Life without a car! That was my goal when I moved here 20 years ago. Countless people told me I was making a mistake; I’d need a car in Atlanta. But I didn’t listen until I actually moved here. My northern, urban mindset wasn’t a match for our wonderful southern city, which was built for the automobile. I lasted all but 3 months without a car before my new found job required me to have one.
Since then - I’ve found myself mostly as a frustrated urbanist struggling to live out my ideals. A few weeks ago, I decided to do something about it - I was going to go car free. A few things helped propel me:
1) #MoreMarta has improved bus service in our community.
2) The Southside Atlanta Beltline is useable (although not fully open to the public yet).
3) There are increasingly more options for me to enjoy nearby within walking distance.
4) I have an incredibly supportive family.
5) Climate change is real and our dependance on the automobile is a huge contributor to this. If I care about my kids future, I need to care about this.
Spending the past 2 weeks on the bus, train, streetcar, my feet, bikes/scooters around the city has been life-giving and eye-opening. Running into neighbors on the bus, having spur-of-the-moment conversations on the sidewalk, and engaging the city in a whole new way has confirmed why I was wanting to partake in this experiment. My days have been full, not of waiting for the bus, but of connecting with people and places near me that I have been missing by sitting in my car.
The timing of this experiment is tied to my kids. They’re about to become teenagers. I want them to be able to get around this city without me driving them places. Thinking of them during this experiment has opened my eyes the most. Standing on Jonesboro road and envisioning my kids having to wait at a bus stop that only has 2 feet between you and a 50mph tractor-trailer is frightening. Very few places in this city that are truly safe for pedestrians. Even in downtown Atlanta cars have rule of the landscape. This is part of the reason why the Atlanta Beltline is so popular - it’s one of the only spaces in Atlanta that you can truly be free as a pedestrian without the fear of a car hitting you.
What does this mean for FCS & Historic South Atlanta? First, I believe strongly that good city design and urban planning are important economic development tools. Multiple studies show that consumers spend more money in environments where they are free of the car. This has been my experience in the last 2 weeks. I will stop into lunch spots, bodegas, coffee shops, or other stores while traveling on foot that I would never stop at in a car.
Secondly, our own neighborhood stores - Carver Market and Community Grounds - benefit greatly from car-free travel. Over half of our customers arrive at the store without an automobile (this is a big part of the reason we put our front door facing the sidewalk, not the parking lot). Understanding their experience and making it better serves our customers.
Finally, connecting our neighborhood to the rest of the city is vital for our neighborhood. To have a robust transportation network that does not rely on the car can be freeing economically for many of us. We should be pushing our city towards providing more infrastructure for all people - not just car drivers. In our context, that means making sure that the city has Historic South Atlanta on it’s radar for new and future transportation projects.
I still have 2 weeks left of my experiment - so if you want to follow my musings on Instagram or Twitter - follow the hashtag #nocaratl. I invite you to also join the hashtag by posting photos of you or your family living life without a car. My hope is that after two weeks, this won’t just be an experiment for me, but rather a new life reality.