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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 09-11-05, 06:09 AM   #1
Satyr
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Individual Advocacy

As a passionate car-free individual, I am particularly interested in the theory of advocacy. Which tactics and methods are most effective? So I pose the question now:

How can an individual best promote a car-free lifestyle?

My own thoughts on the issue: I am intensely opposed to most forms of proselytizing, and as a result tend to be very non-confrontational in my activism.

What I found seems to perk most people's interest in car-free lifestyle is to simply do it and report about it, with a smile. When I come through the door after a freezing rainstorm with a grin on my face, I can almost see my roommates' minds pondering that perhaps cycling is not so daunting. To follow up, I try an act as an information source for those curious about car-free lifestyle, and usually give these people the time of day they deserve.

Nonetheless I feel there has to be something better than this almost entirely passive approach.
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Old 09-11-05, 10:43 AM   #2
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i hate to say it but i end up bragging about it too much. i sold my car last spring, (my sig. other still has a car, so i can use that on occasion), but i bike or bus to work, store, all my errands.

but i'm so proud of the fact it helped pay off all our credit card debt, added to our savings account, and afford a trip to south america this fall, i just get way too excited about it and probably look like a loon.

seriously a good place to start is bikes as "part time" use, i.e. errands work commute. no one with a big SUV and kids and payments is going to give it up right away, but "reducing the use" is an excellent way to start, especially when you start talking about cool stuff like panniers and transport methods.
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Old 09-12-05, 09:54 AM   #3
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As I'm not really able to collect data, I can't say how effective my efforts have been, but I try to be a courteous, friendly cyclist, while at the same times trying to make cycling needs known. For example, I phoned my city bus system to ask if they had buses on any routes with bike racks. I already knew the answer, but wanted to log the need.

I also volunteer to ride with family members who are debating some type of vehicular cycling trip. I think it makes it more fun for them and helps give confidence. For my family, I make sure they have bikes that are nice to ride and equipped with lights and locks. That way, when they do opt to ride, it's not a pain in the patooty. I thank stores for providing bike racks -- especially those that put them out of the rain, and let stores who don't know I'd like to have them. When folks are going on about being overweight and ask me how I stay thin as I munch some french fries, I just tell them I spent my gym money on bike stuff and now ride most places. Doesn't take much longer, especially if you figure in saved gym time, and I can eat what I want.

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Old 09-12-05, 10:42 AM   #4
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I'm with Satyr, if someone asks I take time to be helpful and that is about it. I did try getting involved with the urban planning decisions but couldn't handle the lies and the politcs. If you have the time, it is quite an education to sit in on urban planning meetings, then fact check what the road builders say. In the DC area some are honest but most aren't. I'm just warning you on what to expect if you try to expand your advocacy in the urban planning direction. Check their cost estimates on proposed projects compared with actual costs on similar projects. Check their stated design criteria against actual measurements. Check their traffic simulation models. Check their analysis geography. Check their environmental impact studies. Check their usage assumptions. If your region is like mine, you will be disappointed.
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Old 09-12-05, 11:02 AM   #5
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Here are some suggestions for simple advocacy.
1) The best way is to do what you are doing. Be visible as you live your carfree lifestyle. If anyone asks you questions, about it, eagerly respond. Tell the truth about how it will require some lifestyle changes, but that they are not that difficult to achieve with practice. Simply let people see how you do it. Nothing sends a stronger message than the bike seen regularly locked at your workplace.

2) Support organizations that are more active in their approach to advocacy. I am not one to stand before civic leaders and espouse my views. However, there are local groups that will do that and I support them by paying membership dues, attending and sometimes helping out at their display booths at fairs,etc. You can also support national groups such as the LAB who advocate on a more national scale.
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Old 09-12-05, 11:08 AM   #6
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My "advocacy" is simply doing it. I try to be as visible and courteous to cars as I can, and even help (or at least offer help) to drivers with problems. When ppl seem to think that they could not do this, I let them know that I used to be VERY unfit, and still did it. It doesn't take lance armstrong to cycle, and everyone on a bike is a worthy cyclis.t

Like Sydney I will mention bike racks to the stores/restaurant I go to. I will offer help to ppl who show interest in cycling. I find that trying to get ppl to change their ways is met with resistance, but helping ppl along when they are opened to an idea will go further.
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Old 09-12-05, 01:49 PM   #7
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I too am very non-confrontational, so my form of activism comes like the others here who say a great way is just by "being".

I recently road my bike trailer from the hardware store with a load of goods and I heard a child's voice in the distance say, "Look Daddy, he carries his stuff on his bike." And I couldnt help but think that maybe as the child grows, she will think about the alternatives. Or maybe the father will change his behavior, or buy his kid a bike. Or maybe not. But just by being out there living the way you want to live, you are making all kinds of impressions everywhere you go.

You dont have to do anything, just be.
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Old 09-12-05, 02:49 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by cranky
I too am very non-confrontational, so my form of activism comes like the others here who say a great way is just by "being".

I recently road my bike trailer from the hardware store with a load of goods and I heard a child's voice in the distance say, "Look Daddy, he carries his stuff on his bike." And I couldnt help but think that maybe as the child grows, she will think about the alternatives. Or maybe the father will change his behavior, or buy his kid a bike. Or maybe not. But just by being out there living the way you want to live, you are making all kinds of impressions everywhere you go.

You dont have to do anything, just be.
I am a convert (as many of you folks have learned on this subforum) to commuting and living as car minimal as possible. I am actively working to get our 2-car family down to one (which is a good thing since the temperature light came on my car the other day!).

On my commute to work, I pass the same folks waiting with their kids for the bus. Since I am a constant part of their morning, our dialogue has increased along with many waves, smiles, and comments. I LOVE this about my commute. Lately, many kids have commented about my bike or made other comments that have been very encouraging. The parents have also joined in.

So...just by "being", I feel like I am making an impact that is subtle, yet could have a longer lasting impact than if I marched in front of a Local/State/Federal Representatives door. This not only goes with my type of personality, but with each passing day, they see this as a "norm" and not some fluke event in one man's life.

Does this mean I would not do other forms of advocacy? Heck no! My office suite is next door to my local state representative. I am privileged to meet him or his secretary in the hallway and simply discuss cycling in a non-confrontational manner. Again...just "being" me in the hallway continues to prove to be better (IMO).

One more thought and I will end this (since it is growing longer than anticipated). As I cycle, I try and keep my time open enough that if an opportunity exists to stop and explain my position more, I can. I do not plan my routes and departure times with very little options. If a young child asks me a question; or a parent wants to know more, I want to maintain the liberty to step off my bike and spend a little extra time with them to help explain my position. To me....it is all about "community" whether or not they switch to bicycles. At least from then on, they will see me and give me plenty of room on the road!

Great thread. Thanks!

Chris
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Old 09-12-05, 05:54 PM   #9
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Another passive method is to study and learn more about carfree living, the case for it, and the obstacles to it. I find that people sometimes ask me about my carfree lifestyle, and the bike is the usual starting point for these discussions. I like to know a lot about the subject so I can give articulate facts and opinions. Besides this forum, a good place to start is the Carfree Cities website.

Another method that I wish I could try is informally networking with others who share my interests right here in Lansing, MI. But I've never met anybody like me here in the car city! Does anybody reading this have any leads for me?
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Old 09-12-05, 07:05 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by cranky
I too am very non-confrontational, so my form of activism comes like the others here who say a great way is just by "being".

I recently road my bike trailer from the hardware store with a load of goods and I heard a child's voice in the distance say, "Look Daddy, he carries his stuff on his bike." And I couldnt help but think that maybe as the child grows, she will think about the alternatives. Or maybe the father will change his behavior, or buy his kid a bike. Or maybe not. But just by being out there living the way you want to live, you are making all kinds of impressions everywhere you go.

You dont have to do anything, just be.
Right on!
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Old 09-12-05, 07:21 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Satyr
As a passionate car-free individual, I am particularly interested in the theory of advocacy. Which tactics and methods are most effective?
There's one mental trap that some car-free individuals fall into, and I would gently warn against it. Don't get caught up in the idea that being car-free is somehow 'counter-cultural.' Instead, treat being car-free as a perfectly normal, perfectly feasible, perfectly reasonable approach to transportation. When early motorists took over the roads for the use of automobiles, they didn't waste energy claiming to be counter-cultural; they just introduced so many motor vehicles onto the road until the use of roads was permanently altered.

There's really no such thing as counterculture; there's just the many different forms of culture. i.e. I loathe McDonalds, but choosing to eat a tasty meal at a local restaurant instead of eating at McDonalds does not make me countercultural; it just means that I'm trying to cultivate a different aspect of culture. In a similar vein, disliking cars and enjoying bicycles does not make me counter-cultural; bicycles are just a very nice part of our culture.

Treating bicycles as perfectly normal has its benefits. It's how organizations like the Chicago Bicycle Federation can successfully champion for lots of bike racks and bike lanes. It's how organizations like the Working Bike Co-operative can get lots of people to donate bikes to send to third-world countries. It's how people will do Thanksgiving grocery runs with the aid of bicycle trailers or cart their children around in trailers. It should not be underestimated.
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Old 09-12-05, 08:27 PM   #12
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There's one mental trap that some car-free individuals fall into, and I would gently warn against it. Don't get caught up in the idea that being car-free is somehow 'counter-cultural.' Instead, treat being car-free as a perfectly normal, perfectly feasible, perfectly reasonable approach to transportation. When early motorists took over the roads for the use of automobiles, they didn't waste energy claiming to be counter-cultural; they just introduced so many motor vehicles onto the road until the use of roads was permanently altered.

There's really no such thing as counterculture; there's just the many different forms of culture. i.e. I loathe McDonalds, but choosing to eat a tasty meal at a local restaurant instead of eating at McDonalds does not make me countercultural; it just means that I'm trying to cultivate a different aspect of culture. In a similar vein, disliking cars and enjoying bicycles does not make me counter-cultural; bicycles are just a very nice part of our culture.

Treating bicycles as perfectly normal has its benefits. It's how organizations like the Chicago Bicycle Federation can successfully champion for lots of bike racks and bike lanes. It's how organizations like the Working Bike Co-operative can get lots of people to donate bikes to send to third-world countries. It's how people will do Thanksgiving grocery runs with the aid of bicycle trailers or cart their children around in trailers. It should not be underestimated.
Very well put VC (you certainly don't sound vicious ). I agree that it is not useful to present carfree as countercultural. Bikes do seem pretty normal to me, though I have met radical cyclists who did not seem terribly normal.

But at this point in history, other people certainly see us as a counterculture, even if that's not how we see ourselves. I live in the city that makes the most cars in North America, and I feel that most people here cast me as some kind of hippie freak just because I use a bike instead of a car. I don't present myself that way through dress or appearance, or in any other way, but that's definitely how I'm seen. At this time in mid-America, carfree is not so much an idea for discussion as it is a joke. And in midwinter, it isn't even a joke as much as an oddity or even perversion!

I guess the main thing I take from VC's post is his assertion that "treating bicycles as perfectly normal has its benefits." Carfree living may be a joke or oddity to most people, but saving money by riding a bike seems normal to many of them. Riding for exercize also seems normal, and so does riding for fun. Put it all together, and we actually have some pretty good selling points for carfree advodacy.
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Old 09-13-05, 10:00 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by TxBiker
I My office suite is next door to my local state representative. I am privileged to meet him or his secretary in the hallway and simply discuss cycling in a non-confrontational manner. Again...just "being" me in the hallway continues to prove to be better (IMO).

One more thought and I will end this (since it is growing longer than anticipated). As I cycle, I try and keep my time open enough that if an opportunity exists to stop and explain my position more, I can. I do not plan my routes and departure times with very little options. If a young child asks me a question; or a parent wants to know more, I want to maintain the liberty to step off my bike and spend a little extra time with them to help explain my position. To me....it is all about "community" whether or not they switch to bicycles. At least from then on, they will see me and give me plenty of room on the road!

Great thread. Thanks!

Chris
This reminds me that I make an effort to stop to help cyclists who seem to have mechanical problems. They are usually recreational cyclists who need help. As you are fixing their chain or flat or whatever, you have their ear. I keep it to one sentance like "Well I don't have a car anymore but I know the time we spend fixing flats or whatever is way less than the time a car driver spends just pumping gas." Or when they get all thankful that you saved them from walking 10 miles I might say something like "Oh so many times cyclists have helped me, we have to stick together." to let them know there is a caring community out here. Stopping to help is a little thing but it is a chance to widen a recreational biker's conceptual horizons.

Your comment about the representative reminds me that when I used to commute through downtown I'd try to route myself past the whitehouse. I'd hope the prez might look out and see someone using a bike for transportation. Even if, when the presidents look out, they put me in the same category as the lady who camps out on the sidewalk protesting our war economy, its still one more bike person that they see. Someday a light will click on in one of their heads, probably not this president but maybe. Or maybe when Jenna is president she'll get a clue.
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Old 09-13-05, 02:45 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Satyr
How can an individual best promote a car-free lifestyle?
You want to advocate car-free lifestyle? it's VERY easy:

Money.

Explain to whomever you're advocating to that cars cost a lot, that people tend to focus on the price of gasoline, but there's also amortization of the cost of the car, insurance, maintenance, parking costs, tickets of all kinds... and tell them how much a car typically costs by "official" studies (here in Europe, very serious studies are made yearly that detail the cost of a car for a household, by brands of cars, mileage, etc...). My usual figure is $6000/yr. When the person looks astonished or disbelieving, tell them to honestly calculate themselves and figure it out for their own car.

Then, tell them a good quality, durable bike is about $300, and emphasize that you can get 20 bikes a year with what a car costs. If the person is still unconvinced, tell him that a bike will also help him lose weight (if he needs it), keep healthy and thus reduce the cost of health insurance and claims. Also emphasize that cycling don't have any more accidents than pedestrians in the official stats, which can peg it as very safe. And also, to avoid scaring the person with the prospect of being stuck without a car when he needs to move something big, or go somewhere far once in a while, do tell him that he can always rent a car or a truck, or even take a cab quite often, and still not come even close to what he pays for his car right now at the end of the year. A last effective argument, if you feel the person is so minded, is to tell him he'll be "sticking it to the man" with his bike, screwing thieving oil and insurance companies.

Finally, be honest and tell them it's not for everybody, that it will inevitably require lifestyle adjustments, such as planning ahead more, getting groceries more often, perhaps relocating to be closer to work (but explaining that the money saved by not having a car can be put into a nicer house). There's nothing worse than someone who's been talked into living car-free and ends up hating it, because he'll soon get a new car and start explaining right and left how stupid this car-free thing is.

Money is the killer argument. It's amazing the number of changes in their lives people are willing to make to save money. And saving money is apolitical too: you can easily convince leftists and rightist alike that living car-free saves money and shafts oil and insurance companies. They will all respond positively to that, I guarantee you. The key thing is to avoid talks of saving the planet, getting clean air, reducing the ozone layer hole, promoting eco-this-or-that, because you'll get people to immediately think "oh no, more Greenpeace hippy crap", they'll politely nod, and leave you as soon as possible.
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Old 09-14-05, 02:01 PM   #15
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.........
Finally, be honest and tell them it's not for everybody, that it will inevitably require lifestyle adjustments, such as planning ahead more, getting groceries more often, perhaps relocating to be closer to work (but explaining that the money saved by not having a car can be put into a nicer house). There's nothing worse than someone who's been talked into living car-free and ends up hating it, because he'll soon get a new car and start explaining right and left how stupid this car-free thing is.
........
I don't get the "planning ahead more" and "getting groceries more often" angle. I noticed other posters say this too. It doesn't match my observations.

I haven't been doing more planning ahead for transportation since I ditched the car. What should I be planning? After someone acquires the biking habit how much more planning does one do than with the car driving habit? When I drove I had to plan my route depending on anticipated traffic, I had to plan to get gas, inspections, tags, maintenance, and especially parking. Every morning the radio has traffic reports for people to plan their car routes. The radio never alerts bikers to plan alternate routes. For a new biker I can see that they have to remember to bounce the bike to listen for rattles, pack clothes for the weather but these things become habits which aren't more burdensome than rolling the windows up or checking a car's oil.

At the car oriented grocery store where I used to live, I deliberately took note of the quantities that the car people purchased. The overwhelming majority had just an easily bikeable quantity (without panniers or baskets). I noticed people posting here with comments about going to the grocery every day. Not me. Every other or every third day for me. If I made a big deal out of it with panniers and menu planning I could go every week or less but I'm not a big meal planner type so I just stop by the store when I need more food. I know there are some people like my mom who plan for a month and do a massive trip once a month but those people are a minority. My mom would have needed a trailer for her monthly trips if she had been a bike person. Some of us might take more grocery trips because we enjoy jetting around on our bikes rather than something our carrying capacity constrains us to do.

Anyway I'd never tell someone that they have to plan ahead more or shop more often after they ditch the car because we don't.
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Old 09-14-05, 02:26 PM   #16
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saving money is apolitical too: you can easily convince leftists and rightist alike that living car-free saves money.
No kidding. Lots of people of all political persuasions are receptive to a habit that will save them thousands of dollars per year.
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Old 09-14-05, 02:30 PM   #17
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I don't get the "planning ahead more" and "getting groceries more often" angle. I noticed other posters say this too. It doesn't match my observations. I haven't been doing more planning ahead for transportation since I ditched the car. What should I be planning?
Getting groceries more often is self-evident, as you don't have the same carrying capacity on a bike than in a car. Well, you can, but most cyclists don't. It's not unpleasant to get the groceries more often, it's just different. Everybody can get used to that.

For errands that just require hopping on the bike, there is indeed no particular planning to do. You can decide to go to the theater, to the restaurant or to the Blockbuster in the middle of the night on a whim with a bike. However, you can't suddenly decide on a saturday morning that you'll finally get the back porch fixed today. For that you have to plan ahead in the form of renting a truck to get lumber. Similarly, you can't look at the weather, decide it looks good, throw your diving gear in the trunk and hop in the car to go to the seafront 150km from here. At the very least you have to pack up, check the train schedules, get a ticket and get yourself and your stuff to the train station.

What I'm driving at (no pun intended) is, whenever you occasionally need to supplement your bike to transport something heavy, or get somewhere far fast, then of course you don't have a car handy and it becomes necessary to plan ahead a little. It's not terribly constraining, but you can't afford to have car-aholic habits anymore, obviously. It's really just an attitude and lifestyle adjustment, and for someone who's prepared to try the car-free experience, it's surprisingly easy to adjust to. But surely you know that as a car-free person, you just don't realize it anymore.


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Anyway I'd never tell someone that they have to plan ahead more or shop more often after they ditch the car because we don't.
Most people I know do. I suspect you do too, but it's become second nature to you so it seems natural to you. Or maybe it's possible that you didn't use your car irresponsibly before ditching it, so perhaps you didn't see any difference. Again, for those who are used to using their cars for any reason, it's just a matter of living at a different pace, it's not hard, you don't lose anything in the process of ditching your car, it's just living differently. That's what I tell to people who inquire about life without a car, and that's the honest truth as I, and most of my car-less friends, experience it.
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Old 09-15-05, 12:19 AM   #18
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Advocacy? Be the change you want to see in the world.
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