I’ve hit a wall with the car-free lifestyle. I’m exhausted and cold. Today, a cold and rainy day, with appointments on Maryland and 16th Street and at the Funk Lab down on Grand Avenue, I couldn’t face the reality of taking two buses, the light rail and riding my bike in this weather.
I suppose it’s a cumulative fatigue. Over the past month or so, on our car-free stint, everything has taken twice as long and has been at least twice as taxing. I’m tired of having to lift my heavy bike hurriedly onto the bike rack in the front of the bus. I’m tired of half-hour or more bike rides in the cold and damp.
We used our car this Saturday for our self-appointed “car Saturday” and visited my parents in Chandler. The trip took about 30 minutes whereas without a car, it takes 2 hours. I have to tell you, it felt like I was taking a drag from a cigarrette after trying to stop smoking. It felt SOOOO good to drive and get places fast, in a warm and dry environment. The rain and cold were “out there”, not on top of me. I didn’t have to lift anything or use my feet other than to press the gas pedal and the clutch. It felt restful and pleasant and convenient to drive.
Today, where the high temperature outside is in the fifties (this may sound pretty warm for non-Phoenicians, but it’s quite cold for us) and it’s raining on and off with lots of puddles on the ground, I gave into the temptation of taking our Scion XB, which has sitting idle in our carport since “car Saturday”, to Lux Coffeebar and all my meetings today.
Besides venting about my frustrations and fatigue, what’s the point of this post? The point is, that it’s damn hard to go carfree in Phoenix. I’m not saying I’m giving up on weaning myself off the car. I’m saying it’s a journey, not an easy one, filled with potholes, and wrought with resistance ranging from distracted drivers not looking for bicycles to poor bike/ped infrastructure such as lack of bike lanes and bike parking, and even skewed expectations about how fast we should be able to travel long distances.
You’ve heard me complain about this stuff before. It’s nothing new. But this all poses the question, should people start going on a car diet only when everything is in place already, when Phoenix is a perfectly bike-able and walkable city? Well, not to be dramatic, but the civil rights movement didn’t wait to start until everything was already fixed. It was the other way around. Changes started to happen because the civil rights movement began.
And so goes with any changes we want to see in this city in terms of bike-ability and walkability. First we need brave souls to take on the car lite/free lifestyle, to be the change they want to see, to point out the missing links and the hardships, to live it for themselves, and then to come together and form a movement from which to affect a greater change.
And this is why a handful of us who have taken the car lite/free plunge are starting to galvanize, support and advocate for others who have chosen the hard work of living life outside the car in Phoenix. (And hard work it is, sometimes it’s so hard I’m not always equal to it, especially on days like today.) Our goal is to give people the choice of getting around the city easily without a car if that is their preference. Because right now, it’s not really a choice. I’ve learned from first hand experience that it’s entirely too difficult not to drive in Phoenix and it’s clearly not a viable choice for most people.
Come hear me, Nicole Underwood and Eddie Jensen talk about this new movement towards choice. We will unveil the movement’s name and show you how you can become a part of it this Friday the 16th at the Funk Lab. Our talk will be the second installment of the Funk Series, a monthly creative happening collaboratively organized by Edge Industries and others in the community, including Blooming Rock. This Friday’s event will also include a showing of photographs of Phoenix by local artist Eric Figueroa. Come and join us! RSVP here.
I’ll reuse the food analogy you brought up in a previous post: This account sounds similar to someone who has lived a vegan lifestyle for a while and then decided on a vegetarian, pescatarian, or whatever-tarian diet that emphasizes plant-based foods but does not completely exclude animal products. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in finding a middle ground that reduces car use but does not exclude it totally. I couldn’t imagine a completely car-free lifestyle because it would keep me from hiking some of my favorite trails on the outskirts of the metropolitan area and beyond the reach of transit.
That said, I’m going to bring up a point I’ve been debating whether to mention for the past few days. It concerns the event you mention toward the end of your post. I can’t attend due to a prior commitment, but even if I were free that evening, I’d hesitate to go. The problem is that attendees are encouraged to avoid hypocrisy by not driving to the event, but the venue is difficult to reach without a car. The location is about a mile from light rail, there’s no local bus service on Grand Avenue, and I would not feel comfortable walking alone to and from bus stops half a mile away on Van Buren or 7th Avenue. I don’t currently own a bicycle, but even if I did, I’m not sure I’d even feel comfortable riding there at night.
I’m trying not to be too critical because I know how difficult it can be to find free or low-cost event venues, but it would seem to me that an event designed to promote car-free and car-lite lifestyles would make more sense in a location served by light rail and/or a high-frequency bus routes.
Great job Taz! Changes like these aren’t easy, but you’ve put action to your words and challenged yourself despite possible opposition or personal defeat. You have been a force to reckon with on the roadways with you fierce bicycle helmet and raw determination. A true local pedestrian hero!
In regards to the event venue, I have made the trip to Edge Industries a number of times by bike at different hours of the day and have not had any alarming encounters. Work is being done to make Grand Ave more pedestrian friendly, but we still need to make our presence known. Although the location is not directly off the light rail, it poses as a perfect example to support a local community business and build awareness on a not-so-pedestrian street, despite a slight inconvenience. I would hope that 7th street and 7th ave businesses receive pedestrian traffic despite not being directly off the light rail because people have that strong of a desire to support them.
As Taz’s post illustrates, a carlite lifestyle may not be easy at first, especially with commuting in our current urban design, but it is worth it and pays off. Every step counts.
David, 15th Ave to Fillmore looks like a viable approach by bike.
Taz I’ve had some of the same feelings about sticking with my bike commute on these chilly wet days as you mention. I’ve endeavored (and succeeded!) at staying warm, if not dry, while riding, and have traded health and evolutionary alignment for momentary discomfort. (evolutionary alignment: traveling in covered conveyances isolated from our environment has only been part of our existence for a brief fraction of the span of human evolution. We’re built to be in the open moving under our own power, and I feel more in my element with the rain, or sun, on my face, than behind the wheel locked up in a car).
David, Nicole and John, thank you for your encouragement. It is much appreciated and needed from time to time on this journey. David, regarding the location of the Funk Lab, I agree it’s just a little bit too out of the way of the Light Rail and bus system to be convenient to frequent outside of the car. This isn’t the Funk Lab’s fault, it’s more that our transit network has some holes in it. Eddie Jensen was saying that there used to be a bus that went down Grand but it was cut recently. The reason we are doing it at Funk Lab is because that is where the Funk Series originated with the guys at Edge-Industries, Kirby Hoyt and Rob Izer. Also, I think the venue is still a worthwhile one in my ways, because it is on Grand Avenue, a place that needs our support and needs to be better connected with the rest of Downtown.
Thanks for your replies about the venue. I agree that Edge Industries and the lower Grand Avenue business district are worthy of support — via any event other than a car-free kickoff. That particular event should be as transit accessible as possible and not assume ownership of a bicycle. I’ll have to cheer your efforts while respectfully disagreeing with your choice of venue.
As for transit on Grand Avenue, Edward is right. The Yellow Line used to run along Grand but was discontinued in 2003 when ADOT converted most of Grand to an expressway. Of course, lower Grand from I-10 to 7th Avenue still has the characteristics of a city street and merits transit coverage.
I know there has been talk of a Grand Avenue trolley. Here’s a short-term solution I favor, even though I think it’s unlikely to be implemented: Right now, the Downtown Phoenix Partership spends (wastes, in my opinion) money to run Ollie the Trolley on a circuitous and unnecessary route around Downtown on weekend nights. That money would be better spent running Ollie on a simple back-and-forth route between Central Station and lower Grand, effectively linking Grand to existing transit infrastructure.
David, great idea about using Ollie the Trolley to connect Grand Avenue with the rest of Downtown, it’s such a sorely neglected district when it comes to connectivity, just exarcerbating it’s isolation and making it’s revitalization that much more difficult. Also, I am really excited about the Grand Avenue Trolley, I think it can happen if we keep on chugging (no pun intended) along with the idea.
[…] Secretary of State Ray LaHood defines a livable community as “a community where if people don’t want an automobile, they don’t have to have one. A community where you can walk to work, your doctor’s appointment, pharmacy or grocery store. Or you could take light rail, a bus or ride a bike.” If we use LaHood’s definition, our Valley has not historically been a very livable community because it is very hard for a resident here not to own a car. […]