CarFree in Chicago: The How-To Guide

by kellyburns | 05/17/2010

When I mention that I don't have a car, invariably the first reaction by my well-meaning friends and family is a shocked, "You don't?!?" followed by, "Why not?!?" It's like I've casually mentioned that I removed my own legs. Believe it or not, humans didn't always get around by sitting in a metal box that runs on “dead dinosaur juice.” There are plenty of great reasons to consider going car-free - mainly that cars are the #1 cause of global warming, exceeding even the damage done by coal-burning power plants. Going car-free is definitely the greenest thing a consumer can do.

Knowing this sobering fact, when it came time to replace my car this past January, I decided to see if I ‘had it what it takes’ to go car-free. Not only did I save a ton of money and make my life a lot simpler, I gleaned some tips for anyone else who might be thinking about dumping their gas guzzler as well:

1) Get appropriate gear. We live in a harsh climate, and you will be exposed to it daily. This is not the place to cheap out. In a car, you can get by with a cheap but cool-looking coat, and probably live the rest of your life without snow boots or rain gear – not so much when you give up your “metal shell”.

2) When planning a move, look for a place close to public transportation. Go to, specify the bus/train/metra station you want to live nearby, and it does the rest.

3) Download the CTA Bus Tracker app for your smartphone. For less than $1, you will know exactly when your bus is coming and can stay warm and dry indoors while you wait.

4) Consider a car-sharing program. Face it: That 40 pounds of cat litter is not going to buy itself! When I need to do heavy-duty shopping or get to some far-flung suburb, I use iGo. For $15/month I get 3 hours of car usage. Unbeatable deal.,

5) Headphones, headphones, headphones. I consider my “This American Life” podcast a near-life-saving necessity at this point, second only to penicillin. Podcasts are free and can save your sanity on those long, loud el rides.

6) Program a local cab’s number into your phone. A lifesaver for those mercurial Chicago days that begin mildly enough -- until you find yourself walking out of yoga into a surprise sleet storm. Cabs can also get you to appointments that otherwise you'd be late or a no-show for, so don't diss them.

7) Bookmark the CTA Trip Planner and use the PedWay. Trip Planner is a MapQuest for the car-free. It gives you exact directions for how to take public transit from anywhere to anywhere and is far more accurate than Google Maps, I’ve found:
The Pedway is the City under our City and its actuallly warm year-round:

8) Cycle. Bikes are fun, burn fat, and get you places faster than your feet can. Try Working Bikes, Craigslist, yard sales, or the Chicago police bike auctions for a recycled bike - cheaper than buying new and doesn’t require production energy.

9) Use Peapod. Peapod allows you to buy massive amounts of groceries, at one time, and delivers right to your door (even if you are up three flights of stairs!) – for about $7.00. Until I learned to buy “little and often” this was a lifesaver.

10) Ditch big box stores. Target and Wally World are basically never convenient for the car-free. Think creatively. The small mom-and-pop Ace Hardware one block from my house turns out to have every hardware item I have ever needed – yet I drove miles to get the same items from Lowe’s. Buying local strengthens your local economy, to boot.

In short, Chicago is a very easy city to navigate on your own power -- and your health, you bank account, and the planet will all thank you for it.

Thanks for the tips. My

Thanks for the tips.
My husband and I have been living car-free in Chicago for two years and we're managing just fine, but I'm glad to get your suggestions. Some of them were new to me.

I notice that you put "get appropriate gear" at the top of the list; since I've been living without a car, I've been reminded more than once of something a friend once said: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes."

I'm not car-less, but merely

I'm not car-less, but merely the 5th driver in a family of 5 drivers in the fair 'burb of Wheaton.
I ride a bicycle, several bicycles, and commute via Bicycle, the Metra, then foot. I've been doing this since 1987 @Greater Chicagoland,, and much the same in various locations since 1966.
Try for more on bicycling, walking, and links to Metra and such to be car-free or Virtually car-free... in this fair city.

I am glad you shared this

I am glad you shared this here, it's an eye opening article. If you're leaving in a big crowded city owning a car car resemble more with a curse than a blessing. I should know, I put my car in a donating a car program years ago and I never missed my old driver lifestyle.

My friend recently got a car

My friend recently got a car from an used car dealership IA and it took me a while to convince him that the best thing he can do now is to subscribe to a car sharing program. Now he realizes that this is a good idea, I wish all the drivers would consider this option.