Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Tips on Being Car-less

Much of Neva's life, we have been car-less as a family. In Flagstaff, AZ it was easy to get across the 8 mile landscape by bike, an Amtrak train stops in the middle of town to take you to LA or across the country eastbound, and the airport shuttle will take you straight to Sky Harbour Phoenix Airport without the hassle driving the switchbacks yourself.

Neva all bundled up for a walk-about in snowy Flagstaff, AZ

Texas was more of a challenge, with the sprawling landscape as well as summer temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though we were in the college town of Denton, the pulse of being a suburb of the DFW area was still strongly felt. Despite this, we mostly got around by bike once the 8 mile bike path that led to downtown Denton was installed, as I could get to the University for my studies. Christian took the train to work when he started working in Dallas, and with Neva's Montessori school and our local grocery being a 2 mile cycle, we often cycled as a family for the day-to-day.

A typical weekend cycling to the grocery store, or just for the fun of it.

Now we are in Bray, Ireland, which is just outside Dublin; many people just call it Dublin as Bray straddles the Dublin/Wicklow county border lines. We chose the area as it was the furthest from Dublin we could get with reasonable public transport, but far enough away that the housing was (somewhat) more reasonable. Now we have a full transportation arsenal that we as a family can use to get around, sans car. Maybe some of these ideas can inspire you to take the leap to being car-less if it's been on your mind and you weren't sure what options were at your disposal.

Neva and I using local pedestrian/cycle transport lanes in Amsterdam, Netherlands


Over the years, we have accumulated bikes for the whole family, as well as child trailers, cargo trailers, and a tandem which make commuting around easier and safer. The bikes we chose to bring with us are mostly cross-bikes that will work on the road, and moderate off-road conditions. I'm the exception as I couldn't let go of my 1988 Red racing bike, and I kept the fat bike for aggressive off-road touring. The Burly Nomad cargo trailer makes grocery getting a breeze, and is quite versatile as it can be used for touring as well; this item, in my opinion, would be a necessity for a no-car life if you're grocery-getting by bike.

We've had some time to accumulate, pace yourself, look for deals, buy used! (Craigslist is your friend in the USA for bikes)

Biking with a child can add complexity, especially in Ireland. The roads are quite narrow, and there aren't many of them, so the traffic is often quite bad with people flocking from all over the country to work in the Dublin city centre. There are cycle paths, but many of them are non-contiguous which means regularly being in the street, or swapping to the sidewalk. The Kidz Tandem bike or the Wee-hoo child trailer makes me feel more comfortable riding around with Neva on busy roads, but it is heavy when on hilly terrain with loads of cars blocking your lane. It's for this reason, that cycling is typically reserved for weekends when there are less cars, or taking a train or bus to someplace where there is a contiguous cycling route like the Waterford Greenway we did this summer.

Neva trying to usurp the steering seat in the back. Not this time m'lady.


Since Ireland is a small country, it is made up of many small villages, and most areas have a grocery, pub, and school within walking distance. Our town of Bray is the 6th largest village in Ireland (14th largest urban area) so we luckily have many things at our disposal; all our base needs are met within a 20 minute walking time. This is how we live our day-to-day. The rolling shopper (purple thing shown below) is all you need for a grocery run after walking home from school. The only drawback is when you're feeling ill or have an injury, then we might opt for a bus.

Went grocery shopping with Warm Showers guest Jackie, and picked up a bike box on the way home.

Public Transport

Another thing we took into consideration when moving was the public transport access. From where we are in Bray, we are a 20 minute walk to the DART train, or a 3 minute walk to a bus which drops you in the Bray Main Street to transfer to the city centre. These options are quite nice as the busses and trains are typically no more than 10 minutes apart. The drawback of the DART  train being it mostly sticks to the coast, and then goes to the city centre, so your options are limited in where to go, and if you're not going to the city centre, but any surrounding area, the busses can take quite a long time. Since you can't put a bike on a Dublin bus, it's not an option to get off and cycle; the DART train you can bring your bike, but not during peak hours (7-9am or 4-6pm) so it doesn't help commuters who work near the city, but on the outskirts that take longer to get to, which brings me to our most recent addition to our no-car travel arsenal...

All the ways we get around : Top left DART train, top right double decker bus to Japanese festival, bottom left Luas in the city centre, bottom right AirCoach that takes you straight to the airport. 

Electric Scooter

Okay, now hear me out, because I know Silicon Valley has to make everything look pretentious and ridiculous. This isn't Google glasses though. The electric scooter was the missing piece to being car-less. It filled the gap of when we aren't feeling physically capable of cycling or walking, but gives us the speed of a bike to get between busses, and it folds in half, so it's easily able to be taken onto any public transport. Neva and I can both fit on it so I can take her with me, and even Christian and I can both scoot around on it together for a date night. The drawbacks would be you can only carry so much, there's a hook we put on that can hold a shopper, and then a backpack, but that's maximum capacity. Also, in inclement weather, your hands and face need to be covered because the wind and rain will pelt you (lesson learned!).

Top : folded version, Bottom left : folded version in bus, Bottom right : open version with water flask and bag on hook

Hire a Car

If all else fails and you're looking for a road trip, hiring a car is always an option. We tend to use Enterprise 2-4x a year to go and explore someplace we haven't been before in Ireland. We then don't have to have the expense of annual car insurance or the maintenance of buying and keeping a car. Just make sure you have an up-to-date license, a car seat if you have a kid (we have a blow up travel one which is great and can be used for taxis in other countries), and one of those phone holders that stick to the window which makes navigation easier. Cars have their place, but using them as little as possible helps the environment and your health all at once! With all the research linking vehicle exhaust with chronic illnesses like cardiac disease and pulmonary disease, we should all strive to do what we can for ourselves and our community.

I know not everyone can physically bike, or not everyone is near public transit, but hopefully some of these tips on how we get around may help you create your own creative combination of how to better move around in your town or city without a car, or at least to minimize use when possible. The biggest benefit for us is that it's a chance to work together (when biking on the tandem or busy roads), or have a chat, meet people, or notice details of the area we live in, together, as a family.

On the way home from a summer camp, we bumped into some fellow walkers, and made close friends with neighbors we wouldn't have met otherwise.