We’re thrilled to bring you another installment of our continuing series on carfree families, this time featuring a Carfree Family who recently won an Alice Award for outstanding bicycle acheivement! If your family is carfree, we all need your inspiration, so drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you already dropped us a line and didn’t hear back, it’s not because we don’t want you to contribute, but rather because we sometimes lose things in the inbox. Please write us again!
Describe your family (e.g. how big, how many, how old)
We’re a former minivan driving family of seven, enjoying carfree life since January 2011:
- Annee – age 41, carfree family matriarch, homeschooling mom, nonprofit administrator
- Moses – age 54, carfree family patriarch, fitness & nutrition coach, has physical limitations
- Five children ages 9, 11, 13, 14, & 16 – homeschoolers, Roots & Shoots youth activists, community gardeners, athletes, actors, library employees, film directors, and all around great kids
What type of area do you live in?
We live in an urban area in Washington County, OR, just outside of Portland. Living adjacent to a Platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community definitely has its advantages. Mass transit, bike lanes, sidewalks, and multi-use pathways are very accessible, even though our city ranked only at the bronze level, mainly due to the lack of interconnectivity of routes in the county. Motorist attitude makes all the difference to us. Drivers in Portland are accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists, and that attitude carries over to a degree into neighboring cities. Still, a seven person cycling family or even one or two of us hauling groceries in trailers is not the norm.
When did your family go carfree?
While our “best family decision ever” went into effect in January 2011, our carfree “anniversary” is December 25, 2010. That day we took our bike trailer for its inaugural run and were privileged to see two bald eagles in a dance of flight over a small urban wetland area. We never would have noticed them speeding past in a car. Animal totem or not, we took this encounter as a sign that going carfree was the righteous choice for us.
How and why did your family choose to go carfree?
In 2009, we participated in the No Impact Experiment with some other folks in the Phoenix Metro Area, where we were living at the time. The Experiment introduces a new phase each day, starting with consumption, followed by trash, transportation, food, energy, water, and giving back. The transportation phase was discouraging, elucidating how much fossil fuel we were burning traveling to and from environmental volunteer projects as well as day to day activities. That was a difficult contradiction to live with. After moving to an eco-friendlier community in Oregon, our petrol consumption dropped from a tank a week to a tank a month. Initially we joked about getting rid of the car altogether, but within a year’s time, going carfree became our logical choice in terms of cash savings, environmental commitment, and personal well-being.
What is the typical level of car ownership/dependence for a family like yours in your area?
It’s not uncommon to find carfree families in Portland, but here in the suburbs most families own one or two cars. Locally, we know just a few carfree families and families who own one car and limit their use by biking, walking, or bussing most places. Our carfree lifestyle is unique enough to have attracted the attention of Oregonian reporter Casey Parks, who wrote an article and filmed a video about us. The media coverage has been an opportunity to be a voice for change, yet humbling at the same time. Certainly some of the families we see on mass transit are also carfree not by choice, but because they can’t afford a car. For better or worse, our culture doesn’t much celebrate people who live in poverty for their lighter carbon footprint.
What modes of transportation do you use?
We cycle, walk, and use mass transit. Scooters and rollerblades were a fun experiment, but not the best choices for our general transit needs. Cycles are almost always our first choice for distances five miles or less and sometimes more. Our mode of transit varies depending on who is traveling, when, where, and in what weather conditions. One teen commutes by cycle to work at the library, at times accompanied by teen brother who volunteers there. The family policy on catching rides from friends is to do so only if it does not necessitate extra driving for pick up or drop off, although we make some allowances for Moses’s physical limitations. To visit relatives out of state we once rented a minivan.
What do you see as both the benefits and costs of living carfree for your family?
The benefits of living carfree have been practically innumerable for our family. Most importantly, ditching the minivan for cycles played a huge role in Moses’s journey back to health, as he lost nearly 120 pounds and improved his management of chronic degenerative bone and joint disease by changing his parking space from handi-spot to bike rack. The Mobility for Moses campaign aims to get him onto a trike with supine seating, the doctor prescribed posture for management of his medical conditions. The only cost of living carfree – and I’d really call it more of an adjustment than a cost – has been time. In most cases it simply takes longer to get places without a car. We have learned to manage this adjustment by choosing our trips carefully, planning efficient travel routes, and appreciating the other benefits of time spent on a longer journey, such as exercise, fresh air, nature appreciation, community connection, family conversations, reading, audiobooks, or simply relaxing on the light rail.
How do you arrange grocery shopping or other errands that may involve carrying large amounts of stuff?
With seven household members, including three hungry teens, we’re always buying food. Hauling large amounts of stuff is no problem using our Avenir cargo trailer with 77 pound weight capacity. A couple of our bikes also are equipped with racks and waterproof bucket panniers. At this juncture, we’ve hauled enough stuff that we’ll be offering delivery by cycle this summer in partnership with a local organic subscription farmer (similar to the CSA model). We’re strongly considering a trailer with 300 pound weight limit from Bikes at Work for this undertaking.
What type of public transit is available in your area (buses, trains, subways, vanpools)? Do you use transit? Why or why not?
Public transit in our area includes light rail and bus service. We use it for traveling longer distances and to places not safely accessible by cycle. It is possible to travel by a combination of transportation modes by putting bikes on the light rail or bus, although bike spaces are limited. Many downtown trips involve cycling to the light rail station to lock up bikes (under BikeLids if we’re lucky), riding light rail, transferring to bus, and walking the last stretch. On weekends and holidays, bus service in our area is very sketchy, so we prefer to rely on human powered transportation as much as possible.
Have you made any choices to specifically reduce your need for a car?
Location, location, location! The biggest choice we made to reduce our car needs was moving two years ago to a community where it was feasible to use the car less. We also choose to find the majority of our friends, resources, and activities within approximately a seven mile radius from home and to limit downtown and long distance undertakings.
If your family bikes, describe your bike set–‐up, particularly if you bike with children.
Our bike set-up is ever evolving and improving. We began our carfree journey with mostly used bikes. Over the past year we’ve upgraded to some better used bikes, and Moses and kids have built a couple from mixed parts with assistance from the folks at Washington County Bicycle Transportation Coalition, our local nonprofit cycling center. Two of our bikes are equipped with racks to carry bucket panniers, and several work well with the trailer. You may find us cycling in any number grouping from one to seven.