Are You With Me?
I am not bold or brave or better than anyone else. I’m just trying to be consistent with my own beliefs.
If that interests you and you want to know more, please read on.
Let me address and dispel a few things right up front: yes, I own a car and know how to drive, have done so for years. I’m a really good driver, if I do say so, even have driven professionally. I don’t hate cars but I think they are the cause of a lot of problems, social and environmental. I do hate car commuting and driving in rush-hour traffic. I live in a region with pretty good public transit, better in some places than in others, so I have options other people do not.
I live in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, an old and mostly leafy town founded around Northwestern University, with which the City haggles or cooperates, depending on whether you’re talking about tax revenues or basic services. It’s a nice place to live with decent, down-to-earth people, many professionals but also people of more modest means. Despite the best efforts of some really dedicated and caring people, we have not conquered racism in town nor under-achievement in the schools, but folks are trying. Developers are going crazy with high-rise condo buildings that take advantage of TIF districts. More density could be good for transit and bikes but every condo allots plenty of room for garages. We also have our share of starter mansions for the newcomers who must have the biggest footprint and cleanest drywall and look-at-me-I’m-big-and-new house on the leafy street. God forbid you’d want to live modestly in nice older house.
Oh, and Evanston unlike many newer, car-centric, prairie-destroying suburbs, has sidewalks that people actually walk on. Imagine that. I know, because I walk to and from the train and I meet my many neighbors while I walk my dog. A neighborhood, really.
Basics: Work and Food
My current job is on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, about 16 miles from my house. My wife works several jobs on the North and Northwest Sides, one about 9 miles away, one about 7 miles away. We have chosen houses based on proximity to transit and grocery stores. We rejected attractive suburban houses for lack of these services nearby.
I generally depend on a combination of walking and the Metra North Line suburban train. Occasionally, I use the Chicago Transit Authority Purple Line elevated train and buses.
I don’t need to use a bike but I do at least a few days a week to commute. My wife is hard-core and commutes through the winter on her bike most every day.
We actually have two Subarus, one serviceable 2003 Forester and one 1990 Legacy wagon needing $2,700 worth of work to be safe and usable, far more than it is worth in resale.
I have one 1996 Trek hybrid that’s had a couple major rebuilds since then but is a great commuter bike. Panniers on the back help and lights for the night time. Nancy has a hybrid, an old women’s bike, and a fixie…and those are just the active bikes. She has choices, I have alternatives, like the trains.
A Few Other Things
A few other things about us that set this all up:
- We really are concerned about what cars are doing to the atmosphere and the earth. Can we do something in our own way to staunch the damage?
- We are both long-time cyclists and transit riders. My independence as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh was premised on them both.
- Our car use and mileage are both way down in recent years due especially to bike and transit use.
- Our kids are older so we don’t have the needs of carting them to baseball or lacrosse or childcare or friends’ houses.
- Finding out the old Subaru needed $2,700 of work pointed out costs of car ownership even on a very old car.
- My wife has threatened to get rid of the cars and turn the garage into a greenhouse—I figured, “one step at a time there, cowgirl.”
- My wife “bought” a used bike trailer in exchange for old baseball equipment in the Spring.
- We’ve both been trying to run local errands using the bike or combining them with walking my large dog: bread store, hardware store, library in Wilmette, Post Office, coffee beans, ice cream, hardware store on Central Street in Evanston. Walking to grocery shopping at Dominick’s on Green Bay Road, about four blocks away. Other shopping and gyms in downtown Evanston
- We have also experienced first-hand the arrogance of many car drivers towards cyclists and have had our share of close calls.
- At the same time, we know that we ourselves have tended to become aggressive and competitive behind the wheel, making us no better than anyone else. We have also been the beneficiaries of more and more polite drivers giving us the right-of-way, interestingly, moreso in Chicago. I’ve even seen the positive change in respect for bike lanes in Chicago, especially along Elston Avenue. Most drivers actually stay out of it, even when backed up for long lights at North Avenue and Fullerton. This was not always the case.
And That’s It…for Now
So there you have it: we decided to put our money where our mouth is and try car-free under the best conditions first.
So follow along and let’s see how this car-free summer goes.
Thanks to my good friend Scott Davis of Pittsburgh for suggesting I keep a journal. Be careful what you suggest to me, Scott.