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Here is a guest post by Mark Cramer, author of the acclaimed Old Man on a Green Bike: Chronicles of a Self-Serving Environmentalist. Cramer writes about his experiences of bike commuting in Paris, where he has experienced cycling against traffic on one-way streets. He also lets us know how cycling in Paris has changed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Cramer describes his experiences of bicycle commuting, touring and other challenges on three different continents, including at 12,000 feet above sea level in Bolivia.
In this post, Cramer presents his top 7 tips to go car-free!
Over to Mark Cramer:
My family and I have lived without a car for a quarter of a century. My wife and I were able to raise a son without owning a car. With those life experiences as my credentials, I offer these seven concrete tips for transitioning to car-free liberation:
Tip #1: Determine the optimal car-free place to live
The easiest way to car-free-dom is to move to a place that has excellent public transportation, and if you bicycle, one that has safe bicycling infrastructure. However, recognizing that most readers live in places that are more challenging than San Francisco, Amsterdam, Paris and Portland, other tips in this list confront challenges faced in the typical American sprawl-burdened city.
Tip #2: Choose appropriate housing
Consider car-centric Southern California as our laboratory. The most important strategic decision is to find housing near a mass transit station. In Los Angeles or Orange County, this would be the Metrolink light rail or a regular Metro line that connects with Metrolink.
Thirty-six American cities have mass transit ridership above 10% of all trips. LA is ranked 35. NYC tops the list at 56%. Dozens of other American cities show increased transit facilities. For example, in Phoenix, citizens voted to expand light rail. A car-lobby-sponsored Proposition 105 in 2019 would have halted the expansion of a successful light rail system, but 63% of Phoenix citizens voted to uphold the rail expansion, while also voting against budget reductions on the project. Finding housing near transit is increasingly possible across the USA.
Tip #3: Use blended transport
Back to Southern California, let’s consider Santa Clarita, a city so sprawling that it contains three Metrolink stations. The commuter can bike to the station, put the bike into the special “bike car,” and relax on the way to work in Burbank, Glendale or LA — that is, if the exit station is walking or cycling distance to the workplace. Metrolink is not cheap, but many companies offer transit subsidies to public transportation users as well as benefits for employees who cycle to work. Even with no subsidy, using transit is much cheaper than depending on a car.
Tip #4: Prepare for the weather
Both Orange County and Santa Clarita (LA County) can be blistering hot in the summer. Both pedestrian and bicycle commuters can avoid the heat on the way to work by walking or cycling slowly to the first early morning train when the air is still fresh. For the return, once home you can shower. On the hottest days I’ve simply cycled slowly, worn a tee-shirt and then changed to my work clothes after arrival. Many bike-friendly businesses have shower facilities on premises.
For cold weather, dress in layers. Once on the roll you warm up and can remove a layer. For rainy weather, inexpensive waterproof toppings can prevent the bike rider from getting soaked in anything less than a monsoon.
Related Post: 7 of the Best Waterproof Cycling Jackets
Tip #5: Locate your residence strategically for shopping and other common errands
Choose a residence within a half mile of a supermarket and within a mile of a public school if you have a child. My grandson Zane in Irvine, California lived 1.3 miles from his school, and he and I walked there together. For shopping you can use a shopping caddy with wheels for groceries.
Buying less than a trunk load not only results in an enjoyable walk but allows you to choose fewer industrial-nonperishable foods because you can shop more frequently. By shopping twice a week instead of just once, you’ll find yourself making better dietary choices.
Tip #6: Redefine your road trips
Love a good road trip and don’t have a car? Just rent one. Renting is much less expensive than owning. My wife and I also have done many road trips by bicycle, where you feel the contour of the land and take in the aroma of the countryside.
If I could change one thing in my life, it would be to have done more road trips by bike. You can place the bikes on a train to get yourself out of the city. Metrolink offers bike cars free of charge. For longer getaways carry-on bike fees for Amtrak range from $0 to $20.
Tip #7: Reject the stigma of not owning a car
Being seen on a bus in Southern California can be more embarrassing than being spotted in a porn shop. Car-indoctrinated LA folks look at car-lessness like homelessness. Some Angelinos see not owning a car as even more degrading than not having a home. Here’s a quote from a chat group that expresses the stigma:
If I weren’t involved in a relationship and had no plans of being in one, then I would ditch the car in a second. Cars are more social requirement in the USA than a true necessity. I think there are very few people in the States who would be fine with someone arriving at a date on bike. Many people would see this as a sign of poverty, instability, or immaturity, but at least hinting at social deviance.”
More than the challenges of transportation, shopping, weather and getting kids to school, the social stigma of not owning a car is the toughest obstacle and the most absurd part of our car-lobby-induced conditioning. Consider that no movie hero has ever taken a bus, except for Harrison Ford, and he was Richard Kimble, the fugitive.
Precious few American movies feature a bicycle rider as a hero, and none have a hero who rides a bike for transportation. Hollywood has been glaringly complicit with the car lobby.
When I finally realized my car dependency was an addiction fomented by the Consciousness Industry, raging defiance took over and I dumped my car.
But things are changing. Millennials are less hooked on cars. Public transportation has gained popularity among voters. Too bad most environmental movements have been slow to integrate healthy and cost-free human energy into their programs
4 Reasons to Go Car-Free (also by Mark Cramer)
Cycling Against Traffic on One-Way Streets (also by Mark Cramer)
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