Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Car-Free in the Queen City: One Year Later

Can someone survive in Cincinnati without a car?

It’s a question I asked myself a year ago this week, moments after my gunmetal-colored 2001 Saab 9-3 was towed away from my parents’ home in Symmes Township. Its turbo engine full of sludge, I decided replacing an engine on a ten-year-old car wasn’t the most practical thing a gal could do.

But was giving up my wheels just as silly?

A resident of Over-the-Rhine, my employer at the time was two miles away from my home. I chewed on the logistics for a day or two and then made a solemn vow: I’d give public transportation a solid effort for one whole year.

I knew Cincinnati’s climate was full of springtime downpours, winter wallops and summertime swelter. This would be a challenge that would test my tenacity, my discipline and my ability to adapt. Would I take up cycling? How far would I be willing to walk? Would I become dependent on cab rides?

All questions that deserved some pause. And then I threw caution to the wind, screwed off the license plates, and sold the Saab for scrap metal.

I’ve discovered quite a bit in the last 365 days and counting since I said goodbye to that hunk of junk. I learned that, naysayers be damned, Cincinnati has a pretty decent public transportation system. The Metro maps and schedules take some getting used to, but guess what, they take getting used to in London, San Francisco, and Boston, too.

More Cincinnatians could give this effort a try if we had even more transportation options. The streetcar isn’t a panacea for the Queen City, but it is a great start and would be complemented beautifully if it were someday joined by light rail, high-speed rail, etc. Hope springs eternal.

My bank account is quite pleased with this new lifestyle - I am saving hundreds of dollars a month thanks to embracing this change. No car payment, insurance, gas, maintenance and repairs, parking tickets and the like – I have a lot more money to my name thanks to scrapping my wheels. I’m investing more of that money in my 401k and I’m able to enjoy a better quality of life – a life that includes more theatre tickets, more special meals out with friends and more opportunities to travel.

At the end of the day, I know those travel adventures and occasions with friends will mean far more to me in the years to come than the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat for a trip to Kroger.

Speaking of money, I quickly discovered that my sans-car lifestyle had an unexpected but direct affect on where I spend my money. Quick trips to Kenwood or West Chester for shoes and Swedish meatballs is but a memory; these days I buy locally made candles at Park + Vine, the freshest produce around at Madison’s at Findlay Market, and couture fashions from Over-the-Rhine fashion designer Lindsey Lusignolo.

I’m still spending money – I’m just spending it in a concentrated economic footprint, and I really like that. I’m supporting business owners and neighbors who call OtR/CBD home, and that makes me feel good. I’m not making a car payment to a bank that’s far, far away from the Tri-State, and I’m not driving out of the city to pick up a pair of stilettos.

My parents would argue I have plenty of shoes, anyway.

My waistline is another place enjoying the benefits of my new lifestyle. When I ditched the car last December, I embraced a change that required me to walk a few blocks to the bus stop. In warmer months, I’d forgo the bus and instead would stroll down Reading Road after a day’s work. Car-free means walking to the Aronoff, Great American Ball Park and Music Hall. It means hopping on my bicycle for a trip across the river to Newport and the Southgate House. Car-free, paired with my new found love of running, has helped me lose 33 pounds and counting.

Walking the streets of OtR and CBD, my neighbors are more familiar to me. Mark Anthony is my favorite Streetvibes vendor and I can always count Danny Korman at Park + Vine for a friendly wave or good news of the day. I know I wouldn’t be able to have as many interactions with friends and neighbors if I was stuck behind the wheel of my car.

By ditching my car, I am taking full advantage of living and working in a walkable neighborhood.

A year into this challenge, many friends are curious about my next step. Am I buying a car? Am I sticking with the car-free lifestyle? I am happy to report that no car is on order, though I have dreamed on occasion of plunking down some cash for a zippy, two-seat sports car.

The fact is, I love being without an automobile. I am getting ready to add a new dimension to this challenge: I have my motorcycle permit and intend on buying a hot, red scooter this spring.

At nearly 100 miles a gallon, I’m still doing a lot of good for the environment, but this time with some style.

Who knows what the future holds. I am just glad I’ve been able to prove to many friends and myself that – yes – you can live in Cincinnati without a car.

A simple challenge by some standards, but for most, it’s regarded as a minor miracle.

But it shouldn’t be. 

Creative Commons License
Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Amanda said...

That's great, Kate! I'm so glad it worked for you. This is an inspiring post, for sure.

derek Bauman said...

Can't believe it's been a year already! Seems like yesterday...