A few weeks ago Thanh Tan lamented how hard it was to live without a car ($) in Seattle:
King County Metro became my main form of commuting between home, work and play. I learned quickly about the hidden costs of a car-free life when your family lives an hour away.
Like a growing segment of urban Seattleites, I turned to Zipcar, Car2Go, Uber, taxis, Amtrak and weekend rentals from Dollar and Enterprise. The cost and amount of time required for me to get where I needed added up to hundreds of dollars every month…
Smartphone-tracking apps like OneBusAway helped with planning, but they couldn’t make up for the loss of autonomy I felt when the system was unpredictable. The route between Capitol Hill and South Lake Union would get so full that new passengers could not board.
Whenever the subject of how “possible” it is to be carless comes up, it’s important to first remember that thousands of Seattle households do it every day. It isn’t impossible, though by the standards of the car owner it might be inconvenient.
The key, of course, is to structure one’s life around what’s accessible via transit. Decades of bad land use planning and inadequate transit investment mean that many origin-destination pairs are utterly impractical. A few neighborhoods have great, 360-degree connectivity to points of interest, and I’d strongly recommend that people keen on living car-free find themselves in one of those neighborhoods. But ultimately the transit-dependent will have to pick the grocery store that’s accessible over the one they might prefer.
Unfortunately, not all points of interest are a matter of choice. If a desirable job or an important person is not in one of those corridors, one may have to fall back on the other somewhat more expensive options Ms. Tan suggests, or as she hints later on, get a bike.
In other words, one’s experience will vary based on how particular one is about shop, work, and play locations; one’s ability and inclination to bike; and tolerance for the occasional inconveniences of bus travel. I’d agree with Ms. Tran’s implication that decades of public policy have made it too hard, in general, to function without a car. I think that’s a tragedy for both our economy and the environment, and it’s why STB supports all the things for which it stands.