How to be Auto-Free
by Mark Petersen
How to live auto-free? It can be difficult for those plugged into what Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, calls the "accelerative thrust."
First, when I decided to give up my three cars, I had to face the prospect that my mobility as a human being would be drastically curtailed for the rest of my life. Now I always tell folks that we must live within our bounds, within limits nature intended for us.
Before moving to Long Beach, Calif., I established several criteria, then started a search. The criteria I set forth were simple:
1. The ability to conduct all activities in my life within a five-mile radius.
2. A local urban center, spectrum, or downtown that offers employment opportunities.
3. A locale that offers safe and off-road bike trails.
4. A community that provides safe, attractive, frequent, and friendly rail and bus service.
Long Beach fit the bill.
If you're unorganized, being auto-free can be a problem. I have to really plan ahead; I just can't get up and go somewhere without advanced preparation. With a little patience and enthusiasm for your local public transportation, it works!
I have also tapped into all of the mom-and-pop operations here along the Coast Highway, since I don't shop at chain stores or large discount outlets. I have my groceries delivered by a gentleman once a week from down the street; he delivers with a bike trailer. Street vendors come by my house three times a week selling nuts, beans and fruit in a grocery cart, alerting customers of their presence by ringing cowbells. Long Beach allows street merchants to do business, and I guess that's a blessing for meóI hate the fast-food and corporate stores.
I also have a vegetable garden out back that attracts birds and insects. It has become a source of healthy produce free of pesticides and herbicides. I recommend catalog shopping but don't do myself. I usually buy from local thrift shops and yard sales.
As an urban auto-free activist, I think that we do ourselves and society a favor by moving back to the cities. As for the rural auto-free activist, that is more difficult. Until we have a great network of trains throughout the country, and bike is made safer on country roads, it will be a hardship. Of course it would be great if buses and trains were more user-friendly. It is difficult to take luggage and bikes onto buses and trains. I think transit officials and coach builders need to ride the bus and come up with some creative ideas to make public transportation attractive and enticing.
Some tips: Find a job near your residence, or relocate close to your work. Try working at home, or a Telebusiness Centeróan alternative work site that links up with your employer. Become a local shopper and buy within walking, biking, or busing distance.
Before moving to Long Beach I had Boise, San Francisco, Calgary, Portland and San Diego as candidate locations to move toóall of which I think are great places to live auto-free.
Mark E. Petersen founded Auto-Free Orange County and Auto-Free Long Beach. He serves as APM's Local Group Coordinator. Other ideas on how to live auto-free will be featured in upcoming Culture Change issues.