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Car Free in Columbus – Part 4: The Long Haul

Walker Evans Walker Evans Car Free in Columbus – Part 4: The Long HaulEsther Dwyer of Clintonville has been car free since 2012.
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This week we’ve learned why several Columbus residents have decided to give up their personal automobiles and go car free. We’ve heard about how they get around town to run errands and meet up with friends. And we’ve heard about the challenges that they’ve faced in going car free and how they’ve overcome those challenges.

Today we conclude the series with a look to the future. Do people plan to be car free in the long term? And what sort of continued changes need to happen in Columbus to make it a viable options for more people to have the choice. Below you’ll find our interviewees answers to those questions and more.

Esther Dwyer is a car free Clintonville resident who admits that her long term plans are not fully concrete at the moment.

“Having only been car-free for two years, I can’t give a good long-term perspective,” she says. “I’ll probably have a car again someday, but I’d like to continue with this as long as I can. There are many factors involved —jobs, future family-having, location changes — but I’m committed to Columbus, my neighborhood, and my current line of work.”

Dwyer is a regular bike commuter, but says that the arrival of Car2Go has been the biggest game changer for her in the past two years, giving her more freedom to easily run errands and navigate the city. Carrissa Baker of Grandview agrees.

“With the addition of car2go, I feel like my decision to not own a car has been reinforced. I do not see any reason why I would begin to need a car on a daily basis,” says Baker. “At this point, I do not see myself owning a car in the future. ”

Steve DAoust on the other hand, can’t wait to get back behind the wheel. This Olde Towne East resident has been car free for several years not by choice, and looks forward to re-adding mobility to his daily routine.

“I would love to own a car again soon — it would free up my life in so many different ways,” explains DAoust. “One being that ‘the job’ is located ‘over-there’, but my biggest holdback right now is being able to afford a car.”

According to information compiled from Experian and AAA, the annual cost of owning and operating a car in the United States currently averages $14,772 per year for a new car and $13,344 per year for a used car. That includes the average car payment of $471 per month for a new car or $352 per month for a used car as well as driving costs which are currently 60.8 cents per mile for a vehicle driven 15,000 miles per year (the EPA’s current standard). Those figured include gas, maintenance, insurance and all other associated costs except for parking.

For comparison, 12 months of 31-day COTA passes would cost $744 per year for standard routes or $1020 for express routes. An annual CoGo membership is $75 for unlimited 30 minute trips. Car2Go rates are 38 cents per minute, which would total up to an annual cost of $3083 per year for someone who commutes 10 minutes to work twice a day for a full year and drive another 60 minutes per week for errands year round. Biking maintenance is variable, but likely in the $100 per year range according to information from Forbes. And of course, walking is free.

“I’m free to live a simpler lifestyle and spend my money on things I enjoy, such as restaurants, bicycle gear and vacation because I don’t have a car payments, insurance payments, gasoline purchases and expensive car maintenance,” says Matt Locke, a car-free resident of Clintonville. “A job change might be the biggest threat to my carlessness. The job would really have to be something special if it were to pry me from my current independence from cars.”

Oulanje Regan of Schumacher Place feels the same way as Locke.

“I’m not absolutely opposed to cars. If work demanded it, I would happily get a vehicle,” she states. “But I plan to always try to live close enough to my workplace so that it isn’t necessary. I can’t imagine going back to a five day a week driving commute.”

Kim Eckhart of Clintonville has commuted by bike for the past six years, but plans to make the switch back to driving due to a new startup business venture that requires it.

“I would be interested in car-sharing services, but my clients are scattered across Ohio and I would need to take the car for an entire day in most cases,” says Eckhart. “I don’t mind paying for a car, if it saves me the pain of owning and maintain a car. I hope to make lots of money in my business, so it would be worth the expense.”

Sarah Bryant, co-owner of Pattycake Bakery and Clintonville resident has been happy with her car-free lifestyle so far, but says that the possibility of car ownership is something that is not off the table.

“If I ever have kids I imagine that I would probably get a car as I would feel nervous taking a young child in a bike cart in a city without cycle tracks or dedicated bike lanes,” she says. “If I moved to a different neighborhood I would try to continue being car free and see how that went.”

Bryant feels strongly that a lack of cycling infrastructure is what is holding Columbus back for many other people who aren’t willing to commit to bike commuting more regularly.

“The biggest reason I hear from friends as to why they don’t bike in town is that they are scared to bike on High Street and other busy streets without a bike lane,” she explains. “If there was better infrastructure throughout the city there would be an increase in the number of people biking which is great for the health of the city and would help with the lack of parking in congested destination neighborhoods like the Short North if a lot more people were biking there instead of driving.”

Dwyer agrees completely.

“The city is only bike accessible for a small part of the population, and mostly a particularly privileged part of the population,” she adds. “We need more cycle tracks like the ones planed for Summit and Fourth Streets. The lack of safe and reliable East/West transportation options represent a disregard for some of our lower resourced communities, and we need to do better than that if we want to see our city grow and all of our people living well.”

Transportation mode-share data from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) shows that some changes have occurred in recent years. Between 2006 and 2012, several different age groups have shifted the way that they commute.

“There does appear to be a shift in how the younger demographic gets around — more of them are biking and walking,” says Mike Borger, and Associate Planner at MORPC. “The percentage of teenagers (16-19) driving alone decreased heavily from 64% to 59%. Interestingly, the 25-44  year old demographic saw a small increase in the drive-alone mode but otherwise maintained in all the other modes.”

Short North resident Andrea Bowerman says that she’s happy being car free given the current options, but also wants to see continued improvements in the near future.

“It would be nice to have a cheaper option for a car rental Downtown,” she says. “If I had a job Downtown then I wouldn’t anticipate ever owning a car again. I also come from the east coast, so it would be really nice to have some train options.”

Chase McCants has only been car free for a few months, and wants to see car2go expand to include inner-ring suburbs like Grandview Heights, Bexley and Worthington.

“Grandview Heights has a lot of cool restaurants and bars that I’d love to visit,” he says. “I’d also like to see far more bike trails, but it looks like the city is doing more to develop them.”

McCants says that when he first went car free last fall his biggest worry was what other people would think of him. There is a common stigma associated with carlessness that equates to helplessness, and McCants was unsure if the new lifestyle choice would leave him feeling alienated in the future.

“Would my friends stop asking me to hang out under the assumption that I needed a ride? Would anyone really want to date a guy without a car? Is there some aspect of my life that I didn’t consider that I’d need a car for?,” he ponders. “But all that was for nothing. In fact, more people have been curious to see if they could do something similar, but it’s hard for them to make the leap. Don’t get me wrong, going without a car isn’t for everyone. You have to evaluate and consider everything. But if it works, go for it.”

For more ongoing discussion about being Car Free in Columbus, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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