Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

Car-Free/Car-Lite as a Family, Part I


Going Car-Free/Car-Lite is something we’ve often considered as a family. After briefly mentioning it a couple of days ago, I thought it might be nice to go into a little bit more detail and include a few links that I’ve been accumulating along the way.

I should start out by saying that we’d more than likely end up Car-Lite rather than Car-Free and we will still own two vehicles while doing it. Why? A few reasons:

  • Because of Hubby’s variable hours (often late at night hours) and chosen profession I don’t feel it’s wise to forgo a car for him. We’ve significantly lowered our carbon footprint now that he’s not driving 45 minutes one way to work – it’s down to maybe 5 minutes one way if he hits the lights just right.
  • Not only is our city not into backyard chickens (and generally close minded to a great many alternative options like that), it’s also not very friendly to non-car types. There have been a number of letters to the editor in the local paper all in a huff because people don’t ride their bikes on the sidewalk (never mind that it’s against the law and unsafe for pedestrians)! Public transportation is limited to a bus and that runs on a limited schedule.
  • The only car that we think it would be wise to sell is the one that has a loan on. I have a suspicion that particular car lost a good amount of value last year.
  • The car Hubby drives to work is fully paid for, but fairly old so any return on selling it would be pretty small (another large engine, non-fuel efficient vehicle). Since we only have liability coverage on it, selling it to remove it from our insurance policy wouldn’t even be wise since we don’t pay that much every year and we’d loose our multiple vehicle discount whereas selling the other one would save us a significant amount of money just in loan payments.

The way I figure it, even with all of the above I still think it’s a fantastic idea to lower our dependence on our vehicles so that when one or the other is no longer running we aren’t caught off guard and can forgo replacing it.

If you’re thinking about going car-free/car-lite just as an individual or even a couple the logistics are much simpler, but translate that into doing so for a family requires a little bit of forethought and creativity. Where to start?

A fantastic place to start is with the Ebook I mentioned a few days ago, “Urban Camping“. If you haven’t bought it yet, what are you waiting for? There are an incredible number of great ideas in that book that can get the thoughts percolating in your own mind. The Tombrowski family uses mass-transit quite a bit so there’s some limitation in how useful their advice will be for folks like our family, but they also don’t use bikes so that can potentially keep the cost down quite a bit.

The next place I’d start is over at Bike Portland. While I don’t live in Portland, I’ve found some good food for thought that I think can be applied to where I live. Not only that, but they have an entire section devoted to “Family Biking.”

There’s a great blog out there called “CarFree Family” that’s fantastic as well. Again, I believe they have a fair amount of access to mass-transit, but I haven’t let that stop me from collecting information there.

Copenhagenize is another fantastic blog. This one’s actually not specific to families, but has some good insight into bicycling in Copenhagen (Denmark) and what it might look like if our communities here in America put something other than the automobile first.

Another great blog out there is called “Car Light Family Minneapolis” which is perfect for those who find themselves in a location that actually has winter complete with snow and frigid temperatures.

Of course, “Car Free with Kids” is another great blog. Big plus for me in that the author lives in a location where they get snow in the winter. A minus because again, what seems to be a number of mass-transit options.

While it’s great to do some reading beforehand, at some point you actually need to transition to using your car less (or giving it up altogether). This will necessitate some equipment. This is even more important when doing so as a family because it’s entirely likely some members of the family will need to be transported in some way by adult power.

As I see it there are a number of options – which option you choose will be largely dependent on your needs and your budget. By far the most expensive options are bike based, but if you are able to sell a vehicle (or go without a vehicle) it might be more accessible to you than it is to us. They include (this is by no means an exhaustive list):

  • The Coach Trike – Price ~$5k – Capable of carrying kids and cargo!
  • The Bakfeit – Price ~$3k – Ditto the above.
  • The Xtracycle – Price ~$1k – Ditto the above. I suspect it will be upwards of $1k actually considering the fact that you will need to add some accessories to the bike in order to transport your children.

For the rest of us, or at least for me – very limited budget – there are still a great number of options. The first of which entails starting with what you already own. Maybe you already own a stroller or a wagon. Why not try running a few errands each week by setting out on foot with those items? Need to carry something? How about a backpack or a granny cart (I got mine at a Flea Market)? While it most certainly won’t be ideal it will definitely give you an idea of what will work in your situation or what options you might want to investigate next.

One of the things we discovered when we tried it last year is that pulling a wagon is most definitely less than ideal. Not only is it bulky, but it’s tough to pull – especially with some of the hills in our area. A stroller is certainly a better bet, but I’d opt for one of the heftier strollers (like the ones that come with the “travel systems” at the very least – although, they seem to have changed the wheels since we bought our last one since they’re not actual wheels anymore). Another thing we discovered is that footwear is key. Hubby and I both discovered that our old athletic shoes left much to be desired. However, back when gas was near $4 a gallon a new pair of shoes didn’t seem all that expensive comparatively. I actually think one could argue that you get a better value for your dollar with the shoes.

The next step up from there is to consider a jogging stroller. You can actually head on over to JoggingStroller.com and take their “How to Pick a Jogging Stroller” wizard. It’ll help give you a good idea of what’s out there and help you prioritize your needs/wants. They’ve also got educational pages that explain the differences and why you might one particular feature over another. There are also a number of reviews on just about every choice there which helps give you an idea of what others thought. My only wish is that there was some sort of review/wizard for those of us who want to use a stroller to get groceries or run other errands. I’ve yet to find something like this, let me know if you have.

Oh, and be prepared for sticker shock if you haven’t looked for strollers for a awhile. From what I’ve seen, though, there are decent strollers out there for folks on a budget. One of the most important things that I’ve learned is to let go of the guilt about not “buying the best value” or “the best quality”. While it is true that you get what you pay for, it’s also wise not to buy more than you can afford. Besides, if it works for you, what difference does it make if someone else doesn’t like it?

Be sure to look for a stroller that also has a cargo basket that you can carry a few items in (extra clothing, snacks, etc). You’ll also need to consider the width of the stroller – some of them are too wide to fit through doorways. Wondering how you can carry groceries home? Start looking for a decent backpack. The Tombrowski’s give a good idea of what to look for in their book “Urban Camping“.

Stay tuned for Part II – Bike and Bike Trailer Combo!


2 thoughts on “Car-Free/Car-Lite as a Family, Part I

  1. If you want something for groceries, you might want to get a bike trailer/stroller combo like a Burley. You wouldn’t want to take it in the grocery store, but you could leave it outside, stick the kids in the grocery cart, and you’re ready to go. The Burley d’Lite has enough room in the cargo space for 3 bags of groceries and it comes ready as a bike trailer or stroller. http://www.bicycletrailers.com (joggingstroller.com’s sister site), is a good place to start.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I’ll talk more about the bike trailer/stroller combo in Parts II and III. By way of a bit of preview…I wasn’t impressed with the Burley. Not even their cargo room could win me over.