You don’t own a car?!

That phrase typically comes up when meeting new people.  I’ve experienced this conversation frequently since we’ve lived sans-automobile for nearly twenty years. Questions follow. How do you grocery shop? How do you visit family? How do you take your kid to insert-activity-here?

Carry coffee with bungees
With bungee cables
connected to a bike rack 
you can carry more

After experiencing this scenario repeatedly, perhaps I should document the how’s of car-free living in a town like Evanston. Here the Purple Line, Metra UPN, a developing bike network, and a strong network of clear sidewalks connect us to employers, shops, schools, beaches, parks, libraries, music lessons, dance studios, and more in a comfortably, optimally density.

Simply put -- math

When about 9/10s of our weekly trips are by foot or a bike if we need to carry groceries, it just was not worth paying what AAA estimates to be between $7,000 to $12,000 a year to own and operate a vehicle. The armchair economist in out household ran the numbers. Accounting for taxi rides and occasional weekend car rentals we’re still far into the green.  We occasionally use cars without the need to own one.

So how’d we do this? Where’d you start?

In our housing search, we picked areas with access to schools and transit first and next proximity to libraries, parks, and activities. We were looking across all housing types include apartments, condominiums, and small houses to keep options open.

When there is a decision, I create a spreadsheet. I listed the places of interests across different housing options with an estimation of walking time and the how many streets over 20 mph (“>20 mph”) or that carried over two lanes of traffic (“+2 Lanes”). We added those to get a single number.

Crossing a two-lane street with a posted 20 mph speed limit score a 0. A two-lane street over 20 mph garnered a 1. A multi-lane, 35 mph road that scored a 2.  The lower the number in both columns, the better the aesthetic was predicted to be

 

 

Apt A

Condo B

House C

 

Minutes
Walking

>20 mph
+2 Lanes

Minutes
Walking

 >20 mph
+2 Lanes

Minutes
Walking

 >20 mph
+2 Lanes

Transit

5

0

5

0

35

2

Workplace A

20

0

35

2

35

2

Workplace B

35

2

10

0

10

0

Grocery Store

15

1

7

0

15

1

School

10

0

5

0

5

0

Park

5

0

15

1

5

0

Coffee shop

7

0

35

2

7

0

Etc, etc ...

           
 


A week's groceries
can be packed into panniers
on the bike's rear rack

The faster a motorist travels, the less time they have to respond creating dangerous situations. Multilane roads are designed to move vehicles through at high volume. They’re louder, typically less pleasant to walk besides, and the volume of people driving spews more exhaust --  which my kid would then breathe. No thank you!

In short, we calculated which location that had the most short, pleasant walks to places we’d visit weekly from housing we could afford. Next to the cost of rental or ownership, it gave us simplified, systematic numbers to help compare housing options.

Doesn’t it make life harder?

In some ways maybe. But this is habit now. we only see the stress of driving, time wasted in traffic, inability to read or do other things on long trips, wasted money (gas, insurance, maintenance, taxes, monthly payments, parking tickets), and trouble of finding parking. Owning a car is just another tool. For us, the cost of ownership is not worth the price.

Make technology work for you

Bags on a bike
Everything packed neat.
Groceries without the gas
Ready to ride on

Apps and Websites have stepped up to take a lot of this guess work out of the equation. Websites and their apps such as Moovit App, Transit App, and CTA Train Tracker help get you between destinations based on where you are and the time of day. They sift through transit schedules and piece together different systems into one contiguous trip. The Transit App also shows number of bikes and open docks of near by Divvy stations. 

To estimate the cost of Rideshare or taxis see https://ride.guru/, https://lyftrideestimate.com/, https://www.uber.com/fare-estimate/, and/or https://www.lyft.com/fare-estimate. Some of these sites will even warn you about temporary price increases based on demand.

But I’m not moving. I’m not going to find a new place just for this

Don't! If you’re in place and not moving soon, stay put. Moving is expensive and disruptive. Instead, make small changes in your week. Can you commute via Metra or CTA? To avoid helmet hair, commute to your office via Metra/CTA/Pace. Bike home using Divvy. If the weather turns, use transit again.  

The point is, with a bit of creative thinking, planning, and number tracking, you may find your situation would beneift financially from dropping one or all of your cars. If you didn't have to pay a car payment (or two), where else would you use that money? What about money used for gas, new tires, tune ups, monthly parking fees? Would your commute be more enjoyable reading a book or listening to a podcast? Could you get back into shape by biking home on Divvy a few times a week? 

We've found that not owning a car has lead to many postivie lifestyle changes. We don't need a gym because we walk or bike most places. I read more and listen to informative podcasts on longer trips. For us, this decision is well beyond just our money and time. 

But there is no way I could give up my car!

Nor is anyone asking you to. Trains and buses don’t run everywhere or on everyone’s schedule. Perhaps that would be different if transportation funding was equitable (but that’s beyond my scope here). Rideshare and taxis can be expensive if used daily.

Many Evanston families meet this idea in the middle with owning one car and Metra's monthly pass.

Each household has to make its own decisions based on data in your big picture. For us, owning a car is just not worth the hassle, time, effort, or expense required. I merely wanted to put forward the idea that -- owning a car is not a requirement for modern society.