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Generally Recognized As True: On the transition to an almost car-free existence in the transitless suburbs

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

On the transition to an almost car-free existence in the transitless suburbs

Even though I live in a transit-less and distant suburb of Toronto, I have so reduced my use of the car that it is now perfectly feasible to get rid of it and rent a car when needed. Since I have not yet taken this step -- I will probably keep it until it needs to be replaced and then not replace it -- I have now found myself in the position of having to take it out for "walks" now and again so that it doesn't succumb to a flat battery or just rust into place and cease to be mobile.

Though I don't find it particularly clever, here is how it's done. It won't work for everyone, but it will work for a lot of people who say it won't work for them:

  1. Take transit to work: this gets rid of the main legitimate reason for having private transportation
  2. Establish a walking routine: decide for yourself that it's good for you to get out for a walk at least a few times a week
  3. When you walk, make it count: rather than walking in big circles or a circuit, walk somewhere useful. This is not brilliant. It is the simple act of running errands, except that you do it on foot.
  4. More frequent trips make lighter work: I am now in a position of being able to do all of my grocery shopping by foot. Doing this all in one trip would not be possible on foot without a lot of pain, so I go at least three times a week. This can be combined with other errands.
  5. Rent a car for longer trips, and make that count, too: if you have to make longer trips and they are not that common, you can get by with renting a car. But when you do rent, make it count: make a plan of everything you need to do in the car and do it while you have the rental. This might include large grocery items, or other bulky or heavy things
That's about all there is to it. If you have the gift of being totally honest with yourself, you can tell whether it's really practical or not or whether you are just lazy. If you already have a car, why not use that backup as a way of trying out the above? There is no consequence. If you happen to be in a rush one day, you can use the car. But if you can't be bothered at the end of the day, it is amazing how quickly you get over that when you get outside. Habits take a few weeks to form and become normal.

After slowly becoming car-less over time, I had one weekly trip that I had been using the car for, which was about a 5 kilometre trip. It seemed too far to walk but, after trying it, it really isn't that bad. It takes about 40 minutes each way when walking with a concerted effort, whereas it took about 10 minutes in the car with all of the traffic lights and stop signs in the way. So, yes, that is an extra hour. But it's also exercise and you can listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks while you walk. That is the reason my car had gone unused for more than 3 weeks, as it was my last remaining regular car trip.

I don't know what it will be like in the winter. I have bought some good-quality winter boots and will continue to try it. To be honest, I am more concerned about the summer than the winter as the former will be far less comfortable and has the risk of severe thunderstorms. You can dress for winter.

In the spring, summer, and autumn, you also have the option of a bicycle. In my case and in my experience, it takes about the same amount of time to do groceries by bike as it does by car when you consider the startup time of the car, the shortcuts you can take, and the fact that you can park your bike right by the supermarket door and load your groceries directly into your backpack at the self-checkout, which eliminates the parking/loading/cart return process. My grocery trip that takes 1 hour on foot (2.5km walk to, time spent in store, and 2.5km walk home) takes about 20 minutes by bike.

There are some people, I'm sure, who drive about the same distance and then go into the gym attached to the supermarket, exercise for 30 minutes (and not only pay for that privilege but also burn electricity doing it), and drive home again. Pointless?

I also find that I am less likely to over-buy when shopping on foot or bicycle. I always consider that I have to carry what I am buying. And list-making is much more important. Sometimes I will go only to buy one or two things, if that's all I need. Because the main purpose is to go for the walk.

Anyway, none of this is special or revolutionary. I am simply explaining how my mostly car-less existence in the transit-less suburbs (amongst neighbours no older than middle age and with no children, but who seem to take 3-4 car trips a day) came to be. I used to drive to work and to my weekly appointment and do all of my shopping within the context of those trips, and I went for regular walks but they were shorter and they were on a circuit that didn't go anywhere in particular, except maybe to the library or post office once in awhile. Now, I take transit to work, go on longer walks that are almost always with a purpose other than exercise, and have to take my car for a walk once in awhile to keep it healthy.

There are possibilities and feasibilities that you may not have considered.

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