Today is World Car-free day, and I’m one of those rare Californians who has hardly owned a car! Buying a car isn’t on my wish-list either: the maintenance costs, the health effects of commuting, the monthly payments – they’re life-suckers.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate a great convertible Beemer (my friend had an adorable purple one she found on craigslist), but how many people that you know like to drive on an every day basis? And how many overweight people do you know that ride their bikes on a daily basis?
If you’re clear on the benefits of reducing your driving and the costs associated with owning a car it’s easy to let go of owning your own wheels. You can start by biking here and there. Once it becomes a lifestyle, you could train hard and bike-tour through the Himalayas, like my friend Edmundo, or ride a Century for a cause, like another friend Sue. My hardest ride was down the coast past Big Sur.
When people keep asking “Don’t you want a car?” or “How about you use Aaron’s car?” I continue to resist. I could pour thousands of dollars into something cute, but why would I while I still have debt to get rid of, like most Americans?
Tammy Strabel and her partner paid off $30,000 by getting rid of their cars, moving from Davis to Portland, and minimizing their stuff. Their story got attention on the NY Times. Tammy runs a successful blog from her small apartment called Rowdy Kittens, all about life simplicity. She wrote several books too, including Simply Car-free, that you can buy online. Minimalist Health is her free eBook, with quick tips like ‘eat real food,” stand while you work’ and ‘find your tribe’.
Check out these stats:
Financial: “Financially it can take over three full months of work, each year, to just pay for the cars’ annual costs. As Bicycle Universe explain it, it is not so much that Americans drive to work, it’s more that they work to drive. ” In the USA car ownership & operating expenses accounted for 17% of average annual household expenditures in 2004, coming in well ahead of even food, and being only beaten out of top spot by the home mortgage or rent. 
Environmental: Driving releases 20 lbs. of CO2 per gallon of gas. 40% of travel in the U.S. is as short as a 2 mile trip done in a car 90% of the time, according to Clif Bar’s 2 Mile Challenge.
Just driving less can help you save money for what you really want to spend it on – experiences. This is what makes people happiest anyway, not material things.
You can eventually bike down the coast of California like I did.
So how do I do it?
I live in San Francisco now and have lived in San Diego, Los Gatos, and Oakland on the west coast. When I’ve needed a car, I’ve rented or shared one. When I depended on one on a daily basis, I began to reconsider my conditions and eventually changed them.
In SoCal I took buses, walked, and rode my bike – the buses got old but the weather made biking great.On the buses you meet such characters, you can even make friends. If you have good tunes with you, you can *daydream* out of the window.
Moving back to this city, my boyfriend had a sweet new bike equipped for urban excursions waiting for me. Since then I live on my bike or on foot, and we take his car when leaving town once every couple of months. I ride to Laughing Lotus yoga. I ride to Golden Gate Park through the Wiggle, taking flat roads winding through pretty neighborhoods. San Francisco is only so big, and I can get across town on my two wheels, take the train/bus, a taxi, or walk.
How you can do it
- Get a bike ready for the road
My hybrid bike was used on craigslist. I ride to Rainbow, the Ferry Building farmer’s market, and Trader Joe’s for groceries with bike panniers one can get on Amazon. Fill them with whatever you need to haul around. Wear a helmet; you never know who can hit you. My brother, who I regularly biked with, died bicycling without wearing one, but that hasn’t stopped me from biking. Get yourself some nifty lights and reflectors, and avoid riding at night altogether.
Just renting or sharing a car once in a while is so worth it. Give yourself an allowance that allows for a monthly car rental if you get rid of your permanent ride. Minimalist business blogger Everett Bogue recommends Zip Car and offers a deal through his site. Check out Relay Rides, based in Cambridge started this past summer and hopefully coming to a city near you! Insurance should no longer be an obstacle, so renting a car from a stranger in your neighborhood should become a lot more doable.
Contrary to what you heard growing up: meet strangers AND ride with them! Find them on craigslist. Be discerning though. Get license plates, see if you can verify their identity beforehand, and preferably ride with several people during daytime hours. Leave the rider’s contact info with a relative or friend. I’ve met plenty of folks this way and saved cash.
- Learn the roads
Bike on bike routes. Let cars know you’re there. When there’s no bike lanes, take up the entire street: the bike is considered a vehicle too. Don’t ride too fast. Signal. Hook up with SF Bike Coalition.
Work culture needs to wake up to the environmental costs of daily commuting. Netflix, for example, lets peopletake as many personal days without a count, as long as they get their stuff done. I hope to see more of this in the future. It’s up to us to advocate for changes that reduce our dependence on cars and driving polluting the environment. And we need more parties, Sunday Streets-style, pedestrian and bike-friendly with bike-powered smoothies too!
For moms, dads, and families
If you’re a parent, don’t think bike commuting is impossible. Dusti Arab gives tips on cycling with a baby here. You don’t have to move to Copenhagen like Cycle Chic to set up a walk and bike-friendly lifestyle. Paying a bit more for centrally-located housing may be worth getting out of the urban sprawl and paying for a full-time car.