Going Car Free

Okay, my first post won’t be anything special (in fact, fairly weak). So. Today, my wife emailed me a story from work:

I was in a training this morning and one of the examples of how to lead people through change … And the example was a family deciding to go carless.  Other members of the family would be resistant but how do you convince them that this is a good decision, etc.

Anyway, one woman got so angry about the idea of going carless that she literally freaked out in the training.  Holy buckets.  Seriously, it was an example.  A fake family in a hypothetical situation.  But she literally was so beyond resistant and refusing to even consider the idea.  In a fake world for a fake family.

Now I’ll admit my wife and I don’t live car-free, though we probably could. We live in a fairly walkable neighborhood, my wife works in downtown Minneapolis while I work in downtown St Paul (both accessible by fairly reliable transit). Minneapolis is pretty darn bike-friendly (by US listicle standards), and we’ve got several car- and bike-sharing services. Plus, we only have one child, whose daycare can be accessed by bus on the way to/from our jobs (though an extra transfer is required) and who prefers being carried to stroller or car rides.

Like this. (for more information on the pose, see here)

And yet, we own one vehicle – a Honda Odyssey. Like most people, we justify it in tons of ways – both my parents and a sibling/in-law own homes 25 miles south, my in-laws live in Iowa City, etc. We’ve got two 50 lb dogs. Some friends live in suburbs or transit inaccessible places. The MSP metro is pretty sprawly overall. In other words, plenty of trips to be made in a year beyond daily commutes and shopping that owning a car in a two-income household in a metro with very low congestion and abundantly free parking makes enough sense.

I’ll even admit, dropping from two cars (a holdover from our previous residence and my previous job in a 3rd-ring suburb) to one was somewhat difficult before we did it. What if I had the car for a work day trip outstate and our kid got sick? What if one of us took the car to visit a friend and a dog needed an emergency vet visit? But thinking that way is sort of the problem. Humans are incredibly loss and risk averse. Why trade away a sure thing (the ability to go anywhere, anytime) for a few bucks a year? Seems like the type of thing young singles or retired folks can get away with, but not me.

Of course, we haven’t experiences the apocalypse yet. I can count on two hands the times I relied on Car2Go to get to/from work in a pinch over the last 6 months, mostly for appointments or where transit would simply be too slow. I bike to meet friends far more often to make sure the car stays at home with my wife. Like most things we fret about losing, we rarely notice life without them once they’re gone.

I realize talking about things like this comes across like you want to impose your worldview on others. That’s not really my intention. It’s just important for everyone to understand the mental barriers we face in even envisioning a life without one, let alone 2+ household cars. Nathan Lewis outlines this pretty well in one of his Traditional City rants. Sure, he comes across a bit of a blowhard, but it’s actually worth the read (particularly the Viking settlement discussion). Pro-compact urban development folks and pro-motordom sides both would do well to fully admit the challenges (perceived and real) to living a car-free or car-lite lifestyle.


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