Carfree Cargo


One of the most diligently-repeated delusions of modern America is that, “You can’t live here without a car.” This phrase is in heavy rotation not only in Los Angeles, the city that invented sprawl, but almost everywhere in the country.

I remember an Internet friend telling a story on a cycling forum ages ago. He lived in upstate New York where he was advised that “You can’t live here without a car” because of the suburban distances and the frigid winters. So, as he was a bit of a wag, he eventually bought an old used car that didn’t even run, parked it in the driveway, and…never drove it. Bicycled everywhere, year-round. But he had the car without which you couldn’t live there.

About fifteen years later he finally sold the old hulk, having let the joke play out long enough. He’s getting older now, but still happily “lives there” carfree.

Other excuses for continued car-addiction (addicts always have a good long list of excuses, as I’m sure you know) include having to buy groceries or carry kids around. Of course cargo bikes do both quite adequately, as the Pigeon Master, Josef, himself proves every day, and they too are becoming popular, despite the “great cost”— about one-tenth the price of a new cheap car. Flying Pigeon has a number of them on the showroom floor, including a glitzy CETMA at the time of this writing, which should easily carry a washing machine should you need to do so.

I myself shopped for years for a family of three using an ordinary bike with those folding grocery panniers hanging on the rear rack (The weekly bag of potatoes was bungie’d onto the top of the rack.). No problem, ever, keeping us fed; in fact, mom and I gained a bit of weight. I’d do two trips a week instead of one—but that was a good thing, or I’d have packed on even more pounds. And the ride was a pleasure in a life otherwise filled with work and chores. Of course I rode to work and chores as well. It made the daily grind more than tolerable.

People are “getting it” more and more. Millennials and their older siblings show themselves uninterested in cars, and their parents are getting tired of wrestling the steering wheel themselves, as traffic gets more frantic even as reflexes slow. In the photo above, you see a premier Complete Streets treatment in Santa Monica, lacking only a physical buffer for the bike lane, but featuring a permanent Sunday bike valet by the Main Street Farmers Market. A cargo bike is being parked while its pilot dedicates himself to some heavy-duty shopping.

In fact, it seems that the world is round, that the Earth does revolve around the sun, and that you can, after all, “live here without a car.” Wherever “here” might be.

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2 Comments

  1. davistrain
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    It’s not that a person CAN’T live in LA without a car (I’ve known a number of people who got by with our local transit system), it’s that most Angelenos DON’T WANT to live without a car. I went through some periods in life where I was transit-dependent; when I was working for the Santa Fe Railway, I used their trains and Union Pacific trains to get to San Bernardino, long before Metrolink was even dreamed of. But it’s still easier to just get in the car and go, without worrying about timetables or whether (with bicycles) one will run out of energy before reaching the destination. It’s like someone said many years ago: “Poverty is no disgrace, just highly inconvenient.”

  2. Rick Risemberg
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Davistrain, you’re missing the point: it’s that people are perennially insisting that it’s “impossible” to live in such-and-such a place without car. It’s almost a form of evangelism: they are utterly dependent on cars, so everyone else must be too, or it threatens their worldview.

    Of course, we have spent untold billions (at a negative ROI to government) to make cars easy and everything else difficult. We would have a much more pleasant, healthful, and fiscally-efficient world if we had been more balanced in providing for travel modes. Smaller-scale, more diverse neighborhoods, with jobs interspersed among housing and amenities everywhere, so that folks didn’t feel condemned to strap themselves into cars for every displacement. How much value do you get for your time while you sit staring at the bumper in front of you on that easy but very expensive freeway? (Over $1 billion spent to add a vanity lane to ten miles of the 405, enough to fund a light-rail system that wouldn’t crowd out housing and businesses the way ever-wider roads do…. And now that it’s done, the 405 is actually slower than it was before. )

    Those who live car-free now are exposing the rest to the possibilities smothered in our present sprawl-and-traffic paradigm, and creating the demand for a finer-grained form of redevelopment that will let us be human together once more. It’s not, in fact, impossible. You can get there from here!

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  2. By Streetsblog Los Angeles » Today’s Headlines on November 20, 2014 at 2:02 pm

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