Ground Zero: My Challenge Begins

My name is Emma Keenan, and I live in Northern Ireland. I work as an Active Travel Officer for Sustrans. My job takes me into schools across the Causeway Coast & Glens area, working with children, parents and staff to encourage more active travel on the school journey. I’m immensely lucky, because I absolutely love my job.

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My work is all about encouraging and providing opportunities for people to reduce their car usage, and increase their travel by foot, by bicycle, and by public transport. I believe strongly in the ethos that Sustrans promotes – that an increase in active and sustainable travel is great for health, reduces congestion, and is probably the biggest way in which I can make a positive contribution to the environment.

I have always tried to model this behaviour myself through my job, but for 2016, I decided to set myself a challenge to take this further. So I am selling my car, and making a commitment to travel as much as possible by bicycle and public transport – increasing both my active and sustainable travel.

I’m interested to find out how this affects me financially, physically, and socially. Through this blog, I am hoping to track my financial savings. I read somewhere recently that the average UK employee works up to 3 hours per day just to pay for their car costs. I think that’s a bit insane. I’d rather use my money for other things. So I’m keen to discover what kind of savings I make by ditching my car, and taking to two wheels as much as possible.

In the first week of January, I worked out that I had saved 52kg of CO2 emissions, just by cutting out my car usage, and making all my journeys by either bike or train. I’m looking forward to seeing how these figures develop over the year.

I also think this will be an interesting experiment as I am not city-based. I live in Ballymena, and I work all across the Causeway Coast & Glens area – from Cairncastle to Ballycastle to Castlerock – and down as far as Armoy, Ballymoney & Rasharkin. No small area – and a largely rural area, without the benefit of frequent city transport. So that will add a challenging dimension to this year-long experiment.DSC_0028

I have two bicycles that I will be using for this challenge. Marmaduke is a bright orange Brompton bike, which belongs to Sustrans, and is my official work bike. Having a foldie bike is great for days when I need to take buses or early trains. Jem is my Fuji Touring Bike. I’ve had it for almost a year now, and it’s a fantastic bike. Steel frame, 32in tyres, bar end shifters, rear rack – everything you need for covering big miles with lots of stuff. I did some cycle touring in Devon with Jem last summer, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had – travelling around with my tent & my gear on my bicycle, and enjoying complete freedom.

So my challenge begins. Car-free in Northern Ireland – here we go.

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