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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