By: Jessica Burde
I walked about two miles yesterday: half a mile to my counsellor’s office, half a mile back; a half-mile to and from the grocery store; and another half-mile between home and work. There are lots of places I can’t get to without a car, given how horrid public transportation is in small-town Pennsylvania, but I can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars a month on a car that I only really need to use once every week or two.
So, I live carless.
Going carless is increasingly popular. It’s been talked about everywhere from Forbes to CNN. And though The New York Times columnist Paul Krug isn’t ready to go carless himself, he spent some time considering the pros and cons of the lifestyle in a world with ridesharing services and companies like Lyft and Uber. “When you think about it, for most people, owning a car is quite wasteful,” he writes. “It’s an expensive item of equipment that sits idle most of the time; it requires parking (and often a parking structure) both at origin and at destination; it requires maintenance and is a big hassle all around.”
Some gas-guzzler ditchers cite environmental or political reasons—American author Orson Scott Card argues that every time we buy gasoline, which is itself a fleeting, earth-destroying resource, we funnel money into countries that house terrorists—while others focus on their health. Maureen Mackey of The Fiscal Times notes, “Cars are unhealthy—each additional hour spent in a car per day is associated with a six percent increase in obesity.” Naive Optimist blogger Ryan Carson, traded his car for a bike; the 15-minute ride to and from the gym three times a week adds up to an additional workout all on its own.
Carson isn’t alone in his choice. Mr. Money Mustache—the online persona of a thirtysomething retiree who writes about his quest for a badass leisure life—contends that trading your car for a bike, or just getting a bike to use whenever you don’t have to drive, isn’t just about money, health, or politics: “A bike-based lifestyle is an all-encompassing change for the better. It’s like rolling back the past hundred years of humanity’s clueless paving-over of the surface of the Earth, without having to sacrifice a single benefit of modernization. It’s like shedding all of the stress and responsibility of adulthood that have crusted over you and going back to being eight years old again…without losing an ounce of that golden power and freedom that comes with being an adult.”
The world is not necessarily a friendly place for those who choose to set aside their keys, though. Major roads with no sidewalks, intersections where you have to take your life into your hands just to cross, a lack of reliable public transportation outside of major cities—the carless life is full of frustrations. For most of us, however, they’re a welcome trade-in for the horrors of rush hour, rollercoaster gas prices, and the hassles of driving.
As the lifestyle continues to grow, I expect we’ll see some changes to make living carless easier. Cars will always be a part of American life, but improved public transit, ride-share programs, Lyft, and Uber may turn them into community resources instead of a central tenet of the “American Dream.”
I won’t get a car again if I have a choice. I’ll stick with my own two feet and maybe pick up a bike. My son will grow up walking, not riding. And, maybe by this time next year, the four-mile walk to the next town will be a nice day’s outing. Now, if only Lyft was available in small-town Pennsylvania.