Jan 31, 2011

Car-Free Living - One Year On

Our family has just past the one year mark of carfree living and I thought an update on how our life has changed was due.  Overall, I feel like I am more content with my life than I was when motoring was what I did for a living (sales rep), I feel like I have less stress in my daily life, and I am more relaxed about life in general.  To help me keep this post from turning into an ADHD back and forth ramble from topic to topic, I've broken down my experiences into a few key categories. 

Bike commuting has entered the realm of the banal - it is no longer something special and just simply the way I get to work everyday.  Don't get me wrong though - I look forward to my morning commute as I get to ride past all the stuck motorists and find that I arrive at the shop ready to go and full of energy.  I enjoy being in the environment regardless of the weather and take pride in being one of the year 'round bike commuters in Calgary (although there are definitely more people cycling this winter).  Weather used to be something that I would look at all the time - now, I just look at my outdoor thermometer and dress accordingly.  No more worries about traffic, no more thoughts about road conditions, and my most favorite - no more visits to gas stations!

Bike commuting in the 3 warmer seasons is generally quite relaxed and easy to manage for the simple fact that there is no snow around.  However, when winter arrives and the snow starts to fly, commuting conditions definitely get more interesting and I can understand why some choose not to ride in winter.  Simply put, this city is terrible at street clearing, citizens are equally as terrible as the city for not clearing their sidewalks, and drivers sometimes have no patience at all.  My normal "warm season" route to work involves all roads and no MUP's with one 100 metre section of sidewalk over the Crowchild Trail.  However, once the snow flies, my route to and from work changes regularly to deal with the non-cleared snow and I frequently end up a dreaded sidewalk bandit because the roads are simply too narrow to feel safe or are not plowed making riding on them impossible.  For me, its easy to see why many people would not consider winter cycling with these sorts of obstacles in the way.

Overall, bike commuting daily has been really fun, however, if the City of Calgary really does wants to see more people cycling, they'd better start treating pedestrians and cyclists as equals to cars by spending some money on machines that clear sidewalks and bikelanes and making these important corridors Priority 1 for snow clearing.  Anything less is lip service - k, rant off.

Errands and Shopping
Before I started my life as a "Carfree in Calgary" dad, I imagined that running errands and acquiring groceries would be one of the biggest challenges I would face.  I wondered how I would get to Costco/Ikea/Name-Your-MegaMart to load up on foodstuffs.  I worried that my son would grow tired quickly of being ferried to school and back on the bike - especially in winter.

I am happy to report a few incredible findings.  One, my grocery bill actually has gone down dramatically, despite not a single trip to Costco and with purchasing all my food from Safeway and Sunterra - two markets many consider to be the most expensive grocery stores around here.  Two, mega-purchasing trips have completely vanished from my thoughts and the amount of garbage we throw out has been eclipsed by the amount we recycle.  Three, I am eating healthier, cooking meals more often, and our compost pile is growing.  And four, my son actually loves riding on the bike to school everyday - even in winter!  Late last year, I think if was in October while riding home from the daycare, my son said to me - "Dad, I really like not having a car".  I said, "Why is that son"?  He said, "Because is we had a car we wouldn't be able to ride like this together".  A tear came to my eye, let me tell you! 

Visiting Friends and Going Out on the Town
Carfree living has had the biggest impact here - with good and bad results.  Without a car, going out to the pub for some drinks with friends is no different than commuting to work or running errands - simply dress and go.  Riding home from the pub has the added benefit of working through some of the bevvies consumed and lessening the potential hangover the following day!  This is a good result.  If the pub to be visited is further away than normal and the weather is bad, well, I usually pass and just stay home.  This is a good result for the pocketbook and bad result for the social life - I call it a draw.  Generally, I have not found being carfree to be a problem during the 3 warmer seasons.  However, in winter, as you can probably imagine, the conditions can put a damper on all manner of evening fun.  So, I have gotten really good at saying "no thanks" to some offers or borrowing vehicles from friends and family when really necessary.  Luckily for me, my fantastic girlfriend (and shop co-owner) Nadia has a car and is cool with me using it whenever I need to.  This is good.  However, she lives on the other side of the city so getting over there to get the car can be problematic.  Transit is an option sometimes but I find it not as useful in the evenings and honestly, slower than cycling, even in bad weather.

This category is quite simply the weirdest change of them all!  I have experienced nothing short of a complete transformation as a driver - I am no longer the super confident motorist I was for more than a decade.  I am now a "nervous nellie" driver and I can only guess the reason is that driving is so completely different than what I am used to that it is hard for me to "remember" how to drive.  I spend more time then ever as a passenger (I used to hate being a passenger) and probably less than an hour a month in a car.  To be honest, I don't really enjoy motoring anymore and am not fond of being in cars at all.  I am still trying to digest the particulars of this dramatic change in my life and may find time in the future to write more about it.  

Thats it for now.  I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about how you might incorporate carfree or carlight living into your own life, just leave a comment and I'll do my best to relate my experiences back.

Happy Cycling!

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