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Life Outside the Minivan: Car-Free Families Go Their Own Way

8:48 AM PDT on August 3, 2011

They don't have the prize-winning glutes of spandex-wearing racers. They can't bask in the cooler-than-you aloofness of bicycle messengers. But car-free parents are arguably the most hard-core subculture in the cycling world.

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I can barely manage to keep myself clothed and fed, and if I have to bike seven miles one way and the humidity is above 40 percent, you don't want to me near me. Meanwhile, car-free parents are briskly hauling around two toddlers and a load of groceries in a cargo bike, all before 7 a.m. Who are these people?

Today, Anne at Network blog Car-Free Days shares a touching story of how this off-beat lifestyle can make families closer, but also leave car-free parents plagued by self-doubt.

The story starts when Anne rents a ZipCar to drive a child to a grandparent's house in the suburbs.

On the walk to the Zipcar parking spot, the 8-year old negotiated a chance to play with my phone in the car. His excuse: "We never ride in cars, won’t you let me play games on your phone while we’re in traffic?” Later I found it kind of interesting that while playing with the phone, he chose to snap this photo to document something that seemed odd from his perspective: his mom at the wheel of an automobile.

That was my first clue that the mobility choices we’ve made in the past few years had really changed our kids’ attitudes about typical transportation. So, I went on to lecture anyway (the kids love that term) about how we’d be perfectly “normal” in other parts of the world where most people don’t do everything by car. We’re just not normal here.

When we started this whole CarFreeDays thing, it was to give us a break from being behind the wheel all the time, and to give them a break from being strapped into carseats all the time. Sure, we wanted to drive less than we had been, but neither of us suspected then we’d been depriving our kids of their American-given right to drive and shop at big box stores with all the “normal” people.

Anne wonders how the dynamic will change when the kids are teenagers. In the meantime, she remains, admirably, committed. "I’m not sure what the future will bring but it’s sure to be interesting!"

Also, hat tip to our other fine, car-free parenting blogs around the Network, Car-Free with Kids and Chicargobike. Let me know if I overlooked any.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Baltimore Innerspace questions the city's over-attention to downtown megaprojects and under-attention to neighborhood livability concerns. The Raleigh Connoisseur reports the city is moving forward with light rail plans for downtown. And the League of American Bicyclists explains why, for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, simply being eligible for federal funding isn't enough.

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