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?