One of the biggest surprises for me when I started seriously trying to go car-free was how differently I approached shopping, eating out, running errands and generally organizing my day.
Ironically, the one thing that didn’t change much was my commute time. Traffic is bad enough in Portland now, especially during rush hour, that I can get almost anywhere east of the West Hills in just a few minutes more than it takes to drive, sometimes less by the time you factor in finding a place to park.
What was very different, however, was how I had to deal with my limited range, geography and physical abilities in terms of getting around. No longer could I plan to criss-cross town, especially if I had to head west of the river, where there were steep hills, hairpin turns and fewer routes on which I felt safe biking.
As a result, I found myself taking a bit more care in planning my day. When I drove, I’d think nothing of having my day contain work, grocery shopping, a doctor’s appointment, a drink after dinner with some friends, all in different parts of town. Now I tend to plan like this:
Where do I have to go today? To a doctor’s appointment? If I triangulate the route between home, the doctor and the office, how many errands can I run along the way? If I’m passing a pharmacy, let me see if I can pick up our prescriptions a couple days early. Is there a dry-cleaner on the way I can drop some clothes off? Do we need groceries? Let me stop on the way and pick up a bag or two (max I can carry on the bike). Are any of them perishable? I have to stop on the way home, so I can get them in a fridge, or skip them till tomorrow.
As a result, I end up making more, but smaller, shopping runs than I would with a car. But I also end up cooking smaller, fresher meals, because I am usually buying only what I need for the next day or two. I’ve also really gotten to know my local stores and shopkeepers, and what they stock and what they don’t. Perhaps more importantly, I feel like I am part of my community. I talk to my neighbors, I know who lives and works here, and I find all kinds of rough gems I never knew existed nearby when I drove because I sped past them all the time.
Can I get some items cheaper at the big box store across town? Probably. But I guarantee you that gas and insurance and parking and the car payment costs more than I’m saving over time. Can I save some time in my day driving? Perhaps. But with traffic and the scarcity of parking in Portland, it’s not much, if anything. Do I occasionally not get something I used to because they don’t carry it near my routes? Maybe, but I find I don’t miss it more than I don’t miss my car.
I get that not everyone has this luxury. There are days I don’t have this luxury and have to take a ride-share somewhere. But if you can pull this off even a couple days a week, you’ll feel better, spend less money and maybe even save the planet a little bit.