How to Live Car-Free: 7 Tips from a Car-Less Person

This is the first in my car-free life series. Let’s dive into the reality of how to live car-free in a city. I acknowledge this reality isn’t easy for everyone, and has an excellent piece on developing a car-free mobility mindset if you don’t live in a major city. It’s also important to draw the distinction that to live car-free, means free from ownership, not all usage.

This is a 3-part series including how to have a dog and live car-free or how to bike with your dog.

I have been living car-free most of my adult life. Like many people, I had a car in high school while I lived in the sticks in middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. After attending university in Boston, I realized there was an easier way to get around that didn’t require driving or parking, which is the worst part of driving, after congestion.

Personally, I own 5 bicycles (including a folding bike), have a membership to the local bike-share, a Zipcar membership, and occasionally rent vehicles. It takes a village, but it works for me.

This is the third in my car-free life series. I want to explore the topic of riding a bike with a dog. There’s a lot of controversy here, so I’m going to rely heavily on my own experience, but if you’re an avid bike-rider and absolute dog-lover like me then combining these two activities is everything.

If you’ve stumbled on this article first and are curious about how to use the bike as your main form of transportation or to have a dog and live car-free, those topics are also near and dear to my heart.

Pros and Cons of Living Without a Car

The reality is the cost is not just financial. For me there was a huge mental drain around parking, not being outside enough, feeling trapped. However, if we look specifically at the financial cost. MoneyUnder30 estimates that the average monthly cost of owning a car is $940 a month. They include gas/charing, insurance, car payments, maintenance/repairs, registration/taxes, parking, and depreciation. These prices vary drastically city to city, and state to state, so make sure you’re doing your research. Depreciation is also killer if you are still making car payments and looking to sell.

If you still aren’t convinced, Business Insider interviewed Hirra Khan Adeogun where she discusses 7 reasons to ditch your car because, as she puts it, cars are unhealthy, isolating, time wasting, and propel inequality.

7 Tips on How to Live Car-Free

What are ways to get around without a car? I’m not going to lie, some days it’s not easy. While I pride myself on using my bike as my main form of transportation, it can be tough when I want to adventure outside the city, or during extreme temperatures. Thankfully, there are cheaper alternatives than full car ownership.

  1. Walk
  2. Ride a bike (or other human-powered wheels)
  3. Take Public Transportation
  4. Rent and Share Cars
  5. Use Ride-Shares and Taxis
  6. Become Multi-Modal
  7. Choose Your Neighborhood Wisely

1. Walk

The easiest and most obvious choice is to start walking more. One of the best benefits of walking is the limited of restrictions to your point A to point B. Cut through the courtyard or even a building. Take advantage of your mobility and maybe you’ll be rewarded with a cool statue, mural, or green space you didn’t know about.

Walking has its obvious limitations around distance. I have friends that will plan ahead and choose to walk 2-5 miles to get places, but this is time dependent and weather dependent. However, if you can push your boundaries a bit and walk to the location within a mile instead of driving, this will provide lots of health benefits and get one more car out of the traffic.

2. Ride a Bike

I know, I know. I said biking isn’t for everyone, or every moment… but it is extremely useful. This wouldn’t be a biking blog if I didn’t advocate for riding! The bicycle is a great way to get to anything in the 1-5 mile range around town. I use my bike to grocery shop, visit friends, commute to work, and any other task around town. You can use your bike or a shared bike service.

When I visit another city, the bike share system is usually one of the easier and cheaper ways around town. Recently I did some exploring in New Orleans and San Francisco and took advantage of their shared ebike systems. It was zippy!

I also don’t want to limit anyone to just bicycles. You can also use skateboards, roller blades, and scooters. Anything with wheels that is human powered (or lower speed motorized items… I live by MIT and we have lots of motorized skateboards).

3. Take Public Transportation

When I would take the bus to my sister’s in my college days, I was endlessly frustrated by the unknown of when the next bus would come. Now there are solid GPS tracking systems and planning apps to make your journey much easier. The train and buses are also great opportunities to read a book, catch up with friends on social media, or just zone out. There is no need to focus on the road or traffic, so you can relax more… just don’t miss your stop!

4. Rent and Share Cars

As I have said before, this really about giving up owning a personal vehicle. Many arguments for cars include groceries, big purchases, and a lot of one-off scenarios. What if you just rented something for that one-off occasion? The best part is that you can rent the type of vehicle for the type of need. I am a huge advocate for Zipcar and have been a member for a long time, but sometimes for weekend trips, regular rentals are cheaper.

I zip a sedan when my dog is sick and needs to go to the vet not in a backpack, a pickup when I need to get some furniture, and borrow a car to run some far away errands.

5. Use Ride-Shares and Taxis

When you’re trying to get somewhere and the weather stinks, or you need to bring luggage (i.e. travel) taking Ubers, Lyfts, and Taxis work in a pinch. Sometimes you can’t or don’t want to show up sweating, such as a job interview.

6. Become Multi-Modal

The important thing to remember is there is no right answer. Do what works for you in the moment. I have taken a bike share to an event and a car share home. I commuted to work by taking a folding bike to a train. Sometimes I bike to the Zipcar.

7. Choose Your Neighborhood Wisely

If you are really serious about leaving car-ownership behind, try to choose your location wisely. Do you need to be close to a metro or bus station? I always make sure the bike share system has stations nearby. The best part about a good neighborhood is making local friends that want to be outside with you. Is there a local club or community that you can join? This helps with maintenance and finding resources. Honestly, just seeing others riding or walking will likely energize you to do the same!

I’ll never forget when I moved to my current neighborhood 6 years ago. My mother was waiting for me on my new porch while I returned the rental van. When I got back she said, “I think you picked the right area, I’ve seen so many bikes go by in the last hour.”

Ready to Live Car-Free?

Or maybe you still have questions? Don’t hesitate to send me a note!

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