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Leaving the car and gaining freedom

By KIMBERLY COOPER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 29, 2001


The best thing that I ever did was stop driving a car 20 years ago.

Going carless helped me gain control of my life in a lot of ways. For example, financially: I'm not stressing out over gas prices, repairs, insurance or car payments.

Being carless forces you to remember that you can't do everything, so you must prioritize your activities and analyze your schedule.

Currently, I bicycle to work. It takes 35 to 45 minutes, depending upon wind direction. That 35 to 45 minutes is my time to reflect on what's important, to de-stress after work, to think through my priorities and goals. My bicycle doesn't have a phone, radio, CD player or any other distraction.

Commuter bicycling lets me give back to society. You should see the "road kill": a dropped wallet, a case with more than $135 in CDs, a 2- by 6-foot board wedged into a drain and sticking 21/2 feet into the road, turtles and other creatures trying to cross. People appreciate getting back their lost items. My motorcycling friend said that if I hadn't removed that board, a motorcyclist could have been killed. I carry turtles and herd baby birds across roads to prevent them from getting run over.

Being carless improves my social interaction. I take out frustrations on my pedals instead of on everyone at home. Being carless keeps me humble because I'm not using a car to impress anyone with my wealth, power or speed.

As our urban area increases in population, commuter bicycling is going to become more and more important. Bicycling doesn't produce noise, air or water pollution. We don't carry boom boxes to annoy other people.

Space will be at a premium: Bicycles take up little parking space. At night, we park our bikes inside our houses or apartments to prevent theft. Ten people on bicycles take up a lot less road space than ten people, each with their own car. Bicycles are people-friendly and creature-friendly; we'll get injured if we run into people, pets or wild creatures. Bicycles allow us to live closer together with less pollution and annoyance. So, urban sprawl is reduced because people feel less of a need to escape urban areas.

A lot of people in St. Petersburg say that they can't live without a car. Some people can't. Other people just don't know the logistics of how to do it. Also, people don't realize that as their stamina and strength improve, their trips take less time. At first, my commute to work took 60 to 75 minutes.

One point to remember about commuter bicycling is that one solution may not work for everyone. For example, rain gear: One friend of mine wears a full rain suit -- pants and hooded jacket. Another friend wears just a hoodless jacket. Rain gear makes me sweat too much, so I pack my stuff in a plastic bag and let myself get soaked.

- Kimberly Cooper lives in St. Petersburg.

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