Car Free for a Month
Deciding to go carless usually is not a very common thing to do in Michigan. That whole unpredictable weather situation was also something to consider. Still, I decided to live car-free for four whole weeks, which then turned into nine weeks of adventure and realization.
As it was, I had a trip scheduled for a few weeks during Christmas break, so the decision to halt my car insurance was a little easier to make. I learned that my insurance company would put a hold on my car insurance for a period of time, and then restore it when I decided to reinstate it. All it took was a simple, “Hi Janet, could you take the insurance off my car starting in December?” She happily responded with, “Sure thing, but we will keep the ‘storage’ coverage active (i.e. if a tree falls on it, or that tornado rips through town). Call us when you want it back on.” Simple. But then, the realization that now it was illegal to drive my car hit me.
I had attempted bus transportation before, and in summers made extra efforts to only travel by bike, but never had I been completely successful at carless transportation. Even as much as I was intrigued with the idea of utilizing any or all modes of transportation, other than my fuel-efficient car, it was difficult. My car sat there, always tempting me, reminding me of all the time I would save. I could do so much with those extra 10 minutes, like grab a lunch, or that extra pair of shoes. Also, the trunk came in handy for collecting my shopping and groceries. All very tempting and legitimate reasons to stick with a car. As much as I loved being outside and enjoyed walking, I still needed an extra push. I was also paranoid of being a mooch; fearing inconveniencing my friends with driving me around. Or worse, people feeling sorry for me because I was without a car. I did not want people to think I gave up my car due to necessity. And finally, believe it or not, I thought people would question what in the world was I wearing while biking?
Public transportation in Lansing is awkward, frustrating, and it is rarely, if ever, on time. You are required to sit next to a stranger. And unfortunately, we tend to avoid these interactions, especially sharing a seat with someone we don’t know. It wasn’t appealing. And also, once I’m on the bus, I encounter other feelings. Feelings of sympathy for the single mother who is struggling to calm her young children, and make it to work on time. Or the hypocrisy of sitting in my business casual attire, checking my phone, as the homeless man sits across from me carrying his empty bottles. The situation makes me uncomfortable. Even more challenging and important to me were the issues surrounding public transportation. Why a car of one gets significant priority over a bus of 30+ people like the ones I encountered, who have so few transportation options, continually astounds me. I still don’t know how to fix these feelings, but I can tell you now what I have learned.
Carless traveling means freedom and discovering opportunities. As much as I like saving money and gas, it was more about the experience and learning to structure my day in a different manner. Catching rides with friends meant that I got to spend extra time with them. Being able to have a chat I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise, if I was driving myself. Discovering that a coworker lives a few blocks away, creating an opportunity for a new friendship. The people you meet along the way, that you never would have while confined to your own car, make the whole experience worthwhile. Racing Evy, a chipper girl originally from Detroit, to the bus stop brought delight. Greetings from Bill, the bus driver made my mornings. “Good morning!” he would cheerfully say and if I missed the bus on some mornings, he made a point to let me know I was missed. Deciding to give up the car introduced me to a new circle of people: my community.
Dad and I fixing the old girl up on Christmas Eve!
I found an honest sense of freedom from traveling with all different modes of transportation. Bicycling for instance was my favorite. Plain and simple. If that is not freedom, I don’t know what is. Freedom was also being able to ride anywhere with a friend or family member. I had options. I had no tether to a giant object that could inflict parking tickets in East Lansing seemingly wherever it was parked. I was free of that vehicle that seemed to enclose me and isolate me from my community and the many opportunities it had to offer. I was able to ride my bike and feel the wind on my skin, through my hair, and see the world I live in through a new lens. However, the cold was something to get used to and learn to love. Waiting for the bus was the most difficult, but I learned to layer, a plus in Michigan. The bike ride turned sweaty sometimes, but then, I learned to do away with scarves while biking. It was frustrating. It was nerve wrecking. But, I became much more sociable, learning to start conversation with the person waiting for the bus with me (i.e. meeting bus stop Chris!). I became much more aware and familiar with the bus schedule, the 6:04pm a bus comes at Abbot and Grand River, or at 9:04pm it starts running every half hour. I grew patient, and grateful. I was grateful I had options of the different ways to get around. I could choose, and this time I chose easily. The decision wasn’t so hard. I was going to bike. I was going to walk. I could be five minutes late. I could run all errands at one time. I could stay on that side of town all night. It was a long two month experiment, but one of the best I’d done in a long time.
Lastly, spring (a blazing hot summer?) is upon us. And with summer, the anticipated months of May and June, which as my coworkers, advocates and community planners jump at, the start of biking months! Please make note, May will be bike month, and June will be smart commute month. The difference: bike month equals getting everyone and anyone upon a bicycle of any shape or size. Smart commute month equals getting people to use all modes of transportation to and from work (i.e. public transit, car pooling, biking, walking, jumping, skipping, you name it). Please return soon and read my blog about biking tips for each of these months! (A sneak peak…a how to on using the pay kiosk on a bus, and on racking your bike on the front of a CATA bus!).