World Car-Free Day and the Lessons from Four Years Without a Car

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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38 comments

  1. Not car-free here. When we moved from our semi-rural home with no public transportation within walking distance to a townhouse in a vibrant neighborhood, we thought we’d be driving a lot less. BUT it turns out those bus stop signs in the neighborhood are only for the shuttle that runs to the train. To ride the city bus to school on a weekend, my son had to walk for thirty minutes to get to the stop. Since school isn’t much farther than that, this wasn’t real helpful. I’d take the train shopping on weekends, but it doesn’t run on weekends. I have been able to walk or ride my bike for some errands, though, which would not have been possible at our old house (no sidewalks or shoulders, and lots of people driving 60+ mph).

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    • Christy! What a disappointment that must be. I know your move wasn’t just about downsizing your home but also about using your car less. It’s crazy the trains aren’t available on the weekends that’s just plain wrong.

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  2. We live 35 minutes out of town. I try to shop and do all my errands on one day a week, but it doesn’t always work out and some weeks I have to make an extra trip. I’m conscious of my footprint. We only have school buses running past our place. I can understand how difficult, but also how worthwhile being carless is for you.

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    • I have gone the other way Lois, walked everywhere years ago but when we moved 25 km from town I needed to learn how to drive and since then I don’t walk anywhere. However, I am very conscious of making as few trips as possible. I certainly notice all the cars in the cities now with only one person in and wonder why on earh they don’t look into car pooling. Crazy!
      I hope you and the family are well, not keeping up with my reading at all!

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      • Wendy, I’m fine, how are you? How’s that grand baby? I think of you often and just haven’t found time to turn on the computer and send off an email to anyone these days.

        I’m speechless! I knew you used to walk everywhere when you were younger and I knew you had a car now but I had no idea you didn’t even know how to drive until you moved into your current home!. I was the complete opposite, I couldn’t wait to get my license as soon as I was old enough to.

        Carpooling is one of those things I think is a great idea but will take time for people to adjust their behaviors to embrace. We are so isolated today along with the fact that we want instant everything. Carpooling would mean getting to know people and spending time with friends outside of social media.

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        • I learnt to drive at age 47 when I met Roger, he taught me and I got my license a few months after we moved here….needless to say I used to weigh alot less Lois, I walked miles every week! I think of you often too, am watching your elections and wondering what the hell you think of it all?! Wee Catherine has not had a good time of things but things seem to be on the improve now hopefully, at 7 months we are finally seeing giggles, lots of talking and moving her arms and legs – however the medication they have her on (her last resort!) has some awful long term side effects…..
          Back in the 70’s they brought in carless days (petrol shortages) when people had to carpool and I can remember everyone saying what a good experience it was for getting to know neighbours better. There was a story on our news a couple of weeks ago about a group of five who had been pooling for 12 years 🙂

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          • I don’t think you weigh all that much now, seeing pictures of you I think you look beautiful as you are, as you know I’m seriously jealous of your hair too. 🙂

            I’m sorry to hear Catherine has struggled so but it’s good news to hear she’s responding to stimuli and communicating. What an encouraging sign that must be for her parents.

            Love the story of the carpooling friends. I can hardly picture people today sustaining a friendship for 12 years to carpool. I don’t know about NZ but here we are so isolated from everyone else that it’s rare to find neighbors who even know each other’s names.

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    • Anne, I feel your pain. We too only have school buses available here for the majority of people. We do have a special bus that will come here for the disabled but only that person (and caregiver if necessary) can ride it.

      It’s a shame that when suburbs were planned they didn’t make arrangements for busing or some form of public transport to reduce the number of cars that would be needed to live there.

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  3. LOVE this post! I would consider myself to be “car lite” – I’ve driven about 400 miles so far this year, compared to the 1900 miles I’ve put on my bicycle! I consider my car to be a luxury item, but one that I’m very happy to have. I feel very lucky to be able to live a commute-free lifestyle – in fact, I just wrote a long rambling post on the topic. I really wish that more people were able to experience the joys of truly inhabiting the neighborhoods where they live, rather than simply “camping” there between work and other activities.

    In a nutshell, I think that for many people, going completely car-free is going to be difficult. It’s going to require our city planners, businesses and retail establishments to get on board in a way that they simply aren’t at the current moment. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t steps that we, as individuals, can take right now that will both lessen our dependence on automobiles and make our day to day lives much, much better.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed this post but wasn’t it more “preaching to the choir” than anything for you?

      I chuckled when after posting this I began to go through my email and catch up with a few blogging friends and came across your post on cars and commutes. How funny was that?

      You are a wonderful example of making the existing infrastructure work the best way possible. You are able to work from home, you use your bike for pleasure and exercise and limit your car use. 400 miles in a city the size of Denver is amazing. I know you use your car for vet appointments and that can add up because veterinarians aren’t exactly on every corner.

      Like you I don’t see a way for the majority of people to manage without a car. Most jobs aren’t in or near residential neighborhoods for starters. Well, I won’t rehash what I said in the comments on your post but I think we both know the limits we face at the moment.

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      • Great minds think alike! 🙂 I had to laugh at your comment about the vets, because I blame a huge amount of my carbon footprint on my animals! Vet visits, hauling cat food and litter, plastic bags and paper towels for cleaning up after various bodily functions, lots of kitty dishes that need washing, yadda, yadda, yadda… And these days I’ve been suckered into feeding the squirrels and birds so there’s even more to haul! Thankfully we haven’t been back to the vet since Jasper got his bad teeth out in January… knock on wood. Sorta forgot how easy life can be when you’re not in a constant state of kitty crisis! OK… I’m off to go buy a 40 pound bag of kitty litter and a car full of birdseed and sunflower seeds! What a sucker I am!

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        • You just helped me to answer a question I had. I don’t know if you remember the golden retriever my son had but the dog needs a new home again and he was a natural helper dog, which usually involves lots of training and is expensive. I was considering taking him but boy I don’t need to be adding cleaning up after a dog and hauling big bags of food home for him on my lap. But then you add in vet visits and I have no way to get him there.

          I’m knocking on wood here for you too, you need a break from kitty illness and vet visits for a while.

          When I first moved here I think I fed more squirrels than birds because they got at the feeder from the tree, but now I have a PVC pipe I hang the feeder from and they can’t climb that. But I did have a raccoon that got into my birdseed. I buy seed in 50 pound bags and keep it in a steel trash can they opened and helped themselves to. Now I keep a huge rock and a brick on the lid and it seems to be working.

          Do you have crows there or just ravens? When I feed the crows I buy big bags of peanuts, they love to crack the shells and get at the peanuts. What suckers we are for the animals. 🙂

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  4. hmm … car free. When we picked the location of our condo we wanted something within walking distance of basic services (grocery store, etc.) And we got that – 15 minute walk. But public transportation like buses would not cheaply get us to doctor’s appointments, clothing stores, etc. There are ride-shares in our county so that is a possibility. But basically we could take cabs if needed and order stuff on line (even groceries). Cabs are not cheap. A car in this area is almost impossible to live without. But at 69 – in another 10 years I might not be driving and my husband hasn’t driven for the last 10 years so we will be facing that situation at some point. The cost savings would be great and who knows, maybe at some point maybe we won’t be able to afford the car bills rather than functionality of the driver. For now we are tied to our car. We just try to keep the driving down to a minimum.

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    • I am so happy to hear you are settling in to your new home and finding all the benefits it brings.

      I don’t know about your area, but where I grew up, Erie, Pa, they offer senior free bus passes. My grandfather used his all the time because he was stingy and liked free over putting gas in the car. I just looked it up and it’s still free for seniors and disabled. I’m including the link maybe it will point you in the right direction to get a similar pass in your city.

      http://www.ride-the-e.com/programs/

      I think it’s much harder to consider being without a car once we get older. We can’t walk the same distances or carry home heavy groceries like we used to. And I’d rather have a car that was paid off and in good condition than fork over money for a cab too.

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  5. not car free here, but…

    before I was married, certainly was.
    It has never been “easy” for me to walk distances,
    so, I picked an apartment which had a bus stop right in front of it.
    when I went looking for a job, I got on the bus, and only applied to shops right on the bus route.

    all you say about stressors of car ownership are TOO true..Still, …I have to say I do relish being able to go where I want, via car…

    what we do, most days, is try hard to plan our stops/errands so we basically make a “circle”.

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    • See you have me beat, before I was a mother I drove A LOT! I never thought twice about how my freedom was costing the environment I just wanted to explore the world. By all means continue using your car when you need. I think you put a lot of thought into the trips you take it out for.

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  6. Ah, Lois. If only it were that simple. My car usually sits in the driveway all week. Then on Saturday, my daughter drives her car to my house, and we take mine to run errands and go shopping or to lunch. This week, I’ve been out 4 days but yesterday took the car to the MAX and parked it taking the MAX to the expo center for the quilt show. The MAX is always full to the brim here for riders across Portland. That meant I only drove 8 miles each way rather than 45. I could read on my tablet or listen to an audio book while I rode. There is better public transport here for seniors but not for young people. You have to walk several miles along a high speed road to get to the bus. In the apartment I was closer to the bus. They take so much longer to get places but still they work. My daughter rarely uses her car and rides the bus to work everyday. It would be nice if they designed neighborhoods more pedestrian friendly. I’m a good 4 miles from the grocery and carrying them home would be painful. So we combine things in one trip. I guess being mindful is the best most of us can do. I wish you had it better there.

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    • Marlene, I know you think about how you use your car and driving it one day instead of parking it just one day is as close to car-free as one can get.

      When not having a car at least available makes life unbearable then for now a car is necessary. Maybe one day the infrastructure will be adequate for more of us to go car-free.

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  7. I sold my car when I left Minnesota and we are now a one-car family. Our car lets us explore the area and enjoy the beach, so we would probably keep it for that reason only. So it’s somewhat a luxury but also a necessity as we get older. There are no buses so we would have to utilize cabs which would be pretty expensive and and make us pretty much homebound. As long as we can afford it, as long as one of us can drive, I think we will keep it and try to use it responsibly and ethically.

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    • You have a much lovelier town than I do but I’m saddened to hear you don’t have buses. We don’t have buses here either.

      On the subject of cabs I’m torn. Even if I take the cost of using a cab, which is outrageous, often times a cab drives more miles than one might if they had their own car.

      I think you are very smart to hold on to the one car and use it when it makes your life fuller rather than using just for the sake of driving, or worse driving to buy things you don’t need, ie shopping as a past time.

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  8. Hi Lois — Wow! I didn’t realize how long it’s been since we last talked and shared. Like your thoughts on a car free world and can see where we’re moving more in that direction, too. It’s true what you say and, also, think you have to be more carefree to entertain it, though. Hopefully, things will start to slow down.

    How have you been? I saw from some of your past posts that you’ve been busy this summer working on the house and your yard. I’m sorry to hear you got hit hard from the storms with a lot of water. Hopefully, not too bad and you’ve recovered now moving into Fall and cooler weather.

    My summer has been a blur, though, I don’t have much to show for it. I’m now officially out of my boot and can walk around on both feet. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing all summer — rehabilitating and hobbling around. It feels good to get out and go somewhere, feel alive again and reconnected.

    Glad to see you are doing well and enjoying your home and neighbors. Love and hugs. xxoo 🙂

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    • Pat, that is such good news to hear you are out of your boot and getting around on your own again.

      Between the storms and the cicadas it’s been quite the summer. I don’t want winter yet but I am looking forward to being indoors for a little while when the weather cools down. I’m close to the end of what I can do this year outside and have to be content with the amount I got done. There are days I get frustrated by how slow things go now that I don’t get around as well but I’m learning patience finally. 🙂 Seriously though, I am good. Few days I over did things and paid for it but overall it’s been a good year.

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      • Thank you, Lois — good news all around. So happy for you on what you got done and I’m ecstatic to be back on both feet. 🙂

        Now that I’m slowly coming back, I’m ready to get doing what everyone has been doing all summer. But, it’s typical that here I’m marching to a different beat.

        Really not ready to see the snow fly yet but think it’s closer than I’d hoped. The leaves are changing, the hummingbirds have left and, no doubt, by the end of the weekend there will be snow on the higher peaks. Ugh — (haha) but it’s all good, my friend. Don’t you love it.

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        • Pat, as much as I love visiting the mountains and think I would love living there the idea of snow this early in the year (or late like your video taken one May) would be too much for me. We often have a light snow fall before Halloween but then can count on not seeing any more until around Thanksgiving at the earliest.

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          • There is quite a bit of unpredictability in our weather and living here, Lois. I get what you mean.

            There’s a saying in Colorado, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” It can certainly change in an instant like that and it can be hard sometimes.

            As I get older, I am tending to appreciate more of the constant, steady things in life. 🙂

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          • In Erie, Pa, where I grew up we had a similar saying being right on Lake Erie although ours said, wait five minutes.

            We’ve been lucky for far this autumn. The days are relatively nice and the nights cool but we are holding our breath as the prediction is for a harsh winter.

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          • We’re both Pennsylvanians, Lois, I grew up in a small borough less than 5 miles from Chester, Pa (where the refineries are). I remember how fierce the weather can be and I remember a couple of hurricanes, too. The weather does tend to be harsh back there.

            It’s the opposite for us out here where they’re predicting a milder winter. In a way, I hope they’re wrong as I don’t want it to get too dry. That’s our nemesis.

            In any event, it’s not in our control. Take care back there, my friend, and be safe. 🙂

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          • I keep forgetting you grew up back here. Unlike the Chester area it’s rare for us to be affected on the west side of the state by hurricanes, but this year our weather patterns were affected by them.

            I do hope you avoid a really bad winter season. I understand needing the snow for water but too harsh of a winter takes its toll but you are right, we have no control and just have to take each day as we get it.

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          • You, too, Lois in avoiding a really bad winter. Moderation is the key, for sure, and a little moisture would go a long way for us. We’re already having grass fires flare up and that’s not a good sign. Take care back there. 🙂

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  9. I Did give up my car this year Lois after having owned one for over 20 yrs as my hubby drove his large van.. Then when he retired he had a larger car I did not feel comfortable driving.. Working less I have driven less so it sat there often.. So I sold it along with hubbies and we now share a car I can drive.. But we were careful to choose one with a better record than the previous one of his for its carbon footprint..

    Good to see a post from you my friend .. And Hope all is well with you xx
    Love Sue xxx

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    • What a great benefit to retiring. I remember when my grandfather retired he drove my grandmother every where and while she didn’t always like it I thought it was so sweet. I thought at the time that it was a shame they had to wait for him to retire to have the time to spend together like that.

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  10. Although I am with you in theory, practice looks different. We do have excellent public transport in Switzerland and use it a lot whenever possible.
    Our eldest daughter learned to drive as soon as possible and would not manage without a car – however she has recently switched to a tiny car that is still just about doable with her 3 kids (not sure what she will be doing when the 4th comes along soon!!). Her husband is keen on cars so he prefers a larger model.
    Our middle daughter and her husband have managed to remain carfree so far. They preferred to use public transport and walked for miles and miles. However, when they moved to England they found that they weren’t able to see or do nearly as much in the 4 years they were there as they would have liked because public transport is poor and expensive, sadly, though they did manage to find a home near a railway station and did what they could but they definitely missed out, which is a shame. Now they have moved to France and my son-in-law has learned to drive (at 26) because again, using only public transport is almost impossible – they actually cycled to the airport to travel recently and SIL had a long trek every day to work and back which wouldn’t work out in the winter weather. So they are looking to buy a small car to be able to get around and actually see the area they are living in, near to where I grew up actually.
    Our youngest daughter also just learned to drive this summer and has been using my car while I was gone (I had the use of my husband’s car and he used the train lol!). She finished her training last year and has had great trouble finding a job (even in Switzerland!!) but today is the first day in her new working life. Anyway, she could reach her workplace by public transport but it would take her 80 minutes each way and by car she can get across country and be there in 20 minutes so I guess she will be getting a car of her own soon.
    Having said all this, we all drive very small cars (tiny…) compared to the US and certainly our next one will be an electric model, which my husband has wanted for over 10 years but there was just nothing available where the price and performance were suitable; things are really improving now in that regard with even quite small models now taking off so we’re looking forward to that. Since our cars are all bought and paid for and run cheaply we are in no hurry but getting there…

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    • I hope your daughter’s new job is a good one. It’s tough to find a good job any more, especially in some areas.

      It’s a shame that we’ve either let public transportation to fall by the way side in preference of cars or it is so expensive it’s prohibitive. I do hope it changes soon but looking at where I live it’s not going to happen in the near future. Heck we can’t even get sidewalks repaired to make them usable..

      You are correct about the size of the cars in the US, they are large by any country’s standards.

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