How & Why to Be Auto-Free

Sam Tracy & Mark Peterson
Culture Change (formerly Auto-Free Times)

As clear as the phrase ‘auto-free’ might seem, it is open to some interpretation. Within the context of contemporary conditions, the choice to live auto-free occurs for a variety of reasons. The choice is made less free because of transportation policies, yet the movement to live free of cars is a growing one.

Unlike the highway lobby, the auto-free movement is not in a position to buy its very own elected officials. Yet, if the full social, environmental, economic and spiritual costs of driving are accurately represented, more might consider going auto-free. And then it becomes a grand circle: the record demonstrates that once policy changes create alternatives to driving, more people choose to live auto-free.

Some questions we should be asking ourselves are, why rely on road transit when barges and rail freight are more energy efficient and pollute less? Is it wise to expand the highway system when we already can’t afford to adequately maintain existing roads? Given the rising demand for the world’s diminishing oil reserves, we can hardly expect to be driving or paving much longer. It comes to seem useful to lay the autocracy’s trivialities to rest – so that we might move on to more important transportation issues. This starts by noting that it is patently absurd to suggest that a given worker’s livelihood must involve the construction or servicing of destructive technologies. Were this issue presented in an honest forum – as opposed to corporate media – it seems possible some folks might rather work to revitalize rail, or to save and restore forests. Of course, this does not speak to emergency vehicles. Although, single occupant vehicles shouldn’t be standing in their way either. Similar thoughts might also apply to localized point-to-point cartage.

These points are likely obvious enough. The real focus here is to go ahead and be free of cars. The incremental approach to this, of course, is the decision to stop owning cars. Simply renting a car as needed is often a useful way to ease into living free of cars. At the very least, it tends to be cheaper – the fixed costs car ownership demands constitute the largest portion of driving’s total individual costs.

Unlike the highways, this choice is not one that is forced upon us. It might descend from notions of social solidarity for some, or from simple self-interest, yet the car-free choice might just as easily evolve from happiness and joy. The specific reasons will vary – concerns over ecology, the quality of city life, all the time and money saved, the health and safety benefits, and on from there. Auto-free means taking action for yourself and the climate. It also means a real measure of self-determination. At its root it is all within the exhilaration of no longer participating in the autocracy.

How to Live Auto-Free

Mark Peterson, Culture Change (formerly Auto-Free Times)

It can be difficult for those plugged into what Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, calls the “accelerative thrust”. When I first decided to give up my three cars, I had to face the prospect that my mobility as a human being would be drastically curtailed for the rest of my life. Now I always tell folks that we must live within our bounds, within limits nature intended for us.

First, I established several criteria, and then started a search for a city that fit the bill. The criteria I set forth were simple:

  1. The ability to conduct all activities in my life within a five-mile radius.
  2. A local, urban center, spectrum, or downtown that offers employment opportunities.
  3. A locale that offers safe and off-road bike trials.
  4. A community that provides safe, attractive, frequent, and friendly rail and bus service.

Some of my top cities were: Long Beach, Boise, San Francisco, Calgary, Portland and San Diego. Of course, moving to another city is not always ideal. There are ways to make auto-free work for you in the city you live in.

If you’re unorganized, being auto-free can be a problem. I have to really plan ahead; Unless I’m riding my bike, I can’t just get up and go somewhere without advance preparation. With a little patience and enthusiasm for your local public transportation, it works!

I have also tapped into all of the mom-and-pop operations, since I don’t shop at chain stores or large discount outlets. I have my groceries delivered once a week. I also have a vegetable garden out back that attracts birds and insects. It has become a source of healthy produce free of pesticides and herbicides. I recommend catalog shopping, but don’t do it myself. I usually buy from local thrift shops and yard sales.

As an urban auto-free activist, I think that we do ourselves and society a favor by moving back to the cities. As for the rural auto-free activist, that is more difficult. Until we have a great network of trains throughout the country, and biking is made safer on country roads, it will be a hardship. Of course, it would be great if buses and trains were more user-friendly. It is difficult to take luggage and bikes onto buses and trains. I think transit officials and coach builders need to ride the bus and come up with some creative ideas to make public transportation attractive and enticing.

Sidebar: Living Car-FreeFrom Adbusters Magazine, June/July 2000

In Italy, the first Sunday of every month from February to May is officially “No Car Sunday.” In 150 towns and cities, one third of the Italian population has supported the initiative by taking to the streets in ‘bicicletta’. Those excluded from the ban: doctors and diplomats.

In Germany, the neighborhood of Vauban in Freiburg is conducting the country’s biggest experiment in “auto-free living.” The 280 households have agreed to ban cars from the streets (with the exception of private pick-up and deliveries), and those who own cars must pay $18,000 in U.S. dollars yearly to park them.

In the U.S., America WALKs is promoting pedestrian power from Nashville to Honolulu ( Also, on April 18th we celebrate Car-Free Day (


What You Can Do* Find a job near your residence, or relocate close to your work.

* Try working at home, or a Telebusiness Center, an alternative worksite that links up with your employer.

* Become a local shopper and buy within walking, biking or busing distance.

* Go auto-free! Rent or borrow a car when you need to go farther distances.


Carfree Cities
Culture Change Magazine, See contacts below
Sustainable Energy Institute
Alliance for a Paving Moratorium
P.O. Box 4347
Arcata, CA 707-826-7775


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