Carless with Kids? Think on this before Going Green.
Who lives without cars?!? It's simple if you're an young urban professionals with a host of transportation options at your disposal. Cars are aconvenience when there are metro stations, bus routes, light rails and bike shares for getting around town. Add cabs, car-shares and cheap car rentals, and a personal vehicle is almost overkill. It's easy for these carless types to scoff at drivers wedded to their gas-guzzlers.
If you don't live next to a subway station or a bus stop, living without a car can be a challenge. You can check out my hub on Making Living Without a Car Manageable, but strapping on panniers or a trailer makes the transition less painful, not painless.
Adding children to your car-free lifestyle makes the car weaning process even more complicated.
The Kid Factor
Children make life complicated - not just life without a car. They need food and shelter, water and clothing, and they need them RIGHT NOW -- the urgency of their needs being immediately expressed through tears, screams, floor-stomping tantrums or really sad silent faces that are truly heartbreaking.
The Right Now part is what makes a car-less family seem impossible. What do you do if your child gets sick or hungry or thirsty or tired? How can you keep them warm during winter transit and cool during summer transit?
These 10 tips will help you overcome these difficulties and move your family into a happy carfree lifestyle.
Tip #1 - Keep Your Car
Reducing car usage provides all the benefits of getting rid of your car completely, just in lesser quantities.
You'll still exercise more, spend more time with your family, reconnect with the great outdoors and save money on gas. But you'll also have your car available when you need it.
A family vehicle is the ultimate security blanket for parents and children alike. You can cover the vehicle with a tarp, hide it in the garage or tuck it behind trees in your back-40. But when you need diapers or cough medicine at 4am, it's ready, willing and able to assist.
Cars are also a great back-up for situations when your family can't safely walk, bike or use public transit. Rainy, snowy days are a great example of times when the convenience of a car trumps being green.
Civilization has lots of solutions for inclement weather including umbrellas, rain suits and heavy coats. For adults taking proper safety precautions like wearing a helmet and reflective gear, and modifying riding behavior to suit road conditions, inclement weather poses few problems.
For most parents, bundling the kids into a vehicle is a safer option. Rainy days are great for teaching children how to navigate slick spots on streets, ease up on wet brakes and steer around huge puddles. But when you have somewhere to be and the weather's not cooperating, cars area great way of getting around.
If you're in an urban or high traffic area, taxis can be a great backup. But if it takes 30 minutes to find a cab number, the car in your garage is one of the best resources to taking your family carfree.
Tip #2 - Introduce an Active Lifestyle Before Getting Rid of the Car
Gradually substituting biking or walking for car rides makes going car-less much easier.
Living without a car makes life more physical for you and for your children. Biking and walking are both physical activities. Biking and walking with groceries, shopping bags or other cargo is a relatively strenuous physical activity.
Having a car on hand lets you give your family a break while maintaining the reduced carbon footprint, reduced transportation budget, healthier lifestyle and other benefits of less car living.
Biking or walking instead of driving is a simple switch for kids who love outdoor activities like playing tag, hulahooping, running or skating. For kids who love to bike, the switch to a car-less lifestyle could be a match made in heaven.
For children whose ideal Saturday consists of cartoons, breakfast, more cartoons, lunch, more cartoons, dinner and then bedtime, the initial switch to biking could be less than pleasant.
The sudden increase in physical activity means sore muscles, less TV time and adolescent angst at parental fads that interrupt Twilight, SpongeBob or Dora marathons.
The sore muscles will fade - hopefully along with the angry adolescent glares, but the physical benefits of healthy habits and a more active lifestyle could last a lifetime.
Tip #3 - Balance Necessity and Convenience
Unless you've always lived without a car, you probably scheduled your family's life around your vehicle. Zipping from home to school to work to groceries and soccer practice and dance recitals and dinner was easy. Given 15 minutes and a clear highway, you could get you and your family where they needed to be when they needed to be there.
Without a car, travel time increases and the household schedule you've maintained for months or even years goes down the tubes. Unfortunately, your decision to cut back on driving won't bring school closer to your house or move the soccer field next to the dance studio.
Quitting activities your family loves is a great way to turn them against car-free living before they've given it a chance.
The best way to manage is to focus on planning and balance (Remember Tip #1 - Don't Get Rid of Your Car).
The first step is to review your current schedule and determine when your car is a requirement vs a convenience.
Step #1- Create a Transportation Schedule that fits your current lifestyle
- First, draw up your daily schedule. Use a spreadsheet on planner page to list approximate start and end times for each activity. Use the time you'd like to arrive, not the drop-dead arrival time - so if class is from 9 to 11 am, list the start as 8:50, so you can be settled at your desk when 9:00 rolls around.
- Determine travel time between each activity. Note the travel time on the schedule. There's typically less than 30 minutes between activities. This doesn't leave much time for car-less transportation, but don't worry - there's a solution.
- Remove all errands and activities that you can schedule at your convenience. For example, you can't change the start time for classes, work or soccer practice. You can schedule when you pick up dry cleaning or go grocery shopping.
- Look at the cleared schedule of activities and recalculate the travel times. This gives you a clear view of when you have enough time to walk, bike, run or take a bus from one activity to the next.
- Explore options for traveling between scheduled activities by car. Google Maps's route-planning features makes this easy. Plug in your start and end locations, then take a look at the driving directions, the biking directions, the walking directions and the public transit directions. The system doesn't include all bike trails or bus routes, but it gives a better idea of how feasible it might be to go car-less for segments of your everyday life.
- Fit non-scheduled activities into your transportation schedule. We removed non-scheduled errands like grocery shopping and dry cleaning pick-up from the transportation schedule. Now it's time to put them back in. Some factors to consider are distance to travel, travel time and cargo load. For example, you may drive across town to work or school and stock up on groceries on the way home. But you may leave the car at home and switch to bikes for a visit to the local library.
Step #2- Modify your lifestyle to include more car-free transit in your Transportation Schedule
The Transportation Schedule you created is built around scheduled activities in locations that are mostly car-convenient. The next step is to consciously choose activities that are more convenient for biking, walking or public transit.
This could mean choosing a gym that's along a bus route, a school closer to home or a local sports league. Basically, you're pulling your activities closer to home and decreasing travel time between activities. This opens up new opportunities for car-less transportation.
Biking with kids and cargo
Tip #4 - Get the Right Gear
Buying the right gear to transport your family and your family's stuff makes a world of difference when you're going car-free. I covered gear for cargo in the hub How to Live Without a Car - and Not Hate the Experience. Now we're talking about the most precious cargo of all - your children.
Once again, the key is planning and balance. Let's take another look at the Transportation Schedule.You've mapped out how you're moving from place to place. Now you have to figure out what you're moving from place to place.
Biking to work? You probably need a change of clothes and a few toiletries as well as work essentials like lunch and your purse or briefcase.
Biking to sports practice? You might need cleats, balls, bats, frisbees, running shoes or other sporting items.
Biking to daycare? You'll need a child carrier of some sort. It could be a bike child seat, a tow bike, or a child trailer. You'll also need space for backpacks, art projects and assorted other items children cart home from school.
Biking from work to sports practice to day care? You'll need all the above items or some combination thereof. Most importantly, you'll need the right gear to get your children, your stuff and yourself safely from place to place.
As you look for a trailer that's safe, comfortable and affordable, keep an eye on you Transportation Schedule to ensure it actually meets your transportation needs.
Browse Toilet Paper
Tip #5 - Stock your Pantry Online
Families need food. Shopping for household necessities can put a cramp in your attempts to live car-free.
Online shopping for groceries and other household goods is a great way to enjoy the convenience of stocking up, without trying to stuff months of grocery staples into your cargo trailer.
Online retailers like Amazon offer a wide selection of pantry staples that can be shipped right to your doorstep. Even after shipping, you'll pay less than at your local grocery store or big-box retailers. Pick items that offer free Super Saver shipping, and you're guaranteed to come out ahead.
Online grocery shopping for household staples offers several benefits:
- Saving Money. Online retailers have great everyday prices you won't find in stores. You could get the same savings by clipping stacks of coupons, but why bother? Pick the right stores, save money up front, and take your family for a bike ride.
- Great Selection. Do you drive across town to buy organic beans or a special spice blend? Online retailers offer a wide range of products at affordable prices. Shake up your dinner menu with new versions of old staples. Have you ever heard of ? Neither have I, Online shopping opens up a world of possibilities. Hamburger Helper Mongolian-style Beef
- Convenience, Convenience, Convenience. Groceries delivered to your doorstep. No waiting in lines or loading and unloading vehicles. No steering kids away from candy and sugary cereals conveniently placed within reach of grasping fingers. No searching for bathrooms or playing referee between the cart's front seat and main basket.
You might still need to stop in the grocery store for some items like fresh veggies, meats and dairy products (more on this later). But you won't be hauling half the store home with you. A couple panniers, a basket or the back of your kiddie trailer will be more than enough space to get your groceries home.
Browse Pantry Staples
Tip #6- Join a CSA
Online retailers deliver non-perishable items like toilet paper and boxed foods, but for fresh fruits and veggies, you need a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription.
If you're reducing car usage or going completely car free, you're clearly interested in developing a healthier and perhaps more frugal lifestyle to improve your family's quality of life.
Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is part of that lifestyle change, but it can be difficult when your bike or your feet are your family's primary mode of transportation.
CSAs provide the convenience of online shopping for fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Check Local Harvest to find a CSA in your area. Some CSAs deliver right to your doorstep. Others have a pick-up in the local area. In either case, you'll have a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables without biking, running or walking to the grocery store several times a week.
Tip #7- Meet Local Bike Experts
Exploring family biking options online is a great idea. There are dozens if not hundreds of articles devoted to the best child seats, trailers and toes, but local expertise is invaluable.
Visit your local bikeshop to get information on the latest safety features in bike seats, trailers and other modifications for carrying children, as well as advice on travel routes and areas to avoid.
The professional bike salesmen and mechanics at the bikeshop can help you gauge your physical fitness and bike-handling abilities - key considerations for determining which type of child carrier is best for you and your family.
Strapping gear onto a bike changes the bike's center of gravity and handling in unexpected ways. A child carrier on the front of the bike can make steering unwieldy. A tow on the back of the bike makes turns troublesome.
Working with the pros and testing out different child carrier systems is the best way to get a feel for which system you and your children prefer.