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Reader Story: How I survived auto amputation

Posted by on May 3rd, 2012 at 7:11 am

Allison and her husband Michael.
(Photo: Allison Sliter)

[This story was submitted by BikePortland reader Allison Sliter.]

A couple years back I lost some weight. A lot of weight, actually. I lost about 1500 lbs when my 1980 Honda Accord was donated to NPR.

I had been dabbling in the carfree lifestyle for years. Leaving my car to sit on the curb for days, even weeks at a time. I paid to park it in front of my own house. I paid to insure it against crashes I couldn’t have while it sat there. My husband has never even had a driver’s license and although he appreciated having a driver in the house, he wanted me to be carfree, too. So, I knew I’d eventually get rid of it, but I kept putting it off. Then, during a Fall pledge drive on OPB (Portland’s NPR affiliate station), I just did it. It was October. I hadn’t been on my bike for more than 10 miles in the last month. If I had done it in June, my zealotry would have faded by the time the fall rain set in.

By starting in October, it may have been cold and wet and rainy, but I had fresh self-righteousness to keep me warm.

Cutting off my access to a personal vehicle was not easy at first. The first time I felt the phantom pain of my lost car was when my winter cold turned into a sinus infection — my pharmacy was three miles away through driving rain. There were things I did that I just couldn’t do anymore: An impulse trip to Ikea, buying 24 packs of Coca-Cola.

“Cutting off my access to a personal vehicle was not easy at first… If I wanted a Big Mac and fries, I had to spend calories to get there.”

Right away, though, I started making choices that I could have made before I got rid of the car, but didn’t. Every grocery trip was a bike grocery trip. I’d walk to get my hair cut at the salon. I’d take the bus to the mall. If I wanted a Big Mac and fries, I had to spend calories to get there. When my husband and I went on dates, we took the tandem.

Those under two-mile trips that we hear are perfect for cycling suddenly were always cycling trips. Laziness had no effect on whether or not I took the car; because I couldn’t take the car! Like losing one sense and having the others compensate, I suddenly learned how much I could do with out it.

For example: Last summer, I took my bike trailer and ten gallon-sized plastic storage containers and I rode 15 miles out-and-back to a farm to get u-pick blueberries; last week I took about six cubic feet of stuff to Goodwill. I even go garage sale-ing by bike. We’re moving in a couple weeks and I’ve collected every cardboard box we’re going to need and brought them home on my bike.

The key for people who are unsure is good gear. Doesn’t have to be fancy gear. Doesn’t have to be the latest, greatest cargo bike (although those are nice). For every day stuff, a bike with a rear rack and a pair of panniers will be sufficient. The kind with a flap that straps down have the most space and keep your stuff nice and dry. For bigger jobs, we have a Burley cargo trailer — just two tires and a cargo bed. But we go camping — with a tent, two sleeping bags, two mattresses, food, clothes, stove, and a couple paperbacks — with two pairs of panniers and a rack to lash the tent to. We toured Tuscany with a single pannier, a seat bag, and a handlebar bag.

It’s now been more than 18 months since my car was amputated. I no longer walk with a limp. I lost about 5% of my body weight without a deliberate change in diet or exercise. And I lead a richer, fuller life than I did before. I’ve found that my car was a vestigial appendage. I didn’t really need it. Maybe you don’t either. If you’re toying with the idea of amputating you car, I say go for it!

Thanks for sharing your story Allison! Read other stories from readers here, and submit your own via our submission page.

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Comments
  • Schrauf May 3, 2012 at 7:22 am

    “Like losing one sense and having the others compensate, I suddenly learned how much I could do with out it.” – great analogy!

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  • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Good for you. We’ll all figure this out one day – perhaps sooner than we think. Thanks for your great story.
    Now to connect up with the 18% of Multnomah Co. households who also don’t own a car…. Just think, if we all voted we could (almost) elect our own candidates!

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  • michael downes May 3, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Great story. We experienced a similar thing when my family and I moved to Portland six years ago. The cost of transporting our two junker cars (we lived in LA) was prohibitive so we opted for car-free as an experiment. Six years on we are still car-free and have no plans to get a car now or at any time in the foreseeable future. A combination of bicycle, electrically assisted Bakfiets, mass transit, and Zipcar/car rentals when we really need some wheels (like picking the mother-in-law up from PDX) and we are just about covered for any conceivable eventuality. Just like Alison I lost fifteen pounds and it has stayed of (not that I pay much attention to such things!). Living car-free has improved the quality of our lives immeasurably and I am incredibly thankful to live in a city with the vision to understand how profound those transportation options are.

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  • nancybee May 3, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Thanks for the story. It was inspiring. My own vestigial appendage is spending most of it’s time sitting. Last year I spent twice as much on insurance as on gas. I drove 57 times totalling about 1000 miles in the last year.

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  • pat May 3, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I am not sure that this “amputation” analogy is exactly the most considerate or thoughtful. There are many people today for whom real amputation is not a choice.

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    • Joe May 3, 2012 at 9:33 am

      am·pu·tate   [am-pyoo-teyt]
      verb (used with object), am·pu·tat·ed, am·pu·tat·ing.
      1.
      to cut off (all or part of a limb or digit of the body), as by surgery.
      2.
      to prune, lop off, or remove: Because of space limitations the editor amputated the last two paragraphs of the news report.
      3.
      Obsolete . to prune, as branches of trees.

      The English language can be complex. See 2.

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      • pat May 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm

        I understand the meaning of the word. You should read for the metaphors towards it being a limb, such as in the first paragraph, “…I lost about 1500 lbs…” ” The first time I felt the phantom pain…” And then further, “I no longer walk with a limp.”

        How much time have you spent in the VA Hospital? How many times have you been in a OR removing someone’s leg?? You would never forget the smell of necrotizing fasciitis and clunk of a leg being cut-off. Please don’t trivialize other people’s real, painful and other traumatic problems. This is a very thoughtless post. I am honestly surprised the Jonathan is running it.

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        • Schrauf May 3, 2012 at 8:43 pm

          Think of it this way. There is probably a large percentage of Americans who would rather give up a limb, before giving up their car. That is the only thing about this story that should be shocking.

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        • Michael May 5, 2012 at 5:00 am

          From the disability rights perspective, the story is problematic (if you walk with a limp or if you have had an appendage amputated, then you deal with it and you have to redefine who you are given your different situation. You come to accept (hopefully) that this is who you are. Far worse than any physical pain or discomfort is the negative attitudes expressed by others towards you; And the pity – and no one wants to be pitied). so the equation:

          “walking with a limp (or having had an amputation or living with any other disability) = something bad”

          is what people in disability rights field take issue with.

          Take any other identity marker (race, gender, LGBTQ status, religious affiliation, etc) and make a general statement “this group = something bad” and maybe it will become clearer.

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    • Mindful Cyclist May 3, 2012 at 9:43 am

      I have to agree. I was hoping to read a story about someone that had actually lost a limb and how they retrofitted a bicycle to accomodate someone that lost a leg or arm. But, just a story about a person giving up a car? I was disappointed.

      Good for Allison for giving up the car. Something I may try to do one day since I don’t use mine much. Unfortunately, the price to keep it insured and put gas in it every other month is still cheaper than buying a cargo bike.

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      • LoveDoctor May 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

        Really? I just got a highish end cargo bike that was under $2000 with all the goodies. The average family pays over a $1000 per year in gas per car, and insurance is many hundreds per year more. Add in oil changes and replacing belts, and a good cargo bike (there are many cheaper than mine) gets paid for with one year of use, and the savings only continue every year after that.

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        • Mindful Cyclist May 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm

          Yes, really. My insurance is about $300 a year (which will also cover me on my bike). I drive a fairly fuel efficient car, so I at best spend $25 a month on gas. Considering I drive around 3,000 miles a year and I change my own oil, the oil change cost is minimal. Same with other parts. Not everyone that drives has a huge car payment.

          And, consider that many people (myself really included), one needs to cough up some serious coinage to get a cargo bike and it is money I am not sure I have. On the other hand, I have enough to cough up money for gas and insurance 2x a year.

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          • Chris I May 4, 2012 at 1:02 pm

            You are not factoring in all of the incremental costs of driving. Even if you change your own oil, you have tires, brakes. What if you blow a head gasket? Timing belt? Eventually you will have to replace this car. How are you factoring that in? I get pretty good mileage on my older car, but with all of the repairs, wear and tear, etc, I’ve calculated it at about $0.25 per mile. Using $0.25 per mile plus insurance, how much does your car cost every month?

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            • MindfulCyclist May 5, 2012 at 7:31 pm

              I am well aware of the incremental costs of owning a car. I think you are missing my main point, though. Right now, I am not sure if I could just drop nearly $2000 on a cargo bike. If the head gasket blows, I will probably donate it and go car free for a bit.

              But, using your formula, that would put me at about $75 a month. So, it would still take me over 2 years to see a benefit of spending $2000 on a cargo bike. I was replying to Love Doctor’s reply “the average family spends $1000 a year on gas alone.” I am not one of those average families.

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    • ron May 4, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      There was nothing insensitive or offensive in her article. I think the use of the word amputation was creative, appropriate and descriptive. How far should we go to avoid words that someone somewhere might find offensive or uncomfortable?

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      • Michael May 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm

        I already replied to the story above (earlier today) – but I feel compelled to respond to this in particular. When you write “there was nothing insensitive or offensive in her article”, I think you mean “I found nothing insensitive.” If other people say they are offended, give them some credit. Most people don’t go through life declaring “I am offended’ just for fun. I read this blog often, and rarely post. I found the post insensitive and offensive. If Jonathan or Alison or you want to understand why, I’d be happy to have that conversation offline.

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    • middle of the road guy May 4, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      You can spend a whole lifetime getting offended on someone else’s behalf.

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    • Oh Word May 5, 2012 at 11:27 am

      Does your self-righteousness keep you warm too?

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  • jeff May 3, 2012 at 9:34 am

    I use my car 2-3 times a week and about 5-6000 miles per year max. I find it necessary to visit my family and experience the PNW on hiking, biking, skiing, and climbing trips. Those things are important to me. I couldn’t do a lot of them without a vehicle. You can reduce successfully without total elimination.

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    • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 9:44 am

      “You can reduce successfully without total elimination.”

      “Those things are important to me. I couldn’t do a lot of them without a vehicle.”

      Sure, but not until you (or most of us) get rid of the car do we discover how many of the tasks you list can be accomplished by other means: bike, bus, train, shuttle, bike+one or more of those. Not to mention the fact that without those of us inclined in this direction taking advantage of these public modes the counties paying for them have a harder time justifying keeping them operating, much less expanding service.
      And then there’s the more carlike options: taxi, carshare, bumming rides.

      With a brief exception six years ago my wife and I (and now three of us) have been without a car for 15 years. We don’t miss it in the least. Just another perspective.

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    • maxadders May 3, 2012 at 10:28 am

      Agreed. A car is a tool, and an incredibly useful one at that. At the end of the day, this fellow is car-free because he chooses to be. I’m more interested in the people who are car free out of necessity– and still manage to get stuff done. Otherwise it’s just something to announce at parties, like “I don’t even own a TV”. I mean, like really dreadful parties…

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      • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 10:36 am

        “I’m more interested in the people who are car free out of necessity– and still manage to get stuff done.”
        I think both are interesting. And I wouldn’t underestimate the social value of knowing that a person you know (as opposed to a statistic) lives carfree whether by choice or necessity (and sometimes it is no so clear that it is only one).

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        • Brian E May 3, 2012 at 10:49 am

          That story might have Pulitzer prize potential.

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        • Halleylujah May 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm

          When I moved to Portland, I sold my car for $100 just to get rid of it. The fuel tank was broken and I had no way of fixing it. (I think it blue booked for $6k if it were in ok condition)

          Currently, if I wanted a car, I would have no ability to actually own one, either by saving up or monthly payments. I just don’t make enough money with other bills, etc. I just don’t make enough money. I am a daily bike commuter. Every day. No matter the weather. No matter what. Where I live Trimet is ridiculous to take to work, so bike it is. (Plus, I can’t afford Trimet!)

          I also have my own business where I travel to events with a rather large bike trailer. Sometimes I get gigs that are out of town and for those I have an “occasional driver” zipcar membership. I’m not thrilled with it as I don’t really use it at all, but it’s there when I need it in an emergency.

          I also have family along the I-5 corridor Seattle/Everett/Mt Vernon and used to take Amtrak or Greyhound, but am now THRILLED with the BoltBus and the idea of $10 bus fare!

          I am an avid hiker/camper and in the last 6 months have been rafting/kayaking twice and camping on three different occasions, none of which in Portland, only one time did it include a bus and never did it include a personal car. Biking with friends is awesome and there are so many places within 20 – 100 miles within Portland. (Heck, w/i 100 miles, you can be at the coast! I should know! Last summer, we biked there! And trust me, I am not a strong cyclist.)

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          • maxadders May 5, 2012 at 10:26 pm

            You sold a $6k car for $100? Something tells me it was a gift from your parents.

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    • dan May 3, 2012 at 11:14 am

      Yep, I ski too and the bus is not viable if you want to get up there early enough to actually get some first tracks on a powder day. (Or if you want to head home when you’re done, rather than cooling your heels in the lodge until 4 p.m.) Visiting my family in Camas is a 50-mile round trip; I bike it in the summer, but having biked it in the rain in the past, I’ll stick with the car for the other 3/4 of the year.

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      • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

        I don’t ski so can’t comment on that but to get to my home place is a 105 mi round trip from SE Portland. It turns out that there is a series of buses whose schedules amazingly line up and if I take my bike along I can get there in just a few hours (for a whopping $6.25).
        My point is… NO ONE I KNOW KNOWS THIS. Not the folks who live at either end, or those along the routes of these buses. Why? Because they (my acquaintances) all have cars and so have no need to know this sort of thing.

        My hunch would be that public transit covers some of the legs between Portland and Camas, and that that public transit might accommodate your bike too. Not sure you are in Portland, but if we don’t communicate with the transit agencies about our interest in coverage they can’t guess at our potential interest.

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        • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 11:30 am

          I just remembered, three years ago I helped a friend from out of town get from our place in SE Portland to Camas by bike and bus. The details may well be out of date, but this confirms my hunch.
          Excerpts from my e-mail conversation with her from 2009 are copied below:
          …transfer to C-Tran bus #65 at the Parkrose MAX station
          http://www.c-tran.com/pdf/65route.pdf
          The #65 goes to Fisher’s Landing, where you could transfer to C-Tran bus #92 (see map & schedule):
          http://www.c-tran.com/pdf/92route.pdf
          Both of these run on Saturdays, and it seems quite frequently even.

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    • Caleb May 7, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Many people find many things important, and so do those things regardless of the impact they might have on anything else on this planet, and afterward plenty of us find it important to complain about those things. Given current world issues, I somewhat envy anybody who can justify driving a car for things they could accomplish by different means and in different time spans. “Successful” reduction depends on what your ideal amount of reduction is, and I personally don’t feel successful unless my car usage is at 0. Please don’t think I say any of this to condemn your choices or values, as I’m actually quite pleased to see somebody mention reduction with an apparent desire for careful progress in that direction.

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  • michweek May 3, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Jeff, I do all the above without a car. Train, bus and BIKE!!

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    • Chris I May 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

      I don’t think you and Jeff are talking about the same outdoor activities. How long would it take you to get yourself and your gear to Smith Rock for a climbing trip without a car? What about backpacking in the Eagle Cap Wilderness? Climbing Mt. St. Helens? Rafting the Rogue?

      One of the great things about Portland is that you can get around without a car. There are many great things Oregon has to offer, and a lot of them require access to a car.

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      • spare_wheel May 3, 2012 at 11:52 am

        i think if your life revolves on outdoor activities then a car is a must. if, like me, you do these activities a few times a year, renting a car for 20-40 bucks a day can still be a cheaper option than owning a car.

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        • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 11:54 am

          “i think if your life revolves on outdoor activities then a car is a must.”

          I know what you mean, spare_wheel, but it reads funny.
          My outdoor activity is not sitting inside (a car).

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          • GlowBoy May 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm

            Just like having to spend money to make money, it’s one of life’s paradoxes. Sometimes to fully experience the outdoors you have to coop yourself up in a car to get there. And it’s not like you aren’t any less caged riding in a bus or a train.

            (That’s especially true for us mountain bikers who, thanks to the hiking clubs’ stranglehold, are forced to leave town to enjoy our healthy, clean, low-impact fun.)

            As pointed out by Chris I, the vast majority of the northwest’s spectacular outdoor destinations are not reachable by mass transportation. Renting a car or taking a Zipcar isn’t always a great option either (although one I used a couple weeks ago) because rental vehicles aren’t well equipped to carry bulky outdoor gear like bikes, skis and kayaks. Also, you can’t take your dog on the bus. Also, mass transit + outdoor gear can become a really major hassle if you’re also trying to bring your kid(s) along with you.

            That said, there are A FEW places that are more accessible than most people realize (to 9watts’ point about NO ONE I KNOW KNOWS THIS). After an Amtrak-assisted overnight tour last fall, I’m excited about exploring some of the car-free possibilities around us over the next couple years:
            - Amtrak’s Empire Builder stops in Bingen and Wishram, WA, allowing for some great Gorge exploration possibilities. Downside is it only runs 1x per day, and the westbound run picks you up around 8am, pretty much wasting your Sunday. I might choose to come back Monday morning (in Portland by 10) and figure out how to make up the partial day of work I missed.
            - The Central Oregon Breeze bus runs twice per day and stops in Sandy, Rhododendron, Government Camp, Terrebonne, Redmond and Bend (among other places) giving you great access to a lot of places in the Cascades and Central Oregon. And this covers Chris I’s point about Smith Rock, which is within easy walking/hiking distance of Terrebonne. Again the timing isn’t ideal, but it could be a viable option for some.
            - Amtrak’s Coast Starlight can drop you off in Chemult, a ways south of Bend and La Pine. Kind of in the middle of nowhere and you will need a bike, but it’s reasonably close to some great road-touring possibilities (which could take you to great hiking/climbing possibilities) in the Cascade Lakes or Crater Lake, or mountain biking above nearby Crescent Lake.
            - If beaches are more your thing, you can get to Cannon Beach, Seaside or Astoria on Northwest Point. Tillamook, Netarts, Rockaway or the Tillamook Forestry Center on the Tillamook Bus. And I believe there are also routes from Portland to Lincoln City and Newport.
            - Quite a bit further away (and thus a longer trip), but the northern branch of Amtrak’s Empire Builder also has a nice new station in Leavenworth, WA, surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountains in the northwest.

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            • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm

              just to add to GlowBoy’s excellent summary, if you invert the framing of the problem from
              I know I can’t get where I need/deserve to go without a car. to
              What locations are accessible without a car and what is involved?

              you may discover that most locations, or types of outdoor fun, can be accessed without a car. Culturally we tend to see all of this as an extended entitlement, but the entitlement is borne of our generations-long access to cheap fossil fuel. Without it we would quickly discover that we can have just as much fun doing (in many cases the same or nearly the same) things but without needing a car.

              Insisting on ‘Smith Rocks in 2 hrs,’ or ‘Mt. Hood after work,’ because we’ve grown used to this kind of quick access is probably not a good starting point for exploring life post-car.

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            • Chris I May 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm

              Those are all great recommendations. One issue with the long distance Amtrak trains is that you have to box your bike. It isn’t a huge hassle, but is something that newcomers should be aware of.

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              • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm

                Agreed. Same for Greyhound.
                Which is why I am so excited that Trimet/The Wave/Cherriots/SMART and a bunch of the other local transit agencies have buses with front bike racks… Cheaper, bike-compatible, and sometimes better schedules!
                Now of course if we all start doing this, then the advantage those of us who now do this enjoy evaporates and we’re all back at the bus stop with our bikes… waiting.

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              • GlowBoy May 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm

                Good point. What I should have mentioned is that part of my new enthusiasm for bike+mass transit exploration away from Portland is the fact that I got a folding bike last year. Bought it primarily for easier MAX boardings, but it does make travel easier. Amtrak will let me walk right on with it, and long-distance buses will let me stow it underneath same as regular luggage.

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              • gl. May 4, 2012 at 10:14 am

                yes, this is my biggest hurdle. i would LOVE if the Empire Builder allowed unboxed bikes. same goes for CO Breeze, which is pretty much the only intercity transit service that doesn’t have bike racks.

                also: another fun bike exploration trip. take amtrak cascades to centralia and bike the Willapa Hills trail. paved for part of the way, but if you’re into primitive trails, you can take it all the way to the coast on a former rail line!

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      • michweek May 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm

        I think we are talking about the same activities. I am just more willing to take more time to do them. But I also am willing to detach myself from the typical American workaholic lifestyle. The journey is half the experience.

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    • jeff May 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm

      we’re not talking about the same activities.

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      • Caleb May 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm

        What specific activities are you talking about?

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  • D_G May 3, 2012 at 10:13 am

    My wife, daughter and I get by just fine with one car. However, we have a small terrier, and not being to allowed to simply take her on the the max or bus is one significant reason we keep our car. She can run a mile or 2 along the bike, but to go across town quickly, especially if it is hot, is not feasible. She is too big for a basket, but could go in a trailer, but pulling a trailer + dog + kid is not great. I guess my primary point is that Trimet is creating a commuter system, not alternative transportation. Bikes provide a viable alternative to cars, but your lifestyle will have to adapt (taking the dog to the beach, for instance, becomes a very big deal). I appreciate this story, and the acknowledgement that some things (trip to IKEA) are given up with the car. Along with advocating for better bike infrastructure, I would like to see Trimet accommodate people’s pets, a stuff (so you could take a load from IKEA home on the train or bus) to better support Portlanders who want to reduce or eliminate car trips.

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    • shanabanana May 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      My BF & I recently had a very serious talk about going car free. We came up with scenario after scenario of what if’s and could always find a car free option….except when it came to the dog. I have a 75 lb, 12.5 yr old greyhound. Can’t take him on the bus, max, taxi, or zip car. Possibly not even a rental car. I would love to hear from people that have large dogs and have gone car free. How, without a car, do you get a 75 lb drugged up dog home from the vet after surgery?

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      • 9watts May 5, 2012 at 7:38 am

        “How, without a car, do you get a 75 lb drugged up dog home from the vet after surgery?”
        Many reputable US-based bike trailer companies have models in their lineups specifically for dogs.
        https://cycletote.com/our-products/dog
        http://www.equinoxtrailers.com/store/item/22
        http://blueskycyclecarts.com/

        And while we’re at it you should read this hilarious story of two young people who traveled the globe with their two dogs in bike trailers:
        http://cyclinggypsies.wordpress.com/aboutus/
        an earlier and longer version: http://tinyurl.com/covuo76

        And here’s their exhaustive summary of the subject of hauling dogs with bikes. If you don’t find something here I’d be surprised. :-)
        http://cyclinggypsies.wordpress.com/dogs-on-bikes/

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        • shanabanana May 7, 2012 at 3:52 pm

          Thanks, 9watts. Great resources!! Some of these might work for my dog, but he may be a little cramped for headroom (greyhounds are tall!). I’m hopeful there will be even more models to choose from in the next few years. Another factor with dogs is their temperament. Some will love riding in a trailer, others will freak out.

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      • calla May 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm

        Zipcar. I haven’t had a car for years, use Zipcar, and take pets in them all the time. The only requirement is that you use a carrier/kennel. But pets definitely are allowed inside them.

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        • shanabanana May 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm

          The size of a kennel that would fit a greyhound won’t fit into most Zipcars available on the Westside (only 5). I just checked Zipcars site and it looks like there’s finally a large vehicle in my area, a Ford Escape, that would probably work. Last time I checked there were only sedans.

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  • esther c May 3, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Great story and well written.

    If you like coke and shop without a car, try a Soda Stream. Also better for the environment. They have a version of cola too that is HFCS free.

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    • GlowBoy May 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      Good point, but I think she just meant Coke as an example of something bulky that a person might want to pick up on short notice.

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  • Ryan Good May 3, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Nice article, and great job! I’ve been car-free for quite a while now, and I’ve never missed my car. Getting rid of it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I hope more people go for it, and find out how great car-free life really is.

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  • Mickey May 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Obviously people don’t “need” cars, but it seems like there in an adopted asceticism that generates the “richer” and “fuller” life, but that is a purely subjective experience. Being able to get from my door to the Eagle creek trailhead in 32 minutes, or to Sandy Ridge in 40 minutes, is one of the major selling points of living in Portland, and that makes my life “richer” and “fuller”, otherwise Mt Hood is just background to the network of local biking trails that connect people to their various monetized activities around town.

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    • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      Careful, your social class is showing. :-)

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  • wsbob May 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Riding is great, but grocery shopping and other errands by bike often isn’t so great. Road bikes aren’t good for hauling many groceries.

    With the warm temps we’re having, errand riding can be o.k., even with the buckets of rain we’ve had over the last 12 hours. As the temps drop to 50, 60, and lower, especially with rain and snow, doing errands on a bike is much tougher.

    Story writer Allison deciding to rely almost exclusively on a bike to get around is inspiring. Her youth makes errand riding an easier, more practical proposition for her and her similarly aged husband than it would be for people in their 40′s and up. Possibly inspired by her daughter’s example, might Allison’s mom be thinking about biking more?

    Of course, there’s guys like Ryan Good, commenting to this story; assuming his avatar photo is a current picture of him, a little gray on the beard shows he’s a good bit older than Allison.

    Using the grocery shopping example again, the amount of gas it takes to drive one mile over and one mile back to the grocery store is very small. During off peak driving hours, say after 9pm, traffic congestion is nil, and there’s no waiting to find a place to park the car. Many people that really don’t need a motor vehicle for anything other than trips of 2-3 miles in length might be inclined to give the motor vehicle up and get things done by walking, biking or mass transit. If they do have a motor vehicle for other reasons though, it seems likely they may also use it for short trips as well.

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    • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

      “Her youth makes errand riding an easier, more practical proposition for her and her similarly aged husband than it would be for people in their 40′s and up.”

      My friend Brian (profiled here on bikeportland last Summer):
      http://tinyurl.com/brianwillson uses a hand cycle and is in his early seventies. Your sense that regular purposeful cycling is really for the strapping youngsters is hard for me to square with his example.

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      • wsbob May 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm

        “…Your sense that regular purposeful cycling is really for the strapping youngsters is hard for me to square with his example.” 9watts

        Your summation of what I was saying in the excerpted remark is neither what I said or meant.

        I’ll welcome though, anyone else that cares to weigh in with their thoughts about whether it’s easier and more practical for a young person to hop on a bike for a trip to the grocery store in 45 degree rainy weather, than it is for their older parent, aunt, grandparent.

        Businesses, especially those such as the big mall a short distance from where I live, that includes a wide range of services including two grocery stores, could certainly make traveling to their business by bike and shopping, far more practical and somewhat easier than it currently is. That could help bring in older and less hardy people biking for errands.

        For example, by considering the creation of an attended bike valet parking service such as seems to be having considerable success at OHSU’s south waterfront location.

        People might be more inclined to ride the bike over to the mall for shopping and entertainment if the mall had a warm, indoor, CCTV secured parking area for bikes, using an owner/bike photo access card required to leave and reclaim their bike, also such as OHSU’s bike service apparently has.

        Of course, it would cost the mall money to create something like that, but having such a facility might pay off.

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    • kj May 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      Depending on where you live grocery shopping/errand by bike is really not hard. Even in winter! on any bike. It’ a matter of mental attitude shift of what is possible in *your life* that matters. Also having the/learning the knowhow and getting a rack etc. Still much cheaper than a car. I got an xtracycle as a gift last year used that was 700$ I use that for groceries, i have a trailer for bike moves… the biggest hurdle to going car free for me, was mental. not gear or bikes or riding in traffic. it was realizing, oh hey, I can do this and I like it! If i wanted to still own a car, I would do that. They are useful. I can still recreate in ways i like sans car so it works for me, I am bike camping this weekend in fact with my friends. Some of whom are over 40 and have small children.

      I also know several, severalllll families with small children and people over the apparently ancient age of 40 who are car free. Just fyi.

      more generally than a reply to you WSBob

      I think several commenters on this thread are doing that thing where someone says” I do this and I love it OMG! I want to share how awesome *I* think this is and how it works for *me (and my family)* because it’s so cool to me” and other people somehow interpret that as some kind of personal judgement that they do not think/feel/act the same way.

      Carfree is not for everyone. And that’s ok! Really. Don’t be so hard on yourselves folks.

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      • kj May 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm

        oh I do want to add a class caviat to my post. this kind of lifestyle is much easier if you have a middle class job and income and up.

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        • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

          kj,
          can you explain what you mean? The reason I ask is that when I trot out my 18% of Multnomah Co. households didn’t own a car in 2000 the most frequent response is that ‘those must be poor people who can’t afford a car.’ The implication being that this is therefore not an interesting or useful statistic because ‘we’ are not like ‘them’ or something. I’m not sure we know nearly enough to say any of that, but you seem to be saying to not have a car takes a comfortable job.?

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          • kj May 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm

            It’s an impression based on my own experiences and what i read here and on other active transpo stuff, I don’t have hard data for you..i was just trying to show I understand that there can be a lot of privilege involved in choosing to drop your car. If my impressions are wrong on anything I do want to know. that said:

            It’s easier? There are more people in the middle class demographic that bike ( that i am aware of), culturally its more acceptable, encouraged, sustainable green all that…and most middle class folks can get by with one main job,(partners folks with two) have more resources for kids and child care options, can afford to live closer to their jobs etc..that its less, complicated to get around compleatly car free. Lower income families are more likely to have to travel farther, work more jobs/shifts/ live further away from stores etc… Some people cannot afford to not have a car as well i think, along with those that can’t afford one period. I think there are a lot of class cultural issues involved too. I feel like I read a lot about outreach and projects and stuff to get more lower income folks biking and why there are road blocks. Not that it’s not possible, i think it is, and I think stories like this from all kinds of people would be awesome too.

            does that seem a fair or accurate assessment? can anyone let me know if I am off base?

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            • 9watts May 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm

              Thanks, kj.
              I think you just helped me discover some of my own biases. I’m glad I asked.

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              • kj May 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm

                Oh thank you too for letting me reflect on spouting out something without stating why i said it…i’m bad at that…you made me think.. It’s good.

                I also just remembered that other barriers are lower income areas are less likely to have good infrastructure that make biking feel like a viable way to get around. I am thinking east of 82nd here for example. Which less related to class(though it also plays out that way too) and related more to WSBobs posts… that if you live in say, Beaverton, it’s going to be harder to be car free for a lot of people. The geography and infrastructure of where we live, I think, plays a huge role in mentally how we navigate our lives. But we don’t think about it much.

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            • GlowBoy May 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm

              I think you’re right on target. Besides the cultural biases, there are a lot of nuts-and-bolts practical factors that can make it hard for many poor people to ditch their cars.

              Most poor people in America are poor not just monetarily, but in terms of time, often working multiple jobs and/or juggling childcare (statistically, a bit more often as a single parent). Also, the working poor are somewhat more likely to be putting in shifts that require traveling at times when bus/MAX service is less frequent, less safe and or nonexistent. Which also means bike commuting is somewhat less pleasant and safe as well. I can’t really blame the single mom for not wanting to pedal home from work when she gets off her shift at 10pm.

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              • gl. May 4, 2012 at 10:20 am

                THIS. early & late shifts (or events!) make it impossible to use TriMet sometimes.

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            • SV May 4, 2012 at 1:25 pm

              kj you are absolutely ON base…these are things that not too many people in this town like to talk about, and sometimes are totally ignorant to, like the fact that there are people here that can’t afford to bike Tuscany or live close-in where amenities are closer (think 82nd and beyond), or live in an environment where cycling is not an attractive thing to do.

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              • Mickey May 4, 2012 at 2:21 pm

                Just look at the demographic shift that has happened in North Portland, all that gentrification and community razing resulted in working class people being displaced to outer southeast to make way for people more willing to make long term investments in the economy and increase the neighborhoods market value, but there are more bike lanes connecting the area with the offices and shopping downtown so it offsets the increase in homogeneity and social stratification.

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            • Caleb May 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm

              I have been without a car for a while, I’m a total cracker, and although I have few assets and hardly any money, I would consider myself middle class thanks to the middle class people who would be willing to support me if I needed them to, and I can say that I certainly feel privileged, but perhaps not in the way many other people might think of being privileged.

              I’m privileged in the sense that I came from a small community in which it seemed the intention of most was to not leave a single individual neglected. I’m privileged in the sense that my parents made me work on their farm as a child and in their welding shop throughout high school, because this made working to pay for college, entertainment, and living expenses rather than taking out loans to do so quite easy. I’m privileged in the sense that they encouraged me to be frugal, so I’ve led a relatively simple life involving very few expenses. I’m privileged in the sense that I had the ability to choose to utilize my time in developing such values beyond what they instilled in me. I’m privileged in the sense that I can get supplemental food for free from a local church my friend attends while my friends often give me meals and I can afford what I need to buy. I’m privileged in the sense that society has built infrastructure and food production systems that allow for such conditions. I’m privileged in the sense that I haven’t been afflicted with any severe illnesses, broken bones, etc. I’m privileged in the sense that society has created infrastructure that allows me to get around by bicycle easily, not just in cities like Portland, but also on the highways of South Dakota where I’m from. I’m privileged in the sense that society created, improved dramatically, and mass produced bicycles, tools, and lubricants, making it easy for me to build and maintain them for myself and others. I’m privileged in the sense that I live far from wars, violent social unrest on a massive scale, rampant disease, etc. I’m privileged to live in a time in which I can have as much freedom as I enjoy. And I’m sure I’m privileged in so many other ways I’ve forgotten or never even thought of.

              But since adopting the car-free life and recognizing all these privileges my existence allows me and reflecting on them very much, not once have I ever thought it would be absolutely impossible for me to go without a car if my life had none of those privileges. I’ve been through my share of depression brought on largely by wishing the world could change into a place in which everybody was happy and comfortable, but eventually I got out of it by recognizing that some indeterminable proportion of all our circumstances is brought on by our own choices, meaning all my feeling will do nothing to directly change anything for anybody else, and everything else which exists beyond what our choices can influence isn’t something I must dwell on and brood over, but instead is something I can choose to simply acknowledge and accept free of any negative feeling. I’m all for empathizing with everyone and recognizing what undecided conditions prevent them from adopting practices I find ideal, but I no longer accept just assuming those less privileged haven’t possibly prevented some privileges by the choices they’ve made of their own accord. I’d rather take things on a case by case basis, and make my own choices of how I interact with such people accordingly, and of course I’d encourage them to approach every one of their choices in the same way.

              If anybody would have asked me to go without an automobile four years ago, I would have thought them impractical thinkers. Perhaps “privilege” has less to do with anyone’s ability to go without a car than we might think.

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  • Lance P. May 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I only wish more people outside of BIkePortland would read your story. Keep up the inspiration for others to come.

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    • Bike Bend May 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Year round bike-only living is a bit more challenging here in Bend. Some do it but not nearly as many percentage-wise as in Puddletown :-).

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  • henrik May 3, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    I applaud the writer for her vehicular-amputation! Of all the places, PDX is definitely a great place to get by without a car.

    I guess I’d consider myself having a partial amputation… I only drive on the weekends. Weekday commutes are by bus, train, trolly or bike. I’d love to get rid of my car, but alas, I love going to the mountains to ski and mountain bike. Essentially, I go every weekend. The thought of using a ZIP/GO intrigue me, but the price to play is not much better, if at all, than my current car payment situation.

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  • Jeremy Cohen May 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    I like this article, and I think the idea here is NOT that everyone should do without a car, but that not having a car has created a major shift in the way she approaches “normal” activities. Social class not withstanding, everyone makes choices (to varying degrees, based on cultural, ethnic, financial) about their situation and the writer was noting that taking the “ease” of the car off the table provided a larger shift than she imagined. We all make choices in order to fulfill certain desires and that opens up the possibility for others. When we make a choice to live in a particular place, interact with the transportation system in a particular way and work in a particular field/location there are some places we will flex our desires and others we will not. The writer has done a masterful job of showing that when you make a big decision (like going car-free) there are a series of life changes that happen (even unexpectedly) that can be for the better.

    For those who like to ski, or climb or whatever, it is clear that you want a car for those activities MORE than you want what you would get out of living car free. What the author implies, however, is that it is possible you would not miss those activities if you couldn’t do them (for any number of reasons–injury, expense, car-lessness, changing priorities). I for one love to ski/snowboard, but it was only this year in the last 4 I was able to get any days in….because my daughter is finally old enough/interested enough to take her up too. Before it wasn’t worth missing a day with my family for that–now it becomes workable again.

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  • Ryan Good May 3, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    A few random thoughts in response to comments…

    My avatar picture is about two years old, so my beard is actually quite a bit grayer now. Yes, I’m older than Alison, but young enough (and fortunate enough) to be healthy and active.

    You don’t always have to box up your bike on Amtrak. I go back and forth from Portland to Seattle and Bellingham fairly often, and I’ve never had to box up my bike. I just pay the extra $5, take my bags off, and they hang it on the bike rack in the luggage car. Simple.

    Cargo bikes don’t have to be super-expensive, they can be (relatively) inexpensive. Got four grand to drop on one? There are shops that will hook you up. But I have one that was custom-built by a local builder, from a bike that I already had, for $400- which is about one monthly car payment for a lot of folks. Before I had it, I got by fine with panniers and/or an old Burley trailer that I sort of inherited.

    Commenters have brought up age, social class, income, cultural issues- all of which are, or at least can be, legitimate points of discussion with regard to the car-free (or even) car-lite life. Those discussions are well beyond the scope of this comment board, but worth delving into elsewhere. I realize that there are certainly, for many people, real-world barriers to becoming car-free, and I realize that being car-free is not practicable for everyone. But I know that is is practicable and viable for many more people than do it. And I know that with less people driving, the world would be a better place.

    I know that sometimes I come off like a car-free zealot, an evangelist of the bicycle-life- maybe even smug- and I’m sure I annoy the hell out of some people. But it’s only because I want to share the joy, and I think Alison is feeling the same way. I, too, since going car-free, have lost weight, saved money, made new friends, seen new sights, become more involved in my neighborhood, and done things I didn’t think were possible before. Ditching the car is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, so of course I want to share that.

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    • Chris I May 3, 2012 at 6:55 pm

      Amtrak Cascades has 6 bike racks on each train. Just Cascades. Empire Builder and Coast Starlight require boxed bikes. And when one of the Talgo trainsets is being repaired, you may get other Amtrak equipment on the Cascades route, requiring a box. Fortunately, Oregon is getting two new trains this summer, with even more bike racks!

      http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/COMM/TalgoHome.shtml

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  • Bill Stites May 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Great article Allison! Thanks for encouraging folks to explore carfreeness.

    If I had a car sitting in front of my house, it would surely be used on poor-weather days. Precisely because will power is challenged by pouring rain, I’ve eliminated the option of a car [at least sole ownership]. I’m no saint – you needn’t be either.

    There are times when a car is the appropriate transport choice. I think we sometimes forget that – cars aren’t evil – they’re awesome tech marvels – but they are simply used way too much.
    And cars have certainly spoiled us into thinking we can do more than perhaps we should – as in moving at the speed of a cheetah on a daily basis. If you think about it, that’s pretty abnormal – uh, unnatural.

    Next year will be 20 years carfree for me. Maybe that comes across like bragging or a bit smug, but just like the drinker who has been sober for 20 years, I’m proud of the fact.

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    • middle of the road guy May 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      Noooo!

      Cars ARE evil devices with no useful purpose (like carting your parent to the hospital if they are sick).

      Every driver is a selfish neanderthal and every cyclist is an enlightened angel.

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  • Anne May 3, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Great article and discussion. I want to hear more about car free access to wilderness. There is a train to Astoria isn’t there? There used to be a bus to the coast from Portland. Is that still available? when I took the Alaska State Ferry 20 years ago, bicyclists would get on and off in very remote areas. I want to hear about other options and ideas for public transportation or easy bike access to wilderness. My mom helped start Ride Connect in rural Oregon, public transportation for elders and disabled beyond the bus and Max lines. What do other countries do? In Europe you can take the train so many places. I want that here in the US. What would that take?

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    • 9watts May 9, 2012 at 8:16 am

      “There is a train to Astoria isn’t there? There used to be a bus to the coast from Portland. Is that still available? ”

      I doubt either of those (still) exist. Greyhound cut its services beyond the main corridors back a lot over the past ten-fifteen years. Smaller, feeder services do exist and our patronage of them helps keep them around, but it is important to investigate whether a given line (still) exists, and what the schedules are.

      The discussion this article has spawned has been one of the most inspiring and thoughtful in a long time. Thanks Allison and Jonathan.

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  • Davistrain May 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Fascinating discussion–it brings up some of the subtle issues and considerations in the field of local (and regional) passenger and personal cargo transport. A while back I read about a young man who went from (as I recall) San Francisco to Los Angeles by local public transit (no car, no Greyhound, no Amtrak). It took him two days and it was more of a transit-geek challenge than anything else. Regarding giving up (or renouncing) automobiles: I grew up when one could buy a usable car for $100 or so and fuel it with 25 cents a gallon gasoline. No smog checks either. Using a car was the “default setting”, and we had people like my first wife, who thought that anyone who didn’t drive a car had something wrong with them. Now we’re having to do some “attitude adjustment” and realize that gas will just keep going up in price and bicycles will become more and more the sensible way to get around town. But I have noted over the years that some of the people touting a non-automotive (transit or bike) lifestyle tend to have an almost “evangelical” tone to their writings.
    One of the ironies in my avocational field of railway preservation is that to visit many of the best railway museums in the US, a car or pickup truck is almost a necessity, because they were established back in the days of cheap gas, the founding members needed a lot of acreage and didn’t have much money.

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  • Matt H May 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I applaud the effort that anyone makes to go car-free. The reality of my own situation is that we have 2 kids, a flight of stairs to our house, 2 dogs, I work as a furniture maker (and have to transport lots of lumber and plywood as well as finished furniture), and I have a wife who works swing shift and who feels unsafe riding a night by herself (although I doubt she would ride much even if it was day shift). I’d love to go car-free, but it just seems nearly impossible given the realities of our lives.

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    • 9watts May 5, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      “I’d love to go car-free, but it just seems nearly impossible given the realities of our lives.”
      Everyone’s situation is different. And jettisoning one’s car is no small step. But I believe just about anyone can do it. Some prefer to do it all at once. Others to phase out reliance on their car gradually. I take great comfort in the fact that folks here in town are conducting all sorts of businesses we thought required a car, or more commonly a truck, by bike.
      + Hauling things isn’t really such a hurdle. I use trailers and plan my route, but I can haul just about anything I need. Plywood? Easy. Furniture? Sure. Appliances? No problem. Building materials? Where do you want them? A wood stove or piano to Council Crest… well, no.
      + Storage of one’s bikes, and related equipment in a street-proximate, at-grade, secure, weather-proof location? That can be a challenge, but in the grand scheme of things not really insurmountable either.
      I think we’re going to figure this all out because we have to, and because it really is more fun once you figure out a few systems and routines. I don’t know anyone who’s jettisoned their car who isn’t thrilled to have done so.

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  • Matt H May 6, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Hauling two kids and four sheets of plywood or 300 lbs of 12 foot long lumber the 12 miles to my house from the lumberyard is not going to happen (I’m also a stay at home dad so I need to bring the kids everywhere). I’d really like to see anybody here haul several sheets of plywood by bike – even using a cargo bike. The city will not let us build a storage shed at street level. All I’m saying is that the ability to go car-free is dependent on a narrow range of lifestyles. I applaud the efforts of those who can make the choice, but not everyone in in the position to be able to do so. Pretending otherwise is naive and promotes the sense of moral superiority that is killing the communities acceptance bicycles.

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    • 9watts May 6, 2012 at 8:01 am

      “I’d really like to see anybody here haul several sheets of plywood by bike – even using a cargo bike.”

      That would be a challenge. I don’t have a cargo bike. I have a bunch of trailers that can accommodate all sorts of oversized materials. Just last week I hauled home 200 lbs of steel roofing panels someone was giving away for free. They were 14′ long. You’re welcome to come by any time and see for yourself.

      “The city will not let us build a storage shed at street level.”

      That is a shame, and something we need to get changed. I’ve thought a little about this, and foresee the day when they relent. When you say at street level, are you talking in the public right of way or on your property?

      “All I’m saying is that the ability to go car-free is dependent on a narrow range of lifestyles.”

      There are barriers, but none of them are insurmountable if you are determined to make it work.

      Send me an e-mail if you want to borrow a trailer – 9watts at gmail

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  • Matt H May 6, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Today my wife gave me 6 part of the day while she watched the kids to get some cabinets started for our kitchen. I had to drive over to get a friend to help (8 miles), head to woodcrafters (4 miles from his house) load up 8 sheets of 4 ft by 8 ft plywood and misc other supplies, drive back to his house in the west hills, carry the load up 2 flights of stairs, measure out and rough cut all the ply, carry it back down the stairs an load it into my truck, drive it home and unload it into my basement. I had hoped to get this all done by 2 or so such that my wife could have some time to herself (it was her only day off in awhile), but alas It took till about 4 instead. How in the world could I have done all this in the allotted time by bike? It was the ONLY day we could arrange this, in fact we’ve been trying to do so for about a month. This is but one example of what I’m talking about – as much as I’d love a car-free life, our lifestyle/career choices do not permit it.

    Back when I was a daily commuter into the city (prior to the recession), I rode my bike every day, rain or shine. We did not have kids, and I counted myself as one of the lucky few able to have the freedom and opportunity to enjoy Portland by Bike. Now I ride as often as I can, often just to stay in shape for cross season but also for errands as well. I have a long haul I built up with 2 kids seats and a basket and rack for panniers that I try to use as often as I can to get around with my kids. I love to mountain bike when my wife goes me the time to do so. As a family, we donate about 5% of our income to charitable causes we believe in, including BTA, OPB, etc. In short, I consider myself a bike-friendly, portland liberal kind of person.

    It angers me when I get the finger from a cyclist just because I’m driving a truck, or see a cyclist blow through a stop sign in front of me. I think that their behavior reflects badly on the cycling community as a whole. This behavior is promoted, in my opinion, by holyier-than-thou attitudes or the sort of unrealistic expectations that everyone is able or should be willing to live a car-free lifestyle. If you can do it good for you! But please spare me the “it’s easy” platitudes. 9watts, thanks for the offer, but there is no realistic way I could have gotten done what I needed to do today without royally pissing off my wife. Even without that, cycling all the supplies (probably about 400 + lbs) out to outer east portland and the west hills would be really unrealistic.

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    • spare_wheel May 9, 2012 at 8:21 am

      I was sympathetic until you wrote this:

      “It angers me when I get the finger from a cyclist just because I’m driving a truck, or see a cyclist blow through a stop sign in front of me.”

      1. If you are getting the finger often when you drive a truck you might want to think about how you are driving.

      2. This anger directed at other people who ride bikes is interesting. Do you also get equally mad when you are on the freeway and find yourself surrounded by car scofflaws going well above the posted speed limit?

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  • Caleb May 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    michweek, what specific activities are you talking about?

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    • Caleb May 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      This was supposed to show up way up there ^^^, but I screwed up. The duplicate comment detector apparently can’t detect when I’m making the same comment in response to two different people. Perhaps software could use some rewriting or additional writing?

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  • GlowBoy May 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Just one more caveat on Amtrak’s non-Cascades lines: many of the more remote stops do not allow loading/unloading of checked baggage. Since bikes must be boxed, stopping in tiny burgs like Bingen and Chemult (i.e., the stops close to the fun!) ONLY works if you have a folding bike. Would love to see this changed someday.

    To Anne’s point about being able to get to outdoor recreation so easily by train in Europe (and that’s even more true in Japan) what it’s going to take is public will. With Amtrak’s “subsidy” under continual threat, it’s impossible to expand service to places with low population density. A train to Mt. Hood? Crater Lake? Steens Mountain? Not going to happen (although you can at least take the Central Oregon Breeze bus to Hood).

    I’d sure love to see service restored on the Amtrak Pioneer, which was shut down a number of years ago. That route went through places like Pendleton, La Grande and Baker City (offering great access to the Blue Mountains, Elkhorns and Wallowas), as well as continuing on to great outdoor-rec cities like Boise, Salt Lake and Denver.

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  • Jeremy Cohen May 7, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    One thing that I think has gone missing from this extended inquiry into train and bus travel to remote, wilderness-y, recreational open spaces is the use of sharing and planning. I love to go climbing at Smith Rock, and when I was a starving graduate student in Eugene, I didn’t have a car, and so I had to PLAN to go to Smith with someone else (or in my case, often a whole bunch of someone elses). My next door neighbors have been car free for a number of years–with kids–and jobs–and sometimes they plan to go places with other people that have room in the car. A quick look on craig’s list (and only a short time ago the “ride share board” at any college) will quickly show that lots of people get lots of places and they don’t ALL have to own a car and drive it alone. One of the real advantages of technology and connectedness is the ability and ease to SHARE resources among similarly interested people. I love a “tool library” and I love the temporary rentals of zipcar and car2go, but I also think it is important to plan to go/do things with other people, many who don’t mind sharing space in a car. What used to be an economic decision (I couldn’t afford to fill up the tank and drive to the climbing area alone) can remain a good idea that still limits the amount of cars on the roads, fuel burned up, etc.

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    • 9watts May 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Amen!
      Cheap fossil fuels have allowed us to skip talking to each other, coordinating. I’ve tried for years to encourage large groups of people who are all going to the same event ~an hour+ away, and all starting from Portland to carpool. The frustrating (and if you’re in the right mood) hilarious response from nearly everyone is ‘I’m happy to give someone a ride.’

      What folks with cars have a hard time accepting is that for this to work *they* have to be willing to also *accept* a ride, conform to someone else’s only barely different schedule, not just be willing to offer some imagined folks a seat in *their* car.

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  • Mike May 8, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    These discussions are all very informative and valid. So many of the stories and comments here cause me to reflect on our brief time in Amsterdam as they always do. We were car free with 3 kids in school and me working a bit further out. We HATED coming back to PDX (of all places) and having to go back to our car dependent life.

    Here are the realities and trade-offs we faced.

    1. Schools – the neighborhoods that are easiest to be car free could be cited by any of us. The neighborhoods with the best schools too. They don’t necessarily overlap. Having children in different schools or changing schools really muddles this part of the equation.
    2. Work – It’s not a choice for many of us to pick where and what we do. Many can still commute great miles each day, sacrificing time with the family. Careers can benefit from sacrifices to travel greater distances within the city and timeliness can be a major issue.
    3. Routes – of course, not insurmountable anywhere in town. But hills mean problems, and we have them in areas that will pose a problem to the above equation where it involves hauling, timeliness, kids…

    In Amsterdam, our family was fortunate enough to sort of get a “start over”. We picked the apartment (3rd floor, but everyone locks up their bikes outside in all weather), the bike route (I don’t have to post how amazing the separated paths are, but did you know they plow them when it snows? That the separated paths are absent some of the busiest places, where somehow being wary is all it takes to avoid collision?), fewer activities for the kids around town, a combination bike/train route for me after dropping the kids at school (dutch bike with front and back seat), a bakfiets for grocery and cargo, and a new attitude requiring assimilation into their bike culture.

    I think it’s important for everyone here to realize that phases of life, personal difficulties or varying commitment are going to contribute to anyone’s efforts to become all, some or less car independent. The things we can all do to make Portland better in ways that ease us along this path are extremely important.

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