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March 29, 2006

Car-less in Seattle

Crumpled_volvo

(Editor's note: Also see "A Mile From Home" and "Dead Man Walking.")

Six weeks ago, my 18-year-old son slammed our 19-year-old Volvo stationwagon into the rear of a high-clearance pickup. All the people were fine. So was the pickup.

But the Volvo wasn't, as you can see in this photo. Repairing It would have cost many times the Blue Book value. So we accepted the insurance company's check for $594 and bid farewell to the family car.

Happenstance thus made us car free. But we decided to stay that way . . . at least for a little while. OK, actually, it's more of an experiment, to see whether a middle-class family of five can live a contented life in Cascadia's largest city without owning their own car.

Why are we doing this? Cost, conscience, and capability.

Cost: Owning a car is expensive. Replacing our car with another old Volvo would cost us, well, several thousand dollars up front plus at least $400 a month in fuel, taxes, insurance, and depreciation. Buying a new Prius would cost about $650 a month, including the same things (and more than $1,000 a month during the first year!). (There's an automatic cost calculator at Edmunds.com, a manual one at Seattle's One Less Car Challenge, and a guidebook about car costs--if you want to understand the data--at Todd Litman's invaluable website for Victoria Transport Policy Institute.)

Conscience: As Al Gore said the other day, climate change is not a political issue. It's a moral issue. If I won't give car-less living a try, who will? (And I've ratified Kyoto in my own life, so I was looking for ways to further trim emissions.)

Capability--in other words, because we can. Thanks to past choices plus some good fortune, car-free living is a smaller disruption for us than for most people. Our kids are old enough (the youngest is now 11) to walk or bike unaccompanied to a lot of places. We live in a compact city neighborhood with an abundance of nearby amenities. We've got respectable local transit service and five FlexCars stationed within a mile of our home.

We're only six weeks into this new lifestyle, so I don't want to make too many conclusions. But so far, what's surprised me haven't been the moments of inconvenience (I expected those). It's been two unexpected pleasures: more little adventures every week and fewer backseat arguments to referee.

We're walking more, biking more, planning our activities more thoughtfully, and appreciating the FlexCar when we use it. My 12-year-old daughter said to me the other day, laughing at herself as she said it, "I'm noticing that cars go fast, really, really fast."

It's all very new, so this feeling may dissipate with familiarity. But so far, the biggest bonus of car-free living has been an added increment of mindfulness. Who'd have thought that wrecking the family car would be good for our souls?

There's much more to say about this experiment, but I'll save it for another installment. In the meanwhile, I know there are lots of car-free readers of this blog. I'd welcome your advice, especially if you've got kids.

Posted by Alan Durning | Permalink

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» A family experiment from City Comforts, the blog
The Alan Durning family goes Car-less in Seattle. Interesting experiment. It's not my cup of tea at all but they definitely have the makings of a book....maybe a significant one. All I ask is that they don't pull punches. Don't make their recounting of... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2006 8:51:48 AM

» Walksheds, Cabspotting and Smart Places from WorldChanging: Another World Is Here
A few weeks ago, Worldchanging ally Alan Durning's 18 year-old son totalled their family car. He was fine, the other driver was fine, but the... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 13, 2006 6:33:50 PM

» Walksheds, Cabspotting and Smart Places from WorldChanging: Another World Is Here
A few weeks ago, Worldchanging ally Alan Durning's 18 year-old son totalled their family car. He was fine, the other driver was fine, but the... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 13, 2006 6:35:08 PM

» Walksheds, Cabspotting and Smart Places from WorldChanging: Another World Is Here
A few weeks ago, Worldchanging ally Alan Durning's 18 year-old son totalled their family car. He was fine, the other driver was fine, but the... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 13, 2006 6:36:24 PM

» Walksheds, Cabspotting and Smart Places from WorldChanging: Another World Is Here
A few weeks ago, Worldchanging ally Alan Durning's 18 year-old son totalled their family car. He was fine, the other driver was fine, but the... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 13, 2006 6:50:35 PM

» Life Without a Car from Tread Lightly :: Personal Sustainability
Heres a Seattle family that inadvertently found itself in a feasibility study of living without a car.  Alan has kept a loose blog of the events and how things are at present.  The blog is well-written and poses some interesting questions. It ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 23, 2006 4:54:44 PM

Comments

Having one less car goes far beyond using less gasoline and polluting less (both are benefits). Nor is it about the act of not driving (strawman argument used to point out supposed hyprocrites).

One should also look at the enormous waste created when a car is manufactured -- what doesn't make it into the car.

Additionally look at the waste created when a car is not completely scrapped and reused. (Read Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart).

Keep up the good life!

Posted by: carthinker | Apr 14, 2006 10:02:25 AM

Great to find such positive response to Alan's experiment. After 23 years without a driver's license or car I agree fully that there are at least three good reasons to go carless: cost, conscience, and capability. Why wait til your car, and maybe your well-being, are damaged beyond repair to take steps toward auto-nomy? Using a car as little as necessary can be a conscious choice democratically available to all.
Regarding an earlier post that possession of Driver's ID confers some privileges, not so. For a small fee the State will readily put your mug on a plastic card, with all the privileges of drivers.

Posted by: Larry Warnberg | Apr 15, 2006 5:13:56 PM

Well I crashed the car a while ago and when my dad said we were going car free for "a while" us kids were in an uproar. But after making some lifestyle changes, more walking, more planning ahead, I realized that its not so bad. I kind of cheat though, when i go out on weekend nights, i just have friends drive me! I am also happy to report it doesn't look like my parents are going to get a car anytime soon. The major downside is the rain in the winter, walking somewhere when its pouring simply sucks. Theres no two ways about it.

Posted by: Gary Durning | Apr 17, 2006 12:50:19 PM

"ozymoron": late imperial stupidity.

'Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains; round the decay
Of this colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

Posted by: clew | Apr 17, 2006 6:10:08 PM

Clew; I don't think that your comment is very nice nor a good contribution to the blog. I would suggest that you would better comunicate your thoughts to other people by working on your social skills and etiquette.

Posted by: Gary Durning | Apr 18, 2006 11:22:11 AM

I'm quite surprised. Has the author of the typo I loosely referred to indicated offense? I apologize if so. It certainly was not my intent; indeed, I would guess he'd mildly agree with the substance.

Using the quirks of the medium to comment on the message at hand is very standard netiquette.

On the other hand, if you're disagreeing with the substance of my neologism, please make your grounds clearer.

Posted by: clew | Apr 18, 2006 12:28:40 PM

I've heard that argument before about how not having a car is somehow selfish. But I very rarely get in a car at all...I bus and walk and make it a priority to live within the city. When I do get in a car, it's not because I'm "freeloading"...I hardly EVER ask anyone to drive me anywhere. It's because cars are so much a part of modern life that sometimes you just end up riding in them.

I'm probably unusual in that I'm 36 years old and (having grown up in NYC) never owned or driven a car or even had a license. I have noticed that the many inconveniences of having a car tend to be almost totally invisible to many car-drivers...but they see the inconveniences of not having one MUCH more clearly. To my mind, there are just as many inconveniences either way, they are just different ones.

Posted by: BB | Apr 18, 2006 4:39:48 PM