August 24, 2009

One less Car…

By Elisa | 27 Comments »

Well, as of midnight, I no longer own my Mini Cooper.  I have sold it, although it won’t be picked up until Labor Day weekend.  However, as it no longer belongs to me…I will not be driving it.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I have been trying to be car free for a few weeks now.  So far, it has been relatively easy,  but I am scared.  The public transportation system here is sorely lacking, the heat is unsufferable and frankly, I can’t get to Whole Foods easily on my bike!

So, why am I doing it?  Many, many reasons.  Chiefly it is financial.  I have a car loan and credit card debt.  To me that is asinine.  Sell the car, get out of debt.  Easy Peasy.  (Except when it’s not).  I am also doing it to stay in shape, to make the world a bit cleaner and to feel more a part of my community.

My new commute route takes me through Woodlawn, a community close to my house, where so many beautiful things are happening.  It is a lovely area, although a bit intimidating for a single woman.  Daily I am yelled at and swerved toward. The music is loud and there are people loitering at all times of the day.  I am also waved to, smiled at and shouted “Hey Girl!” by the family matriarchs, sitting on porches as their kids walk to school.  When I ride, I feel like I am taking back the city, both for myself and for the 12 year old girls walking to school on the same street where I get nervous riding.  I could see all of these things in a car, but I would not be a part of it.  I already feel a connection to the neighborhood and the people living there.  Will I ride there at night?  Probably not.  But I also won’t be riding in a car, letting the beauty in the ruins pass me by.

Will post more about this soon.  Now, I am going to eat dinner. ciao!

I am not anti-car, just pro-bike!

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  1. On August 24th, 2009 Jason Crane | said:

    Congratulations! That’s a challenging and, I hope, rewarding path to travel. All the best to you.

  2. On August 24th, 2009 Dottie said:

    Congrats and good luck!

    It was great to meet you in person finally this weekend :)

  3. On August 25th, 2009 anna said:

    I wish it will work out well for you. Probably it’s not easy in your neighborhood, but hopefully not impossible either :-) .

  4. On August 25th, 2009 jon caradies said:


    You are so strong. I respect and admire you.


  5. On August 25th, 2009 sc said:

    congrats! i hope your adventure in car-free living goes well. i too am contemplating the move to a car-free life and am somewhat nervous about it.

    could you update us periodically on how things are going? it would be great to hear how you are getting by.


  6. On August 25th, 2009 wle said:

    my dentist used to be in woodlawn
    dr ballard
    5555 first ave north [somewhere in the 5500s anyway]

    emmylou harris went to woodlawn high school
    her parents may still live there


  7. On August 25th, 2009 Mellow Velo said:

    Best of luck! I admire your dedication. When I’m here in Georgia for work, it’s a brief ride to work but I can’t bring myself to do it. No shoulders, poor road conditions and neighborhoods not good to ride through in the dark…Perhaps you’ll inspire me, though!

  8. On August 25th, 2009 Joan said:

    Be very, very, VERY careful in Woodlawn. I used to work there and it can be an extremely dangerous place. Might want to carry Mace with you?

  9. On August 25th, 2009 Erik said:

    Yours is a great story. It takes dedicated people like you to poke holes in the regressive orthodoxy. Keep up the good work.

  10. On August 25th, 2009 Patrick said:

    Wow, you made Streetsblog! Is anyone else excited about this? And congrats on going car-free.

  11. On August 25th, 2009 cindy said:

    Birmingham is probably one of the most difficult places i could think of to go car-free. Even the downtown area is largely un-walkable and I think I’ve seen one two-block stretch of bike lane in the entire city. Good luck to you – that’s a very intrepid undertaking!

  12. On August 25th, 2009 Elisa said:

    Thanks everyone. Patrick-when I saw that, I nearly choked! I was so excited.
    I will keep everyone abreast of my progress. There are other cyclists in Bham that are car free and I am simply following in their footprints.

  13. On August 25th, 2009 Trisha said:

    Good luck! Can’t wait to hear about your adventures. You definitely see another side of the city on your bike.

  14. On August 25th, 2009 The Opoponax said:

    Part of the reason neighborhoods like Woodlawn are so bad is that car culture encourages anyone who doesn’t have to be there NOT to ever stop there. That’s why we call them “ghettos”. We enforce segregation by keeping certain people trapped there and keeping others from ever needing to visit.

    You are doing a big service to your community by being visible on the streets of places like Woodlawn.

  15. On August 25th, 2009 Ghost Rider said:


    Congratulations! It’s a bold step…but an adventure every step of the way.

    I’m celebrating my first full car-free year this month. A great feeling!

  16. On August 25th, 2009 Beany said:


    I’m car-free in the car entrenched culture of Southern California. I love life even more and I hate to boast but, my word, I am so much physically stronger than I’ve ever been before. We’ve got hills out the wazoo and because I ride them everyday I have no guilt when I eat cheesecake. Life car-free was never better.

  17. On August 25th, 2009 Ed said:

    Yes good luck – if nothing else you’re making a great statement about your own willpower. I’ve been car-free my whole life, but living in New York City it’s not that big a deal. However, in April ’08 I went Metrocard-free, meaning I don’t take the bus or subway unless I absolutely have to because it costs a lot for each ride (believe me this is a big deal for someone in central Brooklyn). So unless it’s a raging storm, I bike wherever I have to. Again, certainly not as challenging as in Birmingham since retail is more easily accessible here, but I do live in a rough neighborhood, and it snows here in the winter. Either way it has taught me a few things you have already expressed on this blog but I would love to echo for the audience:

    1. Get a bicycle maintenance book and keep your bike in a good state of repair and check it regularly, because now you are dependent on it. Clean and lube your chain every couple of months to prevent rust and wear. Keep a stock of spare tire tubes and carry one on you or leave one where you work. Also carry a small tool and patch kit (with a chain tool) and I recommend a hand pump (why do I only seem to get flats in the middle of long bridges?). Also you should probably have a back-up bike in case of something you can’t fix.

    2. It’s going to rain. Make sure to have a quality pair of lightweight rain pants you can throw on along with a quality top – either a rain jacket or long poncho (to cover a skirt). Keep an emergency poncho at work.

    3. It’s going to get dark. Your lights may fail or get stolen. Invest in a handful of those “guppy” LED flashers that are like $10 each and leave some at home and in the office as a back-up.

    4. Lock your bike well. You never want your face to look like my friend’s did when he walked out of the grocery store with hands full of shopping bags, 5 miles from home, and found his bike missing. I recommend getting those locking skewers from Pinheads that prevent your seat and wheels from being removed – it’s just good for your peace of mind. I also recommend using both a u-lock and a cable/chain lock when you lock-up, but in NYC I’m a little paranoid.

    5. Ride safe. This you know, but again worth restating for your audience. Car doing something funny? Wait behind it. Traffic too dangerous? Walk it a few hundred feet. Stop for turning cars. Obey signs and signals. Don’t feel like because you should have the right of way that means you should compete for it, because a ton of steel will always win in that smackdown. Never end up injured in a hospital because you were in a a hurry to get to work and took even a small risk. Work can wait. Running that red light isn’t worth it. Take meaningful risks in life, not stupid ones.

    6. Enjoy yourself. Ride slow sometimes. Wear skirts in the summer and long, flowing scarves in the winter. Stop at vistas and take pictures. Relish in the personal freedom, the fresh air, your connection with the weather and the seasons. Celebrate your fitness. Stop and talk to people, smell the roses, etc. There’s may be a fair amount of drawbacks to commuting by bike every day, so be sure to take time to appreciate all the good stuff.


  18. On August 25th, 2009 Mike said:

    Bravo!! My wife and I will be riding our son to and from school starting monday. One day I hope we will be able to ditch the cars altogether. Small steps…… :)

  19. On August 25th, 2009 kristen said:

    I am so excited for you!

    Dropping you an email…

  20. On August 25th, 2009 inkandpen said:

    This is so exciting. I hope you love the car-free, pro-bike life. I hope you’ll blog about the wonderful things you see, and about the rough patches, so that we can cheer you on!

  21. On August 25th, 2009 Natalie said:

    Wow, can’t wait to see how this works out for you. You mention Whole Foods -have you thought about starting something like a grocery car-pool? Everyone submits a list by a certain time and some of you riders with car access can take turns doing the grocery run? Run it like a grocery coop?

  22. On August 25th, 2009 Mark L said:

    As a former resident of “the Ham,” I wish you good luck! I have many “fond” memories of being stuck in traffic on US 280 going from the suburbs of Shelby County to…well, pretty much anywhere.

  23. On August 25th, 2009 TransportGooru said:

    Congratulations.. Looking forward to your stories from the car-free life in Birmingham..Setting a fine examples for all Southern Belles to follow..

  24. On August 26th, 2009 Johnny said:

    Congrats! Welcome to the car-free fold. :^)

  25. On August 30th, 2009 banjogrrrl said:

    Congratulations, Elissa!

    I’m in my second year of car-freedom in West Palm Beach, FL, and I absolutely love it. Ed’s got some great advice a couple of posts up.

    I would also add — always carry a small ziploc bag in your messenger bag/backpack/whatever to protect your cell phone in case you get caught in the rain. Because you *will* get caught in the rain.

    Just got turned onto your blog by another bike-blogging friend, Ken Steinhoff, and as a fellow skirt-wearing girl on bike, I am really looking forward to reading more about your adventures!

  26. On August 31st, 2009 Jason said:

    I’m very happy to come across your blog via San Francisco Streetsblog. I used to live in Huntsville and have visited Birmingham several times. One of the reasons I left the area was that it was not very bike friendly at all, unlike the San Francisco Bay area.

    We cyclists stick together and are very supportive so I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding answers to your questions.

    Keep on riding.

  27. On August 31st, 2009 Emitt D. Dixon said:

    I wish you all the best and I also wanted to show how maybe the Bikatrunk could serve in your endeavor.

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