Many people around the world consider a car a necessity. However, Seattleites are fortunate to have many ways to move and travel throughout our city. On any given day you may see someone walking, biking, scooting, taking transit, carpooling and more.
Today, September 22, we are celebrating World Car Free Day which encourages drivers to give up their car for a single day. While going car-free may not be an option for everyone, there are many ways to make environmentally friendly choices. Transportation is a huge contributor to climate change; in 2017, it accounted for 29% of total U.S. emissions (Yale Climate Connections).
We are lucky to have two employees at Commute Seattle that made the decision to be fully car-free. Sarah Udelhofen and Wren Barulich answered questions on what it is like to live car-free. Wren and Sarah commute, run errands and travel in Puget Sound by biking, walking and taking public transit. Learn what they think are the pros and cons of being car-free full time.
Q: Why did you choose to be car-free?
Sarah: I feel very lucky that I am able to choose to live a car-free lifestyle – I want to recognize that I have privileges that allow me this choice, while many others do not have this option. Many people live in cities where there is no other option but to travel by car or have jobs that require a car to get them there or to do their job, or have life circumstances which necessitate having a car. For me, I choose to be car-free because this is an area of my life where I can reduce my carbon footprint, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and try to help mitigate climate change.
Wren: It was a natural transition to be able to save money and a car didn’t feel necessary for my daily life.
Q: How long have you been living without a car?
Sarah: The last time I had access to a car on a daily basis was in 2015; so I have technically been car-free for five years now!
Wren: I have lived without a car for nearly five years.
Q: What is your favorite thing about living a car-free lifestyle in a big city?
Sarah: My favorite thing about living car-free is the amount of money that I am able to save! Additionally, the way my car-free lifestyle allows me to see the city at a slower pace and become more familiar with the lovely Seattle neighborhoods and side streets. Plus, I feel healthier than sitting in a car.
Wren: I love the speed at which I am able to explore and travel through the city. I set my own pace and rarely feel in a rush while reaping other benefits like finding parking, never running out of gas, and being gentle on our planet.
Q: How do you travel daily without a vehicle?
Sarah: I primarily travel by bike, bus, and walking. I occasionally use carshare services in Seattle as needed, too! If I’m going to the mountains, friends often drive and I chip in for gas and bring snacks as a thank you! Or, I rent a car using Getaround, Gig Carshare, Turo, or other.
Wren: I typically bike or walk. I sometimes take the light rail depending on my energy that day or the weather. Which as Sarah said isn’t so bad, but I’ve been slow to collect the gear needed for Seattle’s rainy days.
Q: What is your favorite way to commute or travel carless?
Sarah: My favorite way to travel carless is by bike – it’s a perfect speed: fast enough to get where you’re going, but slow enough to observe your surroundings (plus, if you pass the smell of fresh baked goods, you can stop quickly for a treat and continue on your way!)
Wren: Definitely biking for my commute, but a slow walk is an indulgence that I don’t deny myself of.
Q: What are the challenges of living car-free?
Sarah: I will be honest, there are times when it can be quite frustrating – when I need to pick up a large item or want to do a big grocery shop. Some days, it feels like it restricts my freedom to be car-free – but other days, it gives me freedom! It is a matter of managing expectations and being patient with life.
The weather can be disheartening at times; however, I am from Chicago originally – so I always remind myself that at least it’s not snowing with a negative wind chill! When I put it in perspective, the weather here is magnificent. Plus, some fenders on my bike and a nice rain jacket go a long way.
Another challenge is safety. Seattle has great bike infrastructure, but there are times when I’m trying to get from A to B and I have to ride on streets that aren’t as safe as I’d like them to be. Because of this, I volunteer with Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and serve on Seattle’s Bicycle Advisory Board to help advocate for safer routes for people of all ages and abilities!
Wren: Exploring nature outside the city is an obstacle. I am thankful for King County Metro’s Trailhead Direct to help other people in my position reach adventure destinations.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone looking to give up their vehicle?
Sarah: I think the initial hurdle can be big, but if you remind yourself of the positives (health, enjoyment, environmental footprint) it can be worthwhile. Additionally, it is all about the routine – once you have re-programmed your norms, it is just a part of your lifestyle.
If you are interested in making the transition to a car-free life, start small. Bike to get ice cream with friends, walk to the grocery store, take the bus to a museum. Use these modes for fun trips that are not time-bound and start to see it as an enjoyable way to get around!
If you’re looking to start biking, watch some videos about biking safely and take some time in a parking lot or on trails to practice looking behind you and signaling with your hands. A bit of safety can go a long way. It will take some time to truly feel comfortable on a bike and around cars, make sure to be patient with yourself.
Wren: Giving up a car may feel like a stressful decision, but owning a car can be as stressful. We are starting to understand equity issues with those who are forced to own a car and with the way in which we give up some freedoms for others. Being car-free requires that you view your world in a much smaller way, share space in a new way, support local businesses, know your neighbors and lean on others when you need support. If you are interested in learning more about the ways in which cars can often lead to more constraints beyond congestion I recommend listening to the 99% Invisible Podcast “Policing the Open Road.” If you are able to be car-free then you are actively advocating for safer streets for everyone. In time, the barriers for others to be car-free will also decrease!
How You Can Join Car Free Day
The best way to celebrate car-free day is to simply not use your vehicle for a single day. Or try and see how many days you can go without using it! Small choices can make big decisions on our environment and your health. Tell us how you are celebrating Car Free Day! Happy World Car Free Day!