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Doing without car for daily life, is it possible ?

june 2000

website of the author : www.manicore.com - contact the author : jean-marc@manicore.com

***

It's now been a couple years since I almost stopped to drive for my daily life. Getting into a car is now limited to some going out in the evening and leaving for holidays.

I do not claim that anyone could be in my situation, and the purpose of what follows isn't the least to erect myself as a model of virtue (and should even less be since I adopted this way of life first of all because I like it, and not because it is "ecological" !), but it seemed interesting to me to describe how my moves are then organized, because I belong to a category that is generally a heavy car consumer : I live in the suburbs and the house is full of kids.

I am a home worker. Thus I don't have to move in the morning to go to work (or in the evening to come back).

I live in the parisian suburbs. When I need to go to Paris, or in another suburb, to meet people (every other day on average), I take the suburban train (I walk to the station). From door to door, it takes generally longer that using a car, except when going to Paris during rush hours. But contrary to driving that doesn't allow to do anything else in the same time, except listening to the bad news on the radio, or giving phone calls to everyone to spend the time, a move by train allows to read (even standing !), either the paper, personnal notes, a book, or to work peacefully on a job in progress.

when I leave town, I take the train, and never fly (and if I had to go over the Atlantic I would cruise !). Apart from its environmental inconvenients, flying does not allow to better use one's time or offers a better comfort : as opposed to train, the trip is in several little bits (taxi or metro, waiting, checking in, waiting again, flying, waiting again, metro or taxi again...) and none is convenient to work, seating space is scarce, it is not easy to stand up to strech one's legs or go get a coffee, it is not easy to access one's paper files or use a laptop, not easy to phone, and it is noisy. On the contrary, trains (at least in France !) are comfortable, much less noisy, go from inner city to inner city, one can go get a coffee, and 100% of the travelling time can be used to work (in particular there is enough space to use a laptop or read papers, even in second class).

for my moves in the neighborhood (less than 5 km) I use a bike. If I need to carry something (food for example) or "someone" (I go with my kids to school in the morning - and go get them in the evening - as soon as I have no imperative agenda constraint, priviledge of the home worker !), I put a trailer (photo below), that can carry 50 kg of load (and that I can fold and take along for holidays). It comes from a swiss manufacturer, so it's the Rolex of trailers !

Using a bicycle for short moves has only advantages :

it's not expensive (the full cost of a car is 6.000 euros - or dollars - per year, my bike and the trailer - that are superior brand items - about 100 euros per year),

it generates no noise, no smoke, and no climate change,

between 18 and 50 years it is less dangerous than moving by car for the same distance,

Accidents per million km for bikes and cars in the Netherlands (survey not done in France)

source : European union
Age

Bike riders

Car drivers
12-14

16,8

-
15-17

18,2

-
18-24

7,7

33,5
25-39

7

9,7
40-49

9,2

9,7
50-59

17,2

5,9
60-64

32,1

10,4
65 et plus

79,1

39,9

As bike trips are generally shorter than car trips, the above assertion is even more true if the calculation is made per trip.

it keeps me fit : it is daily exercise (cf. table below)

Energy spending (kCal per hour) depending on the weight of the rider and the speed

Speed (km/h ; flat terrain and no wind)

19,2

22,4

24

25,6

27,2

28,8

30,4

weight of the rider
50 kg

293

348

404

448

509

586

662
54 kg

315

375

437

484

550

634

718
59 kg

338

402

469

521

592

683

773
63 kg

360

430

502

557

633

731

828
68 kg

383

457

534

593

675

779

883
72 kg

405

485

567

629

717

828

938
77 kg

427

512

599

666

758

876

993
82 kg

450

540

632

702

800

925

1048
86 kg

472

567

664

738

841

973

1104
91 kg

495

595

697

774

883

1021

1159

It has been suggested that every hour spent riding adds one hour of life expectancy ; it is otherwise established that the soaring of the number of obese and overweight people (being obese increases about every sanitary risk, particularly cardiovascular, but also diabetes, articular problems...) is for a large part the result of a sharp decrease of the physical activity (a chronicle published in Le Monde dated 14 march 2000 recalled that in the US, the number of obese people evolves just as the number of cars in the country).

the time I use to move is predictable : no trafic jam stops me,

even if it is not a very fast way to move (between 12 and 40 km/h depending if the road is going up or down, on a flat road and with no wind it is easy to ride at 25 km/h with a modern bike), it is not a source of stress, because what is nerve picking when driving is having to slow down or to wait (trafic jams), which doesn't happen often when riding a bike,

As a matter of fact, in town, or even in the suburbs, at rush hours and for a couple km it goes faster to ride than to drive, and stays faster even out of rush hours if parking times are taken into account, because they are reduced to the strict minimum for bikes,

contrary to what most people believe, the driver of a car in urban trafic is breathing a more polluted atmosphere than the bicycle rider (below),

Polutants breathed over a same trip depending on the mode (direct measure of the air breathed)

source : European Union
Polutant

Bike riders

Car drivers
carbon monoxide CO

2670

6730
nitrogen dioxide NO2

156

277
benzene

23

138
toluene

72

373
xylene

46

193

I never have any problem to park my vehicle just at my destination place ; still I have invested in a biiiiig padlock to be sure to always find my racing vehicle when I come back, and up to now it has been deterrent enough !

the number of days where its heavily raining just when one wishes to get on the bike doesn't exceed a couple in the year : it is amazing to witness that very often one "skips through the drops", and besides if it is only a mild rain an oilskin and a slower pace do the job,

my kids loved it (now they are a little too old...),

and at last let's note that I failed sports during high school : moving this way is therefore not only for supermen. Once one has begun to ride frequently, one generally ends considering it much more confortable than driving : I will not change soon ! Furthermore, people that have to ride a bike because their car is unavailable generally find it much better than what they expected, as the following survey done by the EC shows :

Opinion of the people having to ride instead of driving

In green : BETTER than the opinion one had before having to ride - In orange : EQUAL to the opinion one had before having to ride - In red : WORSE than the opinion one had before having to ride.

source : European Union
Physical efforts

Atmospheric conditions

Comfort

Carrying objects

Speed

 

This way to move is also interesting for the community, because it saves public money (a good slogan of bicycle supporters could be : you want less taxes ? Just ride !) :

it requires less infrastructures - that cost money - than cars (if one supposes that the cost of infrastructure is proportional to the ground space occupied, there is a 4 to 6 ratio in favour of bikes).

Even with a litre of gasoline worth 1 euro, one must know that drivers do not pay for the full cost of driving for the community, and this is even more true for urban trafic (this assertion doesn't take into account climate change, for it can't be internalized),

as it keeps people fit, it allows savings for health spendings,

and at last, because bicycles generate fewer accidents than cars, they allow to save money for the various consequences of deaths and injuries caused by trafic (hospitalisation costs, annuities served to widow(er)s and invalid people, etc).

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