Shortly after I started bike commuting, I also started following the blogs of other bike commuters. Some of my favorites, such as Hum of the City, The Invisible Visible Man, and Brooklyn Spoke, also proudly espouse cycling for all types of trips, including dropping off kids at school and grocery shopping, and generally living “car-free.” While I am deeply sympathetic to their choices, living in transit-mediocre Riverdale and having a newborn at home means that I can’t quite make the leap to car-free yet. Nonetheless, my family and I have recently made the jump to living “car-light.”
In each of our previous 2 home communities, in suburban NJ and suburban Chicago, 2 cars were practically required. Transit, when it was even available, was infrequent, distant, and rarely actually went where we wanted to go. Walking, when it was even possible due to the lack of sidewalks in some places, involved long trip times to get to anything interesting. Even bicycling for recreation was often far more pleasant starting out at a parking lot near a park than starting from home.
While getting around in Riverdale without a car may not be so easy, it is far more do-able than in the suburbs. Besides, owning a car, let alone two, is not so easy either. In the suburbs, we had private driveways leading up to our door, and plentiful parking at all local destinations. In Riverdale, parking at your destination is the exception, not the rule, and you generally consider yourself lucky if you have to walk only a block to your destination from the nearest available parking spot. If you happen to move your car within a few hours of when street-cleaning takes effect, good luck finding a new spot. Even if you arrive earlier, unless you can be sure you will leave before street-cleaning takes effect, parking can be a challenge.
While we’ve considered paying for parking in a garage, adding an additional cost to our already vastly higher cost-of-living seemed difficult to justify. So for nearly a year we’ve been juggling our 2 cars around the various parking restrictions in our neighborhood. When I drove to work every day, this was not a huge hassle other than occasionally having to walk 3-4 blocks after parking each evening, which was anyhow much less than the amount of walking necessary to navigate transit from Riverdale to Jersey City. However, after I started cycling to work more frequently, the 2nd car became much more of a pain.
After about a month of juggling the second car, and numerous commutes by car necessitated only by the complete lack of non-street-cleaning parking spots, we made the jump to just one car. Frankly, were it not for our occasional shopping trips to destinations further North that are only accessible by car, and for the fact that it is neither safe nor legal to take a newborn on a bicycle, we might have made the jump to completely car-free. Even my older daughter’s school is only 1.5 miles away, or easy jogging distance, but having to take both her and our newborn daughter along for the ride for pick-up and drop-off means that is impractical to walk/jog. Even so, my wife takes a jogging stroller in the trunk and leaves the car at the pre-school for the day so she can avoid the street-cleaning restrictions and at least get some exercise for half the trip.
Meanwhile, I’ve forsaken taking the car for all but family trips with the kids and trips to suburban destinations, opting instead for the bike for most personal trips. We’ve already reaped plenty of tangible benefits. Our car-related costs are way down, as our insurance was lowered after informing the insurance company of our decreased car-dependence, and maintenance must be performed far less often. Gasoline costs are down, but not as much as they otherwise would be since I no longer drive to NJ to fill up, and NY gasoline prices are much higher. My weight is down, too, but also not as much as expected since frequent cycling makes me very hungry.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive to those living in car-dependent suburbs or in the outer reaches of outer boroughs, giving up on the 2nd car and going car-light actually improved our travel options, at least at the local level. Without the need to move a car due to the impending street-cleaning, we felt less compelled to use the car for shorter trips around the neighborhood. We can visit local destinations more easily by walking or cycling. Best of all, we rarely have to make dedicated trips to the nearest gas station or oil change station. Now we are pondering a move further into the center of NYC, to the even more transit-rich and car-unfriendly Upper West Side. With any luck, we will soon be able to make the big leap to car-free.