My Car-Free Life

Culture Change

I grew up riding a bicycle and continued to depend on my bike for most of my transportation needs right on through graduate school. But when I got a salaried job and suddenly had far more money than I was accustomed to, a strange thing happened: I considered getting a car.

Fortunately, because I was living in Portland, Ore., and could easily bike or bus to work and everywhere else during the week, I eventually realized it would be cheaper and more sensible just to rent a car when I really needed one.

So I did not buy a car. And shortly thereafter, I quit my job after deciding that I really didn’t have to work so much to meet my few material needs.

In contrast, my friends and co-workers who owned new cars continued to work full time, partly to make their car payments, plus pay for gas and insurance. But they also had to keep making money so they could belong to a health club, since by driving everywhere, they no longer got enough physical exercise.

Some of them moved up into the hilly section of town, or farther out into the country and then commuted from there by car to their city jobs. And they drove their kids to schools outside their neighborhoods, each kid to a different school in some cases. In short, because they owned cars, they organized their lives around them.

Meanwhile, I quietly went about organizing my own life around my bicycle. I moved to a bicycle-friendly community, buying a small house near a major north-south bicycle path. I figured out how to make a decent living that didn’t require the use of an automobile and that provided me with plenty of discretionary time.

I began to appreciate being at home and growing my own food. Between bicycling and gardening, I got plenty of exercise. I soon found I had plenty of time, too, to visit with my elderly neighbors, bake bread, write letters, and just lie in my hammock and watch the clouds go by.

Some of my car-dependent friends now wonder what changes they would have to make to have equally fulfilling and comfortableóand more carefree and car-freeólives than they do now.

Unfortunately, because their lives evolved with automobiles, virtually every activity they pursue outside the home requires a car. They are addicted to their four-wheeled machines. And because many of them chose to live in areas that are not especially suited for bicycling, their children too are learning to depend on cars, so the problem is perpetuated.

Overcoming our society’s collective dependency on privately owned autos will not be easy. The best opportunity we have for a healthy future lies with our children and young adults who have never owned autos. We need to demonstrate for them that a happy, productive life does not require an automobile. And that just by choosing to get around by bicycle (or by foot or bus), we can change our lives in many other wonderful ways.

One Comment

In our rural county, many who truly believe in corporate- and energy-independence still use cars whenever they leave home. Here’s an idea: How about driving to the edge of town, unpacking the bike, running the day’s errands, and biking back to the car? I live in Ukiah, and I assure you that within city limits, with traffic controls and parking, a car is not much faster than a bike, if at all.