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.
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.”