If you asked me two years ago if I'd ever heard of World Car Free Day, I'd say no. If you asked me 5 minutes ago, I'd still say no. I've been thinking about a blog entry regarding us being car-less in Barcelona for quite some time but just hadn't written it. So when I was on www.drudgereport.com this morning and saw the headline "MA Gov. Caught Riding in SUV on First Day of Self-Declared 'Car-Free Week'" I was intrigued as you can imagine. The article itself wasn't all that exciting. Gov Patrick was supposed to be car free and as the title declares, he was caught driving. But what did get my attention is that this Car-Free Week in Massachusetts is actually an expansion of “World Car-Free Day” — which is Thursday.
So I thought I'd take the opportunity to expand upon my last entryabout city life which for us means no car and combine it with this World Car Free day. One of the biggest changes we had to face when moving to Barcelona, aside from the language, was living car free. We consciously made the decision to not have a car here. Our thought was that we were in the city 5 days a week for work and school and that most weekends we would be relaxing or travelling and so we could rent a car when necessary.
For a girl who pretty much lived in her car this was a big change! I'm a driver. I love to drive. I hate it when others drive, a control issue, I know, but one that I've been forced to deal with her as well. It didn't matter if I had to drive for hours I loved being behind the wheel. The process of leaving my car happened in stages - I sold my car (a minivan... which I did not love, just the driving part!) in a day. Something I never would have anticipated. So I immediately went to a rental car. Now anyone who has driven a rental car for any length of time will tell you that there really is nothing pleasurable about it. And once Josh left for Barcelona, a month ahead of the kids and myself, I took his car, which before now, I didn't particularly care to drive.
When we arrived in Barcelona, we were all pretty overwhelmed by ... well everything. So I didn't get a lot of opportunity at first to miss driving. For at least a month everything was pretty surreal that it felt like we were more on an extended vacation so I wasn't giving much thought to not driving. But by February, when it was rainy and cold and Liam and I would stay inside on days it would rain because I didn't want to drag him out in the rain to go to the grocery store, I realized how much I missed my car.
But like most things, time and distance dulls the pain of the loss. So as winter turned to spring and Liam and I were walking all over the city, I started to realize how much I actually liked walking around the city and running errands. I still missed my car - the ease of getting to each place and to be able to throw my purchases in the trunk and not look back. But Josh pointed out how much money we were saving, not just because we didn't have the car payment, insurance or in the case in the city, parking... the inability to have such easy access to throwing things in the car had me thinking first about my purchases before I made them knowing that I would need to then haul them all the way home and sometimes, especially with a stroller and toddler in tow, that was enough to make me realize that, eh, I don't really need that item after all.
I looked at the city with a new perspective by walking and not driving. I have been able to take my time, to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me. I can tune out most of the noise at this point and it's become almost as natural as the sounds of nature that had been a part of my life for 34 years. I feel that I'm being kinder to the environment and reducing my carbon footprint (though perhaps in all the driving I did this summer I might have made up for a year of not driving). I'm getting more exercise, thereby leading a healthier lifestyle. And I'm teaching my children that you don't need a car to get to places. That in some parts of the world and of course in this country as well, a car is essential but that we don't need to drive everywhere.
Aidan had asked me if we would drive or walk to the grocery store when we move back home someday. The grocery store is about 1/4 mile from my house. The only reason I could see why we would need to is that at home we shop for a week at a time and not a day at a time. Not to mention after watching Food Inc, I think I'll be shopping at Whole Foods which definitely requires a trip in the car! But I digress... if you asked me 2 years ago if I would drive my car to the grocery store or walk, my automatic response would be "duh, drive of course". Because that's what we did. And I think there is a perception that goes along with it. If you live in the burbs and are walking to the grocery store, I think the consensus that people have is that you must not be able to afford a car. You know what, who cares what they think? We are a car driven society and we are also an obese society. Do the two go hand and hand? Maybe to a degree.
We went to the Netherlands in April and I'd heard before that it was a country where everyone bikes everywhere. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of bicycles that I saw on the road. It's true, everyone bikes there. I even saw a woman who had to be at least 5 months pregnant with one child in the front and one child in the back of the bike - and she was peddling like it was no big deal. Everyone was. Because this is their lifestyle and their bodies have adjusted. In Barcelona we have a program called Bicing. It's a bike borrowing type of program. For a minimal amount of money for a membership you receive a card which you swipe at a Bicing station and then you have 3 hours before you have to return the bike to another station somewhere else in the city. Most people I know take advantage of Bicing. I'll tell the truth... I don't, but only because I prefer to walk and I have my bike here so if I am really hankering for a bike ride, I'll take that. I've read recently that Boston has recently launched a similar program. It sounds like it's been slow to catch on but hopefully with all the green movements these days, it will.
So this Thursday, when it's World Car Free Day, give it a shot. Walk more. Walk to the grocery store. Walk to the park. Walk or bike to work (or take a train and then walk). Commute with a friend rather than on your own, using less gas and reducing the loads on the highway and of course, being greener. And don't just do it for one day. I know it's hard to do every day, but every day try to drive less and walk or bike more. You'll not only make a difference in the environment, but I bet you'll see a difference in yourself. I'm not trying to convert my readers but in the almost 2 years we've been here, it's something I've become much more passionate about - being more conscious of my carbon footprint and the environment. More than 40 countries are participating in this event with over 1000 cities. What have you got to lose?