Saturday, May 05, 2007

Getting around...

Last November, I posted about our effort to start using the car less. Our experiment has become a routine. We now use the car on about five days a month, and keep track of our "no car" days on a calendar. This new discipline was covered in an article by Nancy Shohet West in the Boston Globe regional edition (the print edition included photographs of my wife and kids biking around).

The article recounts that it hasn't all been easy, but it hasn't been very hard either:

Walking and biking during the unseasonably warm months of November and December went smoothly. A cold snap that began in late January forced Huber to become more resourceful. When she and Keziah left the house one morning last month for piano lessons, the thermometer registered 8 degrees.

"Keziah had about four layers of clothing on, plus a snowsuit. I put her in the bike trailer and wrapped an outdoor sleeping bag around her. When we got to Lexington, she said she was toasty warm, and I was sweating from the exertion."

Huber and Wilde expected that the car-free experiment would make them feel virtuous. What has surprised them is how much fun they are having. They find themselves linked to their community in a new way.

"Since we're not driving, we are more likely to shop close to home. That means we support local businesses and see our neighbors more," Huber explained. "And biking or walking means we can stop and talk to people along the way. I was biking to Belmont last week, and I saw a woman I knew in college shoveling her driveway. I never even knew she lived there. If I'd been in the car, I wouldn't have even recognized her, let alone stopped to talk."

Community building has happened in another way, too. Friends who know about the family's car-free experiment have gone out of their way to help. "If our neighbor is going to the grocery store, she asks if she can pick us up anything," Huber said. "In December, a friend invited me to go gift shopping with her. And of course we spend less money because we go to fewer stores. Last month Isaac needed a white shirt to wear for a concert. Normally I would have driven to Target. Since I didn't want to do that, I asked a friend with kids if we could borrow one."

Wilde emphasized, though, that the experiment is not turning them into freeloaders; it works both ways. "On the rare days that we do use the car, we offer to do errands for other people," he said. "The point isn't to eliminate all cars; it's to cut down on everyone's fuel consumption."
The experience leaves me totally convinced that we could live richly and comfortably with much less energy use, if we ever make a collective decision to do so.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Well, I'm inspired. I recently hooked up the trailer to the back of my bike and have stuffed my two babies back there a few times, but have stressed about the logistics of it all (what if I need a stroller? How do I lock the thing up?), but I'm really going to try it now. The idea of letting them listen to a book on tape is fantastic!

Thank you.

usfoodpolicy said...

More fun without a car. We just got back from a fine weekend mini-vacation in Provincetown: Borrowed a second "tag-a-long" bike extension from a neighbor, loaded our clothes into panniers, rode on Saturday morning along the Charles River bike path from the inner Boston suburbs to Long Wharf, caught the first Provincetown ferry of the season to Cape Cod, biked to a cheap motel, played at the beach, had a fine Portuguese seafood dinner, slept, rode the charming Provincelands bike path over the dunes at the tip of the cape, took a four-second swim in the ocean ("I could have stayed in longer, but I was getting bored."), had a fine seafood lunch, caught the fast ferry back to Boston, and biked home. What part of this weekend could possibly have been improved by the use of a car?

Anonymous said...

Well, I brought my bike in for a tune up and figured out how to attach the trailer and yesterday I did my commute to work on my bike for the very first time! I'm about to enlist my friends to join me - some of us are going to set up a little network like you did where if someone is going to Target (the only place too far to bike to around here) we will get stuff for the other people so we can reduce trips.

Thanks again for the inspiration.