Carless Single Mother

Adult Tricycle with Basket - Joe Mabel /GFDL (

Adult Tricycle with Basket - Joe Mabel /GFDL (

Going carless for me was not so much a socio-political decision as it was happenstance. The transmission in my beloved 1996 Toyota Camry couldn’t take it anymore and keeled over. I had very recently become a single mother; my son at the time was just a little over a year old. I couldn’t afford a new car and the cost of buying a new transmission was astronomical. At first I panicked: how on earth was I going to get around with my son, go grocery shopping and get to work? The town I live in doesn’t have the most reliable public transit service and the routes available didn’t match up with the places I needed to be. In order to get my son to daycare and then get to work on time I would have to leave 3 hours early, before I had to be at work, take the bus, pick up a transfer and then walk another 3 miles to get to the daycare provider. Since the bus only runs every half an hour, if Imissed the transfer bus for some reason I would be an hour or more late to work. On top of the difficulties of getting to work I had pick up my son by 6:00 PM or pay hefty late fees. At the time I lived near a small convenience store which was within walking distance of my home so I could walk over nightly and pick up something for dinner; but I was stuck with overly priced processed boxed foods and had no fresh veggies or fruit. In addition other services such as my son’s doctor, the bank, and movie store were so far spread apart that hours had to be dedicated to cash my paycheck and rent a movie.

I mulled over how to purchase another car. After adding up the monthly payment, plus interest, insurance, gas, maintenance and general up keep I realized that the cost of owning a car was far more expensive in the long run than rearranging my life to live without one. I had to get creative.

The first thing I did was talk with my boss about allowing me to work from home. At the time I worked for a non-profit company as a research writer. I didn’t really need to be at the office to do my job. (In fact, I was hardly at the office during the day as it was. I spent most of my time at the library down the street. It was quieter, I had access to research materials and there were no noisy talkative coworkers there to interrupt me. Plus as a research writer, making friends with librarians and having expert research assistance nearby makes the job much more efficient.) At first my boss was hesitant, due to a past incident concerning an employee working from home the policy had been changed and required all employees to work from the office. After a few rounds of negotiations and developing a ‘work flow accountability’ system he agreed to give telecommuting a shot.

Even though I was working from home I still needed a way to get around which was more reliable and flexible than the bus. I bought a bike and a kid seat; the kind that goes onto the front of the bike behind the handle bars. Front mounted kid seats provide more stability than rear mounted seats and provided me with more peace of mind. I figured if for some reason we were to crash and the bike fell over he would be better protected since my arms wrapped around him on either side to steer the bike. I don’t know if this really is safer or not, but that’s what I told myself.

I still had the problem of grocery shopping. Even with a bike the grocery store was just too far away, a good 8 miles. On top of that I couldn’t bring home more than what would fit in my back pack, which meant I had to go to the store frequently. I didn’t have the time for daily sixteen mile rides to the store. I needed a way to carry more groceries at once while at the same time shortening my trip time to the grocery store. I began by moving downtown. I had been living in the suburbs. For all its hype about being family friendly and safe, the suburbs are only family friendly if you own a car.

Living in a more urbanized area made an enormous difference in my ability to access the things I needed without the use of a car. In addition to getting around on a bike, using public transportation became more convenient too because the buses run more frequently in densely populated areas. I switched pediatricians and opted for a doctor with an office right down the street and a bank that is less than a half a block from my flat. The grocery store is even closer. A mile and a half versus eight makes frequent trips much easier to make. However, sometimes I need more in one trip than will fit in my backpack. If I needed both toilet paper and milk I’d have to make two trips since one package of toilet paper fills up the backpack quickly. I found the solution to this problem while reading about some companies that have started delivering packages using adult-sized tricycles. This was the perfect solution to my problem.

My neighbor Derek was always on the front stoop tinkering with or building something. I talked with him about the tricycles and he was more than excited at the prospect of building one for me. I was unaware at the time that a bicycle junkyard existed on the other side of town. Derek and I went and picked up the parts we would need to build the tricycle from scratch. This way was much more affordable than buying a tricycle and retrofitting it with a storage compartment. Derek designed and built the trike and I sewed the covering for the storage compartment on the back out of patched up vinyl scrapes we found in the dumpster behind a sign shop.

For three years I lived without the use of a car. I lost all of the baby weight I had gained during my pregnancy, found a great urbanized community to live in which I love, learned how to build a bike, met people and found places in the city I may never have found had I drove around everywhere. Cities have a lot to offer people on foot or bike. Many times we become too secluded from the world around us when we hop in our cars, roll the windows up, turn on the air conditioner and blast our radios. On a bike you have to interact with your surroundings, you have to be more conscious and aware and you have to pay closer attention to what’s going on around you. In a world where we have hundreds of technological ways to distract ourselves from life it’s refreshing and inspiring to have the chance to physically immerse yourself within your surroundings.
I no longer own my hand made trike. I gave it to a neighbor lady who needed it after my grandmother gave me her old car. As my son has gotten older and heavier it’s become more difficult to ride around with him on the bike. The responsibilities of my job have changed also. I no longer just do research and writing. I have to travel all over the state working with various citizen groups. It would be impossible to do my job without a car. However, on the weekends my car stays parked and my son and I ride our bikes, walk or catch the bus when we need to go somewhere. Even though I now spend a large majority of my time driving again; I feel more empowered because I know that I have the skills and the knowhow to be self sufficient with or without a car.

— Ann (

One Comment

  1. Daanish
    Posted 6 October, 2011 at 05:22 | Permalink

    I completely agree with how living in the suburbs only ‘works’ if you have a car. I too am making plans to rid myself of my car, and move closer to where I need and want to be in the future. Thanks for this inspiring writeup!

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