Healthy Transportation – The Mental Calculation Part 2 with Free Gift

Executive Summary

In Part 1 of my post on Healthy Transportation – The Mental Calculation, I threatened a follow-up discussion on practical applications of how to decide how to get from Point A to Point B. I do that by first talking about my own approach.  Then I acknowledge that you are not me and probably want a different approach.  I next give some short anecdotes about other people’s travel algorithm and beg you to challenge yourself to do something similar to what I do for the exercise benefit alone.  Finally, I offer my free gift.

Practical Applications for Getting from Point A to Point B With Karma Sense

Whenever I need to go somewhere, I consider all of the variables stated in my previous post and come up with my transportation plan. No, I don’t literally make a calculation (although I could, he said foreshadowing the free gift), but I don’t automatically jump in the car either. There’s an algorithm and here’s how it goes.

First, I know up front that all things being equal, here is my preferred means of transportation:

  1. Cycle
  2. Walk
  3. Public Transportation
  4. Combo of above
  5. Car
  6. Combo of above

Then for any given trip, I think about how I should consider each of the variables for this trip.  That, ahem, drives the decision.  Where that usually leaves me is as follows:

  • If a trip is less than a mile, walk.  Yes, I prefer to cycle but I don’t get the same enjoyment on short trips, there’s the hassle of locking the bike, wearing a helmet, etc.  Feet win.
  • If a trip is more than a mile I’ll cycle unless:
    • Weather is too crappy
    • Too much to easily carry on the bike
    • Distance(s) too great to reliably do on the bike
    • Traveling companions are not amenable to riding and I want to keep them as companions (you know who you are)

Real Life Examples

I live in an urban-ish area.  If I need groceries from the tiny supermarket in our neighborhood or something else from any of the fine merchants in my area I walk.  Driving would be crazy (parking, traffic) and uber-lazy.

Many times a week I have to go to the downtown area where I live. 10 months out of the year I bike it.  It’s a little over a mile away.  The time to drive it is almost the same as cycling.  With parking driving actually takes longer.  On those months when the weather is unsafe or too unpleasant for riding, I walk.  OK, now it takes me 20 minutes instead of 10.  So I lose 20 minutes round trip.  Big deal!  I get all of the benefits of walking in exchange.  WORTH IT!

I travel a lot for work.  The airport is too far to walk.  I can’t ride my bike with luggage.  The Metro is a half mile walk.  Decision: Combo (#4 above).

My next trip to IHCPT school in North Carolina is in mid-February.  I’m seriously considering taking Amtrak and bringing my bike instead of driving like I did last time.  It’s a little more expensive but it gives me time to work (productivity!) while I’m making my way there.  Once there, I’ll use my bike to get around.  Durham, NC is very bikeable.  Even if I don’t take the train, I will bring my bike in the car.

I travel to my office in Ghent in Belgium quite a bit.  The office is about 7 bike friendly miles from my hotel.  I ride.  It takes less time than driving.  When in Belgium, do as the Belgians do.

Sometimes, I don’t go anywhere.  I work all day in my home office.  Even then, my wife and I will try to go on a neighborhood walk most evenings.  It allows us to spend quality time together, see the neighbors, and experience things you just can’t do if you stay indoors (including car doors).  Many of the merchants in town know us simply from our regular walks.  We’re going to spend the time together anyway.  We want too.  We may as well do it while moving instead of sitting around spectating.

You Aren’t Me (For which you give daily thanks)

Yes, I know some of you love to drive, but I live in the Washington DC area and we’re consistently in the top 10 worst traffic cities in the U.S.  But if you do love to drive, just increase the priority of the enjoyment variable and the score for driving instead of alternatives.  But cost, health, sustainability have to count for something too.  Alternatives still might win.

Some of you would never consider cycling (or roller blading or cross country skiing).  That’s fine.  Change your priority.  Drop the modes that are out of the question.  But please at least leave walking on the list if you are physically capable.  I assume if you are reading this you have some intent to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Most of you live in the suburbs and not in an urban area.  If all your errands are in strip malls, then I am sure this makes the above harder.  I am sure because I only moved out of that same suburban environment recently and picked up the above habits while I lived there.  I had the same basic distance rules.  It meant more biking and less walking.  Based on my priority list, I WIN!  When I actually worked in an office that was 12 miles away, I would ride as much as I could.  It was the start of Work-Life Integration.

Some of you live in rural areas.  I don’t have any practical advice here.  Odds are you have plenty of ways to integrate movement into your daily lives just by picking up the mail.


In the 60s and 70s my dad used to walk about 1.5 miles every day to pick up a newspaper and grab a bus to Manhattan.  He’d then walk about 10 blocks from the Port Authority to his office.  He was in sales and had appointments all over the city.  While his colleagues would cab it he almost always walked.  At the end of the day, he would walk back to the Port Authority.  The bus stop on the way home was only a mile from the house and he walked that too.  He wanted to do this.  Sometimes my mom would send me to pick him up and he wasn’t happy about it.  My dad lived a healthy and vigorous life well into his 90s.  Walking isn’t the only reason for his longevity but science would argue it was a contributor.

In an earlier post I talked a little about my experience traveling out of town to care for a family member.  During that trip, there were some transportation logistics issues that required me to drop off a rental car and get back to the hospital.  The distance was 4 miles and I chose to walk.  Another person involved in the family member’s care offered to pick me up but I wanted to get all of that walking benefit so I declined.  When I explained why she said she needed to start doing that sort of thing.  I was happy to hear it but I strongly encouraged her to take it slow.  If you try to do too much at once, it becomes work instead of part of your life.  Start with something easy.  Stop hunting for the closest parking space.  Park once at the mega-strip mall and walk from store to store.  Don’t grab your car keys as a first reaction.  Make sure you consider all the benefits of the alternatives and if you still feel you need to drive then go ahead.

The Challenge

And that is the challenge I have for you.  Do the full mental calculation before you hop in the car. See if you can push the needle and make the health or sustainability variable a higher priority than one of the car-friendly variables.  Consider the full door-to-door time associated with driving and if you’re only going to save yourself 5 minutes by taking the car, then RE-consider.

Remember, depending on your goals and physical condition, it is recommended that you get about 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise per week.  If you need to get somewhere anyway, self-propelled transportation counts; even in 10-minute spurts.

Walking isn’t challenging enough?  You can always pick up the pace, take a more challenging route, add jumps along the way.

Your “Gift”

To help you with this challenge I would like to give you, at no cost the truly amazing Healthy Transportation Mental Calculator.  If you are new at this or do not like working with calculations in your head, just download this spreadsheet.  It allows you to set your own priority for each transportation decision variable.  It then lets you to assign a score for how each mode of transportation fits that variable for the trip in question.  The end result is a score that helsp you make your decision. Just download the tool here.  Wow! What a gift, right?  You’re Welcome.

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