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Resigning from Car Culture

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So, I am now without a car.

After 27 years of being part of car culture - I resigned.

It wasn't easy to think about - and I confess I stalled for a bunch of months. But now, I've traded my car in for a dog and it turns out to be more interesting than I expected.

First, life 'before' - when I had a car.

Every morning - the slight gnawing feeling that I'd parked somewhere that would get me a $115 ticket. In NYC, parking laws are a bit of russian roulette. Some spots are up for grabs - with one parking agent willing to look the other way, while another will always ticket it. Holidays are the worst because the parking cops are in a bad mood and ticket anything they can. On average, I'd get a ticket a month... and over the past 5 years NYC has put in those robo-meters that dispense tickets, and don't let you use the few minutes left over from the previous guy - so the battle for good spot has gotten pretty fierce.

Then, there was the drive to the office. Now, we didn't drive far - but it was still 40 minutes. Could never understand why 50 blocks should take that long. But it did. Then, there is the parking. Here too - a crap shoot. I had commercial plates so I parked on a street that said it was cool - still, some tickets there too. But mostly not.

Driving home - 30 to 40 minutes to the neighborhood, and then 40 minutes or so driving in circles.

The story I told myself was that I liked that part. The radio, the driving in circles, the institution of parking on the street. I can tell you now, I don't miss it a bit.

So, flash forward. No car. Instead, a really charming little Beagle/Border Collie mix named Louie.
So, the day starts without the drive to work, subway instead. And the day ends with a walk with Louie the puppy in Riverside Park, 30 to 40 minutes.

Overall - the shift from Car Culture to Dog Culture is significant in more ways that I could have imagined. First of all, walking a dog in the city brings you in to face to face contact with all kinds of dogs and owners. Bid dogs, small dogs, friendly and no so. But you talk to people. Lots of them. In the car, you are in your world, no human contact (other than to glare about parking-spot stealing and other road rage inducing activities).

So the shift from an isolated metal box to a sidewalk is one that I'm quickly enjoying.

At the same time, I've shifted a bunch of my commuting to and from work to a bicycle. This too is an eye opening experience. New York it seems has been hard at work building bike paths and other transportation alternatives to make New York a bike-friendly city. Along the West Side Highway, there are now three separate lanes - Cars, Bikes, and Pedestrians. Pedestrians get the walk along the water. Cars are on the inside, and the bike lane is in between. There's a new set of traffic signals for bikes (who knew!) and there's a bike culture that includes serious cyclists (you can tell by their gear and clothing) tourists, and just average folks using bikes to get around. Inside the city, there are bike lanes, and increasingly chunks of the city being carved out for bike lanes and pedestrians.

Individually, none of these are big things. In fact, you could argue that folks in big cities with good mass transit shouldn't own cars at all. But the fact of the matter is, we do - or did. And despite subways, busses, taxi's, zip cars, and bikes - I was an urban car owner and proud of it. Tons of folks have been working to 'green' New York's streets. Transportation Alternatives is one of the organizations leading this charge.

Now, I'm Car-free. And boy, that turns out to be more of a relief than I could have ever imagined.

Sure, there's dog food and chew toys and vet bills. But I'm pretty sure it won't come close to gas, repairs, tickets, and the occasional car wash.

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