Environment Transportation The #1 Factor That Has Allowed Me to Live Car-Free Easily and Pleasurably for 10 Years By Zachary Shahan Writer University of North Carolina New College of Florida Zach Shahan is an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He is also the director of Cleantechnica, a leading clean tech news site. our editorial process Twitter Twitter Zachary Shahan Updated October 11, 2018 CC BY-SA 3.0. Zachary Shahan Share Twitter Pinterest Email Transportation Active Automotive Aviation Public Transportation Like bigger images and more suspense? View as a slideshow. It's hard to believe that I've lived car-free for nearly 10 years straight now. However, it's also hard to believe I ever thought owning a car was a good idea. I'm reminded of this any time I visit someplace where I need to rent a car. It's fun having one for a short time, but before long I realize how much worse the quality of life is when you have to drive everywhere. However, I will be the first to admit that there is one key factor has allowed me to enjoy a car-free life for 10 years in 5 or 6 different cities. I won't give it away right yet (jump to the bottom if you want the quick answer), but will first quickly run down how I got around in each of the 5 to 6 places I've lived in the past 10 years, in chronological order. townofchapelhill/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Chapel Hill, North Carolina: After college, I moved to Chapel Hill, largely because I was sick of the sprawling and ugly "urban" environment of Florida. Also, I absolutely loved the state when I visited it for a summer internship the year before, and I thought I might end up going to graduate school at UNC for city and regional planning (which I did). I lived somewhat on the edge of Chapel Hill, but I was just a block away from a bus stop for a bus that traversed the small city... and was free to use. I actually ended up working at a Whole Foods Market nearby and biked to work most of the time (~10 minutes one way if I remember correctly). Otherwise, I would simply walk or take the bus. Chapel Hill is quite small, and I could also bike to downtown and the university campus, but that required a very long uphill ride and I'm more of a Dutch "take it easy" biker than a "lycra cyclist," so I often just took the bus. (A Trampe Cyclocable would be useful there!) Nonetheless, I did bike into town a fair number of times. Mark Haynes/CC BY 2.0 Carrboro, North Carolina: Carrboro and Chapel Hill are very connected — you can't easily tell the difference when you cross from one to the other — which is why I said above that I have lived in 5 or 6 different cities in the past 10 years. The same free transit service that serves Chapel Hill also serves Carrboro. I moved to Carrboro around the time I started graduate school, after one year in Chapel Hill, and then lived there for about two years in two different homes. I used the free bus system a fair amount, but I biked and walked more in Carrboro. The distances to Weaver Street Market (a popular coop market that is essentially the center of Carrboro — pictured above), downtown Chapel Hill, and UNC were even shorter than from my home in Chapel Hill. There was also a nice off-road bicycle path along a railway part of the way to UNC, and a nice small street with a large tree canopy and bike lanes much of the rest of the way. The off-road bike path is actually what led me to do my thesis on the relationship between bicycle transportation and different types of bicycle infrastructure. Claudio Saavedra/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Sunnyvale, California: In the summer of 2006, I did an internship for the San Mateo County Planning and Building Department. I lived in Sunnyvale (in Silicon Valley), a few cities south of the department offices in Redwood City. Shockingly, I found the same old Dutch-style Schwinn model that I had been using in Chapel Hill at a Goodwill or thrift store in Sunnyvale (probably from 1970 or so — looked like this one). I've never noticed that model anywhere else! It was a heavy bike, but it did a good job of getting me to and from Caltrain's commuter train stations, and also around the nice, quite bikeable cities of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area (note: the trains include bike cars). It was all very convenient. Biking in such a beautiful place was a great pleasure, and I also loved riding the trains. I can only imagine how much less pleasant it would have been to drive around there. Well, actually, my wife and I visited a couple years ago and did rent a car and drive around a bit, and I can say that it was a ton less enjoyable. Zachary Shahan/CC BY-SA 3.0 Groningen, Netherlands: I've written about my 5 months in Groningen at length, so I won't add anything here. Biking is the way to get around in Groningen, even more so than the rest of the bike-friendly Netherlands. More info can be found here: 5 things I loved about living in Groningen20 more things I loved about Groningen (+ TONS of bike photos)Dutch kids have a different relationship to the bicycleWhy the Dutch don't wear helmetsBabies on bikes: This Dutch music video rocks Zachary Shahan/CC BY-SA 3.0 Charlottesville, Virginia: After graduate school, I got a job as the director of a nonprofit focused on advancing transportation choice (especially for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders) in the Charlottesville area. It might surprise you, but I didn't own a bicycle there at all. The apartment I lived in was a 5-minute walk from a pedestrian mall in the center of downtown Charlottesville, which was where my office was located. There were also bus lines right there that took me out to a health food store where I shopped. I didn't even need a bike, let alone a car. (Granted, I did have a work bike for awhile that I used for some purposes, but mostly just bike-oriented work stuff.) As we all know, it's a good idea to "stop and smell the roses." From a car, you're extremely unlikely to literally do that. From a bike, it's a definite option in some cases. On foot, it's the obvious thing to do. I had known for years that bicycling was a great pleasure. In Charlottesville, transporting myself around on foot most of the time, I came to realize how nice walking could be. Wrocław, Poland: For the past 51⁄2 years or so, I have lived in this city of about 1 million people in southwest of Poland. It has a beautiful city center (or downtown as I guess I'd call it if I had just arrived in Europe). I've lived in 3 different apartments here, but none have been more than a 30- or 40-minute walk to the city center, which is where I used to work before I became a full-time blogger. If I didn't feel like walking, there were always trams nearby that could get me around the city. For the past 3 years, working from home and living just a 10- to 15-minute walk from the center, I primarily walk — which also offers some much-needed moderate exercise. However, I also take trams and use the city's bike-sharing system fairly often. Zachary Shahan/CC BY-SA 3.0 So, have you figured out what I'd consider to be the #1 factor that has allowed me to live car-free easily and pleasurably for 10 years? In my opinion, it's location. Location, location, location. In every city, I chose a place from which I could easily and enjoyably get to my key destinations either on foot, bicycle, or public transit. Of course, specifics of those transportation options helped in some cases — Caltrain's regularity and quality of service, Chapel Hill and Carrboro's free bus service, Charlottesville's fairly pedestrian-oriented downtown, Groningen's tremendous bike-friendliness, Wroclaw's great walkability and mass transit, etc. But the key thread has been living in a location in which it doesn't make sense to drive.