(How I do it)
To live car-free is to engage in a revolutionary act in a culture based on the automobile. For many people, living without a car is a result of poverty, and considered a social stigma, a sign that something is wrong. For my partner and I it is a means to live a much more sensible lifestyle, and one that conforms to our deepest beliefs about the environment and how we should treat the world around us, for living with a car is the best way to commit easy, senseless, irreparable, long-term eco-destruction that there is.
When I was in second grade, I loved cars and hated girls, as did most of my fellow male classmates. A few years later, like most of my peers, I started liking girls; but unlike any other of my classmates, I started hating cars.
When I was 12 I began to exercise my independence by taking the city bus downtown to the public library. The city I lived in was small and the buses only ran until 6 p.m., but I was awed by them. This wonderful system took me where I wanted to go for just a little pocket change, and I could read a book the whole trip through. Once the rite of passage driver's education class approached, I wondered why anybody in their right mind would prefer a car to a transit system.
My parents were very interested in me taking my driver's education class, and could not understand why I was so opposed to it. Back then, I was not completely sure either, but part of my refusal to take the class came from my observations of how people in cars acted, that strange superiority that driver's exhibit, that shortened temper and inability to respect anything beyond the windshield.
My parents won and I did attend driver's training. I went to the class and I was filled with such horror but masked it with the alienated nonchalance that sixteen-year-olds do so well. As a final evaluation, my driving instructor wrote that I was "not yet ready for the driving environment." This pleased me, for I was beginning to hope that I would never be ready for an environment of driving. At that time I took something of a pledge that I would never drive, that I would never be a part of that hateful world, that "driving environment."
Now thirty-nine and counting, I have avoided that world, the world I now call the car culture. I bicycle, bus, and sometimes end up pleading with people for rides.
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Living without a car is a joy, but no easy feat, especially in a city that has so sadly gone to the cars as Minneapolis has. But even in this car-gone city, the fossils of the transit and pedestrian-based transportation system that once powered this place remain, in a bus system that was itself established in part to undermine transit, and in a density of small blocks and houses that were originally designed to facilitate walking but have been re-engineered and rerouted to make it so easy for the automobile and, in some places, virtually impossible for any other form of transportation.
The language of the evening news, the paper, politicians, and most everyday conversation assumes that, in this city, the only way to get around is by driving. Yet 20% of the households in Minneapolis do not own a car. My household is in that 20% and shares with them something of a third class or third rate citizenship. Most of the taxes I pay go to supporting the car system which only goes to make my life (and all life in general) more miserable, while the transit system that I depend upon is severely underfunded, and my transportation needs are not taken seriously by government or most of my fellow citizens.
The assumption in Minneapolis is that you get around with your car. So living without a car requires planning and skill. For my partner, who is also carfree, and I it meant that we needed understanding employers, for many jobs today discriminate against non-drivers.
Because many neighborhoods in Minneapolis have no source of good food anywhere nearby and grocers no longer offer delivery services, our choice of house was based very strongly on proximity to a supermarket. We had to look out for streets safe for bicycling, and for walking after dark. We had to make sure that hardware and other necessities were not far off. Sometimes we do need a car to get something or do something. In those cases we ask a friend or relative or take a taxi.
What may suffer most is social activities, for our bus system severely reduces service at night. But two of our favorite movie theatres are within walking distance, though it is nearly an hours walk. But a long walk can be a revelation itself, whether it is a journey through the sounds and smells of summer or a heavy-footed tramp through a winter landscape.
In deciding on a place to live, we looked for a part of the city without a nearby freeway, for freeways are dangerous enough for cars, but even more deadly for other forms of transportation. Our old house was surrounded by two freeways and one expressway, and this meant that there were only a few streets that passed over these monstrosities, and those few streets were always busy with cars. Freeways also create environments unfriendly for all other forms of transportation with their ramps and speed-up requirements.
Most of all, living without a car requires the courage to do things a little differently than most people do, to resist the urge to plan your lives out around a large geographical region. Most of the places that we go to are located within a couple miles of our home, and because we live in a city that has a great deal of diversity and variety, within that couple miles are many theatres, museums, parks, restaurants, coffee shops and things to do and see, as well as our jobs.
To be carless is to be free, for cars require thousands of dollars every year to feed and maintain. Instead of four to five thousand dollars for a car, I spend a couple hundred dollars a year on bicycle repairs and tubes, plus another couple hundred on bus passes. The money we don't sacrifice to a car lifestyle allows us to maintain savings accounts, and to buy extra things for our house or for us. Not having a car frees us from the financial instability and anxiety that so many of the people we know suffer from.
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Living carfree is a necessity, a way to live out my most deeply held beliefs. I live without a car because of my love for this planet, and for the culture and heritage that human beings have developed over millions of years. Living without a car means that I am not playing as large a role in the destruction of all of that, because the car-based American lifestyle is a recipe for putting our whole planet out of business.
We power our cars with oil, a source of energy that took millions of years to create. We respect this so little that we hedonistically waste these millions of years of energy to go back and forth, living out lives and wasting our planet as if we were caught up in some kind of huge destructive metronome. We are burning up millions of years of energy to serve monotony, and basing our lives on that monotony and that stupid waste.
Those millions of years of oil are running out, and all those people who are spreading their lives out over dozens and hundreds of miles of roads are going to be left flapping wildly like beached fish once we reach the last drops. When we do reach the bottom, those of us who are living carfree now will then have to teach all those car-bound folks how to live life without enslavement to two tons of steel, wheels, monotony and waste. That's going to be the really big job.
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