My Car-Free Life

Fitness, News and Advice
on March 31, 2010

I'm riding up the big hill before we get to my house for the second time today. It's a classic dark Portland evening with gusting winds and warmish rain. I remind myself that this storm comes from Hawaii and conjure up dreams of swimming in warm water and sun. All in all I have ridden about 28 miles today just getting around the city and getting things done. I am tired but my 2-year-old daughter, Gleneden, a happy passenger on the back of my bike prompts me to start singing "Old MacDonald" up the hill and I willingly oblige her belting it out at the top of my lungs because we are the only ones around to hear. She tells me which animals to sing and the difficulty of pedaling up the hill disappears into the background and before you know it we are at the top. What better way to beat rainy weather blues than that!

You may wonder why I don't just take the car on a day like this. To be honest sometimes I do. But more often than not we choose to be car free. Being a mostly car free mom means I don't have to pay for gas, I don't have to look for parking, I don't have to make room for a workout in my day. I just hop on my bike and use pedal power to get my kids and me where we need to go. Thanks to great urban planning and bicycle transportation infrastructure where we live in Portland, Oregon, biking has achieved critical mass and it is actually safer to be on a bike than in a car. Locally, we have a transportation culture that is in transition from a mostly car based culture to one that is multi-modal from public transit options: buses, streetcars and light rail, to zip cars, bikes, scooters and a healthy pedestrian contingent as well.

About two years ago, I jumped out of a career track executive position. With two small children at home I needed to get my "away from home" time in balance with my "at home" time. Since then I have been on a slow journey spending more time caring for my young children, finding a new career direction that is right for me and taking better care of myself, body and soul.

One of the choices I made was to become a mostly car free mom, riding my bike almost everywhere almost all the time. Instead of taking the car to get my children to school or child care or going to the bank or getting groceries, I decided to take my bike. I'm not entirely sure why forces came together to cause me to make this choice. Perhaps it's because I am always looking for new ways to lose the baby weight I promised myself I would lose (although unfortunately biking does nothing for the tummy) or maybe it's because I don't want to give any more of our families income to stuff that contributes to global warming than I absolutely have to. It's not lost on me that in many communities there are no sidewalks for children to walk to school. I live in a place where all these options are available and suddenly I felt a coming together of enough cyclists on the roads and enough awareness of cars and bikes sharing the road to create a safe environment for me to get out by bike with my kids.

I started slow. I put on a pretty dress and rode my daughter to childcare on a sunny day during warm weather. The feeling of being on my bike with the wind and the sun and having so much fun with my daughter literally made me fall in love with the whole experience. When end of summer came, I knew I didn't want to give it up and my daughter was having a great time too. I invested in an Xtracycle, which is an attachment for your bike that allows the rear wheel to be stretched out behind the seat. This creates a big, stable platform for a load or a passenger. It has saddlebags on either side that are expandable when you need them for hauling groceries or school projects and out of the way when you don't. In all of one day, my bike had become a cargo bike with much more versatility than I had had before.

Now on average my travels take me between 18-25 miles a day Monday through Friday with my kids and up to four bags of groceries at the same time! Weekends are a bit looser, if we need to go a long distance or for a really big shopping we take the car, but otherwise we enjoy being car free. My husband and I have much more fun going on date nights by bike, rain or shine. I put on something that makes me feel fabulous (no bikey wear on date nights) and off we go out to drinks, dinner or a movie. Riding around we go to more places, we don't have to park the car! We just pull up where we want to go and we're there. Sometimes we hold hands riding together in the middle of a quiet street and that's really nice.

There are so many unexpected benefits to biking more and driving less. Instead of driving by neighborhoods on our way to and from someplace, we are really in neighborhoods, saying "hi" to our neighbors and noticing interesting things about the place we live. An added benefit is that our neighbors notice us. It's great to pull up at a stoplight and have fellow Portlanders wave and smile at our family or have people yell out "Sweet ride" while we are biking uphill. I know my kids love the attention and feel good about what our family is doing to help the environment. As a mom, I feel good that my children are growing up knowing that there are many transportation options for getting around and it's helping them stay fit and reinforce a healthy lifestyle that will keep them in good stead for the future. I am definitely still working on my post baby tummy but I am proud to say my rear is in great shape.