I am officially car-free again. I had sold my own car a few years ago, but when I got married, a car came with the deal. After taking up work closer to home, my wife decided she too could part with owning a car, and it’s now been sold.
Departing with car ownership was a very difficult decision for me even after I had given up driving to ride a bike for most trips. No matter that the car mostly collected dust and parking tickets. Letting go of the freedom the car represents was not easy.
So why go car-free? There are quite a few reasons worth considering. As I’m sure you are aware, cars are one of the more environmentally destructive aspects of our society. Of course a lot of effort has gone into “greening” cars in recent years, but whether one drives a Hummer or a Prius, nothing is more sustainable than riding a bike, walking or taking the bus to get around.
Carpooling can go a long way toward reducing the impact of driving as well, though the latest census figures show carpooling is rapidly declining. Public-transit ridership and bicycling, on the other hand, are growing.
Whether one is persuaded by environmental concerns or not, one of the biggest payoffs, quite literally, is the significant amount of money saved. The latest AAA estimates put the average personal cost of car ownership and driving for a medium sedan at $16 a day plus 17.3 cents per mile. For someone driving 10,000 miles a year, that is $7,285 annually, and keep in mind that is a national average. In the L.A. area the cost of car ownership and driving is certainly north of the national average.
If we experience another spike in gas prices like we did in summer 2008, that cost per mile can rise very quickly as well. As of this writing we are right back at prices as they were months before the 2008 spike, slowly creeping toward the dreaded $4 a gallon threshold.
Getting around without a car also leads to a healthier lifestyle, because real physical effort is generally required to get somewhere, instead of just going from the couch to the car seat. I’ve always ridden a bike occasionally, but when I started riding all the time, both for commuting and for fun, I quickly dropped about 40 pounds in less than a year. I hate going to a gym for exercise, and by bike commuting, daily exercise is already built into almost everything I do.
Getting around without a car can also be an adventure that connects you to places in a way that zooming by in a private glass bubble can never offer. On a bike you can stop at your leisure to check out anything you happen to pass, without worrying about parking or no-stopping zones. When you walk to get around, you can take in every little detail around you, and might bump into friends or neighbors.
Los Angeles is a big city, but I found that once I rode a bike and took transit more often, the world felt smaller. I bumped into friends and acquaintances and would stop to chat. L.A. has a reputation for being a bit antisocial, but really that is just a perspective from behind the windshield.
The key to living a car-free lifestyle is becoming comfortable and knowledgeable with all your transportation options. Living in Santa Monica, we have the good fortune of being in a community with abundant transportation options, and a variety of goods and services in fairly close proximity. Any point in the city is at least walking distance to some destinations, and no two places are more than about 15-20 minutes apart by bicycle.
The provides service to many points in the city and beyond. Figuring out the maze of bus routes and schedules has all been much simplified these days thanks to the . If you feel a car is really necessary for a trip, taxis or car rentals can fill in the gaps without the cost burden of full-time ownership.
One final tip I always like to give to Santa Monica residents who consider driving less is to get familiar with the Big Blue Bus #10. Until we have the , it’s the fastest transit connection between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. It is an express service that hops on the freeway and skips stopping anywhere between those two points. Whether your destination is downtown L.A. itself or connecting somewhere farther from Union Station, the BBB #10 is a lifesaver for the car-free Santa Monican.
You might be thinking that ditching the car is a step too far for you to take. But few people I know who decided to give up driving did so all at once. Like all major lifestyle changes, it’s much easier to ease into it. Even if you never go all the way to living car free, living “car-lite” is something anyone can do to significantly reduce their carbon footprint, and of course help ease our traffic mess.
Carpooling more often, taking the bus a couple times a week or bike commuting occasionally are all things anyone can do to reduce their fuel consumption significantly, with numerous benefits for society and the environment.