People who have spent their entire lives living a suburban, car-centric life cannot necessarily understand what an urban, car-light lifestyle is like. It’s not a hellscape of driving in circles forever trying to park. It’s the opposite of that.
A car-light life is different for every person. For me, it means walking to my friends’ houses and running into other friends on the way. It means building community with people I run into on bike paths every day during my commute. It means getting exercise just by getting around. It means creatively using my bike trailer to transport groceries, garden supplies, kayaks and my dog. It means that errands become something I look forward to because it’s a reason to walk or bike to a new place. There’s freedom in making it work.
It’s hard for people to imagine that other people might live differently than they do. When I was a kid living in Eagan, we could walk to school and to the park. We had to drive basically everywhere else. If you’re living in a place with a Walk Score of 9, it’s totally reasonable to assume that everyone else drives as much as you do. It’s probably reasonable to get mad about reduced speed limits and increased parking fees in Minneapolis, because you assume that the only way to get there is to drive and that these policies are hurting everyone.
I don’t blame anyone for living in this bubble. We all know what we know, and if you’ve lived in the suburbs your entire life, you know driving. A few years ago I was watching my young cousins and took a walk with one of them, who was around 10 at the time. We walked through the neighborhood, walked by many stores and stopped at the co-op. I asked him what he thought. He said, “It’s really cool, you can walk everywhere.” I knew that our experience in my neighborhood was a new one for him, and I hope it helped him see future possibilities.
In the Twin Cities, there are fewer cars per person in areas of poverty and areas where there is a high level of walkability and transit service. Some people cannot afford a car. Some people do not want to use a car. We should build infrastructure that supports car-free living for people who need it now and people who may choose it in the future. As I’ve driven less, I’ve realized that driving is anathema to the things I care about. So I’ve continued to shape my choices and behaviors to reduce driving as much as possible. I now only drive to see friends and family in places I can’t get to without a car.
We are in a climate crisis. We need to encourage people to be walking, biking, and taking transit when at all possible. Dense, walkable neighborhoods are more efficient and produce less carbon per person than sprawling suburban neighborhoods. Preventing new development, new bike lanes, and new bus lanes is actually preventing other people from choosing to drive less. Building more housing in walkable areas will reduce driving. Building bike lanes and bus lanes will reduce driving. It’s time to move forward even if there are unknowns about how a choice might impact the neighborhood, because we know that it will be good for the planet.
We have spent too long assuming that car use and ownership is the only way to function in this country. People are waking up to the climate crisis and they want to live differently. It’s not just better for the environment to live in dense, walkable neighborhoods; it’s better for building a healthy, active life and a vibrant community. This is why we need to make sure everyone has access to abundant and affordable housing in walkable, amenity-rich areas. People want to live lives that are less reliant on cars, and we should open the doors to let them.