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Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Life without a Car

Parking: 1Car = 10 Bikes



I feel that a preface is needed here to say that my car-free status is a personal choice and that I am not advocating it for everyone. I do feel that there are many, many people in America who have probably never even considered it possible to live without a car. It is and it’s great!

I haven’t driven an automobile in nine and a half years. Not only that but I’m rarely a passenger in a car. I realize that my memory is for shit and getting worse every day but I can’t remember the last time I got inside a car other than a short taxi ride. Whenever that was it wasn’t out of necessity because I always have alternatives, alternatives that I’ve been choosing for almost a decade. I shudder when I watch scenes in a movie or a TV program in which people are driving around some American suburban car-scape. To me driving is simply terrifying and I hope that I’m done with that task and cars forever.

Before this present nine and a half years of being car-less I spent eight years in Seattle where I drove very little, perhaps 6,000 miles in total with most of that being trips out of town to the mountains or into Canada. I lived in the downtown area and effected almost all of my day-to-day travel either by foot or bicycle. Here in Valencia almost all of my transportation is by bike or on foot. When I travel away from the city it’s by train. I have the option to use a very fine mass transit system in Valencia of busses and underground metro but it’s just easier and faster for me to travel by bicycle.

Most of my bike travel around town is on one of the excellent bike share bikes the city operates in conjunction with JC Decaux called Valenbisi. A one year subscription to the service costs only 29.21€ for unlimited use at 276 stations around the city. For me this has been the single greatest innovation in urban transportation in my lifetime. I have two bikes of my own: one I use for trips around the city and the other is dedicated to sport cycling. I ride a bike every single day of my life.

What has it meant for me not to drive all these years, or to have driven so little over the course of my entire adult life? I have often said that cycling solves many of society’s ills and now I will try to articulate each and every one of those solutions.

First of all, there is the savings involved with not owning and operating an automobile. When I lived in Seattle I would meet people who lived in the suburban areas who would voice their envy of my downtown lifestyle. They would often confess that they would love to live in the city if only they could afford it. I don’t even think that it was true that rents in the city were much more than in the suburbs. Perhaps you get less for what you pay but the rents weren’t much more than 20% more in the city than in the surrounding exo-burbs, places I never, ever visited. My apartment was small but if you live in the city you have so many reasons not to stay at home that this hardly mattered to me. Most of the people I knew who lived out of the city had expensive cars because they felt they needed this luxury because they spent so much of their lives trapped inside them. Many of the people that I knew who lived in the city didn’t own cars and many didn’t even have a driver’s license. My advice to my suburban friends was to sell their car and move downtown. Many chose this route and were glad they did. No one ever regretted thier move.

Living without a car means I have no car payment (I’ve always paid cash for cars when I did drive). I don’t have to send a check every month to the insurance company. I don’t have to pay a mechanic to fix a broken vehicle. My parking costs are exactly zero every month, month after month. An even bigger advantage of not owning a car than the financial boom is the fact that I never have a breakdown, or a flat tire, and I never get pulled over for a ticket. The only interaction most adults have with the police is related to driving. I don’t drive and I’ve had exactly zero contact with the police in more than a quarter of a century.

From the financial gains of not driving we move on to the spiritual improvement of my life, or the fact that I have zero driving-related stress in my life. It’s been 9.5 years since someone has given me the finger or honked at me as I make my way around in a metal box. I haven’t been stuck in traffic in so long that I can’t even remember what that is like—although I’m guessing that it still sucks. My blood pressure doesn’t rise because I can’t find a parking spot. Unfortunately, I still run the risk of being involved in a car-related accident but this possibility is lowered because I spend so little time on my bike in the street as I ride on bike paths whenever possible.

The health advantages of cycling over riding in a car are difficult to calculate but seem to be completely obvious. How often do you max out your heart? I do it almost daily in my trips around town. Even on days when I don’t have the time or the inclination to exercise I am exercising as I ride around town. I don’t even count my inner-city commutes as exercise but I know these trips help my overall level of fitness. Never once to I think to myself, “Man, I really don’t feel like riding 20 minutes right now.” More often than not I am thinking to myself, “Great, I get to ride a bike for a while! Yeah!”

Many of the benefits of cycling are societal in nature and not related to the individual. One example is the fact that for every cyclist on the road that means one less car which means less traffic, fewer parking problems, less wear and tear on the roads, and much less pollution. Next you have to consider that I’m not using up two tons of raw materials that make up a modern automobile which will be thrown—sooner or later—on the scrap heap.

It has been as easy to live without a car as it has been to live without a jetski or a snowmobile. A car seems no less ridiculous to me than those two toys but unfortunately the automobile is much more destructive.

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