A car-free life

I don’t own a car. In the United States, people are often surprised that I am able to live without one. I am a minority. Especially in western cities like Tucson, the necessities of life are too spread out to make this way of living common. It takes me extra effort to do simple things like buying groceries, and stormy days can be challenging. Traveling long distances means sharing a vehicle with friends. But the rest of the developed world is not necessarily like this. I am in Denmark for the year, and have been deeply impressed with the potential of leading a truly car-free life.

Bicycling is the key. The country has an extensive network of local and national cycle routes – paved roads given over entirely to bicycle traffic that connect most major cities and little villages. They are marked and maintained well. Some are old royal roads, others converted railways, and others new developments. I don’t think the United States, with its car-centric infrastructure and support for private property laws (eminent domain not frequently being applied to cycling), would be able to build such a network now.Image

But it is a beautiful system when it works. Here is a small intersection near the western coast of Zealand. Small distances as well as large ones can be crossed by cycle.


And here is an example of a cycle path crossing Amager, an island to the south of Copenhagen. Paved and well-used. More than 50% of people cycle to work every day in the capital. Here the minority are car-users. For me, it is a refreshing contrast. Bicycle-linked communities seem to be far less affected by the blight of sprawl that affects many of the United States’ western cities.Image

And a culture of cycling builds innovation – here is a conceptual design for a bicycle-powered mobile kitchen that I saw at an art institute last week. The United States has such an investment in car-based infrastructure and cultural enthusiasm for the same, as well as broad expanses of sparsely populated areas, that such a vision is unlikely to succeed at home. It is still refreshing to see an alternative.ImageI am beginning to think carefully about issues of urban development – how to build cities, and how to move their flows of resources and people. In many ways it is an ecological question. Perhaps another post on that topic soon!

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Sab says:

    Nice blog! You should definitely visit the Netherlands if you have the chance. Denmark is not so far and, being such a fan of bicycles, I’m sure you will love Holland! I still feel proud when I see a mum riding a bicycle with all the groceries on the side bags AND carrying 2 children on the same bike (one in the front and one on the back). In the rain. With a headwind 😀 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycling_in_the_Netherlands

  2. bblonder says:

    Thanks Sabrina! Anywhere in particular you suggest going?

    1. Sab says:

      I recommend going to ‘Zeeland’, Ben! In the south, south/west are a few small islands with beautiful dunes and forests. Its my favourite place in the Netherlands and there are great cycle routes from the small villages through typical Dutch landscapes and dunes to the beach&sea. Let me know if you decide to go and I can give you some more detailed information/.

  3. monomiao says:

    The story in China is a little sad. We used to ride bicycles to everywhere and do everything. There is also special bicycle seat for kids, so parents can take kids everywhere as well. But later, around 10-15 years ago, the government started encouraging people to buy cars, and people tried to ‘so-called’ catch up with the steps of the Western world, more and more cars went into the cities. Some beautiful cities have been destroyed by cars…..

    1. bblonder says:

      I wonder if the oldest cities are the safest – they don’t have the existing infrastructure to support cars, so the effort required to ‘modernize’ them would be higher. Or perhaps they just have more to lose.

      1. monomiao says:

        The reality in China is ‘have more to lose’. We may not be able to say the old existing infrastructure was the best, but so far it has shown the modern one is not better but worse. You might be interested in this book, ‘Beijing Record’ (http://www.amazon.com/Beijing-Record-Physical-Political-Planning/dp/9814295728/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1347559450&sr=8-6&keywords=Jun+Wang). Beijing is a good example for the issue of urban development.

  4. Ticatla says:

    I think you will enjoy this video about how Amsterdam

  5. Ticatla says:

    I think you will enjoy this video about how the Dutch got their famous cycling paths http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o

    1. Sab says:

      Thats a great video, thanks for sharing!

  6. bblonder says:

    Thanks – I’ll look for the book. By the way have we met before? I am wondering how you found my blog!

    1. monomiao says:

      I am Jin’s friend. He told me about your study on venation which is very interesting to me, so I read your TREE paper and found your blog. I like your writings, and thanks for that! We did meet on ESA meeting in 2011, but you might not remember me. 🙂

      1. bblonder says:

        Yes, now I remember! 🙂 Perhaps we’ll see each other at next year’s ESA too!

      2. bblonder says:

        Yes, now I remember! 🙂 Perhaps we’ll see each other at next year’s ESA too!

        PS a similar book about the growth of New York that you might like: http://www.amazon.com/The-Power-Broker-Robert-Moses/dp/0394720245

  7. monomiao says:

    Thanks! Looks a very nice book. Next year, maybe. Look forward. 🙂

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