Mara Acoma is a Photographic Artist living and working on the East Coast of Durham. Her work explores ideas of 'what if?' inviting the viewer to examine their own ideas, and has been exhibited nationally and internationally. She was awarded an MA in Photography with Distinction by the University of Sunderland in 2016.
There are so many aspects of our modern society that are all wrapped up in our love affair with the internal combustion engine. As an artist, I make work about issues and subjects that interest me, but this has got to be the biggest set of issues I've tried to tackle to date.
When I decided to hang up the car keys and start walking and cycling instead of driving, my decision was usually met with shock, disbelief and even fear. That "deer in the headlights" type of fear in peoples eyes at the thought of living without a car. The only people who didn't think I was insane were cyclists, they instead were full of encouragement. So why was my idea causing such disbelief? It was that look in peoples eyes more than anything convinced me I needed to do this project. Find out for myself exactly how my life would change without my own personal combustion engine waiting outside my home to take me where ever I wanted to go.
I started on the 1 of December 2017, I considered waiting but that was when my road tax ran out and I was worried if I gave myself too long to think about things I'd lose my nerve. Besides if you can survive winter without a car then surely summer would be a doddle.
Why give up the car?
So what are the issues I want to investigate, the big-picture aspects of the project? Well, there is 'Transport Poverty', something many people will never have even heard of. 'Fuel Poverty' regularly makes the national news headlines and is defined as when a household needs to spend 10% or more of their income on fuel to keep warm. Now take that definition and apply it to your transport needs? What sort of percentage are you spending on travel? Personally, I was shocked at how much of my hard earned cash was going on simply moving me from one place to another. The bottom line is cars cost a lot to run as opposed to walking and cycling. There is fascinating research being done in this area exploring the links between transport poverty, social mobility, employment and the ability to access health care.
Then there is the health and wellbeing aspect. 'I've lost count of the number of friends who've told me that they wish they were fitter, but practically all of them will hop into their car to travel 1-mile to the shops for a pint of milk. We all know our NHS service is under stress but how much of an impact would we as a nation make if everyone made a few less short journeys a week in their cars and cycled instead? My own experience has seen me go from someone who thought they'd have a heart attack after riding 2-miles to being able to ride 30-miles in a matter of months and I bet I'm "Little Miss Average" in this regard.
My experience so far
I'm now coming up to two months into the project and what have I learned? Well, it's been a roller coaster emotionally, December was easier than I imagined and January harder. My body is adapting faster than I thought it would but I have developed a bit of an obsession with hand knitted socks to keep my feet warm. We have a woefully spotted cycling infrastructure with regards to things like bicycle racks in shopping centres, but using my bike for the household shopping trips is saving me money. I'm making fewer impulse purchases and we've reduced our food waste as a result.
Cycling instead of driving hasn't so much limited my options but changed them. I don't 'just pop' places anymore but consider things more carefully - the weather app on my phone is also seeing much more use as the weather has become more relevant to me now that I'm no longer cocooned in a metal box.
I feel in some small way that sitting on my bike has helped me to break free from the rat race. It's true Britain has a long way to go to become the cycling-friendly place we cyclists would love to see it. However, the most surprising thing I've discovered so far is that I'm not missing my car the way I thought I would, and I've got a smile on my face a lot more often.