Going Car-Free

Five years ago, I rid myself of having cable (and two years ago, I ditched owning a TV altogether). It has easily been one of the best choices of my life:  I’ve been more productive personally and professionally, had time for continued learning across several verticals and an amplified drive to create art.

Freeing myself of TV was just step one in simplifying my life. Step two, naturally, was removing my car.  Today I wanted to share my experience (so far) going car-free.  To summarize:  it’s nothing short of spectacular.

With my recent move to San Francisco I was able to put this into action. I had initially narrowed my choice of new cities to San Francisco and New York for several reasons, including the fact they are both extremely livable without a car. Also personally I enjoy both cities. But beyond that: they are true innovation hubs.

I’m not just saying this from opinion – in the map below, Richard Florida plots the top 10 US metros on each of the basic density measures, charting human capital, creative class workers, artistic and cultural creatives, patented innovations, and high-tech workers per square kilometer:

I show this map for the simple reason that not only are New York and San Francisco both top cities in America – due to their high population densities of innovators and great public transit they are perfect for car-free lifestyles because you’re going to be in close proximity to a wealth of smart, creative individuals. The serendipity of connection in these circumstances increases greatly when you’re not isolated in your car.

Aside from this, following are some of the more specific reasons I’m excited to be car-free.

Time optimization

While in Minneapolis, my commute took about 30 minutes in the morning and around 45 minutes at night.  In many cases even longer. Conservatively, that’s 5.2% of my day, every day, gone forever. Certainly I made good use of that time enjoying new artists as well as interesting podcasts, but being stuck in traffic still costs time and causes stress.

A quote shared in a recent post on Zen Habits discussing this topic hits the nail on the head:

‘Life is too short for traffic.’ ~Dan Bellack

Further, owning a car requires paying bills, getting gas, taking the car in for service, paying car insurance, finding parking, cleaning and a slew of other issues that all require your time.  As I noted in a 2007 post: time is your most precious resource. Anything you can do to optimize your time is highly worth considering.

I chose a strategic location to live that would be close enough to work for walking yet still gain time.  My new commute is .8 miles or approximately a 15 minute walk at most, which means I’m gaining back 3.1% of my day back M-F.  Doesn’t sound like much?  This equals +195.75 hours (+8.1 days) per year of driving time I’m getting back.

What about recurring tasks like grocery shopping?  Well again, planning here helped:  there’s a grocery store on my way home. Without having to worry about a car, this works out even nicer than a commute where I had to not only go out of my way to the store, but also find parking.


Walking every day to work not only transforms my commute from painful to pleasant, there are health benefits from building exercise into my daily routine. In college I lived about a mile off campus, but purposefully chose to walk most days as opposed to taking the bus. I recalled how nice of an experience this was while choosing to get rid of my car before moving to San Francisco.  As some days are naturally too busy to get to the gym, having exercise as an unavoidable part of the routine is a good thing. Also since I fly a lot, I feel good about not owning a car as this helps reduce my carbon footprint.

Cars are expensive

As noted above – not only do gas, parking, insurance, etc. require your time, they require money. I ran the numbers and it actually makes far more sense to rent when necessary as opposed to own. With innovative services such as Zipcar, I think for many city-dwellers this is an appealing option. Further, from a travel standpoint, public transit or even a cab to the airport is way more cost-effective than parking.

City exploration, serendipitous interactions

You miss so much when driving.  Small shops are passed by without second thought. Other cars and pedestrians are forever anonymous.  By walking through a city you see and interact with everything and everyone around you. It is a more serendipitous experience and especially enjoyable living in a cultural hearth.


All of this is so counter-intuitive to my mindset growing up. I couldn’t wait to own a car, it was a right of passage and a symbol (and enabler) of freedom. Living in suburbs that was true. But I’ve come to the realization that, at least with my life goals and the desire to pursue my career, learning, art, and sharing ideas with you, a car isn’t necessary and could actually work against that.

I thought it might take time to adjust to not owning a car, but I’m already enjoying it quite a bit. When living in uptown Minneapolis and downtown Fort Lauderdale I almost never drove on weekends so it’s not too much of an adjustment. I can’t say I won’t own one again at some point in life.  But right now it’s a lot nicer not having it.

What about you?  Ever thought about going car-free?  Think you could do it?

image credit: Shutterstock