Car-Free Urban Existence

Much of suburban existence is predicated on the notion that you drive to everything.  In some
communities, the only thing you can do when you walk out your door (besides get into your car and drive somewhere) is walk your dog.  The thought of picking up dry cleaning or grabbing a gallon of milk without having to fire up your motorized vehicle is laughable.

Not all cities are like this, but Philly can very easily be largely car-free.  My wife and I both take transit to work, and our school-age kids both walk to school.  So during the school year, that's 40 car trips not taken (5 days x 4 people x 2 ways = 40).  (To say nothing of my early morning jaunts to the local Y to either swim or run/lift, which I never use a car to go to.)

But beyond the morning and afternoon commute are many more car trips not taken.  I have tons of meetings out of the office, and I walk or take transit to literally all of them, unless I am literally leaving town (and even then, there are many cities I regularly go to that I can get to and circulate in without setting foot in a car, like Baltimore, Camden, New York, Trenton, Washington, and Wilmington). 

There's also personal errands.  Just this week I did the following without ever coming close to needing a car: grocery shopping (a full week's worth, plus a second trip for supplies for a party), dropping off a package at UPS, picking up enrollment forms for day care for Asher, picking up Aaron's glasses, taking Jada to the orthodontist (yes, by day I'm a high-powered consultant but I also moonlight as a mule for my children), and withdrawing cash from the ATM.

To be sure, if you have a nice car and you can avoid traffic, driving around can be quite satisfying: a climate-controlled existence in which you can listen to tunes and control your own destiny in terms of arrival and departure.  But there's something to be said for walking and transit that cars don't provide, like exercise and fresh air and absorbing the feel of a place and serendipitous encounters with friends and colleagues.

I can't fathom a suburban existence in which every trip I described above I'd have to take by car, just as I'm sure my suburban friends and colleagues couldn't imagine not getting into a car to do these things.  I'm not saying anything earth-shattering here.  I guess I am a bit surprised at just how many car trips my life would involve if it got lifted into a suburban setting.  And I wonder if my suburban friends and colleagues would be surprised at how easy, fun, and pleasurable a car-free existence is.

No comments: