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Responses to Chris Balish's inquiry re: carfree success stories

Chris sent out an inquiry to hear about carfree success stories in the US and Canada. Here is my response, and here are his questions and contact information in case you want to respond to him too.

Added by colin #442 on 2005-07-26. Last modified 2005-07-26 22:48. Originally created 2005-07-26. F0 License: Attribution
Location: World, United States
Topics: media campaign \ propaganda, media: visual: television

The questions without my answers are found below.

Colin Leath
San Diego, CA
Challenge Course Facilitator and Literature Graduate Student
Age 29

I live carfree because it is easier. It has been so long since I decided to live carfree (1994) that I've been arranging my life for years to not need or use a car, and since 2001, to not need or use (regularly) a bicycle either.

I do think cars are horrible though, which led to my initial decision. And I am a somewhat involved activist working to make life better for carfree people and to reduce the impacts of others' car use on my life.

I get around by foot (about 70 min walking avg./day or less time running). Occasionally (once a month) I take public transit to get somewhere.

Money saved: I never had to pay to maintain a car- so you could just look up one of those 'costs of owning a car' websites to come up with what I save.

I am able to live and go to school on very little income. Because I live with my grandmother and do not pay rent either, I can comfortably make less than the cutoff point for being exempt from paying income tax in the United States ($7,500 last time I checked).

On the times I did have a regular job, even a part-time one (I have only ever worked full-time for about 6 months), I have saved up so much money to give me freedom to not work for months at a time.

All that is part of the pay-off for living without a car.

Now, I give up a lot by those choices, most notably, at the moment, outside of New York City, it would be unlikely that I would find a girlfriend here. But what people go through just to be acceptable mates is a whole other story.

Longer term, once I finish school, I could conceivably be a teacher or professor somewhere, with a decent income, not need a car, and be an attractive potential mate.... but as things are, I'm having enough of an adventure.

-are you helping the environment


-were you afraid to give up your car

No. Afraid to use a car, rather. Afraid to ride in them, afraid to be near where other people use them.

-what are your thoughts on public transit

I also arrange my life to avoid public transit. The carfree movement's motto might be said to be "access through proximity". I can walk to everything I need-- school is 20 min one way, the pool/workplace is 15 minutes the other, as is a place to buy food.

I have become more and more accomplished at buying food (grain) and other things on the internet.

In NYC, I had a monthly subway pass, but often I would just walk or run from 145th st to where I worked on 42nd st. That was beautiful.

Where I am now, surrounded by highways, there aren't many good places to walk or run.

In NYC I could also take the subway to the New Jersey commuter train, take that to the tuxedo park stop and go camping in harriman st. park. That was beautiful.

Here I'm more trapped. but I consider it a challenge.

I hate buses because they have many and more of the same problems cars do.

But there's no question that the NYC subway, buses, public transit in general can be a part of a beautiful and engaging social environment... especially when car traffic is segregated away, hidden or not existent.

I have many fond memories of the bike trails near washington DC... largely because they are designed so that you rarely need to stop and cross a street. And they go to some beautiful places.

-how has living car-free affected your social life

In NYC: Not at All.

Here: A lot I'd say. But At the same time it is very interesting being carfree and still being a social being. I have made good friends here. I just don't have many or any women friends who I go on walks with, like I had many in NYC. I imagine before I leave here I'll have some here too, I'm working on it.

-how do you accomplish simple errands like grocery shopping

I have some things delivered: 100 lbs of 7-grain cereal that I grind a bit of almost daily with a hand grinder, from Walton Feed. I do live near stores-- I'm not in outer suburbia, so I walk and fill up a big bag and carry it up the hill like a sherpa or indian.

-do you ever rent cars, and why
no-- but might if I needed to. Never have.

-how do people react when you tell them you're car-free

Interested and respectful. I have a business card.

I give this to people If I see them repeatedly walking around the suburbs, or if we get to talking.

-did you do a trial run before going car-free

For years I got around by bicycle-- my parents did drive me like many kids but the older I got I began to bike quite a few miles to get myself to soccer games, school (.5hr each way), practices...

-do you have more free time or less since going car-free

Not really an issue/question. Working for other people was the only thing that ever took my time.

-what car-free hobbies and interests do you recommend

_Very good question_ The last time I considered buying a car was in 1994 when I had gone to Maui to windsurf. I found a job that, it so happened, required that I get up at 11pm to bike across the island to start work at 1am. And then bike back (upwind) around 2 pm. I drove a van for Maui Mountain Riders.

But I wanted the car to cart my windsurfing stuff around.

Now my dad is a frugal and cautious guy, and he, partly, helped discourage me.

I ended up making a trailer for my windsurfing gear out of the bottom of a shopping cart, and I towed my stuff from where I lived to the the main windsurfing beach (Kanaha Beach Park).

After I left Maui, though, I left, for the most part, windsurfing, as well, and changed my focus from that kind of pastime to other things. I was in the rowing club at UW.

Later I got into dance.

Now with studying literature I have, to some extent, a hobby and pastime that could last forever and that can be done almost anywhere-- but with dance it is nice to be able to get to dance studios, and even with literature it is nice to be able to be around other people who want to talk about it.

There were times I thought I might really like becoming a green builder (when I lived in Austin, TX; green builder: builds with cob, strawbale, etc.), but I decided not to go down that route because I might need a truck.

In the long run I get some sort of perverse satisfaction from doing work that requires nothing... and in some ways makes nothing. Yet I believe what we're doing in dance and literature and in helping people read and write and challenge themselves/teambuild/develop visions/communicate, is very important.

-do you recommend car-free living to others and why

I recommend it, but it requires thought and planning if you try to do it where it is not normal (like in suburbia).

-what are the challenges of car-free living

see above. Though rainy weather can be a challenge--

-what's the best part and worst part of car-free life

Best? Walking. Worst: other people's cars. Dealing with the car-wrecked environment that almost everyone accepts as normal--until they hear about carfree cities.

-can anyone live car-free

Yes, but many will not want to, the way things are now in much of the US. Remember there were not always cars.

The original email:

Hi, folks.

I am a reporter with Gannett Co, Inc. (www.Gannett.com), and I'm doing research on living car-free. I am looking for car-free success stories. Specifically, I am looking for people who do not own a car and live in the United States or Canada.

If that description fits you, please email me your thoughts on living without a car.  It can be long or short, but please try to hit on at least a couple of the following topics:

-why do you live car-free
-how you get around
-how much money are you saving (please be as specific as possible)
-how has living car-free helped your personal finances
-what is the pay-off for living without a car
-are you helping the environment
-were you afraid to give up your car
-what are your thoughts on public transit
-how has living car-free affected your social life
-how do you accomplish simple errands like grocery shopping
-do you ever rent cars, and why
-how do people react when you tell them you're car-free
-did you do a trial run before going car-free
-do you have more free time or less since going car-free
-what car-free hobbies and interests do you recommend
-do you recommend car-free living to others and why
-what are the challenges of car-free living
-what's the best part and worst part of car-free life
-can anyone live car-free

PLEASE EMAIL TO:  CBalish -at- ksdk.gannett.com
if possible.
Many thanks,
Chris Balish
Anchor / Reporter
KSDK-TV Newschannel 5
1000 Market Street
St. Louis, MO 63101
cbalish -at- ksdk.gannett.com

Colin Leath <>    

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