Strategies for a car-free life

Posted on November 7, 2010 by Anne Basye

I once met a man who not only doesn’t own a car, he has never driven one, and has never had a driver’s license. A peace activist, he sees this as ministry, as radical non-compliance with a warlike dominant culture. To him, a road doesn’t connect a community to resources; it makes a community vulnerable to military invasion.

This man lives in New York City, where car-free living is  easy. In the rest of the United States, the default for getting where you want, when you want, at any hour of the day, is driving.

Though I have no car, I do have a driver’s license. Still, I’m sure this license-free Methodist pastor and I see the world in similar ways. Without a car, you cultivate a different set of  traits and strategies. Creativity, for starters, because to get from point A to point B means considering many options, including buses and trains, a bicycle, riding with a friend, or walking. Planning is required to convert those options into an actual trip.

Cooperation is critical. When you don’t have your own set of keys, you’re very aware of other people’s agendas. No bus goes to your destination? Well, you can’t bully someone into driving you or lending you a car. Instead, you ask: how can everyone’s goals be accomplished here?

Sharing a ride in Rwanda

Flexibility comes in handy when it’s time to shift plans or face the fact that you’re not going anywhere, and are staying home instead. Gratitude infuses every step of the trip. If you’re on a bus or a train, you’re grateful it’s going when and where you want it to. If you’re sharing a ride, you’re grateful for the driver and plans that coincided.

Humility happens when you realize how many different people and forms of transportation helped you safely reach your goal. Car owners aren’t, I find, very humble. Crossing an intersection, I look into the faces of people who think they do own the road, and wish I would get out of the way. Besides tempting us to feel way more important than others, cars blind us to the system that supports driving. How many times have you heard people rail about subsidies for Amtrak or public transit—overlooking the public works budget that creates and maintains city streets and traffic signals, county roads and interstate highways? Few notice this “invisible” system of support; they only see the cost of their own car and their gas.

Finally, there’s competence and resourcefulness. Yesterday, my niece and I bicycled 2 miles to catch a county bus, took a long, interesting trip through farms and town and Indian reservation to a nearby city, switched to another bus, took a ferry, and rode our bikes to the island home of some friends. By the time we reversed our direction and reached home, biking against the fierce headwind that came up in the afternoon, we felt pretty clever. And grateful, of course!

Creative, flexible, grateful, humble, ingenious—I love being in the world this way. Yet not three weeks ago, visiting Chicago, it took exactly 15 minutes behind the wheel to turn me into an angry maniac honking and swearing at someone blocking her way!

How does driving make you feel?

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity

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