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The free-wheeling family: car-free in suburbia

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Written by Ric & Sara Rosenkranz

 The free-wheeling family: our car-free experiment in suburbia - Our family has always been a one car family.  
Many have marveled at how we have made it work with both of us having full-time jobs and juggling various activities for our children and ourselves.  Late last year, we went further by deciding to give up the only car our family of 4 owned, a Honda Civic Hybrid, in preparation for an international move back to the USA. We were excited about the 5-week lifestyle experiment of living without a car in the suburbs of a major world city (Sydney, Australia), and getting the chance to better align our own actions with our values related to sustainability and health.  
While we had already been walking our daughter to school each morning and often took turns biking to work, we knew that we were undeniably dependent upon our car.

Once we had a confirmed buyer for the Honda, we loaded up the family and drove 40 minutes across town to make the sale.  Walking with the family to the train station to catch a ride home brought for us a sense of freedom, mixed with nervous uncertainty about how we might manage to maintain a somewhat normal life without our own motorized transportation, living amongst the urban sprawl for the next 5 weeks or so.  Our kids, aged 4 and 9 years, didn’t seem to mind.
Unfortunately, trains could only partly replace our car as the nearest station to our suburban household was more than 3mi away, and separated by a major highway on a route fraught with peril.  We knew that we would have to mix transportation modes for any trips outside our local suburb.  This usually meant catching a very intermittent bus, or grabbing a taxi to or from the safety canadian cialis train station.  Fortunately, we had a good collection of biking gear that filled the other half of our 2-car garage. If all else failed, however, we weren’t against renting a car.  Mostly, we just needed to get ourselves to work and get the kids to school and preschool every weekday.  We’d also need to get to the grocery store, leisure center, scout meetings, and find a way to have some fun regularly.

By the numbers
During our 38 days without owning a car, we tallied up 209 separate trips (defined as any or all of us going to another place for a particular purpose, not just out for a stroll or joyride) among the four family members, with a direct cost in fares and online propecia sales rentals of about $400.  If we assign one primary form of transportation for each trip, we took 8 by train, 21 by bus, 4 by ferry, 3 by taxi, 12 by rental car, 7 by carpool, 95 by bicycle, and 59 on foot.  Most trips came from walking our daughter to school (10 minutes one way), then riding our son to preschool nearby our work (20 minutes one way).  For the bike ride, we utilized our trail-a-bike, a single-wheeled contraption that connects to the seat post of a regular bicycle, and allows a child to ride along, with or without pedaling.  
Our adventures
Half of the regular trip to preschool and work was peaceful and scenic within our neighborhood, while the other half was full of traffic and treachery.  Much of the way, there were bike lanes available, albeit lanes that were often full of debris or other obstacles.  Our son was clearly frightened the first time a semi-truck came barreling past us within an outstretched arm’s distance.  He subsequently took to motioning with his arm for the big trucks to “Get away from us!  Go away.”   
Before we are condemned for child endangerment, we should point out that we adopted the safest way possible to transport our son to his preschool via bike.  We wore brightly colored clothing and one of us pulled him along on the trail-a-bike fitted with a large fluorescent flag on the back, while the other rode behind and closer to the stream of traffic to promote visibility.  Riding along one high-speed traffic-way and across a major highway intersection was always worrisome, but our son quickly got used to it.  He enjoyed seeing the big trucks and motorcycles along the way, and always kept his feet on the pedals, as we asked.  Mother Nature, unfortunately, often did not cooperate.  Despite keeping rain jackets handy, we got soaked more often than we care to mention.  Getting caught in a downpour is one thing for an adult, but quite another with a trailing preschooler in traffic.  So, we learned to watch the weather carefully, time our rides well, and alternate with a bus ride one-way and a bike ride the other way when necessary.  
Grocery shopping also was an interesting way to attract extra attention and raised eyebrows from our neighbors.  For shopping trips, one adult towed the trail-a-bike, while another adult towed a trailer loaded up with reusable grocery bags as our daughter rode solo.  Pulling the trailer uphill while loaded down with groceries was quite a challenge.  For those without a set of “granny gears” and good aerobic fitness, this task would likely be impossible.  
One of the most arduous parts came as we were leaving the country.  We had to pack a lot of luggage, enough clothes and accessories to last us 6-8 weeks until the rest of our household goods arrived.  Thus, we each had two large suitcases, plus a backpack.  Trying to get that much luggage on and off of a bus, and then on and off a very crowded train while minding young children was truly a stressful experience.  
The good aspects of this lifestyle
The good aspects of living without a car included having no car maintenance or car insurance, not having to worry about break-ins, theft, or crashes.  We could relax on public transport, and not have to worry about speeding tickets or tolls.  We achieved better physical fitness from extra walking and cycling, and gained a new perspective of our suburbs, the city, and its residents.
One of the best aspects was special time with our son.  Each morning that we rode the trail-a-bike, we could chat about the day ahead, the beauty of the environment around us, and the dangers of the big semi-trucks passing us by.  Each morning that was too wet to ride, we enjoyed spending 30 minutes with him on the bus, holding hands and talking on the way to his preschool.  From the bus stop, we had a good 10-minute walk into school where we got to talk more and discuss the day ahead.  We realized upon reflection that having to deal with the stress of driving in heavy traffic (sometimes 30 minutes to travel only a little over 3mi) had been preventing us from connecting with him during the commute by car.  
The not-so-good aspects of this lifestyle
There were safety concerns with regard to cycling in traffic, being in strange train stations, and waiting at bus stops, yet we emerged unscathed.  Lacking the protection of a car during inclement weather added to the down side though.  Most of all, however, was the amount of time needed for two very busy adults (planning the trips, waiting for buses and try it buy discount levitra online trains, and often going far out of the way to get where we wanted to go).  With that came less freedom to roam, less independence, and no viable way for us to provide transport to others.
Lessons learned from the experiment
We consider our family’s experiment a great learning experience.  Over the 38-day period, we became more resourceful and better able to navigate train, bus, and ferry schedules.  Generally, we wish it were easier to live without a car, but it seems to be a necessary evil in a suburban environment without abundant, cheap, and convenient public transportation options.  We also realize that our experiment was really only possible because we lived in a place with an established (albeit limited) public transportation infrastructure, which many locales lack.   
Since our return to the USA, we have purchased a new fuel-efficient automobile, but have continued to follow many of the practices we adopted while living car-free.  We drive less than we used to, commute by bike or foot more, combine trips, and consider whether or not trips by car are necessary at all.  We have even gone grocery shopping with our bike trailer.  In a few short months our youngest will join his sister on the daily bus ride to “big kid school” and without the requirement of transportation to child care, our plans are to leave the car in the garage most days and commute to work by bike.  
Take-away messages from our car-free experiment are that in a suburban environment, living car-free, or at least minimizing the use of a car could potentially save some money, but may come at the cost of extra time, inconvenience, and hassle.  It may also be adventurous, and undoubtedly a healthier and more sustainable way to live.  Although no longer 100% free-wheeling, we intend to continue our family’s efforts to live more sustainably while simultaneously advocating for more supportive policies to reduce dependence on automobiles through initiatives such as additional bike lanes, walking paths, and better public transportation options. 
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