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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 12-20-10, 11:05 PM   #1
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In praise of the one-car family

I know there are several regular here who are very car light while living in a family with one automobile. I've almost always had that arrangement, but find it works especially well with me using a bicycle for my personal travel and other family members being pretty light on car travel.

How does it work for you?
Is it a solutions for heavy traffic congestion?
Why is it that North Americans have pretty much abandoned it as a standard for families and gone to the one driver/one car model?
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Old 12-21-10, 08:10 AM   #2
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Probably a special situation, but the Lady and myself have two automobiles between us: a '95 Geo Metro and a '96 Toyota Tacoma. Only one is ever driven at a time, and frequently neither are driven as the both of us are on our bikes. But the two vehicles (which we have discussed the utility of having, as we pay insurance and registration for both, yet only drive one or the other) function as winter and summer vehicles, respectively. And while the Taco has 4WD, the Metro is the winter vehicle half of the time anyway, since it can hold its own on snow and ice as long as there aren't any hills (and you don't drive like an idiot).

Still, after having dropped $1,400 on new suspension springs for the Taco last summer, $300 on a new driver side window on the Metro (punk kids with a rock), and now a 'check engine' light and an unwillingness to start in the Taco, we're seriously considering becoming a one car household and selling both vehicles to buy a Subaru wagon. With both 4WD and a long enough roof to carry sea kayaks, plus decent gas milage (although not nearly as good as the Metro's), it'd span the gap between both of our vehicles. Honestly, if we gave up skiing, kayaking, and backpacking, then we could just give up the car(s). But that ain't gonna happen.

As to why North Americans have abandoned the one car per family model, it's because they can. Gas prices are kept low through subsidies, tax caps, and war. Parking is free or underpriced, and the roads get wider and faster every year. Our society is flush with cars, so you can always find an automobile, no matter your price range. It's just another symptom of consumerism run rampant. It has become a milestone, the age at which you get your own car. Just like the age that you get your own phone, or computer. You are expected to have a car, and if you don't, then you're weird.
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Old 12-21-10, 03:47 PM   #3
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When I was young, the one-car family was the norm while two cars was a sign of wealth. But that was also the end of an era of one-income households. I now know a number of couples where one works 60 kilometres to the north and another works 20 kilometres to the south. With no transit available for work hours, car free or even car light will not be possible for them until they can change where they work.
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Old 12-21-10, 09:37 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by gerv View Post
I know there are several regular here who are very car light while living in a family with one automobile. I've almost always had that arrangement, but find it works especially well with me using a bicycle for my personal travel and other family members being pretty light on car travel.

How does it work for you?
Is it a solutions for heavy traffic congestion?
Why is it that North Americans have pretty much abandoned it as a standard for families and gone to the one driver/one car model?
The one car family was abandoned when leasing became the norm creating millions of used cars each year. The market is flush with so many used cars that are very affordable and in good condition. I remember back in the 1980's a used car ment buying a junker that required major repairs. Not anymore.
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Old 12-21-10, 10:08 PM   #5
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Reason I brought all this up is that a family committed to saving money by having just one car would also require some or all family members to make some trips by transit, foot or bicycle.

Could be a good start.
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Old 12-22-10, 02:57 AM   #6
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I'm a little astonished that one-car families are not the norm in NA. It's totally understandable that families have a car if they can afford it; if you have kids, you need to cart them around once in a while, I don't care what orthodox car-free people say... But two cars or more? Why, for God's sake? Cars, especially newer ones, are very expensive, about $8000/year, according to AAA. If families got rid of their extra car(s), they might be able to get by with a parent not working, or maybe working only part time, and be able to save money on child care as well...
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Old 12-22-10, 03:29 AM   #7
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Ha, ha ... well around in my sub division a two car family is pretty unusual and a one car family is unheard of ... most houses have three or four cars in the driveway and yard. It is crazy because we are on two major bus routes and the nearest town, which will soon include both a Whole Foods and a Target (don't get me going) is only a mile away. But as soon as the children turn 15 (driving permit age here) they get a car ... we have more cars per mile of road than any other state. So a two car family is a green family by comparison.
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Old 12-22-10, 04:37 AM   #8
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I'm a little astonished that one-car families are not the norm in NA. It's totally understandable that families have a car if they can afford it; if you have kids, you need to cart them around once in a while, I don't care what orthodox car-free people say... But two cars or more? Why, for God's sake? Cars, especially newer ones, are very expensive, about $8000/year, according to AAA. If families got rid of their extra car(s), they might be able to get by with a parent not working, or maybe working only part time, and be able to save money on child care as well...
Two income family = two car family...

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up with a stay at home mom as well as in a single car family. We never kept up with the Joneses, but it made us resilient and resourceful. If we wanted to go somewhere we figured out how to get their own our own. Public Library? Ride a bike or walk. Shopping mall? Take the bus. School? Walk or bike, etc, etc.

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Old 12-22-10, 05:05 AM   #9
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I know there are several regular here who are very car light while living in a family with one automobile.
Around here, that doesn't count as "very car light". One car per family is pretty much the norm. We're a DINK family, and neither of us has ever owned a car.

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Old 12-22-10, 05:58 PM   #10
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Growing up, my dad had a truck, mom had a car. They both worked full-time. Brothers, when they got old enough, each had one (as did I when I hit 16). When I got married the first time, I had a car and a truck, the wife had a car. Four years later, after joining the military, that went to and stayed at 1 vehicle for the family until 1990, when we needed the two for our busy and diverse schedules.

Went to one again in '93, two after getting married again in '98, but back to one by '99.

Now:

I don't own one, or have a wife. My sister, her husband, and each of the two oldest daughters (one lives with us) has a car. They get groceries, and seem to invent errands so they can drive more. I still bring home the odd grocery items in bags on the bar, and drive one of their vehicles about 2x/year.

Last summer, when I was trying to get some boxes to clean up crap in the back yard (bike boxes from work were good for it), I'd get 6-7 in the small trailer, haul them home, and get 40 lbs. of branches and debris in each box. Three weekends was all it took. (Big yard.)

With gas prices, the one daughter doesn't drive much; my sister and her hubby seem to play 'gas-pump lotto' for who gets the gas tank fed. I just shake my head and keep pedaling......

At least HE has stopped crabbing at me about riding all the time, and calling me "Lance Armstrong". (Sister would ride a LOT more if her bike was up and rolling.)
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Old 12-22-10, 07:02 PM   #11
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When I was a kid we had one car and two incomes. Dad drove to work. Mom walked to work, and dad picked her up in the car at the end of her shift. Us kids always walked to school and used bikes and the city buses for other activities.

Of course we lived in a densely populated city where carfree travel was pretty easy. (Ironically, this was also the first city in the world where automobiles were mass produced.)
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Old 12-22-10, 08:01 PM   #12
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Around here, that doesn't count as "very car light". One car per family is pretty much the norm. We're a DINK family, and neither of us has ever owned a car.

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Ha, ha ... well around in my sub division a two car family is pretty unusual and a one car family is unheard of ... most houses have three or four cars in the driveway and yard.
In a country like the US where there are more cars than drivers, the one-car family is a reasonable goal in terms of keeping at least some members of the family walking or biking. It also helps, as in wahoonc's family, set up a one-income family... which is a real boon when children are young and someone needs to be a home.

It would also help that "one less car" scenario... I was reading in the local paper that our recent $110 million freeway expansion no longer helps ease congestion... just 5 years after it was finished.

We really need to think about some strategies for reducing the car population.
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Old 12-22-10, 11:08 PM   #13
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... make some trips by transit, foot or bicycle. ...
I'm prepping myself to be a 1-car family. I'll be retiring in a few weeks, so I went to the local bus place (TARC) and got my senior id and 20 $0.75 tickets (rode the bike). All the buses have bike racks, and I've been mapping out how I'll get places I have been driving to. It looks very doable so far, and I'm looking forward to it.

BTW, when I was young, we were a 1-car family, but Dad took it out of state frequently for a few days at a time (sales job). So the kids were used to walking or riding everywhere.
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Old 12-23-10, 06:04 AM   #14
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... I was reading in the local paper that our recent $110 million freeway expansion no longer helps ease congestion... just 5 years after it was finished.

We really need to think about some strategies for reducing the car population.
Have you read Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic? If you're curious about transportation infrastructure and driver behavior, it's a must read. A bit dense at times (the reference/notes section is almost 100 pages long), but the information presented therein is fascinating, and highly relevant to anyone who navigates via roads, bikes lanes, or sidewalks (shut-ins will have a harder time relating ).

Anyway, there's an entire chapter titled "Why More Roads Lead to More Traffic", exploring the futility of building our way out of congestion, and the related phenomenon of "disappearing traffic". Disappearing traffic is where, when roads are taken out of a system (usually for maintenance, and occasionally through activism), fewer people drive. That is, without the route available, some people just stay home, or find other means to move themselves. And the converse holds true as well, that if you provide more routes and wider roads, the same number of people will just take more trips. Gains in reduced congestion due to wider and faster roads are quickly eaten up by an increase in driving, as people will just drive more until the new roadway fills up to whatever the drivers who use it feel is the maximum tolerable congestion. More roads = more unnecessary trips.

As for reducing car population, Copenhagen did pretty well when it cut automobile parking from 14,000 to 11,500 spaces, replacing them with parks and bike lanes. As they did, bike traffic rose by %40, and now they have bicycle congestion. Other solutions might be to cut subsidies to oil companies and increase fuel taxes to more realistically price gasoline, or to more closely tie the cost of road maintenance to drivers (increase registration fees so that local road maintenance will draw less upon property taxes, and increase federal fuel taxes to reduce the amount of general income taxes the federal transportation budget draws). Maybe stop widening and re-engineering roads for faster traffic (which makes our cities increasing un-navigible by anyone who doesn't own a car), and shift transportation money from road maintenance to public transportation infrastructure.

Basically, make car ownership more expensive and make car use less convenient, while providing a reliable alternative, and people will drive less. We own more cars than we have people because we can easily afford to. We drive as much as we can because traffic engineers have done everything that they can to make it convenient to do so. We are no longer a one-car-per-household society, because it is so easy not to be. It isn't a conscious decision on anyone's part, we as a species seek out ease and convenience. But knowing this, we can re-shape our culture away from the car, if we truly want to.
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Old 12-23-10, 02:17 PM   #15
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In our old neighbourhood (an urban area of Toronto) we were car-free, and I'd say the average family in our area was 1-car. Some had none (but were relatively rare), some had two, and the odd family had more cars than drivers, but one was common. The main factor would be excellent access to public transportation. Most people that worked downtown would take transit to work, (a few would bike) and the ones that drove (baffle) usually both worked downtown so would drive together. Other factors are downtown parking is very expensive, and also parking spaces at people's homes was limited. Some houses had no parking (car owners would need to buy a street permit and then search for parking which was often full) and most houses had one spot. Having two or more spots was rare, and usually came at the expense of not having a backyard.

Now, we are living on an island (about Manhattan in size, but only 1200 people in population), and about 20-25 km from the nearest town of 30,000 people. Two cars is average here, and we now have one. We almost always park it at the ferry terminal off island, which has free parking, and walk (20-25 min) or bike to get to the ferry, and then choose bike, bus (only 4 times a day), or car once across. This is because it is expensive to bring the car on the ferry - some two or more-car families leave one on the other side.

Sometimes its a pain not having a car on the island - I needed to pick up a big package from the post office the other day, but I brought my bike trailer along and it fit. I work from home, my husband works in town. I think its certainly easier having one car if only one person is commuting, or if both people work the same hours and a close location.

Yesterday for example I wanted to do some shopping in town. My husband had biked to work, I walked to the ferry, then drove the car in to town to meet him when he was done, threw the bike in the back, we had dinner together, went shopping, then drove back, walked on the ferry with his bike, I had a headstart walking up the steep hill from the ferry, when we got to the top he doubled me on his rack the less than a mile of remaining distance home. Yeah I could have ridden my own bike and left it at the ferry but leaving quick I didn't want to mess with digging up a decent light (there are no streetlights for the most part here) and the rain gear.

Its a totally different world here though and its easy to be tempted to drive especially in the very rainy very windy winter. Parking is free virtually everywhere, congestion does not exist, and saving time driving on the highway versus bike can make the difference of an hour when it comes to catching the next ferry. Where living in Toronto for many of my destinations bike was faster than a car.
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Old 12-23-10, 03:16 PM   #16
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I live in an older neighbourhood of Toronto that was considered a suburb when it was built in the 1930s and is considered fairly central now. I remember 20 years ago feeling amused when my elderly neighour said her husband had gone "into town" instead of "downtown". Both this house and my previous residences were well served by subways or buses, and even before I became a dedicated bike commuter 18 years ago, my wife and I and our kids were a 1 car family (her car) for about 27 or 28 of our 30 years of marriage. On a couple of occasions we've gotten a new car, and dragged our feet on getting rid or the old one, and usually it turns out after a few months or a year to have been a waste of licensing and insurance fees, because we would rarely use both at once.

Monday I needed to buy some simple Christmas gifts for staff, so I left the office at 1 pm, took a streetcar to Yonge St, shopped at 3 stores, took a streetcar part way back, shopped at another store and then walked the rest of the way back, all in under an hour at a cost of $5. I probably could not have done it by car and found parking along the way, but if I had tried, it would have taken longer and probably cost more for parking.

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Old 12-23-10, 04:59 PM   #17
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I know there are several regular here who are very car light while living in a family with one automobile. I've almost always had that arrangement, but find it works especially well with me using a bicycle for my personal travel and other family members being pretty light on car travel.

How does it work for you?
Is it a solutions for heavy traffic congestion?
Why is it that North Americans have pretty much abandoned it as a standard for families and gone to the one driver/one car model?
IMO the one draw back to one car for most families is.......Distance. Distance from a lot of the goods and services that were once closer and more abundant. The big box suburban sprawl life style of many town and cities makes cycling tough to do on a larger scale than anything else.

We own two long ago paid for cars (to ensure one is running or available) and must keep them since our medical services are not within cycling distance. Our food and other supplies are also some distance away with the growth of big box. On and on it goes so until the smaller more compact lifestyle of years past comes back to America cycling & one car will be a dream for millions of Americans.

We use the internet to bring many goods to our door much as was done with catalog service that made Sears ,J.C Penney etc. household names but that still leaves much that force us to own cars.
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Old 12-23-10, 06:06 PM   #18
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IMO the one draw back to one car for most families is.......Distance. Distance from a lot of the goods and services that were once closer and more abundant. The big box suburban sprawl life style of many town and cities makes cycling tough to do on a larger scale than anything else.

We own two long ago paid for cars (to ensure one is running or available) and must keep them since our medical services are not within cycling distance. Our food and other supplies are also some distance away with the growth of big box. On and on it goes so until the smaller more compact lifestyle of years past comes back to America cycling & one car will be a dream for millions of Americans.

We use the internet to bring many goods to our door much as was done with catalog service that made Sears ,J.C Penney etc. household names but that still leaves much that force us to own cars.
Excellent points. We actually had a doctor and dentist within cycling range a while back. The MD packed up his clinic and left the dentist is still nearby. When I moved where I am 12 years ago the closest grocery store was 12 miles away, now I have one just over a mile.

The section of town I grew up in had a neighborhood shopping district complete with a drug store, grocery store and a butcher shop. All gone now, and 5+ miles away on a most unfriendly 8 lane roadway, with no alternate way to get there.

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Old 12-23-10, 07:52 PM   #19
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We're a one-car family. I ride almost exclusively; the wife mostly drives, but she often has the kids with her. We're looking to get her an electric assist bike to do some shopping around town, but frankly, she lacks the confidence to cycle more (in Charlottesville, VA -- reasonably bike friendly, but hard to get to a lot of places).

Congestion really isn't an issue -- I live 3 miles from my office -- but easy parking downtown is nice.
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Old 12-23-10, 08:14 PM   #20
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I'm prepping myself to be a 1-car family. I'll be retiring in a few weeks, so I went to the local bus place (TARC) and got my senior id and 20 $0.75 tickets (rode the bike). All the buses have bike racks, and I've been mapping out how I'll get places I have been driving to. It looks very doable so far, and I'm looking forward to it.
Congratulation on your new adventure!

I get the feeling a lot of North Americans who are moving from multiple to one car are either
1) older who are discovering a new sense of adventure and also needing to cut back on spending a bit (I'm in that group...)
or
2) younger people who are more tied to their electronic gadgets than their transportation.

Seems like, though, there is a whole segment of the population, mostly families with school-age children, who seem to need more transportation. Maybe that would change if schools were a bit less spread out and people would let their kids walk or ride to school.
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Old 12-24-10, 11:42 AM   #21
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I was one half of a one-car household until a little over a month ago, when we sold our car. We lived with one car for about 4 years, and it worked well. We live in a neighborhood just west of center city Philadelphia, and we're connected to downtown by elevated train/subway line, multiple bus lines, and trolleys. Needless to say we didn't drive much--mostly during bad weather (snow, sometimes windy rainy days), when we were sick, or if we were feeling particularly lazy. My partner used the car on weekends to get to/from her clients' homes around the city. The car was going on 11 years old with less than 60,000 miles on it.

Gradually over the past 2 years, we both started biking more--not just to work but to the grocery store, errands, friends' houses, etc--and the car sat in its parking space most days collecting dents and bird poop. The last time it was vandalized while parked on the street (smashed mirror for the 3rd or 4th time), we took it as a sign to let it go. We have a Zipcar membership (just wrote a blog post about our experience with Zipcar, in fact) that makes life without a car very appealing.

Going car-free in the city as a DINK household is easy peasy, though. As several other people have mentioned, the suburban lifestyle practically chains you to your car, since everything is so spread out. And I think a HUGE part of the problem is the way our society values instant gratification. We no longer have to plan ahead for anything--just hop in the car and go. Forgot something at the store? Turn around and go back. Most people view a car as both a necessity and a way to achieve freedom. Go anywhere, do anything, at any time of day or night.
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Old 12-24-10, 12:52 PM   #22
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Two income family = two car family...
Perhaps, but in my case I have a stay at home wife and she has the car, so if we had two incomes we would not need to add a car.

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Old 01-02-11, 12:20 PM   #23
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Perhaps, but in my case I have a stay at home wife and she has the car, so if we had two incomes we would not need to add a car.
That's the benefit of cycling and reasonable transit.

I'd also bet that your one-car family uses a lot less than average mileage. At least that is my experience. When I started cycling to work, a number of things we had been doing by car suddenly shifted to walking/biking... for everyone in the family.

Our mileage went down to less than 1/2 the national average... we went from about 24000 miles a year for two cars to about 7000 miles for one car. My personal mileage went to near zero, but my wife and children started doing less driving too.
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Old 01-02-11, 01:21 PM   #24
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Now that I gave away my SUV to my son, his vehicle finally died, the wife and I are now a one car family. The SUV sat for months at a time anyway, and I mostly carpooled with the wife if ever I needed to get somewhere by car, so giving away the SUV was very painless.
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