True Life Stories of the Carfree- Mira, James & Jesse in Arlington, MA

Welcome to the first post in an occasional series about families (that aren’t us) living carfree. We’re hoping to share stories of how families make carfree life work in different areas, using a variety of solutions for transportation and other issues. If you are a carfree family, drop us a line — we’d love to feature you!

Today’s family is Mira and James and their 9-month-old son Jesse (plus a cat!). They live in Arlington, a suburb of Boston.

Going Carfree: When and Why

Neither James nor Mira has owned a car in adulthood, largely because neither of them likes to drive. Mira grew up in Dorchester about a 4 min walk from Shawmut, started taking the subway by herself at about 10, and liked how she could get wherever she wanted without bothering her parents. That independence was important to her growing up and is something they really want for Jesse when he gets older.

Getting Around

Mira, James, and Jesse get around on the train, bus, and by walking. James does some biking. Mira doesn’t bike much, but is working on getting comfortable on the road to possibly add biking to their to their transportation toolbox. They have four bus lines within a few blocks, and they are a 20-minute walk away from a Alewife, a subway stop at the end of Boston’s Red Line. Their neighborhood is a mixed bag in terms of sidewalk quality — sidewalks along the major thoroughfare (Mass Ave) are good, but other sidewalks are rough. They are also close to a popular multi-use bike path (the Minuteman Trail).

Benefits of Being Carfree

Being carfree is definitely cheaper for Mira and James, which is important to them particularly because they have generally been a one-income family. They get more exercise and are happy to have a smaller carbon footprint, particularly now that they have a baby. Mira also says, “It seems like we interact with people more, which I wasn’t expecting. I grew up here, and you pretend you’re in a little bubble, but everyone loves interacting with the baby. It’s kind of nice.”

Costs of Being Carfree

One cost that sticks out is spontaneity — they can’t decide to go hiking somewhere at the spur of the moment, for instance. Trips require planning. As Mira says, “There was one time when friends in Charlestown invited us to dinner and the trip involved three buses. That was a bit of a challenge in the pouring rain. But it worked.”

How Do They Do It?

Being carfree with a cat is a challenge. Mira and James have ended up with a vet that is a relatively far distance away in Kenmore Square in Cambridge. Their cat doesn’t enjoy bus rides, but they are able to take a bit longer ride on the subway to get to the vet.  Getting cat litter on the bus is  hassle — James usually goes up to Arlington Heights to pet store at end of the bus line.

Grocery shopping is done in smaller and more frequent trips. For occasional large grocery shopping trips, they’ll tag along with Mira’s dad in his car. If that wasn’t available, they would probably do Zipcar. Getting to the hospital to give birth was also a challenge to figure out — they were able to work out to have access to a neighbor’s car that was available almost any time.

They chose to live in east Arlington with their transportation needs in mind, choosing an area geared toward families with young kids with ample resources within walking distance (particularly grocery stores).

As Mira says, “It’s really not as hard as people seem to think it is. My parents and other people who have always had a car, seem to be really surprised that even after we had the baby we could keep not having a car. It doesn’t seem like it’s really that much of an imposition, 99% of the time. The extra 1% we figure out things to get around it, borrowing a car, going with a friend. Or we have really long bus waits.”

About Nathan

Nathan is a postdoctoral research fellow in neuroscience. He thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Going and staying carfree, True Life Stories of the Carfree. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to True Life Stories of the Carfree- Mira, James & Jesse in Arlington, MA

  1. Jeffrey says:

    A tip about getting cat litter without a car (and I’ll pass this on to Mira as well):
    We use Feline Pine, which also comes in little bags which are conveniently available at Harvest in Central Sq. It’s easy to get home on the bus with them! I buy one bag on 10% off day for members once a month, and it lasts an entire month. (We have 2 cats)
    I use the Feline Pine litter box, so as the used wet litter crumbles it goes through the sieve like bottom of the upper box into the lower box, leaving the top box clean. I scoop poop daily.

    (I’m sort of a cheater because I do have a car, but I don’t use it, at least not for most shopping, including kitty litter. The car is for things like the hikes Mira mentioned, and I love lending it to friends who need it, if anyone local is reading this. It’s a manual transmission.)

  2. Kailia says:

    I love this so much in theory, and with one little bub seems totally possible. But I just can’t seem to figure out how to make it a realistic option in my life with a 3, 6, and 7 year old. The in-between ages where strollers are too confining and heavy to push, but little legs and bodies get tired from long walking/bus trips, not to mention impatient(which, of course, is universal), make workable options more limited. Boston is also more condensed, while Portland is such a widespread city. I’ve been meaning to get an xtracycle fitted bike that can carry 2, plus a trail-a-bike for the 3rd, who I only have sometimes.

    • Dorea says:

      But Kailia! you live in Portland (I assume you mean Portland, OR), the family biking capital of the universe!

      Whether or not you completely ditch the car, there are so many experienced shops to help you find a set up that will work for your family. Check out Clever Cycles (http://clevercycles.com/), Splendid Cycles (http://www.splendidcycles.com/), Joe Bike (http://www.joe-bike.com/) and I think there are even more. We would fall over backwards to get even one store like that in our neck of the woods to get good advice and try out different family biking set ups.

      That said, no matter how your city is laid out, or how many bike shops there are to help you, or how fabulous or awful the transit, most families do need to lay some careful groundwork to make it work (what neighborhood? How close to work? Which schools?), but any steps in the direction of less driving/more transit-biking-walking make life a lot nicer for everyone.

  3. This is a great series! I think there are a lot of families in the area who are interested in going car-free, us being one of them, and it is helpful to see how others manage. Thanks! -Kerry

  4. Kim says:

    When we didn’t have a car…which was for 1.5 years of parenthood, we ordered anything heavy online. That made it so much easier then having to lug heavy things like cat litter, baby wipes, even cleaning solutions. We fell in love with free shipping via Soap.com, Diapers.com and used our AmazonPrime memmbership a lot.
    We did just fine without a car and a baby….not so much with no car, a toddler and a pregnant me..that is when we took the car plunge :)

  5. Jesse E-V says:

    Another great strategy for car-free or mostly car-free families around grocery shopping is a running stroller. When I can’t manage all of our groceries on my mountain bike, I use our running stroller. You can put a ton of boxed and bagged groceries in the seat and carry things like cat litter, toilet paper, etc underneath. My spouse was doing much of the grocery shopping but the running stroller has given us a way to switch the workload around. I can even do trips to BJs/Costco with it!

  6. Leigh says:

    Jesse, I have put my kid in the carrier a few times to use all the space in my Uppa Baby Vista for gear or used the double seat when I am only taking one kid out.

    I also am a fan of online shopping.

    We survived the tipping point of the second kid and bought a grand piano (and then a house to house it) instead of a car.

  7. Clark Minn says:

    Thanks for the information you have shared in this post…It can help for me…

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