Why Did 300 Elected Officials Give Up Driving for a Week?

What We’ve Learned So Far about the National Week Without Driving

National Week Without Driving allowed us to ask elected public officials and transportation professionals across the country to use the system they funded, designed, and built for us. And our elected and public officials did just that. Almost 300 elected officials, public officials, and transportation professionals from twenty-nine states and Washington D.C. participated in the #WeekWithoutDriving challenge. 

This success was possible because one-hundred and forty-two organizations across the country hosted local Week Without Driving challenges across thirty-three states and Washington D.C. Hundreds of individuals also joined the call to participate. Collectively, they raised awareness via local media and social media, wrote letters and emails, and called on their local leaders and transportation planners to participate.

Why It Matters

For decades, people across the United States have asked elected officials and transportation professionals to center people when designing the transportation system. We know the built environment – including our streets, buildings, and public spaces – is built for driving and parking at the expense of walking, rolling, biking, and using public transit. Auto-oriented development has come at a huge cost to the public, whether counted through the deaths and injuries to people traveling, the diseases caused by pollution and inactivity, or the damage from a rapidly changing climate. It also divides our community at a time when we need to be coming together. The people who are not able or cannot afford to drive are often excluded from full participation in social, cultural and economic life because their modes of travel are not seen and supported by those holding the levers of power in government.  

Week Without Driving Goes National

To combat the presumption that “everyone drives” and therefore U.S. cities and towns must prioritize cars, National Week Without Driving encouraged people across the country to give up their keys and move throughout their communities without driving themselves. Not being able to drive day-to-day challenges us to understand firsthand the struggles of thousands of Americans who don’t drive and don’t own cars. Using the sidewalks, trains, and buses allows us to see our communities differently than from behind the wheel of a car. 

In some places, it is nearly impossible to imagine going a day without a car, let alone a week.  Auto-centric design is so ubiquitous that wide roads, acres of parking, and zoning rules often put homes, stores, offices, parks and schools too far from each other to easily and safely walk. Combined with missing sidewalks, absent crosswalks and disconnected and unreliable transit, there are areas inaccessible to those that cannot drive.  

But we must remember that our towns and cities weren’t always that way. The majority of cities and towns were established long before the invention and widespread use of the car. The places that define a community were built close enough to each other to make walking and non-motorized forms of transportation the default choice. That history tells us that decision-makers have the power to make better choices about how we design our streets and communities. Despite what we see today, it is possible to re-imagine and rebuild our communities to create places that are equitable, connected, accessible, inclusive, and safe for all.

The Week Without Driving challenge helps decision-makers understand the decisions non-drivers have to make and lays the foundation for what is possible. Even cities and towns that have been considered car-centric have proven to take on the challenge successfully. To get a picture of what the week looked like, read our blog about cities and towns across the U.S. that got their decision-makers to take on the challenge.

The Paradigm Shift

In our latest webinar, on October 5th, America Walks and Disability Mobility Initiative co-hosted a panel discussion with organizers, advocates, and elected and public officials on what the Week Without Driving meant to them.

Councilmember Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin and Senator Marko Liias from Washington joined the panel to share their experiences and challenges of not driving for a week and how the experience is shaping their understanding of the transportation system in their communities. 

Tenille Warren, from Metro Transit Minneapolis and non-driver advocate, shared the importance of not only listening to non-drivers but also having your own first-hand experiences of the transportation system in your community.

Adrienne Razavi, from Denver Streets Partnership, talked about the benefits of Week Without Driving, not only for elected officials but also to spark long-term habits in residents and replace some driving trips with other modes of transportation. 

The Main Takeaways:

  1. First-hand experiences broaden perspectives

To truly understand and connect with people who walk, roll, bike, and ride public transit, you must experience it. These experiences will give you direct knowledge and reduce misunderstandings about how the transportation system works or doesn’t work.

  1. Non-drivers must be at the decision-making table

The voices of non-drivers are valuable. Their experiences are needed to fully understand where the gaps and disconnections are in the transportation system. Although this week gives you a chance to explore not driving for a week, those who have been non-drivers day to day in their communities will provide a more comprehensive evaluation and understanding. 

  1. Collaboration is key

Working together with other organizations, grassroots movements, community groups, advocates, transportation professionals and other allies in your area/state means you have people power, allies, and the ability to influence on a larger scale. Collaboration also means more relationship-building with other organizations, residents, and decision-makers you may not have met.

  1. Children and youth voices are needed

Children and youth are a huge percentage of non-drivers in our communities and they need to go places. Transportation to daycare, school, medical services, and more become an integral part of their development. The reliance on driving impacts their mobility greatly, so those considerations and needs should be considered when designing the transportation system.

  1. There are major implications for the environment

Our planet suffers greatly from our transportation patterns. The transportation sector in the US is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with everyday vehicles being the largest contributor to the sector. Participating in the Week Without Driving allows elected leaders to re-evaluate how their communities are designed and take reliance off driving, which will aid in meeting climate goals.

Watch the Full Webinar Here: