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  1. #1
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    minimum requirements for car-free life?

    I really tried to make a go of living car free in my rural area last summer/fall......but w/ close to 3 feet of snow on the ground, ice covered roads, and sub zero wind chills, I just had to give up for the winter. The other thing factor, besides climate, that I'm struggling w/ is surface area....meaning, how far apart everything is in your daily/weekly round. In my little town, I can get to the grocery store, hardware store, pharmacy, church, library etc. within 5-6 miles easily. But it's anything else but the basics that presents a problem. I play ice hockey and the rinks are at least 17-25 miles away. The nearest wholefoods grocer is 43 miles away. Work is 35 miles away. Our nearest family members are 45 miles away. I'm wondering if there is a minimum "city size" that would make more of these things available in a smaller radius? A city of 500k would do it for sure, but would 250k work? Or even without a larger population, a real college town would probably do it also. Just wondering what the location is of most cyclists who are car free.
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    Pedaled too far. Artkansas's Avatar
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    Sounds like a place where you do need a car.

    I don't know that there is a minimum size place for being car-free though. I've been car-free in L.A., Little Rock, and an unincorporated community outside of Santa Barbara. With my current digs in Little Rock, I actually don't get to downtown Little Rock very often. I live in an area that has all my staple needs including two bikes shops, 4 grocery stores, a big box store, banks, post office, it has wildlife-filled creeks running through it and the big bike riding area just over the hills. All this within a mile or so. In L.A., again, some neighborhoods were better than others.

    So, I don't think it's a particular size, but you do need to look for a concentration of services.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member zeppinger's Avatar
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    sacramento pop. 500k

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    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    You can't go by population size alone.

    The city I'm in now (Traverse City) has a population of only 14,000, with a metro area about 10 times that size. But it's the only city in northwestern Michigan, so it has a good hospital and library, museums, bookstores and coffee shops that you'd expect in a larger city. It's also a resort city, so it has a lot of good restaurants and recreational facilities. The central area is very bike/walk friendly, but the Sprawl Zone is pretty bad. The closest big city is Grand Rapids, about 135 miles to the south. Over all I would give it a "B" for carfree living.

    Most small cities/towns have more amenities than they used to. I briefly lived in Charlotte, MI (pop. 8,000). There were the major big box stores so you could buy most things you really need. However, I found few of the "finer things" like restaurants, libraries, bookstores, coffee shops. A trip to the ER seemed like a suicide run if you had a serious health problem. For recreation, road biking and mountain biking were about all. The big city was 22 miles away. Bus service was very bad--no fixed routes, just unreliable and slow on-demand vans. A trip to the city was an all day affair, whether you went by bike or bus. This would have been an acceptable carfree location only if you were satisfied with the amenities in the town itself. I would give it a "C-" on the carfree scale.


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  5. #5
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    Well taking the thread title at face value, the minimum requirement is to not be dependent on a car. Your location can make the experience more or less pleasant. Not being car dependent guides your choices, when you have a choice between sprawl land and old fashioned compact community not having a car leads you to value the compact community. My car dependent friends don't even think about it, they'll be in their cars stuck in traffic no matter where they live.

  6. #6
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Roody,
    Has pretty well got it pegged. It will depend on what you need vs what's available, and no two towns/cities/metros are going to be the same. I know of a town of 10k in NC that is very doable by bike and has just about everything you could need...except access to any form of interstate/intrastate mass transit. It is 35 miles to the nearest bus station or train station and over an hour45 miles to the nearest commercial airport and 1.5 hours65 miles to the nearest international, even though it is on an Interstate and has 2 major US highways running through town.

    Another town that I am fairly familiar with, has a population of 4,000 is in a very poor part of the country, is very livable, actually has a better selection of stores than the 10k town above, has 4 Amtrak trains a day and 2 Greyhounds, nearest airport is about 45 minutes40 miles, nearest large one just over an hour50 miles, it is on a major US highway and about an hour45 miles from the interstate.

    FWIW in both towns the weather is mild enough you can ride year round with little problems. Another thing to consider is your employment, is it something that can be done anywhere? or is it regional or town size specific?

    You will have to make your choices and decide what you need versus what is available.

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    Last edited by wahoonc; 01-19-09 at 07:45 PM. Reason: To satisfy ILTB...
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  7. #7
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wahoonc View Post
    It is 35 miles to the nearest bus station or train station and over an hour to the nearest commercial airport and 1.5 hours to the nearest international, even though it is on an Interstate and has 2 major US highways running through town.

    Another town that I am fairly familiar with, has a population of 4,000 is in a very poor part of the country, is very livable, actually has a better selection of stores than the 10k town above, has 4 Amtrak trains a day and 2 Greyhounds, nearest airport is about 45 minutes, nearest large one just over an hour, it is on a major US highway and about an hour from the interstate.
    I assume those distances, measured in time, are much greater than that when traveled by a car free person.

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    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by I-Like-To-Bike View Post
    I assume those distances, measured in time, are much greater than that when traveled by a car free person.
    Not if they are a roadie cranked up to 450 watts

    Aaron
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  9. #9
    Senior Member rbrian's Avatar
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    I'm car free in a town of just 2000, with very few amenities - a couple of golf courses, a pub, and an expensive convenience store. I generally cycle 6 miles each way to the next town which has 4 supermarkets and a rail station, and everything I could possibly need is in the city 25 miles away. There is a bus every 30 minutes to the city if I don't feel like cycling that far on a busy main road, which I often don't.
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  10. #10
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbrian View Post
    I'm car free in a town of just 2000, with very few amenities - a couple of golf courses, a pub, and an expensive convenience store. I generally cycle 6 miles each way to the next town which has 4 supermarkets and a rail station, and everything I could possibly need is in the city 25 miles away. There is a bus every 30 minutes to the city if I don't feel like cycling that far on a busy main road, which I often don't.
    That bus to the city is the key, IMO.

    In most US small towns, you don't have a bus to the city more than once a day--if you're very lucky. The small town I lived in was just under 25 miles form the city. No bus, just a shuttle van. It sometimes took 2 hours or more to make the trip in. And then, it would only take you to an outlying shopping mall, and then another long bus ride to the city center. This was unacceptable to me, and I had to move.


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  11. #11
    Barbieri Telefonico huhenio's Avatar
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    ... access to company owned vehicles
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    Quote Originally Posted by zeppinger View Post
    sacramento pop. 500k
    Sacramento will work, sometimes.

    But my daughter's school is 5+ miles away on the other side of I-5 with no safe biking route across the highway. (I've got enough experience with it that I'll ride across Del Paso overpass, but my wife would never attempt it, let alone let me take my six year old on the Trail-a-Bike). She can take the school bus on any normal day. But after-school functions put all three of us at the school way past dark.

    And her dance lessons are 6 miles away down the busiest street in Natomas on Saturday when the buses don't run. My daughter's doctor (all of our doctors actually) is 15 miles away. I could go on, but let's just say it would be very hard.

    If I was single I could be carfree easy here. Even without a child it wouldn't be too hard. With children, throw all equations out the window. I'm just hoping for one car before too long.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Newspaperguy's Avatar
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    I'm in a town of around 12,000 people. It's easy to go extremely car light here, but car-free would be a challenge. My day-to-day needs are easy to meet locally, but when I need a bookstore, a bike shop, clothing, a lot of computer supplies or numerous other things I'll need only occasionally, I've got to go out of town. If I lived in the largest city in the region (with around 150,000 people) car-free living would be much easier since it would have everything I need.

    I've been in some smaller centres which have become hubs for the surrounding area. In those communities, it's easy to go car-free because all businesses and services are close at hand.
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  14. #14
    Quirky Grifter LesterOfPuppets's Avatar
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    I'm pretty well set in my town of 15,000. The only thing lacking is a book store. I head down to the big city (35 minute ride each way) for that occasionally. The nearest hockey rink is about a 75 minute ride each way, maybe 55 minutes each way with a bike / light rail trip.

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  15. #15
    Senior Member rbrian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody View Post
    That bus to the city is the key, IMO.

    In most US small towns, you don't have a bus to the city more than once a day--if you're very lucky. The small town I lived in was just under 25 miles form the city. No bus, just a shuttle van. It sometimes took 2 hours or more to make the trip in. And then, it would only take you to an outlying shopping mall, and then another long bus ride to the city center. This was unacceptable to me, and I had to move.
    Without that bus, I'd find it difficult too. Despite what I've heard about America's love affair with the car, it's still hard to believe that many of you don't have alternatives when I see them here every day.
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  16. #16
    Senior Member zeppinger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwilbur3 View Post
    Sacramento will work, sometimes.

    But my daughter's school is 5+ miles away on the other side of I-5 with no safe biking route across the highway. (I've got enough experience with it that I'll ride across Del Paso overpass, but my wife would never attempt it, let alone let me take my six year old on the Trail-a-Bike). She can take the school bus on any normal day. But after-school functions put all three of us at the school way past dark.

    And her dance lessons are 6 miles away down the busiest street in Natomas on Saturday when the buses don't run. My daughter's doctor (all of our doctors actually) is 15 miles away. I could go on, but let's just say it would be very hard.

    If I was single I could be carfree easy here. Even without a child it wouldn't be too hard. With children, throw all equations out the window. I'm just hoping for one car before too long.
    Ya thats a tough car-free area of Sac-town but there are of course better places. My area is not ideal either, I live around Rancho Cordova so I have light rail access within a few black and I am also just a few block from the American River Bicycle Trail! AS you said being single helps a lot too!

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by erbfarm View Post
    I really tried to make a go of living car free in my rural area last summer/fall......but w/ close to 3 feet of snow on the ground, ice covered roads, and sub zero wind chills, I just had to give up for the winter. The other thing factor, besides climate, that I'm struggling w/ is surface area....meaning, how far apart everything is in your daily/weekly round. In my little town, I can get to the grocery store, hardware store, pharmacy, church, library etc. within 5-6 miles easily. But it's anything else but the basics that presents a problem. I play ice hockey and the rinks are at least 17-25 miles away. The nearest wholefoods grocer is 43 miles away. Work is 35 miles away. Our nearest family members are 45 miles away. I'm wondering if there is a minimum "city size" that would make more of these things available in a smaller radius? A city of 500k would do it for sure, but would 250k work? Or even without a larger population, a real college town would probably do it also. Just wondering what the location is of most cyclists who are car free.
    If I were in your situation, I wouldn't be car-free, either; that would require a level of commitment that isn't reasonable. Maybe car-lite would still be an option, though.

    Where I live, being car-free is so easy I'm surprised more people don't do it. Seattle is a large, densely-populated urban area with decent (but not great) public transportation. Almost everything I could ever need or want is easily within ten miles of my house. Getting to the airport without a car can be a challenge early in the morning or late at night, but otherwise it's not bad. Occasionally you encounter hostile drivers, but generally, if you're not an idiot or a person who thinks Critical Mass rides are a good idea, the city has a bike-friendly culture. If you're into touring, this is a great area; last summer, I rode my bike from my front door to the San Juan Islands, Port Townsend, and Victoria, BC with minimum hassle. Really, the only actual challenge, other than the very hilly terrain, is the occasional (once or twice a year) snow storm.

    I guess what I'm saying is this: many large urban areas are ideal for car-free living. Some of these large urban areas are actually pretty nice. If you're not totally committed to living in a rural area, maybe it's something you might want to consider.
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  18. #18
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    I'm in a fairly rural town of 6,000 with pretty much all absolute necessities--convenience stores, grocery, bank, restaurants, library, clinic, etc.--available within a 2 mi radius.

    Right across the state border is a city of 12,000, which includes bigger grocery stores, box stores, and the like, all within 4-5 mi of our house.

    Next city over is 29,000 residents, and includes hospital, movie theater, bike shop, bookstore, health food store, and merhaps most importantly, an inter-state bus station, 5-8 miles away--Boston is about 1:45 away by bike then bus.

    We work in a city of 21,000, which actually has better amenities (2 bike shops!) than the larger, closer city. Commute is 17.5 mi, one way. We do this commute by bike on a regular basis... during warmer weather when the streets are not iced over.

    There's also an area bus service, which would work great getting to the closer cities, but trying to get from our place to work via bus and various different connections would take close to 3hrs one way. Not viable for the work commute, but both of us work at the same place, so we car pool together in the winter.

    For our current situation, it would be completely plausible to go car free--toughen up in the Winter or switch to freelance work at home--but we also have to deal with my teen son, picking him up from and dropping him off to his mom's place, chauffering him to various and sundry activities.

    As a result, we are car-lite, only one car between us.

    This situation has proven pretty educational about the potential to be car free. A warmer climate that supported year round biking (or we HTFU...), a couple years til my son is driving or biking, and car free would be viable. More importantly, if we were to move someplace warmer, I'd be looking for a location with the same kind of setup--convenience and amenities withing walking distance or a short bike ride 2-3mi, wider range of businesses including a public transporation hub within 5-10 mi, and pretty much anything else we might need, including employment, no further than 20 mi or so.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbrian View Post
    Despite what I've heard about America's love affair with the car, it's still hard to believe that many of you don't have alternatives when I see them here every day.
    I know it is hard for you to believe but there really are no alternatives in many US locations. No public transit of any kind, period. Or, more commonly, very poorly-funded public transit that is unreliable. When combined with the general social stigma attached to using public transit it is much more difficult than in Scotland.

    Also, there are some historical causes as well--you must consider that many rural areas of the US are much more geographically isolated than any place in the UK or Europe simply because of the sheer quantity of land, and that most of the development here occurred later in the 20th century after car travel was already convenient (unlike many towns in western Europe which were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries and thus are somewhat concentrated geographically).
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  20. #20
    Senior Member EnigManiac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by erbfarm View Post
    I really tried to make a go of living car free in my rural area last summer/fall......but w/ close to 3 feet of snow on the ground, ice covered roads, and sub zero wind chills, I just had to give up for the winter. The other thing factor, besides climate, that I'm struggling w/ is surface area....meaning, how far apart everything is in your daily/weekly round. In my little town, I can get to the grocery store, hardware store, pharmacy, church, library etc. within 5-6 miles easily. But it's anything else but the basics that presents a problem. I play ice hockey and the rinks are at least 17-25 miles away. The nearest wholefoods grocer is 43 miles away. Work is 35 miles away. Our nearest family members are 45 miles away. I'm wondering if there is a minimum "city size" that would make more of these things available in a smaller radius? A city of 500k would do it for sure, but would 250k work? Or even without a larger population, a real college town would probably do it also. Just wondering what the location is of most cyclists who are car free.
    I honestly can't see folks in rural communities---at least in areas that get snow---being entirely car-free. I live in a big city (4.5m) with four grocery stores anywhere from 1-5 miles away. Every possible convenience and service is available within a 20-30 minute ride for me and, if the weather really sucks, I can take buses or subways and even take my bike on them too (tho my semi-recumbent doesn't fit on the outside bike rack carriers on buses). If I lived outside the city, I know I'd need a winter car, but as soon as the weather cleared, the car would be parked and the bikes would replace it.
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  21. #21
    One speed: FAST ! fordfasterr's Avatar
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    keeping the car-free idea going, what would prevent you from using a small displacement motorcycle with some nice saddle bags?

    These can be had for under $3000 used and they get great gas mileage.


    At least you would still be on 2 wheels and you can stay in your town!
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  22. #22
    Senior Member Lamplight's Avatar
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    I live in a town of about 100,000 and being car free here is certainly not easy. It's definitely doable, but not easy. It would be extremely difficult without a bicycle, and if had children it would probably be out of the question altogether. I would like to live somewhere more walkable. I like cycling, but it would be nice to be able to walk for errands occasionally (and not have to spend 2 hours doing it). Hopefully soon I'll be moving into the house I'm remodeling which is in a better location, but no place in this town is especially good for car free folks.

  23. #23
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fordfasterr View Post
    keeping the car-free idea going, what would prevent you from using a small displacement motorcycle with some nice saddle bags?

    These can be had for under $3000 used and they get great gas mileage.


    At least you would still be on 2 wheels and you can stay in your town
    !
    I can honestly say that in my entire 53 years, I have seen somebody ride a motorcycle in the winter only once or twice. Yet I see dozens of bicycles on even the coldest days.


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  24. #24
    One speed: FAST ! fordfasterr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody View Post
    I can honestly say that in my entire 53 years, I have seen somebody ride a motorcycle in the winter only once or twice. Yet I see dozens of bicycles on even the coldest days.


    I missed the point of this thread, I've never even been in real snow...
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  25. #25
    Senior Member Lamplight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody View Post
    I can honestly say that in my entire 53 years, I have seen somebody ride a motorcycle in the winter only once or twice. Yet I see dozens of bicycles on even the coldest days.
    Yeah, a motorcycle in the winter is a whole different level of cold.

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