No car, no problems.
Big news: gas prices are up again, nearly a dollar from the low in December. But I have a confession to make–this news doesn’t bother me one bit. I don’t have a car, so gas prices just aren’t on my radar screen anymore. (This is not to say that I don’t realize that high gas prices pose a serious problem for many people…just that I have managed to insulate myself from worrying about them.)
“But how can you live without a car in St. Louis? That’s impossible!” Nay! It is quite possible. For the entire three years that I have lived here, I have been car-less and fancy-free. Doubters take note.
I started this grand experiment when I was a freshman at Wash U, where we are not allowed to have cars. Unsurprisingly, I learned how to get around this city without a car. Tripfinder became my best friend. (Although I have to say that I wasted no time in getting with the newer Google Transit. Sorry, Tripfinder! It’s not you, it’s me. I just prefer Google’s maps. See earlier blog post for instructions on how to use it.)
I’ve learned how to get everywhere I need by using some combination of MetroLink and MetroBus. It requires a little bit of planning ahead and sometimes takes longer…although sometimes not, as MetroLink allows me to zip by the giant parking lot that is Forest Park Parkway and Skinker at rush hour, and the bus at least eliminates the search for parking. I take the trusty #1 Wustl-Gold bus west to get to class when the weather is too bad to walk or bike (or frankly, when I’m being lazy). I take it east to get caffeinated at Velocity or Coffee Cartel, where I can study, or at least pretend to, when I’ve had enough of the library.
Getting to the grocery store has been perhaps the biggest challenge, but even that is not so bad. I love taking the #30 Soulard south to the market. In the summer time, I hit up the North City Farmers’ Market in Old North first, with maybe a stop off at Crown Candy for a little something (did someone say “milkshake”?). For the basics, I take MetroLink out to Trader Joe’s in Brentwood or the Olive bus to Schnuck’s and remember to bring an empty backpack to carry back my provisions. I just wish the planners of the Brentwood Promenade had thought to include pedestrians in their plans. Look, ma! No sidewalk. Pedestrian discretion is advised.
A lot of people avoid the bus, but I have come to thoroughly embrace it. The bus has helped me get to know this city better than any book or tour ever would. I see how parts of the city are connected in a way that’s invisible from the highway. Some of my favorite experiences in this city happen when you meet someone talkative on the bus–talking to bus drivers and fellow passengers or just listening to other people. You really get a sense of the breadth of people and experiences here, whether it’s the conversation I had last month with a worker who had just been laid off her assembly line job or the father who was heading home to see his daughter off to her first prom. I have come to love this city through the windows of the MetroBus.
Honestly, there are times when I wish I had a car. Sometimes it can be a struggle on a Saturday night to try to get home before the trains or buses stop running, and I have had many a loooong late-night walk home. When I’m by myself after 10 pm or so, I often wish Metro would drop me off a little closer to home. (Like directly into my living room, please? That would be great, thanks.) When timing is tight, I often will ask friends to for a ride, although I know that if I didn’t have that crutch to lean on, I would still make it okay. These past few months, I have been occasionally using Enterprise’s WeCar car sharing program–PERFECT for those of you who want to get rid of your car altogether–which I can use at an hourly rate if I need to run a bunch of errands really quickly, have a tight meeting to make, or need to haul things around. So all in all, I’m doing just fine.
There are lots of reasons to go car-less. My major one was to live in a way that was better for the environment. But now I certainly feel the economic benefit, too. Americans pay an average of $8,000 per year on their cars, and more when gas gets more expensive. This works out to a whopping $700+ a month. When you are used to living with a car, it seems like just one of those necessary costs of living, but now that I don’t have one, it seems absurdly expensive. The monthly pass is enormously cheap by comparison. And frankly, I’ve discovered that I just don’t like being in a car. I HATE traffic, and I have also realized that driving brings out my worst personality traits. Get me behind the wheel of the car, and I instantly feel a wave of animosity towards my fellow drivers and the pedestrians taking up space in the crosswalk.
It’s also great to know I’m not alone in my car-free world. Online communities have sprung up to celebrate car-free life in St. Louis. There’s a pretty active biking scene here, and BikeSTL maps have been instrumental in helping me get to places that are a little bit harder to reach. Nationwide, there are quite a few blogs chronicling the car-free lifestyle. You can also find books to help you take the plunge.
So can you all join me in a little experiment? On June 18th, Metro is celebrating Dump the Pump day with transit agencies all over the country. Try to go car-less on that day. You can do it! Plan your commute ahead of time, grab a book or newspaper, and settle in. Try going somewhere new via transit, maybe the Whitaker Concert Series in St. Louis Place Park, which you can reach by the #30 Soulard, going north from the Civic Center MetroLink Station, or maybe to my favorite restaurant, Yemanja Brasil, which you can get to this way. If you get lost or need help, Customer Service can help you out. Hopefully you’ll find that it’s not so difficult after all. And you might even have a lot of fun.