

Most of us have come to accept that sitting in traffic on our way to work is an annoying, yet inevitable, part of our daily grind—and there is no remedy in sight. In fact, the number of hours per capita that people spend delayed by traffic congestion in 50 metropolitan areas has risen by 95 percent in the last decade.

For Northern Virginians, this statistic is particularly relevant: The metro Washington area ranked number two nationally for time spent waiting in traffic. During the same period, the number of trips that people made increased by only 16.9 percent.

The number-one culprit behind our commuting woes is the sheer number of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) on the roads every day. Not only is the congestion stressing us out, it’s making us sick. The transportation sector accounts for 27 percent of total United States greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is the sector with the greatest annual growth in terms of GHG emissions. Air pollution from GHGs is linked to a host of health concerns, especially in those with preexisting conditions like asthma, respiratory illnesses, or cardiovascular disease.

Alternative transportation is defined as commuting in any way other than driving alone. Examples include biking, walking, carpooling, and taking public transportation. These alternative commuting options are crucial to improving the health of our communities and our environment. Read on to learn the top five modes of alternative transportation, and the benefits associated with each.

  1. Walking

Did you know that 40 percent of all car trips are 2 miles or less? Or that private vehicles like cars, pick-up trucks, and SUVs, account for 60 percent of trips of a mile or less? Although walking may take longer, don’t forget to consider the benefits for your health. Aerobic activities such as walking and biking help you stay fit and can lower your blood pressure, maintain good cholesterol levels and generally put you in a better mood.

  1. Biking

If you’re in a rush, or your destination is a bit too far to travel on foot, consider biking instead of jumping in the car. Bikes are much more energy efficient than cars, and they enable you to bypass traffic congestion, possibly making it a quicker alternative during rush hour. Plus, some studies even show that biking for transportation is more helpful in losing weight and promoting health than working out at the gym.

  1. Bus or Metro

For many of us, our daily commute is so long that it’s impractical to walk or bike. Plus, inclement weather, hot summers, and cold winters, make walking or biking too difficult. Have no fear—Metros and buses have your back! Compared to driving alone, public transportation like buses use less fuel per passenger and reduce the amount of traffic congestion. Many areas have lanes dedicated to buses or high occupancy vehicles, which might make taking a bus faster than driving yourself.

For those worried about hitting their daily active minutes goal, these aren’t completely sedentary modes of transit. In fact, individuals who use public transportation get over three times the amount of physical activity per day of those who don’t by walking to stops and final destinations.

  1. Carpooling

If biking, walking, or public transit simply are not viable options for you, why not consider carpooling with a colleague? Since you can split fuel costs and cut your emissions per person, carpooling is a great way to cut down on expenses and feel good about reducing your personal environmental impact. As an added bonus, many employers, including Inova, incentivize carpooling by offering reserved parking spaces for carpoolers. Avoiding the stress of finding a parking space and saving on fuel? Talk about a win-win.

  1. Telecommuting

Often hailed as the pinnacle of “work-life balance”, telecommuting, or working from home, is a popular option for many employees. Working from home is shown to increase employee productivity, and the flexibility of working remotely is associated with higher levels of employee satisfaction. Granted, many employers will offer the option of working from home only once or twice a week, but consider this—even if you telecommute once per week, you’ll reduce your work commute emissions by 20%. No judgement if you work in your pajamas.

What’s your favorite way to commute to work? Let me know in the comments. Happy green commuting!

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