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Getting there faster costs more

I’m pretty green when I am commuting: I bike a lot and I use public transit. But in this automobile driven country, I do own a car, and I use it. This morning I watched a video of travelling along a cycling highway between two cities in the Netherlands that are connected by a cycling highway. 40% of trips in these cities, Assen and Groningen, are done by bike already. This makes me rethink my current location focus for my job search. But the reality in most of Canada is that our cities were designed around the car. And when you get the freak snowstorm in September you don’t have to pull out the bike if you don’t want to.

So, if I accept that, although people do make it work, the car is a part of my current reality how do I make it better. I know, and do all the things like remove extra weight, keep the tires inflated, turn the car off when I’m stopped, etc. I also try to transport my gear inside of the car, instead of on racks on the outside to decrease wind resistance. But here are two others that can also make a difference.

First, if you think about making the car lighter, gas weighs something. And although I’m not advocating driving on fumes, which I may have done last night, you don’t necessarily have to keep the tank full. As I came back from Penticton I did not stop in Golden for gas. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about keeping the car lighter, I was cheap and they had the most expensive gas I had seen. I drive a Honda Fit, which is really good on gas so I had an advantage as all the signs appeared saying next gas 150 km. From Golden you have to climb a fair distance into the Rocky Mountains, did not stopping to fill my tank probably end up saving me gas as my car had to get less weight over the mountains? Most likely yes. And we made it all the way to Canmore just fine, no fume driving there.

I feel the need to interject my dad’s voice here. I can here him talking about the safety aspect, particularly given the weather. What if we had to stop for an extended period of time? The reality is that if you are stopped, you should turn the car off anyway, which is why, also as a result of listening to my dad for years, I also had an ample supply of warm clothes so that should we have needed to stop I could have layered up and not relied on my car to keep me warm. I believe I heard last year that you only should run your car for about 5 minutes each hour if you are stopped due to the many different things that can get in your way as we drive Canada’s long highways, that isn’t enough to stay warm anyway. As an aside, I find it is hardest to keep my feet warm in situations like this. The one item of footwear I have found that seems to be successful are Hut booties that I got from Mountain Equipment Co-op years ago (the closest I can find now are these which look more intense than mine are). I have worn them at -30°C (-22°F) and had my feet stay toasty warm.

Okay, so I save gas by having less gas. The other thing that helps me save gas is that I basically drive the speed limit. Yes, I’m the person that you curse at because I’m only driving the speed limit. The thing is that multiple tests have shown that the faster you go the worse your fuel efficiency gets. Here is one by Consumer Reports that shows this is amply true for fuel efficient cars as well. The improved fuel efficiency relates to aspects such as wind resistance. As you reduce speed, you reduce the wind resistance, and increase the fuel economy.

The other factor to consider is emissions, and this is where diesel versus gas work opposite to each other. More carbon monoxide is emitted by diesel engines at lower speeds; however, their overall contribution of CO is low. On the other hand, their NO increase at higher speeds and they contribute more significant amounts of these compounds. The reverse is true for gasoline vehicles, they produce the least NOx at 115 km/h and are higher on either side but do not produce significant amounts in the first place. They do produce significant CO, which goes up at higher speeds.

So how much difference does this actually make. Just in terms of the fuel economy, a study by the European Environment Agency found that if you had strict compliance to a 110 km/h speed limit, versus 120 km/h you would have a savings of 12 (diesel) to 18% (gasoline). That is money in my pocket, and hopefully a few less extreme weather events.

As one final point, one of the arguments is that it is safer to drive at the speed of traffic, so then join me and drive the speed limit.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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