Living a Car-Free Life

Editor’s note: Yesterday we asked readers to write and share their stories about car-sharing. This is the first installment. We’d like to know how you feel about
car-sharing services, whether they’ve changed your transportation
choices and travel behavior, whether you’ve sold your personal car, or
held off on buying a new vehicle. Feel free to send your story to tips@sf.streetsblog.org.

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Living car-free, or car-lite, as I like to say, has had a huge impact on my life. My husband and I haven’t owned a car since 2001 when we sold the 1998 Honda Civic we bought new not long after we got married. The push to sell the car came from me. I had changed jobs and instead of working in South San Francisco I was working in downtown SF. Since I was the one who drove to work 2 to 3 times a week (taking my bike on Cal Train the other days) I was sick of worrying about getting parking tickets if we failed to move the car on street cleaning days, tired of wondering if it would be broken into or stolen. And the fiscally prudent Yankee in me hates depreciating assets sitting around eating up insurance and maintenance money.

What allowed me to sell my husband on going car-free was City CarShare. At the time we were more concerned about our ability to get out of the City on the weekends to do things.  Back then we "needed" a car to do things.  Now, when I look back at how worried we were it makes me laugh. Car-schmar, who needs it? 

In 2001, there was only one Car Share Pod within a mile of our place.  We walked about 10 blocks to get a car. Now we have 4 pods within six blocks of where we live yet we use cars less then ever. Yes, our vehicle miles traveled has definitely gone down, while our miles walked and miles biked continues to climb. Interestingly, our miles traveled by Muni is probably about the same. NextBus makes Muni more convenient than it used to be, but my bike is still more reliable.


So what do we do without a car?  How do we live?  We walk and bike a lot more.  We are lucky to have a great small grocery store three blocks away, Golden Natural Foods, and we go to Rainbow Grocery or Trader Joe’s with our bike trailer once a month or so. Given the choice between taking a CarShare grocery shopping, or my bike, I will always choose the bike and trailer.  I have developed a very low threshold for parking lot shenanigans.

When we want to get out of town for the day we plan a trip with our bikes and BART, or Golden Gate Transit, and for longer getaways we rent a car, for a week in Tahoe or a long weekend on the North Coast. Our car-lite life carries over even on those type of trip. We frequently park the car when we arrive at our destination and get around on foot and by bike. Now, when I look back at photos of ourselves from the days when we owned a car we both look decidedly…puffy.  We are certainly more fit and healthy now that most of our transportation needs are met on bikes or feet.

One of the best things is the time and fun we regained. Most of our friends are car-free or car-lite as well. We go on fantastic bike trips, for a day or overnight or longer.  We’ve taken our bikes on Amtrak to Colorado, to Oregon, and to Sacramento on the Capitol Corridor.  Car-free has become more then just a sensible decision that we made with the help of City Car Share.  It’s become a way of life for us. A way of life that has become permanent and fun.

  • The most important part of living car-free is deciding on a good place to live. If you are living on a hill, not close to any public transit and if your closest grocery store is too far away, it’ll be too hard to live without a car.

    I have two grocery stores within two blocks of my SOMA apartment and work is a 10 min. walk to civic center. Everything is so close that I don’t even have to ride my bike very much. I agree with the article that its so much of a pain to deal with a car on a regular basis. When we rent a car for the occasional weekend out of town, I am always so glad to turn it in. I really don’t know how people can deal with parking all the time.

  • Justin Dossey

    Yes! My wife and I sold our car in 2002. We’ve been car-free since, though I have a motorcycle that I use when I need to be somewhere in a hurry. Like you, we use City Carshare for the once-every-six-weeks we actually need to haul more than we can carry easily.

    I’ve found that San Francisco is so small that unless you have a disability, it’s easy to walk just about anywhere. I just allocate sufficient time to make it to my destination. I’ve found that walking just a few miles a day leaves me more energetic and also more appreciative of this beautiful city.

  • mike

    Car free = care free!