Kicking off my low-car diet

It's hard to know which metaphor to choose: the 12-step program? The diet? The new religion? Whatever the ontology I select, it's clear my family has had a problem with our automobile (a once-beloved 2000 Mercedes ML320, a diminutive monster of a car). My husband has been known to drive three blocks to the grocery store, or two blocks to his sister's apartment. I've been known to spend hours and gallons of gas bouncing from one end of town to the other in search of the perfect cupcake.

We've been chatting about changing our ways for a while, and every once in a while I would insist that we must walk to Trader Joe's, or promise myself I was going to take the bus to my boy's well-baby visits - it's ridiculous not to, as we'd get on the bus a few steps from our front door and get off a few steps from the receptionist's desk 15 minutes later. And every time, I'd be late or unable to find the correct change or lazy. And we'd revert to our SUV abuse.

One day a few weeks ago, we got a flat tire. And that pretty much sealed our fate. We didn't have the $500 to replace all the tires, and for a few days we tried to avoid across-town trips. But finally we had to make a decision: were we going to do this? As we were hemming and hawing, a friend who'd gone to work for Flexcar asked if we'd consider handing over our keys for a month as part of a low-car diet she was promoting. For the month of July, we'd get a bunch of goodies, notably a Flexcar membership. And suddenly, we had committed to a radically different lifestyle.

We're pretty lucky, living in Portland. Not only do we have the Flexcar program at our disposal, but the city has been named the top walking city in the U.S.; the best overall cycling city; and one of the top public transit systems in the world. That's probably why Portland was named the #3 green city in the country. Plus, we live on two major bus lines and only a half mile from a third. Two major bike routes are within a few blocks of our front door.

everett, truman and a friend in the car seatsEverything was coming together. A friend gave us an unused bike trailer for the boys, and we dug up an assortment of garage-sale helmets and learned we had one that fit each of them perfectly.

We decided to just dive in, and though we won't officially give up the keys for another three weeks, we're beginning our car diet now. I work from home but have frequent meetings downtown (a punishingly hilly four miles each way) and throughout southeast Portland, so I've been getting re-acquainted with my bicycling muscles. My husband, long a bike nut, has rigged his garment bag to fit on his backpack so he can bike to work. This weekend, the whole family biked together to a parade.

This was us before: two boys in the car seats, often with a friend coming along for the ride (that's Sebastian, there, in the middle). Snacks and extra clothes and gear galore. "Can we drive our car there?" Everett might ask on the way to a coffee shop or a friend's house.

Now I'm saying "no." And we'll see how it goes.


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