The best bus ever

The best bus ever
Jason Sievers' awesome Art in Transit bus

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Car-free living in sprawl valley?

Two items in yesterday's Idaho Statesman caught my eye. One was a blurb for the Idaho Earth Institute's program this Friday night on car-free living. The event - slated at Wright Congregational Church, 4821 W Franklin Road - starts with a potluck at 6:30 followed by a 7 p.m. presentation based on the books Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord and How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Ballish.

I'll be there. I plan to drive my car. My friend Jonna Moore tells me that several people will be riding their bikes - in the dark, in the snow - to attend, and I say good on 'em, but that's not an option for most of us mere mortals.

The problem with the concept of car-free living in Boise was ably pointed out in an op-ed - also in yesterday's paper - by Martin Johncox. He wrote:

While I support local-option taxation and transit, there's been little discussion if cities have been preparing their built environment to support transit. ... Transit lacks point-to-point flexibility. To make up for that, people must bridge, on foot or bike, the distance between the transit stop and their destination. To get people to do this, you must build a human-scaled environment, where buildings come right to the sidewalk; things are stacked on top of each other to conserve distance; and homes, offices, shopping centers, schools and other destinations are directly connected with sidewalks. ...

But we've built just the opposite in the past 50 years. Giant parking lots, absent of sidewalks, encourage people to drive from one parking lot to the next; subdivisions are fenced from each other and neighboring shopping centers; and very long blocks and cul-de-sacs lengthen pedestrian trips. ...

To be fair, it's been less than 15 years since Boise and other cities awoke to the need to build for transit. ... Yet in those past 15 years there's been precious little progress toward enforcing transit-friendly development.

He's right, of course. People who live in or near downtown Boise can probably make do without cars, but there's almost nowhere else in the valley where that's the case. That's especially true if you have children active in sports or music, or if you like to go out at night, or if you want to go to church on Sunday, or if you simply don't feel safe bicycling or walking in the winter or after dark (or both).

We can do better. We can build developments - not just in downtown but in nearby neighborhoods, as well as in the center of other Treasure Valley towns - that are close to schools, stores, workplaces, and entertainment venues. We can extend bus hours into the evenings and offer Sunday service so people could get around at night, as well as ride the bus seven days a week. If these changes happen, people will use transit more, and there will eventually be an increased appetite for housing close to transit.

For now, let's not worry so much about going car-free as much as reducing our dependency on vehicles. I've drastically cut my driving and I'd someday love to live car-free, but I don't see it happening in Boise: not while I have a daughter in school, not while the buses won't run when and where I need them to run.


Bikeboy said...

Julie - you make great points, as always. (And I read and agreed with most of what Mr. Johncox said yesterday.)

Personally, however, I believe the citizenry are equally to blame with the planners for our sprawl. If there weren't a market for all those houses out in Suburbia, it would still be farmland.

After all, it's the "American Dream" to live out on Heaven's Half-Acre, in the modern house, but surrounded by a picket fence and pastoral bliss. (The cruel irony is, that as the population heads for the country - not "real" country, but "close-in" country - the pastures are quickly replaced by pavement and rows of near-identical houses, and those dreamers have to wake up to reality. They're stuck living in "just another subdivision," but far enough away that it's a motor-vehicle trip to get everywhere they go!)

Another reason people live out "in the sticks" is to save a few bucks. Buy one of those cheaply-built tract houses and save $50 or $100 on the mortgage payment. Again, cruel irony - they end up spending more than that on additional gas for additional car trips. (And that doesn't even take into consideration the 2-hours-a-day behind the wheel!!)

Yep - it's tough to be car-free, especially if you live 5 or 10 miles away from all your destinations!

I very deliberately chose to live in a part of town that is close to my destinations - work, school, shopping, etc. To do otherwise imposes severe limitations on your transportation options. Strangely, it doesn't seem like that's a serious consideration for most people, when they're house-shopping.

Most people - myself included - strive for minimal dependency on motor vehicles, rather than total car-freedom. (Although that WOULD be fantastic!) I'm happy to report that between myself, my two bicycles, and my "BOB" trailer, I'm well over 90% car-independent. It's been 10+ years since I drove a car to work... right here in Boise, Idaho. (The wife has a minivan that I occasionally borrow to haul bulky and heavy stuff. And we go on family trips in that vehicle. But literally weeks and even months go by, where I never get in a car.)

I'll have to see if I can attend the car-free living presentation. (That's only about 3/4 mile from my place; if I go, it'll probably be on the 2-wheeler.)

Way back in February 2007, I posted some thoughts on Balish's book. Link by clicking here. (And I see you posted a comment, Julie. Small world, huh?) I was particularly interested in it because when he was writing it, somehow he found out about my car-free discipleship, and asked for some thoughts. And somewhere in that book is a quote from your's truly. (The book is available at the Boise Public Library.)

Julie Fanselow said...

Yay, Bikeboy! If you are there tonight, I would like to meet you in person - and I want to see what sort of tires you hard-core cyclists have that allow you to negotiate the sort of slop we have on the roads today.

I am humbled and inspired by your dedication!

Bikeboy said...

Julie... Not sure if I'll make it. (Have to see what the CEO has planned, that I've forgotten about.) But I'm sure gonna try. (I'll probably pass on the potluck; hard to carry potato salad when the roads are slush-covered.)

If I'm there, I'll be wearing a lemon-yellow Gore-tex jacket (assuming bike transportation, at least). Graying hair and beard. HAPPY expression! (Being car-free will DO that to you.) So, if you see somebody matching that description, approach him and say, "Are you the bikeboy?"

Boise's 1st Annual No Pants Day said...

I hope you, your readers and contributors will embrace and participate in Boise's 1st Annual No Pants day, in support of more intelligent transportation solutions.

Please visit:

FAQ's for more information

Bikeboy said...

Julie, I posted some thoughts about the Idaho Earth Institute's Friday meeting, over at the Bike Nazi.