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Christine Escobar Headshot

On Becoming a Car Free Family

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A little over 4 months ago, we lost our car to an accident. We could have replaced it, by taking the total loss check from our insurer and signing ourselves right up into another car loan. But we had just finished paying off our now demolished 2002 Honda Civic after some 7 years, including several years leasing it.

My husband and I figured we could use a break from the auto insurance payments and any car payments at all, not to mention the feeling of throwing our money away on fuel.

Despite our family's advice to the contrary, we talked it over and went with it. We know plenty of families personally who don't own a car and we knew it was possible for us. What were the obstacles? I made a list. They just didn't convince us:

What if one of us needed to go to the hospital?
We live across the alley from a hospital.

What if my husband needed it for work?
He doesn't travel for work and his commute is a 20 minute bus ride either direction.

What if we needed it to run errands?
We'd been planning to upgrade my bike and get one for my husband. He wound up riding my old men's bike and I bought a new one for a good deal. There are plenty of grocery stores convenient to the train.

I haven't always had a car anyway. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 23 years old, I just didn't need it growing up in Chicago. Besides, my parents weren't in any position to buy me one and they didn't have an extra one for me to borrow. I finally got my first car when my sister and her husband gave me their old '87 Nissan Sentra right around that time. The 5 speed manual one with the vinyl bucket seats, roll down windows and tiny push-out triangle windows in back.

So, how's it been since going car-free? How have our kids, 10 and 5, adjusted to being a car-free family? Pretty good, I'd say. First of all, there's no bickering from the backseat to deal with. They get plenty of exercise walking to and from the bus stop and especially the train station, which is a good 4 blocks from our house at least. My husband and I bike and walk more and have both dropped a few pounds because of it.

We have the option of going downtown or other highly congested neighborhoods without the hassle of dropping loads of cash on parking or worrying how long we can stay in our parking space. More importantly, we're lessening the amount of pollution we are creating. In the long term, our kids are learning a lot about street safety, the people in their neighborhood and the city and being exposed to different experiences that will help shape who they become and what they think when they become adults.

Now, this all sounds so convenient and simple, doesn't it? No fights about it, no whining, no late night snack runs, no buses off schedule, no tired legs. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that of course we've experienced all of these. But, I'll take them any day over gridlock, being on the receiving end of road rage, or an accident caused by a driver more interested in social networking than the steering wheel in front of his or her face.

So, for now, we'll stay car-free, thank you very much, and face the new challenge of winter in Chicago without a car... with kids. I'll let you know how that goes in a few months.