One of the things that we thought was going to be a really tough to change was our reliance on having a car. We’ve reduced our usage over the years but it’s a pretty different concept to go completely car free. That said this has been one of the things that has been easier than we thought it would be. A couple of things have helped this and a couple of things have occurred to me as a result of it.
One of the big differences is that we simply can’t do as many things. I think this is a good thing, though I must admit we’re still in transition. You simply cant get to as many places in a single day. Want to go to the beach, that’s fine, but don’t expect to head across town to your favorite cheese shop, detour past a mates place and call in on the in-laws on the way back home. Like I said though, I think this is a good thing, surely much of the pressure that we feel is because of an expectation to cram as much in to every day as we possibly can. I think we’d probably enjoy life a lot more if we did less, but what we did do was intentional, planned and we were totally and completely present when we did it, not thinking about what was next on the cards.
I’m also beginning to wonder if spontaneity, or at least the type sold by SUV merchants is a complete con. I’ve always had this feeling that I’m being had when I see the ads showing the couple driving the black SUV suddenly becoming more interesting or adventurous because they bought a ‘go anywhere’ car. I’m wondering if the opposite is in fact true. If we are forced to really consider not only where but how we can get to a place then there is a period of planning and anticipation that I think is quite wonderful, sort of like planning the holiday and thinking of all the cool things that you are going to do there. Maybe the fact that we don’t have that and can just bounce from place to place isn’t what makes us happy, or maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but it’s a thought.
Like I said there are a couple of things that have made our transition to non-car life much easier. The first is that we live in an area with very good public transport. This gives us an unfair advantage but it was a very deliberate action. When we started looking for houses we both worked at the same hospital. We figured that 10km was a distance that we could ride easily and would not be far enough to make us lazy on those cold, wet winter days. So we drew a circle of 10km around our work, then another 10km from the city. Where these two circles intersected, that’s where we looked and that’s where we ended up buying. Our proximity to the city also means that we have a lot of access to a wide range of shops.
But the biggest thing that has really made going car-free possible is our cargo bike. When our first child was 2 and a half and our second about 6 months old we realised that things like walking to the shops was becoming a nightmare. We could get them there sure, but we didn’t have space for anything but a couple of loaves of bread and a bottle of milk. We tried precarious boxes on top of prams, backpacks full of vegies but none of it was easy. The solution, we figured was to get a bike that could not only carry the kids but also carry the shopping, a cargo bike. I don’t know where we first saw these true Sports Utility Vehicles but you’ve probably seen them kicking around the streets (they tend to stand out). Basically it’s a two or three wheel bike with a box on the front. We visited a cargo bike picnic, arranged to borrow one for a week and we were sold. Now they’re not cheap but after a bit of waiting (and persistent hassling) we scored ourselves a second hand bike for about $2800. I know this is a lot of money but when you consider that new they are about $3500 that means that the resale value of it is excellent, unlike a car that loses a fair chunk of its value as soon as you turn the key the first time.
So we bought the cargo bike. We settled on a 3 wheeler because it’s got a bigger box and you don’t need to put your feet down or balance at traffic lights. That said it doesn’t ride quite like a bike as the balance with three wheels is all weird, so there was some retraining required. I’ll also say that Peter from PS Bikes (psbikes.com.au) looked after us brilliantly. Not only did he give us great service and support but you really get the feeling that these are like his children he seems to care so much about them. So after a couple of adjustments and the very solid installation of a baby capsule we had a family machine as you can see from this old photo that appeared in our local council sustainability magazine.
I can honestly say we haven’t looked back for an instant. The first thing you notice is how much fun it is. Not only do you spend almost all your time speaking with your kids since they are right in front of you and easily with reach and hearing, but it is impossible to ride anywhere without getting smiles and even the occasional request for a lift. Going to the market is a breeze as I just load everything (including the kids) into the box and can even detour on the way back via the park. We ride to the zoo, to Nannas and can even get right across town because the bike fits happily on the train as you can see.
Again it’s not for everyone but I can honestly say it’s a great way to travel and the bench seat/storage box houses a rain hood and picnic gear so even bad weather is not a great problem. If this sounds like something that might interest you (and you happen to be in Melbourne) why not head down on the 9th to Port Melbourne to check out the next cargo bike picnic (http://dutchcargobike.com.au/2012/11/melbourne-picnic-9th-december/) where you can try all the different types of cargo bikes. If not maybe just think about what trips you can walk or catch public transport to or check out one of the many car share schemes that are popping up.