Car-less by choice

In the past year or so, I’ve noticed a few articles and discussions about how the next generation is living without cars. They don’t seem to garner much attention from most people, but they stand out for me because I’ve been car-less by choice my whole adult life and it’s interesting to see that the next generation is embracing the same lifestyle (though, unlike me, many of them do get their license).

It’s no wonder. Owning a car can be a risky expense (the car’s value depreciates, it could be stolen or damaged in an accident, etc.). According to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) car cost calculator, the average annual cost of a mid-sized car is over $10,000 (8.34 litres of gas per 100 KM and 20,000 KM driven annually).  That works out to $800-850 per month, which could be your student loan payment. Or, you could rent a small apartment.

One article credits the combination of the rising student debts and the rising popularity of car-free urban living as a driving force. Some condos in larger cities are even being designed around car-free living (ex: secure indoor bike storage and no parking). In fact, there’s a building like this being built in Edmonton.

The article also suggests that cars are no longer seen as a status symbol (but, smartphones are). And, while  some will eventually buy a car out of necessity (ex: when they have a family), many don’t see a need for one. Not even after starting their career. Instead, they walk, bike, or bus to work.

This makes sense. If they can’t afford a car (or, if they find the graduated licensing process to be onerous), they use alternate means by necessity. As a result, they get used to using trails and public transit. Familiarity breeds comfort, which means people are more likely to continue using those means of getting around. Even if they want to drive, there are more and more car-sharing services in larger cities, which means they don’t have to own a car to have access to one.

People are starting to talk about how cities will need to rethink planning to be ready for the car-less. This doesn’t mean ignoring current infrastructure – roads and bridges need regular maintenance. But, it does mean rethinking infrastructure: making bike paths or walking trails better and more accessible, building up instead of out (i.e., reducing urban sprawl, which can result in expensive transit budgets if you try to service the whole city), adding bike lanes on key streets, etc.

Of course, all this talk about being car-free means that people start talking about improving public transit, which is good, but it’s disappointing that it’s taken growing community of car-free middle-class to get others to pay attention to transit issues. As noted on Carless in OKC, there are a lot of people who depend on transit to get to and from their jobs, not because they choose to be car-free, but because they can’t afford a car.

There are many people in our city who have no other viable way to get to their jobs or grocery stores or doctors or parks. That fact, in and of itself, should be reason enough to provide adequate public transit. It shouldn’t take middle-class millenials like us who want to take the bus to and from a bar on Friday night to get people behind this idea.

It’s an interesting discussion, and I’m glad to see that more and more people are thinking about it. It can be a struggle to be car-free, even in big cities. Edmonton is full of interesting shops, social groups, attractions, etc., but a lot of them are hard to access without a car or require a long, carefully planned, multi-bus trip. Having more people living car-free means there will be more demand for walkable neighborhoods, transit access to parks, express bus routes, and central living options.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how this all evolves.



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