Gracy Olmstead is a writer and a Strong Towns board member. For her July newsletter, she published a reflection of what it was like to live for a year without a car and with three children.
Walking my commute, especially when the weather was nice, also provided opportunities for the sorts of serendipitous encounters that built friendship and community: I constantly run into people I know, and have found this one of the most important factors in cultivating a sense of belonging in a given place.
The mental endurance is important to emphasize here, I think, because (as long as you aren’t asking them to go too far) walking is not difficult for a child. It’s the mental hurdle of embracing the tedium of walking, the slow process of getting from point A to point B, that is often harder. Walking teaches a child patience. Let’s be honest—it teaches adults patience! We’ve all grown accustomed to instant gratification when it comes to transportation.
The entire piece is worth reading, but those points stuck out to me. Living without a car, especially when you walk a lot, requires you to alter your mindset. A car-centric lifestyle trains you to be impatient, to view other people as obstacles, and to only focus on how quickly you can reach your destination. Without a car, you’re more rooted in your present moment and your present place. Meeting people is (or at least can be) a pleasant part of your day.
When I commute on my bicycle, I gravitate towards routes that have the most people, whether they’re on trails, sidewalks, or front yards. The experience of waving as you ride past neighbors isn’t something that our engineers can directly build, like they can build bike lanes, but it’s still an important part of living in a healthy community. I’ve found that most routes can either have lots of people or lots of cars, but not both.