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Posted by on Mar 30, 2009 in General | 23 comments

Car-Light or Car-Free…You Decide!

Since becoming a commuter/utility cyclist, I have pondered dependence on the automobile.  While reading several posts and reviews online, the thought of car-free begins to appeal to me.  Giving up our car may seem daunting, but going car-light seems to strike a balance in our needs.

Little did I know, the location we had chosen to live would be extremely accessible by bicycle and would all but eliminate my need for auto transport.

Some of our readers are car-free, some are car-light. Some might be considering it.

Based upon your cycling experience and individual needs, are you more inclined to:

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If you are already car-free, tell us how you made the decision. Please share any other thoughts on benefits and challenges.

23 Comments

  1. I’m in the process of moving to the Colonialtown area to make it easier/more pleasant to be car-light. My new home puts me within a half mile of almost everything, and probably 3-5 miles of everything else.

    I’ve contemplated getting rid of the car. I guess I’ll see how much it sits unused. I am over the Volkswagon money-sink. It’s paid off, but the thing has since cost me more in repairs than the car payments. Pretty stupid for a 2002 vehicle with barely 50K miles.

  2. I never gave any pondering to becoming car-light or car-free until I began commuting by bicycle. I lend myself more to the car-light side of thinking, especially with the family starting to grow.

    We Americans live in the age of excess and it is taking a toll on us that we either don’t want to admit or don’t realize.

    Trying to de-stress and de-clutter my life and make things less complicated is a primary goal for this year. My bike travels will provide a major part in accomplishing this goal.

  3. It’s car light for me, but only because the hulks are sitting in the driveway for my wife to use as she sees fit. I’ll be driving one of them to Orlando for the LCI seminar with bike on rack. Another trip to Kissimmee with the wife for her birthday gift of a hot-air balloon ride either before or after the seminar weekend. I’d love to get rid of one of the two, considering it’s accumulated 550 miles in 12 months!

  4. Abhishek, I read your post link. The numbers are astonishing. I liked your description of a super-saturated solution as your state and the cyclist as the catalyst. Very nicely phrased.

    On a somewhat related note, there’s a Yahoo group for electric-assist bikes. It’s filled with vitriol and personal attacks, and the occasional on-topic post. One of the more recent posts suggests that more people would ride e-assist bikes if there were better places on which to ride, i.e., bike lanes and trails. I’ve learned to not post to that group, as it merely changes the target of the attacks. I would suggest to the group that education and training is a good place to begin.

    How many of us transportation, car-free, and car-light people have had more training than that provided by parents?

    I know many of us here are LAB course graduates, some are LCIs.

  5. fred_dot_u

    Thank you for reading the essay. The first step in increasing quality by solving a problem is in recognizing the problem in its entirety. I merely was candid with the numbers.

  6. Shek,

    Terrific essay! Beautiful writing… and thinking.

  7. Carol & I are car-light. For a while we owned just one car. We could easily do that again. Our Outback sees only about 6,500 miles of use per year. Most of that is for intercity or interstate trips. To me, that’s the best use for a car; trips of 15 miles or more. Until we get a decent rail system that’s pretty much the only way.

    Car sharing programs like ZipCar are a great option. I hope we’ll see it in Orlando soon.

  8. I have been car free now for more than two years.

    One problem I have been unable to overcome is the hazard of uninsured motorists.

    If you rent your lodging, and have no car, there is no means of purchasing insurance coverage to protect one’s self from uninsured motorists. Unlike the UK where there are several companies who offer insurance plans for cyclists, there is nothing in the USA. Toronto has coverage for members of a bicycle club.

    I am considering purchasing a wrecked and inoperable car, so that I may insure it and max out the uninsured liability coverage. Sigh. A very expensive solution.

    As our economy slides, there will be more and more of these motorist scofflaws on our streets.

  9. ChipSeal, that is a very good point. Especially about the economic impact. Also, the worst motorists are the ones who tend to be uninsured because their rates become unaffordable… or they can’t get insurance because they have lost their license. (This is another brutal consequence of car-dominant planning, where there are few workable alternatives to driving. If a person who loses his license can’t get to work without an extra hour of travel time and three bus transfers, he’s going to drive illegally.)

    Even with an insured motorist, your own PIP insurance will pay your medical expenses. Without PIP you’d have to pay out of pocket and then be reimbursed by the at-fault’s insurance company. I carry an inexpensive medical supplement on my car insurance so I have 100% coverage if I’m hit on my bike.

  10. Keri and Chip, I full agree with your points on insurance. After not touching my car for over a year (I got a letter about it being so dirty that my apt complex was threatening to tow it) I finally had to move it because the parking garage was getting painted. I got into the car (after having to use the key directly, the remote battery was dead) only to discover that my battery was dead (among other things).

    I have since been debating getting rid of it or fixing it. The money I probably could have used to fix it went into a new wheelset and I still believe this was the better decision.

    Sorry, back to the point of the story… I was in an accident around Thanksgiving and though my health insurance covered a lot, it was my car insurance’s PIP that covered the rest. Actually, the PIP was used as the primary, and my health insurance covered what was leftover. Long story short, getting bills in the mail months after an accident is never fun, owing money is even worse.

  11. When I was hit several years ago, my injuries were minor, but I really appreciated the peace of mind knowing my bills were 100% covered by my PIP+medical supplement. All the bills that came in months after were forwarded to USAA without a second thought. Also, if you have to rely on your health insurance company, you have to deal with them trying to squirm out of paying because it was auto-related.

    [rant about the healthcare system withheld]

  12. I’ve been hit twice by uninsured motorists. (One of them a repeat DUI). They’re out there, and we foot the bill for them. Neither of them had a valid license either. In those cases, my health insurance covered what my auto insurance didn’t. In the case of the bicycle accident I had (separate incident), the guy’s auto insurance footed the bill. I think they were just happy I didn’t sue. :-)

  13. I’ve entertained the idea of being car-free, but I have a 40 mile commute to work, so it hasn’t really been an option. I try to do my short trips by bicycle at least. In most cases, it’s faster and I don’t have to search for a parking space.

  14. Richard,

    try moving closer to work.

  15. Unless a person is renting, that’s tough to do in this economy. I’m fortunate I sold my house a year and a half ago and banked the equity.

    In a month or so, I’m going to move my office home. In the meantime, I now have a 3.2 mile commute instead of a 10 mile commute. What a difference! I don’t need padded shorts or liner, the most direct route uses mostly residential streets and it takes about the same amount of time as driving a car. I haven’t had a commute like this since my first post-college job in 1988.

  16. Keri,

    That is touching upon a more subliminal problem affecting us: living farther away from work so people can afford more house for their money.

    It is also an issue of not recognizing compact development. In that case, living far away from work in a city with no alternate means of transportation is the person’s own fault and he/she is not allowed to use it as a reason for not bicycling more often.

  17. Abishek,

    A co-worker of mine commented just yesterday about his decision buy a more affordable house. He calculated the math and on a good day, he spends the equivalent of one week at work, per month, just to drive to work and back home.

    My longest drive to work was just over 45 minutes one way. In the last 10 years, my drive has been no more than 20 minutes. These days my cycle commute takes 30 minutes.

    I guess I’m one of the fortunate ones. ;-)

  18. I am in the situation where I own a property that I cannot reasonably sell right now. And where I work, the closest I could possibly move is still a 20 minute drive at highway speeds by car. Unfortunately, they actually don’t allow cycling traffic during the normal shift start and end times.

  19. I actually was taking a vanpool to work at one point. This allowed me to basically leave my car at home and ride to the van and back. It was nice, but the pickup point forced me to cross SR50 over the river, and during rush hour it gets pretty hairy. Also, since starting school again and working overtime hours, I can’t take the vanpool anymore. :-(

  20. I have been going back to car-light. Having two vehicles for me is an expensive luxury I can no longer afford. I have been a bicycle commuter for over ten years and I rarely drive the second vehicle anyway. I remember when we only had one car how much more money we saved on gas, insurance, maintenance. Also I feel guilty driving a second vehicle when I do have alternatives, like cycling and the bus for my 6 mile commute I am thinking one less vehicle on the road and less polution too. Going car free for me is not an option though…not at this time in my life with children requiring transport to recreation etc…I think for now getting rid of my second vehicle is an option I will entertain.

    Also you “hardcore” car free people need to learn it is not always an option for all, especially family people. But every car off the road is a step in the right direction and that should be encouraged.

    I’ll fill you guys in on the progress I have made going car-light.

    • That’s great Marc! We definitely look forward to hearing more!

      It’s cool that families are discovering ways to economize with alternative transportation. At some point, it’s possible that that simple economic decision for enough families can become a tipping point in the social attitudes about transportation/roads.

  21. Well I sold the old pickup truck to a guy who needed it to haul stuff for his planting business. So we’re both happy. I am getting fitter every day riding the old mountain bike back and fourth five miles to work each way and enjoying it. We’ll see how I do come December when its way below zero and I am hopefully still riding. If not there’s the bus.