I’ve always dreamed of getting rid of my car—freeing myself from my over-convenienced stupor to reconnect with the very human act of locomotion. The majority of our millions of years of human history, humans have been hunter-gatherers responsible for covering many miles each day with nothing, but their two feet. Couldn’t I, so opulently assisted by a bicycle, make do without a personal vehicle. I mean, we’d still have my wife’s after all.
The limitations of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex’s extended metropolitan sprawl always spoiled this glorious rumination. Dallas consistently ranks at the top of least bikable city lists. Particularly with the addition of two children this past year, my fantasy seemed more unrealistic than ever.
The Bizarre Expectations of Modern America
It’s 2019. As virtually every person you ever meet will tell you, you have to have a car to operate in suburban America. The 2-car family has been a staple for over 50 years. It’s embedded into our lifestyles and with it the obligation for thousands of dollars each year in payments, gas, and maintenance.
According to AAA, in 2017 the average annual cost for one medium sedan and medium S.U.V. was about $8,171 and $9,451, respectively. If that seems large it is because AAA astutely factors in all annual costs including depreciation.
MMM (Mr. Money Mustache—not quite AAA, but, still) has calculated the 10-year savings you can expect from switching to a bike dependent lifestyle, factoring in the increased work productivity and decreased healthcare costs you can expect from the better health you enjoy.
If you were inclined to get rid of a car and invest the difference, you can plan on a 10-year difference of:
- $10,752 in reduced mileage expenses
- $30,000 in reduced car expenses
- $7,680 in cheaper leisure
- $37,500 in increased income
- $7,500 in reduced medical expenses
Clearly the car is an enormous expenditure. Most can’t afford this indulgence, but without it, they are unable to live and work in the modern world. Thus, outside of a few urban centers with good public transportation, every newly emancipated young-adult knows that their first order of business is to get in debt acquiring a vehicle.
The reason most Americans are in debt with no savings is not for lack of income, but ridiculous expectations about what is necessary to operate in daily life. We restrict ourselves from freedom and many more rewarding expenditures of our time and money. I’m no choir boy in all this. Entranced by the expectations of modern life, I’ve got more than my fair share of challenges to untangle.
Modern America has created some pretty bizarre expectations that envelop the masses into a world of debt, dependency, and poor health. It is an enormous luxury to sit while being effortlessly propelled, oblivious to the miles covered. We’ve conceived that something as luxurious as a car is a necessity, not just for each family, but for each human of driving-age.
The concept of being responsible for the bulk of our own locomotion, the most essential human movement, has become an incomprehensibly ridiculous notion. It’s moved from daily commutes to the way we navigate buildings, taking escalators up one flight of stairs and elevators to the third floor. At what point do motorized shopping carts become standard equipment for moving about the office space?
I’m sure some of you are shaking your heads amazed by my inability to grasp how the world works. Some work jobs that require them to drive constantly. If you’re into it, that’s great, I still think you should consider a bike for your time in town. If you loathe your commute and the soul-sucking hours spent in traffic, I’d think hard on how you might change that. This is your life after all.
The rest probably just think I’m crazy. There is one question I’m constantly asked, that I’m sure is also on your mind: “What if something happens. I mean you’re a parent.”
What If Something Bad Happens?
This question is the devastating nail in the coffin for most dreamers of the car-free lifestyle. It is especially potent, because it is wrapped in the veneer of guilt and suggestive negligence that shadows all of modern parenthood. The nature of living is for something to happen, often. Unlike most parents, I’m not afraid for things to happen. Still, I’d like to be a good parent. I just don’t buy that line of questioning—and here’s why
What nebulous “something” is it that I’m so terrified of happening? This is the same rationale people now give for the mentally destructive phone accessibility that they require of themselves at all times.
The world has never been safer. My wife can track me on a bike-ride by my smartphone, social media shines a light on any slight risk to children (while neglecting the larger risk of modern eating and media norms), an app allows entire neighborhoods to coordinate about any safety risk, and a single text could activate our entire massive social network in an instant.
Despite all this, I have no recollection of myself or any friend getting a call about a time-sensitive emergency that demanded they leave where they were to immediately swoop in and save the day.
On two occasions in my life there were instances where a family member or close friend faced a health scare. In both occasions I was only able to offer supportive cheer-leading and the response of my wife and I would have been no different had we only had one family car.
Furthermore, if a Liam Neeson, Taken, fatherly response is ever necessary, then absence of a car will not stop me. I have a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. But, seriously, if something that serious happens, I’ll have wheels within seconds.
We still have a family car. My argument is that most people would be far happier and healthier with one family car. If the argument is that we should stop at no length to procure a means to ensure the fastest possible emergency response, then I’ll have to go in even greater debt paying for helicopter lessons, leasing a helicopter and getting a new roof that can support such transportation.
A car is a luxury that is far less common outside of America. Very few families around the world have two cars. I don’t find foreign car-less people to be derelict in their duty as parents.
Let’s really dissect that question: “what if something happens?” When it is asked, the concern expressed is really in regards to how much longer it takes me to get places from where I work. Like most families, I live in a suburb of under 100,000 (mine is about 70,000). My work commute is 10-minutes by car—15-minutes at a few times during the day.
By bike the commute is 20-minutes. Would anyone asking this question be the type who turned down a job that was a 20-minute drive from their home? What if something happens while they are at work 30-minutes away?
How about all those sport coaches who are stuck in a town 45-minutes away, reliant on a big-yellow school bus to get back home. Do they say no to away games because, “what if something happens?” Do they ask the refs for a game break every five-minutes so they can check their phone to see if something happened?
I live in a good town where immediate needs are all available within a five mile, 20-minute bike ride. If I have to get a kid to the hospital and I’m at home, I’ll have access to the family car making my commute to the hospital 10-minutes. My work is less than a mile from a large hospital, our pediatrician’s office, and a pediatric urgi-care. By bike I’m there in less than 3-minutes.
In a worst case scenario, Uber is always available. Again, there has never been a safer, more convenient time to be alive. Likewise, if I ever need a truck I can just rent from Home Depot for hardly any cost. I’ll be able to pay for these random expenses with the thousands I’ve saved.
Our sense of risk analysis is totally backwards. The greatest risk to our children and culture is the patterns of eating, sitting, and tech addiction that run rampant while spiraling healthcare costs out of control.
A 2016 Harvard study predicted that of youth ages 2-19, 57% would be obese by the time they were 35. We feed our kids pop-tarts for breakfast, keep them seated all day at school, allow them to sit entertained all evening, and hand them a smartphone despite overwhelming evidence of their harm.
Still, I understand that everyone’s situations and level of comfort will be different. My message is not prescriptive, but intended to spark reflection. If you can see the principles in any method, you can apply what is useful.
Despite all my enthusiasm, even I was not fully successful in freeing myself from my car. My wife appreciated my desires, but felt overexposed by such a change. We compromised that I could get rid of my car for a beater that we kept in case of emergency.
But What About the Cold?
The next inevitable question is, “what about when it’s cold or rainy?” Mental Floss ranked the most bike friendly cities in the world. The top five were:
- January Average High: 38 degrees
- July Average High: 71 degrees
- Annual Rainy Days: 171
- January Average High: 42 degrees
- July Average High: 71 degrees
- Annual Rainy Days: 185
- January Average Temperature: 47 degrees
- July Average Temperature: 81 degrees
- Annual Rainy Days: 114
- January Average Temperature: 47 degrees
- July Average Temperature: 81 degrees
- Annual Rainy Days: 56 and 89 inches of snow per year
- January Average Temperature: 24 degrees
- July Average Temperature: 79 degrees
- Annual Rainy Days: 123 and 82.5 inches of snow per year
*All statistics were via Google Weather Averages (search: average temperature by month)
The bike-dependent lifestyle seems to almost mock this objection. All five of the world’s most bike-heavy cities reside in far northern latitudes and experience exceptionally high rainfall, snow, or both.
What if weather happens? We are the most adaptable, resilient species in human history. We’ve crossed oceans and deserts, outlasted ice-ages, made it to the moon, and invented Amazon for any last minute weather-proofing needs.
As usual, the problem is the simplistic manner in which most see the world. The standard model is to assume having problems is a problem, expect no inconveniences, chase immediate pleasure, and always flee discomfort. This is why suicides, drug-overdoses, obesity, anxiety, and depression are all reaching epidemic proportions never before seen. Oh, and debt.
Problems are life’s juice, choose the right ones. Choose gratitude over expectations and, if you do nothing else, get moving. It is the foundation from which all other breakthroughs will come. The body is a portal to the mind and the present moment. If you are having trouble finding a way to fit exercise in, selling your car isn’t a bad place to start.
Everything is everything—if you are looking to make a change this new year your physical and financial health are probably the most broadly impactful places to start. The IHD Membership looks outside of our standard model to offer access to the most core lessons for human thriving.
Check out our course catalog and sign-up now to discover principles that give you the tools to apply successful strategies to your own life.