Today is World Car-Free Day. There wasn’t much fanfare about this in the news, at least in the US, sadly. One day we will run out of oil to not only make gasoline but the parts that go into production of vehicles. When that happens we can say goodbye to even electric cars unless we learn to retrofit the junked bodies of today’s cars.
I loved my car. Having grown up with a disability that caused me to walk slower than my friends and not having the ability to walk more than a mile or two at any one time purchasing my first car was FREEDOM. As the years progressed, and gas was cheap, I would explore the world in my car. I’ve driven from one side of our country to the next a grand total of five times. I took mini trips of an hour or two whenever I had free time just because I wanted to without a care to what that was doing to the environment.
Then I became aware of just what a carbon footprint was. I began changing everything about the way I lived. Five years ago I gave up living in the “boonies” to live in the heart of a small town where everything was within a half mile of my home. That was the first step because I no longer could walk without help. If I needed to go somewhere my carbon footprint would be drastically reduced even if I used my car. What had before been a 26 mile trip from my home to town and back home was now at the most 1 mile.
A year later I gifted my car to my son and his wife.
Life is better without a car
There are the obvious things such as
- More money. Not having to pay for gas, upkeep, insurance, yearly registration, and in our state the unpredictable costs of the annual inspections adds up.
- Less Stress. This came in many forms from worrying about locking doors to prevent theft to the reduction of stress from sitting in traffic.
But I noticed other things too.
- The beautiful flower bed between my home and the grocery store I’d never noticed from behind the steering wheel.
- People were out tending to their days and friendly enough to stop and say hello to passing strangers. Many conversations and a few friendships bloomed just from getting out from the car.
- Whether it was the sun or the fresh air, the slower pace resulted in less stress, I felt happier and healthier.
- I felt good when I realized that now, not driving a car, I could avoid running over a wild animal trying to cross the street and I was saving countless insects that used to hit my windshield.
- My grandchildren enjoyed talking walks with me which gave them the freedom of time to ask questions about the natural world they didn’t have before. How many four year old’s do you know who can identify all the trees they encounter?
For all that is positive about living car-free it does come with challenges.
- I prefer to carry home groceries on days it’s not raining so opening oneself up to knowing what the air feels like before it rains is a good thing. But that has meant being open to waiting for another day to get groceries if it is raining.
- Not everything one needs will be available to you without a car, which is the hardest part of car-free living.
Meeting ones needs without a car
Not everyone has the luxury to up and move to the perfect location where they will be close to anything they may want. I’m not sure there is such a place. In my small town there were no clothing stores, if you wanted new clothes, unless you shopped the local Walmart. But we had a vibrant second hand market with just about anything you could imagine being offered. Purchasing second-hand is my preferred way of shopping so I was quite happy.
Two years ago I moved to another small town, this one not so vibrant. This is a town holding on to its last breath hoping not to die. The availability of goods, both new and used is pretty slim and I’ve had to make some hard decisions as a result. Living a car-free existence is a bit harder in this town but it still can be accomplished if your needs are simple. Yes, in this case accepting that you may need to shop online to fulfill your needs will be necessary.
Some areas public transportation fills in the gaps where your own two feet or a bicycle isn’t feasible, but many suburban areas do not have public transportation. Even in these locations I believe a modified car-free experience would be helpful.
Consider families who made do with one car just a couple of generations ago. Other than work the car wasn’t driven every day. Shopping was done one day a week or every two weeks. You would find a notepad, usually in the kitchen – the hub of the home, for family members to jot down items running low to be replenished on shopping day. Families weren’t scheduled from morning to night and children had more free time where they played with the neighborhood kids instead of leaving home to participate in sports and other activities.
What am I trying to say? I guess what I’m saying is that I am very well aware that living a car-free life is nearly impossible for some families due to the way we have set up our lives or the location we live in. At the same time, we do have to think about how we will live when cars won’t be a given. Why not start today, World Car-Free Day, and pick one day a week when you won’t drive your car.
Not everything we do has to revolve around driving and shopping. Look to that one day each week you won’t be in your car to start a new family tradition, or have a cook out with friends.
If you live car-free please share tips or your view on car-free living.