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 www.LiveByTransit.com, 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. www.ctabustracker.com

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. www.igocars.org/, www.zipcar.com/

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. www.thisamericanlife.org/podcast

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: www.transitchicago.com/travel_information/trip_planner.aspx
The Pedway is the City under our City and its actuallly warm year-round:
egov.cityofchicago.org/webportal/COCWebPortal/COC_EDITORIAL/Pedwaymapandlegend.pdf

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. workingbikes.org/

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. www.peapod.com/

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 www.activetrans.org 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.