I recently read an article by Dan Erickson that discussed his experiences being 10 years without a car. Erickson pointed out that not having a car can come with some baggage. In a few examples, Erickson noted that travelling with children and making long distance trips are not as easy without car. I don’t fall into the category of someone that would be managing either of these situations, so my experience of being car-free is much different. There are many benefits to being without a car that Erickson mentioned as well. A few of these benefits deal with being more friendly with the environment, saving money and having the opportunity to take in one’s surroundings.

Photo by BRDNK Vision on Unsplash

Attitudes about Transportation

Anne E. Brown researched motivations behind no car ownership in their 2017 article. Brown provided a concise definition to two types of minimal vehicle ownership—being car-free or car-less. Car ownership was broken down to be influenced by choice or constraint. Being car-free meant that one chose to forgo a car, while being car-less mean that economic issues were the reason for being without a car. Brown found that the prevalence of being car-less decreased as income increased. Alternatively, the prevalence of being car-free increased as income increased.

Being car-free or car-less does not have to mean being isolated, but I must acknowledge the physical and environmental challenges when going car-free. For one, all cities are not pedestrian or vehicle-free friendly. Some of these cities lack sidewalks and bike lanes, which make travelling without a car difficult and potentially dangerous. Additionally, if a person is managing vision impairment or mobility issues, a lack of vehicle free options or favorable environmental conditions can be even more confining. Several cities are creating or planning for car-free options for major downtown streets. Laura Bliss wrote an article about San Francisco’s busy Market Street officially becoming car-free with large bike lanes and main streets being reserved for bus lines and trolleys. The goal for the car-free downtown streets are to reduce emissions, create safer options for bike rides and pedestrians and change the way transportation is handled within major cities. Bliss noted this trend has already began in New York, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Several articles (Jenkins; Gordon; Carver) exist that document the positive aspects of being car-free. What we don’t see as often are many stories about the people who endure long commutes or struggle to be without a car. Check out a few videos of the stories of people that are car-free and car-less below.

Keep in Mind While Watching

Discussion Question: What did you notice about the difference in narratives and the role that environment played in their stories?  

Car-Free Stories

Car-Less Stories

Raising Spatial Awareness

For nearly two years, I have utilized several resources to not feel the ping of being without a vehicle. There are questions I ask myself now that previously neve r crossed my mind. How reliable, expensive and extensive is the public transportation system? Will my apartment be close to my job/a grocery store/a laundromat/public transportation stop? How am I going to carry all my groceries and laundry back to my apartment? Good ol’ Google has allowed me to find answers to every single one of these questions. At least in East Lansing, public transportation is reliable, rather inexpensive and spreads throughout the city. Searching for similar public transportation options in my next location will be at the top of my list. Using public transportation has allowed me to save a lot of money, explore more of the city and save the trouble of trying to drive in the snow and on the ice. Kudos to those who do brave it on those days. On the topic of groceries and laundry, thankfully there are grocery delivery services and thankfully my laundry center is but a few minutes ago by foot (while pushing my trusty metal laundry cart).

A few things can happen when you go car-free. For one, you will probably become an expert map reader. Public transit maps, Google Maps, Waze, MapQuest are all tools that one might use to get from point a to point b. You learn your city and surroundings. You begin to pay attention those bus routes, side streets, main streets and major traffic areas because you need to know faster routes.

When going car-free you become aware of when you forget things and the weight of things rather quickly. Forgetting to pack an umbrella before your 20-minute walk to campus can be a little scary when the clouds above you look like they’re about pour clear confetti on you at any second. Wearing a heavy backpack for too long can leave your back internally screaming for a few days. There is a lot of planning that goes into being car-free and car-less. By being without a car, you learn to make your trips count and to be more aware of the physical and environmental aspects of your current location and destination. You learn to convert distance into time and time into money. On one hand, you could save money by taking time to explore the city on your pedestrian or public transit journey; on the other hand, you could save time by getting from point A to point B quicker for a fee. There is always a trade-off while choosing between travelling the distance on foot or by transit and using car services like Lyft or Uber to get to the destination.

Going car-free may not be feasible for everyone’s lifestyle. However, through whatever mode of transportation we choose, we can all embrace the geographer in all of us. Every time we travel from point a to point b, whether on a bus, in a car, on a train or on foot, we have the opportunity to learn something new about our environment and surroundings.

About the Author

Kyeesha M. Wilcox (wilcox49@msu.edu) is a second year master’s student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University.