Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Year Well Spent: One Year Spent Carfree

Its been a year of carfree living and I must say that I'm surprised at how fast the time went by and how relatively easy it was to get through the last year. There is no party or press release to send out, just a sense of accomplishment in knowing that I stuck to a goal I set for myself and in the knowledge that that I have grown as a person and learned many things about myself and the world us humans have built for ourselves.

I started this little project to see just how much of a difference one person could make on a bicycle and it seems that I have accomplished more than collecting stats. Ashley informed me that she feels my commitment had challenged her to think about getting around town in a different way and inspired her and her family to hop on a bike or walk more often. I even got her cousin Katie from Houston to ride a bike after more than three years of missing out on such joy. Katie let me know that, "you just don't ride a bike in Houston."

I also wanted to experiment with carfree living in a small city. Many of the online discussions encouraging mass transit or active transportation featured the same old argument that in many American cities it just isn't possible to live without a car and that such a lifestyle is only for those elitists from the coast. Well I did it in the middle of Montana in a town with limited bus service. After a year I'm convinced that most of the barrier to people getting out of their cars is in fact psychological in nature.

Of course Missoula certainly isn't the worst place to ride a bike as your main transportation and I would even challenge towns such as Boulder, CO and Davis, CA to try harder because Missoula is catching up on these bicycling paradises. Missoula's grid system of streets sure helps, allowing cyclists to skirt around heavy traffic if they wish, and the strong emphasis on outdoor activities doesn't hurt either. Hell, people around here have such a hard time waiting out the winter that the first day in the 50s brings out shorts and Chacos. There were barriers and adjustments that I had to make. I missed out on a lot of the great outdoors that Montana is famous for. I was certainly confined to the Missoula urban area much more than a would have been normal, but I made the most of it given the great culture that Missoula has to offer.

I didn't get through this year alone and have many people that helped out in different circumstances. Ashley, my fiance, turned around from her initial skepticism and supported me till the end; Troy, a friend, never stopped offering me car rides and was there when I truly needed them, and Free Cycles allowed me to learn how to maintain my lowly fleet.

So how much of a difference did I make? Over the course of the year I logged 2,932.92 miles on my bike running errands and commuting. All those miles add up to 226.8 gallons of gas saved, and @ $3.00/gallon that adds up to $680.56 saved. Add in $1800 saved from not needing car insurance and $360/month, for a total of $4320/year, from car payments I no longer had to make and I saved a total of $6800.56 over the course of the year. Thats $6800.56 that I'm certain I spent elsewhere supporting Missoula business. I also saved 1750.98 Ibs of CO2 from entering the atmosphere just by using a bicycle as my main form of transportation.

Where are the keys? ... I'm going for a drive. That last part is a joke.


Allie Cat said...

An excellent post, but I have to disagree with one point- your last line. Keep it up! If you can live a year car-free, you can live a lifetime, and keep that $6k in your pocket and that 1,700lbs of C02 out of the air.

It looks like Missoula doesn't have Zipcar yet, but perhaps you can either find another car-share provider, attract one, or maybe find that traditional car-rental meets your needs for a jaunt into the wilderness. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Well, the year went faster than I expected. From my point-of-view, I haven't seen you enough because you were somewhat limited in your travels as pointed out. Seemed silly for me to jump in a car to visit and defeat the purpose of what you were trying! Congratulations on reaching your goal. Mom

Anonymous said...

Cool, now impress us with 5 years; by then we might be out of gas and you'll be quite well prepared.

Daniel Nairn said...

Way to go. When you see the numbers like that plainly laid out it really makes a strong case. If car expenses weren't so hidden (nevermind the externalities), I bet more people would take your advice and find some other way to get around.

It's nice to see your experiment being contagious. As trite as it may be, "be the change you wish to see in the world" is always the best.

With a beautiful Missoula spring right around the corner, I somehow doubt you'll be off the saddle anytime soon ;)

wombatgrrl said...

I just happened across your blog from a link on a carfree newsletter I get. And it just so happens that as of today I have been carfree for 5 years! Every year gets easier, but just as in your case, my mother continues to complain about me not visiting her enough. But I think she would still complain about that even if I drove to see her every other day! I hope that you remain as "one less car" and continue your diligence. It's a better life - and that's what really counts in the end.

charmaine said...

Hi - I was just checking your blog and read your latest post about being car-free for the past year out there in Montana! :) Congrats! :) I'm going into my third year of being car-free. I rent cars from time-to-time as needed, but most of the time I can get around by bike pretty good. :) Keep up the good work! Charmaine

carlita dee said...

A huge inspiration. Bravo! And thanks for sharing.

Andy V said...

Great work. Very inspiring, and you're dead on -- the main impediment is psychological. Ironically enough, in my second year of commuting by bicycle (as a primary mode) the benefit seems to be psychological as well. I'm no longer sitting in crap traffic wishing I were anywhere else, and actually enjoy my commute now.

Congrats. Now, finish classes, and keep being that example for inspiration.

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