Dear Portland, the day I went car-free

First–Like one of my favorite hip-hop groups said, it’s good to be here. I have been writing about Portland events, arts and music at my other site/blog, but I love the difference of being here (which is represented here in my first post). Whereas that site is a sort of fan of Portland site, this represents how a the city organism works–how we interact with Portland, and how it (I feel it’s liveliness) reacts to us; Organizational Behavior if you will (I know you psych majors will). I’m glad to do it, because Portland has been 99.9% great for me and I hope I can’t share that.

So, without further ado, I went car free today!

I wrote a year ago that I was going to sell my Camry and get off the oil-nipple after experiencing the fantastic-ness of my friends’ 45 MPG Biodiesel Jetta. Well, like all weening, it wasn’t easy–instead of the month I planned–it took me a whole year to deal with the fear of living in the U.S. without a car.

As a side note, I worked, lived and moved around Europe for two years using nothing but public transport plus my 10 Guilder bike(s), and it was still difficult. Therefore, I understand why people have so many issues leaving their cars–I also understand that it is much easier to do so here than in 99% of the US. It is truly frightening when one has grown up (mid/southwest) in a society centered on the car. I haven’t driven more than 20 miles in a month since March and I was still hanging on to this banged-up Camry with some serious engine issues. NOT ANYMORE!

Today, Foster Auto Parts came and towed that bad-boy away. I got $250 for it cash, and that was it–car free. I possibly could have got more, but searching for that extra $100-$300 seemed like another diversionary tactic from cutting the umbilical cord. So what to do now?

I live in inner SE, near Laurelhurst Park. I work downtown, and I go to grad school at PSU. Since I write about a lot of Portland events, I do a decent amount of traveling around the metro. I already walk around 6 miles a day, bus it to school and work about half the time, am looking for a new bike, joining the flex car system, and well…will start evaluating when/why I should go somewhere–this will not be easy as I like to go out a good bit to see music and events. Effectively prioritizing my time could be the biggest benefit of becoming car free actually.

I think this is long enough for my first entry here (too long?). I plan on writing about this experience here. I know that tour de fat and urban mommas , etc are writing about how they traded in their car–so I hope to not just repeat that. Besides, my ultimate goal is actually not to be car free, but to have a very correct biodiesel at some point for limited travel–hey, let’s jump in my van to go the coast right now kind of thing.

Best to all of you garfields like me on Monday. It’s good to be here!

22 Comments so far

  1. Brewcaster (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

    Good to see more writers on here.

    My wife and I recently moved here from Oklahoma much like Julian. We went from 2 cars to 1. Which like you said coming from the South can feel a little weird.
    It was a running joke in High School, that there would always be more cars then people at parties.

    Cheer’s to Metroblogs newest contributor~!

  2. Julian Chadwick (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

    Thanks Brewcaster!

    I’m glad we are getting more Oklahomies out here– there was the dust-bowl wave and now there is “I don’t want to live in a state where Bush has a 65% approval rating” wave and have to be next to Texas–no thanks :)

  3. Mr. Viddy (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

    Julian I dig you man, I hope you stick around and don’t sell out to the man.

  4. Betsy (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 1:03 pm

    Julian – welcome!

    I went totally car-free for just about a year and a half, and then used Flexcar for another 8 months or so before I bit the bullet and bought a car again.

    It was: challenging. And rewarding. And very cost-effective (except when my Flexcar use went a bit out of control, which precipitated the return to a car.)

    I think you might find a Flexcar post or two in the archives, in fact…

  5. Jack (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

    Go back to Oklahoma you dustbowlers! (kidding, kidding)

    My first few years here in Portland were carless, mostly because I couldn’t afford one. But I was living downtown at the time, which made it much easier. Everything’s within walking distance.

    My biggest problem with the car-free lifestyle is feeling like a trapped rat in the city. I just have to get out sometimes, and it’s hard to get out in the woods without a vehicle. Flexcar sucks in that regard. Seems like its designed for moneyed yuppies who want to go grocery shopping, not for people on a limited income who want to get out of town. I wish there was a Flexcar for poor people. Until then, I’m holding onto my 19-year-old beater truck. It’s my Flexcar, only a lot more flexible, and much much cheaper.

  6. dieselboi (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 2:12 pm

    While we’re not entirely car free, I feel I personally am as I don’t use a car for commuting. I love it and more than the exercise I get from walking, I get a bit of relaxation to boot. I was that guy who had to get home fast because there was “stuff” to do. Then I began walking home and realized the “stuff” could wait. The walk was enjoyable. Also, I am able to interact with my neighbors even with a simple hi/bye. Great to hear it Julian and welcome aboard.

  7. John (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

    Hooray for you! If you can make it without a car, I think it’s one of the most socially responsible choices an “average american” can make. I haven’t owned a car since high school in a rural town. I totally recognize that some people need cars, especially parents and commuters with far-away jobs, but I don’t buy the “without it I feel like a caged rat in the city” argument.

    There are many creative and fun ways to get out when you need out, like making more friends (with cars), or renting a car (expensive, but not as expensive as flexcar and there are often special deals), or taking public transit and riding a bike (you’d be amazed at how far outside of “the city” you can get by trimet and walking in only an hour). There are also clubs and groups around town that do group trips all the time, and there should be more of these independent efforts, especially a regular/inexpensive bus between the gorge and coast (biodiesel, of course). (hello entrepreneurs, trustafarians, ken kesey wannabes!)

    I know, these options ain’t convenient. Neither are air pollution, traffic jams, taxes for roads (especially for non-drivers), auto-related injureies & fatalities, insurance payments, oil changes, dealing with the DMV, keeping the tank filled at $3+/gallon, or wasteful and chaotic foreign wars for control of a finite resource that we know does more harm to the environment and human health than good for our economy.

    Besides, living without a car and being forced to find “alternatives” is exciting and a sure-fire way to avoid becoming another portland “pod person.” (Haven’t you noticed an uptick in their numbers lately… ahem.. Pearl District?)

    Why the hell would you keep a car these days if you don’t absolutely need one? I’ve got none of those inconveniences (read: responsibilities) in my life, and now you don’t either! Woo-hoo!

    It would be really cool to track how much money you save, and how much more time it takes to go places, without your car. As a regular reader, I’d love to follow that. Welcome to MB and thank you for one less car!

  8. Julian Chadwick (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

    “not for people on a limited income who want to get out of town” – yeah, I don’t think there is much in current America designed for poor people to afford travel/vacation and a car…or health care, a decent place to live…etc

    However, if you were/are like me and wasting about $60/month on insurance and gas to go less than a hundred miles (then add maintenance and parking costs of a vehicle)–flexcar becomes a much cheaper choice for poor grad students like me. Also, PSU students don’t have to pay membership fees.

    I do feel you on the get of town thing. That is why I am hoping to get a cheap biodiesel that gets good gas mileage at some point in the future.

  9. Julian Chadwick (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

    “It would be really cool to track how much money you save, and how much more time it takes to go places, without your car. As a regular reader, I’d love to follow that. Welcome to MB and thank you for one less car!”

    –yeah, i will try to set something like that up. I know right now I am up $330 this month (no insurance, no gas, and $250 for the car)

  10. dieselboi (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

    No car options? Check out Greyhound. Greyhound goes almost anywhere and is rather cheap. I think it would be a crazy adventure to get one of the week passes, get on a bus blind (just pick one) and get off like 8 stops later, no matter where you are. Every little town has a stop and at least someplace to stay. Just a thought.

    Also, when I was truly car free in the 90’s, I rented every so often for a weekend at it was like $40 at the most with coupons and such.

    As far as savings. Well, I guess I save based on not paying for parking, but my adventure wasn’t to save money, but more to get some added activity and get healthy. That is worth more than $$ to me.

  11. Julian Chadwick (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 5:18 pm

    “Julian I dig you man, I hope you stick around and don’t sell out to the man.”

    thanks Mr. Viddy…I’ll do my best

    “it would be a crazy adventure to get one of the week passes, get on a bus blind”

    how about this: get off at the Dallas, Oklahoma City, Houston and New Orleans bus stations and walk around. Survive this without any violence directed at you and win a prize. It could be a game show :)

    I’ve done three of these and just went through one attempt at a violent attack (Dallas can be so fun in spring)…so, I can get a consolidation prize

  12. Jack (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 5:19 pm

    Ditto on walking to work Dieselboi. Before I got laid off, I walked 6 miles a day to my last job and I absolutely loved it. Looks like I finally scored another job that will also allow me to commute on foot, which is good, because it pays crap (actually, that’s an insult to crap).

    Julian, I did the PSU grad student thing. I didn’t have a car then. But you can’t do it forever (believe me, I tried it). When I was finally done, I bought a cheap, very used car. A couple years ago I crunched the numbers to compare renting vs. Flexcar vs. keeping my beater. Nothing beat the beater. Plus it’s always there when I want to drive, which isn’t very often. I tried the biodiesel thing, but the only cars in my price range are even older than my gas-powered beater and a hell of a lot less reliable. I had two 20+ year old compact diesel trucks that were both unreliable garbage, not to mention dangerously underpowered. I couldn’t afford to shell out hundreds of dollars every other month to keep them running, and I definitely couldn’t afford to get plowed by a Yukon because 30mph was my top speed when going uphill.

    John, re. group activities: I want to get in the woods and on the water to get AWAY from people and do my own thing, not to get lost in yet another crowd of strangers and be on their schedule. Ultra-gregarious types have a hard time understanding that individualist mindset. But honestly, I have no problem spending time with myself. I even sometimes, gasp, PREFER to be alone. As for friends, I was the one driving my carless friends around—why is it OK for your friends to have cars so you can get driven around, but not my friends?

    Re. Greyhound, that’s fine if you want to get from city to city. But try taking a bus to a trailhead in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area. Or even to a decent trailhead in the Gorge. Hell, try hauling a kayak 3 miles to the Willamette on the bus. It don’t work. You have to constrain your life considerably if you want to make your life revolve around the bus schedules and routes. I did that for many years and frankly got sick and tired of it.

    Look, if someone wants to get rid of their car to be environmentally “pure,” go for it, don’t matter to me as long as they’re not crowing about it too obnoxiously. I can go for weeks without driving, but I choose to spend my very limited transportation funds as efficiently as possible, not blowing it on rental cars and bus tickets to places I don’t want to go. I can’t afford to be making political statements—if I could, I’d have someone build me a hybrid-biodiesel Harley Fat Boy. Now that would be sweet!

  13. Dustbunny (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 5:36 pm

    “Clubs and groups around town that do group trips all the time” — I’ve been looking for something like that — who are some of these groups, please?

  14. John (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

    Let’s not get personal, I wasn’t “crowing obnoxiously” but simply making a few helpful suggestions. As mentioned, I understand that some people need cars for work, or to pick up kids, or even haul around a kayak/telescope/hanglider/fishing gear/secret experimental time machine from time to time. But gosh, it sounds like a few folks don’t deal with inconvenience so well, (and perhaps feel a bit threatened). It’s cool, we all have our guilty creature comforts.

    When it comes to owning a car for luxury and convenience, I can’t help but think of the millions of people in the world who can’t afford adequate food or sanitation. I don’t judge “for convenience sake” car owner, just can’t understand that me-centric mindset when it comes to something so unnecessary (i mean, how long have people “depended” on cars? a century?).

    As long as people own and believe they depend on cars, we won’t have public transit and other transportation options that take us out to the woods, (but portland once had a “picnic train” that went out past Troutdale). The more people who give up their “weekender” cars, the more sustainable options we’ll all have (thanks supply and demand!).

    As for those groups that do trips, I agree, not for everyone. I’m actually a bit of a loner and prefer solitude to being surrounded by irritating “gregarious” personalities, and I take trips with friends who own cars *because they need them for the reasons I’ve previously mentioned.* That said, I’m sure it’s not too difficult to “accidentally” get seperated from the group – just don’t forget when the bus is leaving!

    A few of those groups/resources, and there are MANY more:
    Mazamas (hiking & mountaineering)
    Sierra club (enviro stuff)
    Audubon (bird watching)
    PCC runs trips through some classes.

    It would be cool if someone out there set up a calendar of all the opportunties to get out of Portland without a car. There are so many of us in this car-less position, and I think we’d all be pretty surprised by the opportunties we have.

    Anyway, enough with put-downs Jack, I agree on the bio-D Harley, but make mine a low rider, and cheers to Julian for his choice to go car-free!

  15. Jack (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 7:26 pm

    Fair enough John. Every transportation option has its ecological costs. Even walking:
    (this article is rubbish, but you get the point).

    The only way to really be objective about the ecological impact of our individual transportation choices is to quantify it. This worksheet is a good start:

    Last I checked, transportation accounted for ~21% of my ecological footprint, which, to crow obnoxiously, is less than half of the average American’s (but still unsustainable given global overpopulation).

    Speaking of overpopulation, as much as we want to pat ourselves on the back about our enviro lifestyle choices, they’ll all be for naught as long as we continue to allow the population in this country to increase. Did you know that the US population would currently be declining if not for mass immigration since the 1960s? For all you treehuggers out there (and yes, I’m one), look long and hard at your views re. mass immigration and see if they’re compatible with your environmental views. Then look at what the last couple of generations of enviro leaders have had to say about it (Ed Abbey, Dave Foreman, Dave Brower, etc.). Then answer me these questions honestly: Is mass immigration going to make the American environment better? Is it going to make the global environment better? And are your efforts at improving your lifestyle going to be nothing but self-congratulatory masturbation as long our population continues to relentlessly climb? This is not a reason to give up your enviro habits, but rather to make sure those sacrifices aren’t for naught.

  16. Jason McHuff (unregistered) on August 20th, 2007 @ 9:23 pm

    Re getting out of town: if you’re wanting to go to the coast, there’s bus service to both Tillamook County ( and Astoria (Amtrak-sponsored). There’s also a Columbia County bus to Scappoose and St. Helens.

    Overall, I congratulate those who go without a personal vehicle (I do myself). There’s so much encouragement to drive with things like “free” parking and oil defense.

  17. Kai (unregistered) on August 21st, 2007 @ 9:24 am

    I didn’t do a car for about eight years due to lack of funds, a couple of bad tickets, and things like that. I worked at PSU, so just took the bus and MAX into town and it worked out pretty well. The sucky thing was having to do shopping. I had a couple of times pushing a shopping cart from Freddie’s because I had to pick up something other than a six-pack and something for dinner.

    As far as getting out of town it’s not that big of a deal. I’m assuming that Julian probably has a couple of friends who wouldn’t mind being up for a road trip every once in a while.

    Personally I hate driving downtown, and giving up a car when I worked their made so much sense, especially when you looked at the cost of a parking pass at PSU compared to a subsidized TriMet pass. My only complaint was some of the commuters I had to deal with in the morning, including the woman who vomited strawberry yogurt or something like into a plastic bag while sitting next to me on the #8 at 8:00am on the way to work. Portland isn’t as bad as Seattle as far as the freaks you get on the bus but it can get a little scary sometimes depending on your route. I’ve only had to deal with one guy masturbating on the bus in Portland, and the usual creepy frottage individuals that utilize the crowded bus for their own stimulation.

    For some reason TriMet doesn’t include that in their advertising.

  18. Julian Chadwick (unregistered) on August 21st, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

    “I’ve only had to deal with one guy masturbating on the bus in Portland, and the usual creepy frottage individuals that utilize the crowded bus for their own stimulation.

    For some reason TriMet doesn’t include that in their advertising.”

    wow…you should read what a friend wrote over at my other site:

    Trimet: Public Transportation Leads To Private Desperation

  19. Kai (unregistered) on August 21st, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

    I read that earlier on your site. The thing that bugged me about having to commute during rush hour was being seated with someone’s personal bits right in your face. The photo you included brought back those memories.

    I think you’ll actually really enjoy the extra time you have to read during your travels, and you probably won’t be as much of a freak magnet as I apparently was during my carless years.

  20. Ezra Hilyer (unregistered) on August 22nd, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

    Good for you!! I am in northwestern PA, and planning a move out to Portland soon. I hope I have the guts to do what you just have. Good going!

  21. bob (unregistered) on August 24th, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

    The carfree movement in the USA and beyond is tracked here daily.

    Good for you Julian, and welcome to the movement.

    As one poster on the blog wrote, “The day I sold my car it felt like a tumor had been removed from my head.”

    Enjoy your new freedom.

  22. Fr. Guido Sarducci (unregistered) on September 5th, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

    “renting a car not as expensive as flexcar”

    No such thing (well, for the most part). Here’s why:

    Flexcar *sounds* expensive, but that is only because you are not including the cost of full insurance and gas in your “less expensive rental car.” Once you have done so, you will quickly discover that flexcar is rather competitive with most rental deals. Sometimes even better, because you can get credit for unused hours when you return a car early.

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