Going Car-Free in a Car-Centric City

There are those who are blessed to live in a city with a variety of convenient transit options. For the rest of us, car ownership can feel like a mandate — regardless of how much we dream of setting off each day with nothing but a fare card in our pockets.

Of course no matter how transit-unfriendly and un-walkable a city may be, there are a few adventurous folks who buck popular opinion and live without a car by choice. We’ve got to hand it to Greg Meckstroth at urbanOut for reminding us that going car-free in places like Indianapolis isn’t crazy, it just gives you better glutes. Meckstroth recently completed his first year as a car free resident of this auto-oriented Indiana city, and suffice it to say, it wasn’t boring:

Comfort shoes be damned. Meckstroth says style is important to a car-free lifestyle. You never know who you will run into when you're walking around Indianapolis. Photo: UrbanOut

After my bike was stolen the very first day I gave up driving, I was sure I would cave quickly.  But one year later, here I am, still car free and still writing about what I’ve learned and experienced.

For quite some time, I opted not to buy a new bike so not only was I car free, I was bike free as well. I started walking my butt all over downtown Indianapolis – to and from work, to and from the grocery, to and from Mass Ave – you name it.  Ok, so maybe my walking patterns weren’t the most exciting part of my car free lifestyle, but many perks quickly became apparent from the large amounts of walking I was now doing.  For one, my legs and butt whipped themselves into super-shape in an instant, something that was welcomed by my former too-tight-fitting skinny jeans.  Lesson learned: walking is a great substitute for cardio at the gym.

After walking to the ends of the earth, one might assume that I would jump at the chance to drive a car and feel the comfort of pushing a pedal to get me where I need to go.  The truth of the matter is that when this opportunity first arose, I quickly found myself more annoyed than relieved at the ‘convenience’ a car brings.  My first real bout behind the wheel came around week 31 in my year-long adventure when my sister and her family flew out of Indianapolis to San Francisco to visit my brother-in-law’s side of the family.  Instead of parking the car at the airport, they decided to leave it with me and in doing so, saved them some money while allowing me to take care of a few errands I might otherwise not be able to do.  Well after two days of driving to the north side and back for errands I thought I had to complete, I decided to ditch the car and leave it at my work’s parking garage downtown, and quickly resumed my pedestrian lifestyle.  After being used to walking everywhere and the ease of mobility that brought, I found driving offensive, annoying, and a pain-in-the-butt.

Perhaps there’s a lesson for the rest of us here too: Car ownership is a lifestyle choice, even in less than ideal circumstances. Although the alternative can seem impossible, people like Meckstroth show it can be done and it can be enjoyable.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cap’n Transit maps road deaths in suburban New York and finds that the further the distance from the city, the greater the risk. Transport Michigan reports on the prejudices behind a local pundit’s opposition to a sidewalk past his Lansing home. And the FABB Blog announces that Virginia’s Fairfax County is considering expanding limits on parking spaces as it becomes more urban.