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April 17, 2007

Carless in Seattle

A Seattle Kossack, Eugene, wrote about his adventures being carless in Seattle at DailyKos yesterday.  I thought I'd excerpt a few paragraphs of his excellent diary here.  Eugene talks about loving to drive, from the time he first began.  He gave up his car last October as an act of generosity; he gave his old Honda accord to his girlfriend when she took a new job in Monterey, California.  He has close to a year back here in Seattle finishing up school before he goes down to join her. 

Because she moved to CA, I had to get a new apartment. I looked around town for a neighborhood that was close to campus, near shops and urban amenities, and would allow me to walk or bus to where I needed to go. I settled on Greenlake, a 30 minute walk and a 15 minute bus ride from campus, and moved here in late October.

Immediately I began to worry again. The supermarket in our neighborhood closed in 2005 and the nearest ones were about a half mile away, on the other side of Interstate 5. It seemed too far for me. I seriously looked into getting online delivery from Safeway. I reserved a Flexcar anytime I had to go outside my neighborhood. The carless experiment wasn't starting off well.

But within 2 weeks I found my attitude had totally and completely shifted. I found that the supermarkets were only a 10 minute walk away, which was very easily doable. The bus service was fantastic, and thanks to a subsidized bus pass, it was an extremely cheap and effective form of mobility. I fell back on the Flexcar less and less often, and eventually stopped using it altogether.

The key was simple: practice. As I walked or bused to where I needed to go, my perceptions of travel time, of speed and immediacy, began to change. A 20 minute busride no longer seemed like an interminably slow journey, instead it was a leisurely trip through my city. The walk back from the supermarket wasn't an onerous hike, instead it was an opportunity to look at houses, watch the gray clouds roll in over the Olympics.

Eugene knows that his experience as a young single person in a good walking neighborhood is different from other peoples' experience, especially those folks with kids.  He cites Alan Durning, director of Sightline Institute, who is married and has kids - but who has just recently completed a year as a family without a car.  Eugene echos what Durning finds makes carlessness easier:

Like my experience on the other side of Phinney Ridge, Durning has found that the key is a good "walkshed" - a compact neighborhood, nearby shops and services, reliable and frequent bus service, and walk- and bike-friendly urban design. Ballard, where Durning lives, is like Greenlake a neighborhood largely laid out at the turn of the last century, and still maintains those mixed use principles that were common before World War I.

Eugene talks about and quotes Durning on the public policy aspects of carlessness.  He ends with:

Changing our attitudes is the most difficult part; changing our behavior is much easier once we convince ourselves we can and should do it. And that's precisely what I found about going carless in Seattle: the fear of it was much more difficult than the reality, which for me has luckily been a pretty damn easy reality. I hope we can get together and use the political system to produce land use patterns, public transportation alternatives, and other forms of support to make it easy for you to do the same, before you are forced to by inflation and peak oil.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 17, 2007 at 11:49 AM in Environment, Taking Action | Permalink

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