Below is my multi-pronged argument on why I never want to own a car again. It was born out of years of frustrating and PTSD inducing trauma on the roads of Boston, Massachusetts where every single day was book-ended by a layer of stress from my daily commute on I-90.
- I will never ever be stuck in a traffic jam.
- I will never have to wake up at 7:45 AM to move my car to avoid it being towed away due to 8am street cleaning.
- I will never find myself chasing down the tow truck at 8:05 am after having my car towed due to violating street cleaning.
- Parking tickets will no longer accumulate in a shameful pile of orange envelopes on my desk.
- There will be no more car maintenance fees, paying for insurance, and caring what gasoline costs.
- Gone will be the dirty feeling of filling up a gas tank to power the locomotion of 3500 pounds of aluminum and steel to transport one single human being.
So how does Austin fare as a carless city? The answer is, surprisingly well (with a catch). Austin is depicted as a car-centric city but when I visited for my job interview I saw evidence to the contrary. Streets downtown have clearly marked bicycle lanes and some of them are grade separated by a curb. I was also keen to observe the existence of downtown grocery stores and the density of restaurants and parks. Both seemed to be plentiful. One of the minor downsides to all this good stuff in close proximity is that the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure of Austin is woefully underused so drivers aren’t used to co-existing with the slower and more human scale forms of transportation. The numerous over-sized pickup trucks careening down narrow city streets are a scary and unwelcome site to a guy on 15 pound aluminum bicycle.
The catch is being car-less is only possible in a small section of Downtown. I picked an apartment on Bowie Street (near the red pin), sandwiched between a Whole Foods and Trader Joes. The Colorado river is less than a two minutes walk and there is a creek with a running trail that meanders by. Restaurants and bars are numerous and there is a brand new Austin Central Public library which is so expansive and badass that deserves a separate post. So the holy trinity of proximity to bars, grocery stores, and parks has been met, plus a library, plus a gorgeous river. I can bike across the expanse of this map in less than five minutes and honestly, I don’t think I could have have designed the location or infrastructure better. However, leaving this small swath of urbanization, the low-density infrastructure of greater Austin makes living a car-less existence a burden rather than an asset.
In concert with a bike, the public transportation infrastructure is adequate. There is one light rail line but most public transportation is served by buses of varying frequency. The lack of dedicated bus lanes make a crosstown commute a slow crawl. The main drags are well serviced but access to the entire city requires mounting your bike to the bike rack and doing some old fashioned pedal mashing to complete your trip. Biking is working out well for now but I’m dreading the summer and am apprehensive of whether or not I’ll dissolve into a puddle of sweat in the 100 degree heat.
I take the bus to work and fortunately my work commute is mostly highway and goes out of the city, opposite of the worst traffic. At a grand total of 15 minutes to get to work, the trip itself has been painless. However, my work commute is serviced by just two morning buses and two buses in the evening which imposes a rigid schedule. This is probably the biggest downside to my life here so far but its been manageable.
In summary, despite certain limitations, living in Austin without a car is very workable. Part of my apprehension in moving to Austin was that things aren’t perfectly they way I want them to be. The transit infrastructure isn’t quite there yet and the bike lanes have a long way to go as does the density of the busy urban corridors. But I realize that in moving to Austin and utilizing the existing infrastructure I am actually bolstering these smart development initiatives.
The long and short of it is that car-free Austin is working out so far but stay tuned for an after summer addendum to this.