Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Carless in Seattle

Maybe I should have been more aggressive in promoting my decision to go carless after an accident cut our wheels out from under us three years ago. Maybe I could have turned it into a freelance writing gig or some other form of self-promotion... Sightline Institute founder Alan Durning has commemorated his mere one year of carlessness (for the same accidental reason) with a blog post and even though he's what others might consider a hardcore environmentalism/sustainability researcher, after a year of living the carless life in Seattle his family is still on the fence about committing to remaining carless in the longterm.

Reading the reporting today on just the fact that his family had gone a year without owning a car (instead using Flexcar, carpooling, biking, walking and borrowing) I was surprised at the backlash from people who felt that anyone advocating, even a little, that people could benefit physically, mentally, and financially by driving less must be planning to violently separate them from their cars. Comments on the Stranger Blog like these surprised me: "Oh, the sanctimony." and "What are the odds that the happily carless all just happen to live and work near good bus lines? It's not like a person can just plan it like that on purpose." Ok, yes, living within reasonable distance of a bus line is key to being able to live a life that depends on transit but the idea that we're all completely powerless and "can't" plan for such things, or that doing so makes one sanctimonious? Wow.

Living in Seattle, it's pretty easy to get around without owning a car but it's not painless. It's still a sacrifice, an inconvenience, and even a drag. I know that full well. Still, Pramas and I chose to live where we do precisely because of the transit lines: He doesn't drive and never has. Even though I owned a car, when we bought this house we were working at opposite ends of the city (me up in near the University and him down in Renton). A house in the secluded suburbs, predicated on driving everywhere for everything was not an option. The fact that two bus routes cross at the corner a few blocks from our house was a BIG selling point. The projected lightrail route that would be just another few blocks away (which we initially had hoped would be in by now, in fact) was another huge bonus that favorably impacted our decision. Even though we had a car at the time, transit considerations were part of the process.

Flexcar is certainly a boon and I wouldn't call my lifestyle "carless" since I do drive. In fact, my divorce agreement necessitates that I drive my daughter to see her father at least twice a month. I don't walk or bike nearly as much as I can (or should, considering my otherwise sedentary lifestyle). I've certainly gotten more rides home from Ray and Christine, Jess, and John and Jenny than I can count. I find that I don't go outside of my own pretty small circle of influence: I could take the bus out to visit Tim, or Evan and Rona but it's inconvenient, involves two or three bus transfers, limits my travel hours and, excuse piled on excuse, the bottom line is it's a pain in the ass so I don't do it. I could do more carlessly but I don't. It's not "I can't" but "I don't"; I choose not to, I'm responsible for that choice.

I'm not going to condemn anyone who doesn't make the same choices I do. Like Alan Durning, I often re-examine my situation and weigh the options, reconsider whether we should get a car again. I know I wouldn't want to try living without a car if I had a baby, for example. I've frequently wondered if Kate is suffering from not being part of those extra-curricular activities that I've avoided signing her up for because transportation would be too much of a hassle. On the other hand, Seattle provides about as many opportunities to live this way as a city can and at the end of the day I still feel pretty good about how our choice works for us and the positive impact we have on our community. It wouldn't kill a few more people to give a little more thought to restructuring their lives and giving it a try.

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Blogger markasantillo Says:


I admire your commitment. I've owned a car only once, during my early 20's. It became a huge money-sink. Living in downtown Philadelphia for 15 years, Paul and I never really needed a car. We could walk everywhere we needed to go, or take transit for cross-town trips. The year and a half in Columbus OH was a bit of a challenge, since everything is so spread out in that city; on the plus side, I rode my bike much more often. Here in Portland we're still carless. The transit system is excellent (and getting better with more lines), and we live a ten-minute walk from the light rail station. I'll admit that there are times when I've felt the lack of a car - trips to Home Depot or Lowes are always challenging, since the purchases are usually heavy or cumbersome - but we're managing. Paul gave up his driver's license, but I still keep mine for the occasional rental.

It's amazing the lengths that car owners will go to justify their vehicles and driving behavior. Even here in Portland, the "best city for bicycling in America," drivers greet every assertion of pedestrian or cyclist's rights with scorn and opposition.

The population of this area is set to increase by 1,000,000 within ten years, and the roads are already choked with traffic. I've driven I-5 into Seattle during rush-hour and it's a nightmare. It's the same here on I-5 between Portland and Vancouver WA. The problem will only get worse with the expected influx. The solution is not more roads eating up our open land; it's more efficient forms of transportation.

Paul and I have discussed our needs, and we've decided that the only justification for the purchase of a car at this point is if our employment demanded it, AND the salary offset the additional expense. I've seen some positions that require use of your personal automobile where the minimum starting salary is under $30K. I don't even bother applying for those jobs any more.

So keep staring down the "autoholics" and push for more bicycle and transit-friendly policies in local and state government. Although I'm not exactly known for my humility, in this case I'm happy to be entirely *pedestrian!*


Blogger Nikchick Says:

Flexcar is in Portland, too. You should give it a look! It's precisely for those trips to Home Depot where Flexcar comes in the most handy.


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