I love cars. I love driving cars, and I even love just looking at cars. I can blame my father for my love of cars. He’s a pretty typical American male car-nut. He’s owned many, many cars over the years and as I entered my adolescence, he bought a 1963 Ford Galaxie convertible. It wasn’t a driver’s car by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was a giant boat of a car: longer than an F150 pick-up truck, held 6 passengers, and could fit two cellos in the trunk. Acceleration was sluggish, there was almost no feel in the steering wheel, and it pulled hard to the left if you stomped on the brakes. But there was nothing better than taking it out on a cool spring evening, putting the top down and cruising around the city. The wind in your air, the burble of the V-8, the envious stares of people driving minivans – I’ve wanted a convertible ever since.
But I hate cars. The car has done so much damage to the American landscape. Before the car, we lived in walkable neighborhoods, and took the streetcar to work. After the car, we spread out – both our houses and our waistlines. First, there were the suburbs. Each house with its own yard – a private playground for your children, and each house with a two-car garage. Then came the exurbs, with houses even further apart. Each house an island, a private country home (with a minimum of a 3-car garage). I grew up in a suburb, where car ownership is considered a given. For many years, my family had more cars than we had drivers. Today, my parents have three cars for the two of them. It’s only in the last few years that I realized how ridiculous that is.
I guess it would be more accurate to say that I feel conflicted about cars. I love them, I hate them, but when I look at it objectively, I don’t need a car anymore.
In fact, I probably haven’t needed a car for the last 8 years, maybe even longer. For someone who professes such a love of cars, I had a pretty lame ride. A 1998 Chrysler Cirrus – a mom car, basically. In fact, it was a hand-me-down from my mom. I’ll blame the fact that I had such a lame car on my conflicted feelings about the automobile. I could never bring myself to sell it and shell out the extra money to buy something nice. It had four doors, a decent engine, a comfortable ride, but there was absolutely nothing exciting about it. So I sold it.
The car had become superfluous. I bike to work every day (1.5 miles) and my wife walks to work (1 mile). There’s a grocery store less than a mile away, and it’s between my home and my office. I can bike almost everywhere I need to go. I live about 1.5 miles from a train station that can get me to Boston or New York. The trip to Boston takes about an hour – less time (and far less aggravation) than driving there. It was just too easy to keep the car. I’ve never had car payments, and I only had the minimum liability insurance – about $50 a month. And since I drove so rarely, I only filled it up about once a month. The only big cost was the occasional repair. For so many Americans, owning a car is the default condition. I’ve had my own car since I was 15, and I was just so used to the idea of owning a car. Finally, it was time for the once every two years state inspection. The car was not going to pass without some major brake work. So I shelled out the $600 for the repairs and posted the car for sale the next week. The car had reached the point of diminishing returns. It was running fine, and many of the things that wear out on it were relatively new. But I know that in another year or 16 months, it would need another $500 to $1000 in repairs. So now was the time to sell it and get a couple thousand dollars. I’ll be chronicling the costs of the car-free life, so we’ll start with that.
No car means no need for car insurance. The insurance company sent me a refund for the months that I had pre-paid.
My wife and I signed up for Zipcar, a “car-share” service where you can rent cars by the hour. My wife works for Brown University, so we get a discount on the annual fee.
Providence has a ban on overnight parking, which has its positives and negatives. On the good side, the streets aren’t packed with parked cars like the are in Boston, and it’s very easy for visitors to find a parking spot. For biking, it’s much easier to have the streets relatively free of parked cars. On the bad side, everyone has paved over their yard to make parking spaces.
After selling the car, I used Craigslist to rent out the parking place
I’m still pretty amazed by the fact that I was able to rent the parking space. I own a little patch of ground, and now it’s generating income for me.
I know that I am not the most unique car-free person in the country. And I know that it is far easier for me to be car-free then for many other people. I don’t have kids. I live close to where I work. I live in a relatively compact city. I can get to other cities by convenient mass transit. If I need a car, there’s a zipcar a few blocks away. Still, I feel like going car-free was a big step for me, so I’m going to write about it. I hope you find it interesting.