1,000 Days without a Car: A Transformation of Transportation

It has been nearly one thousand days since Earth Day 2010.  I’m proud to be part of a firm that celebrates this day as passionately as we do.  It means something.  Our belief in and commitment to sustainability is unparalleled amongst our competition.  Every year we campaign and rally around our messages as if an election was at stake.  We’ve turned the lights out.  We’ve recharged.  We go above and beyond to prove to the world that we care about the world.  I like this.

One thousand days ago, it was this passion and commitment that drove me to stop driving.  On Earth Day 2010, I sold my car.  For many of my colleagues in DC, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and other “big” cities, feel free to stop reading anytime.  You probably already don’t have a car.  An even a few of my local St. Louis colleagues don’t have one.  I say kudos to all of you.  Perhaps you have already gone through this lifestyle transformation.  Every city is unique with its own transportation quirks and challenges, and St. Louis is no different.  I’ve wanted to share my transformation story for some time – not to brag (believe me, many days I feel, well, odd) – but to encourage others to continue to take action in support of living sustainably.  I also wanted to wait to share my story until I was sure the transformation would stick.  It stuck.

Sunrise over the City

The story actually dates back to late 2009 when my family was considering new real estate for ourselves.  Part of my criteria for a home purchase was to live within one mile of a Metrolink (St. Louis’ light rail) station and within a quarter mile of a bus stop.  We came across a property that just barely met those specifications.  We bought it, moved in, and I sold my car.

I now have a lot of choices in terms of getting from point A (my house) to point B (my train station) to point C (my office).  I am an athletic person.  I like to bike.  I love to run.  But I am by no means exceptionally talented at either.  I could simply bike from A to C (about 11 miles), skipping B entirely.  A few of my St. Louis colleagues do this impressively every single day of the year, rain or shine.  I could walk (or run) from A to B, then train from B to C.  Or I could bus from A to B and then transfer to the train.  Any one of these choices has logistics associated with it, and I think this is the biggest hurdle for anyone to overcome when considering an alternative transportation lifestyle.  Let me clearly state that having a shower in the office is an absolute prerequisite for any of these transportation lifestyles.

Metrolink, St. Louis' Light Rail

From a logistical perspective, biking might be the easiest choice.  All of my clothing and work materials can be stuffed in panniers or my backpack for the commutes.  It was my original intention to bike the majority of days, and I did so exclusively for a number of weeks.  As the summer approached, the days became longer and warmer.  Biking was a fantastic way to begin and end each day.  However, as winter approached and days became wetter, shorter, darker and colder, biking was certainly less appealing on a daily basis.  Plus, I was missing my running life.

After switching houses and selling my car, changing gyms was a very easy transformation.  I found one that is literally attached to the parking garage of a different train station.  In the winter, this gym allows me to get in a good run without adding any extra commuting time.  In the summer, Forest Park (another stop on the Metrolink) is my home for running.

A Glimpse of Impressive Architecture along the Walk

I tried the bus for a while too.  It’s a quick four minute walk to the bus stop, and then a short ride to the train station.  However, I found it surprisingly inconvenient.  St. Louis’ train system is amazingly punctual.  You can expect it to arrive on time 99% of the time (to the minute).  It is very impressive.  The buses, however, not so much.  I found myself needing to arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes early (in case the bus came early, which it often did) only to sometimes wait 15 minutes for it to arrive (because it was 10 minutes late, which it often was).  St. Louis indeed has four seasons.  In the winter, standing for 15 minutes is not at all enjoyable.  In the summer, if I’m in work clothes, I could be dripping with sweat, even at 6:00am.  I now use the bus only when I have a suitcase to lug.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

After testing the waters with many commuting solutions, I find that walking to the train is best for me.  I did try running to the train, but it’s simply not possible to carry anything without it flopping around in my backpack.  As long as I’m moving in the winter, I stay warm enough with the proper dress.  In the summer, I wear workout clothes to stay cool.  I hit the gym as many mornings as I can during the week.  I keep some clothes in the office and rotate them home in my backpack to launder.  For a while, I kept the train times plugged into my Outlook calendar.  Now, I know them all by heart.

My parents recently went on vacation, and I borrowed their car for two weeks while they were away.  I admit, I did enjoy the freedom of the commute.  It certainly did save me time, especially when working late and travelling home with zero traffic.  I could more quickly make a stop to run errands along the way.  After all, much of our society and economy is geared around the automobile for cities like St. Louis, Atlanta and Los Angeles.  But as much as I was enjoying the temporary adjustment to my transportation, I was missing my everyday routine even more.  The twenty minute train rides are my time to read books, catch-up on emails or even catch a nap.  The one-mile walks at the beginning and end of my day remind me to breathe, think and briefly escape.  A car does not allow me to do any of those things.  Plus, it burns a lot of fossil fuels too (even the electric ones).

P.S. – Thanks to everyone whom I’ve bummed rides from over the past 1,000 days!  I also want to thank Enterprise Car Rental for their downtown WeCar hybrid car sharing program, which has been very handy.

8 Comments
  1. December 28th, 2012 - 4:27 pm
    Majdi Faleh said:

    interesting and inspiring story, David. I used to bike too for about 8 miles,when I worked at HKS Detroit last year. I believe that we, designers and architects, should be the leaders in promoting such sustainable ways of thinking. Earth needs our efforts!

  2. December 28th, 2012 - 5:20 pm
    Rebecca Davis said:

    This is a great post! I live in DC and gave up my car 18 months ago. It’s been an easy road (especially after the addition of zipcar and bikeshare) but I really admire people like you who make it work in markets that aren’t as well-covered by public transportation. Buses, which have so much potential, are particularly tough and need to get to critical mass to be truly useful. Keep up the great work :)

  3. December 28th, 2012 - 8:05 pm
    Nag N said:

    What an inspiring story David! This deserves a spotlight on Metro’s site.

    Roads with no sidewalks are one of my pet peeves!

  4. January 16th, 2013 - 2:28 pm
    Greg C said:

    David, I’m glad that you mentioned the ability to decompress along the way in your post. I’ve been riding primarily trains (and an occasional bus) to work almost exclusively since 1998, both in Boston and in St. Louis, and the 20 or 30 minutes to clear your head at the beginning and end of the day have become indispensable.

  5. January 16th, 2013 - 2:57 pm
    Debi Fuller said:

    David, this is very impressive! Thanks for sharing and encouraging all of us to make changes in 2013.

  6. January 16th, 2013 - 4:12 pm
    Susan Grossinger said:

    Well David has always inspired me with his beautiful project work and awesome product design. He has now inspired me in another way – I am impressed and jealous as a Los Angeles resident and great weather that this is not even possible for most commuters. Walk, bike and jog on David.

  7. January 16th, 2013 - 5:41 pm
    Tim Eavis said:

    I guess you’re really a beginner then. I haven’t owned a car since November 1996 which means that I’ve been without one for 6,200 days. It helps that I live in London which has a great transport infrastructure and the fact that it bike friendly compared to most US cities. Hire cars and Zip car have been used when needed, but my partner and I even do the weekly food shop on our Brompton Folding bikes

  8. January 17th, 2013 - 6:14 am
    Jason Dale Pierce said:

    Thanks for a great article. I relished living without a car when I lived and worked in SF and upon moving back to St. Louis my wife and I have been trying to live with only one car and so far so good! Although we would love to not own a car at all public transit to our families is non-existent here. So I take the bus and metro and the occasional taxi when I can. I do get odd looks from people when I tell them I take the bus but I am proud that I do. Thank you for your commitment to lead by example.

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