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Could You Live Car Free?

There’s no doubt about it. We’re addicted to our cars. I live in the semi-rural ‘burbs, where commuting is a chore. While it’s not impossible to live and work out here without a car, it can be tough to manage. Being car free isn’t a cakewalk.

On occasion, I need to pick up or drop off a review car in New York City. Thankfully, it’s easier to get to NYC from my place than it is to get to a random corporate marble and glass palace in suburbia.



In order to get to New York City without a car, I have to walk a mile and a half to the closest public transportation … a bus stop on the other side of the state highway. There, I can pick up a local bus that will (eventually) take me to the Princeton “Dinky” train station.

The Dinky is a cool little light rail train that runs between Princeton and Princeton Junction, which is on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. There is no direct commuter bus from my town to the Princeton Junction train station.

Once upon a time, our town had its own train station. The West Trenton passenger train line, with service linking to both New York City and Philadelphia, ran through here until it was abandoned by NJ Transit in 1983.

Freight trains still run on the line.

Over the years, there’s been much talk (and a bit of funding) devoted to the topic of restarting commuter service on the West Trenton train line. This would require the construction of a bunch of new train stations and the laying of a whole new set of tracks.

A huge effort like that seems a bit crazy in these times.

So the question comes to mind ….

Why can’t NJ Transit simply devote a pair of clean-burning Natural Gas Powered buses to provide direct commuter service between suburban centers (like this town) and the existing train stations?

This could be done rapidly, with minimal impact to both the environment and state budgets. It would reduce traffic congestion by removing hundreds of cars off the road during peak hours. It might even be able to pay for itself.

Come to think of it, the solution might be best left to the private sector …

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4 comments ↓

#1 Sival on 09.18.09 at 9:47 pm

I went to Japan this year and I saw for the first time a society where one could possibly live without a car. The public transit over there is excellent, clean, on time and very available, and for interurban travel they have a strong railway network that covers the country. However, I think that to copy them, we’d have to change radically the structure of our urban and suburban centers, because I think that’s what makes it possible for them to do that.

Their streets are not wide at all, their houses are compact and the land they’re on is also small, this means that the population density is a lot higher. This means that buses don’t have to travel much distance to deserve the same number of people, thus making them a lot more profitable than here and it also means that you can actually walk to where you want to go! For a suburban kid like me who basically cannot avoid taking a care to get some milk, this was quite a revelation. The streets are narrow so it’s easy to cross them and the density means that stores and other facilities are much closer to home than here.

I never realized how liberating it could be to be somewhere where, if you want to go anywhere, you can just say “I’ll WALK there” or just head out the door with minimal information about public transit and take it because they run in circles constantly instead of 1 bus every 30 minutes or hour that basically take people from point A (a suburb) to point B (a city center). You don’t have to worry that you just saw the bus pass you by, another one is coming in 5 to 15 minutes anyway. That’s just a more humane way to travel and it doesn’t isolate you like a car does. And no worries about parking space or scratching your car or anything like that. I miss that choice.

Where I am, they have invested importantly to develop public transit for the suburbs, but the problem is that they have to keep subsidizing public transit massively because it just doesn’t pay itself despite prices not being that cheap. The private sector doesn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole, not enough money to be made.

I think North American suburbs will have to die before public transit really takes off.

#2 Jeremy Good on 09.21.09 at 12:06 pm

I already live essentially car free. I am a college student and I live in a small town. I travel everywhere on bike including doing grocery shopping. If I need to go somewhere further than what I want to bike. I carpool with friends. To go home on breaks, I take Amtrak from Indiana to Pennsylvania.

#3 Cyclist on 10.04.09 at 3:15 pm

I am carfree during my daily work commute 9 miles RT by bike here in Columbus, OH. I’ve been biking (and taking a city bus in really bad weather) for the past 4 years now, and every year I increase my number of commute trips and miles. It’s refreshing to see that reducing my carbon footprint is possible. I like the biking because it doesn’t require waiting for a bus, and I get the exercise my doctor had been advising me to. I am ready to sell the cars except for the family Prius that we use to drive 15 miles each way to church and get groceries with.

#4 Northern Rural Person on 12.10.09 at 2:01 pm

Living in Northern Alberta, there is no bus service.
So, no, could not live car free.
-40 in the winter – you try walking 27 km to get groceries….

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