Car-Free-niversary

One year ago today, I handed over the keys for my 1998 Chrysler Cirrus to a nice couple from Cranston in exchange for $2,300. For the previous 2 years, I had barely driven it. I didn’t need it to get to work, my wife didn’t need it to get to her office, I didn’t need it for 95% of the shopping that I did, and I could even visit friends in other cities without using the car (more reasons are outlined in my first post: An Introduction). In short, I just didn’t need it. I had toyed with the idea of selling the car for a while, but I think that the final straw came when I had to shell out $600 for brake repairs that were necessary for it to pass state inspection.

I'm about to fall asleep just looking at a picture of the thing.

I’d planned to use this blog to dutifully log all of the money I save or spend by not having a car, but I quickly lost track. One of the reasons I sold the car was so I wouldn’t have to worry about it, and logging all of my savings just seemed like another way to worry about a car without actually owning a car. Instead, this blog has become more about my travels as a cyclist and pedestrian, with a lot of kvetching about the indignities one faces while getting around without a car.

I’ve read quite a few other bike blogs in the last year (my favorites are in the right-hand column), and I’ve learned quite a bit about bikes, the law, and vehicular cycling. I’ve met a couple of other bloggers, and had many great interactions with bike bloggers online. I’ve seen people living a car-light lifestyle in cities where I used to live and where I thought a car would be absolutely necessary.

From reading Bike Snob NYC, I’ve realized that I should try to keep my smugness in check. For example, that guy I pass on the way to work every morning who is rolling along the sidewalk on a full-suspension Magna is also living Car-Free in PVD, he just doesn’t waste his time gazing at his navel and writing a blog about it like I do. Reading BSNYC has also taught me all about the Alberto Contador fingerbang, the excesses of fixie culture, and the importance of telling haters what they can suck.

I started volunteering at Recycle-A-Bike in the last year and learned some new things about bike repair and maintenance. I hope I’ll have time in the coming year to do a full build-up on a recycled bike. This was originally going to be Project: Cignal, but that kind of petered out. I’ll make an RAB build one of my goals for the next year. As a representative of RAB I went to Bike!Bike! Northeast. It was inspiring to see the different bike collectives/community bike centers from around the region. It was interesting to note that all of these places seemed to pop up in the last decade. I know that we are riding a wave of interest in cycling right now, and it’s good to see that it includes an interest in transportation cycling and using bikes to create better communities.

I probably spend too much time  on this blog writing about bikes, but I really do feel like the bike is a key component to living without a car (unless you happen to live in one of 5 cities in America that have good public transit). It allows great freedom of movement, expands your range past what you can cover by walking, and it can keep you healthy at the same time. It’s also (relatively) easy to maintain on your own, or fairly cheap to have fixed professionally. When I owned a car, I was always dreading what the next repair would be. But with a bike, I’m never really worried.

The single most important decision one can make in order to live in America without a car is choosing the right place to live. Live close to where you work, work close to where you live. If possible, live in a dense neighborhood so you are close to stores that you need to visit on regular basis. When we moved to Providence, Spouse and I knew that we would live close to her job because she does not drive. I could have looked for jobs anywhere in a 50 mile radius, but from living in Edmonton I learned that I preferred living close to where I work. So I kept my job search limited and I was fortunate to find something very quickly.

Again, I have to keep my smugness in check. I saw unemployment skyrocket shortly after moving to Providence. Unemployment has gone up just about everywhere in the US, but there were a few months in 2008 where it seemed like every new unemployment report would be a battle between Michigan and Rhode Island for the highest rate. I realize how fortunate I am to have a job that is less than 2 miles from my house. Some of my coworkers commute for 30 miles or more and I’m glad that I’m not one of them. This was a conscious choice on my part, but I feel that there was a good amount of luck involved. If it was luck, it was helped along by my decision to live in a dense area with many jobs close by.

My path to a car-free life has been filled with little nudges. Nudge #1: In the early 2000’s I started commuting by bike while living in Boston because it was “the right thing to do” in light of environmental and geopolitical concerns. But it was easy to backslide into driving since I had “free” parking at the office. Nudge #2: In Edmonton (2005-2007), parking at work would have been very expensive – almost 10% of my gross salary. When I was able to bike throughout the harsh Edmonton winter, I knew that I could handle biking anywhere. Nudge #3: In Providence, I was able to get around nearly everywhere I needed to go on my bike, and I only drove the car about 3,000 miles in one year (mostly on long trips). Nudge #4: There’s Zipcar nearby – about 4 blocks away.

One thing I’ve barely touched on in this blog is Zipcar, a car sharing service. Basically, it’s car rental by the hour, with a couple of key differences from regular car rental. First of all, the hourly rate includes everything: the car, insurance, even gas. The cars are parked in various places around a city (okay, in Providence they are only parked in two places and they are both close to a certain major university). I can reserve a car online, then walk a few blocks to pick it up. I unlock the car using a special card (it works on any zipcar in the country), and the keys are waiting inside the car.  Zipcars are available 24/7 whereas the car rental place downtown is closed Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday. Plus, I don’t really like dealing with the car rental guys (“and I’m sure you’ll be opting for the full insurance protection, right?” Ugh, I hate that). It’s not super-cheap to rent a Zipcar, but using it on occasion is very reasonable when compared to the cost of owning a car. In the last year, we’ve spent about $765 dollars on Zipcar. At first glance, that may seem like a lot of money to spend on car rental, but keep in mind that the previous year, I spent about $600 on insurance for the Cirrus. Plus I had to pay for gas & repairs. That’s for a 1998 boring Chrysler. There’s not much that’s exciting about the Zipcars in my neighborhood, but they are relatively new and much more entertaing to drive than the Cirrus ever was. And when I traveled to California, I was able to rent a mini cooper convertible to toss around the hills of Marin County!

yep, that's a smile in the rearview mirror

Zipcar was started in Cambridge, MA while I was living nearby. It’s been great to see it grow. I only wish it were in more places. Personally, I couldn’t ask for a better location than where they are now, but I’ll be they could get more business with cars parked further away from campus – maybe even a couple downtown or on the West Side.

I asked Spouse if she had any insights to share from our first year of living without a car. She said that it hasn’t been much of a change for her. She did bring up one thing that I intended to address at some point in the first year of this blog, but never quite got around to: bumming rides. Since last October, I’ve had a post in my drafts folder called “Cheating, or Riding in Cars With Other People.” There have been a few times when friends have picked us up for various events or outings. For most of these, we probably would have carpooled with the friends even if we still had a car. But there have been a handful of times when we’ve actually borrowed a friend’s car. Saturday was one of these rare occasions.

Last week at the  Farmers’ Market Bike Valet, I joked with some friends that I need to buy a car again so I can support my bike volunteering (the bike valet gear pretty much requires a car to haul it – but we’re working on that!). My friends immediately offered to loan their car for the cause. They feel it will help to mitigate the negative effects of owning a car to donate its use to a community bike center. Sounds good to me!

Here are the fruits of their donation:

5 bikes with child seats at one time!

A big thanks to Ben & Sheryl for donating the use of their car. I think we parked about 25 bikes in total and as usual, we talked to many many people about Recycle-A-Bike. I’m still seeing a few bikes parked in various places around the park, so I think we need to do a better job with signage.

littlest customer ever

It’s always fun for me to see the different bikes. In the last year, I’ve found myself checking out almost every bike I see on the street. The other cyclists must think I’m giving them the evil eye, when I’m really just trying to see their head tube badge! Speaking of head tubes, check out this diplomatically decorated bike:

It has a sticker for each of the small local bike shops in Providence on the head tube, and the down tube has a sticker for a now-defunct LBS. The cyclist was happy to add a Recycle-A-Bike sticker to the seat tube to accompany all of the other decorations. This bike also has a no-nonsense 1 X 8 drivetrain and a double sided kickstand. Straight-up utility cycling here. I love it!

Back to the topic of bumming rides. It’s not something I want to do on a regular basis, but I’m sure it will happen a few times in the next year. I’ve just created a spreadsheet to track my travels. How exciting, right?  It has columns for biking for transportation, biking for fun, using transit, riding in others’ cars, driving a borrowed car, and driving a zipcar. Although today is officially the start of year 2 of living car-free, I’ll include the use of Ben & Sheryl’s car yesterday. After I dropped off the bike valet gear, I used the car to do a stock-up trip at the grocery and liquor stores. There’s still only one thing that my Cannondale can’t handle  – and that’s a 12 pack.

Here’s the spreadsheet:

Zero miles biked this weekend! That’s just horrible. Spouse and I had planned to take a ride to Bristol today, but it rained all day. Instead, I spent some time making a few adjustments to the Cannondale – to be revealed at a later date.

Speaking of revealing at a later date – I still haven’t revealed my new road bike! Well, I’m over 2,000 words for this post, so I think I’ll save the reveal for my blog-iversary in a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s another sneak peak at the new road bike. Specifically, something I removed shortly after I got the bike home.

Oh yeah, now I remember why it’s on there – Rhode Island General Law Section 31-19-10:

(b) Rear reflector. Every bicycle shall be equipped with a red reflector of a type approved by the division of motor vehicles which shall be visible for six hundred feet (600′) to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet (500′) to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector.

I think I’ll stick with a Planet Bike Superflash.

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9 responses to “Car-Free-niversary

  1. Have you seen http://www.walkscore.com? It gives you a “score” for how walkable your address is, compares it to the city, and can give you a “commute” report on how long it might take you to walk, bike, and drive to work and what the associated expenses might be. I’d be curious if their algorithm rings true with your numbers!

    • My address scores a 75. Your address is a few points lower. I entered a few more addresses just for fun. Further up our street scores an 83 – I’m guessing due to the proximity to a hospital – a major employer. I entered a few of my past addresses just for comparison. My place near Davis Square in Somerville scored an 88, and my place in Central Square scored a 98 – “Walker’s Paradise!”

      If I enter my work address, walkscore.com gives my commute a 100! That’s the best validation of my smugness I’ve had all day!

      • I bet I’d have a few more points if they knew that the pharmacy two blocks away is a mini-grocery store and a liquor store! (assuming we consider that essential)

    • oh, and thanks for the link. I’d heard of walkscore, but hadn’t checked it out yet.

  2. Unsmug Texas driver

    Happy anniversary! Was just reading a back issue of the Onion and thought the below might help increase your smugness:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/millions-of-barrels-of-oil-safely-reach-port-in-ma,17875/

  3. Pingback: Blog-iversary | Car-Free in PVD

  4. Pingback: when the light goes out, there is no hope | Car-Free in PVD

  5. Pingback: The End of Smugness | Car-Free in PVD

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