Reflections On 6 Months Without A Car

Around 6 months ago I moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco to work at LEWIS PR. During the process, despite warnings from others (similar to those I received when I got rid of TV) I decided to try going car-free.

As aside about the warnings, I think anything you do in life that goes against what someone else relies on is scary for them. As such, it causes them to react out against it. Don’t listen to this type of reaction, always find your own path.

In the previous post on this subject I shared the reasons why I went car-free. Today I wanted to share a follow-up on the experience because I think too many people can’t fathom a life without a car. In summary: I think all of you should try it at some point. It’s a very different (and better) lifestyle.

Why?

Eliminating the step in between

I grew up in a city called Hollywood, Florida. It’s located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. There wasn’t much walkable from my house, as is typical of the American family in suburbia and minimal, disparate public transit. Even if you wanted to walk or bike somewhere, it wouldn’t really be something I’d classify as a pleasant experience. You’re basically using the same infrastructure designed (and given a priority to) cars. So we drove. A lot. Driving was a necessary step in between the events of the day. It was similar in college and when I was in Minneapolis.

For most of this time, I hadn’t fathomed a life in which this step in between wasn’t necessary. No one finds it enjoyable to spend hours on concrete stretches and in asphalt parking lots that are devoid of humanity and lack sense of place. The perspective I have gained from time away from this process has, if anything, made me realize how I would be reticent to go through it again. It’s a subtle but noticeable difference when you remove a stress-inducing activity that is part of your daily process and replace it with something stress-relieving: exercise.

Re-introducing serendipity

There isn’t much serendipity when driving in a car. You’re usually destination-oriented, plus (hopefully) focused on what you’re doing so not paying much attention to what’s around you. Thus, you miss experiencing everything around you. This mode of travel is isolated and lacks serendipity.

Walking or biking a city is a far different experience than driving. If you live in an innovation hub like San Francisco there are countless coffee shops, restaurants, artists, people, art galleries, bookstores and a diverse amount of culture throughout the city. When walking (or biking) it’s not a big decision to stop and explore or interact. Basically, you’re a part of unscripted action vs. just watching from the sidelines.

Gas and car expenses are wasted income and time

Have you run the numbers for what you pay in gas, insurance and car payments each month? If not, go do it. Pretty terrible, right? And what do you have to show for it? Exactly. There’s nothing much to add here, it’s really nice to not have to deal with the nonsense of filling up gas, getting car maintenance or worrying about the upkeep. I have more time to do the things I love, like writing words and music.

Public transit / shared options = better than owning a car

I have been taking public transit to get around and it’s actually quite good. I’ve never had to wait that long (the schedules are all available online) and in fact it’s better than a car because I don’t have to deal with parking. Also any funds to pay, even if I take a taxi or use a service like Zipcar still don’t touch the expense or hassle of owning a car.

My conclusion: our car-oriented culture is not a good thing

Note, I’m not saying cars are bad, I’m saying our culture’s prioritization of them is wrong. They serve an important function, and I’m not saying I won’t own one again one day. But not owning one has given me a different perspective on how they actually affect our culture.

They encourage city designers and developers to sprawl locations of residencies and businesses, distancing us unnecessarily. Something as simple as walking 2 miles a day to the office instead of driving 17 has a noticeably positive impact on  quality of life. I have less physical possessions to maintain and worry about (I actively try to eliminate as many physical possessions as possible). Yes, I am aware of the fact I’m a marketer: but I market technology companies so my aversion to physical possessions plays well with the industry.

Curious how many readers here are also car-free? What has your experience been like?