I live in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation. I’m healthy. I work from home. I’m a prime candidate for going car-free. But I’m not ditching my car any time soon.
And I’m okay with that.
Like most bicycle riders, I enjoy my car. It’s small and red and gives me the illusion of privacy while I blare talk radio and sing badly to terrible music. It shields me from worrying about weather and bus schedules and getting up the hill towing 80 lbs of kids and a week’s worth of groceries. Sure, my garage hemorrhages bikes and a vintage Iverson cruiser teeters preciously above my dining room table, but my love for two-wheeled everything doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the option to drive?even when I choose to do otherwise.
The growing numbers of car-free individuals and families is nothing short of inspiring. They overcome obstacles that compel people like me to drive. They don’t fear unpredictable weather, multi-modal transportation or showing up to work without a fresh pair of pants. They just hop on their bikes and go, solving problems they encounter on the way with pragmatism and planning.
But for most of us, cars are vital pieces of our transportation quiver. Whether we live in the suburbs, rural countryside or in a high-density city, we don’t have to go all in to enjoy many of the benefits of the car-free lifestyle. Here are some ways to dip a foot into the cool waters of living car-free-ish.
Owning a car doesn’t mean we can’t pretend to be car-free for a day, a week, or to see how long we can go. What often drives our decision to grab the keys or the bike is momentum; we hop in the car because we’re used to doing so. By locking the car keys away, even temporarily, we create the opportunity to get into the habit of bicycling to places we normally wouldn’t. In just a few days, we surprise ourselves by instinctively going for the bike, not just because it’s fun or good exercise, but because it’s what we’re used to doing.
One fewer car
Dropping down from two (or more) cars in a household down to one saves on insurance and maintenance costs while still keeping a vehicle available. If you’ve been kicking around the idea of shedding a vehicle but aren’t sure if you’re ready, leave the second car parked in your driveway for a month and see how it feels.
Two miles at a time
Maybe the weekly trip to the grocery store will always be made by car, but substituting a car ride for a bike ride here and there adds up. Whether it’s bike commuting to work once a week, riding around the neighborhood on the weekends, or committing to use a bicycle for trips less than two miles (which comprise 40% of all trips), there are opportunities everywhere to ride a little more.
One more ride
What comes up most when families like the Vierling-Classens, who have been car-free for more than a decade, talk about their lifestyle isn’t the cost savings or health benefits, but the unique power of the bike to turn tedious errands into fun-filled escapades. Being car-free has plenty of upsides, but the greatest benefit is the simple feeling of fresh air filling your lungs as you enjoy the simple pleasure of an everyday adventure. And that’s a feeling we can all experience, whether we’re lifelong bicyclists or heading out for our first ride in years.
Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.