Carless by Choice

These remarks by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated September 29, 1999

I managed to be carless by choice for over a third of a year before my living situation changed, and I had to buy a car again. Sigh. I enjoyed the carlessness very much, and look forward to being able to doing it again some time.

When I did buy a car, I went to the the Green Guide to Cars & and Trucks from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy where they discuss the "greenest" cars by class. I bought the greenest car in the compact class.

The rest of this page is left over from my pleasant time being carless, so I'll leave it for informational purposes. I still use the three-wheeled cart for most shopping!

-----Begin notes from July, 1999-----

I am carless by choice, as of May, 1999. I've had a car for many years, and have always felt awkward about it, given my attitudes toward environmental issues. (I believe we need urgent and drastic action if we wish to survive as a species another century.) So now I'm happy to be in a living situation where I don't need a car. I realize all too well this isn't possible for most Americans - our country is poorly set up for the carless, at least outside a few of the major cities, and, oddly enough, a few of the more isolated rural areas.

So far, it's easy being carless, but I admit it's still a recent change. (Actually, the six years after my divorce I was also carless, but I was in a different situation than I am now: I lived in one of those major cities friendly to pedestrians, one of those isolated rural areas where it didn't matter, and in Europe during those years.)

At any rate, as I find tricks and traps of carlessness, I'll post them here if anyone is interested in trying it themselves. As an incentive, I figure a new low-priced car would cost me at least $10 per day on the average throughout the year, for car payments, insurance, maintenance, parking, gas, state licensing fees, etc., etc. ... So far my transportation needs have averaged less than $0.50 per day being carless, and I'm getting everywhere I need to, plus some places simply for frivolous amusement.


I got my new wheels two weeks after being carless. No, it's not a car. No, it's not a bike. (I don't like bikes; I like to walk.) It's actually a golf club cart, but a very nice one. You can see some pictures of the basic model at Golf Carts by Kaddy Stroller.

I've customized it, but only slightly. I bought a 12" by 16" (30x40 cm) sturdy plastic cutting board, screwed some wooden blocks in the bottom, and placed the resulting shelf unit over the two bottom struts of the cart that are parallel to the ground. The wood blocks fit just outside the struts, giving the shelf a snug, slide-resistant fit. This creates a good solid platform that is water and mildew resistant, and easily lifted off when I want to fold the cart up.

I have tested three different ways to use the cart - all work great! They all use the shelf I added, with a simple bungee cord to be secure. They are:

  1. With a 25" (64 cm) suitcase. I use this to walk to downtown Chapel Hill to Cerebral Hobbies on Sundays, where I play boardgames almost every week. This allows me to bring a good selection of even large games effortlessly. And this is uphill (the town earns its name), and it still pushes very easily.
  2. With a 9-gallon (34-liter) cooler. I use this for grocery shopping and picnics. Two grocery-bags-worth of food will fit inside with the lid open, or one with the lid closed, making it waterproof and keeping the contents cool (an important consideration where I live). Since I rarely buy more than one bag of groceries at a time, unless I'm getting a watermelon, this is quite adequate for my grocery shopping. There's room on top to strap my folding chair and umbrella if I'm going on a picnic.
  3. With a 34-gallon (128-liter) trash can! This has a waterproof lid and fits snugly into the frame (it's roughly rectangular, somewhat tapered, ~13" x 22" x 31" tall - or 33 cm x 53 cm x 79 cm tall), needing only a bungee cord to be perfectly secure. This fits so well it's almost made for the cart! With this, I can haul some pretty large items, and lots of it. (I haul my laundry to the laundromat with it, for example.) With the lid off, I can haul longer items. With the lid on, it's also good for hauling games when it's raining out.
The cart has three decent-sized inflated wheels, so gives a fairly smooth ride. It has excellent bearings - it moves almost effortlessly even when heavily loaded. The three wheels means it's very stable, since three points define a plane. It handles curbs and off-sidewalk trails very well - which is good, considering Chapel Hill's indifference to pedestrians out where I live. I had been looking at a four-wheeled cart, but I don't think it would be nearly as stable and suited for where I live. Hitting a bump would mean one wheel would leave the ground, and that doesn't happen with this cart - it just rolls with the blow.

It also has a parking brake, which is very handy.

So far, so good - I've already hauled a large watermelon home on it, as well as other groceries, the trash container and cooler, all at once. It was a piece of cake, though I got some strange looks. Given the miserable heat of this area (sorry, I'm still a Northerner at heart), I really don't want to wear a backpack most of the year, hauling watermelons or laundry - not only is the extra weight very fatiguing in high heat, but my back gets so sweaty it's uncomfortable. (On the other hand, if I am going to live in the South, I'm going to eat watermelons - may as well take advantage of one of the few nice things about this area ...) This cart gives me the freedom to do most anything in town.

The only downside to the cart so far is that it doesn't steer - there is no wheel that rotates. So you have to rock back on the handle, lifting the front wheel off the ground, in order to turn even a small degree. This isn't hard, fortunately, but I do wish it would steer more easily.

At any rate, that's very minor. Look into it if you're carless.

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