Car Free Living

9 years 11 months 1 day ago October 29, 2006 Oct 29, 2006 Sunday, October 29 2006 Sunday, October 29, 2006 10:15:14 PM CST in News

She took a taxi when absolutely necessary, but on Oct. 1 Robertson took her biking to the next level.

She started PedNet and Ragtag Cinemacafé's Low-Car Diet Challenge.

The regimen calls for participants to go the entire month of October without using a private vehicle. They could travel by foot, bike, skates or mass transit buses, but not by car, taxi, train, airplane or any privately owned vehicle. The purpose was to encourage fitness and environmental awareness.

Because she had no car, Robertson was on a low-car diet anyway. The decision to join the 18 others participating in the challenge was a no-brainer.

"Basically I was going to be doing it anyway so I thought it would be fun to do it in a group activity," she said.

A typical day for Robertson begins with a 7:30 a.m. departure from her home near Rock Bridge High School to her workplace in downtown Columbia. She wears tennis shoes, sweatpants and a bright orange jacket and carries a light pink Jansport backpack with her work clothes, shoes and other necessary items inside. The commute, which takes about 10 minutes by car, takes her nearly an hour on bike.

The commute home often includes a stop by the grocery store. Robertson carries her carefully organized purchases in her backpack and in plastic bags tied to the handlebars of her bike.

"We don't have a huge stockpile of food at home, but it's not bad," she said, explaining that she has to buy groceries several times a week because she can only carry so much on her bike.

Activities like running errands have comfortably found their place in Robertson's lifestyle, but October has brought some tougher challenges too.

"There was one thing that I had to really go out of my way to do," she said.

At the end of September an ex-coworker of Robertson's invited her and a few other coworkers to see her newly remodeled kitchen in New Franklin. The group decided to go in the second week of October. Not wanting to bow out of the event because of the Challenge, Robertson brainstormed alternatives to driving there, and decided to bike 27 miles there and 27 miles back on the Katy Trail to attend.

She kept the fact that she was traveling by bike under wraps.

"I thought they would worry too much and potentially cancel the whole thing," she said.

That meant Robertson needed to leave at 5 a.m. to meet everyone there by 9 a.m. Only upon arrival did she reveal to them that she had not driven.

"They were just horrified that I had biked there," she said.

Robertson said her friends begged to give her a ride home, but she of course declined, telling them she was committed to the Challenge and having fun doing it.

Robertson enjoys the many benefits of not using a car including saving money she would have spent on gas or car insurance.

"We've had so much money this month," she said, noting that while it isn't enough to put towards the car repair, it is enough to improve her family's diet.

Robertson's husband and four children, ranging from ages one to seven, are also living the car-free lifestyle. They spend most of their time at home because he home schools the kids. Right now they have no need to take them to class or extracurricular activities, but if they did have to go somewhere, they would first need to take a taxi to a safe pedestrian route. Robertson said the roads near their home are narrow and winding and have no sidewalk or shoulder.

"Exactly where we live there's not a safe place to get out with the kids," Robertson said.

There are specific parts of town that Robertson would like to see expanded to include room for bikers, but she said in general it is pretty easy to get anywhere within Columbia on bike.

"The drivers are friendly; the drivers are accommodating towards bicyclists," she said.

Although Robertson essentially was forced to stop driving, she said it is not an entirely unnatural situation.

"Even when we did have a car, we'd sometimes go two weeks without using the car," Roberston said. "We're kind of dedicated to this lifestyle of trying to use cars as little as possible."

Robertson is waiting for her tax refund before she'll start looking into fixing her car. By then her family will have been car-less for at least four months. She expects she will be driving a little more than she would like to once the car is fixed, and she questions society's over dependence on driving.

"Is this necessary?" she said. "Is this wise? Is it a good use of worldwide resources to be driving cars?"

She also said she feels safer on a bike than in a car.

"I would much rather get in an accident on a bike any day than even a minor accident in a car," she said. "You can get really hurt."

Before she began the Challenge, Robertson wondered how possible it would be to get through all the things that come up on a daily basis without using a car. Now she knows it is very possible.

"I'm going through the month and doing everything I need to do," she said.

The Low-Car Diet Challenge participants were asked to keep a blog of their adventures throughout the month, and Robertson wrote about not fitting the stereotype of what a typical participant would be:

"I'm showing that it's quite possible to meet all transportation needs without a car, even if you don't fit the 'good candidate' description (whatever that is). Maybe a single athletic person who has an expensive bike, lots of fancy bike accessories, and lives less than a mile from work, groceries stores, etc. No, then I'm not a good candidate. I'm just an average person who happens to not have a car.," Robertson explained.

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