Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Fascination with Car-Free Living, Part 1

The Conscious Shopper dreams of the car-free life

I've never been a fan of driving - I didn't get my drivers' license until I was a senior in high school, nearly 18 years old. When my parents pressured me to get my license, I responded, "When I graduate, I'm moving to New York City, so I'm not going to need to know how to drive." Well, that didn't happen, but going to college in a city where I needed a car didn't make me love driving any better.

I'd love to give up my car and ride a bike all over town if it weren't for the three little ones that live with me. The fact is that as much as I keep drooling, a Madsen Bike is never going to be in the budget, and even if one was, I doubt I'd have the muscle power to haul my three boys up Raleigh's hills. If I lived somewhere flatter...

Although I have to concede that the family biking lifestyle won't work for my family, I'm still fascinated by others that are able to do it. For instance, this guest post by Abbie at New Urban Habitat about her family's decision to go car-free. Abbie has written many times at her own blog about the pros and cons of the car-free lifestyle, and her archives are worth taking a look at.

But I'm most especially fascinated with the Dutch bike culture. They don't even wear helmets, for heaven's sake! This video is absolutely amazing:

Are you a city bike rider? What tips do you have for me and other Green Phone Booth readers?


Dea-chan said...

Obey traffic laws. I almost want to repeat it, it's that important. Don't bike in the shoulder, where there are cars parked you can't fit, so you'll swing into the road and get hit. Ride in the road a good three feet from the white line.

Wear a helmet.

Don't run red lights (yes, you have to follow traffic lights as a vehicle).

Don't use crosswalks unless you are walking your bike.

Don't ride on the sidewalk.

Just, follow the rules! This message was brought to you by those living in the Greater Boston Area who hate scab-cyclists (a.k.a. a scab on society).

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Dea-chan - Bikers who don't follow traffic rules drive me crazy. So dangerous!

Honey said...

We live in the country one rides bikes as it's DANGEROUS to be on our roads. The Saturday professional bikers scare me as we've LOTS of curvy roads and I feel as if I'm the only person that will slow down to 20ish and wait for space to pass. Folks around here just don't care.

As to the Dutch of course there isn't any helmets. Helmets are because idiots in vehicles slam into folks on bikes. When I was a kid no one wore helmets. There was only 2 times a day where there were more cars than pedestrians/bicycles...when coming and going from work or Sunday morning. We were having breakfast or...going to church so it wasn't an issue. But, nowadays, motorists ignore and endanger walkers and bikers.

I'm a BIG believer in helmets. Even my little one wears one on her tricycle...and even if she's in the house. Excessive yes, but in this world I want her in the habit of protecting her noggin. You don't ride, much less get on, your bike unless you've a helmet on. Biking is all about the defensive here. The way I see it, my children are lucky I don't make them bike inside a giant hamster ball! ;)

If only we lived in the Netherlands...I'd be car free too.


Dea-chan said...

@honey regarding helmets: people are just dumb. I know of more than one accident involving cyclist running into another cyclist and there's the classic of the cyclist that ran into the parked bus. My fiancé's sister got in a serious accident as a kid and although her helmet was cracked in half she is fine, just had a full-leg cast for a while.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is, it doesn't matter what you're hitting, but if you're going to get in an accident on a bike, and you often will, the cyclist comes out the worse for wear every time.

What I find scary? I'll see people bike the wrong way down a one way, no helmet and headphones on. They're the ones who try to make drivers hate cyclists just because they're unsafe for everyone. (I live at the termination of one one way street onto another, so I see this way too often.)

CallieK said...

I'm 47 and I still don't have a license! Of course I live in downtown Toronto where we have a great transit system. Our bike network leaves a lot to be desired tho.

Abby @ New Urban Habitat said...

Love the post. Thanks for mentioning me!

Rosa said...

My advice would be, make a biking friend! The best way to start is to go with someone who already does it.

I'm a city cycler, with one kid - we're not car-free, but we've always had between 0 and 1 cars, instead of the more common 1-2. Instead of another car we have 2 bikes each, plus a few spare for visitors. We mostly only drive on out-of-town trips and occasional required jaunts to the 'burbs (my parents are staying in a nearby suburb for part of this summer, so I'm driving several times a week, unfortunately.)

This year I traded in my Burley trailer for an Xtracycle Radish and I LOVE it. I see homemade contraptions for up to 3 or 4 kids all the time, and I think the longtails are the best of the bunch - there's a dad who comes to our farmer's market with 2 or 3 on the xtracycle (the biggest one is sometimes on her own bike).

And ignore the haters - every day at an intersection where I don't have a stop sign and the cross street does, some idiot driver shouts at me "DON'T RUN STOP SIGNS!" but now that I'm a parent, I never shout back or flip them off. Inducing road rage in idiots isn't sustainable or safe.

BluElf said...

This is worth keeping in mind as you travel on streets with a bike, or even walking or out for a run.

Aside from that, I love riding my bike, but have been a bit nervous about taking her out at the new house because of the one road we live off and I can ride on which connects towns, has one lane each way, and no where to go if I need to get off the street fast. (No shoulder, no sidewalk, just a ditch) Vehicles come up to my street from the neighboring town at 45mph speed limit which reduces after my street to a 35mph speed limit but there are a lot of folks who again, just don't care for cyclists.

Deborah said...

Hey Erin, great post!

I'm with Dea-chan: if you obey the traffic laws and use common sense you'll be fine. I'd add, a rear-view mirror can be helpful, and little LED blinky lights mean cars can still see you if you find yourself riding in a sudden rainstorm or at twilight. A decent sized basket, rear rack, or panniers is a godsend when you want to do a grocery run. I'm still figuring out how best to bring along my kids (5 and 8) who aren't really ready to cycle more than a few blocks on their own, without making the major investment in a cargo bike - I'm blogging about that at my bikey blog Loop-Frame Love if you'd like to check it out.

My friends and I organize the occasional group ride, and we've found that they really help us explore parts of our city we haven't been to before and make the idea of riding their bikes way more approachable for our friends who are novices. So, ditto to what Rosa said too: find a friend or two to bike with!

And don't worry too much: statistically speaking, driving your car and even swimming are way more dangerous than riding your bike.

Deborah said...

Oh and also: if you do go for a cargo bike or longtail someday, look for one with a little electric-assist motor to help you up those hills! =D


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