Car Free in Columbus – Part 1: Getting Started
In the summer of 2010, Anne and I went car free for two months. Our old car had been totaled and we decided to wait for the insurance check to be processed before buying a new car rather than opting for a rental. With two small kids who were not yet school age and being self-employed with an office only a mile away from home, we had it a lot easier than many others who want to explore that option.
In reality, it was quite the challenge. Around 90 percent of our day-to-day tasks were easy enough to do on foot or by bus — go to work, attend an event near Downtown, hit the grocery store for a small load that was easy to carry — but the other 10% of things were very, very hard. A trip to Target at the Lennox Town Center was unbearably long and waiting on a late bus with two small kids while they’re irritated was never a pleasant experience.
Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do a long-form story on residents in Columbus who choose to go car free for the long term. I have a few friends who have managed to do that, but I thought there may be more people out there with stories to tell. Last week we sent out a single call via social media seeking people who go car free, and over a dozen responded in less than 24 hours, all eager to share their experiences. I was surprised not only by the quick number of responses we received, but also by their diversity in responses. Some live in Clintonville, some in Olde Towne East, some are students, some are Downtown workers, some commute to and from the suburbs, some never want to own a car again, and some are only car free for the short term.
This week, we’re sharing their stories in a four-part series. Enjoy!
When Oulanje Regan’s car died back in 2010, she decided that she didn’t want to bother with replacing it. The Schumacher Place resident works Downtown and realized that most everything she wants to do in Columbus is within a three mile radius of her home.
“I am very happy I’ve been able to set up my life so I don’t need a car,” says Regan. “I am within walking distance of the grocery store, the post office, the library, great bars and restaurants, Jeni’s ice cream, a lovely urban park… so many amenities that I value in my daily life are right here.”
Prior to going car free, Regan says that she had been dependent upon her car for a former job with a 30 minute commute. But once she switched jobs and began working Downtown, her 30 minute drive became a 30 minute walk — or an even shorter trip by bike.
“I sometimes find that a trip by bike takes about the same time as it would to drive a car, find a place to park, and walk from the parking spot to my destination,” she explains. “And much of what I do is along the High Street corridor, so if for some reason I can’t or don’t want to bike it — say, if it’s pouring rain — I can easily take COTA.”
Allison Goerler was in a similar situation when she relocated to the Short North nearly two years ago. With a job located in the same neighborhood, her half mile commute was an appealing walk, so she decided to take the plunge and go completely car free.
“People thought I was crazy, and to be honest, I was only going to try it for a month or two to see how it went,” says Goerler. “I have now been without a car for almost two years and I love having the freedom to stroll in and not have to worry about the traffic or parking. Not to mention the money I am saving with no car expense, gas, and parking.”
Goerler, along with nearly everyone else we interviewed, credits the introduction of multiple new transportation options in recent years as helping to make the choice to be car free an easier one.
“I jumped on board when they started CoGo last summer,” she says. “I would love to see Columbus utilize streetcars or some kind of metro system. It is a huge expensive undertaking to develop and implement a new transportation system, but I feel it would be worth it and would attract more people to come Downtown.”
Sarah Bryant agrees that going car free has certainly gotten easier in recent years. As a co-owner of Pattycake Bakery and a Clintonville resident, she can be easily spotted riding her bike up and down High Street with a company branded trailer hitched to the back for making baked goods deliveries. She hasn’t owned a car in six years and says that she enjoys having multiple options for navigating the city.
“I am a big fan of car2go and use it frequently,” she states. “I really love that they have an app where you can look up where the cars are and reserve one. And I am very excited about the new free COTA circulator line they are adding in the Downtown and Short North area.”
Bryant says that the next steps that will make a car free lifestyle easier are the upcoming addition of bike lanes on Third and Fourth Streets through Downtown as well as more bike trails and paths.
“Every year I feel like the number of people I see biking increases, and this is great because if there is a constant presence on the roads then cars will anticipate seeing bikes and share the road better,” she says. “Also, organizations like Consider Biking and Yay Bikes have been doing great work on education of both bikers and drivers.”
Matt Locke — a fellow Clintonvillian — got back on his bike around the same time six years ago. After regularly commuting for a few years, he decided to go carless for six months to try it out. He then went back to owning a car, but it only lasted a year before he sold it again in 2012.
“I just passed my two year carless-i-versary last month,” he says. “It was a conscious decision and I haven’t missed driving at all. I kind of cringe at the thought of getting into a car.”
The harsh subzero temperatures during the winter months that started 2014 were admittedly tougher for bike commuting says Locke, be he has no doubt that he’ll continue to be car free for several more years to come.
Steve DAoust on the other hand, can’t wait to get back behind the wheel again.
“During the aftermath of a breakup, my car was repo’d — a serious joy to experience,” he shares. “For the past five years I’ve been forced to use my bike and the bus lines.”
He credits car2go with turning his hours-long bus trips to the grocery store from his Olde Towne East home into regular outings once again.
“I once tried grocery shopping using my bike but it was an absolute nightmare,” he says. “So until I can afford to have a new car and keep my home, or my guardian angel hears me, I make due.”
The challenges of longer commute times is seen as a positive aspect by Esther Dwyer, an OSU employee who is working on completing her Master’s Degree, and who decided to get rid of her car two years ago.
“This is an exercise in living deliberately,” she explains. “I know this city from 17mph in the open air — the smells, topography, personalities of the drivers, and secret lovely spots of many of the neighborhoods — and I don’t ever want to be in such a hurry that I miss these things. Removing the convenience means you have to be flexible, you have to get to know your city, and you have to be able to ask for help.”
Dwyer enjoys her short four mile round-trip commute from Clintonville to OSU, and enjoys taking taking the side streets through various neighborhoods as a scenic detour to the bustle of High Street.
“The ride down High is very different depending on what time of day I’m riding,” she says. “The rush hour crowd is not very tolerant of bikes so I try to avoid those times if possible.”
The brick-lined streets of German Village don’t lend themselves well to speedy rush hour commuters, nor do they work that well for bikes. Elizabeth Pritchard is a neighborhood resident who instead has chosen to walk everywhere in the past four years that she has not owned a car.
“I don’t really care much to ride the bus or bike everywhere,” she proclaims. “Walking helps keep time of where I need to go and how long it’ll take. Fortunately, drivers are very cautious to walkers and courteous to safety. It’s not always easy, but I do enjoy that alone time to myself.”
Two other car free newcomers that we will hear more from soon are Chase McCants and Spencer Carli. McCants sold his Honda Accord in November and has exclusively utilized car2go, COTA, his bike and his motorcycle to get around town.
“I live in Clintonville and I work Downtown and my commute will often vary depending on the conditions outside,” says McCants. “My employer reimburses us for bus passes if we opt out of a parking pass, so I get to ride for free. But now that it’s warm, I take my motorcycle to work as long as it isn’t raining.”
Carli is a student at OSU who lives in Northwest Columbus and has a longer commute by bus. He gave up his car back in August, but the 45 minute ride hasn’t deterred him from his commitment to not owning a vehicle.
“I’ve also got a car2go membership and am familiar with Uber if for some reason I can’t catch a bus, which hasn’t happened yet,” he says. “COTA has plenty of lines running across the city and more and more startups are making it easier to go without a car.”
After learning the specifics of why and when these Columbus residents decided to go car free, we wanted to dig a bit deeper into the functionality of their day-to-day lives and find out how easy it is for them to get to places outside of their regular work or school commutes. How do they run errands, how do they meet up with friends for entertainment and how do they manage to do it all in Columbus with no automobile ownership?
We share what they had to say in Part 2 of our Car Free in Columbus series.