The Low Down On Green Living
January 7th, 2008
Tie me up in an organic cotton straight jacket– I am going car-less in Los Angeles. Ironically, my decision was not based entirely on my desire to stop global warming. There are plenty of good environmental and financial reasons to transition away from automobile dependence, but simply spending less time driving around the Los Angeles metro area is reason enough. I can’t wait for the little bit of simplicity getting rid of my car will bring to my life. I am saying goodbye to insurance payments, gas prices, service, repairs, DMV registration, and car washes, along with my carbon emitting chariot.
The quest to live a car free life does not make me a lead light. I’m just joining the ranks of a growing number of people choosing to forgo automobile ownership. Memberships in car share programs worldwide grew 200% between 2000 and 2006 and the number of companies in the U.S. selling bikes designed for commuting has more than doubled since 2002. Our friend Siel, AKA green LA girl is a devoted car-free woman, and she has written some great pieces on her experience with “de-car-ing.” You can read and learn from her as well.
The financial savings alone are reason enough to make the switch. My personal financial savings will be approximately $400 per month, which in the 10 years remaining on my car, would add up to $85,000 in an IRA savings account. Better yet, going without a car until retirement would result in a $1.4 million IRA saving. At which point, I could buy the most expensive clean-fuel car on the market.
There are four major factors to reflect on when considering a car-free life: location, access to a public transportation system, a bike and a car share membership. Obviously, not everyone can adjust their lives to fit a car free lifestyle, but it is well worth considering. If just 2 out of every 100 U.S. drivers went without a personal vehicle the annual carbon dioxide savings would be over 26 million tons.
Location is the single most important factor in deciding whether you can go without a car or not. A residence close to your workplace, convenient to public transportation, a car share parking spot and other necessary amenities is essential. I recently found an apartment one block from a major transportation artery and public transit stops, five blocks from my office and three blocks from a car share pick-up spot. Equally important, there is a grocery store, drug store and gym all in close proximity to my new place. My local luxuries in central LA include a farmers’ market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, movie theatre, music hall, great restaurants, bakeries and swanky street shopping within walking or biking distance. The right location will make life without a car anything but a sacrifice. I plan to enjoy every penny of my $400 monthly savings in a truly local sense.
2) Public Transportation
A good public transportation system can make a huge difference in the convenience of living without a car. Los Angeles actually has a fairly efficient, comprehensive transit system. I started using the bus to familiarize myself with local routes and fares even before getting rid of my car. It’s cheap, easy and practical for a whole host of trips that don’t justify a shared car or suit a bike ride, unless you’re in Lance Armstrong condition.
Surprisingly, you do not need to live in a major metropolis like New York or Los Angeles to have access to decent public transportation. The American Public Transporation Association (APTA) presented its 2007 Best Transit Agencies Awards to Elk Grove, California; St. Cloud, Minnesota; Lansing, Michigan; and Cleveland, Ohio – previous winners are located in equally surprising cities. Wherever you live and whatever your automobile situation, consider public transportation. There is nothing more appealing than a successful man or woman who has the confidence and sensibility to forgo a status vehicle in lieu of the subway.
3) A Bike
Bike-riding is the all around best mode of transportation. It improves physical and mental health, saves money and reduces air pollution. It is often faster to bike to a destination, depending on the distance and traffic conditions, and parking is easy too. If you enjoy riding and don’t mind the need for a post ride shower or change, you are poised to delight in some seriously low impact commuting. I have chosen to use a bike primarily for weekend outings and errands, when I’m less worried about a little sweat. I do hope to eventually ride more, but weekend trips are a good start.
I found the perfect used bike at a small local shop for only $150. It’s an old school Murray with a square wire basket on the handle bars. Used bikes are cheaper, greener and just as lovable as new bikes. However at Low Impact Living, we do come across some pretty amazing new bikes designed for commuting. The Areaware design collective in New York and Citizen Bike are making fold-up models that are perfect for carrying on the subway and storing in small apartments. Canadian based Jorge & Olif make a commuter bike that looks like it was designed for Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Even want-to-be-green retail giant, Walmart, is selling the Schwinn Meridian Adult Tricycle, which has two wheels in the rear to accommodate an extra large storage basket for groceries, briefcases or anything else you may need transport. For me choosing a bike is the best part of the transition.
4) Car Sharing
Let’s face it, sometimes you just need a car or a truck for that matter. Having easy access to a car or truck through my local car share service is what finally gave me the confidence to sell my personal vehicle. The car share company in Los Angles, called FlexCar, was recently acquired by Zip Car. The two combined companies now operate in the following U.S. metropolitan areas: New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Rates vary by city and usage, but you basically join for a nominal fee and then pay by the hour or day depending on your needs. What makes it better than traditional car renting is the lack of time wasted during the check-in and check-out process. Plus, the cost of gas, insurance, and roadside assistance is included. You simply go online or call-in your reservation and go get the reserved vehicle at the chosen place and time. Your membership card unlocks the doors and a key and gas card are waiting in the glove compartment. Return the car where you got it and lock-up with your membership card. It’s that easy and way more affordable, if you require only occasional use.
As a fledgling member of the car-free community, I welcome comments and suggestions from those of you who are more experienced in the ways of car-less living.
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