Here we are, coming up on our Car-Free one year anniversary - in two weeks!
I haven't mentioned yet that car-free is pretty easy when you're an unemployed mom. I get into conversations with other moms (working moms, moms with several kids, other working folk) who exclaim how great it must be to have the time to take the bus, or ride a bike - but they could never give up the convenience of a car. Here, let me just re-enact one of these chats in 10 questions, so I can share my answers:
1. "What on earth would you do in an emergency?" Call 911. Not to be flippant, but really, an ambulance can get to me faster than I could ever get to a hospital, car or no car. I carry a cell phone at all times.
2. "Is that trailer safe? I mean, really safe? What happens if you're in an accident?" See above answer. And I have looked our bikes and bike trailer over for any hidden terrors - and have found none so far. I don't believe there is any greater risk to biking with children than there is driving them in a car. The maximum speed I can hit on the bike (with trailer attached) is 21 MPH. Downhill. Our standard cruising speed is about 10MPH. In a car, driving on highways at 60-70MPH, steering a two ton vehicle surrounded by glass, fiberglass, and flammable materials in between other motorists doing the same is far more dangerous. And we don't wear helmets for that. And I avoid cars - strenuously - while on a bike. And I always assume they don't see me.
3. "I just don't have the time to take the bus. And forget a bike! I can't get to where I need to go doing what you're doing." I admit, this lifestyle has worked for us because I'm unemployed. It would be a challenge to get to a job, preschool, playdate, etc. on time but not impossible. It takes planning and some strategy. I see plenty of working moms with kids on the bus. I think we all forget that not everyone can afford a car - our family included. Living in a crap economy, in Seattle, on a single median salary - we really have to be car-free to keep our heads above water! I don't know how we afforded a car in the first place. Actually, having a car put us into some serious debt quicksand that we've only just managed to clamber out of.
4. "Don't you have to spend a lot of money on gear and tune-ups?" No. We got free tune-ups with the purchase of our bikes, and they've since gone in once for spring tune-ups. For both bikes and the trailer it cost just over $200. For three "vehicles." I'll have to do a rundown of our yearly costs on the anniversary post!
5. "It's cold out there. Are you crazy?" Yes. It is cold. But it's winter. And then spring, summer, autumn - I'm not afraid of weather like I used to be. I can now stand outside in a cold rain and wind and not shiver. Riding the bike in all weather has forced me to acclimate - and it's nice. I've discovered that I enjoy being outdoors. I enjoy feeling the pavement, or dirt, or gravel beneath my feet and wheels. Air feels good. Being uncomfortable ain't so bad. But if the weather is too severe, I certainly take the bus. Or we don't travel at all. I also dress myself in layers, and I bundle my daughter like we're about to race the Iditarod.
6. "How do you get groceries and all the stuff you need?" This is one of many reasons I love Seattle: Amazon Fresh. Anything you want from Amazon, delivered to your door, sometimes the same day! Groceries, sundries, you name it. Our weekly grocery shop takes me about 10 minutes online, and I can watch how much I'm spending so it's super easy to stay on budget. I can also step away from my desk and literally check the cupboards for what we need - so there's no "oops! forgot the ..." moments. A few clicks later, and the groceries show up on my doorstep within hours. I don't have to leave the house. (I do wish they'd start taking coupons, though). We also have been members of a CSA (community supported agriculture) called Full Circle Farm for several years. We get a weekly delivery of local, organic produce. It's cheaper, fresher, and tastier than shopping for it at the store. We do take a break from Full Circle during the summer, when our backyard garden produces what we eat and when it's fun to bike over to the West Seattle Farmer's Market. We also go to the store on the bike when we need to, but it's nice to save money, time and energy on using delivery.
7. "Isn't the bus scary?" Yes. Scary how late it always is. We definitely see lots of different people, hear different languages, and observe different attitudes on the bus. It's a very public way to get around town - so different from driving in a private car. So far, though, I haven't felt in danger on the bus, but we make sure to be safe and smart about where we're going and at what time of day. I've had lots of interesting conversations on the bus, and frequently recognize drivers and riders. But I always prefer to ride the bike over riding the bus.
8. "Aren't you scared of getting run over?" Of course! I was scared to sell off the Subaru and rely on a bike. When it comes down to it, a body on a bike is going to lose in an accident with a car. So it takes vigilance on every ride. Something like this:
The Bike Guy (Fred Armisen) on Portlandia. "Go vegan!" - Courtesy IFC
9. "You must be in great shape." Well, yes! I get my workout and transportation all in one go. No need for a tough gym workout when all you need to do is make sure you're running late for preschool on a morning with bad weather - that 3-mile slog uphill toting 50+ lbs. with the wind and rain in your face will hand you your ass better than any trainer. Just be sure to stretch afterwards.
10. "Are you going to get a car again in the future?" Not in the near future. I'd like to stay car-free forever, but I recognize this may get more difficult when our daughter starts kindergarten. And I rejoin the workforce. And life happens. Cars are a part of the landscape, whether we like it or not. I just hope our cities can learn to be more bike-friendly - with better infrastructure for public transit and more support and awareness for those of us without cars.