Friday, October 03, 2014

Life without a car


It's the word I come back to whenever I describe what it feels like to not have a car.

Being car-free is better for the environment, better for my wallet, better for my health, and better for my social life. 

We live in old Nice, and it feels more like we're living in a village than in a big city. We have all the amenities we need within easy walking distance: grocery stores, butchers, bakers, concert halls, churches (well...not our particular denomination...but lots of Catholic ones!), post office, markets, banks, and schools. We can walk to the beach and to several different parks. If we need to go farther out, we catch the tram or bus. I can get almost anywhere in metropolitan Nice via public transportation. Some places are trickier than others, but we've gone all over the entire city to pick up items, from skis to spearguns to pots & pants to comforters and pillows. I've even taken crib mattresses and large mirrors home on the city buses.

Life here in vieux Nice is set up to get around without cars. Most of the streets in old Nice are navigable only by foot because they are so narrow. You'll see the occasional delivery vehicle creeping down our street, but pedestrians rule our part of town.

Not having a car forces us to go on walks more often. I have to carry all my groceries home, so I go shopping more frequently. I use the stroller to carry the groceries home, with Ivy strapped on my back. Running errands means built-in exercise, so it feels like less of a chore than when I'm stuck in a car going from place A to B to C.

Take today, for example: after we dropped the kids off at school (on foot, like 99% of the other parents--the other 1% ride motorcycles), I wanted to look at some showers and bathroom tiles at a home improvement store. I put Ivy in an Ergo carrier and walked the 3.2 kms roundtrip. We picked the kids up for lunch, dropped them off again, and picked them up at the end of the school day. In the afternoon Eric went spearfishing at the far side of the port...running there and back because why not run? It's a built-in 5k! (He speared a saupe today...dinner tomorrow!) After dinner, we took a short walk to the Promenade du Paillon. Apparently the kids had lots of leftover energy because they ran almost the entire time. Inga especially.

An added benefit of dropping kids off at school on foot is you get to meet other parents four times a day. It's the complete opposite of school back home, where 99% of kids rode in cars or school buses, and less than 1% walked or biked.

I'd like to get a bike for some of the longer errands that we run. I could put Ivy in the Ergo and take her far down the Promenade des Anglais when we have our morning time together. Or Eric could take it when he goes spearfishing to speed up his commuting time.

French cities aren't as well set up for bicycling as Amsterdam, but they're still a vast improvement over American cities. I've seen several dedicated bike lanes around town. If you don't own a bike, or if you need one when you're out running errands, you can use Vélo Bleu, a bike sharing service where you pick up or drop off bikes at stations all around town.

Side note: read this interesting analysis of why fewer US women ride bikes compared to Dutch women in the Guardian. The author argues:

Dutch women can use bikes to get around because they are less pressed for time than American women, in three fundamental ways. First, thanks to family-friendly labour policies like flexitime and paternity leave, Dutch families divide childcare responsibilities much more evenly than American families. Second, work weeks in the Netherlands are shorter. One in three Dutch men and most Dutch women work part-time, and workers of either gender work fewer hours than Americans.

Lastly, Dutch parents do much less chauffeuring of children and elderly family members than American parents. Neighbourhood schools and high-quality bike infrastructure in the Netherlands make it easy for Dutch kids to walk or bike to school, unlike their counterparts in America, where rates of bicycling and walking to school have been declining for decades. Dutch elderly are also much more independently mobile than their American counterparts.


  1. Rixa, it sounds lovely: the closeness of all your needs and wants, the public transportation availability, the Velo Bleu bikes, the long lunch from school, spearfishing !~! Your posts are super interesting to read now that you have a new venue to explore and share with us; not that the childbirth isn't interesting-that's what brought me to you originally but I am so loving the France tour !~!

  2. I agree completely. I've been living car-free in Europe (France then Switzerland) for 13+ years, and it is so liberating!! And some items in the article on Holland are also true in France and Switzerland, particularly the fact that children and the elderly are more independently mobile (through biking, public transportation, and the simple fact that stuff is within walking distance in a typical village or city).


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