Today’s typical North American lifestyle is designed around driving a vehicle to get from point A to point B (and yes someone put thought and energy into making it so.) Places of work, shopping and entertainment are often separated with long roads built for automobile traffic only. Cities went from being designed around amenities being close to where people lived with small shops and grocery stores on street corners, to cities being designed with separate areas for living, shopping and working. (For a city planners take on the topic read Walking Home by Ken Greenberg) And so the large majority of people own a car and drive it every day, to and from work, grocery stores, malls, the gym (which I always thought was ironic), friends and family as it has simply become a way of life just as walking to those same things used to be a way of life. But is driving everywhere really always the best way to get around? This is a question that my husband and I stumbled upon when we downsized (or rightsized) our lifestyle to a more central location.
Shortly after we got married we bought a car. It was small and used but didn’t have many miles on it so we thought it would be a great little car for our first vehicle together as it got really good gas mileage and we were on the road a lot living in a small town. It proved to be a great car; that is until it got totaled in a car accident several years later. We were then out of a vehicle at a time when we didn’t have money to buy a new car and we didn’t really want to buy a new car as we liked the one we had as it was paid off, ran well and always started in cold weather even without being plugged in!
After relaying our sad story to my parents they, taking pity on us, offered to give us one of their vehicles that they never used. Now this may sound like a sweet deal at first but let me explain that the vehicle they were offering to give us was a 1987 Cutlass Supreme and with a word like Supreme in its name you can just imagine how awesome of a car we were being offered. (See above picture with the original car owner (my grandfather) and I) We took it however without a second thought because an old boat that guzzled gas, was finicky to start and had poufy armchairs for front seats was better than making payments on a new vehicle.
When we were rightsizing from the townhouse to our current condo we thought that we would now have the money to put into a vehicle that would be newer, better on gas and have harder seats (sorry, but we realized they just don’t make seats like they used to!) We seriously started looking around at vehicles but decided to hold off until we were settled into the new place. Once we moved into our new neighborhood we simply forgot about buying a vehicle. All of a sudden we didn’t drive very often as grocery stores and entertainment options were steps away and being centrally located bus routes were a whiz to both work and school.
So now, we simply enjoy our old car the once a week or so that we feel we need to drive it. (The mechanic says the old girl has many miles left in her and she should as she is only the same age as me!) It doesn’t really matter that it is a gas guzzler anymore as we spend far less on gas now then when we drove it every day to work, the mall, the grocery store, family and friends. And while buying a new vehicle would mean using less gas it is debatable whether the environmental impact would actually be less as a significant amount of energy went into creating the new car in the first place. We reduced our usage from 7 days/week to approximately 1 day per week and I’m sure we could reduce it more if we put our minds to it. (This would be a lot easier if our beautiful city would get with the program and implement a proper transit system and bicycle paths!)
Taking the bus, cycling and walking most everywhere has proved to have some benefits. It saves money, gas, speeding tickets, frustration at being stuck in traffic constantly taking your foot on and off the gas pedal and I have a higher level of fitness as I spend a lot more time just walking in daily life then sitting in a car. We haven’t yet come upon any insurmountable downsides to the new arrangement as we find our lifestyle much easier, quite natural and when we really need to get somewhere in a vehicle we have one, we just are not making payments on it, constantly putting gas in it or worrying about how we look in it, as our vehicle has become so much less important to our daily routine.
Now we have thought a little bit about what we would do if our car died. (Where do cars go when they die anyway? Can they be recycled?) We have thought about going without a car altogether and that may work for a while though we are not sure that would be a long term solution for us no matter how honorable it sounds unless we lived in a city with a better transit system. Buying an electric car may be an option once they come down in price and the technology improves a little more. Having children with an old two door vehicle or without a vehicle, always taking the bus or bike would be another interesting challenge that I cannot yet speak to, but am curious about.
Owning and driving a car nearly every day was something I never used to think about. I took at as simply something that enabled life to happen. Those notions however are being challenged and it is an interesting road to be on, who knows where it might lead especially if the concept of not driving everywhere caught on…
“…These initiatives and bottom-up pressures are all part of the fundamental rebalancing as we reverse-engineer the intrusive “cars first” post-war interventions. In learning low-tech solutions from our own past, other cultures and new discoveries, we are revisiting Robert Frost’s “Road Not Taken,” which he famously “marked…for another day.” That day has now arrived.” – Ken GreenBerg in Walking Home