Car-Free By Choice

Living without a car is something I’ve talked about a lot on this blog, and I’ve shared articles by people living without cars in all different circumstances. But the other day when a friend of mine asked why I don’t have a car, I figured it was time to post again.

Actually she didn’t ask me directly; she asked another friend of mine. Maybe she was embarrassed to ask me directly in case the reason I don’t have a car was that I have some sort of health issue or got a DUI or something. (But for the record, if I got a DUI, I would want to tell people about it, to help convince them not to drink and drive!)

But no. I have my license and have a clean driving record and everything, and I don’t have any issues that prevent me from driving. I just don’t have a car, because … I don’t want a car.

Of course, environmental reasons figure strongly in my choice. But even if there were some perfectly eco-friendly car (which electric cars are not, by the way), I still wouldn’t want to own a car. I have owned cars at times in the past, enough to know!

• A car is a hole in my wallet. I have way better uses for several thousand dollars a year. I actually can’t afford to own a car because it would cut into too many other things I value. What would you do if you suddenly had several thousand extra dollars per year?

• Cars take up a ton of space, and are a pain to park.

• I hate seeing people’s lives ruled by cars. Their car breaks down and they’re totally stranded — can’t get to work, can’t get their errands done. I want to set an example that there’s another way.

• I hate that car ownership is still a status symbol. It seems so yesterday. A dinosaur relic of the petroleum era. We need better status symbols, like how many shade-trees we can plant, or how many pollinators we can attract to our yards, or how much food we can grow in our neighborhoods. Or how much fossil fuel consumption we can reduce by taking public transport, walking, or riding bicycles. You know what’s a status symbol to me? The fact that I have worked as a pedicab driver! And I once pedaled four adults a distance of about two miles! And our pedicabs did not have assistive motors! (Having a motor would have totally ruined the status-symbol aspect for me!)

• When I want a car (which I do on occasion, like once a year), I can rent one. So much easier; the maintenance is someone else’s problem; and it’s not taking up space at my house in the meantime! (Driveways and garages are far too valuable to be taken up by cars. My garage is a she-shed which I could very happily live in, and my driveway is an outdoor livingroom with landscaping!)

• When I’m in a car, I lose touch with how harsh the landscape is for people who aren’t in cars. There’s too much noise, not enough shade. Vast expanses of treeless sidewalk. Loud, heavy mechanized landscaping equipment, belching fumes and scalping Mother Nature’s luscious green curvy beauty into sterile flatness. Multi-lane roads that are hazardous and unbelievably unpleasant to even be near, let alone try to cross. I don’t want to lose touch with the ugly streetscapes we have created by prioritizing the car-driving people over all other people; if I lose touch with the ugliness I can’t help to change it to beauty! If you’ve never spent a day getting around by human-powered transport, I highly recommend you try it. You’ll be shocked at what looks fine from behind a car window but is so not fine in reality.

• Despite the ugliness of many USAmerican streetscapes, something struck me the other day as I rode my bicycle about 15 miles to do various errands: An ugly day on my bike is better than a beautiful day in a car! Because amid the large-scale ugliness there are always pockets of beauty, which can’t be seen or touched from behind a car window. Mini forests, random friendly people, tiny forgotten wildflowers growing at the sidewalk edge.

• By not owning a car, I gather useful information which I can then share with other car-free people, such as which roads should be avoided because they have no shoulders, no sidewalks, no shade, etc. And, which businesses will deliver! (Thank you Edgewater Yard Shop, my favorite source of pine-straw mulch!)

• Even though getting around by foot and bicycle takes me more time than getting around by car would, it’s worth it. Time walking or bicycling is time well spent, and offers benefits not available from a car. For example, I learn all sorts of cool shortcuts and alternate routes, and feel like I really get to know my city on a deep, fine-grained level. And, the overall tempo of life feels much less rushed, hectic, and stressed when I’m walking or cycling than when I’m trying to run errands in a car.

• In my younger days I used to be a gym-rat. Now, I’d rather get my exercise and my transportation from the same source, and eliminate the time and expense of “working out.” As bad as the outdoors smells from gasoline fumes sometimes, it still smells better than a gym! And I just prefer to sweat outdoors rather than indoors! (Of course, some people simply enjoy the gym environment for the camaraderie, professional trainers, and many other benefits it offers.)

Living car-free is fun and exhilarating, and brings out more creativity and strength and resiliency than I thought I had. But don’t take my word for it; try a car-free day sometime! And if you do, I’d love to hear about your experience.

And a final note: This post is to offer encouragement & support to people who are interested in learning about car-free living and maybe trying it out. It is not to shame people who feel they have to own a car because the design of our streets & cities, and our whole mainstream culture, makes it difficult to live without a car!

Further Exploration:

• Check out “Selling My Car … Bought My Freedom” by Rob Greenfield. You think I have a low footprint? This young man is an entertaining inspiration!