Sunday, December 13, 2009


We hardly even noticed that we passed the one-year mark in our experiment of living without a car. Time for some reflections. Basically, I'd sum it by saying that there are some obvious inconveniences of carlessness but, then again, car ownership is also a pain in the neck. It's been a matter of trade-offs.

Car ownership (cons)
  • parking tickets on street sweeping days
  • always forgetting to renew residential street parking permits
  • keeping up with insurance payments
  • remembering to file car registration
  • oil changes
  • dealing with maintenance issues
  • I hate driving
Carlessness (cons)
  • can't just hop in the car and drive down to the store when it's cold and rainy
  • fewer Target runs
  • having to plan things ahead of time
  • getting to the CityCarShare pod and finding out that your car isn't there or the reservation that you thought you made wasn't made after all
  • relying on others for rides
  • grocery shopping is a bigger production
  • the herky-jerky drivers on AC transit
Car ownership (pros)
  • ability to do things at a moments notice
  • ability to haul a lot of stuff (sometimes I really miss that Passat wagon)
Carlessness (pros)
  • I've learned to love biking and have discovered I can go many places in Berkeley (and beyond) on my bike
  • Target is overrated
  • none of those bureaucratic headaches (see above)
  • walking is great exercise

Sunday, August 30, 2009

but how do you get out to Point Reyes?

In conversations with people about our car-free status, the second most asked question we get asked after "how do you go grocery shopping?" is "how do you go to Pt. Reyes?" I'm here to report that our car-free status has not prevented us from getting out and enjoying some of the Bay Area's nature spots.

We've recently been out to West Marin a couple of times. Both times we borrowed a CityCarShare. For our two-day camping trip at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, we borrowed their new Suburu Outback for 48 hours. The station wagon allowed us to fully load up with camping supplies. It even comes with state-of-the-art bike racks.

Hmmm ... Is it okay to write about car camping on a blog about carlessness?

Monday, August 24, 2009

how to be a consumer when you don't have a car

It's back to school time. The kids' footwear is all the worse for wear, their undies have gotten pretty ratty and I'm feeling a need for a fashion infusion. In the past, this would have been when we made our our annual pilgrimage to the mall. So, how to go to the mall when you don't have a car? We have a few options:
  1. walk/BART/bus to Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek
  2. walk/BART to downtown San Francisc
  3. walk/BART/shuttle bus to Bay Street in Emeryville
As I sat down and pondered my options this past weekend, I could not quite muster the courage to do any of the above. So, instead, we walked down to the shops on College Avenue and made stops at Jeremy's, Elements and Cotton Basics. The good news: we were able to support our local businesses by shopping locally, we didn't have to spend an hour and a half commuting, and we didn't have to fight the crowds at the mall. The bad news: we didn't get all of our shopping needs fulfilled. But, then again, that's why there's online shopping.

While there may be fabulous gourmet ice cream on our local shopping drag, there are no stores here that sell camping equipment. So, in preparation for our upcoming camping trip, we biked down to REI. It's probably about four miles there and what's nice about the route is that it goes through the Ohlone greenway, the pedestrian/bike path that follows the BART tracks through Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito. After dropping a chunk of change at REI, we loaded up our panniers with a 10-pound tent and some sleeping mats then biked the (slightly uphill) four miles home. Of course, we had nothing on the fellow biker we met in the REI parking area, a guy who looked to be in his sixties, who had set up his bike with front and back panniers in preparation for a trip he is planning from Paris to Amsterdam.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

summer without a car

Summer is in full swing and even without a car, we have had an activity-filled season involving a variety of modes of transportations .

Camp: When we signed the kids up for camp in the spring our only criteria was whether the camp was in walking distance to our house. Blue Camp, where Leah is going, has an elaborate pick up and drop off routine that involves hundreds of cars driving up to the camp then camp counselors radio-ing down to the "holding" area where the campers are hanging out; the children are then escorted to their parents' awaiting cars. If you're a walker, then you are, apparently, a low-priority in the pick-up hierarchy. I realize that they need to move the cars quickly so as not to create (even more) gridlock, but you would think that those of us who are helping to ease the traffic congestion by walking instead of driving would not be made to wait in the hot sun while they attend to the needs of the drivers. If there's one thing this carlessness experiment has taught us, it's that cars seem to always get priorty over pedestrians.

Swimming: No summer is complete without lots of water time. Luckily we live within walking distance to two pools. Willard Pool has family swim in the evenings and is some eight blocks from our house. Going out for an evening swim is an easy activity that can be done quite spontaneously. It's a bit more of a hike to get to Strawberry Canyon pool on the Cal campus but once you're there it's bonus not to have to go through the frustrating parking routine that UC has set up there.

Movies: The Elmwood Theater and the Pacific Film Archive have both had screenings of kid-friendly movies. They are both in walking distance. To see Up in 3D we took BART into San Francisco.

Farmers market: When we can, we try to bike to the Berkeley Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings. The ride home from the market is slightly uphill but Anna has been a trooper and, riding her single gear bike, can keep up with those us with 24 gears. (Leah rides on the trail-a-bike behind Keith.)

Day trips: We spent a day at Gilroy Gardens, a family theme park south of San Jose. For this, we used up on of our CityCarShare "extended freedom credits" that allowed us to reserve the car for 24 hours and pay 10 cents a mile. We've had a couple of day trips to San Francisco: for one of them, we took the Alameda/Oakland Ferry home. Nothing says summer like a boat trip on a large body of water.

Friendships: One of the things that we told ourselves when we decided to ditch the car was that we would not deprive our kids of a normal social life. If one of them gets invited to a birthday party in a far flung location, we would find a way to get them there (bumming rides has proven to be one successful strategy). Many of Leah's buddies are pretty nearby. But Anna made a new friend at camp this summer and was invited to her house for a couple of get togethers. Turns out Sierra comes out every summer to spend three weeks with her aunt who lives in Oakland slightly out of our usual walking radius. Aunt Sandy is also very generous and happily picked Anna up and dropped her off. (Perhaps, Sandy is not hip to the notion of "driving currency" in which a parent will willing drive your kid around so long as you agree to drive theirs around at some point in the future. Read more about this phenomenon at "The Perils of Carless Parenting" ).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

a new bike!

Ever since we ditched the car, I've been planning to get a new bike. It's been about a month since I got my new Cafe 24 and in that time I've started a love affair with biking. You would too if you had this set of wheels in a fetching robin egg blue.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

commentary on carlessness

Responding to the article on Vauban, the German suburb that's gone carless, the Times asked some experts to weigh in on whether carlessness is feasible in the US. Read Car-Free in America?. Check out the reader comments (hundreds of 'em!).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

a car-free suburb

The most e-mailed article in today's New York Times profiles Vauban, a car-free suburb outside of Freiburg, Germany. As one resident stated in the article, In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars, "When I had a car, I was always tense. I'm much happier this way." Others say that what they like best about their community is that it is a better place to raise their kids. "With no cars on the streets, many residents call Vauban a children's paradise, where youngsters wander from a young age in safety."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

mayor gives up car

First he was homeless (Mayor's night out), now Berkeley mayor Tom Bates is carless. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Berkeley mayor gives up his car for the bus. But does it count if his wife (State Senator Loni Hancock) still owns a car? (Note that Oakland mayor Ron Dellums is chaffeured to work in a Lincoln Town car.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Needless to say we do a lot of walking. During the week, there's school and work. On the weekend, there's grocery shopping. But recently I had to fill out a survey about travel habits and realized just how much we really walk.

On a recent Saturday, these were the trips I took. They were all pretty short but, as you can see, they add up:
  • Grocery store (15 minutes each way)
  • Walk Anna to a friend's house for birthday party (also 15 minutes each way)
  • Return to friend's house because Anna forgot to bring present (add another 30 minutes)
  • Drop off Leah at Emerson for playdate (does 3 minutes each way even qualify as a trip?)
  • Since both kids are at playdates, Keith and decide to take a neighborhood walk. We walk up College Avenue and through Rockridge, then back by way of the Uplands and Claremont Avenue (45 minutes total)
  • After dinner, walk to video store, stopping off at bookstore (5 minutes each way)
Total minutes walked: 2 hours and 31 minutes.