Carless in Seattle…and elsewhere
The empty 405. By Julie Schmandt
As EVERYONE knows, Los Angeles was recently shut down for a July weekend when a ten-mile stretch of the 405 closed for a planned bridge deconstruction. Dubbed, Carmageddon, Angelenos prepared for the worst, locked themselves up in their homes and the brave few who ventured out on the streets were greeted by apocalyptic scenes of empty eight lane freeways. Some folks however, saw Carmageddon as a way to tout the joys of alternative transportation when a team of cyclists and public transportation enthusiasts easily defeated another team of JetBlue customers taking advantage of the airline’s $4 travel special in a race from Burbank to Long Beach. While the competition was all in good fun, it certainly highlighted that in one of the most car-dependent cities in the country, it is totally possible to get where you need to go sans car.
So what of it? Could you go carless? There certainly are positives – gone would be the money spent on gas, car payments, insurance – yay ! What about poundage? I bet you’d lose a few depending on what method you used to get to your destination. And hey, who doesn’t like to give a little thumbs-up to Mother Earth and spare her the greenhouse gases from your daily car commute?
Yeah, but there are negatives too. It can arguably take more time, and if you need to run a bunch of errands you may not have the storage space on your person to handle it. After all, you’re a human, not a pack mule. Another possibility is your city may not have the infrastructure to enable you to go carless… or go careless safely. No light rail, bus, train or bike lanes make getting from place to place rather tough. And unless you live in the tiniest of towns you won’t get all that far by sidewalk. And hills, gosh I hate hills. Hills can suck the joy out of any human-powered method of transportation right quick.
But obviously I’m not writing to share the excuses that pop into my head when I’m getting ready for work. I’m here to share with you – the advocates and the newbies of alternative transportation – how best to do your thing without a car, what makes it possible, and how certain cities and communities are doing it. This is going to be a series of articles. So to get started, let’s look at what cities make it soooo easy not to have a car because having a car in these cities is a huge pain in the butt.
Big, dense cities.
If you are going to go carless any place, a big city is the place to do it. New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, and Philly are all fairly easy to navigate by alternative transportation. One of the main reasons is parking prices. How would you like to spend $438, $375, or $304 a month on parking like they do in Boston, San Fran and Philly? Manhattan is so expensive that it takes the top two spots in a recent Collier’s International parking survey. Midtown and Downtown Manhattan clock in at a whopping $541 and $533! Shilling out $104 for a 30-day MetroCard is a steal by comparison.
This brings me to my second point about big, dense cities. Public transportation is awesome and available. Manhattan can’t exist without its subway; San Fran has BART, trolleys, and buses; Boston has one of the oldest subways in the country with the T; and DC has the Metro. Ultimately, the time you save avoiding road traffic and finding a parking space make your life much, much easier.
If you live in some of these big cities do you live without a personal vehicle? What about your city makes it easy or difficult to go carless?