August 03, 2015

Pursuing the Car-free Lifestyle

While cycle commuting for one day is one thing, doing it for a month is another. For all of July, I did not turn on my car once, though I had to borrow a co-worker’s vehicle for one brief errand. For this post, I discuss some lessons learned from my car-free month, as well as a related film which recently launched.

Car-free Lessons
  1. A spare bicycle is recommended! While finding space to store two bicycles can be difficult in urban settings, you can never know when something goes wrong. Given a few repairs I had to contend with, the spare road bike still allowed me to avoid driving. This underscores the need for proper bicycle maintenance, in which annual tune-ups are recommended, though worn chains and cables are harder to identify.
  2. Bicycles are more sociable! When driving solo, communication is nonexistent unless there is a collision or a burst of road rage. On a bike, you can easily pull over to speak to a friend and you never know who you end up riding with! In one case, I ended up riding with Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32 – Beaches East York) along part of Danforth Avenue!
  3. Bicycles enable discovering new neighbourhoods and/or businesses! If you regularly use a street by car, the same trip by bicycle will expose you to a completely different perspective. While driving requires paying for parking in a somewhat distant spot (as is usually the case in large cities like Toronto), you can lock your bicycle to a ring-and-post spot close to the desired shop! Factor in the high cost of operating vehicles and no wonder why only ten percent of patrons arrive at the Annex by car and cyclists purchase more![1]
  4. Don’t litter! When biking home on Danforth last week, a plastic bag caught the chain, cassette, and derailleur; thus immobilizing by bicycle and causing a real pain to remove. So not only does plastic harm our oceans and animals, but also bicycles! Could make for a new anti-littering campaign?
  5. Presto cards come in handy! Instead of waiting to buy a ticket at a counter or from a machine, smart cards like Presto allowed me to just tap the card to the reader and board the train. Except for a few times where I missed the train and had to wait 30 minutes for the next one (cyclists have delays too), those smart card readers have often made the difference between being on time or delayed.
Bikes vs Cars Documentary

To finish my car-free month, I visited the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema for the first time to attend the Canadian premiere of Bikes vs Cars. Fredrik Gertten, the film’s director from Sweden, was in attendance who took questions along with Rob Tarantino, who is Cycle Toronto’s Chair of the Board of Directors.

The film showcased mobility issues throughout several cities; including Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, and Toronto. In Toronto’s case, the Jarvis bike lane removal, ghost rides commemorating dead cyclists, and cancellation of Transit City were mentioned. It also showcased this anti-cycling quote from former mayor Rob Ford:
“Roads are built for busses, cars, and trucks. Not for people on bikes. My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it is their own fault at the end of the day.” –Rob Ford
Toronto's challenges, including ghost rides and cycling advoocacy, were also evident in Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million with 7 million cars. The preference for cycling there was due to poor and expensive local transit, and it being faster than driving. The election of a bike-friendly mayor there lead to the removal of 40 000 parking spaces overnight to install 400 kilometres of cycle tracks, which a Sao Paulo cyclist called a red carpet to city hall. There was commentary on how Los Angeles used to be a cycling paradise with a 20% modal share and cycle freeways before the automobile industry intervened.

While there was an effort to provide balanced views through automobile marketing executive Joel Ewanic and a Copenhagen cab driver, the overall narrative was biased against driving as evident by this quote from the founder of 8-80 Cities:
“The reality is that there is not one city in the world that has solved the issue of mobility through the private car. None.” –Gil Penalosa

At the end of the film, urban planner Raquel Rolnik argued gridlock can be the catalyst needed for transit and cycling infrastructure to gain traction. There are strong oil and automotive lobbyists to contend with, but there is hope in making North American cities like Toronto easier to encourage more people to live partially or fully car-free lifestyles.

Fight the power!
Rob Z (e-mail)


[1] Clean Air Partnership. “Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business: A Study of Bloor Street in Toronto’s Annex Neighbourhood.” February 1, 2009.


  1. Looks like a real challenge but a much healthier and more convenient way to travel especially in such big cities. Hope this becomes more and more popular with those able to travel on two wheels instead of four. Car travellers must learn the rules of the road and learn to have respect for cyclists.

  2. Re: spare bicycle - when my bike was stolen last year, I got a BikeShare membership (love that Cycle Toronto discount!). Now I have a shiny new bike, but I still use the BikeShare often enough to make it worthwhle. When it comes time to renew, I probably will.

    1. I agree a bike share could act as a spare bike if you live and work in the downtown coverage area. Not so much for long distance commuting.

  3. Good article.. May I share a blog about Tokyo at Roppongi Hills in
    Watch also the video in youtube