Car-less in Seattle

Family of five tries car-free living.
This post is 1 in the series: The Year of Living Car-lessly Experiment

Alan's sad Volvo

Six weeks ago, my 18-year-old son slammed our 19-year-old Volvo stationwagon into the rear of a high-clearance pickup. All the people were fine. So was the pickup.

But the Volvo wasn’t, as you can see in this photo. Repairing it would have cost many times the Blue Book value. So we accepted the insurance company’s check for $594 and bid farewell to the family car.

Happenstance thus made us car free. But we decided to stay that way . . . at least for a little while. OK, actually, it’s more of an experiment, to see whether a middle-class family of five can live a contented life in Cascadia’s largest city without owning their own car.

Why are we doing this? Cost, conscience, and capability.

Cost: Owning a car is expensive. Replacing our car with another old Volvo would cost us, well, several thousand dollars up front plus at least $400 a month in fuel, taxes, insurance, and depreciation. Buying a new Prius would cost about $650 a month, including the same things (and more than $1,000 a month during the first year!). (There’s an automatic cost calculator at Edmunds.com, a manual one at Seattle’s One Less Car Challenge, and a guidebook about car costs–if you want to understand the data—at Todd Litman’s invaluable website for Victoria Transport Policy Institute.)

Conscience: As Al Gore said the other day, climate change is not a political issue. It’s a moral issue. If I won’t give car-less living a try, who will? (And I’ve ratified Kyoto in my own life, so I was looking for ways to further trim emissions.)

Capability—in other words, because we can. Thanks to past choices plus some good fortune, car-free living is a smaller disruption for us than for most people. Our kids are old enough (the youngest is now 11) to walk or bike unaccompanied to a lot of places. We live in a compact city neighborhood with an abundance of nearby amenities. We’ve got respectable local transit service and five FlexCars stationed within a mile of our home.

We’re only six weeks into this new lifestyle, so I don’t want to make too many conclusions. But so far, the biggest surprise hasn’t been the occasional inconvenience (I expected that). It’s been two unexpected pleasures: more little adventures every week and fewer backseat arguments to referee.

We’re walking more, biking more, planning our activities more thoughtfully, and appreciating the FlexCar when we use it. My 12-year-old daughter said the other day, laughing at herself as she said it, “I’m noticing that cars go fast, really, really fast.”

It’s all very new, so this feeling may dissipate with familiarity. But so far, the biggest bonus of car-free living has been an added increment of mindfulness.

I’ll write more about this experiment another time. Meanwhile, I know there are lots of car-free readers of this blog. I’d welcome your advice, especially if you’ve got kids.

 

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Comments

  1. Elisa Murray says:

    Hey, anybody from the Portland area who wants to share their story about living car-free and whether this series inspired them? A reporter from Portland is looking for stories.

  2. nosmokes says:

    Seattle is a very place to live carless. there is wonderful mass transit and options like car share abound. as well as the geography and lay-out of the city make it easy to do shopping and other errands w/o a vehicle.

  3. Jennifer says:

    We are also a family of 5 who live in Bellevue, Washington. It has been about a month now and I have to say “ditto” to Mr. Durning’s above journal. I never realized how much our children, ages 5, 7 & 10 fought in the car. One unexpected benefit has been more peace.

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