Yes You Can (Get Groceries Without A Car)

Michael Lewyn's picture
Blogger

I have spent about half my working life without a car- not just in New York where I now live, but in more auto-oriented cities such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Atlanta (for my first year or so there) and Jacksonville, Florida (for my first few months there).  In those days, I would occasionally be asked: "But how do you deal with groceries"?  In fact, I just read a newspaper column that seemed to lampoon concerns about walkability by raising the "how can you walk from the grocery store" trump card.

Admittedly, you can't carry as much in your hands as in a car- even if you save some strain on your hands by riding transit for part of the distance.  But I personally have developed three ways of dealing with this problem.  First, I sometimes just shop more often, and buy less food at a time.  This worked best in Toronto, where there were lots and lots of grocery stores within walking distance of either my apartment or public transit.  Similarly, in Queens I often employ this strategy because I love only a block and a half from a grocery store, and a few blocks from others.

Second, I have brought a suitcase or rolling cart to stuff groceries in (or alternatively, a really large trash bag).  This strategy might look awkward, but seems more appropriate for longer trips when I want to buy more stuff (for example, if I am going to an unusual grocery store in another neighborhood, like Pomegranate in Brooklyn).

Third, I sometimes just buy a ton of groceries and take a taxicab home.  This strategy works best in more auto-oriented cities like Jacksonville and Atlanta, where the nearest grocery is close enough for a cab ride to be relatively cheap, but far enough away that I wouldn't want to walk home with more than two or three grocery bags.*

*And to those of you who bicycle (which I don't): feel free to add your own thoughts.

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.

Comments

Comments

Before automobiles

Does anyone ever wonder how city dwellers stocked their cupboards before universal automobile ownership? Cities had hundreds if not thousands of corner groceries. You just made frequent, short trips to a shop a block from your house. Cities and neighborhoods with relatively low levels of car ownership have lots of small grocery stories.

As someone who walks to my grocery store almost daily, I might even be a better customer:

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/12/cyclists-and-pedestrian...

Grocery shopping as backpacking

Where I live in Oakland, I just use my huge backpack that I use for backpacking (in tandem with either walking or biking home from a grocery store, depending on which one I go to). I definitely get strange looks in the check-out aisle. But if it's considered normal (at least by some) to hike 12 miles in the mountains or the desert with 50 pounds on your back, why not walk half a mile in the city with groceries? It's a good workout, too -- why go to the gym when I can do something productive and time-saving to get exercise instead?

While growing up (in the central part of Edmonton), I was often sent to the Safeway about 6 blocks from my house. I have many childhood memories of schlepping heavy groceries home, so I just came to think of that as normal. Only later did I realize it wasn't, either for kids or for adults.

Nowadays, I've seen grocery stores that won't even allow kids under 18 in the store unless accompanied by a parent. As a result, many kids growing up now don't even have the option to have the experiences I had.

food shopping

I lived without a car for four years in Oakland, CA and shopped every week with my bicycle. The nearest supermarket was some miles away. I had two panniers on the rear of my bike, each of which held a shopping bag. I had only two problems: riding the BART system with it, which required a long haul up the equivalent of five stories of underground steps, and riding through the streets of Oakland. I was a white boy in a poor Black town, and someone through a bottle at me as I bicycled past. I changed routes after that.

The bigger issue is not buying groceries but doing your laundry if you live in an apartment building and there is only one washer/ dryer in your building. The overall situation is ripe for Zipcar. This did not exist back then. Planners who lay out where higher density housing should go should have to live this kind of lifestyle themselves sometime. It is easy to zone for others, but when you live the life yourself, you will find that long linear development patterns of transit-related development do not necessarily work, particularly in pioneering areas. One of the biggest challenges is simply security. Many people who live in apartments are young, single and do not know people in the neighborhood. Between shopping late and doing groceries, the transit-oriented lifestyle is not always so great, particularly if there are not parks nearby.

Misguided frugality?

Don't people tend to think of the corner grocery as an overpriced convenience store, in contrast to the big box shopping center that's meant to offer "huge discounts?"

Anyone who says they can't

Anyone who says they can't walk to the grocery store is essentially saying they can't do something my grandmother did well into her 80's.
I have a rear rack on my bike with a saddlebag. It holds at least two bags worth of groceries. I prefer to walk in the winter, since my bike and car are less stable on snow and ice.

Scott Le Vine's picture
Blogger

Why bring them home anyway?

Online grocery ordering & home delivery are ramping up big-time here in Britain.

The big chains are starting to open 'dark stores' (google it) to cater exclusively to this mkt.

Produce is a problem today, many ppl like being able to poke & prod until they find the perfect apple. But the tech is getting much btr & will address this in time.

BTW -- any idea how much energy it takes to keep a supermarket up & running? mind-boggling.

Grocery shopping with a bike

We have two grocery stores a little over a mile from our house in a traditional downtown with some very bikable routes to get there. When the roads aren't icy and slush filled (like they are now) we frequently do a full grocery shopping for our family of 5 by using the bike trailer we pull our children in to put the groceries in. It makes for a bit more exercise on the way home, so you don't feel bad cracking open that pint of Ben & Jerry's after the groceries are put away!

A little help, please?

I have found my young children particularly useful at helping lug groceries home on foot. We each carry a backpack, and you wouldn't believe the joy they get from helping (and simply wearing a backpack). Packing their packs with light, yet awkward packages (i.e., taco shells, box of cereal, celery stalks) leaves more room in my pack for the gallon of milk and scores of heavy fresh fruits.

Delivery

My wife and I have not had a car for quite some time. There is a grocery store around the corner that makes it convenient for everyday shopping. For items that we can't find at the local grocery market we tend to do most of our shopping by bike or train. When that fails we get delivery. I have often thought that grocery stores should offer free delivery to those shoppers that bike! It would cut down on parking costs and encourage more biking in high density areas.

Bike trailers...

I just completed a $130,000 house renovation without a car. There were a few Zipcar rentals over the six month period, but mostly I just relied on a bikes-at-work 8 foot cargo trailer. I was able carry 12 foot boards and huge loads of insulation that would not be possible in a car.

More than anything I have to credit Somerville Massachusetts for creating a really good network of bike lanes and shared lane markings that made this whole thing comfortable. On one street there are over 400 bikes per hour during rush hour (constituting about 1/3 of the traffic on the street).

Bike trailers...

I just completed a $130,000 house renovation without a car. There were a few Zipcar rentals over the six month period, but mostly I just relied on a bikes-at-work 8 foot cargo trailer. I was able carry 12 foot boards and huge loads of insulation that would not be possible in a car and even difficult in some trucks.

I am now entering my 12th year car-free. More than anything I have to credit Somerville Massachusetts for creating a really good network of bike lanes and shared lane markings that made this whole lifestyle comfortable. On one street there are over 400 bikes per hour during rush hour (constituting about 1/3 of the traffic on the street).

I lived in Belgium for a

I lived in Belgium for a while and used a bike to get around for day to day tasks. Going to the grocery store was easier because I had these large saddle bags that went over the back. It was great for small shopping trips, but if I needed to make a big trip I would take a backpack in addition to those. I loved it!

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