Selling my car has shown me it’s possible to live without one — and to enjoy a city I’d previously experienced at 30 miles an hour.
I sold my car.
And I have no plans to buy another one.
It was a hard decision — and something of a radical one in Minnesota, where cars are a staple. In fact, it took me many months to ease out of my Subaru Impreza and to prove to myself that I really didn’t need it.
Now, two months after selling my car and nearly a year since I stopped driving it, I no longer worry about traffic or parking, my wallet is thankful, I’m in better shape and I feel much more connected to my adopted city.
So, how do I get around?
My primary modes of transportation are buses (in the winter) and bicycling (in the summer), interspersed with a lot of walking. But I credit two tools for getting me to take the plunge: car sharing and my smartphone.
For a long time, I held onto my car because I wondered “What if?” What if I have to make a large purchase at Target or pick up a lot of groceries? What if I need to get somewhere quickly?
With expanding options from Hourcar, Zipcar, Car2Go and taxi-like services such as Lyft and UberX, I’ve discovered I can find a ride whenever I need one — as long as I have my phone with me.
The other night as I left work, for example, I checked Metro Transit’s mobile site for the arrival time of the next bus traveling down Nicollet Avenue. Within minutes, I hopped the bus from downtown to a friend’s improv show on 37th Street. Later that evening, after dinner at a nearby restaurant, I checked the same site and learned that there wasn’t another bus for an hour.
Instead of waiting, I opened another app and found that a Car2Go ride-share vehicle was just around the corner. I drove home, locked the car and left it on the street for the next Car2Go user to find. The ride cost me less than $6 — a marginal cost after subtracting the expense of maintaining a vehicle.
I had never owned a car — nor driven one for very long — before arriving in Minneapolis four years ago. In both Washington, D.C., where I had been working, and New York City, where I grew up, owning a car isn’t the norm, in part because both cities have expansive transit systems.
Knowing I’d need to have a car in Minnesota, I hired a driving instructor in Washington to help me brush up on my technique. I drove at night for the very first time when I peeled out of the dealership lot in White Bear Lake in my used car.
For a while, I was hooked on the novelty of driving. After about two years, though, I started to question my car logic.
The winter only seemed longer as I scraped off my windshield, lonelier when I was sitting alone in traffic. It was worse during our precious warm months: I yearned to be outside. Owning a car seemed limiting, and not worth the money.
“I think we’re tied to our cars so that people refuse to go to certain parts of the city because they don’t want to park, they don’t want to pay for parking or they have to leave somewhere early because their car is parked in a certain spot,” said Bill Lindeke, the carless host of the transportation-focused streets.mn podcast. “And in a way, the car sort of owns the person, instead of the other way around.”
I have no children, I live along a bus line in Uptown and work downtown, about 4 miles away. My company has a few vehicles for work-related trips during the day. Yet I was still one of 61 percent of Minneapolis residents driving to work solo.
Last spring, I bought a bike and started riding to work. Come fall, I got serious about understanding the bus system. Late this past winter, I took the Subaru to a carwash, took some photos of my car, then sold it on Craigslist.