It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since I made the epic decision to live my life with no car. Last November 1, my car lease was up and my insurance was due and my plates needed to be renewed and so I decided to try going without a car for a while. I didn’t know at that time if it would be possible, especially in a city like Calgary which is hardly a pedestrian’s paradise. It’s the heart of the oil and gas industry and the city has been designed, for want of a better word, for people to drive and to drive a long way, everyday.
Because of the rapid growth of the city, these vast amounts of space that need to be driven for most people to get to work and home again typically become so congested and backed up that there’s now a terrific amount of waiting and idling and burning gas involved in the commute as well. And yet it seems most people here never even consider the alternative.
A car, or worse, a pickup truck, is one of the many things people seem to think they are entitled to here in western Canada. I grew up east of here in Regina, Saskatchewan and like most of my friends had my license at 16 and have had a car pretty much continuously ever since – 40 years! – without ever really thinking about it. (Except when I lived in Toronto in the 1980’s.) Last year, I spent three weeks at the Stratford Festival where I had no car. I walked a lot. I felt better. I lost some weight. When I got back to Calgary all the circumstances were in place to see how it would be to do the same here.
At first it seemed odd. There’s a tremendous amount of convenience and a certain amount of status that comes from having a good set of wheels. And yet, when I got used to it, and started taking public transportation and accepting the occasional ride from friends, it found it surprisingly easy. By the time summer came around and I was able to ride my bike, I hardly thought of it anymore. I soon stopped defining myself from this deficit position – a person with no car – and started to look at those with cars as people who hadn’t yet seen the light.
And then, as I wrote a few weeks back, car2go magically appeared in Calgary, and suddenly, there’s always a car there for me if I feel I really need one. In this whole year, I have borrow a friend’s car twice, used car2go twice and taken three cabs, so by and large I’ve gotten by without a vehicle.
A few whimsical statistics . . . in getting to the C Train to go to places I work and tramping back and forth to my favourite coffee shops and shopping etc. etc. I figure I now walk on average about 10 km a day, meaning I walked the equivalent of Calgary to Montreal in the last year.
This isn’t exactly true though, as I also cycled almost 2,000 km (or from Calgary to Denver), and so on the days I cycled I probably didn’t walk quite so far. Still, you get the idea.
I have to admit, especially when you cycle, it’s hard not to get sanctimonious and even militant in your view towards drivers and their vehicles. But other than a few little scares, I have to admit that I found drivers in Calgary very respectful and courteous. (This is a rare view, I know. Other cyclists have horror stories, and maybe I was just lucky, but I have no complaints.)
After a while, your view of the city changes. You start to see the city as an endless series of parking lots joined by conduits of impatient drivers. You realize that the city was designed for the convenience of vehicles, with very little regard for human beings, let alone those of us who have no vehicles. And when you start feeling that, you start to see the whole place as a giant waste of space and time and resources.
Don’t take my word for it, try it. It will change the way you think of your city, wherever you live.
I’ve come away from the experience with a prayer: Lord, before I die, let me live in a city with no pickup trucks. Especially those driven by little shrimps trying to compensate for obvious deficiencies in certain parts of their anatomy.
Thanks for reading!