I Have a Car but I Would Rather Bike
Giving up your car can feel scary. But what if you kept your car and used other forms of transportation, such as biking, as your primary mode of transit? Leslie T. explains how she went car-lite and why she loves it.
Have you ever considered living without a car? Does it seem far-fetched to rely solely on public transportation? Are you concerned you’ll be late to work and not be able to buy all those bulk items from Costco without a car?
One great thing about living in the DC region is that you can survive without a vehicle because there are so many options for commuting to work, running errands, and shopping. This week I’ll share my conversation with Leslie T. who decided to go car-lite, owning a car but using other forms of transit as your main source of transportation. Check out how she made the switch. It might work for you as well.
Renee: Hi, Leslie! Thanks so much for doing this interview today. Tell us where you live.
Leslie: I live in Penrose in Arlington.
Renee: Awesome. Nice area but not extremely bike friendly. Do you own a car?
Leslie: Yes, I do.
Renee: Do you drive your car a lot?
Leslie: I bought a car in late fall of 2014. It’s a 2015 Honda Fit. It has 14,000 miles on it. That averages out to a little more than 3,000 miles a year.
Renee: That’s very low. I think the average mileage is 10,000- 12,000 per year. So clearly you don’t drive very much. How do you get around the city?
Leslie: Mostly by riding my bicycle. I also have a Capital Bikeshare membership. When I am not feeling well, there’s Uber or a taxi. When the distance is too long to bike to my destination, I investigate multi-modal transportation: bike to bus or train, put my bike on the bus or train, and bike to my destination at the end. My house is 1.5 miles from the nearest metro but a short walk to the nearest bus stops—both WMATA and ART.
Renee: That’s so convenient to be so close to great transportation options. Is this why you decided to go car-lite?
Leslie: Yes, the car-lite lifestyle seemed amenable. I bought my first car when I thought I was going to get a job way out in the exurbs. That job didn’t work out. When I did get a full-time job, it was in the suburbs. I either rode my bike or rode my bike to the train station and walked to the office from the destination station.
Renee: This sounds great for work. But what do you do when you want to go out of town, have to buy a lot of stuff, or the weather is bad?
Leslie: For going out of town: I have to admit I’m a bit obsessive; I have a folding bike that is allowed on public transportation options that don’t allow full-size bicycles (or on airlines that charge excessive rates to take a full-size bike, which you then have to take apart and put back together.) On a previous job, I had a lot of week-long business trips. That bicycle has commuted in the streets of Paris, Barcelona, London, Copenhagen, and various U.S. cities. In the US, I sometimes had a rental car, but never abroad. I have a trip planned in August to go to a film festival in upstate New York. The folding bike and I will be on Amtrak.
Bad weather: There’s a saying that has been attributed to the Scandinavians: “There’s no bad weather for cycling, just bad clothing.” It’s a little overstated but rings true. If the weather is not absolutely disgusting, I’ll ride with rain gear. The bicycle also has appropriate rain gear— fenders. Snow is more problematic. Oh, there are steel-studded tires you can buy for bicycles, but the roads and paths are usually obstructed by piles of snow, making it not so safe, to say nothing of the cars skidding around in the snow.
Renee: I have a folding bike I take on trips too. They are so convenient. I agree with the Scandinavians, though I am a wimp about riding in a rainstorm 😊. But, it’s a great excuse to go shopping and buy more gear! Now that you have embraced the car-lite lifestyle, will you share some tips on how others can do the same if they have been thinking about it?
- Use an e-scooter or Capital Bikeshare for short errands/commutes. It’s sometimes faster than taking a car, especially when you factor in that you don’t have to find a parking space—and walk from there.
- Get your own bike—and make sure it works for you. Many people start out by using Bikeshare and then want to buy their own bikes. My advice to them is to buy something that’s fun to ride but will carry what you need it to carry. Buy a good lock. Always keep in mind the concept of “trade-off”: it might take longer to bicycle, and you have additional accessories to buy, but you’re not paying for parking, gas, or car maintenance. You’re getting exercise without having to pay for a gym membership. You’re seeing streets and neighborhoods and parks that you might otherwise never have seen. Go to one of the local websites or Facebook groups. WABA’s Women & Bicycles group is excellent for advice on routes, bike shops, and used bikes.
- Don’t over-commit. Don’t think you have to be obsessive about it. If you find you’re hesitating to go somewhere because it would require a drive, think of it as a treat and don’t deny yourself. You’re worth it.
- Celebrate the savings. Being car-free or car-lite will pay for itself. I bought my first serious bicycle when I was a graduate student, living off campus. It was hundreds of dollars on a grad student’s teaching stipend! I kept track of all the bus fares I was saving via the bike commute to and from campus. When I had amortized the cost of the bike, I celebrated. I haven’t looked back since.
- Take a class. If you are nervous about biking in the street, take a City Cycling Class sponsored by BikeArlington and offered several times a year in Arlington, so you can get comfortable and confident riding on city streets.
Renee: Leslie, thank you so much for sharing your experience of going car-lite. I hope it’ll inspire others to do the same.
Leslie: You’re welcome! Happy to share.
Want to try going car-lite but need to feel more confident on your bike? Sign up for updates on our upcoming bike classes.