Tuesday, January 31, 2012

14 Months Without a Car

House of Talents Basket
We have been without a car since last December. The "anniversary" of this date was so unremarkable, that it came and went unnoticed. But I've had some requests to post a 1-year report about what it has been like, which made me realise it's already been longer than that. I want to make it clear that being without a car is not a political statement for us and is not wrapped up in our sense of identity. For that reason I do not use words such as "car-free" or "car-light," or any of the related terminology. We simply do not have a car, for the time being.

Winter in the Neighborhood
Living on the border of Somerville and Cambridge, MA, we are lucky to be in a location that happens to be convenient for getting around the Boston Metro area by bike. Before moving here 4 years ago, we lived in rural Northern New England - where we did a great deal of driving and each had a substantial vehicle with off-road and hauling capacity. As soon as we moved to Boston, we sold the larger of the two, because it was clear that keeping both was impractical. The Co-Habitant's car was sold, and mine was to become the shared car. However, what happened instead is that I simply stopped driving at that point entirely, preferring to get around on foot and via public transportation. When later I started riding a bike, that became my main mode of transport. I have not been behind the wheel of a motor vehicle since late 2007, and I even let my driver's license lapse for some time. But I still co-owned our shared car, and rode in it as passenger.

We used the shared car mainly to travel out of town and for trips that involved transporting or purchasing bulky items. The majority of everyday transportation we did by bike, simply because both of us found it more convenient. When the car broke down in late November 2010, we realised that we did not really feel like getting it fixed and preferred to make do without it instead. So that is what we did.

Snow Bike Launch
The winter of 2010-2011 was a brutal one, and interestingly getting through it was what cemented our decision. It snowed so much and so frequently, that we often relied on resources close to home - which made us realise that it is possible. If there was too much snow on the roads to cycle, there was a grocery store and pharmacy within walking distance. They may not be our preferred grocery store and pharmacy, but nonetheless they are there for us to simply walk to in case we needed milk at 10pm in a snowstorm. Further afield there are coffee shops, restaurants, a post office, and other destinations that could be reached on foot. The Co-Habitant could even walk to work if really necessary, though he had no problem cycling through snow. I could also walk or take public transportation. If anything, we felt that we had it easier that winter than drivers - who constantly complained about having to dig out and defrost their cars, and about the horrible driving conditions. A bike and a pair of winter boots require much less maintenance.

EMS Thunderhead Rain Jacket and Pants
Once that winter was over, everything else was a piece of cake. Owning a car in Boston now seemed like a burden and inconvenience. How did we ever manage with all those fees and maintenance responsibilities? Not owning a car was so much easier, not to mention that we now magically had more money. And that's really all there was to it, as far as everyday stuff was concerned.

Gazelle & Zipcar
That is not to say that we never used a car. We still occasionally needed to travel to remote out of town locations and to transport bulky items. And, ironically, I occasionally had to transport bikes in various states of assembly for Lovely Bicycle related projects. But the key word here is "occasionally." Once we got the hang of zipcar and car rental, using these services in addition to the occasional taxi proved to be sufficient for us to not feel that we needed to actually own a car. The main limitation of zipcar, is that you cannot always get one on the spot, and we tend to do things spontaneously rather than plan everything out carefully. But over time we got better at planning and also became more savvy/psychic about zipcar rental. After a couple of initial glitches, it has mostly been okay. I even moved into my art studio with the help of a zipcar pickup truck, which went very well with fairly minimal planning.

West Newton Commuter Rail Station
Our only frustration so far has been with the public transportation system. Without exaggeration, the T (subway) has gotten stuck between stations most of the times I've taken it over the past year, making me late for appointments. The buses are habitually late by as much as 20 minutes, to the point that the bus timetable is not meaningful. The buses are also very full and taking fragile items on board is not practical. The commuter rail runs infrequently and not at the times we seem to need it, so that going somewhere via commuter rail can mean having to spend an entire day at the destination instead of the 1.5 hours we need to spend there. Also, many of the commuter rail stops are not handicap-accessible - which also means not bike-friendly, since they have these super long and narrow staircases leading down to the platform from overpasses. Whenever I criticise the MBTA, inevitably someone gets angry, as if public transportation is some holy thing no matter how good or bad it is and I should be thankful for it. But with all due respect, having used public transportation successfully in cities where it works, the MBTA is a disgrace in comparison. I cannot pretend to be thankful for the frustration and wasted time it causes me nearly every time I attempt to use it, and I am certain that it is the reason why more people in the greater Boston area do not feel comfortable without a car. 

Bike Travel!
MBTA frustrations aside, we did manage to go on a 2-week vacation via bike plus commuter rail over the summer, and it was a lot more fun than renting a car would have been. No traffic jams, no gas station stops, no looking for parking - just the freedom of bikes. We brought all the stuff we would normally have taken with us too, including two weeks worth of clothing, books, laptops, and basic camera equipment. It's amazing how much you can stuff into heavy-duty bicycle luggage if you try. 

Gazelle & Pashley with Philosophy Panniers
When we first discussed the idea of giving up the car, it was important for both of us not to feel as if being without it would be a struggle, or would limit our freedom. And over a year later, I can say that at no point did we feel that way. At this stage of our lives not having a car gives us more freedom, not less. We do not miss the responsibilities and the spendings that come with owning, parking, fueling and maintaining a vehicle in the Boston Metro area. We also simply never talk about it anymore. We neither lament our carless state, nor do we congratulate ourselves for it; it's just become one less issue to worry about. 

Charles River, Late Autumn
By no means is this narrative intended to be an "if I can do it, you can!" sort of thing. Our circumstances happen to be conducive to getting along without a car, but others' circumstances might not be. There is also no question in my mind that at some point in the future we will have a car again, and I will even drive it - since my ideal place to live is in the countryside in the middle of nowhere. In the end,  it's not about fixating on the car as an object - be it an object of desire or an object of evil - but about deciding what works best for improving your quality of life. Car ownership for its own sake has become such a given, that it may simply not occur to some people that there are circumstances under which they might be better off (i.e. waste less time, be in a better mood, have more disposable income, feel better) without a private vehicle. When I lived in Vienna, I once asked an elderly socialite - the wife of a wealthy politician - whether she and her husband owned a car. She cringed and fanned herself. "Goodness no dear, sitting in traffic is so undignified! I take the trolley and I love to walk. For me, these are life's luxuries." The concept of luxury is, after all, relative.

79 comments:

  1. Have to agree, being in the same situation, no car in a city can be so much easier and less stressful.

    Also tired of the 'but the transit is so much better here than in [insert place you don't want to live] - you should be grateful!' No thanks!

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  2. Glad to hear that life without a car is no big thing! I also share your qualms with public transit, which is why I almost always opt to walk the 10ish minutes down to take the train (which has lovely frequency) over waiting for the one that comes 'round to our door. Sometimes that thing is early, sometimes late... and if you miss it you're just screwed.

    Even with the baby stuff happening, I prefer to take the train or tow D around on the bike. People think cars are safer, but I have never been hit by a car while riding with Dexter. I did, however, get rear-ended by a tow-truck with a 4-month Dexter in the back seat. Yay for broken windshield all over my infant and back pains that have plagued us ever since. WOOT!

    Bikes are fun and convenient. If they weren't, we wouldn't be using them.

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  3. Yep, it's no big deal. We made the decision in '77 and grew to appreciate a whole new set of sensibilities.

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  4. If it works for you, then why are you so resistant to promoting a car free lifestyle? Is it an image thing?

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    1. It would be inconsistent with my beliefs. I do not agree with promoting a "car-free" lifestyle for the sake of the car-free rhetoric. I believe in the individual's right to improve their quality of life, which in some cases (possibly many cases) might involve not owning a car. On the other hand, it might not. This is the very crux of what I was trying to express here.

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    2. Brilliant! Such disarmingly subtle propaganda, comrade sister! First it is necessary to identify with the oppressor, profess solidarity to bypass defenses, infiltrate their ranks to sow sugared doubts from within. Viva Petrolius! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLPaVsB8DgA

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    3. Whereas the rest of us can rant and make her look reasonable. As in, don't get me started....

      But seriously, some parts of Somerville, I don't know why they don't just ban cars. A friend's daughter lives in a triple decker with a zillion other students, there is scarcely room to lock up a bicycle, never mind park a car.

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    4. Todd, I have no idea what you're talking about!

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    5. Say no more, V, I'll not persist in compromising the security of your anti-car velorutionary mole operative status with these entirely baseless innuendoes, wink wink nudge nudge! You can moderate this out, right?

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    6. I think Todd is onto something here. I vaguely remember photos of V wearing a beret. And we know that all the best revolutionaries wear berets, right?

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    7. I think Todd's comments are zine worthy...:)

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    8. P.S. Todd you're hilarious. Velouria, I like your moderate, practical approach (or so it seems to me!)

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  5. I agree with you. Owning a car in the middle of the city can be a burden and honestly is not necessary.

    I for example would not to give up having a car (Even though I don't enjoy driving). I like to visit places in Maine 1-2 times a year, places in New Hampshire 1-2 times a year and NYC about 3-4 times a year. While it is possible to get there by train (well, mostly) driving is still the best way to reach these destinations. Especially with a 1-year old on board.

    But if you don't have a need to leave the downtown, sell your car and save money.

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    1. We go to the places you mention, but rental (for ME/NH) and train (for NYC) have worked for us. We do not do it often enough to make the car worth it. The hill where you live though, I probably could not do it every day in the winter when the black ice appears, plus Arlington is further from things than Somerville. Not sure what I would do if I lived in your neighbourhood.

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  6. For those unfamiliar with the greater Boston area, Somerville is not actually downtown or a "city" by most standards; it is a lively suburb of Boston, for lack of better description. To get to the center of Boston by bike takes me between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on where I am going and what route I take.

    Based on observation, I would say that most adults who live here and are not college students own at least 1 car per household.

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  7. On the T: they've got a bad combination of stupid Big Dig debt overall, and the commuter rail has what I think is an insufficiently dense feeder network (and apparently undersized parking lots in outlying communities, say my friends who live there but don't take the train).

    CalTrain in Silicon Valley and the SF peninsula seems to do somewhat better: at least every hour mid-day, as opposed to 90-120 minutes on the Fitchburg line mid-day, and many more trains at rush hour, and some of them "baby bullets". They have (had?) a bicycle car on most trains that devotes half of a car to holding 40 bicycles and their riders, plus other passengers in the other half. Here: http://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/more-bikes-on-a-train/ . HOWEVER, there are some tradeoffs; that same space holding 40 bikes (and no people), can I think hold as many as 60 people, so 40 people+bikes take the same space as 100 people without bikes (yet the tickets cost the same, at least for now). They also run into problems with the time it takes for people with bikes to board.

    Given that you are car-less, do you find yourself wondering about the utility of a folding bike, or does that not hit the mark often enough?

    And I am guessing that your taste in bicycles would preclude a "serious" cargo bike, both because of bulk, expense, and because you would only use it when you planned to carry something large -- so you would not use it enough to justify the trouble.

    We still have cars -- my wife's commute does not have a friendly+direct bicycle route (for her definition of friendly), and we have kids with their various intermittent travel obligations and attention to social norms, and my commute to work ends in 2 miles of Burlington, which is just unpleasant enough to make me choose to drive when enough other stuff is not going right (like today). My default bike is a cargo bike, unless I am riding to Cambridge, when I might choose the 3-speed instead.

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    1. @dr2chase
      Since I commute to Burlington as well, I believe that you passed me once on your cargo bike. I am pretty slow on a 3-speed on those hills.

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    2. Probably. I try to hit the hills as hard as I can; a little hard work there does more to get me home fast, than anywhere else.

      There's at least one other big dummy in that neighborhood. Mine's got funny handlebars, big tires, and always-on generator lights. The other one's faster.

      Where are you commuting from? I'm Oracle (Sun) to Belmont (near Waverley Square).

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  8. I co-own 3 cars that very rarely get driven. This entire "you must promote a car-free/car-light living because you have a bike blog" rhetoric is just so utterly tiresome and demagogue-y that it almost sounds as if some of these activists are trying to leverage your blog and opinion for their "holy mission".

    LeBron James poo-pooing a bike commute as "I do it all the time" does way more to raise general awareness than many of the more vocal bike advocates.

    He still can't play with his back to the basket, puts his shoulder down on drives and complains too much about missed calls, but at least he used to own a stake in Cannondale.

    Oh yeah, he also jumped over some 5'11" dude.

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    1. What's sad is that when we do move to the countryside and get a car, I honestly don't know what I'd want. The new cars are so uninspiring nowadays, especially if you need hauling capacity (large canvases, bikes). I'll probably just give up and get a Honda Fit a la the Blayleys.

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    2. Perhaps Lovely Car! is in your future. Triumph, MG, Citröen, Peugeot, Fiat... The list is endless.

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    3. We went almost three years without owning a car, but as noted in the link above, we did end up buying a honda fit a little over 4 years ago. We still do all our commuting to work by bike, and most of our daily grocery shopping on foot or bike. The daily shopping is helped by living near shops that carry fresh things.

      Like Velouria, we also live just outside of Boston, in an urban area with access to lots of shops and such, and lots of buses into town.

      For us, the car really serves as a bike and ski transport device -

      http://www.blayleys.com/articles/cars/index.htm

      Because we do so many rides and races in Western MA, Vermont and NH, we were renting zipcars lots. And zipcar worked well for us, especially since we found the very versatile Fit. But we did have to plan ahead, and sometimes it meant cycling across town to get a Fit. The Fit is very versatile, with room for multiple bikes (or a tandem) inside upright, and it has good fuel economy.

      Even with frequent rentals, it was still cheaper than owning, but we did eventually break down and buy one of our own - in part to get the nice ipod port - not available on the rentals at the time :-)

      But what we did find after three years is we had developed some good habits that we retained. We still use our bikes for work and daily groceries. We still take the bus into Cambridge and Boston when we go - although like Velouria this can sometimes be frustrating due to MBTA delays. And we still combine journeys - so when we go shopping with the car, we get 150 lbs of cat litter and 3X10 lb bags of rice and a chair - OK, we don't buy a chair everytime, but if we are going to take the car because we are getting something big like a chair, we fill it up!

      BTW, One of the surprise money saving benefits of not owning a car is reducing impulse purchases. Maybe I'll decide I'd like new curtains, and next time I'm planning a shopping outlet. I'll go to a curtain store. But by the time I do, the urge has passed! And despite now having owned a car for 4 years, we still don't have curtains!

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    4. V, when you get ready to get a car, consider an older station wagon. Seriously. I had a Mercedes diesel wagon that I loved, and it died for a dumb reason and I was too upset to fix it. I regret that to this day. My Mercedes wagon was gorgeous, inexpensive, safe, could haul anything, and got nearly 30 miles to the gallon, which was pretty good, considering. Did I mention it was beautiful?
      This isn't my car, but it might as well be: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9wTii9myuc
      When the soulless Honda dies, I'll be back there in a heartbeat.

      And I find that a car-free lifestyle grows exponentially harder with kids, if one doesn't live right in the center of a big city with tons of public transport. I could get to work by bus, though it would take 1.5 hours and three buses, but to drop my son off too would make it 2 hours and 5 buses. Not practical. Stooopid children, ruining everything! :)

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  9. I just thought I'd mention that your goal of sharing your car-free experiences without preaching came across clearly to me. I read your blog as well as LGRAB, and envy you all from my vantage point in the sprawling "exurbs" of northern New Jersey. A car is essential here to everyone except the most eccentric or militantly anti-establishment. Especially with 3 kids in elementary and middle school. The cycling culture here is entirely based on roadie/spandex values, with bike transportation being a practice employed only by day laborers of mostly Latino descent. I can only read wistfully from afar and enjoy your experiences vicariously!

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  10. Cars are so much just personal isolation tools that it doesn't matter, unless you go convertible (a couple here). Fits are great, a little noisy, fun-ish to drive and, not illustrated in the linked blog, can fit a road bike standing up w/o taking the wheels off. Good gas mileage too.

    Our other vehicle is a minivan with the middle seats taken out so it's like an enclosed pick up. Transports the long tail fine, also a light motorcycle.

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  11. What about the cats?

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    1. Ok ok. I mean what about taking them to the vet. This is one of the problems I have with getting rid of my car

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    2. I've been car-free for years. I'm lucky enough to be able to walk the beagle to the vets for check-ups and shots, but, I also have access to a mobile vet service for treatment if she is really poorly. (P.S. I also have a great local kennels that does a pick-up/drop-off service for when I go away).

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    3. As another cat owner: There's a vet in my neighborhood. Less than a mile, easier to walk a cat there than drive a cat there. I guess if someone was really sick I'd get a cab to the nearest animal hospital (or more realistically, get my husband to drive... but this is me pretending as a car-free person), but how often does that really happen? When I lived in Pittsburgh (when we were car-free), I took my cat on the light rail once to the vet, I got to laugh at a lady who freaked out about being allergic once she realized I had a cat and not like, a box of clothes. It was hilarious.

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    4. Our cats are actually vehemently anti-car and I'm not even going to write what happened the last time we took them in one, in case some of you are eating as you're reading this. So any vet has to be within walking distance (my definition of walking distance is probably not most people's though - I am fine walking for an hour if need be).

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    5. When I had pets (rats!) I took them to a vet's office in an outlying suburb because they were so good with rats.

      I always either got a ride with a friend or took public transportation. Public transit was doable but not what I'd call fun--I had to take a bus, a train, and then a bus. And I'd take a taxi to the emergency vet if I had to (thankfully I never did).

      But rats fit nicely into very portable boxes. So that's an advantage.

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  12. Similarly to your Viennese dowager, when I lived in Milan, among a certain set it seemed that riding a bike in the downtown area was a status symbol in that it meant you lived in the charming center city instead of the featureless burbs. Coming from the US, I did a much longer commute ( 5 miles at the most) than most Milanese would be willing do- I lived on the ring road (Transvestite prostitutes outside my door and in my building- whoo hoo!) and worked in the center. Was still better than my out of the way train connection would have been.

    Boston is fortunate to have a lot of mid- density towns all together, which makes for a very walkable/ bikeable Metro area- even the "suburbs" have main streets and town centers, and if you live near one of those, you can live quite far out of the center and still have close options. The further out you go, the harder it is to go from town to town by bike though.

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    1. Actually in Vienna they move a lot throughout the city and a 1-hour each way commute via public transportation is not too uncommon. Also, some of the ritzy neighbourhoods are quite far from the center. In this lady's case she lived in one of the fancy peripheral districts, but took the trolley to the center and then walked everywhere. It is also very common to go hiking in the mountain ("strolling in the forest" - but it's really hiking) via public transportation. There are trams that leave from the center and drop you off at various forests.

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    2. Boston sounds like a very bike-friendly place. I'm from the UK and lived in New Haven CT for one year. I was shocked by how difficult it was to get around to do basic grocery shopping without a car. I'm not even sure it would have been safe (crime-wise) to cycle. But perhaps New Haven is exceptional...

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  13. Jennifer in ScotlandJanuary 31, 2012 at 6:10 PM

    It's interesting to read about your experience. I have made some half-hearted attempts to learn to drive but have never been motivated enough to stick with it for long. It just doesn't appeal. I've noticed that it causes quite a degree of bemusement when I tell people I have never learned to drive, similar to the reaction I've been getting lately when I mention that I'm thinking of doing away with my television. I agree that we all have our own ideas of what makes our lives better. I increasingly try to trust my own instincts as far as that goes.

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  14. Thanks for sharing your real life "car-less affair". It helps to see how others do it and to make a judgement if it might be a consideration for me. Probably not at this point, but maybe in the future. I think living in the right place is a key ingredient.

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  15. Hi, after years of owning cars I decided to sell up last year, like you, no big deal, no political statement. Just that usage had become so low I was feeling that I had to use it to justify owning it.

    I'm really enjoying the lack of responsibility that goes with not having a car again, no bills, no insurance, not worrying about potential crashes.

    Haven't managed to save much money mind, I seem to have spent it all on bikes!

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    1. "Haven't managed to save much money mind, I seem to have spent it all on bikes!"

      Same here. But look on the bright side: With the economy what it is, your money might be safer "in bikes" than had you been saving it. If it's a nice bike, you can always sell it.

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  16. My car is rusting away in the driveway after being restored.. :( on the flip side, I've been riding a bike for close to 8 years. It does make scheduling things difficult as I try to avoid riding at night. Not because of the dark but because of the cold. Carrying oversized items on the bike always produces confused or amused faces on people as I ride by or stop at a light. One day I picked up a road bike at a yard sale while riding my road bike... after disassembling it, mounting the wheels on the rear rack and the frame onto my back pack, a guy on the street asked if It was a spare incase the one I was riding broke down. I didn't know how to answer...

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  17. Dear Velouria,

    As always, you are the voice of calm and reason. Posts such as this one is the reason that I do not let my subscription to LB! lapse.

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  18. Sold my Miata in 2004 when I bought a Condominium in a vintage building with no parking. At first I used the Zip cars at least once per week, sometimes more frequently. In time I became much more in tune with the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) schedules and of course urban cycling.

    As you now, I originally did not think I would spend the rest of my life not owning a car. Going on eight years now, I am not so sure. Being without a car is so easy. When I do Zip (last year only three times total) driving is very unpleasant. I feel stressed and claustrophobic in cars. It drives me crazy how cars restrict my view of surroundings.

    Couple weeks ago I was on a panel on a symposium at UCLA. I stayed in Santa Monica. Originally I was going to rent a car on the days I had to go to UCLA work and a bike for puttering around Santa Monica. For some reason I just could not bear to drive. The concierge was perhaps surprised I asked but all to happy to explain how to take a bus from my hotel to UCLA. Worked out fairly well.

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  19. I often wish we could go back to being car-free, but realistically, even if my husband got a job in the city (he's a reverse commuter with zero PT options), we still have to go back to our parents' houses every 3-4 months, and they live over an hour outside of the city we used to live in--in different directions. (His live on top of a mountain.) The car was paid for with cash, so no payment there, and since only my husband has a license and his driving record is clean, the insurance is insanely cheap. We figured it out and discovered that it would be more expensive to take train/plane and rent a car every few months, than to just keep the car we have. At least we only use it for his commute and those trips. Baltimore is a terrible city to actually drive in (or so I've been told).

    It's funny, I used to LOVE public transportation. Because I don't drive for health reasons, and was raised in an area neither walkable, bikeable, or possessing PT of any kind, buses meant freedom. They meant being able to have a job and friends. I never used to mind my PT commute. Now, though, I whine like a baby if I have to take the train because it's raining or something. I think that personal transportation, whether car or bike, in some ways reveals the limitations of PT, things you wouldn't see if PT was your only option.

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  20. "We do not miss the responsibilities and the spendings that come with owning, parking, fueling and maintaining a vehicle . . . . We neither lament our carless state, nor do we congratulate ourselves for it; it's just become one less issue to worry about."

    Couldn't have put it better myself. I have been car-free for years. Not because I have a certain belief system or political leaning and I'd certainly be quite crabby if so many people started cycling that the bike paths became congested :) I simply don't happen to like cars or the pace of life that goes with them. (At 46 I have to admit to still getting ridiculously car-sick). That doesn't mean that on the odd day the convenience of car-ownership isn't appreciated, or that after weeks of cycling in the rain I don't wonder about getting a motorbike again.

    It just means that at the moment, as for a number of years, the bicycle is best-suited as my form of transport. This is helped by the fact that we have the most punctual and reliable train service here in West Oz and we can put our bikes on the train for free.

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  21. I want to make it clear that being without a car is not a political statement for us and is not wrapped up in our sense of identity. For that reason I do not use words such as "car-free" or "car-light," or any of the related terminology. We simply do not have a car, for the time being.

    Well, let me know if you ever change my mind about that. I'm sure I got a bunch of "One Less Car" stickers at the bottom of a box somewhere that I can send you.
    ;-)

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    1. I would never put one of those stickers on my bike... it's "One FEWER Car," dammit! :)

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  22. Great Velouria! I gave up my car in 2007. Unfortunately our public transport is non-existent so it for some reason I can ride my bike I have to walk but it's not that big a deal as I choose to live 3 miles from work. When I sold the car I had though that I could rent a car as needed but that turned out to hbe a very expensive idea - $100 is way over my budget.

    Still there have been very few times that I have missed something due to not having a car but then I see how my life has been enriched. It certainly won't work for everyone but it works for me.

    I continue however to be stunned at how much my co-workers are bothered by MY choice. For 4 years I've had to listen to 'you really need a car', 'why don't you just go buy a car', etc. All I can do it smile and move on. It's their issues...not mine.

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    1. The way I see it, no one has the right to criticise this type of choice, unless it affects them - for example, were I to ask for rides all the time, or be late for work as a result of not having a car. As I do neither of these things, it is nobody's business.

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  23. I sold my last car when I went to university as a mature student. At the time I was fully convinced that it was going to be a hardship and that at the end of the four years I would buy a bigger and better one.

    Well that was what happened, I soon (re)discovered the freedom of simply riding a bicycle for transport and by the time I graduated I really did want a car. Why would you want to give up the freedom? Owning a car is such a grade in so many ways, I would far rather not own one, if I really need one I can always rent for a short time. I wrote about this some years ago, if you would like know more see here. By the way I have been without a car for over 14 years, and never missed it.

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  24. This is an awesome and inspiring post,Velouria-and despite my loving of a "hobby car"* (that I use as a daily driver when unable to ride due to my injuries),it also makes me stop and think that sometime I use it as a crutch and just don't ride when I physically felt up to it.

    Of course,Bristol,VA\TN isn't quite the Boston Metro area,and there both aren't as many people and parking\traffic issues aren't quite as dense either. Never-the-less,I enjoyed the read,and stopped to think of my own choices.

    The Disabled Cyclist

    *If one considers an 18 year old Mustang GT ragtop a "hobby car",LOL! :p

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  25. Here is a link for this topic-if it works.
    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/transport/2010/07/dude_wheres_your_car.html

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  26. The car-free thing has fascinated me, as one of those northern, freezing winter-dwellers who is used to seeing the temperatures dip in the sub-Artic range between the months of January and May. I hate that it's turned into a political thing (like most cycling topics) but I'll try to ignore that side of it as best as possible. Ultimately, I kind of fall in Veloria's camp - I think people should have the freedom and ability to commute in whatever manner they like, be it cycling, biking, walking, public transport or private car. The key is freedom of choice, and I see all options as morally equal, I wouldn't want someone to tell me I should take a bus anymore than I'm sure the person biking wants me to be telling them that they should drive, verdad?

    Certainly the idea is charming, until I realise that I don't live in an area with a strong public transport infrastructure, leaving me with the distasteful image of standing on the side of the road in frigid temperatures waiting for my delayed bus to show up so I can make it to work [late I might add, as I commute 15+ miles out to the suburbs, a concept that has not yet occurred to those who design bus routes!]

    So, alas I've come to grips with the fact that cycling isn't a serious commuting option for me. So while it's certainly seductive to daydream about a world in which I could forgo my monthly car/insurance/gas payments, I've kind of learned to love my car anyway, for what it's worth. ;)

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    1. When I lived in the rural north, my commute was close to 30 miles one way at some point. This was normal for the area. I can't say that I hated getting to and from work. The scenery was beautiful and the drives cleared my head. Totally different than city or suburban driving though.

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    2. It is not correct to suggest all forms of transportation are equal.

      Favoring one over the other has a profound impact on society, commerce, and the environment.

      For better or worse the majority in the United States have chosen the automobile as its default mode of transportation.

      This nation and our lifestyles would be significantly different were we to support mass transit supplemented by cycling as the default.

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    3. Matthew J - Certainly they are not equal in terms of economic impact, but my comment was actually directed towards the moral/political spin often attached to one's choice of transportation. To me, all forms of transportation are, for lack of a better term, morally neutral. I do not think anyone is more or less responsible or intelligent because they choose one form over the other. Nor do I think that there needs to be legislation enouraging one form over another - I favor freedom of choice on this issue, as I noted.

      Obviously there are those who disagree with me on this, but I thought it was worth mentioning that one needn't buy into any particular political propoganda in order to effectively enjoy a cycling "lifestyle". Moreover, one can both cycle and drive or take public transport without necessarily arriving at any deep, philosophical conclusions about any of the options. At the end of the day, (in my opinion) they are merely different functions, and I highly favor allowing people the freedom to choose the function that is most suitable to them without trying to label one as more responsible than the other.

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    4. Nor do I think that there needs to be legislation enouraging one form over another - I favor freedom of choice on this issue, as I noted.

      But there already IS legislation: see the enormous subsidies given to drivers, the tax breaks given to homeowners (which often translates into people buying too-big houses that are far from any PT or cycling infrastructure), the fact that money is being diverted from what some people might consider more worthy causes toward building even more highways. Driving and cycling ARE already inherently political in the US in a way they aren't in countries that don't subsidize oil and suburbia as much as we do. I respect V's right not to label herself as political, but I think she has kind of a narrow view of what "political" means. Everything is political.

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    5. @MFarrington
      "Nor do I think that there needs to be legislation enouraging one form over another - I favor freedom of choice on this issue, as I noted."

      As you may know, in most places you can't get a building permit unless you conform to the minimum parking requirements for cars. This increases building costs while discouraing people from considering alternative transport. Tom Vanderbilt has written about that here:

      There's No Such Thing as Free Parking

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    6. @Erica and Erik -

      You both are right, there are existing laws and regulations in place that favor the car infrastructure. Disclaimer: as one of those crazy, libertarian types, I am generally in favor of encouraging as much de-regulation as possible, so it certainly wouldn't bother me to see a shift away from the current standard, even at the building permit level. In my ideal world, we'd let the local economy choose the transportation option best suited for it. If one city wants more buses and bike lanes, great! If another wants more cars, awesome. The idea of trying to shoehorn federal legislation in to mandate certain initiatives is what really bothers me.

      Hopefully I didn't open a can of worms here. ;) For whatever it's worth, I used to live in a country where the central government threw gobs of money at cyclists, taxed automobile drivers to the hilt and offered free bicycles to those who wanted to have one to get to work. The result of all this was that the people who wanted to drive still drove (but paid more for it), those who wanted to bike to work biked (but paid less in the form of a free bike). Having the government involvement didn't significantly discourage or encourage individual choice, it merely interfered with the market by imposing an artificial "tax" on the behavior that was seen as undesirable (driving). That's what I don't want to see happen in the US.

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    7. The problem you run into is any time you want to build roads between cities, or states. Whose rules do you follow, the car fans in City A or the bike advocates in City B? Would City B pitch in all the money to build a bike path alongside that highway, and if so, wouldn't that be unfair burden considering that cyclists from City A would use it too? There's a reason why interstates are under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Parking, I think that should be up to the contractor and the government should have no business with it.

      What country is this? I've never heard of a free bike program, but I'm intrigued. Then again I'm one of those crazy socialist types! :P

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  27. I'm in my 40s and never had a license and so never owned a car. And it's not like I've always lived in cities with convenient transportation. Embrace walking. Embrace the bicycle. Embrace slowing down and spending less time in front of a computer and more time out there in the world. No excuses. Just get rid of your car and deal with it. Next time you're "stuck in traffic" remember, you aren't stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

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  28. The quote from the Viennese socialite has made my day, Velouria. She would be wonderful in a picture book!

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  29. Agree w/ 'hjill' on the socialite comment!

    Great article. I currently live in the Sierra Foothills of CA in 'the country'! I have to rely on a car to get me everywhere, and there are no bike path/lanes anywhere. I'd love to be able to bike some places on occasion. Fortunately, we are planning on moving to Ft Collins, CO which has a great bike path system among the towns in the area. Not sure we can forego the vehicular conveyance altogether, but will definitely use it less.

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  30. Hubby has never had a car or a license and I've been without a car for 18 months now. I really enjoy it until weeks like this one where it's dropped below freezing. Times like this I miss the warm heater churning out at my feet. I also miss the radio and the whole family singing horribly in the minivan or hilly country roads in the convertible. I do agree with you about the freedom and the benefits. Thank you for another lovely post that sums it all up quite well!

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  31. We recently moved into northern New England after spending five years without a car in NYC. In truth, owning a car again is stressing me out. I'd forgotten about feeding meters, parking tickets, opposite side of the street trash days, moving for plows, parallel parking... and I can tell you, I didn't miss a single bit of that in my carless years. I've been turning to my bicycle more and more since I moved because the bike causes me less anxiety: getting lost doesn't feel like cataclysmic drama on a bicycle, and my body knows the route more intuitively if I feel the road, rather than watch it disappear beneath me. I have used the car but I find it to be a hassle, and I confess to missing the days when car ownership wasn't on my list of worries.

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  32. I love the quote about life's luxuries. I completely agree. Before Flagstaff, I lived in a city w/ fairly good public transit and loved having someone else do the driving while I read a book and sipped coffee. Walking and biking to where I want to go are a wonderful opportunity for me to really experience my thoughts rather than be frustrated with traffic conditions. I certainly appreciate having extra money as well. One car is quite enough for me.

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  33. "I want to make it clear that being without a car is not a political statement for us and is not wrapped up in our sense of identity."

    The lady doth protest too much. Not having a car is a political statement because the car-addicted majority views it as such. But you can keep on pretending (e.g. sitting in the back of the bus).

    Similarly, your taste in bikes is political and "cultural" whether you deign to acknowledge it or not. The obsession with heavy vintage steel, leather riveted seats, and ergonomically inferior swept-back handle bars is akin to carrying a "bike chic hipster" of america membership card. Since I believe that the eccentricity of the "bike chic" clique discourages mainstream adoption of cycling, I view your aesthetic choices as political whether you choose to acknowledge this or not.

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    1. At the moment I have 3 bikes with drop bars and 1 step-through bike with upright bars for getting around town in my regular clothes. When I ride the latter, women of all ages and types approach me asking where they can get a bike like that. In my experience, the upright steel bike makes cycling look inviting, not cliquish.

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    2. Are you kidding me?! Speaking from my experience as well, steel bikes with upright handlebars make cycling look far more appealing to not-yet-cyclists. It sure worked for me. And they don't have to be expensive, my intro bike was an old British 3-speed obtained for less than a hundred bucks. Which I still have and ride all the time....along with the drop-bar touring bike I took on a 3,800 mile tour last year. I might not have started riding everywhere if I didn't have a beautiful and comfortable bike to start with.

      I think it's attitudes of elitism like yours that keep a lot of people off bicycles. For what that's worth.

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    3. Call me skeptical, but I think the attention upright bikes receive from non-cyclists is more about fashion than function. Yes, they are practical machines, but vintage and vintage-esque bikes are very fashionable right now and Ooooooh! Pretty! happens a lot more than Ooooooh! Practical!

      I’ll also add that I agree with spare_wheel in that the “bike chic” clique discourages a mainstream adoption of cycling. That tribe is every bit as elitist as they would have you believe the others to be.

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    4. I think this type of criticism is rooted in wanting to keep cycling exclusive while pretending to want for it to be mainstream.

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    5. More accurately, this type of criticism is aimed at those whose pay lip service to making cycling mainstream while really wanting to keep it exclusive.

      Enjoying vintage bikes does not automatically make one a snob, but you have to admit that there are more than a few "bicycle chic" true believers who want nothing more than other cyclists to simply stop existing.

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    6. "I might not have started riding everywhere if I didn't have a beautiful .... to start with."

      A bike does not need to be "lovely" to be functional (or even loved). IMO, the fixation with vintage "chicness" can be just as off putting to new cyclists as the testosterone of the stereotypical weekend warrior. As for the accusations of elitism...can someone provide an example of a bike profiled on this site that the average american can purchase in the average local bike shop?

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    7. "can someone provide an example of a bike profiled on this site that the average american can purchase in the average local bike shop?"

      Well, the focus of this blog is on bikes that are not sold in typical bike shops, particularly classic and vintage bikes. Having a specific focus is not the equivalent of "elitism." There are many blogs out there that focus on mainstream bicycles and they do an excellent job. Mine does its own thing. Variety is good.

      That said, I have shown bicycles here that are sold in ordinary bike shops. These have included Surly, Breezer, Specialized, Trek, KHS, Soma, Origin8, and Brompton (which, oddly enough, many local bike shops now carry). I would like to review a couple of mainstream roadbikes as well, but unfortunately I have trouble using the Shimano ergos most of them are fitted with. Suggestions how to get around this are welcome.

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    8. "Ooooooh! Pretty! happens a lot more than Ooooooh! Practical!"

      In my experience it is about 50/50. What the women who approach me find practical is the step-through frame, the chaincase and the dynamo lighting. The way one woman described my bike sums it up perfectly I think: user-friendly interface. Keep in mind that there are many women out there - from corporate types to government employees to secretaries - who wear skirts to work and must look "professional." These features are especially relevant for them and can make or break their perception of cycling as feasible. The fact that the bike is pretty is of course part of the appeal as well, but I don't really see anything wrong with that.

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    9. My wife cycles to work. She's a CPA and needs to look professional. Riding an upright for the five mile commute was tiring and time consuming. She now rides a lighter weight road bike and simply carries a change of clothes on the rear rack. It works for her. Everyone gets to choose.

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    10. (I'm the "Ooooh! Pretty! anonymous. With all these anons around, it's hard to keep track)

      My experience has been about 80/20 Pretty/Practical. It's not a scientific study, just what I have observed while volunteering at the local bike coop. We get a lot of young women who are very specifically looking for something cute or pretty. The fact that a refurbished old bike is also very practical just doesn't enter into the equation. (thus my skepticism)

      The "bike chic" thing is just me going off on a rant and for that I apologize.

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  34. Lovely writing.... Very nice post. Also have lived without car. Another great benefit is financial - no insurance payments, no parking fees, no auto loan. Getting around by bike, besides being a joy, is an all-around better deal.

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