A Year With No Car   16 comments

Not your typical walk, but a walk nonetheless.

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!

A section of the bike path I took to work in August and September. Not bad!

16 responses to “A Year With No Car

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  1. It’s been six years car-free so far for me and my family. When my kids were 9 and 12 I figured they were old enough to pedal or walk or bus wherever they needed to go. They learned independence, but we did give up opportunities: no distant soccer games or synchronized swimming. No casual trips to the mountains, or even trips to friends in the deep suburbs or rural locations. School and music teachers and volunteer organizations had to be on bus routes. After-dark trips are more dangerous without a protective cocoon of metal between you and potential threats (I’m thinking of my teenaged daughter here). And yet all this is because the city and our culture has been designed for the car. Until we can re-make our cities to work without instant private motor transport, it’ll be hard to go car-free, and yet without people willing to take up that burden, we’ll never get the cities we want.

    Every time you drive, you’re voting for suburban sprawl, pollution, noise, traffic accidents and deaths, obesity, oil field deaths, oil spills, and foreign wars. If you wouldn’t vote for a political candidate with that platform, you shouldn’t drive.

  2. Thanks an amazing blog, thanks for sharing it. So I guess all the money we save just goes to other better things. I was wondering about that!

  3. I laughed over your plea not to live a city of pick-up trucks. Gawd. How true. Am a transplant from Vancouver and before that Toronto. So I have a strong opinion about this..hopefully dying trend. I wrote about living a life car-free, for last 30 years. Have been cycling last 21 yrs. http://thirdwavecyclingblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/30-car-free-years-cycling-pumps-money-into-my-wallet/ Change takes a long time. In Calgary non-car multi-modal changes might take even longer especially if we continue to sprawl out like an amoeba across the prairies.

  4. I meet the same kind of incredulous eyebrows from people who don’t understand how I can live in the country with no close neighbours (“Aren’t you afraid to be out there by yourself?”), how I can possibly live without a microwave oven and a dishwasher, and how can I stand not taking a trip to Mexico in the winter? Like your experience, mine is that once one decides to do without these things, one adapts easily and doesn’t miss them at all.

  5. 2 adults, 2 kids, no car. No biggie! Enjoyed your post.

  6. In my A Year of Making a Difference — I have tried to give one day up to not driving and not spending money — it’s hard! I admire your commitment. Randy B and I saw you walk by Kawa’s yesterday morning! 🙂 I’d driven there to meet up with him — and he’d driven there too — you’re inspiring me…..

    • Not spending any money in a day is some accomplishment! I saw you guys and thought, “wait a minute, I’m supposed to be meeting with Randy,” but not wanting to put him on the spot I kept going over to Beano.

  7. It’s nice to have that option. However when in a wheelchair a car plays a big role in the level of independence one has. Unfortunately not every C-train station is wheelchair accessible and handi-bus is spotty at best. However this is why I live here in the Beltline, most of the things I need are close enough that I can leave my car in the underground. The Car2Go program is not accessible and, since you know who I am, you understand the difficulty in me using a bike. With that said I do wish more people would adopt your attitude Eugene regarding transportation. Given a feasible option I would dump my vehicle in a minute. Congratulations on your anniversary!

  8. I, too, gave up my car at the end of its lease-life in early June and have missed the convenience of wheels at my beck-and-call, but have come to know the bus system in this city and have figured out how to make a round trip wherever I need to go – on one ticket. If I can complete my travel within an hour-and-a-half. And this from Acadia. If I were still living in Mission, I’d be doing a whole lot more walking.

    • Thanks for your comment. I thought I’d been answering the comments then I looked and my answers were not here! Anyway, it’s amazing how quickly and easily we can adapt. That’s amazing you can do that from Acadia, though!

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