I’ve lived entirely or mostly car free since 2003. Over the years I’ve learned a few things, including that living in Portland car free is not actually very difficult, and you don’t have to sacrifice much. You’ll also save thousands of dollars a year. You can then spend those dollars on something more entertaining, useful, or inspiring than oil changes, gasoline, parking, and care repairs. And believe it or not, a bike is not necessary! Below are some of my tips to car free living in Portland:
Choose Your Neighborhood Wisely
By Walkscore standards Downtown, the Pearl District, and Old Town/Chinatown are the most walkable neighborhoods in Portland. They are also close to a multitude of transit options. But there are plenty of neighborhoods outside the central core that are quite livable without a car. Bike and bus routes go almost everywhere, and many neighborhoods have all the amenities within walking distance. Some of the cheapest places to buy or rent a house in Portland are in areas that are far from walkable. The money you save on rent or mortgage payments may offset the money you have to spend on transportation, but if you do the math you’ll probably find out it doesn’t. Take into account commute time too, and the higher rent or higher mortgage you pay may be more than offset by the transportation savings.
We have one of the better transit systems in the country, and it can be easy to use (here are some tips). TriMet maintains a very well designed website, which makes it easy to find schedules and routes, and track buses and trains in real time. There are tons of applications available that do everything from locating stops and predicting arrival times, to alerting you when you’re nearing your destination.
The bus doesn’t go everywhere, schedules don’t always match your needs; sometimes a car is the only practical transportation method. Taxis are an option, especially for those who can’t or refuse to drive. But Zipcars are cheaper, and usually more convenient (especially if you live in one of those walkable neighborhoods – that’s where most of the Zipcars are). It’s easy to sign up, and easy to use (the process is more like checking out a library book than renting a car). I’ve never used Zipcar more than twice in a year, but I maintain my membership because sometimes you just need to go places that only cars can take you.
You Don’t Need a Bike to Live Car Free
A bicycle does give you a wider car free range than hoofing it allows, but if you choose your neighborhood wisely you won’t need to bother with rain pants, fenders, bike locks, and flat tires on a daily basis. I have a bike that spends most of its time collecting dust, but on a pleasant summer day I have been known to go for a ride. Kudos to those who love their bikes and use them daily, but I think it bears repeating that you don’t have to ride a bike to be car free.
Getting out of town
I found the transition to being car free much easier than I expected (one of the reasons I sold my car is that I never drove the damn thing; I walked and rode the bus everywhere already; why was I making car payments and paying insurance for something I never used!?). But then the summers would roll around, and I’d wistfully recall day trips to the coast, camping in the mountains, hikes in the Gorge. For me, getting out of town was the biggest sacrifice of living car free.
But you do have options.
Many other regional transit agencies connect with TriMet, so you can reach big chunks of the state that way too (for pennies). I blogged about this a few years ago: A Car free jaunt from Portland.
Zipcar can work for day trips, or even weekend camping trips. For longer trips rent a car from a traditional car rental agency, check Craigslist for shared rides, or carpool with friends.