Kermit the frog once said, "It ain't easy being green". He of course was Every summer I spend a couple of weeks in Norway visiting my wife’s family in her home country. Norway is beautiful in the summer with it incredibly long days, lush green countryside and plethora of flowers. Visiting Norway always makes me question certain things about life in the USA. The Norwegians are much more progressive when it comes to environmental issues. It is not uncommon to see five or more Teslas in a row on the road. Norway has the highest penetration of electric vehicles of any country, with EVs accounting for 23.5% of the vehicles on the road and accounted for 40% of new vehicle sales in June of 2017. With each visit, I am amazed at the speed with which electric vehicles are multiplying in Norway and more importantly the variety of models available.
Tesla used to be the best selling EV in Norway but that has been replaced by the BMW i3. There are more than twenty different makes and models on the road in Norway and charging stations are everywhere. In addition to the EVs, electric bikes are taking over the bike paths. Norwegians rely on bikes, trains and scooters for commuting and they have the sidewalks and infrastructure that encourages the use of public transportation. There is so much the US could learn from the way Norway has set up their system and has incented people to embrace EVs, electric bikes and public transportation.
Infrastructure Challenges In The USA
Earlier this year I was supposed to meet a few work colleagues for drinks in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina after work one day. I had been working from home for the day and thought, it would be nice to take public transportation to meet them and then Uber home. This would allow me to responsibly have a few beers without having to worry about driving home. Early in the day I go on Google Maps to plan my route into town. Initially Google Maps said directions using public transportation were not available. The distance to walk is 12 miles so there must be a route that could work. I edited the search a bit and got a new result. The route was insane. 1H 32M travel time and that was from a location a half mile from my house. It included walking 1.6 miles and taking two buses. One bus was going to make 61 stops along the way and the other would make four stops. Needless to say I decided to take an Uber each way.
This got me thinking about those who don’t have the financial means I do and who need to rely on public transportation to get to work. One hour thirty two minutes each way for a minimum wages paying job would drive me nuts, yet there are people in every major city in America who are forced to do this. Even if I wanted to bike the 12 miles there are no sidewalks along the way and no safe bike lanes.
Obesity in the US is a big problem and I attribute so much of it to the lack of infrastructure for walking, biking and encouraging the use of public transportation. As a native of New York City I grew up relying on subways and busses to get me to work, to sport and to activities. New York City has invested in improved public works including great bike lanes throughout the city, Citibikes sharing programs and new subway lines.
I appreciate the investments in infrastructure that Norway has made and wish that city planners from Charlotte and other US cities would take a trip to Norway to learn a lesson or two. My fourteen year old daughter enjoys her time in Norway so much because she has freedoms not available in the US. She can go just about anywhere she wants with friends via convenient and affordable public transportation. In the US she must rely on a parent or friends parent to make all arrangements and to drive her anywhere she and her friends want to go.
Visiting other cultures affords us new perspectives. We learn to appreciate certain things about where we live, but more importantly we learn that other places have certain things figured out much better than we do. I wish one day that my city of Charlotte, NC would have the infrastructure to match that of Norway and people would ditch their gas guzzlers for public transportation, e-bikes, walking, electric skateboards or electric vehicles. I am skeptical that it will happen in my lifetime.