When gas prices hit $4, you could hear it everywhere, the collective lover’s quarrel between people and cars. Even though prices have eased up, do you still feel a little used, a little angry? If so, the Circle Game might be a fitting New Year’s resolution (once the snow melts).
Developed by John Schubert when working with Ecoteam in Bend, Ore., here’s how to play:
• Locate a paper map of your city.
• Find a compass — remember those metal doohickies you used in geometry? Put the point on the approximate location of your house and draw a circle with a two-mile radius around it.
• Gather your family and highlight all the places you visit at least once every two weeks (i.e., work, school, church, grocery store, bank, park, library, gym, post office, movie theater).
• Choose one of the places within the circle, and commit to bicycling, walking or taking the bus there every time you go.
• At an interval of your choosing, add places to your list of car-free destinations until walking, cycling or taking transit becomes the rule rather than the exception.
• When choosing new services like a doctor or bank, use the circle to help you find the truly local alternative.
Playing the circle game will do much more than save you cash. According to Katie Alvord author of “Divorce Your Car,” if just one out of 10 people who drive to work switched to walking or bicycling, we’d conserve 2.4 billion gallons of gas annually and cut CO2 emissions by 25.4 million tons.
Playing the game also builds exercise into your day. You may even find it’s cheaper to feed yourself than your car. Food really does become fuel. Walking or bicycling through your neighborhood on your way to work or an errand is most likely to be more interesting, I can attest, than staring at the backside on the treadmill ahead of you.
Another side benefit is shaking the hassle of parking. As a bicyclist, I’ve often beat friends to the same destination because I didn’t have to compete for a place to put a 2,000-pound piece of machinery.
You do have to overcome a few obstacles going car-free.
• If you’ve never taken the transit system, set aside an afternoon and sit down with the map. Take a couple of experimental rides just for fun before you take it to a do-or-die appointment.
• You’ll also need to prepare to carry things. Depending on your load, a good backpack or tote bag with handles just might do the trick. Most bikes can be fitted with panniers or collapsible baskets that easily hold grocery sacks. For the truly committed, carrying things can become a personal challenge. For instance, one Thanksgiving, I suddenly had eight more guests than I’d planned on. A garden cart nicely held eight borrowed folding chairs and turned some heads.
Not only will the circle game help you get to know your neighborhood trees, birds, businesses, funky sidewalks and back alleys, you’ll start recognizing the faces in a growing community of people who have chosen another path.