Saturday, 29 October 2011

Car-free month (or two).

The time has come to say goodbye to my car.  Well, not completely.  But kind of.  I still own my car, but have taken the plate off and switched the insurance over to storage insurance only.  No more driving, at least not with that car, until December.

Before I handed in my plates an hour ago, I did lots of driving, unfortunately.  I had lots of errands to run that would be very hard to do on foot or using public transit.  So I took a few hours today and stopped by my friend Leyna's place to pick up some suits, stop by no less than three different grocery stores (Whole Foods, Superstore and Save On Foods), along with London Drugs and the farmer's market at Lonsdale Quay (today is the last market until next spring, so I thought it would be good to stop by).

I spent most of the time driving in silence, and, of course, I was alone. I took the time to reflect on the nature of driving and what it means to our society and to me personally.  I didn't even have a car until I was 25, and used public transit until then as I was always living in a large city, so the public transit system was more than adequate to get me around.  This was true in Winnipeg, Ottawa and Vancouver.  Then, when I was working in Kamloops, I biked to work for the first few months that I worked there.  Then... I got my car.

After using public transit for my entire adult life to that point, my car represented freedom.  I no longer had to plan out my every movement, because I had a car.  All that mattered was that I had the money to fill it up with gas, as the car came with an excellent warranty.  Oh, and I had to make car payments and pay for insurance, which I still do, to this day.  My car will finally be paid off next August and I am hoping to never make a car payment again after that.  Rest assured, I will never buy another new car.

So, if getting a car means freedom to me, then making it so that I cannot drive my car has definitely resulted in a feeling of being trapped.  Or it was.  What is so funny about our society today is that we feel like we only have one choice.  I felt like when I had a car.  If I was going to go anywhere, I would obviously have to drive.  No distance was too long or too short.  I always had to think of where I would park.  When I still used to drink, I would have to plan around that as well.

But now, I have so many more options.  I could walk (short distances), jog, run, rollerblade (remember rollerblading?), bike, use public transit, carpool, use a Zip Car, or take a taxi.  Although some of the options involve a car, now that I don't have my own car, taking a cab once in a while hardly compares to the daily driving I've been doing for six years.

In the past month since one of the partners at my firm loaned me a bike lock, I've been biking to work as much as possible and not driving on weekends (except today).  I've managed to only use one tank of gas this month, which is about half as much as I normally use.  I'm looking forward to a month of saving money by not driving!

I am also looking forward to a month of living consciously.  Have you ever noticed that when you drive, you don't pay attention to much other than driving?  Which I'm quite sure is the point, but it's not a particularly pleasurable or engaging experience.  Tim always makes fun of me because I spend a lot of time when I'm driving making up back stories for other drivers.  I have been listening to podcasts a lot, which is stimulating, and I get to learn while I'm driving, but generally, city driving is a stressful waste of time for me.

Now compare that to biking to work.  When I bike to work I get exercise first thing in the morning and at the end of the work day.  I am actively thinking the entire time, because I am very careful when I'm driving.  I get to look around, appreciate (or mentally curse!) the weather.  I notice stores that I drive by every day but never really look at.  I love biking.  Every time I bike to work is such a pleasant experience.

However, I live in North Vancouver, which means that some days are not going to be good for biking.  It rains here, particularly over the winter.  And as much as I like biking, I don't like biking when it's pouring.  So I plan to bike on sunny days and cloudy days, but not when it's raining hard in the mornings.  On those days, I'm going to take public transit.

I've already been using public transit when I have to go downtown after work for classes, so I've had some experience with it.  I love public transit because you can read or listen to music or podcasts.  Or you can just stare out the window and get lost in your thoughts.

So, I'm going to try to bike to work as much as possible for the month of November and possibly December, and when I can't bike, I'm going to use public transit.  Also, October 31-November 4 is Vancouver Area Cycling Association's Bike to Work Week, so it's great that it coincided with my first week of being car-free!

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