Monday, January 17, 2011

Going car-less with kids

This is another in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Rachel Jonat from The Minimalist Mom. Rachel shares her real-life experiences of family life without the family car.

Guest post by Rachel Jonat

When I announced I was pregnant with my first child one of the many follow-up questions I received was, will you be getting a new car?

We had a 12-year-old vehicle at the time that, while not exciting or new, ran just fine. Our emphatic answer was no. At that point I knew very little about the demands of a newborn, but I did know that our son would not care what car we were driving.

Fast forward a year and a few months and we decided to get rid of our car altogether. This news was met with congratulations from some and shock from others: How can you have a child and no car?

It’s pretty easy. I’ll tell you how.

We found alternate ways to get around. Alternate ways that are better for our health, finances and the environment. We walk, stroll, bike, take public transit and still occasionally drive. The car was sold, our condo parking stall was rented out for $75 a month and we joined ZipCar. We live in an urban area and there are a few dozen ZipCar vehicles within a ten-minute walk of our home. If a car is necessary I can easily book a car online and be out and driving within 20 minutes.

Sure, there are some drawbacks. We have to install the car seat each time we use a vehicle and that takes some time and muscle. The upside is that I am now a pro at putting a car seat in any type of vehicle. We also now know exactly what driving costs us right down to the penny. It hasn’t stopped us from visiting family farther afield but it has made us creative with getting errands done. We grocery shop locally and frequently and whatever we buy has to fit in the bottom of the stroller or a backpack.

The greatest thing getting rid of our vehicle has done for me is slowed life down. It’s nice to walk places and build time in to my day to enjoy the getting there part of an errand. My son is now 14 months and I like that I can take him out of a carrier or stroller and hold his hand and walk. Sure, it takes ten minutes to move half a block, but we both get a lot out of it. He explores and I get to hold that fleetingly tiny hand and watch. You don’t get those moments driving.

I’m told we will reconsider being a car-less family once our son is older or we have more children. I’m told modern parenting is an exhausting cycle of running from place to place and that a car is the only way to get it all done. I hope not. Friends of ours have been without a car for seven years and they have three daughters. For most of the seven years they lived in Europe where it’s common to be without a car. Sure, most families local to me have a vehicle but there are millions of families in other cities using buses, bikes, and their feet to get around. Should I need more inspiration and resolve to stay a car-free family I need only to look across the Atlantic.

Rachel and HenryRachel Jonat is a minimalist and AP mama living the car-free life in Vancouver, Canada. After donating and selling half of her belongings, she's found more room and time in her life for herself and her family. She blogs about minimalist living with kids at The Minimalist Mom.

Family bike photo courtesy Lynoure Braakman on flickr (cc)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for featuring me, Lauren =)

mother in israel said...

Zipcars--what a great idea! Here it's common for even large families to be without cars. Taxis are relatively cheap and convenient, as are buses, and stores deliver. They'll take your groceries up the stairs to your apartment, something the car can't help with!

nerdmafia said...

this is great! thanks for sharing. i'm a full-time nanny in new york - the only place i think i could be a full-time nanny and not have a car or even a driver's license. i look after two girls 22mos and nearly 3 1/2 years old. not only do we never use a car when we're together (save for the occasional taxi when we're running super late), but we also don't use a stroller! everyone in our neighborhood kind of thinks it's really cool, and also kind of thinks i'm crazy. but i never have to fuss with a stroller up and down subway stairs, or getting into a shop that has those awkward three little steps up to a door that opens entirely in the wrong direction if you're trying to get a stroller through it without falling down the three little stairs you've just climbed. the best thing though: my girls actually know their neighborhood and everyone in it. we walk to farther off neighborhoods together and they know the way to get there, too! nothing's funnier than someone stopping me on the street for directions and my 3 yr old piping up with her favorite route to get there! lol.

LindsayDianne said...

I was raised in Vancouver and never bothered getting my licence. Even ten years ago our transit system was by far better than most major cities.
It is VERY EASY to be a bus mom in Vancouver. Now that I live in Coquitlam it's a bit more challenging, and more challenging still now that my daughter is old enough to cost money on the bus. It is difficult to do anything within an hour and a half, but I simply don't have to take transit enough to warrant purchasing a convenient monthly transit ticket.
My unhusband did have a car when our daughter was born, and we too decided to take it off the road shortly thereafter. It was a good decision for our budget. There is no doubt about that. It was an excellent decision for the planet.
Was it a good decision for convenience? No. Not really.
still, it's all about priorities. We don't live in a neighbourhood that is close to stores, it's a bit of a trek. It's not impossible and I actually LOVE teaching my daughter how to get places on foot because it feels like she's got a great sense of direction because of that. My priority has never been the quickest way, but the way that promotes the most learning.
Great post. Loved it.

MomAgain@40 said...

That is such a great post. I am jealous that you are able to pull it off! We don't have the public transport or any other type of cars to hire that you have there! I would not be able to do it here in South Africa. The distances are also far greater...

Whitney said...

I am totally jealous. We don't have anything here, either. Sometimes I walk to the local grocer but it's icky non-organic food. Plus, the walk is CRAZY dangerous.

I wish we had public transportation, or zip cars, or even sidewalks for that matter.

I end up driving 45 minutes to Harris Teeter to buy food. It sucks, but it's really the only option. I have to drive to a completely different city.

Anonymous said...

LindsayDianne: I know - Vancouver is a great place to live for good transit. It's one of the many reasons we've decided to stay in the city.

Thanks for the positive comments, everyone. I love hearing about other cities and countries where commuting by foot is the norm.

Lauren Wayne said...

This is such a cool topic, and very inspiring! Thanks again for letting me post this, Rachel!

We have just one car, but I'm hoping we can use it less. You're inspiring me, for sure!

One reason we like living in a city again is that there are sidewalks and crosswalks and buses as well as some bike paths. We'd love a subway, but I guess I can't have everything! :) I used to live in Berlin, and it's fabulous there: wide sidewalks with bike paths that are a separate part of the sidewalk — super safe, and everyone's watching out for everyone else; plus easy buses & subways. Ah, well! Then again, we also used to live in Indiana, where there were no sidewalks outside of the subdivisions, and terribly dangerous intersections with no pedestrian crosswalks, so I'm counting my blessings. Being able to walk places was truly something we prioritized when deciding where to live.

We take the bus and water taxi a lot, but more so when it's nicer weather. It can be kind of brutal to catch connections when it's pouring, though we've done it! I just get discouraged when what would be a 20-minute drive by car turns into a 2-hour bus trip, so we do exclude some routes. I'm also kind of wimpy about riding my bike in traffic, because the streets are so narrow and winding, but I might have to get over that! We've thought about doing ZipCar, so I think we'll have to look into that again. Of course, we'll have 2 kids with 2 car seats…so maybe the bus is the better way to go! :)

Thanks again for the food for thought! I'm enjoying following your minimalist journey.

Danielle said...

We are also a car-free soon to family-of-four. Living in Chicago, purposely less than a block from a train stop, makes it fairly easy, but it isn't without its challenges. Though I usually look at those challenges as you do, with positivity!

I, also, love the way not having a vehicle forces us to slow down. Trips take longer, but the journey is so much more enjoyable. We also consider, more carefully, what errands we're going to run and when. It keeps us out of the stores and from making so many, unnecessary, impulse purchases.

We did just buy a cargo trike, which is awesome and helps a great deal. It's like having a human-powered minivan. Awesome!

Momma Jorje said...

I had never heard of ZipCar, that is amazing! We have a bus system here, but it is *not* brag worthy by any means!

We live on the edge of town, 2 miles from the nearest grocer... and with no sidewalks. We have, however, minimized down from 3 vehicles (including a motorcycle) to just 1. It gets the worst mileage, though, so we're working on correcting that, too.

I could rattle on, but let me just say: I'm excited to be introduced to your blog. I'm going to go add you now!

Momma Jorje said...

Oh! I had an old friend that called himself a "non-driver." He walked EVERYwhere or got a ride with someone else. He never drove!

Jenn said...

We live in Canberra, Australia and it's a great place to be car free. People said the same things to us when our son was born. There are times when it would be so much easier to have a car but we manage by walking or riding most places with DS in a trailer. There is an excellent system of bike paths here. We are actually considering where we might move to next and Vancouver has come up as a possibility. Sounds like a great place!

Sheila said...

My first year living in the DC suburbs, I had no car. I rarely used transit either, because it wasn't nearby or convenient. Instead I accustomed myself to going without anything more than a mile or two away. It forces you to live locally, and I got to know my area really well. Luckily I lived near the grocery store, work, and church, so it was possible. A few times I even patched together 4 or 5 forms of transit to visit my (then) boyfriend in Philadelphia! Took forever, but it was quite an adventure and you see more along the way.

Now that I'm married and have a kid, we have one car, but I try to challenge myself to get by without it (so I don't have to drive my husband to the train station). Though it's way less comfortable and convenient -- the local bus goes only once an hour, and walking can be cold and tiring -- the baby likes it way better. No carseat, things to see, getting worn the whole time -- what's not to love, from a baby's perspective? And I have happy memories of taking the bus with my mom as a kid.

I wrote a post on this topic some time ago myself:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm impressed! I have a goal to move from being a 2 car family to a 1 car family, but it's still just a goal, I'm sheepish to admit. Partly because we live in the suburbs, where distances are greater and transit is spottier. And partly just because I am hooked on the convenience.

I will say that living where I do, there are some things that would be harder to do with my almost 6-year-old without a car. The biggest example I can think of is her soccer. Right now she has soccer from 7-8pm on Tuesdays, and it's about 10 minutes to get home by car, but it would be at least 40 minutes by transit. With a kindergartner on a weeknight it would be pushing it a little late. But soccer is totally optional in the first place, and I'm sure we could find a better practice time / location if it were an issue.

Lisa C said...

Parents often tell me how busy they are, running their kids to school and activities, and I just keep thinking to myself "One more reason to homeschool..." I think the slower-paced car-less life could really be great! My son hated the car as a baby and I hated that I couldn't hold him or nurse him in the car. It wouldn't be a problem with public transport! But my hubby is very protective of us and worries about us getting mugged or something if we use public transportation--it does seem to attract a little more crime, especially the trains. I'd totally use it, though, if hubby weren't so worried.

Elena said...

Eugene, Oregon is a great town to be carless. Decent bus system and a bike path/lane network like you wouldn't believe. I was carless there for nine years with three kids. It was truly a joy. May you have many more wonderful years of alternative transportation! :)

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