Living carefree and car-free in the city Delighting in alternative forms of transportation in a car-centric land


I didn’t intend to be car-free.

When I was 18, like many Canadians, I studied the learner’s handbook, practiced driving, and got my license. I’m still shocked it’s that easy to let someone barely out of their teens drive a vehicle made of thousands of pounds of metal. My first car was a 1973 Dodge Dart my grandma gave me. I’d jam punk rock mix-tapes in the radio cassette player, rev my engine, and speed around with all the reckless naivety of youth.

Then in university, I couldn’t afford the parking, never mind the other expenses of driving a car. I haven’t owned a car since. I left Edmonton three days after my last exam to work in Dawson City, Yukon as a waitress to make enough money to leave Canada. My first year out, I lived in Prague, which has an extensive and efficient tram system. I also developed a love of walking as I strolled or strode across the cobblestoned streets.

After that, I moved to Asia “for just one year,” which turned into 15 before I moved back to Canada. I lived mostly in Taiwan, but also went back to Prague for a year, and traveled India and Thailand for a year each. In India, I rode trains and rickshaws and walked until I wore out my camel leather sandals to paper-thin soles. In Thailand, I took tuk-tuks and little taxi boats, but mostly I walked through the jungle and hot sand until the soles of my feet were as leathery as those hippy sandals I’d worn in India.

While living in Taipei, I developed a deep and lifelong love of bicycle commuting. I used to joke that I could ride a bike through Taipei rush hour traffic with no hands. Look ma, no brains!

I moved back to Canada in 2013, and winter scared me off cycling the first year. I got quite depressed. The second winter, I decided to ride my bicycle year round. It changed everything. I arrive to work pink-cheeked and cheerful every day that I cycle. I don’t have to pay to use a spin machine in a gym. I pack shopping items and groceries in my back rack panniers and front basket.

Winter cycling keeps this rider’s seasonal depression at bay. | Alita Rickards

When people ask me about the inconvenience, I think of buying, registering, and insuring a vehicle I can’t afford to park at my downtown job, or that I won’t drive in the evenings when I go out with friends for beer or wine. Instead, I prefer to cycle, walk, bus, or use Uber.

People ask, “Well, what about going out of town?” I don’t like to road trip alone, so I go with friends who have vehicles. If it’s just two of us, I can drive. If it’s more than two of us, they don’t need me to drive. I watch people plugging in their cars, scraping their windshields, idling them to warm up, digging them out of the snow, and think “Isn’t that inconvenient?”

I appreciate the rides I occasionally get from friends, but I also encourage others to try my carefree, car-free existence.

Featured Image: Alita on her bicycle. | Cherie Rickards

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