Car-free living in the cold... and the heat

Wroclaw Poland weather snow
CC BY-SA 3.0 cinnamon_girl

As I stated on Friday, my article on car-free living (in 6 cities for the past 10 years) generated many questions and a lot of commentary. I'm following that up with a series aimed at answering those questions and adding some extra commentary. My Friday article was on car-free living with a partner and kids, while this one is on car-free living in very cold and very hot climates.

Car-free living in the cold

Some commenters generalized and stated that I had lived car-free in very temperate, nice climates. Well, I think I was lucky with the climates in North Carolina, Virginia, and California. However, Wroclaw is further north than Toronto and has a colder climate than almost the entire United States (similar to Alaska), and the Netherlands wasn't particularly warm either. Plus, it was very rainy.

I prefer a more temperate and dry climate, but I really don't think climate is as big a deal for car-free living as people make it out to be. I could see it being a big challenge if you were only biking. (However, I have known people who biked through the winter in Ithaca, New York.) But public transportation and living in walkable places are important alternatives that can't be left out of the equation. I wouldn't live in an area of Wroclaw that didn't have good connections to public transportation. Many people do, especially because the apartments are cheaper per square meter there. But I know some of those people, and I know some who have unhappily discovered how much that adds to their transportation expenditures and time in traffic.

That's not to say it's always pleasant bundling up and walking or taking a tram or bus in sub-zero temperatures (which there are a lot of here). However, I remember growing up in Florida and very much not enjoying many "cold" mornings in the car waiting for it to heat up. Things are relative, your body acclimates, and there are pieces of cloth that you can actually put around your body to keep it warm in the cold.

To back me up, a reader living in another very cold city chimed in with some useful comments and perspective:

It may surprise some, but I live perfectly happily car-free in North America's coldest major city (over 500,000)...Winnipeg, Manitoba, or as some like to call it, Winterpeg Manisnowba. I have a bike that I use in the warmer weather, a bus pass that I use year-round, and my two legs. Perhaps once a year I encounter a situation where I need to go outside of the city, and when that happens, a carpool is generally possible, such as heading to a small town about an hour away for a funeral. To be completely honest, I SAVE time by taking the public transit system, as I can DO things while on the bus. You can't do things while driving except drive, and perhaps listen to the radio. Meanwhile, my bus time has been used for studying, replying to emails, score study (I am a musician), even lesson planning (I am a music teacher). I successfully commuted to my university for five years-and the university is 20 km away. Had I been driving, I would have spent $1000 a year on a parking pass ($500 per semester), not to mention TONS of money on gas. Meanwhile, the most I have ever paid for a bus pass is $75/month. These monthly passes are also eligible for tax credits. Perhaps 1/100 times have I experienced bus delays or problems, and it has never been severe. Having a cellphone, it is easy enough to call or text to let someone know that I am going to be late. I've never missed a class because of the buses, although I have been late a couple of times, but only by a few minutes. Some complain about the quality of our transit system, but it has served me very well. I live in an ideal area, with three grocery stores, a mall, our third busiest hospital in the province, and several other amenities within 1km. I walk to get my groceries, walk to the bank, bike (during nice weather) to my dentist, and bus elsewhere. Although I sometimes complain that I wish the bus was kept warmer in the winter, it won't stop me from taking it.

Car-free living in the heat

Let's get back to Florida. I also lived car-free off and on there. That’s actually where I discovered that living car-free was more enjoyable than driving. It wasn’t as easy or pleasant as in the other locations (especially given its sprawling nature), but I still found the quality of life benefits outweighed the downsides.

Of course, you have to be aware that you're going to sweat. During some months, you start sweating right after going outside, biking or not. And you may have to bike further. I found a relaxed biking style a good fit there (Dutch-style biking, as I've now come to call it).

It's harder to find a walkable neighborhood in which to live in Florida, but it's not impossible. Public transit generally isn't as good either, but a lot of people write it off without even checking it out. Sometimes it is a good option. While living car-free in Florida, I ended up biking most of the time but taking transit some places.

Overall, good climate helps with car-free living, but I personally found a car-free life in extremely cold Wroclaw and extremely hot Southwest Florida to be more enjoyable than living with a car. Don't knock it till you've tried it.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series. And check out the first two articles here:

The #1 factor that has allowed me to live car-free easily and pleasurably for 10 years

Car-free living with a partner & kids

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Biking | Poland | Public Transportation | Walking