Musings: Bike Week and the Non-Car Lifestyle

I am not moving anytime at all soon (if ever?). However, if i were to move, I'd be intrigued by a community like Vauban, Germany, an experimental, planned district outside of Freiberg near the German and Swiss borders where cars do not come into daily life. The community was completed in 2006. Save for two garages at the ends of the development, "Street parking, driveways and home garages are generally forbidden" for its 5,500 residents. Built upon an old army base, residents cannot have freestanding single dwellers' houses and many people have given up their own cars for car sharing programs.

Cars' central role in our lives accounts for such a large percentage of greenhouse gas emmissions and without conscientious changes–such as Vauban or a similar proposed development in Haywood, California called Quarry Village–those of us living away from comprehensive public transportation systems are very likely to continue contributing to climate change's seeming unstoppability. According to the New York Times: "Automobiles are the linchpin of suburbs, where middle-class families from Chicago to Shanghai tend to make their homes. And that, experts say, is a huge impediment to current efforts to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes, and thus to reduce global warming. Passenger cars are responsible for 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe — a proportion that is growing, according to the European Environment Agency — and up to 50 percent in some car-intensive areas in the United States."

Personally, although I did not have a bike there, the year and a half we lived in London, where I relied–primarily–upon my two feet, supplemented by bus and the tube (subway) was about the happiest ever for me. In its way, urban living felt very simple and wholesome, between my pedestrian lifestyle and often shopping just a little each day at Portobello Market, a farmer's market on the street much of the week and just a walk from our tiny flat. We did not have a lot of space (or refrigerator space, just a tall under the counter fridge). Admittedly, this London sojourn ended just three months before our first child arrived, and while we probably wouldn't have gotten a car, at least straight away and at least not one that I'd drive (on the wrong side of the road–gasp!), we'd have ended up needing more space.

Not surprisingly, the people living without cars in Vauban report that they feel relaxed and good about how they're raising their children (at a remove from exhaust fumes and the dangers of automobile accidents) and how they are living. Okay, but having a car may be a seemingly unchangeable feature in your life. You can at least modify your car dependence. And you can join others in doing so: this is the 10th Annual Pioneer Valley Bike Commute Week. The forecast this week is pretty glorious, so even if you're a fair weather cyclist, you should be able to press pedal to the, uh, bike.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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