More Americans Living Car-Free

The New York Times Automobiles Section discusses the growing population of Americans living car-free.

"Whether because of cost, convenience or environmental awareness, a small but growing number of people are making individual decisions to get rid of their automobiles and rely on public transportation, car-sharing programs and rental cars.

'There's a cultural change taking place,' said John Casesa, a veteran auto industry analyst and partner in the Casesa Shapiro Group. 'It's partly because of the severe economic contraction. But younger consumers are viewing an automobile with a jaundiced eye. They don't view the car the way their parents did, and they don't have the money that their parents did.'"

Full Story: Is Happiness Still That New Car Smell?



Michael Lewyn's picture

bad journalism

This article imagines a social trend based on a few people that the author somehow knows about. Without supporting statistics, I don't find it very persuasive.

count me as car-free

I agree that a thorough statistical analysis should be done to measure rates of car ownership and transportation use. Might such statistics be available now, perhaps through existing census data or other means? If not, this might be an excellent research project.

I've been car-free since 1989. Since then, I've felt such a feeling of freedom that I can't imagine ever owning a car again. Young people are astutely realizing this: look at the leading causes of accidental death among young people. Look at the sunk costs and debt required to serve an automobile-centered life. Look at the lost time spent finding a parking space, parking, sitting in traffic, routine and non-routine maintenance, gassing up the car, and the rate of death for car drivers. Being free of all of this is the best possible feeling you can have.

I urge you to consider being car-free: you can do it by living close to what matters to you in an environment that has an existing infrastructure of walkable urbanism and alternative transportation. See if you can walk and bike to your major destinations. Choose your home close to transit lines. In the odd time you need a vehicle, rent one, use a zip car, or see about community car-sharing services. It is easy to be car free, and the freedom you gain from it is uniquely American. Cars, invented in the 19th century, popularized in the 20th, and worshipped by our grandparents, aren't a smart choice for the 21st century.

Missing something?

Maybe you missed the part in the article about people not buying cars like they used to . . . not sure how anyone could've missed the auto-industry collapse and subsequent bailout. The ink is still wet on that one.

A sign of more strife to come....

The story is a feature piece, which according to journalism 101 is about telling stories through personal perspectives, anecdotes, the human context. If you want a statistical report to convince you, well, I'll avoid telling you about the head in the sand syndrome. People ARE increasingly living without cars, and yes by choice. That is largely because we are choosing places that have choices on modality (the census will show undoubtedly cities getting both younger and older and where possible making demands to create them.

As to the "bad journalism" contributor here...

...bias only shows through so harshly in forums such as this. Some commentators here seem content with veiling their contempt with a certain "lack of evidence." Yet, this article while not specifically stating statistics (more a function recent corporate research "legal" phenomena than reporting), does cite vantage points across the spectrum. Plus it is careful not to overstate what's happening. It doesn't make false or outlandish claims.

The bias shown here with the slur of "bad journalism" is that America's love affair with the car will be a nasty and uneven break-up. Cars have been America for 50 years. Yet that has had drastic consequences and a great many of us don't like the idea of total auto-dependence. It's made the richest country on earth a wasteland of strip malls and subdivisions that won't be standing in 50 years. Further it's contributed enourmously to environmental degradation and the degradation of health in this country (namely we're fat blobs that consume fake-food and drive everywhere). So yes, some of us don't need to see the stats (I do love statistics by the way), we can see it and put 2 + 2 together.

So, not convinvced if there's something afoot, or good reason for it? Back when the Big 3 paraded to Washington demanding bail-outs we'll call that a cathartic moment of social awareness. The trend was already in progress against auto-dependence and history will show this, but this moment will be how we remember it. An industry more concern with lobbying legislation than producing anything of value

Mr. "bad journalism" wants stats. Well I can assure him that this debate will only become more vivid as millions upon millions of Americans we must and hopefully will shift from our immoral addiction to the automobile.

That said, I guess some people have become used to just saying anything. I highly doubt for instance, that the author just interviewed some random people. The sources were very credible for this story and its arc of discussion. The author didn't try to convince people to give-up their cars OR that people were doing so en masse EVERYWHERE. It in fact noted limitations such as the need for transit alternatives, density and a human-scaled physical environment (not a place design just for the car, which is not anything like the car commercials).


...We also know how to tell the difference between opinion, news, and feature stories (again see the comment on Journalism 101). We also know how to recognize bare bias shown by some readers. Some of us have made the choice to embrace living over auto-dependent living. We have embraced car-sharing, transit, bicycling and walking as choices among many. Others will, for so many reasons, choose to bankrupt our nation for asphalt, "cheap" oil, schools and prisons that are the same, and auto-dependence that drives health care costs into the sky while destroying our environment.

All of this is more than will fit here. It's the tip of the (melting) ice-berg.

Thanks but no thanks...

Thank you, UrbanMechanic, for contributing absolutely nothing to this discussion. In reality, what "shows through so harshly in forums such as this" is the audacity people have to so rudely respond to valid points under the anonymity of usernames.

Michael Lewyn is a regular contributor to Planetizen and has written extensively on the legal aspects of planning, sprawl, and automobile dependence (and he uses his real name on this site). As such, he understands that "Journalism 101" entails telling stories through personal perspectives and then tying it all together with real numbers. What good is an article that simply says "more Americans are choosing to live car free" if it doesn't go beyond the anecdotes and general discussion? "Journalism 101" says DO YOUR RESEARCH. Michael showed (look above) how easily one single statistic could have been integrated into this story in a single sentence.

In my opinion his point was valid and does not at all challenge the key point of the article. I don't think anybody understands why you responded the way you did - you're preaching to the choir here on Planetizen.

Michael Lewyn's picture

data probably available in next few years

The American Community Survey might start to reflect post-recession data on this stuff. The 2008 survey showed 8.8% of households without a vehicle* (down from 9.1% in 2001) but the Survey is done yearly so if there was a trend it might be visible in a year or two.

FYI, I've been personally car-free on and off for about half my working life, depending primarily on where I lived (and on where I was moving from). I haven't found a car particularly necessary (or even useful) in some cities (most notably Philadelphia and Washington). On the other hand, I lived in Jacksonville for five months without a car and wouldn't want to make a lifetime commitment out of THAT.


Households Without A Vehicle

"8.8% of households without a vehicle"

I think they mean "without a motor vehicle." My household has no cars or other motor vehicles, but it does have four vehicles. (Bicycles are vehicles, according to California law.)

Charles Siegel

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