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Our Fourth Anniversary of being Car Free!!

By Steve Atlas

By Steve on Jun 5, 2008

Paul Cooley of Sante Fe New Mexico, writes in his blog about how his family transitioned to a Car Free family. This past May they celebrated their 4th year of being Car Free!! Congratulations Paul!! Hear about it in his owns words:

It’s our fourth carfree anniversary today. I had hoped to write a long essay touching on what we’ve learned in the last four years, but my honeybees are keeping me very busy right now. A few quick comments is all I can manage, then I have to bike off to the hardware store for some more 1 by 10′s to build more beehives.

We did not get rid of the car primarily to save money. However — gas was $1.65 a gallon when we watched our ’98 Saab pull out of the driveway, which is now a garden, for the last time. During the past four years, we have rented cars twice, most recently to drive to our canoe trip down the Mississippi. Each time, we have been very happy to hand the car back over to the rental agency. I’ve always had the feeling, when I filled up a tank of gas, that I might as well take a handful of cash and put a match to it. I guess I never felt that the service rendered — being propelled along the road without doing anything — equaled the cash required.

It is difficult to categorize many of the changes in our life as either positive or negative. Naturally, I would say I have a high degree of inertia. We did not become the type of family that goes out and bikes great distances every week. We live, generally, very locally. I’m quite happy about that. The coffee shop and restaurant in the shopping center down the street are very good, and they’re right there. There’s regular grocery stores in our neighborhood, one natural food store about ten minutes away by bike, and across the street from that store is Home Depot. It is perhaps a BIG negative that I will patronize a place like Home Depot, that is easy to get to, and relative easy to park my bike at — though they did take away the bike rack, they were required by local law to have — than to the local hardware store Empire Builder, that is a little harder to get to and requires locking up to a chain link fence across the street. I believe in shopping locally. With a little more effort, I could do more of my shopping locally, but I am in the grips of carfree inertia. We even have to force ourselves into the habit of going to the Farmer’s Market. At the end of the summer, the Farmer’s Market gets its permanent home in the redeveloped railyard. In the meantime, it’s been shuffled around. I’m almost like a honeybee; when it gets moved, I act like I have no idea how to find it. Of course, most of those things have more to do with my personality and habits of living than with being carfree.

My kids, through being my kids, also stay close to home for the most part. We have a local public school that’s pretty good, that they ride their scooters to in the morning. They play in the local park, have friends in the neighborhood, and generally live the way kids use to live before they began to be schlepped around by mini-van everywhere. I do wonder, sometimes, if they’re missing out. We’re not going to enroll them in soccer, because the soccer practice is out on the edge of town. Some friends we don’t see often. We don’t take trips up into the mountains to hike. Riding the bus downtown is a big thing. Renting a car to take a trip is a really big thing. Are our children suffering for our decision? When I look at them, I don’t think so. Maybe a private school across town would be better. But they’re learning, and they’re engaged in the world independent of what they get at school. They read and look at books. They catch things outside and bring them in to identify in the Encyclopedia. They’ve adopted an elderly neighbor and spend a good deal of time helping her out. They ride their bicycles and play frisbee in the street. It’s not like their lives are unbearably dull because we don’t drive them around.

In terms of working as a beekeeper, yes, it would be much easier to have a truck. I could move several hives at a time, I could take them out into the country, into apple orchards and organic farms, and so I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the bees bothering neighbors here in the city. I would be making more money, possibly, but I’d also be paying more money for the truck and the gasoline, and I would be expanding faster, making even more work for myself. I’m trying to serve as a template for local, non-petroleum (or biofuel, or electricity) reliant micro-agriculture on a neighborhood scale. While I don’t like to dwell on doomsday scenarios, we may be heading into a time when neighborhood agriculture means the difference between a rich, well-fed, community life and a life where a group of angry people shoot at each other while fighting over the last bag of Potato chips. Even if (Peak Oil, Global Warming, the Avian Flu, radical Islam, fundamental Christianity, insert your disaster), doesn’t bring the world to a state of chaos, neighbors feeding neighbors is a very good way to go.

I am very aware and very grateful of the fact I live in a community that is so easy to traverse by bicycle, that has so many stores, restaurants, cafés, etc within walking and biking distance. I’m grateful to Governor Richardson for pushing for the commuter rail against all the dissent from people who see no point to it. I’m grateful that we have one of the best Farmer’s Markets in the nation, and that most of the vendors use organic methods. I am VERY impatient with all the people who say, “It’s just too dangerous to bicycle in Santa Fe.” Evidently, they haven’t tried it. Everyone is clamoring for trails, and while some trails serve an important function — the Santa Fe Rail Trail cuts right through the city, at least on our end, and would serve Eldorado nicely if they would only pave it all the way out to that bedroom community — the roads in Santa Fe are fine for riding on.

I don’t know how well this way of living would work if we lived in a cookie cutter suburb with high-speed, no shoulder access roads. I know there are people who are successfully carfree in those situations, but it seems it would be both stressful and dull. I applaud all of you who are doing that.

What was most surprising, perhaps, was that getting rid of the car didn’t not immediately slow me down. For the first couple of years, if I saw a light turning yellow, I would start pedaling harder to get through it, even if it was much too far away. The programming to speed through a yellow light remained in place for a long time. I’m trying to live a sane, meditative, scholarly, orderly life. Getting rid of the car has helped with that, but I’m still scatterbrained. I get up in the morning with enough tasks on my mind to fill an entire week — I’ve got to build bee hives, do some grocery shopping, check that hive that looks like it’s about to swarm, write a blog entry, check my email, write some letters, bake some bread, etc. On top of that, I want to read. I want to make some time for meditation. I have a type B philosophy with a type A personality. I set the timer to sit and read for an hour, and after five minutes, I have to jump up and look at the clock. Sometimes I deceive myself into thinking that, if I did have a car, I could get all those errand things out of the way, and I would have more time. Luckily, I’m not stupid enough to buy that argument. I can remember rushing around even more when I had a car. I’m trying to focus on relaxing in my tasks. Unfortunately, I’m just not a task-happy person. If I spend the day engaged in tasks, I look back at the day and think, “I wasted a day doing stuff.” If I read most of the day, well, actually, I do feel happier, but then I think “Man, now I have to do twice as much stuff tomorrow.” I think that, as I get older, more things are falling into place, either that, or I’m more forgiving of myself.

So happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! Park those cars and walk, bike, or ride the bus. And all you Democrats out there, please contact your representatives in Washington and let them know that, if anything, gas prices are too low, and they need to be looking at spurring conservation and planning for the long term rather than pandering to voters who have not been educated about the real problems and real challenges we’re facing. We are all suffering now, it’s true, but the suffering is going to be much greater if we don’t start reorganizing the way we live right now.”

Paul Cooley -

Carfree Family

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