A mom can’t go grocery shopping, pick up kids from soccer practice & take family dog to the vet on a bicycle. Not anti-bike; just saying…😉
— Jodie Emery (@JodieEmery) August 5, 2017
Seven years ago we mulled over getting rid of our car and at the time it was an audacious and unconventional move. At the time we just had the one kid and we lived in a highly walkable area of Vancouver. People told us we’d regret it, we’d have emergencies and be stuck, but that never happened. Instead, we paid off a bunch of debt, felt free-er (as free-er as you can feel with a toddler) and saved more money to pay off our consumer debts and student loans. We had a lot of life changes for the next few years, moving overseas, growing our family and moving house a few times and finally moving back to Canada.
With each transition we evaluated if we really needed a car. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t. Our last transition was almost a year ago when we no longer needed a vehicle to get our son to school. Our car was used once in a month and then we paid over $400 for it to be serviced. That’s one expensive trip. It was time to reevaluate if we needed a car and our conclusion was we didn’t. So we’ve spent the last year getting our three young kids around mostly by walking, sometimes by using transit, by cargo bike and infrequently by car with a car-share or a car rental.
Vancouver is a fantastic city for transportation options. In July I spent two weeks on a course that was on the west side of Vancouver. The location was an 1 hour walk/12 minute drive/35 minute bike/35 minute bus ride away. And I used all of those transport options over the week. Some days I walked there, enjoying the beautiful weather and the spectacular views of the North Shore mountains as I walked over the Burrard Street bridge. It was really the best way to start my day. The downside to it was that I had to leave before my kids woke up so I missed seeing them (yeah I will try to avoid ever getting a job I need to leave the house at 6:50am for). Many days I took a Mobi bikeshare bike to the course. The bike lanes and routes lined up well for the trip and it was safe and convenient. It was a refreshing start to the day and I loved that I had the option to not bike home (also didn’t have to worry about a bike being stolen – bike theft is very high in Vancouver). The bus was also pretty convenient: there’s a stop kitty corner to my apartment building and if I wanted to get out early to stretch my legs and walk some of the way there it was easy to do. A few days when I needed to get home quickly or there was an emergency (kids were sick) I used Car2Go. It was faster and cheaper than a taxi. The con to it was driving in stop and go traffic – my tolerance for sitting in a car in traffic is low. Much rather sit in a bus if the streets are busy or get out and walk or bike.
Now, I know you’re thinking, that’s all well and good but she didn’t have any kids along. True. But it’s still pretty easy to get around with my crew of three along without a car. They really enjoy skytrain (our subway system) and the bus. We’ve been visiting a relative that’s ill and taking a long skytrain ride out multiple times a week to visit her. The kids are not bothered by the long train ride at all. In comparison, five minutes into a drive they are asking if we are there yet. And there are so many other ways to get around with kids. Follow that tweet link above for a swift and expansive rebuttal from many parents that don’t own a car and get out there with their kids and do stuff. Like us, many of them use cargo bikes. And they make choices like living in a higher density area or building their family schedule with extra time to bike or walk. They order groceries for delivery, they take kids on transit to soccer and they do everything else many families do just without using a car.
The other exciting change to our transportation option is that my oldest son is now riding his bike longer distances.I should clarify: he has learned to ride a bike. For many reasons we waited to teach him how to ride a bike until he was 7.5 years old and you guys, it has been a parenting highlight for me. From his first time on the bike it took him about six weeks to build up his skills and enough endurance to do a long-ish ride from our home to Granville Island and back. His pride at this accomplishment, his joy at riding his bike – it has literally brought tears to my eyes (he’s not a kid that things come easy to). And our four year old has really upped his endurance with walking so even more of the city is opening up to us. I can see the future and the future is bigger kids that walk and bike where they need to go. Love our stroller but I can’t wait to be free of it after eight years of using them.
You don’t have to be car-free to use and enjoy alternative modes of transportation. Even when we have owned cars we’ve always tried to use them as a last option. Walking is always our first choice, then bikes and public transit depending on the weather. I wish this message was out there more: keep your car but try to use it less. There are lots of families with cars that still bike places, commute by bus or train to avoid expensive parking and having to sit in traffic or make more time in their day so they can walk places.
Ways to reduce your car dependancy as a family:
- Try a new way to get there. Maybe it’s just once a week that you leave the car at home, walk with the kids to school and catch the bus from there. I know if it adds even 20 minutes to your day it feels hard but you might be surprised how much you look forward to that once a week break from the car.
- Choose activities that you don’t need a car to get to or participate in. Set a limit on how much and how far you are willing to drive regularly for an activity.
- Have a car free day regularly. Make a game of it, plan for it and have everyone pick activities that you can do at home or without driving. It’s like having a no spend day: it makes you much more aware of how you much you drive.
- Look for opportunities with change and growth. Hunting for a new job? Cost out how much you could save if you found a job that didn’t require a car. Kids getting older? Maybe it’s time they biked or walked to school instead of getting a ride from mom or dad. Moving? Set a wish list for what you would like to be within easy distance of your new home to reduce your car dependency.