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Introducing our new column: Becky Jo’s Carfree Life

Posted by on December 17th, 2019 at 2:52 pm

My 2nd grander and I when first trying out our new SUV. (Photos: Becky Jo)

(Publisher’s Note: I’m excited to introduce our new Family Biking columnist Becky Jo. You can expect her posts every Tuesday. Enjoy! – Jonathan)

Hi, I’m new here.

Funny story, or at least I hope I’m able to laugh at it someday. My family has gone completely carfree. It seemed like a logical plan at the time. See, our family consists of two parental units, one kid down at PSU in the dorms, one kid in high school, one kid in middle school, and one kid in elementary. (Don’t worry, that factory is closed.)

We had one car for all of us, and if you didn’t have access to said one car, you either waited, took the bus, walked, or biked.

“This was my brilliant idea. Don’t impact the savings, I said. We can go carfree, I said. It will impart a great life lesson on the children, I said.”

It didn’t seem like we were using the car all that much anyway, when we had a sudden and very large financial blow. (This is the part I’m hoping to laugh at some day.) Let’s say it included a naïve child, TikTok, Studio Ghibli movies (that we already owned), Google docs, AT&T, and the FBI. There’s nothing that quite makes you change things in life like contact from the FBI. The fines levied are substantial. We had to decide how to absorb the cost. This was my brilliant idea. Don’t impact the savings, I said. We can go carfree, I said. It will impart a great life lesson on the children, I said.

Now, do you remember when I told you just two paragraphs ago, that if one of us didn’t have the car, we’d use other transportation? Yeah. The bike option was never really used. The bikes were for the occasional Sunday exploration. Very occasional. The youngest can’t even ride on her own yet. I was pulling her in a Burley trailer when the occasional bike excursions happened. We had the hard-bottom, double trailer (read: OMGSOHEAVY.) Other than that, I honestly have no idea what I’m doing.

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That’s what I mean by I’m new here. I’m not new to Portland. I am third generation Oregonian, born up at OHSU. No, I’m not new to our city. I mean, I’m new here, in your arena. We sold the car three weeks ago. I started practicing commutes before we sold it and figured it would be easy peasy. Then, as I was standing at the CarMax in Hillsboro, having just sold my car, I realized I needed a ride home back to North Portland. As I’m standing there, downloading Lyft, then uploading my credit card info and scheduling a stranger to come get me, I realized there’s a lot more to this than I even know to ask.

This is where you come in. I’m the n00b. I bet there’s more of me, maybe afraid to admit they have no clue what they’re doing. Maybe that’s you. Or maybe you have been here awhile, and as my questions come up (and trust me, I already have a list) maybe you can help me and others out. Or maybe just come for the laughs. Because, FBI.

— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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el timito
Guest
el timito

Hi Becky Jo,
Welcome to the club!
Looking forward to hearing how it goes and seeing things with beginners eyes again.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

Welcome Becky! All masters started as n00bs at one point. One thing I’m always curious about with families going car free is how it changes how you think about freedom to move around.

Having a great bike network is like a social safety net. If you have a financial hit you are still able to move around for the price of a $60 bike on craigslist. When I graduated college and entered the job market in 2009 it was impossible to find a job and I didn’t have any money. Being able to ride a bike was as valuable as my food stamps.

Looking forward to your thoughts on carfree life! If you are ever looking for story ideas feel free to reach out.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Route finding is very important, especially when riding with kids. The neighborhood greenways are typically your best bet, but even some of them can be uncomfortable. If you can, I recommend trying routes before you bring the kids along. There are many places in this city that I won’t ride with my kids.

David Hampsten
Guest

Becky Jo, I urge you to hook up with a workmate or a good friend who is already experienced at bike commuting in Portland. Ask them to mentor you. Ask for their advice on basic bike maintenance, bike shop mechanics they trust, and the best way to lock your bike, even if you already know all this stuff. Keep in mind that as you upgrade your bikes, and you will, they become more attractive to thieves, and that theft can occur at work, while on errands, and even at your home or garage. Avoiding theft isn’t just about having good locks and removing valuable accessories, but securing your bike better than other people locking their bikes nearby.

Paul H
Guest
Paul H

I’ll second this advice, emphasizing the maintenance piece and expanding on it a bit.

Once dependent on a bike, you start to realize that keeping your bike in good shape is essential. You also realize that repair expenses can really hit your budget. Any work you can do for yourself will save you a technician’s hourly charges. Performing regular maintenance will keep your ongoing costs to a minimum. If you have friends or colleagues you trust with that sort of experience, I suggest seeking their advice.

Parts — and key accessories like lighting and clothing — are a different matter. Try to learn where getting the low-cost option makes sense (for me, it’s chains) and where spending more up-front will save you money and/or time down the road (for me, it’s tubes and tires).

Finally, if you’re going to count on having a bike available, I suggest thinking about getting a second bike. The finances may not work for you right now, but it’s so nice to be able to work on your main bike and still be able to get around in a pinch.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Welcome! Looking forward to reading about your journey 🙂

BrianC
Guest
BrianC

I wish you well on this journey of discovery! I had it easy the two times in my life when I went big time into car free living. First time in college when my car gave up the ghost and I did the bike thing for two years. (Including two Montana winters.) Later in 2009 during the… ugh big downturn. I wound up with no billable events for 9 months.

With a rent payment of $2200/mo, child support of $1000/mo and an income of about 28k that year. I survived by using my bike and tri-met exclusively while eating a *lot* of beans and rice! I parked my car and let the insurance lapse because I couldn’t afford it.

It helped that I had a *big* network of friends that helped me out. My boys and I were invited to Christmas dinner with friends a couple of years. During my 3 month “homeless” period I couch surfed with friends and then slept in the office. (In violation of our office lease…) Good thing I still had the sleeping bag.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Sorry to hear about your financial misfortune, but glad to see you and your family are well on your way to a better and healthier life. To paraphrase the great environmental writer Edward Abbey ( there is nothing like a run-in with the FBI to teach a person the basis of Industrial Civilization.)

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

What a great perspective to feature. It’s easy for people who have been riding in Portland for awhile to forget how much we’ve had to learn over the years (watch your pants cuff! use a U-lock! don’t bike over the Ross Island Bridge!).

For everyone who’s working on getting more people on bikes, this series should be a good reminder of the challenges that our neighbor noobs encounter as they get started.

Welcome, Becky Jo – happy riding and looking forward to your column.

Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
Editor

Whoa what a story! I’m sorry for the reason for ditching the car, but I’m very excited for you and look forward to reading your columns!!

Becky Jo (Columnist)
Guest
Becky Jo

Oh what a lovely warm welcome! Thank you all so much. I vacillate between wondrous determination and absolute terror. I feel like I’m Forky in those Disney+ Pixar shorts. Should make for a wild ride. I’ll be counting on you.

Amy W
Guest
Amy W

Please tell me the FBI is involved due to an invent similar to the plot of the book Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
https://www.tor.com/2012/10/02/you-can-be-active-with-the-activists-or-sleeping-with-the-sleepers-a-review-of-pirate-cinema-by-cory-doctorow/

Dan
Guest
Dan

Wait, yeah, I’m really curious about the event. It sounds like some kind of copyright infringement committed by a child. The FBI wastes time on that? And they levy life-changing fines for a first offense? Shouldn’t they maybe be keeping tabs on the traitor in chief, not elementary school students?

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

I think the FBI brought down the heavy hand because their masters at Disney (which distributes studio Ghibli in the US) told them too. As George Carlin said,” It’s a big club and you ain’t in it.”

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Latent Capitalism at work.

Daniel Amoni
Subscriber

Great first piece! I’m sure your car-free life will be full of lots of fun and adventure.

Amy W
Guest
Amy W

I think the big issue for me to think about would be grocery/meal planning. Nothing sucks more than it being 5:30 hungry kids hungry self trying to figure out how to get to the store for dinner. If you don’t plan well eating out or getting food delivered is an easy way to spend lots of money when you don’t have a car out of convenience.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

I have two rear panniers and a basket on top of the rear rack, and that gives me enough cargo capacity to carry tons of groceries home. If that were still not enough, I could also attach my two front panniers, but that of course requires that that bike have a front cargo rack as well.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

One thing to know is that now that you don’t have a car you have less insurance protection if you are for instance hit by an uninsured driver. There were some stories on bike portland a few years back about folks trying to figure out ways to cover themselves in case of such an event, perhaps an update on if it has gotten any easier would be a good story idea.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I was at Allstate yesterday asking my agent about coverage and our motor vehicle policies don’t cover me at all while I’m biking. The home-owners insurance covers a little bit, mostly personal liability. He’s getting me a quote for specific bicycle insurance. Get that, it’s not usually expensive. And you’ll be covered if some kid on an electric scooter wipes you out.

Michael M
Guest
Michael M

I’m no attorney but you ought to check with one on this or read your policy yourself. I believe in Oregon you would be covered if the incident involved a vehicle injuring you or your property. Doesn’t cover if you or the car if hit a car with your bike but it covers you if you are hit. Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage is essential to any policy in Oregon.

Belynda
Guest
Belynda

Two words: Rain pants.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Rain cape.

Love mine.

ES
Guest
ES

As someone who grew up without a car in an Eastern European city, and then lived without a car for several periods in Europe and the US, I can say it is definitely doable. Shopping carts, the kind that fold or basically a bag on wheels, help a lot but you will need to go grocery shopping more often (or get a trailer for your bike). You will be using the businesses nearby instead of going cross town for something, going to the local parks more often instead of driving out of the city, spend more time planning transportation, but ultimately I think it will be more of a shift in how you do things rather than a change in your quality of life. Especially now that car rentals and delivery services are so easy to access. Although I say that without knowing what’s it’s like to have four kids! Good luck to you and look forward to reading your column!

Robert B. Wagner
Guest
Robert B. Wagner

This story hits home for me. I’m not entirely sure why.

Nonetheless, if you and yours ever find that you can stand to watch Studio Ghibli films in the future, they’re now (almost) all available digitally: https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/17/21026683/studio-ghibli-movies-digital-purchase-streaming-hbo-max-grave-of-fireflies

Timing is everything.

Be safe out there.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

How are those cats working out with the bikejoring? 🙂

Matt
Guest
Matt

Wait, what factory closed? And were there any layoffs?

joe adamski
Guest
joe adamski

you mention living in North Portland. Not sure where specifically you live, but North really does well for having the stuff of daily living close at hand and accessible by bike, walking and transit. Density, baby!

joe adamski
Guest
joe adamski

and one more thought.. check the PBOT website for maps and info,and connect with them as they have local events. Its a good place to network and find resources
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/59969

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

We had a low-car family when I started taking the bus on my commute and biking to more errands. Like you, the bike option wasn’t used a lot. I still bus a lot of places. But now I don’t even like riding in cars.

I didn’t realize that I would learn so much about driving laws by not driving. Nothing makes you question what people are doing in traffic more than being vulnerable and coming close to being hit with very large machines. At first I didn’t realize it was the drivers that were at fault when I would have bad interactions while walking and biking. A lot of looking up laws and reading this site was key to flipping me from dangerous lazy driver to safe active transporter.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you need to take the right of way when it’s yours, because drivers will fail to yield to you unless they have to. And then you’re sitting there in the same place as the world moves around you.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

When I was car free, I had to plan everything. There wasn’t really any spontaneous activities, especially in the winter raining months, which I called the hard months. I imagine with kids this will be even more so.

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

Never assume others know basic Oregon right of way, cyclist or motorist. NEVER practice sliding by on the right for that RH turn. ALWAYS assert yourself boldly around intersections.

Use bread bags over your shoes in pouring rain and embrace wool. Use the most annoying multiple blinkys you can hang from that “SUV”. Get a good U lock and deal with the weight.

Thank your karma you’re in Oregon, dspite complaints here its still better than elsewhere.

David Lewis
Subscriber
David Lewis

I just got this ad email today; while they’re a saddle manufacturer, the blog post has a lot of good tips: https://selleanatomica.com/blogs/homepage-blog/essential-gear-for-cold-weather-cycling-1.

The more I think of your travails with the FBI, the more pissed off I get. Morally, your teenager didn’t steal the movie, the person who uploaded it did. And more to the point, it would be trivial for Google to have a list of movies against which they perform the same search she did, so they could take them down in minutes if they wanted to. I know that doesn’t help you, but…