The environmental initiative goNewHavengo dared Elm City residents to adopt more ecologically friendly transportation habits when it launched its third annual CarFree Challenge on Sept. 1.
GoNewHavengo is a coalition of six environmental and transportation-focused partners, including CT Rides, CT Transit, the Yale Office of Sustainability, New Haven/Leon Sister City Project, Park New Haven and the New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking. The coalition acts as a green transportation resource for employers, commuters, schools and parents. GoNewHavengo Program Manager Krysia Solheim said the CarFree Challenge’s goal is bipartite: incentivize green commuting with prizes and discounts for pledging to take more sustainable modes of transportation, as well as gather data to demonstrate the demand for safe and convenient transportation infrastructure, such as protected and connected bike lanes, improved sidewalks and crosswalks and placemaking, and updated real-time information systems for mass-transit users.
“Shifting towards more sustainable modes of transportation has so many benefits in terms of air quality and health, greenhouse gas emissions, physical activity, congestion, local economy, people’s pocketbooks and equity,” Solheim said.
Ultimately, Solheim added, the campaign would like to see a lasting shift toward the use of sustainable transportation — any form of transportation that produces less carbon emission than an individual driving his or her own automobile. Over the course of its first two completed campaigns, which started in 2014, goNewHavengo calculated a 78.68 ton decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and a decrease of 62,331 miles in automobile mileage as a result of the coalition’s push for environmentally friendly transportation. The campaign also hopes to inspire employers to provide their employees with incentives for commuting to work in a more sustainable fashion, Solheim said.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman Dennis Schain said alternative forms of transportation, such as carpooling, ride-sharing, mass transit and walking, are helpful in reaching Connecticut’s ambitious climate goals, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2020 and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 2001 levels by 2050.
“Carbon emissions from the cars we all drive is one of the single largest sources of carbon emissions,” Schain said in an email to the News. “GoNewHavengo is making a significant contribution to these efforts and we applaud and support the good work they are doing.”
Solheim also highlighted the impact a standardized public transportation system can have on the working poor. Lack of access to transportation prevents citizens from escaping the cycle of poverty, she said, citing the financial difficulties of buying a vehicle and the often time-inefficient transit schedules as perpetrators of the poverty cycle. She pointed to expanding and improving active transportation opportunities as a way to promote financial equity.
Kathy Fay, the manager of the Home Improvement and Energy Conservation Lab at the Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven, has participated in the CarFree Challenge since its inception.
Fay said goNewHavengo’s campaign has transformed her commuting habits, adding that she “rarely drives anymore.” She said walking and biking to her workplace has allowed her to feel more personally grounded and connected to the New Haven community.
“We’re so car-dependent here,” Fay said. “But it’s also really important in terms of global climate change that we all be mindful of our daily activities and their effects.”