Archive for category Alternative transportation
“Drive to work. Work to drive,” my husband likes to say. He has a point. The average cost of owning and operating a vehicle soared to $9,100 this year, according to AAA.
Saving money is not the only reason to consider living sans vehicle, at least for awhile. We’ve done it on and off over the years, and every time, we’re amazed by all the perks of the car-free life.
As long-time readers know, we lived car-free for more than a year. We bicycled our way through a dark, rainy Western Oregon winter. We fetched groceries, hauled chicken food, and toted our son to parks and play dates on two wheels. My husband rode twelve miles round trip to work every day, and I pedaled across town and over hills when I was nine months pregnant.
A few days before our second son Ira was born in August 2011, we welcomed a vintage gold Volvo sedan into our family.
We loved so much about the car-free life as I documented on this blog. However, most authorities on the matter agree that infants should not ride in bike trailers or seats until they’re about a year old. That would leave me car-free and bike-free throughout an entire winter.
I’m a huge believer in choosing a joyful life when you have the option. So that’s what we did. And our Volvo brought us a lot of joy in those early, overwhelming days of parenting two little ones. I loved taking it to the library and piling the trunk up with books. I loved zipping across town to my mama friends’ houses when it was pouring rain. I loved being able to go on hikes on nearby trails and visit my sister, who lives an hour away.
My husband biked to work most of the time. I walked (and then biked, when Ira was ready) nearly everywhere. But we also had the option of driving. My friend calls this the car-optional life. It felt like a pretty good one.
Then something happened a couple of months ago. Our Volvo needed an alternator, and we didn’t have time to fix it right away.
So we revisited the car-free life … and loved it.
We loved it so much that we’re still doing it. The weather is lovely and we’re biking everywhere, sometimes up to 15 to 20 miles in the course of a day.
This time, perhaps because we took a year-long crash course in the subject (and because of that lovely weather I mentioned), car-free living feels infinitely easier. Joyful. And we’re astounded all over again by how quickly it transforms your body, health, mind, and spirit.
Now that our transit is entirely human-powered, we both feel fitter and healthier, have more energy, and are less stressed.
Arthur Conan Doyle sagely advised, “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
I agree. I know of no better mood lifter than gliding along the river or stream beneath newly leafed trees beside meadows of wild camas, community gardens, and unfurling irises, rhododendrons, and roses.
It’s been almost two months, and we just don’t feel in a hurry to jump back in the car.
The car-free life is not right for everyone in every place at every time. But it may be an adventure worth trying if you are able. You might find out you love it.
More posts about car-free living:
- Car-Free and Loving It
- Car-Free Chronicles
- Confessions From the Car-Free Life
- Lessons in Car-Free Living
- Car-Free Delivery
- Car-Free With Four Kids!
- Plan a Car-Free Vacation
- A Snapshot of Car-Usage in America
Have you ever lived car-free or car-lite? Have you ever wanted to try it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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I’m guest-posting today on Jacquelin Cangro’s blog about my family’s decision to go car-free.
My post begins:
I met the Adkins family on a crisp September day a couple of years ago. I leaned my bike on the large bike rack they’d installed where their driveway used to be. Paul showed me around their yard, pointing out beehives, fruit trees, and rows of peppers and tomatoes ripening in their sprawling raised bed gardens. Nearby a flock of Araucana hens squawked and pecked in a run. The family’s Labrador Josie followed behind us wagging her tail as Paul unlocked the shed to show me the family’s 22 bikes and various bike trailers.
Paul and his wife Monica have four kids; their youngest daughter has Down’s Syndrome. When I met them, they’d been living intentionally car-free for a year and a half. Paul is a local bike advocate, so perhaps it’s not surprising that they decided to sell their Toyota Previa minivan. But living without a privatized motorized vehicle is incredibly rare where I live in Eugene, Oregon, as it is in most parts of the United States. Only 8.7 percent of American households have no vehicle, and that includes the young and elderly.
I was visiting the Adkins that day to interview them for an article about local families choosing a car-free lifestyle. Tellingly, I couldn’t find a single other family to interview.
You can read the rest of the post here.
My family has been living car-free since last August. If I were to write a survival guide about our year, I’d include all the practical tips on commuting, safety, weather, etc. … and I’d dedicate an entire chapter to adventure. For me, the real challenge to thriving sans automobile is finding ways to get out of the day-to-day and away from our neighborhood. It’s finding adventure.
When my husband talked about getting rid of our car, I didn’t worry about getting to the store, library, or doctors’ offices. I knew we’d figure all that out. But I had serious reservations about not being able to drive to the forest, mountains, and ocean. I know I’m not alone. I interviewed a car-free family with four kids for an article last year. They’re bicycle advocates and they thought about living car-free for a long time, but they held onto their Toyota Previa minivan for years. Why? They wanted to go canoeing. They wanted to visit the coast and big city. They wanted to go on adventures.
Well, fortunately, adventures are more accessible than you might think. Our city bus system drops off near one hiking trail that’s sixty miles from town. Local hiking groups routinely carpool to trail heads. In the winter, buses take adventure-seekers to two different ski resorts on weekend days, where you can also cross-country ski or snowshoe. You can often join in on friends’ hikes, excursions, or camping trips. And, of course, you can rent a car for a weekend.
When I’m feeling weary of the same old walks in the same old neighborhoods, I try to think like a tourist. I’ve traveled in the United States and Canada and in several foreign countries, and I rarely rented cars at my destinations. I never let that stop me from finding adventures. I took buses, subways, trains, and shuttles. I explored on foot. I rented a bike.
Bicycle day trips are a nearly perfect form of adventure. They’re not hard to plan, young kids can easily participate, it’s fun to seek out a scenic route, and the journey is inevitably part of the adventure.
On Memorial Day Weekend, I took two bicycle day trips. Both reminded me of how important it is for me to get away from the city and into nature even though both destinations were technically inside the city. One day I took a 14-mile bike ride in the wetlands. It’s an easy ride from my house, and it’s home to 200 kinds of birds and 350 plant species. I’ve seen blue herons, beavers, and a bald eagle there, and I’ve listened to the melody of Pacific Tree Frogs and birdsong. This time of year, the grasslands are speckled with native purple camas lilies.
The next day, my husband, son, and I rode to a beautiful forested city park that we don’t visit often. It’s on the other side of town, but only a four mile ride from our house. This time of year, it’s blooming with thousands of rhododendrons. We hiked around, smelled flowers, ate a picnic, and then stopped for ice cream on the way home.
Both were easy day trips and required little in the way of planning or packing. And both left me feeling restored … and made me hungry for longer bike trips. Next I’m hoping to ride to an arboretum and hiking spot about ten miles from our house. And I have big plans for a bike camping trip and a longer bicycle tour in the future (although both of those will wait until after our new family member arrives later this summer).
Taking a car-free adventure can seem daunting, but like any adventure, the hardest part is committing yourself to it. Once you’re on the journey, you’ll almost certainly be glad you went.
Looking for inspiration? Check out these resources:
- The Circumference of Home: One Man’s Yearlong Quest to Live a Radically Local Life by Kurt Hoelting
- Our Big Adventure – Pedal Powered Family
- A Wayward Journey – Family on Bikes
- A Beginner’s Guide to Bike Camping – Rowdy Kittens
- Car-Free Hiking: Take Public Transportation to the Trail Head – Ready Made Magazine
- Plan a Car-Free Vacation
Do you go on car-free adventures? I’d love to hear about it.
According to Bicycling Magazine, I live in the fifth best bicycling city in the United States. It’s true, Eugene boasts bike lanes on nearly every major street, an extensive network of off-street bike paths, and bike traffic signal-changers at most intersections. It’s rare not to see someone out cycling even on the darkest, rainiest days, and on sunny days the bike racks in front of the library, restaurants, and grocery stores overflow. This blog and the artsy video below celebrate some of the funky bike culture in these parts:
Maybe that’s why I sometimes imagine that bicycling predominates across the country. That everyone’s doing it. Then I am reminded of the statistics. Nationwide only one percent of urban trips are made by bike, and only .55 percent of people commute by bike. Even in Eugene only about 10.5 percent of people regularly get to work on their bikes. Obviously there are some significant obstacles to bicycling out there. In the eight months since we ditched our car, we’ve faced and overcome a number of them:
I work at home, so I can’t boast much about my bike-commuting prowess. But I did commute on bike or foot to work or school for most of my life, and my husband currently rides his bike about 12 miles a day. In How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, Chris Balish insists that if you can get to work without a car, you can live car-free. The average American spends 46 minutes a day commuting, so it’s understandable that the daily commute could be a deal-breaker – especially in the suburbs or cities without bike infrastructure or adequate public transportation.
But if you live within cycling distance of work, here are a few things my husband has learned (the hard way) as a rain-or-shine bike commuter.
- Bring a patch kit, pump, and tools with you everyday.
- Tighten all of the nuts and bolts on your bike once a week.
- Learn about bike maintenance. Many cities have bike-repair coops that offer affordable classes, tools, and repair areas.
- Invest in water-proof panniers or some other way to carry cargo on board instead of on your back.
- Choose the safest route, not the fastest one.
Okay, I hate to admit this, but my husband deserves the credit in this category as well. He and my son usually do our once-a-week grocery runs – probably the second biggest challenge of car-free living. Since we have a Burley trailer to carry our most precious cargo, we use that to haul our groceries. But there are all kinds of cool ways to carry cargo on bikes. Check out this site for some of the commercial and more cobbled-together options out there.
The single biggest thing we’ve learned about shopping on two wheels is: plan, plan, plan. Trust me, you don’t want to have to make four trips to the hardware store in the pouring rain.
With these long spring days, it’s easy for me to forget when those stormy, pitch-black January nights made staying in sound sublime. I opted out of evenings out and writers’ group meetings on a few particularly dreary nights. But maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing. Negotiating the world without two tons of metal between you and the elements demands that you become more in tune with the weather, nature, and the seasons. Now that the days are warmer and longer, we’re making up for all of those cozy evenings at home by getting out every chance we get.
You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned rain about four times already. Oh yes, we do face one minor challenge here in the fifth best bicycling city in the U.S – about 141 days of rain a year. I can’t complain. When I lived in Colorado, my bike was parked for much of the winter, because of snow or ice. Rain is entirely manageable and probably one of the major reasons the Northwest is a cycling mecca.
In our household we all own decent rain gear, none of it new or fancy. It’s the difference between getting to our destination feeling like wet cats and peeling off a quick layer and strolling in dry. I probably don’t have to say this, but in rainy terrain, fenders are a huge plus, as are lights, reflectors, neon vests, and anything else that keeps you visible on gray days. My son or I walk or ride every day, rain or sun.
You can find tips on winter riding in chillier climes here.
Honestly bicycling can be scary. This website puts some of the fear and safety concerns into perspective, but pedaling on roadways with cars, some whose drivers are invariably distracted, tired, or impaired, has inherent dangers. Here are a few ways we’ve learned to mitigate them:
- Stay off the sidewalks. The major cause of bicycle-car collisions is when a bike comes out of a driveway or off a sidewalk.
- Avoid dangerous intersections.
- Embrace slow. (Leave plenty of time to get places. Don’t try to beat orange lights. Enjoy the journey.)
- Be visible and follow all of the rules of the road.
- Use hand signals, make eye contact with drivers, smile, be friendly.
I’ve been fortunate to live in pedestrian and bike-friendly locales my entire life, and to be able to choose neighborhoods and places of employment that facilitate a human-powered life. But there’s a reason the U.S. does not boast the high ridership of many European countries. Fifty percent of Americans live in the suburbs, and many simply do not have the option to walk or ride a bike. Many American cities are also far from bike-friendly.
Is there anything we can do about poor city planning? Yes, although it’s not a quick fix. We can get involved in the planning process, support bike advocacy groups, write our congressmen and city council people, tell Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood we favor more livable communities, and otherwise campaign for a more bike-friendly country.
For all of the obstacles of biking, it comes with huge rewards. Most of all, in a world rife with problems, I often feel like part of the solution. And that’s an awesome feeling.
What obstacles keep you from riding a bike? What obstacles have you overcome?
What’s not to love about May? Spring flowers, budding trees, longer days, warmer weather…. and it’s National Bike Month!
I’ve written so much about bikes that I fear anything I have to say here will be redundant. But as we wax on about all of the seemingly intractable societal ills – global warming, pollution, traffic accidents, road rage, obesity, runaway health care costs, a flailing economy, an energy crisis, declining social connectedness, foreign wars – I am continually inspired that there is a simple, humble solution for all the above. Bicycles.
They are the perfect technology – cheap, easy to ride, energy efficient, and emission free. They require far fewer resources to produce than automobiles, and they can even be made of renewable materials like bamboo. Most people can learn to ride one, and doing so keeps the body healthy and the mind sharp. Plus, in my experience, bicycling has a way of inspiring that cheerful enthusiasm for life the French call joie de vivre.
I tend to favor vintage and urban bikes with kid seats and baskets overflowing with flowers and fresh vegetables. But really, all bikes are cool. So here’s to May! I’ll be celebrating the way I do everyday – by choosing two wheels over four. How about you?
Want some inspiration? Here’s a round up of some of my favorite bike stuff on the web:
- Alliance for Biking and Walking
- Bicycle Transportation Alliance
- Bikes Belong
- League of American Cyclists
- National Center for Biking and Walking
- One Street
- Other advocacy groups
- People for Bikes
Beautiful Urban Biking Blogs:
Awesome bicycling families:
- Carfree Family
- Carfree with Kids
- Four on a Quarter
- Full Hands
- Organic Haus
- Spokes for Folks
Inspiration for the bicycle way of life:
- Bicycle Movies
- David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries
- Inspiring Bike Quotes
- A Visual Poem to Biking : If I Ride
- Where Are You Go
Some of my writings about bikes:
- Adults on Bikes
- Bamboo Bicycles
- Bicycle Love
- Car-Free With Four Kids!
- Confessions From the Car-Free Life
- Kidical Mass!
- When Bicycle Trailers Are Outlawed…
How are you celebrating National Bike Month?
To some, these scenes of a leisurely Kidical Mass ride may represent a wholesome, healthy way for parents to spend a summer afternoon with their kids. But one Oregon congressman sees something altogether more sinister happening here.
Representative Mitch Greenlick has proposed a state law, punishable by a $90 fine, that will, if passed, make it illegal for parents to bicycle with a child under six in a bike seat, trailer, or on a tow-along bike.
Portland has long been revered by bicycle enthusiasts for its bike-friendly culture and infrastructure. It boasts the highest number of bike commuters of any large U.S. city, and it’s the only city in the nation that has been awarded with the League of American Bicyclists’ platinum status. The city council unanimously approved the 2030 Bicycle Master Plan last year, envisioning Portland as a “world-class bicycling city” and outlining a goal of building three times as many bicycle routes as the city currently has.
So why would Greenlick, a Democrat representing Northwest Portland, introduce a bill that would keep a large segment of the cycling population from using their bicycles as transportation?
Greenlick cites child safety. He says that while there’s no data to suggest children are unsafe in bike trailers, bike seats, or on tow-along bikes, he wants to “start a conversation” about the topic and hopes his proposed bill will compel a study. He points to a recent study of serious male riders who bike to work on a regular basis, which he says found that 30 percent of riders suffer a “traumatic injury” each year and eight percent suffer an injury serious enough to require medical attention.
“I was not able to resist asking myself what would have happened to a young child strapped into a seat on the bike when the rider suffered that serious traumatic injury,” Greenlick wrote in a statement. “The study clearly leads us to work to reduce the environmental hazards that make those injuries more likely.”
The study Greenlick cites actually found that 20 percent of serious cyclists experienced a traumatic injury each year and 5 percent required medical attention. And, Mia Burk, the former bicycle coordinator of the city of Portland and current CEO of Alta Planning and Design, points out that the language in the study is misleading, because the emotionally-loaded words “traumatic injury” actually denote minor injuries, like bumps, bruises, and scrapes. As she points out, doing any sort of outdoor athletic activity brings some risk of minor injury, as does cooking. Moreover, the study says nothing about the safety of bike trailers, tow-along bikes, or bike seats.
Greenlick is simply concerned that transporting kids on bikes may be dangerous. I’ve heard the same concerns before, notably from my own parents. And here’s where, at the risk of destroying my status amongst adventurists and the free- range parenting community, I have a little confession to make. My husband and I are, um, cautious. Okay I said it. We’re not into heli-skiing or sky-diving, bull-riding or rugby, motocross or sword swallowing. I teasingly call my husband “Safety Dad”, because he seems to have the vision of a condor when it comes to detecting danger. “Be really careful,” were some of our son’s first words, which perhaps tells you how often he’s heard that phrase.
When we ride our bikes, we take quiet roads and bike paths, wear helmets, and look both ways before we cross streets. And we – cue the scary music – strap our son into a bike trailer, which we both feel is safe, and which my son loves riding in.
Not surprisingly Greenlick’s bill has outraged Oregon’s cycling community, including the small but growing number of people who live car-free. Greenlick says he’s received hundreds of angry letters in the last week, and he’s already considering amending the bill to get rid of the violation portion and instead ask for a study on child safety.
I’m glad Greenlick is reconsidering this bill, because I believe it is misguided on a number of levels. Oregon is suffering during this economy, and the bill would hurt one of the most economically vulnerable populations – those who can’t afford cars.
I agree with Greenlick that we should have a conversation about bicycle safety, because we should be encouraging more people to ride bikes. We know that bicycling is good for the health of people, society, and the environment. We also know that a large percentage of Americans say in surveys that they would like to ride a bike, but feel scared doing so. Bicycling does not have to be as risky as it is in most American cities.
I like to envision a city, a new urban habitat if you will, where the roads and sidewalks are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. This is a city with lots of bike lanes, bike paths, bike boulevards, and bike boxes. A city where goods and services are within walking distance of where people live. A city where sprawling parking lots, 12-lane highways, and neighborhoods without sidewalks, which are deadly to non-motorists, are replaced with human-scale development. A city where the air and water are clean and people are healthy.
If it’s hard to imagine such a city, my vision looks a little bit like this:
I hope Greenlick’s bill will start a conversation about how we can get closer to this vision. Criminalizing riding bikes with children is certainly not that way.
Besides, as my husband, points out, “When bicycle trailers are outlawed, only outlaws will tote their kids in bicycle trailers.” So true.
What do you think of Greenlick’s bill? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’m surrounded by trucks – dump trucks, tow trucks, garbage trucks. They’re all a few inches long, and they’re motoring up the sides of tables, spinning across the floor, scattered across my son’s bike trailer. It seems ironic that my son is obsessed with motorized vehicles at the same time that my husband and I are learning to live without one.
He memorized a picture book about trucks, which he recites at random moments during the day. “Here come the trucks. They go over bridges. They come through tunnels.”
“There’s a tanker truck delivering oil.” He points at a truck idling near the park. “Just like in the book!”
A well-placed truck can turn a bad mood around faster than anything else. “Look, a fire truck,” I’ll say. Tears dry up. A grin spreads across his face.
So I’m increasingly aware of just how many trucks are all around us – purring to a stop at corners, barreling up hills, idling in front of our house. They dump leaves in gutters, hurl our recycling bins into the air, drop off bread at the store. We are forever on the look out for tractors, front-loaders, excavators. Trucks are everywhere. They are taking over the world.
So imagine my surprise when we were walking a few mornings before Christmas, and I glanced up and saw a UPS carrier riding a bike – or actually walking a bike up a hill.
Apparently UPS has been delivering by bike in the Northwest for a few years. According to a 2008 article, UPS started using bike delivery, because it saves money. For “every three bikes used during the holiday season, UPS will save $38,000 in vehicle operation and upkeep costs,” Jeff Grant, the workforce planning manager for UPS’s Oregon district, told BikePortland.
But as I watched this delivery rider trudge up this hill in the drizzle, his trailer stuffed with boxes – up to 200 pounds at a time, according to the story – I had to wonder if this is the best way to deliver packages.
Then, the next day I saw the same carrier again. This time he was whizzing down the hill with an empty trailer and a huge smile on his face. And I was reminded, once again, that for all of the challenges of the car-free life, it comes with incredible rewards.
Interested in reading more about car-free living? Check out these posts:
“Maybe we should get the car fixed,” I mutter to my husband as icy rain pelts my face
It’s a pitch-black, moonless evening. It feels more like midnight than 5:30. We’re on our way to a birthday dinner for my husband’s colleague, pedaling onto a bike bridge that crosses a busy street. Below us cars zooms past, a snake of yellow headlights.
“You’re telling me,” my husband says. One of his bike spokes broke earlier in the day, and his back wheel lets out a shrill whine every time he pedals.
Our two-year-old son seems oblivious to our harrowing adventure. “We’re going to the pizza shop,” he sings in his trailer. “The pizza shop, the pizza shop.”
My family is in the midst of an experiment in car-free living. Our Isuzu Rodeo is still parked in front of our house, but we haven’t driven it for three months. It needs major repairs, and we can’t decide whether to invest money in it. Even our mechanic, who stands to gain mightily from us continuing to drive this car, looked hesitant when he told us about the repairs. “When things start going on these…” he said, trailing off and shaking his head. But we also don’t want to take out a loan to buy a newer car right now.
So we’re weighing the pros and cons of car ownership, and it occurred to us that we needed more information to aid our decision-making. After all, we didn’t really know what it was like to live without a car. So we decided to try something I’ve long been fascinated by – car-free living.
I’m not fond of driving. I love to walk and ride my bike. I’d usually prefer to be in tune with the weather, the seasons, my neighbors, and my city, rather than experiencing them from behind a windshield.
Moreover I don’t like what car-dependence has done to our culture. I don’t like gulping down smog. I hate the constant roar of traffic in our backyard. I hate sitting in gridlock. I don’t care for behemoth box stores with sprawling parking lots. I’m saddened when I think about oil wars, spiraling obesity rates, growing social isolation, and thousands of people dying in unnecessary accidents every year.
But this night, as we lock our bikes to a rack and trudge toward the pizza shop, I want a car.
At the restaurant, our party is sitting at a long table in the corner. We cross the room. My husband’s rubber rain pants squeak with every step.
Everyone stands up to say hello. Most of them are accountants. They’re dressed up. I sit down across from a financial planner, who’s wearing a white button-down shirt and ironed slacks, and stow my helmet under the table. I smile and try to pretend like riding a bike to a dinner date on a freezing cold, drizzly night is a perfectly normal thing to do, although at the moment, I’m sure I look a bit like my grumpy tabby when he comes in from the rain.
Our car-free experiment has actually been much easier than I imagined it would be. My husband is having a great time riding to work with a coworker. We figured out how to pick up chicken feed with our bike trailer. Most of the time we don’t even think about the car. And that’s the thing about car-free living, it’s not that hard once you get used to it – if you don’t let yourself think about how effortless it used to be to zip to the store or restaurant in a V6.
We munch on slices of pizza, and I make small talk with the financial planner. During lulls in the conversation, I dream about cars. Leather interiors. Seat warmers. Air conditioning. Cruise control.
After dinner, we bundle up and brace ourselves to head back out into the freezing rain. But it’s not raining anymore. And after only a few minutes on my bike, the heaviness of my pizza dinner lifts. We glide down the bike path, our lights glittering in the darkness, and talk about the night.
As we pedal onto the bike bridge and soar down the other side, I realize that if we had a car, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be flying through the night. I wouldn’t feel so light, so healthy, so free.
“Do you really want to fix our car?” I ask my husband.
“Well, it can’t get much harder than tonight, right?”
I wonder if someday soon, we’ll laugh at that question. But for now, our experiment continues.
Do you live, or have you ever lived, car-free or car-lite? I’d love to hear about it.
My family is doing an experiment in car-free living. We’re considering going car-free for the winter, mostly because our only car needs major repairs, and it’s too old and unreliable to sink much money into. We want to save money to buy a better, more efficient vehicle next year, and the best way we can think to do this is by living sans automobile for awhile.
We tried the car-free life last month to see how difficult it would be. My husband rode his bike to and from work. My son and I walked and rode everywhere. Honestly, it’s been great. My husband has been enjoying getting exercise outdoors each day, since he has to be inside all day. Our son is getting older and can walk further distances, making it much easier than the last time we tried this a year ago. And we’re having a great time riding bikes together to the store, park, library, and farmer’s market on the weekends.
This feels like a normal, sensible way to live. But what we’re contemplating is downright radical. Just look at these statistics:
- 41 percent of urban trips in the U.S. are under 2 miles.
- 90 percent of those trips are made by car.
- 6 percent of them are made on foot
- Less than 1 percent are made on bicycle.
It’s no secret that driving is not good for us, the environment, or our society. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Driving a private car is probably a typical citizen’s most “polluting” daily activity.” Cars spew hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide into the air, and air pollution is linked to asthma, heart disease, cancer, and even diabetes. According to a 2004 study, each hour we spend in a car each day is also associated with six percent greater likelihood of being obese. And driving isolates us from each other, and too often, leads to rage and aggression
It takes about 30 minutes to walk two miles, and about ten minutes to ride a bike that far. Most of us can use more exercise. So why are we driving so much? City planning – suburbs, strip malls, cul-de-sacs, drive-through restaurants, and box stores with gigantic parking lots – undoubtedly plays a huge role. But even in places where it’s easy to walk, ride, and take transit, like where I live in Eugene, Oregon, the vast majority of people still drive alone nearly everywhere they go.
My family is learning many lessons from our experiment in car-free living. Maybe they can help others who want to drive less or ditch the car altogether.
- Plan trips wisely
During a downpour a few weeks ago, my husband made four (yes, four) trips to the hardware store to get materials to fix our faucet. If he’d been driving, it would have been annoying. Because he was riding his bike, it was also exhausting. I don’t think we’ll make that mistake again. We are learning to plan all of our trips much more carefully.
- Break old habits
The hardest time to be car-free is in the evenings. We want to zip out for take-out or run to the store to get a dessert. Like quitting any habit, we’re just having to change our ways – as painful as it feels sometimes. The good news is we’re saving a lot of money (and keeping packaging out of the landfills) along the way.
- Make the journey part of the adventure
I interviewed a car-free family with four kids for an article awhile ago. Monica Adkins told me that riding bikes often sounds difficult before her family sets out, but once they are on the bikes, “It feels good on my face and on my hair. My kids are giggling and talking and closer to reality. And we’re getting exercise. Everything about it feels really good.” I think about her quote all the time. We often lose a lot in convenience and ease when we leave the car at home, but we gain lots of fun and fresh air on our journeys.
- Learn to barter and ask for help
“The hardest part is asking people for rides,” my husband lamented recently. He’s right. But it’s also the best part. Our neighbor offered to drive us to the airport, and we got to know her a lot better during the drive. A friend helped us pick up chicken food in exchange for some fresh eggs, and we were both excited about the trade. We’ve also started car-pooling with some friends to a weekly get-together, and we always have a great time on the way over. So even if it’s hard for us to ask for help, we’re building a tighter community and closer friendships.
- Set a goal and celebrate
We’re not planning to be car-free forever, but for now we’re sort of reveling in it – in how healthy it is, in how much money we’re saving, and in the little bit we’re doing to make the air cleaner for everyone. It’s also freeing not to worry about maintaining an old and ailing vehicle – at least for now. We know the idea of living without a car may sound crazy to a lot of people, but it’s starting to seem a lot less crazy to us.
Looking for more on car-free living? Check out these posts:
- Plan a Car-Free Vacation
- How Walkable is Your Neighborhood?
- A Snapshot of Car-Usage in America
- Plan a Bicycle Trip
- New Urbanism: Planning Healthier Cities and Retrofitting Suburbia
- The Art of Walking
- Bicycle Love
Are you trying to drive less? Do you have any tips to share?