Staying Positive

Car Busters 30, Apr - Jul 2007

Dear Anna
I am a disillusioned transport activist. Cars and their pollution, noise and danger dominate pretty much everywhere. I get ignored by local political leaders, I even find myself using a car more. Help me

Dear Depressed
It’s true that cars and driving are increasing. For instance in Britain there are over 30 million metal boxes. But, try to think positively and stay true to your higher values. Most people, including motorists, believe there is too much motorised traffic - over 55% of drivers in surveys in Scotland by Prof Steve Stradling of Napier University. You are not alone in wanting traffic reduction. I can envision it and other members of ecological transport groups are working to make it a reality.

I recently saw the film ‘The Secret’ ( It concerns the Law of Attraction. Basically whatever your thoughts are about you’ll bring into your life. Like Alladin’s genie "your wish is the command".

Intention has three aspects
1) asking or desire
2) answering or belief that it can happen
3) receiving or accepting the outcome

Really try to visualize your surroundings and local streets being more pleasant, safe, quiet, smelling sweeter etc and try to turn your attention to not moving around so much and to travelling sustainably yourself.

With regards to politics. The best approach is to present arguments for the positive alternatives for instance better cycle provision, traffic free paths, walking networks, safe routes to schools, slower road speeds, congestion charging/road pricing and car free developments. I was delighted to hear that Portsmouth Council have a rolling programme of turning all residential areas into 20 miles per hour zones rather than the national urban speed limit of 30mph. They plan to do this not with humps or signage, but by thorough community consultation. In the Netherlands there is consensus across all political parties to have a national road charging scheme. This is in all manifestos.

If your political leaders really are the dark grey shade of asphalt and so intransigent that they can’t be swayed by rational arguments for win-win alternatives then you must put your efforts into helping a candidate that you favour to gain votes. Had you thought of standing for election yourself? Could you rally support? You’ll do best if you are in a group (or many green transport groups) for mutual help, fundraising and to share skills. Marketing a positive message is crucial. The psychology of how minority groups get heard by the mainstream is that they must have a simple message and keep repeating it. Eventually people will listen and understand your point of view.

As to your personal improvements in cutting your car use and reducing road speeds, you really must try to be a role model to others! This is important because you must practice what you preach. Successful traffic reduction involves staying still more, reducing distances and travelling more sustainably.

The most crucial transport decision of the day is the first. So make sure that when you leave home most days it is by using your own legs or bike or at least sharing public transport or a lift with someone else. Tell yourself "I am so happy and grateful that I can move by my own power". Put up pictures of yourself looking great on a bike or walking. Try to be prepared with all the right information and equipment (eg for rain etc) so that the green options are the easiest, cheapest and most convenient. They will always be the healthiest and most interesting.

Stay still more by getting goods and services by phone, internet, email, text, delivery or en route to where you will be. The main trick is to live local. If distances are relatively close then travelling by your own power or public transport won’t take long and will be invigorating.

Keep telling yourself what you are gaining and reward yourself when you do succeed. In a report called ‘Painting the Town Green’ Stephen Hounsham concludes that to engage people in green actions, it is best if there is a fairly immediate, tangible, personal, close to home, pragmatic benefit to the individual.

Can you think of a transport project that would raise your spirits and bring personal satisfaction? For instance handing out green transport information in your town centre, organising a public cycle ride around the newest local cycle route paths, a critical mass ride, a street party, asking for a home zone, slower speeds or writing a green transport guide for your community or employers?

Ask yourself: What would be both effective and fun? Set achievable goals. Focus on small actions ad keep your expectations realistic

Good luck and stay positive.

Anna Semlyen is the author of Cutting Your Car Use We are actively looking for publishers and authors in other countries (except North America). Email

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