I’m up visiting my best friend in Washington, D.C. She has lived here for almost three years and has been living car-free for almost one year. It has been challenging but she feels it makes a huge amount of sense both financially and ecologically.
Being in a big city makes it easier to live without a car in some ways but harder in others. There are many different public transportation options here – a bus system for each county, the D.C. metro system (which encompasses subway and buses), a car-sharing program (Flexcar and Zipcar recently merged), a brand new D.C. bicycle rental system, an informal carpooling system called “slugging” that helps folks share rides from Virginia into the city to take advantage of carpool lanes, and taxis. Of course, that means there is a lot of options.
She focuses on taking the bus and subway for commuting to work and doing most of her travel around town. She usually takes the D.C. metro buses but sometimes will take the local county bus. Of course, there are some places that are still very complicated (or impossible) to reach by public transportation (especially on the weekends) and it can be pretty awkward to take the bus when buying groceries or other bulky items so sometimes she calls upon friends with cars. She signed up with Zipcar but hasn’t used it because it seems prohibitively expensive ($14/hour, which means a trip to the grocery store would be about $30).
She chose her apartment largely on the basis of having good access to the Metro line that takes her to work and also having some nice restaurants and stores within walking distance. (There was also that whole affordability issue; always huge in a big city.) I was impressed by the number of little stores and shops within easy walking distance but of course a lot of them were places I would go to only a couple times a year (liquor store) or never at all (hot yoga studio) and there were some basic things missing like a major grocery store.
I asked if she felt the car-free lifestyle was working and she said it is. She really enjoys having the ability to use her commute time for knitting or reading and it doesn’t take too much longer than driving. For anyone who is considering it, she says the key is figuring out your commute to work by public transportation. Everything else you can figure out one way or another. There are still some things that are really difficult (going to the doctor) and some places she just doesn’t go because it’s impossible to get there without a car. She has a friend who takes public transit to work but uses her car sparingly in the evenings and weekends, which seems like a reasonable compromise.
We didn’t end up taking public transit much during my visit because we were trying to cram a lot of activity into two short days. Today we traveled to Georgetown and decided to take the car since there were four of us but this evening, just the two of us took the bus to Silver Spring (see photographic evidence). It was nice to see buses getting some use (unlike the last time Will and I rode the bus, when we were the only riders). I love to see public transit really work and I love urban neighborhoods where people can walk to their neighborhood stores. If only big cities didn’t have so many people, I might be tempted to move.