How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, by Chris Balish.
Just when Lindi and I were basking in holiness at the idea of knocking down to one car, this happens: We bought this book. That was in the morning and by afternoon we realized that as a two-car household we were absolutely wallowing in excess. Now we feel like owning one between the two of us is questionable. The book sparked a three hour discussion (our longest ever) about our transportation options, causing us to while away an entire afternoon sitting in the sunshine in the back yard instead of doing weekend chores. (Darn.)
The events surrounding the purchase of the book were too laden with coinkidink to pass off as anything less than a booming voice from the thunderclouds. What would you think if this happened to you? We’re out doing errands in Lindi’s car, the car use being justified by the fact that the errands involved transporting some boxes of stuff. We stop by Powell’s for a quick browse and I come across “How to Live Well Without Owning a Car." I think “Oh, I know all about that,” but I buy it anyway with the idea of reviewing it on my blog. We hop into our car to head home, and immediately come up behind a horde of cyclists hauling a hoard of furniture by bike. Mattress, sofa, file cabinet -- you name it, there it goes, each household item being dragged up the ramp to the Broadway Bridge by a two-wheeled human-powered vehicle. We look at each other, we think of our five wine-sized boxes in the trunk, we feel like two nuts trying to shoot a house-fly with a rifle.
Though Balish can’t say enough about the benefits to be reaped by ditching your car, he also recognizes the complexity of making such a decision. And he leaves no stone unturned in addressing every issue that’s going to stand in your way. Whether you live in a large or small city or in sprawling suburbia, he’s thought it through for you, even including the logistics of car-free dating and socializing.
There’s no phase of the adjustment period he doesn’t cover, from overcoming your advertising-induced car ego to the issue of arriving at work sweaty and possibly smelly. And for many of these obstacles he offers not just one solution but several. I really thought I knew all this, but reading this book I was constantly surprised with new information and tricks and ideas I hadn’t thought of.
In reading his own story, we learn how Balish accidentally stumbled into discovering the car-free life. This ain’t no tree-hugging, vegetarian potato-head on a mission. He’s just an ordinary guy who sat down and did the math. Laced throughout the book, other people’s testimonials to the car-free or “car-lite” life support his position -- and my local peeps will be proud to notice that an ample number of them are weighing in from Portland. He quotes a certain Jim Viehman, journalist and car owner: “If you think about it, some of the most meaningless times in life are spent in a car.”
The Balish book is not just about using a bicycle, but primarily about not using a car. In addition to bicycling, entire chapters are devoted to the ins and outs of using mass transit (are you a transit snob?), carpooling and ride-sharing, motorcycles and scooters, and good old walking. But his own favorite is clearly bicycling, and I’ll end with a quote that assures me that yes, my little tiny act of using a bicycle for my transportation really does make a difference:
“When a bicycle replaces a car for daily transportation, we all breathe less carbon monoxide, lead, cyanide, benzene, sulfates, ozone, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.”