Slow News Day: Car-Free and Carefree

Two stories recently came out about car-free living. One is from the delightful blog, New Urban Habitat, Abby Quillen’s always wonderful, inspiring and useful collection of stories about living more simply, sustainably, healthfully, and happily. Her piece, Lessons in Car-Free Living, contains a wealth of benefits and tips for getting your own family out of the car for short, simple runs.

This is definitely something we’ve been trying to do more increasingly in my household, and have been having good success. We combine bike riding for short distances with public transportation for longer commutes.

Another fan of public transit turns out to be one of the stars of my favorite TV show, the highly evocative, endlessly dissectible Mad MenVincent Kartheiser, who plays ad executive (and new father) Pete Campbell on the show. He recently revealed to the New York Times his utter joy of taking public transportation in Los Angeles, and using it as an opportunity to relax, study his lines, and commune with his fellow passengers — all enthusiasms I share (usually) when taking my local ferries, buses and trains. Said Kartheiser:

I like that my life slows down when I go places. I have all these interactions with the human race and I can watch people living their life and not just in their car.

He also mentioned a recent consumer study from Learning Resources Network that noted that motorists ages 21-30 generally don’t grant car ownership and driving with the same status that older people do. According to the study, this group favors mass transit for commuting and car sharing services, like Zipcar, for longer trips. It turns out that companies like Hertz are listening — They are expanding car sharing choices, especially in big cities and around college campuses.

At 80 million strong, the article notes that this 20-30 age group represents a very large cohort. According to William Draves, president of Learning Resources Network, “This group views commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs while taking the bus and train.”

That’s how I feel! Productivity and joy far outweigh the convenience of driving my individual car, especially as I happen to enjoy walking (to/from the public transit), too  — and sometimes find driving a bit stressful. (Of course, the area in question has to offer good public transit and city planning for this to equate.)

The article also notes that, in survey after survey, 20-30 year olds say that they believe cars are damaging to the environment. Even hybrid electric vehicles don’t seem to be changing young consumers’ attitudes much.

Yay for the green young people and others who are adapting habits that are good for their own physical and psychological health and that of the planet. This young group, and the one coming up after it, offers plenty of cause for hope.

I’ll also add that, as with many personal choices, there is usually not one that is all good or one that is all bad. I believe everyone needs to make his or her own choices based on what feels right for them. Sometimes, for me, taking the car is the right thing to do. I remain cheered by the general attitudes and consciousness of the people quoted in this article, including the corporations that are following suit by offering alternative rental cars where young people are.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman: Car-Free Sundays, a Summer 2010 New York City program

You might also like: Bike to Work and School Day

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